When Bloomberg BusinessWeek contacted Andrew Schiff, the 46-year-old director of marketing at Euro Pacific Capital, he was told that they were writing a story on how dwindling bonuses are affecting Wall Street heavy-hitters. But when the story came out, Schiff, a married father of two who earns a whopping 350K a year, realized he was cast as one of the Street’s unpopular titans. ”Would I have done the interview, knowing what I know now?” asks Schiff, “No, absolutely not.”
Though the story’s writer, Max Abelson, didn’t misquote Schiff and got most of the details right, in the context of the entire article, Schiff came across as a “poor little rich boy.” A false impression of Schiff metastasized in the media and provoked rageful responses from readers: 1724 comments on the Abelson article alone; 300 emails delivered to Schiff’s work-account, including one perversely wishing cancer on his kids; and five nasty phone calls. Within days, other media outlets ran stories on the vitriolic reaction to Schiff: The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo, NPR, ABC News, among many others. In a phone interview with The Slant, Schiff sounds off on what he perceives as Abelson’s shoddy journalism.
In a jam: The article starts off with a story Schiff told Abelson about being stuck in horrible traffic. “After twenty minutes of not moving, I got out of the car to see what was going on because I couldn’t tell. I said: ‘What the hell is going on here?’ I felt stuck, but that wasn’t a metaphor for my life.” The way the quote appeared in Abelson’s article? “I feel stuck. The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.” Schiff continues, “People have taken that to mean that I think my life is a dead end and that I’m not happy. I didn’t mean that at all, but the way he juxtaposed those quotes gave an inaccurate impression.”
You got the wrong guy: When Abelson approached Schiff about the article, it was to discuss how hedge fund types, whose bonuses once ranged from 60 to 80 percent of their salary, are faring now that the big bonus-belly has flattened. “I’m not that guy. I’m not even a banker,” Schiff tells Eyeballs For Errors. “My bonus is 1/6 of my salary. I wasn’t a good person to center this story on.” Schiff offered up details about his life–that he rents (rather than owns) a 1,200 sq. ft. two bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill because he can’t afford to buy one in his neighborhood; that his two kids–a girl, 10 and a boy, 7–share a bedroom; that their home doesn’t even have a dishwasher; that they rent a summer house in Connecticut (as opposed to The Hamptons); that they’re straining to pay for the private school their daughter just began attending last year–to say that the massive scale back on bonuses for the overlords of Wall Street will mean “they’ll have to adjust to a lifestyle that looks more like mine, which is modest compared to the extravagant ones they’re used to. That was not to say that I’m dissatisfied with my life or that my salary is too low. I make a very high salary in terms of most Americans. It’s extremely high, but not on a Wall Street scale. That was my point.”
The dwindling upper middle class: There’s another reason Schiff gave Abelson extensive information about his lifestyle and struggle to stretch 350K: to provide a yardstick for measuring the ever-shrinking value of a dollar in an expensive, high tax city like New York. “On my salary, you’d think I’d have an apartment with a dishwasher, that I’d be able to buy a three bedroom home in my chosen neighborhood and put both kids in private school starting from kindergarten with no sweat, but after taxes–which is 45 percent of my income–that’s a lot harder than I ever imagined it would be. I was making a broader comment on how the middle and upper middle class is shrinking along with their purchasing power.”
For the record: “I’m very happy and I make plenty of money. The person in the article is pretty much the complete opposite of me. But reality doesn’t really matter when it comes to writing a good story, does it?”