How John Mackey almost gave himself away — and I missed it

After initially insisting he'd done nothing wrong, Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey has apologized for posting messages about his company and the competition under the pseudonym "Rahodeb." Most people are celebrating the reversal. But I'm kicking myself. I should have known. I, of all people, should have known.

When I was reporting on the meltdown of Mackey's dotcom spinoff, WholePeople, some Whole Foods employees whispered to me about Mackey's love of Yahoo Finance's message boards. It was a tip I didn't have time to follow up on as I chased down the details of how Mackey's absences, followed by meddling, botched WholePeople's launch. Towards the very end of my reporting, days before the story went to press, Mackey answered some questions by email. And that's where he almost — almost — gave himself away.

Whole Foods had agreed to sell what was left of WholePeople to Gaiam, an e-commerce company founded by Jirka Rysavy, a close friend of Mackey. Mackey agreed to be Gaiam's co-CEO. I asked him if that role would distract him from running Whole Foods. Here's what he told me on July 15, 2000:

I'll decrease my involvement there as the transition is complete.... My title of co-CEO of Gaiam.com is largely titular and transitional.
And here's what "Rahodeb," Mackey's online alter ego on Yahoo, posted that same month, according to the Wall Street Journal:
I doubt Mackey will stay heavily involved with Gaiam.com. I expect his CEO role is more transitional and titular.
If only I'd seen that post, I'd have known instantly who "Rahodeb" was. But it's strangely reassuring to find out, seven years later, that Mackey really was just as dishonest and deceitful as his employees were telling me he was.