To steal a line from our collective youth:
Something's happening here -- what it is ain't exactly clear.
For months now, bad feelings have been brewing between New York Times
reporter Kurt Eichenwald and Pittsburgh lawyer James Lieber.
Last year, two books were published about the crimes of Archer Daniels
One, Rats in the Grain, was written by Lieber and published by Four
Walls Eight Windows.
The other, The Informant, was written by Eichenwald, and published by
Eichenwald doesn't mention Lieber in his book.
But Lieber does mention Eichenwald in his.
On page 31 of Rats in the Grain, Lieber describes a "protracted battle"
between Eichenwald and ADM shareholder activist David Hoech.
Early in the ADM saga, Hoech had written a series of anonymous letters
accusing the company and its directors of wrongdoing.
Before writing his book on ADM, Eichenwald, over a period of three
years, wrote more than 50 stories for the New York Times about
widespread wrongdoing and criminality at ADM.
Eichenwald and Hoech got into it over a 1996 press release put out by
ADM executive turned Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) mole Mark
Whitacre. (Relying heavily on Whitacre's undercover work for the FBI --
his taping of hundreds of hours of meetings between executives from ADM
and its competitors fixing prices -- the Justice Department forced ADM
to plead guilty in October 1996 to price-fixing crimes. ADM was fined
$100 million. Whitacre himself was caught stealing millions from ADM and
is doing nine years in federal prison in South Carolina.)
Lieber reported that Hoech supplied Eichenwald with the Whitacre press
release and that, subsequently, a copy of the document got into the
hands of Williams & Connolly -- ADM's criminal defense law firm.
The implication -- Eichenwald had faxed the document to the law firm.
Lieber says that Williams' & Connolly then filed the document for ADM
in a federal court in Illinois.
An October 31, 1996 legal motion filed by Williams & Connolly entered
the Whitacre press release into the record as an exhibit.
According to a footnote to the motion, "the exhibit is redacted to
delete the addressee."
"In an emotional taped call, he (Hoech) accused Eichenwald of betraying
him as a source and carrying water for ADM," Lieber wrote in his book.
This allegation -- when it appeared in Rats in the Grain -- drove
Eichenwald and the New York Times over the edge.
In a July 28, 2000 letter from New York Times lawyer Adam Liptak to
Four Walls Eight Windows publisher John Oakes, Liptak accuses Lieber of
making a "series of false statements" in his book.
According to Liptak's letter, the most serious issue "is the accusation
that Kurt Eichenwald betrayed a source and violated his and the Times'
standards for objectivity."
"The accusation is false," Liptak writes.
Liptak says that Eichenwald did not provide the document in question to
Williams & Connolly or anyone else associated with ADM.
As for the Times phone number that appears at the top of the Whitacre
press release, Liptak argues that the number is assigned to a Times fax
machine that "does not send outgoing faxes."
Most outgoing fax machines print the fax number of the sender at the
top of the page.
But according to Liptak, "even Times fax machines that can send
outgoing faxes do not print fax telltales on outgoing faxes."
According to Liptak, the "telephone bills for the month in question
indicate that there were no outgoing calls on the fax number listed on
And, Liptak charged, "the purported telltale on the document. . .is
written in Times New Roman 10 point -- a font and size that is not
printed by any fax machine on the market. It is, however, the default
font for Microsoft Word, the popular word processing program."
In a footnote on page 601 of the hardcover edition of his book,
Eichenwald says that after receiving the press release with his fax
number on it, he checked the court records and "found the same document
filed as an exhibit, but it did not contain a telltale for my fax
"The document that I had been sent was a forgery," he wrote.
In the upcoming paperback edition of The Informant, Eichenwald will
update his search for the person who "created the forgery."
"In a telephone conversation with Whitacre, I asked if he had, in fact,
forged the document," Eichenwald writes for the paperback edition.
"Whitacre admitted doing so, although he said he could no longer explain
his motivation. I would point out, however, that the fall of 1996 was
when Whitacre's psychological state was at its most confused. After his
failure to obtain Presidential clemency, Whitacre's truth-telling
stumbled. Following a conversation with Hoech -- who had begun a new
letter-writing campaign attacking my reporting as part of a conspiracy
with the government to make ADM look good -- Whitacre suddenly grew
shaky about his new confession. He said in a phone call that he could
not specifically remember creating the forgery, and thought he might not
have done it. Still, he acknowledged having told me earlier that he had
forged the letter, and could not explain the change in his story.
Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the document is a Whitacre forgery,
and that long-held belief led me to discover some of the other bogus
records he created during the time of his greatest psychological
Lieber, on the other hand, is not convinced that the Times fax number
at the top of the Whitacre document is a forgery.
Rats in the Grain is also going to paperback and Lieber and his
publisher say they won't back down in the face of the letter from
Four Walls Eight Windows publisher Oakes says the Liptak letter was "a
lot of puffery, it was a blatant attempt at intimidation, and I believe
it was totally insincere."
"You never know until the day is done, but it looks like an empty
threat," Oakes said. "It was a classic attempt to intimidate, when they
knew they didn't have any moral or legal ground to stand on."
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1999).
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman