On The New York Fed's Editorial Influence Over The WSJ

One of last year's key pieces of financial reporting was Jon Hilsenrath's disclosure that then-Goldman Sachs and FRBNY director Stephen Friedman was in possession of Goldman Sachs shares while holding inside information that the Fed was willing to bailout Goldman et al forever and ever, even as a waiver to allow Friedman to buy was still in process with no formal outcome, and the Goldman/FRBNY director was loading up on even more shares. As the WSJ's Hilsenrath and Kate Kelly reported, "while it was weighing the request, Mr. Friedman bought 37,300 more Goldman shares in December. They’ve since risen $1.7 million in value." Not a shabby profit for someone who knew the system would never put him at risk of having to disgorge ill-obtained profits while in a position so conflicted, even a Chrysler-addled supreme court justice would have no problem figuring out just how blatant the systemic abuse was. Sure enough, the reporting was of sufficiently high caliber that it garnered a finalist place in this year's Gerald Loeb Awards (and seeing how ARS' "Too Big To Fail" chronology-of-events-from-the-perspective-of-Wall Street won a Loeb, it tells all you all you need to know about this particular award, and we'll leave it at that). Yet going through some of the recently made public e-mails produced on behalf of Stephen Friedman, we had a few questions as to the full independence of the WSJ when it comes to "editorial" suggestions from the Federal Reserve Board Of New York. As the below email from Fed EVP of the Communications Group, ala media liaison, Calvin Mitchell to the WSJ's Kate Kelly demonstrates, and as the final product confirms, the Fed was quite instrumental in what quotes, tangents, implications, and story lines the WSJ was allowed and not allowed to use and pursue in framing the problem of not only Friedman's conflict of interest, but that of the FRBNY board of directors itself. And seeing how Kelly and Hilsenrath caved in to every FRBNY editorial demand, one wonders just what the (s)quid-pro-quo for this particular form of alleged media capture may have been.

We present FRBNY-TOWNS-R1-191200/1:

We may be a little too far removed from the traditional way media is editorialized, but last time we checked we had the impression that the "independent" media would not follow the guidelines of the Federal Reserve on what is and isn't publishable, especially in the context of a piece that could easily end up having very damning implications for Goldman, the FRBNY, a "respected" director of both entities, and the entire regulatory process that allows these kinds of conflict of interest to be waived retroactively with an ex-post facto waiver, such as the case was here.

Since Zero Hedge has little risk of ever being in the FRBNY's good graces (ha ha ha), we would like to present the very quotes that the FRBNY thought may have been a little too sensitive for public consumption.

To wit:

  • On the general attitude of the NY Fed Board:

"In fact the ultimate approval for the things that get done, basically, get done by the full Fed board in Washington and our board has what I've called a blanket recusal. We might get briefed that something... problematical is happening this weekend... but we not only don't get involved in that stuff, we don't want to ratify it and we don't want to get involved in it because we don't want to have a perceived responsibility that exceeds our authority." I'D SUGGEST NOT

  • On [Friedman's] involvement/awareness of what the NY Fed was doing with AIG from last September on:

"The audit committee... focuses on how the Fed staff has geared up to handle its responsibilities, and this is something they take very seriously and report on to the full board, and I have on occasion audited the sessions... That's administrative or ministerial as opposed to matter of policy." I'D SUGGEST NOT.

  • On [Friedman's] feelings about the candidate to succeed Geithner and the fact that he didn't want the person's past job(s) to be a distraction:

"We were very sensitive to what organization that person had come from." I'D SUGGEST NOT

[Geithner's replacement, Bill Dudley, came over from Goldman Sachs, and was previously in charge of the Fed's notorious "Liberty 33" Markets Group, better known in other circles by various less politically correct acronyms]

It is easy to see why the Fed was staunchly against any of these "insinuations" making the final Hilsenrath/Kelly article. Yet we would like to pick up on Ms. Kelly's line of questioning, and push this formerly confidential email out to the public, to make it clear just what are the questions that the Fed would prefer to not see discussed in a broader public arena. We do also wonder, just why it is that the WSJ journalists dropped pursuing these lines of investigation upon the merest frown of disapproval by a lowly Fed clerical worker. Just how much power over "established and independent" media does the WSJ have? Also, just how much information is the Fed feeding to publications that are in its "white list" in exchange for perpetuating a cordial relationship where the media side of the equation never discusses more than is politically acceptable (also makes the Loeb committee award to Mr. Sorkin that much more understandable).

To be fair, it appears Hilsenrath did manage to get on the Fed's nerves at least once prior to the abovementioned smackdown.

This can be seen in the following email from Mitchell to FRBNY General Counsel Thomas Baxter (FRBNY-TOWNS-R1-101195):


Because heaven forbid someone should "impugn the integrity of Friedman or the Fed because of the so-called Goldman connection." We wonder just what high level talking-to resulted as a consequence of this almost-published scandal. Key word here being:almost. While absent additional email disclosure from Mr. Friedman, and his public production seems surprisingly sparse, we would be the last to challenge the WSJ reporters' professional integrity to pursue a story to its core, this kind of ultra-high level intermediation by none other than the Federal Reserve does bring up some rather uncomfortable questions.

PS. for those wishing to do some additional due diligence, we suggest a brief perusal of Bates 195712