the audit

Audit Notes: Up Next For Wikileaks: The Banks, Forbes, Gaming Google

November 29, 2010

Julian Assange is Forbes‘s cover boy this week. No surprise there. He just turned the diplomatic community on its head with a mass release of U.S. secrets.

But it’s not your typical man-in-the-news profile. Andy Greenberg sits down with Assange and gets a big scoop: That Wikileaks in several weeks will release a big email dump from a major U.S. bank—one Assange says “could take down a bank or two.”

Details are sparse and Assange could be full of it, but as Forbes is good to note, he’s backed up his words in the past. There’s not much reason to doubt him here:

“It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume,” he said, adding: “For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails…”

Usually when you get leaks at this level, it’s about one particular case or one particular violation. For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails. Why were these so valuable? When Enron collapsed, through court processes, thousands and thousands of emails came out that were internal, and it provided a window into how the whole company was managed. It was all the little decisions that supported the flagrant violations.

This will be like that. Yes, there will be some flagrant violations, unethical practices that will be revealed, but it will also be all the supporting decision-making structures and the internal executive ethos that cames out, and that’s tremendously valuable.

Sign up for CJR's daily email

I imagine there are some antsy people in the C-suites over at Goldman, Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase right now. And he has broader ambitions in the private sector, too. Which is why Forbes goes with the “Julian Assange wants to spill your corporate secrets” angle.

Fire up your CAR teams, business press.

Here’s some more from the Forbes package. I like that the magazine posts an extensive transcript of the interview:

Forbes: Would you call yourself a free market proponent?

Assange: Absolutely. I have mixed attitudes towards capitalism, but I love markets. Having lived and worked in many countries, I can see the tremendous vibrancy in, say, the Malaysian telecom sector compared to U.S. sector. In the U.S. everything is vertically integrated and sewn up, so you don’t have a free market. In Malaysia, you have a broad spectrum of players, and you can see the benefits for all as a result.

And Assange on why transparency is important to free and fair markets:

To put it simply, in order for there to be a market, there has to be information. A perfect market requires perfect information.

There’s the famous lemon example in the used car market. It’s hard for buyers to tell lemons from good cars, and sellers can’t get a good price, even when they have a good car.

By making it easier to see where the problems are inside of companies, we identify the lemons. That means there’s a better market for good companies. For a market to be free, people have to know who they’re dealing with.


The New York Times‘s Sunday Business cover story was a big winner yesterday.

The paper gave David Segal a lot of column inches to tell the infuriating tale of how an online merchant games Google results by ticking off his customers.

Which means the owner of DecorMyEyes might be more than just a combustible bully with a mean streak and a potty mouth. He might also be a pioneer of a new brand of anti-salesmanship — utterly noxious retail — that is facilitated by the quirks and shortcomings of Internet commerce and that tramples long-cherished traditions of customer service, like deference and charm.

Nice? No.


“Very,” says Vitaly Borker, the founder and owner of DecorMyEyes, during the first of several surprisingly unguarded conversations.

“I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”

It’s a terrific piece of writing and reporting. Read the whole thing.

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.