Academy of Whores

by F.

The FT ran a piece yesterday on Hank Greenberg’s attempt to rehabilitate his reputation. (He was formerly with AIG.) How? By buying press coverage:

Faithful to the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword, a company run by Maurice “Hank” Greenberg planned to enlist academics, biographers and journalists to rebuild his reputation after the legal troubles that followed his forced retirement from American International Group, according to documents filed in a lawsuit.

This came out when the PR firm hired by Greenberg sued for more than $2M in unpaid bills. (Which suggests a good way around an NDA: file a suit, which is public. Could you still be sued for breaching the NDA? I’m not sure, but in this case it’s hard to imagine that Greenberg didn’t have an NDA in place with his PR whores.)

The PR firm was eSapience:

ESapience’s proposed plan “to change the public conversation about Maurice Greenberg” allegedly involved both hiring a ghost writer for his biography and seeking a New York Times journalist willing to pen a sympathetic article on his legal tussle with Eliot Spitzer, then New York’s attorney general.

Even better, the plan was to found a couple of sham organizations:

But between May and September 2006, eSapience claims it founded two bodies – the eSapience Center for Law and Business and The Barbon Institute – chaired by the prominent academics Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago and Richard Schmalensee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively. The Boston-based firm hires academics for between $400 and $1,000 an hour, court documents say.

Epstein is a shill for pharma, too, by the way—a putative libertarian who suddenly thinks that government intervention in markets (i.e., the patent system) is a wonderful thing, at least for pharma. Huh. Strange, that. Schmalensee is an expert for hire, too.

But back to Greenberg. This is not the first time he’s tried to buy press:

A controversy erupted in 2004 when a Washington-based speakers’ bureau, Leading Authorities, sent e-mails to financial industry specialists saying AIG would pay upwards of $25,000 for speeches and opinion pieces attacking Mr Spitzer and defending the insurance industry. At the time, Mr Spitzer was investigating bid-rigging at AIG and two insurance industry companies run by Mr Greenberg’s sons.

Probably wise to keep in mind caveat emptor when buying information (also known as “news” or “expert opinion.”) I don’t have any problem with Epstein et al. whoring themselves like this, as long as we all know who is paying whom. More and more, I long for the Transparent Society. But I think it’s coming.