Which Forbes Boss Compromised By P.I. Shots Of Mistress?

Klutzy Adam Penenberg, in a boring story about personal privacy for Media Post, gives away a juicy tidbit about one of his former bosses at Forbes. The magazine decided against a probe into the chief executive of Kroll Associates, the private investigators, because of a fear that he might possess photographs of a high-ranking Forbes executive's mistress, and expose the relationship.

Penenberg had been commissioned to write a cover story, in 1999, for Forbes on the end of privacy. (Privacy has been ending since way before the proliferation of blogs.) The editor suggested, as a gimmick, that the magazine commission an investigation into Jules Kroll, the legendary founder of one of the best-known corporate spy firms.

The reporter ran the project past one of Kroll's rivals. "Well, you know, you could easily find someone to do that," the P.I. said. But he advised Penenberg that there were photos floating around of the mistress of a man high up on the magazine's masthead. "And if I've got 'em, Kroll's got 'em."

In the feature that appeared, the privacy guinea pig was not Kroll, but Penenberg himself, who had little to reveal. The editor, when told of the possibility of retaliation, had said: "Oh my God," he said, spilling his coffee. "We could have gotten fired. Okay, okay, investigate yourself."

Now Penenberg isn't the most reliable of reporters, his departure from Forbes was acrimonious, and this incident occurred nearly a decade ago. But this is still a pretty shocking charge, dropped almost inadvertently into a rote piece for a little-read trade magazine.

That a magazine high-up had a mistress is not of great controversy. But Forbes, at least back then, still cultivated a reputation of fearless reporting. It's disappointing to think that the magazine's hierarchy would so automatically compromise a story to avoid potential embarrassment to a colleague, or his ire.