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Who's the muppet? Greg Smith and 'Why I Quit Goldman Sachs'

October 22, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • How derisive is the slang term "muppet"? Former Goldman Sachs staffer Greg Smith and the furry Gonzo might disagree on the matter.
How derisive is the slang term "muppet"? Former Goldman Sachs… (Frank Franklin II / Associated…)

Greg Smith appeared on "60 Minutes" on Sunday, stirring serious interest in his book "Why I Quit Goldman Sachs," which publishes today. Smith scored a book deal after writing an explosive New York Times op-ed after leaving the company.

Smith spent 12 years at Goldman Sachs, starting as an intern and working his way up to a position as a vice president. "Why I Quit Goldman Sachs" is an indictment of the investment firm's corporate culture, which, in the end, Smith found intolerable.

He accuses his colleagues of a number of offenses; they include treating clients with disrespect, calling those they took to be unsuspecting dupes "muppets." In coverage of the book, Smith himself is getting the muppet treatment.

Under the headline "Who are the muppets now? Goldman exposé falls short of hype," Reuters writes, "Reviewers, who received copies of the full book, have panned it for being a sleepy read with no big revelations -- or worse, misleading."

The Guardian writes, "Now the early reviews are in and it looks like Smith's turn to be called a muppet. William Cohan, author of the definitive Goldman Sachs history 'Money and Power,' has blasted Smith as a 'hypocrite,' his facts are being questioned and the bank has cast Smith as a disgruntled one percenter who turned nasty after his bosses turned down his call for a $1m bonus."

Businessweek parses the use of "muppet" with a linguist's care. "There’s debate over how much of a put-down it is to call a person a muppet, or whether the term was used at the firm. James Stewart of the New York Times reports that 'muppet' is common slang in London. Goldman Sachs hired forensic specialists to search firm emails for mention of the word. The result, a nine-page document, was delivered to the Bloomberg organization in advance of publication. They turned up a lot of references to the new Muppets movie, but no systematic discussion of fund managers as muppets."

For his part, Smith still maintains that calling clients "muppets" was not nice. New York Magazine interviewed the banker-turned-author. "'The muppet search is so hollow,' Smith says, taking a sip of his orange juice. 'The real problem isn’t calling someone a muppet. It’s that reason you’re calling them a muppet is because they got tricked on an investment.'"

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