Why Did Simon & Schuster Wait So Long to Kill the GSElevator Book?

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The tell-all finance book is dead! Long live the tell-all finance book. As Business Insider reported yesterday, John Lefevre, the man best known for running the @GSElevator Twitter account despite never working at the hallowed investment bank and rocking the classic guns/tinted shades/baseball cap look, has lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster. Lefevre was outed as the man behind the Lloyd Blankfein icon just a week and a half ago, by New York Times Dealbook overlord Andrew Ross Sorkin. The move is a full 180 from the publisher’s initial reaction to the reveal; its editor, Matthew Benjamin, told Sorkin that Lefevre had been “straight” with him, and the discovery was “expected.” Benjamin even told the Financial Times Lefevre’s identity “only adds to the humor and escapism.”

There’s just one problem with that version of Lefevre’s story: even if he was straight with Simon & Schuster, he was never honest with the people who’d eventually be buying his book.

NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s response to Sorkin’s scoop was widely mocked for its “admittedly naïve” assumption that Goldman Sachs wasn’t joking when it said talking in elevators had been banned during Lefevre’s reign of anonymous terror. But Sullivan also made the rather important point that Lefevre had out-and-out lied to the paper two years before in an interview with Kevin Roose, a reporter who knows a thing or two about the asinine Wall Street mentality @GSElevator claimed to bring to the masses.

“Are you really a Goldman employee?” Roose asked point-blank in a 2011 interview conducted via email. “Yes,” Lefevre responded. “However, I cannot really elaborate on this in terms of team or location, other than to say that I am a career banker…. If people are at all skeptical about my employment status, it doesn’t bother me. I am doing this for my own amusement.” Later in the same interview, Lefevre claimed that the quotes sent out by the account were authentic outtakes from Wall Street culture: “The first few [tweets] were either conversations that I have overheard directly, or that have been told to me by colleagues…. Once it started to get some attention, I started to receive some good submissions.”

Lefevre was even more insistent on @GSElevator’s true-to-life nature in a Financial Times profile run a few months later. Tracy Alloway relays a full-blown backstory to the account: “The person who claims to be behind @GSElevator describes themself as a former first-year analyst, who has since worked in Goldman’s investment banking and capital markets divisions.” And, once again, Lefevre insisted that @GSElevator is more exposé than satire: “As a parody, the Twitter feed is striking enough. But according to its creator the vast majority of the tweets are genuine – though they aren’t necessarily overheard in crowded office elevators.”

That’s a very different portrait of the account than the one Lefevre offers in his response to Sorkin’s article, also on Business Insider. (In the URL, it’s charmingly billed as “An Open Letter to Haters.”) Despite lying to Roose, presumably to boost his credibility, Lefevre claims @GSElevator has “never been specifically about Goldman Sachs,” and he’s always “been completely transparent in saying that my tweets are edited, curated, and crafted.” Cue this Twitter exchange with comedian Rob Delaney, where Lefevre brags in a since-deleted post that his “authenticity” has been “confidentially confirmed by NYT & FT.”

According to Roose, who obtained a copy of Lefevre’s book proposal in January, Lefevre kept insisting on that authenticity right up until he landed the deal. The proposal isn’t public, but Roose writes, “According to the proposal, he does [work at Goldman Sachs] — or at least did — a fact the author assures he will confirm to a publisher in private.” Which means Lefevre’s supposed insider status could well have been a major factor in Simon & Schuster’s decision to sign him, and pay him, in the first place.

All this is to say nothing of Lefevre’s supposed plagiarism, allegations that came to light long before his identity (though Gawker uncovered some more after Sorkin’s unveiling). Last April, @GSElevator cribbed a joke from stand-up comedian Mike Drucker, then proceeded to deny it and take the high road by calling Drucker “ugly as shit” and Delaney, who defended him, “the Morgan Stanley of Twitter. People assume they have to pretend to be impressed, but there’s nothing there.” Not the kind of guy one wants writing a full-length book, which generally requires original content.

The question, then, is less why Touchstone, the imprint in charge of Straight to Hell (yup, that’s the book’s real name), pulled the plug than why they stood by Lefevre in the first place. In a statement, the publishing house said they pulled the project due to “information that has recently come to [their] attention,” though it’s unclear whether that information is Lefevre’s identity, his employment history, or his alleged joke-cribbing.

Lefevre claimed to the New York Times yesterday that Touchstone told him their “hands are tied.” If that’s true — though, coming from Lefevre, it may well not be — Touchstone made the right decision (refusing to give a liar and a plagiarist money for lying and plagiarizing) for the wrong reasons (people justifiably yelling at them for doing that). It’s a victory for the forces of anti-douchiness that Straight to Hell is temporarily deep-sixed. But it’s a shame Simon & Schuster didn’t pull the project before the bad publicity made them do it.