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Trading secrets: seductions and scandal at the Wall Street Journal.

Trading Secrets: Seduction and Scandal at The Wall Street Journal.

R. Foster Winans. St. Martin's Press, $17.95. Wyja do it, Foster? To your eternal credit you did not spend much time in your recently published mea culpa making excuses; as a result, what could have been a whiney apologia turns out to be a surprisingly good read, with genuine insight into the world of both The Wall Street Journal and Wall Street itself.

Yet this generally worthy approach does have one crucial drawback: one finishes Trading Secrets scratching one's head over your ultimate motivation. Why were you willing to sell your soul as a journalist by leaking advance word of the subjects of your daily column? Why did you think the possibility of ruining your career was a risk worth taking?

Oh sure, you trot out half a dozen rationales. You mention that you felt underpaid as one of the two authors of the Journal's influential "Heard on the Street' column--particularly in comparison to your stock broker sources. But you know that's no excuse, and you admit as much; lots of middle class people spend their lives around the rich without succumbing to temptation. Besides, selling out never made you more than peanuts. You mention that you didn't think what you were doing was strictly illegal. (So far two courts have disagreed.) But that doesn't cut it either: "I knew,' you are quick to add, "that what I was doing was technically unethical for a journalist.' You say that you didn't think you would get caught, but that's just plain dumb. The Wall Street Journal's chief market writer didn't realize that the stock exchanges would quickly spot what was going on? You even claim that the man who persuaded you to leak the column--so he could trade the stock you were about to praise or damn--had a magnetic personality. But that doesn't wash either; one can't read your book without getting the feeling that you were always uncomfortable in his presence, as if your better self was trying to tell you something.

My own sense is that you did it because your values were gradually eroded in the amoral investment banking culture that now dominates Wall Street. You're not alone, of course; what's most pathetic about all those 28-year-old millionaires running around Wall Street is that so few of them have any values. The stock market is not the engine of capitalism to them (or to you), but a game, like the race track. Insider trading--on a far worse scale than anything you ever did--goes on all the time, so what's the big deal? People want to get rich simply for the sake of getting rich. When your stock broker friend pulls up in his limo and says to you, "This is part of what making and having money means to me . . .. Being rich means I don't have to ride in cars with other people,' you don't flinch. A few years before, you might have. It's not so much that you have all these things you want to buy; it's simply that in this world of ostentation, you feel like a chump pulling down 22 grand. That's what is so sad about your story, and also so instructive. That's why Trading Secrets is a morality play for the investment banking age.
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Author:Nocera, Joseph
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1986
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