Thursday, March 06, 2014

Wall Street’s no longer all atwitter over GSElevator

In a spin on the notion of roman à clef – roman written without the author exactly being a key holder – a fellow named John Lefevre has spent the last three years pretending to be a Goldman Sachs insider – although probably not pretending to be Lloyd Blankfein, whose headshot he used as his avatar -  and tweeting out scoop supposedly overheard while humming around on the GS Elevator.

Some of what was exposed may well have been for-real GS gossip – Lefevre solicited goodies from his followers, who were invited to submit their tidbits via e-mail. But plenty of it was fake. (Real fake, but fake nonetheless.)


Anyway, as Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote over his NY Times Deal Book column (from whence cometh the above picture):

The Twitter account, @GSElevator, reports overheard remarks like, “I never give money to homeless people. I can’t reward failure in good conscience,” and “Groupon…Food stamps for the middle class.”

The Twitter account, which has an audience of more than 600,000 followers, has been the subject of an internal inquiry at Goldman to find the rogue employee. The tweets, often laced with insider references to deals in the news, appeal to both Wall Street bankers and outsiders who mock the industry. Late last month, the writer sold a book about Wall Street culture based on the tweets for a six-figure sum.

While Lefevre didn’t work at GS – and never actually claimed to, whatever his followers chose to infer – he had worked at Citigroup and had one received an offer from Goldman. (Close enough for government investment banking work, I suppose.)

Hey, I like making fun of Goldman Sachs as much as the next guy. (I like making fun of Tom Perkins, too.)

But it is kind of snaky to put stuff out there – as amusing, telling and dead-on as it may be – as something actually heard at GS when some of it may or may not have been, and some of it was just plain made up.

Of course, if the twitter account had been set up with some sort of bland “Heard on The Street” handle, it would have been nowhere near as provocative and titillating. Nor would it likely have garnered for a book on Wall Street culture.

I don’t know that I necessarily need to buy the book. Do I really want to read about arrogant, cigar-puffing a-holes bragging about their dwarf-tossing exploits when I can just go see the movie?

Then there are the troubling concerns around what’s the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, too good to be true, and if it’s not true, it should be:

The ability of people like Mr. Lefevre to create anonymous Twitter accounts underscores concerns about the veracity of what is published and the identity of authors. It also raises questions about whether publishers are blurring the line between real life and the made-up kind.

Me, when I read fiction – and I do plenty of that – I don’t care if it never happened in real life as long as it’s believable and authentic. (Dystopic fiction, however, just has to be believable to us paranoid types.)

But when I read something that’s presented as factual, I want it to be, well, factual.

So, if you want to say “this happened at Goldman”, I want it to really have happened at Goldman. And if it never actually happened, then I’d just as soon have it presented as fiction. As in, “this is the sort of stuff that cigar-puffing, dwarf-tossing a-holes say when they’re around their pals.”

Lefevre defends himself thus:

“This was never about me as a person,” he said. “It wasn’t about a firm. The stories aren’t Goldman Sachs in particular. It was about the culture in general.”

But, but, but…GSElevator? And bring-me-the-head-shot-of-Lloyd-Blankfein?

Well, good luck with the book, John. Much as I savor a good trash-talking, Wall Street bashing outing, I think I’ll take a pass.

Meanwhile, in a hilarious upshot, Goldman released a facetious statement:

A Goldman spokesman, after being told that @GSElevator had been unmasked, said in a statement, “We are pleased to report that the official ban on talking in elevators will be lifted effective immediately.”

Which some actually believed meant that Goldman had put a policy in place in which talking on the elevator was strictly verboten.

Whatever else you want to say about The Street, you have to admit “it” can have a wonderful sense of humor.

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