Pondering The Lederer Files: Amateur Hours
Last week’s reemergence into the public eye by major Full Tilt Poker shareholder and board member Howard Lederer has provided ample fuel for discussion for industry onlookers, even if it’s all been more show than substance.
Lederer’s seven-hour video interview with major affiliate PokerNews.com, where edited segments have appeared in recent days, has offered relatively few surprises. Poker aficionados expecting a tell-all were guaranteed to be disappointed, but the real story of “The Lederer Files” may well be in answering the questions of why Lederer chose to talk at all.
Why now? Why in an interview with PokerNews? Checking in at over three hours, all told, the collective published video is a horrible, mind-numbing porridge that welds the myopic, self-important brush-offs of Lederer with an interviewer, PN’s COO Matt Parvis, who simply lacked the wherewithal to be the antagonist needed in the situation.
Parvis, to the best of my knowledge, is far more known as a consensus builder than a fighter for principles and tough stories, making him great for many tasks but a bad fit for this one. I think he gave it the proverbial old college try, but I could name a dozen outlets or poker writers that could have done it better, including right here at the fuse.
The Full Tilt situation remains right where it was before the Lederer interview: in need of someone to hold up one of the Full Tilt principals in harsh light and ask the questions that need to be asked, over and over again.
Despite Parvis’s disclaimer that doing that would have caused Lederer to clam up or end the interview, Parvis neglects to consider that had Lederer done so, it would have been every bit as much of a story, and even more telling as to the truth of Lederer’s suddenly-candid claims.
That’s likely part of why Lederer selected PokerNews for the interview, secure in the knowledge that the “news” portion of that mega-affiliate site’s name has long since become a folly designed to dupe the casual poker fan into site signups, and that Parvis himself might not quite be the best fit for the role.
PokerNews still isn’t CardPlayer, where news stories endangering poker’s status quo have been an endangered species for years, but it’s long since ventured down the path of becoming a beholden entity, putting its business interests well ahead of the need for truth. Single-topic media of all forms often find the same fate.
Still, it made a lot of sense for PN to get involved. First, there’s a ton of hits and brand recognition to be gained. Second, and even more importantly, the Lederer interview, as offered, was probably safe.
Think about it: This story already has a primary demon (Bitar), a juicy secondary demon ready to be served up by Lederer (Phil Ivey), and the promise of a good outcome for players (the combination of PokerStars’ purchase of Full Tilt’s assets and ROW player compensation, and the probable refunding of US Full Tilters by the DOJ).
Only one thing is missing from that equation, from a happy ending for almost everyone involved, and that’s consideration of the Full Tilt brand name itself. But wait… Full Tilt’s just been purchased by PokerStars, which has sunk tons of advertising dollars into PN in recent years.
Consider that equation, and the whole interview becomes a meeting of minds and concepts. It’s the “Rehabilitation of Howie” being transformed slowly into the “Rehabilitation of Full Tilt,” with both sides working toward an unlikely common goal.
If what comes of the Lederer interviews is the widespread public acceptance that the problems at Full Tilt rested squarely and solely with Ray Bitar, then all the industry players here would be happy. Bitar’s on his way to a federal prison cell, Full Tilt is soon to return — outside the US, that is — and players can rejoice.
It’s all a little too neat, but that’s usually how these things occur.
If you’ve watched all three-plus painful hours of the interview and didn’t have that light bulb go off, you haven’t been paying attention, because for all the smoke and mirrors, there’s very little here to see.
What were the highlights? Let’s see… there was Lederer declining to confirm being the “unindicted co-conspirator #1” listed in DOJ documents, blaming all of Full Tilt’s financial indiscretions on Bitar, and excoriating Phil Ivey for his self-serving 2011 lawsuit.
Lederer also circled around the questions about why Full Tilt continued to accept ROW deposits while it was in the midst of trying to plug a nine-digit hole caused by the failure to clear US-originating transactions.
None of these were surprises. Despite waiting nearly a year and a half for Lederer to speak, the script for this one could really have been written long ago. Nope, the real head-scratcher here is why anyone would or should have expected anything else.
If there’s a real lesson from the “The Lederer Files,” it’s that the poker business world still reeks with amateurism. Lederer might have outmatched Parvis before the cameras, but he’s not as professional at self-determined spin doctoring as he thinks.
Meanwhile, over on the PN side, there’s nothing in that three hours of painful video that couldn’t have been boiled down to 45 minutes or an hour with some proper editing — and that’s even adding extra time for going back and hammering Lederer on the toughest questions, which never occurred. More amateurism.
Perhaps the clearest indication of how PN flubbed the process comes near end of Part 1, when a block quote appears onscreen for several seconds, offering a purported reason for Full Tilt’s 2007 move from the US to Ireland:
“The decision to move had nothing to do with potential legislation, and everything to do with our intention to float on the London exchange somewhere.”
Who said that? Lederer? It’s such a questionable pretense that it begs for a followup, and yet there’s nothing. Perhaps Lederer stated that, attempted to retract it, and a lengthy discussion ensued, as it appeared right in an area of the videos where the outdoor background behind Lederer changed dramatically.
However, putting up an unattributed quote as a quote and failing to explore its questionable nature is more than ridiculous, it’s the low point of the whole three-plus hours.
All told, a year and a half of waiting for Lederer to speak turns out to be much, much less than advertised. For Lederer, both the motives and the time were right for him to start rehabilitating that persona, and there have been signs in other recent stories and outlets that the return of Howie was nigh.
Lederer might have even hoped he was in the clear regarding further charges based on Full Tilt activities, though the DOJ’s decision to file an amended complaint less than two weeks ago elaborating on the luxurious assets Lederer purchased via Full Tilt disbursements now seems to represent a moment of bad timing for Lederer.
Poker players victimized by Full Tilt should never forget that there’s plenty of blame to go around. By Lederer’s own admission, Full Tilt’s board of directors, all famous poker players, essentially abandoned their fiduciary responsibility to their customers to maintain expected oversight over the business’s management.
The “Aww, geez, we weren’t business experts” garbage not only can’t be accepted, it’s such a load of malarkey that Lederer felt compelled to lead with it as his opening statement. If you’re going to tell a whopper, tell it big and tell it early.
The saddest part is that the Full Tilt owners themselves might believe it. No one at Full Tilt, to date, has ever wanted to accept that responsibility. They wanted the homes and the pools and the cars, the lavish parties and the TV appearances and the offshore bank accounts, but not the responsibility.
This was always unacceptable. And all the owners, all 23 of them, have to answer for that.
Lederer also admitted that Bitar was both unqualified in the classic business sense and was the chosen guy of both himself and Chris Ferguson, the site’s single largest shareholder. Lederer’s castigating of other owners for refusing to hold hands in a Full Tilt prayer circle is especially curious in light of his own ongoing implied support of Bitar following the post-Black Friday exposure of the site’s financial distress.
That this incongruity was never hammered upon by Parvis is another of the interview’s unexplained mysteries.
As for Lederer, it’s time to start anew. He’s crafted a message and started to pick his outlets. Choosing an international site with a still-significant US presence, such as PokerNews, made perfect sense, and for PN, it made sense, too.
That it was all really just nonsense is what the rest of us had to endure.