Real Talk on Bill Ackman, Joe Biden, and Chatham House Rules

Jun 29 2017 | 3:36pm ET

Today, we discuss the ongoing fiasco surrounding reports of a scene between Pershing Square Capital’s Bill Ackman and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Quote of the Day 

“For over nine years, the SALT Salon dinner have operated under Chatham House Rules, with participants abiding by these principles as they are clearly defined at the beginning of the meal. Again, given the recent breach of confidentially – and, perhaps more importantly, the misrepresentation of facts and false narrative that was inaccurately reported by Charlie Gasparino – the SALT Conference and SkyBridge Capital legal and public relations team have made a determination to issue this statement.”

Earlier this week, we discussed the report by Fox Business’ Charles Gasparino on an exchange between hedge fund manager Bill Ackman and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Gasparino reported that Ackman had made a wisecrack at Biden after the former VP spoke about his reasoning of his decision not to run for president in 2016. Biden, according to Fox Business, said that he didn’t run due to the passing of his son and the toll Beau’s passing took on his family. According to Gasparino, Ackman made an inappropriate statement after Biden said that he had said enough about the issue.

Virtually every media outlet picked up and ran with the story as if it was fact, forgetting the old rule of “Trust But Verify.” Now, the questions are mounting about the validity of this narrative.

New York Magazine’s Michelle Celarier wrote another piece on June 26 describing the scene. 

Her account and Gasparino’s account are much different. Meanwhile, SkyBridge was upset that someone at the event told Gasparino about any interaction (thus violating the Chatham House Rules by naming names) and challenged the reporter’s article. 

Gasparino, meanwhile, has been on the attack since people questioned his reporting. A quick run through his Twitter feed reveals swipes at Celarier, SkyBridge, and anyone who criticized his reporting. 

A story like this is an inflection point for any and all publications. 

We reported on Gasparino’s reporting, and were very careful to ensure that we referenced each statement with “allegedly” and “reportedly.” 

This is the type of story that floods through the financial world faster than the truth can put its pants on. And whether Gasparino or Celarier is correct – or the truth is somewhere in the middle – these are the stories that warrant media criticism. 

The bigger story out of SALT revolving around Bill Ackman had nothing to do with a dinner or conversation with Joe Biden. Stories of Ackman’s personality and wealth are always popular in the clickbait category, but the bigger takeaway was Ackman’s discussion about his lessons from Valaent and how he plans to stay more active as a manager in the future. He discussed his new goals, his strategy with Howard Hughes Corp., and his success with Chipotle.

There is no shortage of stories about the personal lives of hedge fund managers that find their way onto Page 6 of the New York Post. There’s no shortage of stories about divorces, family problems, and who has the largest house.  

The Daily Alpha tends to avoid the personal lives of money managers and aims to avoid dabbling in speculation. This stuff is little more than gossip, and the SALT dinner drama is just more of the same. That said, we’re not going to stop talking about Steve Cohen’s Balloon Dog.

There is a scene in the movie “The Game” starring Michael Douglas that resonates the focus.   

Douglas’ character, believing that he is being blackmailed by a colleague with photographs of a semi-nude woman and a set-up hotel room full of drugs, marches into the home of the colleague. He throws the pictures across the table and says… 

“And you really believe that just because you publish children's books, people are going to care about my reputation? You can have pictures of me wearing nipple rings, #*%%-$!@^ing Captain Kangaroo. The only thing they care about is the stock and whether that stock is up or down!

People tend to forget that from time to time…


Thursday’s Hedge Fund Reading List

Atlanta Business Conference: Q&A: Invesco CEO Martin L. Flanagan talks company growth, ESG investing, hedge fund meltdown

Financlal Planning: Top mutual funds that beat their benchmarks

Business Standard: Higher taxes dent growth of local hedge funds

WSJ: Ex-Goldman Head of Oil Derivatives Trading Launches Commodities Hedge Fund

Deal Breaker: After Long Drought, Anthony Scaramucci Suddenly Inundated With Government Sinecures

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Follow @FINalternatives  Be sure to check out the award-winning Modern Trader and a very special offer for first-time readers and follow @moderntradermag. You can also pick up a copy of the June Hedge Fund issue at Barnes & Noble.

Garrett Baldwin is the voice of the The Daily Alpha, the features editor for Modern Trader magazine, and the author of The Man with The Big Red Balloon.

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