Winners & Losers 2009: Feuds

Name-calling, stone-throwing and supersize lawsuits: the egos and ideas that clashed in 2009.

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Jim Cramer vs. Nouriel Roubini
The hyperactive host of CNBC’s Mad Money wrote in a blog post early this year that NYU economics prof Roubini was too “intoxicated” with his own “prescience and vision” to admit markets were improving. Roubini, who accurately predicted the magnitude of the financial crisis, had a succinct reply. “Cramer is a buffoon. He should just shut up because he has no shame.”

Martin Eberhard vs. Elon Musk
In May, former Tesla Motors CEO Eberhard sued the electric car company and its CEO Musk, alleging slander, libel and breach of contract. Eberhard accused Musk of taking credit for founding the company and trying to “rewrite history.” Tesla said the lawsuit was “an unfair personal attack,” but the two sides settled in September. The company refers to both men as co-founders.

Chris Anderson vs. Malcolm Gladwell
Wired editor Anderson published Free: The Future of a Radical Price this summer, arguing companies can make a lot of money by giving things away for free. The concept struck fellow egghead Gladwell as rubbish, and he penned a devastating critique in The New Yorker. Anderson shot back on his blog, in a post titled “Dear Malcolm: Why so threatened?” but ignored Gladwell’s larger criticisms, mainly that YouTube, which Anderson holds up as a prime example of his theory, has failed to turn a profit.

Bruce Springsteen vs. Ticketmaster
The Boss is a champion of the working class, and he doesn’t take kindly to price gouging. A posting on Springsteen’s website early this year lashed out at Ticketmaster for allegedly withholding tickets for one of his upcoming shows and reselling them at inflated prices on a sister site. “The abuse of our fans and our trust by Ticketmaster has made us as furious as it has made many of you,” the posting read. Ticketmaster blamed the problem on a technical glitch, and issued an apology. But Barry Diller, chairman of Ticketmaster, said Springsteen himself was partly to blame. “It seems that Mr. Springsteen held back from his fans all but 108 of the 1,126 tickets closest to the stage,” he told the New York Post.

Dov Charney vs. Woody Allen
American Apparel settled a long-standing lawsuit with Allen in May, agreeing to pay the famous director US$5 million after using an image of him from the movie Annie Hall in an ad campaign without permission. “Threats and press leaks by American Apparel designed to smear me did not work,” Allen told reporters after the settlement. Dov Charney, the company’s oddball Montreal-born founder, issued his own statement: “I believe that if Mr. Allen became more familiar with the company, he might appreciate some aspects of American Apparel, specifically our commitment to creativity.”

Rupert Murdoch vs. Google
The Australian media mogul has been waging a war of words against Google all year, accusing the company’s news service of theft. “They steal our stories,” he told Sky News. “They just take them.” Other News Corp. execs have been equally harsh; one likened Google and its ilk to “parasites.” Murdoch, who wants to erect a pay wall around his newspaper sites, ratcheted things up in November and said he will consider pulling all of his media content from Google’s news aggregator in 2010.

Jim Balsillie vs. Nortel Networks
Balsillie complained Research In Motion was “blocked at every turn” when attempting to bid on Nortel Networks’ wireless assets in this summer’s bankruptcy auction. RIM also stoked fears that a sale to a foreign company may “significantly, adversely affect national interests, with potential national security implications.” Nortel responded by saying the other bidders in the auction had no problem with the process. “RIM has refused, however, to comply with the court approved procedures,” the company said. In the end, Swedish giant Ericsson scooped up the assets.

Jim Balsillie vs. NHL
Balsillie was no more successful at buying the Phoenix Coyotes. He offered to pay US$212.5 million for the bankrupt hockey team, but only if he could relocate the club to Hamilton. That didn’t sit well with the NHL, which twice thwarted Balsillie’s past attempts to purchase a team. Balsillie later agreed to keep the team in Arizona for the rest of the season before relocating, but the bankruptcy judge ultimately rejected his bid “with prejudice.” Balsillie chose to look on the bright side: “Nobody can deny that we are now a big step closer to having a seventh NHL team in Canada.”

Paul Krugman vs. Niall Ferguson
Historian Ferguson challenged Noble Prize — winning economist Krugman while sitting next to him during a panel discussion in April. Ferguson slammed the massive amounts of government spending in the U.S., arguing it would push up interest rates and lead to stagflation. “I hate to teach arithmetic to a Nobel laureate, but it doesn’t quite add up,” he quipped. Krugman opined the extent of Ferguson’s economic knowledge was “really sad,” and explained why stimulus spending was the only appropriate response to the crisis. Ferguson wasn’t convinced. “If you want to try the Soviet model, fine,” he smugly remarked. The audience booed. Krugman just shook his head.

Irene Rosenfeld vs. Cadbury
The CEO of Kraft Foods made an audacious US$16.7-billion offer for Cadbury in September, only to be rebuffed. Cadbury chairman Roger Carr wrote to Rosenfeld to tell her that getting “absorbed into Kraft’s low-growth, conglomerate business model” was an “unappealing prospect.” Kraft executives initially joked about Cadbury’s chilly brush-off, but few observers expected Rosenfeld to back down. And, sure enough, in November, she launched a hostile US$16.7-billion takeover bid.

Annie Leibovitz vs. Art Capital Group
Finance company Art Capital Group sued photographer Annie Leibovitz this summer after she was unable to pay off her debt. Leibovitz borrowed US$24 million from Art Capital in 2008, and used her homes in New York and rights to her entire photography library as collateral. Art Capital sued in order to gain access to the houses when Leibovitz failed to pay up, and accused her of “boldly deceptive conduct.” A spokesperson for Leibovitz dismissed the lawsuit as “harassment.” The two sides reached a settlement in September, but the details were not disclosed.

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