Closely Held Company: Is the Author of ‘Too Big to Fail’ Too Schmoozy With Wall Street?

A few hours after HBO’s Too Big to Fail, the star-studded adaptation of New York Times financial reporting wunderkind Andrew Ross Sorkin’s best-selling account of the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, made its debut before a national audience, a broadcast journalist who reports for a financial news channel gave The Observer her postmortem.

“There’s just something distasteful about the book (and by proxy, movie), and the fact that it looks like Hank Paulson wrote it. The book doesn’t consider what happened on the other end of the mortgages. There’s just something about the way Andrew crafted the book, and the movie just makes Wall Street sexy. [It] … isn’t.”

Mr. Sorkin’s big successes–the big Times salary, the big book deal with the big advance, the big HBO movie, the big party at the Four Seasons restaurant the week before with the big celebrities and the big ostentatious silver bull in the middle of the room–have led to allegations among colleagues that Mr. Sorkin may have gotten, well, too big for his britches

One particularly notable flap involved allegations that Sorkin used research by fellow Times reporters Gretchen Morgenson and Don Van Natta without proper attribution, and he was criticized by Times business editor Tim O’Brien, who accused him of filing “thinly reported” and “loosely written” pieces. At the party for the book in 2009, held at Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar, the broadcast journalist remembers the absence of Mr. Sorkin’s colleagues: “There was only one other Times reporter there, and they made it clear they were there under duress.”

But more remarkable were the other people in attendance: JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, John Mack and Colm Kelleher of Morgan Stanley, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin and Goldman Sachs mouthpiece Lucas van Praag, among others. They were all the subjects of Mr. Sorkin’s reporting.                  

On the book’s arrival, The Economist hailed it as the “brilliantly” told story of “the actors in the most extraordinary financial spectacle in 80 years.” The metaphor was prescient. A later edition includes a blurb from American Beauty director Sam Mendes that calls it “superbly researched.” Mr. Mendes did not end up directing the film–that duty fell to Curtis Hanson, the director of another white-guy-in-distress flick, 8 Mile.

At the film’s premiere party at the Four Seasons restaurant last Monday night, the denizens of ersatz Wall Street (the sexy version!), actors Topher Grace, Billy Crudup, James Woods and William Hurt, slogged around the restaurant’s pool room, filling their plates with oysters and sushi. Also in attendance were a few financial journalists and more of Mr. Sorkin’s sometime subjects: George Soros, Jimmy Lee of JPMorgan Chase and even Warren Buffett, hanging out with his actor doppelgänger, Ed Asner. Mr. Sorkin was his own dopplegänger, having played a version of himself in the film. The attendance of Times journalists had improved since Mr. Sorkin’s book party–The Observer counted at least two.

Fellow Times-man and media reporter David Carr was himself dismissive of criticisms levied against Mr. Sorkin, maintaining that his cocktail party coziness with sources is valuable. “We’ve broken story after story because of his relationship to Wall Street,” Mr. Carr said. “Was that a room full of people I’d want to split a six-pack with? Hell, no. Am I glad he’s sourced up in that world? Hell, yeah.”



Closely Held Company: Is the Author of ‘Too Big to Fail’ Too Schmoozy With Wall Street?