At a moment when the market is crashing and we’re still trying to make sense of why the Dow goes up 900 points one day and down 700 another, when The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal cover the crisis on their front pages daily, and a once-in-a-lifetime story lands in your lap, is there a monthly magazine better positioned than Portfolio to break this story down?
The Condé Nast business magazine has been publishing for 18 months, and those rocky staffing issues have—for the most part—been put to bed.
So, now it’s game time! Lehman Brothers went down a month ago, the story hasn’t stopped for a second, and there has been plenty of time to flood the zone.
So, what’s the November cover story?
A profile of Dov Charney, the American Apparel chief, by Claire Hoffman, a writer who seems to be the Boswell of sexed-up executives.
It’s an understatement to say that it’s perplexing that the magazine would so willfully ignore the crisis with its cover story. That’s a charitable assessment of the November issue; a less generous one is to call it the biggest blunder in the magazine’s 18-month history.
This would be the case even we hadn’t read about Dov Charney many times before.
Joanne Lipman, the magazine’s editor, said that Dov Charney graces the cover because of the brisk business American Apparel did in the third quarter 2008, and because of his importance to the presidential election.
"American Apparel is a huge retail story," said Ms. Lipman in an e-mailed statement sent through a Portfolio spokeswoman. "Its sales are up 24% for the 3rd quarter at a time when the entire retail industry is in deep decline‹ plus Dov Charney (the owner) is out there on the eve of the biggest election in decades talking provocatively about the immigration issue."
The spokeswoman said that the cover decision belongs to Ms. Lipman.
Ms. Lipman continues in the email: "The bulk of the inside of the magazine is about the financial crisis, including three major pieces by Jesse Eisinger and John Cassidy, including the definitive piece on the ‘patient zero’ of the crisis, the JP Morgan team that invented credit default swaps."
Actually, the bulk of the inside of the magazine isn’t about the financial crisis.
In the November issue, there are three pieces pegged to the crisis: Two by Mr. Eisinger, and one by Mr. Cassidy. In total, they add up to roughly 6,600 words.
The Dov Charney profile alone is 6,000 words, not including the roughly 22,000 other words published that include a profile of billionaire David Koch, a two-page spread on James Bond and an 11-page spread ranking which billionaires have donated the most to charitable causes.
Ms. Lipman also said her statement, "We’ve been ahead of the crisis for more than a year."
Which is true. The magazine ran a piece last May by Jesse Eisinger called, "The $300 Trillion Time Bomb" that was one of the earliest pieces that predicted the dangers of credit default swaps.
But does that give the magazine a pass?
In her editors’ letter this month, you get the impression that’s how Ms. Lipman feels:
When historians study the Wall Street crisis of 2008, they’ll ask, How did this happen? In the immediate aftermath of the banking meltdown, a sense of shock was on ostentatious display…Give us a break. It’s infuriating to see people who should know better expressing surprise. This train was coming for well over a year. Wall Street and regulators should have seen it coming. Condé Nast Portfolio readers certainly did.