Sorkin Exonerates Fuld

Andrew Ross Sorkin today has the most astonishing parenthetical I’ve seen in a long while:

(By the way, doesn’t it seem increasingly hard to vilify Richard S. Fuld Jr., the former chief executive of Lehman Brothers, given what’s happened since that firm filed for bankruptcy? If you haven’t read it yet, there’s a remarkable court filing by Harvey R. Miller, the respected lawyer at Weil, Gotshal & Manges overseeing the bankruptcy, that practically exonerates Mr. Fuld. See nytimes.com/dealbook)

The blog entry is here, and the court filing therein is simply dispatched by Sam Jones:

It is disingenuity of the highest order to suggest that banks like Lehman were passive victims of a stormy market. Their actions created the stormy market in the first place. Dick Fuld’s Lehman reaped what it sowed.

In fact, the filing actively celebrates all the risks that were taken by Fuld and Lehman in the years leading up to the collapse, talking about Lehman’s "four consecutive years of record-breaking financial results" between 2004 and 2007, and citing with admiration Lehman’s soaring share price.

What’s more, Miller’s filing spends much more time on ad hominem attacks on Fuld’s accusers than it does on seriously trying to defend Fuld’s disastrous decisions — something which is always a sign of a very weak case.

So why does Sorkin seem so inclined to take the filing at face value? Does he really think that Dick Fuld has been "practically exonerated" by this one highly contentious document, in the face of overwhelming evidence that Fuld levered up Lehman irresponsibly, refused to sell out when he could, and generally did nothing to save his bank until it was far too late?

Could this just be part of a campaign by Sorkin to get Fuld to talk to him? Sorkin doesn’t just have his newspaper column: he also has TV and book projects going, and access to Fuld would be very valuable in what has become an extremely crowded meltdown-media marketplace. Alternatively, of course, Sorkin genuinely wants us to think that one overheated court filing is really sufficient to make him change his mind on the question of Fuld’s basic culpability. So which is it?

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