Zero Hedge's Op-Ed To The New York Times

Marla Singer's picture

I sent this Op-Ed proposal to the New York Times on Friday.  Perhaps they will print it.  If so, I will donate the proceeds (don't they pay you $450?) to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Zerohedge.com is a finance-focused weblog bringing together nearly 40 anonymous contributors dedicated to providing the public with a deeper, more detailed discourse on all things finance. After less than ten months since our first post, we’re among the top online publications nationwide in terms of readers, eclipsing other properties with several years of history, A-list contributors, and the backing of the country’s largest, mainstream media firms. Like many publications before us, not least the Federalist Papers, we encourage our contributors to use pen names.  Part of our rationale in adopting a publication-wide preference for anonymity (or, technically, pseudonymity) for our contributors and staff is to avoid making “the story” about the messengers rather than the message.  We believe content should stand on its own merits; if it cannot, neither a sterling reputation on the part of the author nor dazzling penmanship will manage to prop it up.  Likewise no amount of nefarious author history should, in isolation, tear down well-written, fact-based discussion and analysis.  An intelligent and skeptical audience should not be dazzled by several layers of foundation, whether on a swimsuit model or a sow.

On Thursday, following weeks of criticism of our anonymity on CNBC and elsewhere, a reporter from the New York Post confronted our public relations representative over the alleged identity of one of our contributors.  As a matter of policy, Zero Hedge does not comment on the identity of contributors or staff, but over the course of a 30 minute conversation with the reporter, something interesting emerged: the reporter in question was so befuddled by this policy that she barely knew what to say.  She had, quite literally, no idea how to write a story that wasn't primarily about personalities.  Her attempt to bribe our public relations representative with favorable coverage for an exclusive is an example of what is wrong with financial reporting today.  When reporting egos flatter (or threaten) other egos to pull facts, or garner the access required to secure a six-figure advance for their upcoming tell-all book, does anyone really believe we can expect an objective retelling of the facts worthy of the sacred, constitutionally-protected trust we as citizens have given the Fourth Estate?  Have the press forgotten that this is, in fact, a trust, and not a quitclaim deed?  Do they not realize that they are the Estate's trustees, and not its property owners?

Now, more than ever, anonymity is critical to the Republic.  This should surprise no one.  It has been a critical part of speech in this country since before its founding. Without the courageous and then-anonymous writings of, e.g., Thomas Paine or the authors of The Federalist Papers, our nation would be a very different place today.  Though we cannot confirm or deny that Thomas Paine or any of the founding fathers are Zero Hedge contributors today, we do believe we understand something of their motivation for using pen names.

Early on in Zero Hedge's history the view surfaced that, to bring up circulation, we should dumb down our content and post more biographical detail to bolster our credibility.  Thankfully, we decided against that.  The results, in terms of readership, and despite the absence of “credentials” as they are traditionally understood, speak for themselves. This is but one reason that today more than ever, we think it is time to end the cult of personality in financial reporting.  It is no accident that Harry Markopoulos (the accountant whose repeated attempts to expose Bernie Madoff to anyone who would listen were as often ignored) sought to avoid the limelight.

In 1995, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commissions: “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.... It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the bill of rights, and of the first amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation—and their ideas from suppression—at the hand of an intolerant society.”  Given the financial events of the last twelve months, we think it clear that this must be the end of the status quo for financial regulation in the United States.  We are also keenly aware that a number of extremely well-resourced, established players have little incentive in seeing any change at all.  As we live in an age where posting on a blog can get you fired years later after a casual, lunch-hour Google search by a Human Resources representative, has there ever been a more important time for anonymous speech in financial reporting?  We think not.

We revel in an educated, skeptical audience that takes us to task for every fact, assumption, and bit of analysis we write.  We think this keeps the focus where it belongs, away from the personalities and egos that muddy the water of skeptical inquiry.  Believe us, doubt us, argue with us, then decide where the best analysis is being generated: from reporters at brand-name media outlets, without a lifetime of expertise on the subjects on which they write and whose allegiances lie as much as with the sources they need to keep happy as with the readers they purportedly serve, or with those insiders who by shedding the burden of identification, are free to expose the abuses, absurdities, and abscesses of both those in power and those who report on them.

"Marla Singer," Zero Hedge