The New York Times is yet another of Sam Bankman-Fried’s easy marks
The old joke is that “journalistic ethics” is a contradiction in terms. The New York Times is doing its best to prove it true this week, with its bizarre showcasing of Sam Bankman-Fried, the fallen founder of blown-up crypto exchange FTX, at the paper’s exclusive Davos-style summit in Manhattan featuring “icons of business” and “changemakers” for their “influential minds” and “powerful insights.”
The Times invited Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old tech-bro wunderkind known colloquially as SBF, to speak at its DealBook Summit before his Bahamas-based cryptocurrency empire, once valued at $32 billion, imploded, filing for bankruptcy in early November.
Companies fail, of course, and there’s no shame in that. Taking risk has both its rewards and its downsides.
Even so, it would be very strange for the fresh-out-of-a-job leader of a failed financial firm to want to show up and take his spot among “today’s most vital minds on a single stage,” alongside Amazon President Andy Jassy and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, even if his invitation hadn’t been rescinded.
Worse, FTX’s failure isn’t a normal bankruptcy. It’s not just investors who may lose money; it is customers. FTX was only supposed to be safeguarding crypto “coins” and regular old cash for customers, not repurposing their assets for speculation, as is credibly alleged.
“Never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls,” the new CEO, John Ray III, who oversaw Enron’s liquidation two decades ago, declared to the court.
The plight of one customer, Illinois’ Matthew Way, is typical. He held $1,800 in cash, not crypto, at FTX and is unable to withdraw it, he told The Wall Street Journal.
Now that SBF has gone from tech hero to zero, the Times is half-heartedly repurposing SBF’s summit appearance as an objective news interview, not the subjective platforming of a luminary. “A lot of important questions to be asked and answered,” the Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin, business columnist and summit architect, tweeted Thanksgiving eve. “Nothing is off limits.”
And who can blame SBF? It’s not just that he long made a living winning the confidence of the powerful. This is the guy who sat on stage in his shorts and T-shirt this spring alongside Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. He and his former colleagues were top donors to Democratic candidates this election cycle.
He garnered huge investments from supposedly sophisticated financial firms that never verified FTX’s basic corporate practices.
It’s also that the Times is treating him . . . rather delicately.
In its website marketing the $2,000-plus summit tickets, the Times still lists SBF as an equal among the great and good.
Nothing indicates to potential attendees that he is slightly different now than his fellow summiteers, who include Mayor Eric Adams and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. (And Ben Affleck!)
And the Times is still touting SBF’s summit appearance using what appears to be a biography SBF himself wrote. “Sam Bankman-Fried is a 29-year-old American investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist,” it notes.
Given this failure to provide an objective, newsworthy bio, it’s highly unlikely the Times will learn anything new by interviewing SBF at a paid-access event, where people like to be in a good mood.
If SBF does have something newsworthy to say, he’s free to chat with reporters. By showcasing SBF at its paid-access summit instead of just telling him he can talk to the paper’s business desk, the Times risks being the setting of SBF’s one last empty confidence bid.
He is almost certain just to push his latest line that he’s “doing everything I can for FTX customers” — which is inaccurate, as he has no power to help them now. Or he’ll continue insisting that at least some customer money is safe, something the Times has no way of verifying to avert a message of false hope.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.