Ever the idealist, The Business Press Maven likes nothing more than to hear a case for shorting motherhood, apple pie or Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A). And Doug Kass, a highly regarded short seller as well as contributor to our own TheStreet.com, obliged (in the case of Berkshire) on the pages of this weekend's Barron's.

And that is where my trouble began. As much as I wanted to hear Doug's courageous case (though courage might be a kind word for betting against Warren Buffett), his interview with Barron's was given in the question and answer format, which should always always be a red flag for you, the savvy investor.

Why? Because Q&As work to the interviewee's advantage in that it is hard to frame, challenge or dispute the subject's thoughts and claims. And if you are a savvy investor, you want to hear thoughts (especially thoughts about going short a man commonly referred to as a Sage). Otherwise it is too easily to be lulled into believing the last printed word you read, which of course is bad investment technique indeed.

They Just Don't Get Berkshire and Kass!

In this case particularly, such a mountain mover of a call needs to be put to the test and the Q&A, which involves asking a simple question, hearing the answer and moving on to the next question, too often fails when it comes to placing an interviewee's theories against counterclaims.

And there is a lot the reporter could have counterclaimed here.

When asked "Why do so now," (referring to shorting Berkshire), Kass opens with the argument that Berkshire's outperformance has been narrowing in the past decade because pay for hedge fund managers has risen. And because it has risen, finding a successor will be difficult. Said Kass:
"... in part because of the lucrative compensation set-up in the hedge-fund industry, the investment landscape now is inhabited by a lot more smart and aggressive managers who comb for value -- far more than there were 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Berkshire Hathaway's outperformance versus the market has been narrowing in the last decade, and I expect that will continue."

The next question? A simple "What else concerns you about Berkshire?," when the reporter should have said: "Wait a doggone moment."

Fact is, because a company is overperforming to a smaller degree is hardly reason to short. Remember, losses are potentially unlimited when you short. Don't you want to short a company that is going to flat-out underperform, not one that is in any comparative underperformance range?

Moreover, I'll let the bald claim that money managers are smarter now than they were pass, though I must add that I am disappointed that my spiritual brother in overly critical thought buys into such a sentimental claim of human progress.

More important is the statement -- again, left unchallenged because of the interview format -- that Berkshire's slowing in results has to do with comparisons against money managers who are brainier because they are richer.

Here's where any cub reporter would chime in and ask: Doesn't it have to do with competition in acquisitions from private-equity firms, who pretty much had access to free money in the past decade because of low interest rates and were buying everything not nailed down?

This is why Buffett, no fool and ever patient, sat on a pile of cash a mile high. He even made his first international acquisition -- in Israel -- and appears to be making one of his first serious forays into Europe. Did the fact that he didn't chase after the private-equity cowboys stateside mean short-term performance in the past few years wasn't as great as it could have been? Well, sure. But does it mean that Berkshire is set up better for the future than the impatient overpayers, many of whom are already crashing and burning? Of course. And it doesn't have anything to do with the compensation structure of the hedge-fund industry.

The next unchallenged Kassism: "I'm also short Berkshire because the salad days for insurance, which is the cornerstone of Berkshire's business, are over."

I have a one-word retort: Geico. But more importantly, I want to know why the reporter didn't. It's a very good insurance play long-term and, uh, is car insurance wilted lettuce?

Not to mention that at the most recent annual meeting, Buffett spoke about the company's recent success insuring municipal bonds. It's a little different, but aren't companies like MBIA ( MBI) and Ambac ( ABK) using Buffett to insure them? Are those salad days over ... before they even really began? We won't know, because if the question was asked, the answer wasn't shared.

Anyhow, Kass is soon off talking about Buffett's exposure to the housing downturn through Clayton Holdings ( CLAY). But instead of the journalist noting, for the savvy investor's benefit, that Clayton is but a pimple in Bekshire's vast stable of holdings, the conversation then turns toward Kass' shorts in the dental industry.

Anyhow, there are concerns about the fact that Buffett can't work or live forever. But that is no secret and has probably been priced into the stock. In fact, it's probably another reason for the narrowing outperformance, which, again, is no reason to short. What is probably not priced in is the fact that his successor might be decent. And the potential for upside surprise is not what you should look for in a short.

Anyhow, Doug is normally my man. And he talks about shorting more than Berkshire. He recommends everything from Colgate-Palmolive ( CL) to Target ( TGT) to Danaher ( DHR), which Doug says he considers a dental company. But no matter the wisdom of the interviewee or the merits of the underlying ideas, which Doug spells out in more detail here, beware and be aware anytime you see ideas set forth in a question and answer format.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.