What Goldman Sachs and Ben Roethlisberger Have in Common

Last Updated Apr 20, 2010 9:24 PM EDT

You can scarcely open a newspaper without finding an article on two of the newest inductees into the Hall of Poor Judgment, Goldman Sachs and Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Goldman Sachs, of course, has been charged with fraud by the SEC for failing to disclose to investors that the mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligation they were purchasing was full of securities that had been cherry-picked by a hedge fund manager who was betting that they would go bust.

Roethlisberger earned his infamy by being accused of sexual misconduct by two different women in the span of eight months.

Regardless of the ultimate guilt or innocence of either, the reputations of both are irretrievably damaged. The amazing part is that both Goldman and Roethlisberger find themselves in their respective predicaments because they were incapable of weighing the short-term benefits of their actions against the long-term damage their reputations might suffer.

They were both, simply, staggeringly dumb.

That point was driven home nicely by Fortune's Allan Sloan, who wrote (and Felix Salmon highlighted):

I don't much care about the legality of what Goldman allegedly did, because something doesn't have to be illegal to be wrong....

The SEC case seems more than a little weak legally, but tars Goldman as amoral at best, immoral at worst. It will take years for Goldman to erase the stain to its reputation, if it ever does.

If I were a betting man, I'd put money on Goldman prevailing in court, should the SEC charges go to trial. But in the court of public opinion, Goldman has already lost. And given the current state of things, that's the court that matters.

With just a bit of remarkably minor editing, the same applies to Roethlisberger.

Warren Buffett is quoted as telling his children that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and five minutes to destroy it. Both Goldman Sachs and Roethlisberger are discovering just how true that is.

  • Nathan Hale

    View all articles by Nathan Hale on CBS MoneyWatch »
    Nathan Hale has spent decades working in the financial services industry, during which he has researched and written extensively about personal investing, the mutual fund industry, and financial services. In this role, he uses a nom de plume because many of his opinions about the mutual fund industry and its practices would not endear him to its participants.