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CEO Porn Loses Allure After Buffett Revelation

Now, I don't want to go overboard. Buffett is still Buffett, he handled the David Sokol Affair with aplomb. He threw his errant deputy under the bus so fast that you'd think the poor sap was coated with Lubrizol or some other fine lubricant. Everybody else on the planet thought it was insider trading when Sokol pitched the company to Buffett even though he owned shares of the company, but the Oracle of Omaha thought it wasn't such a terrible thing. He said so initially. It was a bad move, and he knows it, at least now.

"I don't hold myself to a standard of perfection or I'd have committed suicide a long time ago," he said. Aw shucks. Don't you just love the guy? After all, according to Reuters, he pointed out that there are 260,000 people working for his company. Got to be a few mistakes buried in there somewhere.

What made his fumbling of the Sokol trade so phenomenal is that Buffett has made a big deal of employee integrity. Buffett has been quoted as saying that integrity is like oxygen, and that if you don't have it, "you have nothing." He has also been quoted as saying that losing money is forgivable, but staining one's reputation is not.

He said that in the context of the Salomon Brothers fiasco in 1991, when some traders were caught cornering the market for the two-year Treasury note. Buffett was brought in as a white-knight chairman after the scandal broke. I remember that he was a white-knight chairman because I was covering Salomon at the time, and I probably characterized him that way. I also recall asking Buffett a mildly challenging question at a Salomon press conference, and that it was answered not by Buffett but by another member of the press, anxious to spare the Oracle the necessity of doing so.

See, we in the media have a stake in Buffett's reputation. It's not just those of us who have written books about him, but that Buffett is as much of a symbol as he is an actual money manager. With his cheap suits and down-home manner, he is a living symbol of the warm and humane side of capitalism. Hell, if all capitalists were SOBs we'd be the ones committing suicide, not Buffett.
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