The Wall Street Journal has a new feature section called WSJ Money, and it just launched its debut issue. WSJ Money explains it wants to give readers the sense of "sitting by a crackling campfire."
As I read, "Wealth Over the Edge," an article about the spending habits of the high-flying wealthy in Singapore, I couldn't tell whether it was meant to be a satire about the ultra-rich, a parody of shallow values, or a send up of financial journalism.
Fortunately, the article has a helpful embedded video. A female reporter says the Singapore article, written by Shibani Mahtani, is a key story in WSJ Money's debut issue. She gushes at Senior Editor Jonathan Dahl about the "genius and intelligence" of the new feature section. But wait, she's serious! Neither the female reporter nor Dahl are playing this for laughs.
Making Stuff Up
The article was supposed to be an actual (not a fictional) expose of how suddenly-wealthy people in a bubble economy squander money. But the Singapore article didn't have interviews of billionaires. Instead it interviewed their service providers, or perhaps their service provider wannabes.
An interview with nightclub owner Michael Ault included this claim:
"One night, there were these kids here -- literally kids in their 20s -- who all had their own private jets. Serious jets, too. There was an A380 which was converted to include a pool and basketball court -- it was ridiculous."
What's ridiculous is that WSJ Money printed this entertaining nonsense as if readers are supposed to believe it. Recently I wrote a financial fiction thriller, and it seems I'm part of a trend. WSJ Money writes fiction, too!
The pool on the plane story is recycled hokum. It was originally told around 2008 about Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Airbus debunked the idea of a pool on an airplane. There's no evidence that I could find that the Prince actually requested one in the first place. But a reporter, without a source, wanted readers to believe he asked for one.
It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a Billionaire!
WSJ Money's article then interviews an Indonesian-born fashion merchant who points to some people and says: "See those guys over there? The three people in the corner? Their combined worth is between six to seven billion U.S. dollars -- and I know this for a fact."
No names are given and the reader is left to imagine the source of the claimed wealth and to imagine the nationalities of the people involved. Readers don't have enough information to know whether the fashion merchant's claim is fiction, but the reporting is definitely worthy of a comic book.
I have to hand it to Jonathan Dahl. WSJ Money gave me fair warning that I'd get the feeling I was sitting around a crackling campfire. That's exactly the right place for tall tales.
Follow Janet Tavakoli on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JanetTavakoli