And a few days later, the Times further crushed Thain’s reputation as a manager and exposed the flimflammery cooked up by Republican PR veteran Margaret D. Tutwiler:
Ms. Tutwiler quickly scheduled a series of interviews for Mr. Thain from Merrill’s trading floor. As the cameras flashed, he shook hands with the troops. When the cameras left, so did Mr. Thain.
‘He went on a series of speeches all over the world. He was being called a hero. The press was incredible,’ remarked one Merrill Lynch executive. ‘What was not happening was that he was not meeting with Merrill people.’
This is pretty damning stuff. Furthermore, the piece takes aim at Thain’s financial strategies, very definitely suggesting that while he did inherit a horrendous situation his own choices were nonetheless in part responsible for Merrill’s continuing losses:
Several individuals familiar with the alt-A trades, as well as others involving bets on such things as interest rates and equity derivatives, say that these gambits contributed about a third of the firm’s $15.3 billion fourth-quarter loss. But a senior Merrill trader and a former senior Merrill executive contend that there were no ‘significant’ trading losses taken in the quarter. The former executive said that any investigation of the firm’s trading would support that fact.
Whatever transpired on the trading desk, Merrill was still contending with withering assets that predated Mr. Thain’s arrival. Despite the fact that Mr. Thain inherited these assets, Merrill insiders say they could have been hedged—moves well within Mr. Thain’s purview as head of risk management at the firm. Yet he never did so, according to three people who worked closely with him. An individual familiar with Mr. Thain’s thinking said that Mr. Thain didn’t believe hedges would have been effective.
To put it bluntly, what we read in this piece rendered the bulk of Thain coverage obsolete. It is one big “never mind.”
The financial crisis changes the whole game. Like Wall Street itself, the press doesn’t need to just tweak its old model, it needs to scrap it, and write a whole new one—one that doesn’t center on individuals but networks of institutions.