By Nicholas Varchaver
January 8, 2017

Good morning.

Anybody who thinks the media are too cynical should spend a month reading only coverage of Silicon Valley in the business press. There, the fawning too often competes with the sycophantic to achieve the most exaggerated accolades for startups that have barely left the crib. That’s why I’ve become a fan of the work of Erin Griffith in Fortune (the very operation that employs me). She brings a sharp eye and an H.L. Mencken-esque dyspepsia that I find most salutary in this particular arena of coverage.

The title of her new feature, “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley,” couldn’t be more direct and the article makes its case with both hard evidence and writerly panache. It opens with a scene of venture capitalist Vinod Khosla—precisely the sort of idol that Mencken would’ve aimed his rapier at—contemptuously brushing aside a journalist named Jonathan Shieber who had the temerity to raise questions about one of Khosla’s investments, “vegan mayo” maker Hampton Creek, at a public event a little over a year ago:

Khosla cut him off with a “talk to the hand” motion and turned to the audience with a wide, this guy amirite? grin. “Here’s a journalist,” he said, “who doesn’t know what’s going on, has an opinion, just like he does, to make interesting stories.” He turned back to Shieber: “I know a lot more about how they’re doing, excuse me, than you do.”

It turns out that Khosla didn’t know so much, to put it charitably, and Griffith ultimately makes sense of Silicon Valley in a way that I’ve never seen before. She describes a financial ecosystem where pressure from investors like Khosla creates incentives for companies like Hampton Creek to stretch the truth and bend the rules to the breaking point—and where investors then deny problems when they come to light or profess bewilderment.





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