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TheStreet Open House

The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week: Oct. 26

Stocks in this article: AIGAMDGSMNSTZNGAAAPL

1. Sorry Greg Smith

Don't go anywhere just yet Greg Smith. Before your 15 minutes of fame expire and you move onto your next adventure, whatever that may be, we owe you an apology.

Back in March, we ridiculed Smith, the Goldman Sachs (GS) salesman turned Wall Street turncoat, in a Dumbest entry titled "Farewell Cruel Goldman." In case you missed that particular week's list, we took Smith and his goodbye missive to task, mostly for the obscenely public nature of his quitting via the New York Times op-ed page.

We believed then, as we believe now, that if he was intent on walking out of the white-shoe firm after 12 years on the job, then he should have simply informed his human resources manager as opposed to a national newspaper with an ax to grind against his employer. Smith may have been shooting for a Jerry Maguire moment at the time, but instead he shot himself in the foot, primarily because nobody has much sympathy for a person voluntarily quitting an extraordinarily high-paying job in an era of mass layoffs unless they have a really good reason.

Let's be honest big guy, bemoaning "the trajectory of its (Goldman's) culture" does not qualify as a good reason. Not even close.

And judging by the response this week to Smith's press tour in promotion of his book, Why I left Goldman Sachs, a book for which he reportedly received an advance of $1.5 million, the skepticism over his departure -- and the hoopla made over it -- remains. Nevertheless, we heartily disagree with the latest round of Smith-bashing in the wake of the book's publication and his appearances on 60 Minutes, The Today Show and the like.

The main criticism about the book is the lack of a bombshell revelation or any strikingly new information about Goldman's misdeeds. For example, in the same paper that published his going away letter, financial writer James Stewart summarily dismissed it saying, "There were no examples of a toxic culture at work, no actual names of morally bankrupt people and no examples of a client getting ripped off."

Come on Jim. What were you expecting, that Smith was going to give you Lloyd Blankfein in the conservatory with the toxic mortgage bonds? Get a clue. That's the stuff of whistleblowers and Smith is clearly not a whistleblower. Misdirected, ego-driven schmuck? Yes. Whistleblower? No.

Think about the mammoth rewards he could have collected if he actually came up with something really juicy about Goldman. A whistleblower at UBS just nabbed $104 million for spilling the beans. If Smith had anything really good, the sky would be the limit considering Carl Levin's contempt for Goldie.

Ok. Here's the apology part.

Although Smith is not technically blowing the whistle on Goldman does not mean we should totally ignore his tune. However misguided Smith may be, he's heading in the right direction. Goldman Sachs must have done something wrong during the credit bubble or else they would not have paid a $550 million settlement to the Securities and Exchange Commission. If you think they ponied up all that cash because they felt a sense of remorse then get another clue.

Right now, the only Goldmanite in the federal government's crosshairs is the "fabulous" Fab Tourre, who goes to trial for his mortgage misdeeds next summer. Tourre, an executive director who barely outranked Smith in the firm's hierarchy, is still the firm's only person facing the heat over the hundreds of billions of dollars lost during the financial crisis. We can see the T-shirts at the S.E.C. now: 'The financial world went to hell in a hand basket and all we got was the fabulous Fab Tourre!'

To us, that's criminal. Is the Goldman omerta really that strong that not a single high-ranking executive at the firm will break ranks and tell the truth about the firm's bad behavior? Will regulators -- and the American public -- forever be relegated to being, to borrow Smith's term, "muppets" of Goldman's inner circle?

Sadly, that seems to be the case. And as we move further away from the financial crisis it will become even more so as more files get shredded, more hard drives get deleted and more memories get faded.

On that note, we apologize to you Greg Smith for your recent mistreatment. You did the best you could do. It's not your fault that you couldn't move the ball further downfield and offer some harder evidence to please your critics. As we all know by now, you rose as high as you could at the firm. Unfortunately, you just couldn't reach the rung where you knew anything worth knowing.

Then again, had you risen any higher, you probably wouldn't have shared the juiciest stuff anyway.

-- Written by Gregg Greenberg in New York.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.
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