• Jeff Matthews

Weekend Reading: Conspiracy of the Jews?

The following was brought to my attention by an alert reader.

It purports to be a recent posting by Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com, on the Motley Fool web site.

Long-time readers know that when it comes to Patrick Byrne and the company he runs, I follow the old Gurdjieff-Ouspensky philosophy: “believe nothing that you cannot verify yourself.” After all, this is a man whose company calls itself “Earth’s Biggest Discounter,” yet generates one one-thousandth the sales of Wal-Mart.

Furthermore, unlike, for example, the founders of Google, who make no promises about anything but have delivered $1.7 billion in accumulated profits in that company’s brief lifespan; Patrick Byrne has promised much and delivered $94 million of accumulated losses to date.

But Byrne is very, very good at one thing: attacking people (“tools of Satan,” he has called them) who point out his company’s faults, despite telling shareholders he practices a “Buddhist non-attachment” towards his critics and “ignores the barking dog.” Readers will recall that during a bizarre August conference call (see “I’m Not a Cokehead and Other Truths from Patrick Byrne, CEO”), Byrne claimed his company was the victim of a coordinated attack by a group of hedge fund louts, myself included, plus veteran journalists and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, all masterminded by a “Sith Lord” with the tacit blessing of the SEC. I am not making that up. Now, the following Motley Fool post contains enough of the Patrick Byrne-style paranoid-attack-dog DNA to make me think he really did write it.

Calling Herb Greenberg a “crooked reporter,” for example, may appear reckless and manifestly non-Buddhist, but Byrne obsesses about Herb the way Nixon obsessed about Woodward and Bernstein. (For the record, Herb Greenberg is no more a “crooked reporter” than Patrick Byrne’s father, legendary insurance ace Jack Byrne, was a crooked CEO.) But it’s the apparent anti-Semitism that makes me wonder whether this is a legitimate post.

For mid-way through it, Byrne’s rant makes a bizarre and gratuitous jab at the supposed pro-Israel bias of the New York Times’ excellent and highly respected Middle East reporter, Thomas L. Friedman. I can think of no clear reason for making the analogy to Friedman and Israel except one: the enemies cited in the post (Herb Greenberg, David Rocker and Jim Cramer) are all Jewish. Even for the CEO of Overstock.com, hints of a Jewish conspiracy would represent a rather disturbing twist in the ongoing saga.

*** Dear Fools,

For those of you who don’t know, Herb Greenberg is a crooked reporter who formerly worked at thestreet.com, then moved to MarketWatch, where he makes a living doing hatchet jobs on whatever companies David Rocker is short.

Sometimes for variety he goes on Mad Money with Jim Cramer (founder of thestreet.com), and together they do hatchet jobs on companies David Rocker is short. (Did I mention that Rocker has been the #1 or #2 owner in thestreet.com, owning as much as 15% of thestreet.com through various on-shore and off-shore entities, such as Helmsman and Compass Holdings …?)

Cramer and Greenberg’s hatchet jobs take an unusual form. They resemble Thomas Friedman’s write-ups on the Arab-Israeli conflict: “Let’s see, Arabs, Israel, Arabs… Israel, Arabs…….. Israel…… okay, I gotta call this one for the Israeli’s.” In op-ed after op-ed. Similarly, when Greenberg adn [sic] Cramer attack me together, it generally takes the form of Cramer saying, “Byrne might be a good guy,” Greenberg saying something like , “No no, he’s a bad guy,” “Are you sure? ‘Cause I thought he might be a good guy…” “Oh no, he’s definitely a bad guy.” “Well…OK OK, he’s a bad guy.”

Oh, did I mention that Cramer founded thestreet.com, Greenberg cut his teeth there, and Rocker has been the most significant owner outside of Cramer himself?

Anyway…. Herb came to his end of year piece on worst CEO’s of the year. I think he must have written a couple dozen on me in the last two years, but I did not mind, except for the creepy ones (complaining about how I don’t always answer his email promptly? Geeesh: he reminded me of a scorned woman.)

And yet,after all this love, he left me out. I did not even the [sic] make the #1 spot here! I’m hurt. Of course, maybe he is getting some legal advice at the moment that explains his ducking his pat writings now….

Best, Patrick

***

Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up

© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations.

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The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice. It should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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