Joe Trippi – Mastermind?
I’ve been busy trying to close my Howard Dean/Emergent Media story for Wired, which accounts for a few days of silence here, but I did notice this very interesting Joe Trippi profile at The New Republic.
Trippi is such an interesting character that I was tempted to make him the center of my story. I chose not to because I wanted to talk about the structure of the campaign rather than background of the man managing it. But now I’m especially glad I didn’t go this route, because Noam Scheiber’s piece is very good.
Scheiber talks about Trippi’s experience as a stock speculator and participant in the infamous Raging Bull message boards. Trippi was a vocal investor in Wave Systems and then an employee of the company. Scheiber is fairly charitable about this, only indirectly alluding to the collapse of Wave’s share price. (It ran from the teens to the high forties in 1999 and 2000 and bottomed out at about .75 after the crash – it now floats at around $2.50.) When I first found this out, while doing research for my own story on Dean, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. For one thing, I haven’t yet figured out if, at the time that Trippi was praising the stock on the message boards, he was also taking a check from the company, or if he stopped hyping the stock when he was hired. And, though I figured quite a bit could be made of this by somebody with an ax to grind, it is the kind of thing that seems most significant to people who are unfamiliar with the rather peculiar environment of the R.B. message boards during the height of the boom. I spent a lot of time on Raging Bull when researching Dumb Money. From Sheiber’s piece, it sounds like everybody in the Wave Systems forum knew exactly what was going on with Trippi – and were completely thrilled that one of the online traders who was long on Wave was in a position to communicate directly with the company executives. I suspect that, given the denoument, this may be a slight exageration. On the other hand, Wave survived the crash – albeit after its shareholders took a brutal haircut – and that’s more than can be said for most of such bubble companies.
Anyway, for a look at Trippi way back when, here is an interview with random1 from January 27, 2000. This quote is a perfect expression of the machismo of the R.B. boards just before the bubble burst:
“Most of my online friends just cannot figure out exactly what I do for a living, and to tell you the truth there are days where even I don’t know. I can be in a Senate race in Oregon one day, on MSNBC or Fox as a commentator the next, and then suddenly find myself on a plane to Greece or Africa, the Middle East, or even Belgrade in the middle of hostilities. Nothing concentrates the mind like a secret police guy with an Uzi pointed in your direction. I get my biggest laughs from online slammers who think they can somehow freak me out of my stock.”
Online slammers refers to short-sellers who would jump into a company discussion and spread false rumors (or true ones), trying to create some downward movement so that that could “cover” at a lower price.