The Sorkin Wars

New York Magazine‘s gossipy exploration of the conflict going on within the New York Times’s business section has a lot of people amazed by Sunday editor Tim O’Brien’s full frontal assault on Sorkin’s talents as a writer:

“When Andrew had a Sunday business column and he’d drop a thinly reported or loosely written piece on the desk at the last minute on Friday night,” O’Brien explained, “it made us concerned about our production schedule and, occasionally, about the credibility of our page. So, yeah, there were frequent tugs-of-war with him.”

One prominent business news figure has already speculated privately that O’Brien committed a fire-able offense by attacking Sorkin publicly. But O’Brien is a serious figure at the Times and has done impressive work at the helm of the Sunday business section. So could there be something deeper going on here than a simple airing of dirty laundry?

Anyone who has read Sorkin’s book must come away awed by the achievement of detail and narrative accomplished on such a short deadline. There is simply no one else who could have written Too Big Too Fail. No one could have leveraged the relationships to get the critical mass of detail that forced everyone to cooperate in one form or another. The book is a major achievement.

The bone of contention between O’Brien and Sorkin–who broke the news of the Paulson waiver–that became the peg of Gabriel Sherman’s story is fairly irrelevant to the success of the book (both as a document of the financial meltdown and as a bestseller.)

Buried in the story may be the bigger issue, Sorkin’s lack of interest in writing negatively about Cerberus and Blackstone, Cerberus’s Feinberg was one of Sorkin’s biggest “gets.” Setting aside the usual friction within a newsroom over credit, fame and compensation, the issue going forward is more about the value of the M&A franchise to a news organization in a transformed financial world.

The Times has already taken some hard looks at the effects of the deal culture on ordinary companies and the lives of their workers.  As Goldman Sachs continues to become a short-hand punchline for out-of-touch financial types, one can only wonder if the Times will need to shift its resources away from the M&A beat.


The Information Broker
New York Magazine; Nov. 9, 2009

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