The WSJ Gives a Madoff the Soft Touch

Access and a celebrity-journalism-style puff piece

This looks for all the world like a publicist-driven story in The Wall Street Journal story on how Andrew Madoff is coping a week and a half after his brother Mark’s apparent suicide.

The paper puts it on C1 and tells readers lots of mundane details about Andrew’s life. And the story’s about as tough as an US Weekly profile of a cooperating actor and just as useful. Here’s the headline, which also looks like something in that august supermarket rag:

A Madoff Son Looks Forward

In Wake of Scandal and Suicide, Pursuits and Relationships Serve as Anchor

The access-vs.-scrutiny trade-off is never easy, but in this case, the paper goes too far, producing an unbalanced story that soft-pedals serious questions about Andrew Madoff’s possible involvement in one of the greatest frauds in U.S. history.

In the story we find out that Andrew talked to his piano teacher last week, that he and his fiancee (who is, notably, on the record here) went to a taco bar on Saturday night, and that he and Mark “loved each other very much,” which is in the Journal’s words, not in a quote.

Check out this bit of reporting:

Andrew and Ms. Hooper typically wake up at 5 a.m. and have 18 active Google calendars, among them a calendar for each of their three kids, one for their exercise routines, a meal calendar, and a social calendar, according to someone familiar with them.

I bolded that last bit to point out what is, and I’m being kind here, not one of the finest moments in Journal sourcing. Somebody familiar with a family’s Google calendars? Come on.

Not only does Andrew Madoff get a wholly sympathetic profile about him in the most important business paper in the world while he’s facing civil suits and possible criminal charges, but his fiancee gets to plug her new business:

Early this year, Ms. Hooper, 38, launched Black Umbrella LLC, a business that helps people build emergency plans for a number of scenarios, including a job loss or a physical disaster. Andrew Madoff is director of operations for the company.


Andrew and Ms. Hooper have a diner near their apartment that they call Location No. 1, a place where their children would meet them in an emergency. The pair have trained as community emergency responders who could be called upon to help neighbors in crisis.

As for Bernard Madoff’s crimes, Ms. Hooper says, “there are some things that are just going to be a disaster no matter what you have planned.”


By contrast, here’s all we get about the legal controversy over the Andrew and Mark’s involvement:

Both Madoff brothers have been sued by Mr. Picard, the trustee recovering assets for Mr. Madoff’s investors. An October 2009 suit alleges that more than $14 million was redeemed from an account for Andrew in his father’s investment-advisory business. The account wasn’t funded, the trustee says. Rather, purported profits were the result of “brazenly fabricated transactions.”

Andrew Madoff and other family members “knew, or should have known” that withdrawn amounts were based on fraudulent transactions, the complaint alleges.

This paragraph, up higher, is all there is about the ongoing criminal investigations of Andrew (one of which the Journal itself broke in a story earlier this year):

Bernard Madoff’s confession that his multibillion-dollar investment business was a fraud turned his sons’ lives upside down. The brothers, who had worked in another part of their father’s firm, found themselves jobless, and facing criminal and public scrutiny and a spate of lawsuits.

That makes the “criminal scrutiny” seem like it was in the past tense and, anyway, unfair.

But the Journal found it newsworthy enough to put this report on B1 less than two weeks ago:

Federal prosecutors are ratcheting up pressure on one of Bernard L. Madoff’s former “back office” employees to cooperate with their investigation as they have continued in recent months to scrutinize his brother and sons, according to people familiar with the situation.

What is apparently, from the Journal’s previous reporting, an intense criminal investigation should have made the paper leery of writing this one.

Here’s the riveting kicker:

A year ago, Andrew attended the funeral of the mother of one of his former employees and signed the guestbook. The employee said it meant a lot to him.

A profile is fine. A puff piece isn’t.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , ,