Welcome to the sleazy underbelly of the stock world

Yesterday morning, I received a rather strange email. It was from a man I didn't know who wanted to know if I was the one who did the fact-checking on Chris' first Sharesleuth.com article. I told him I'm not. Her name is Julie Armstrong. Mine, as you know, is not. At first I kind of laughed at the notion that Chris would ever let me fact-check a story of his, given my near-retardation level of business news comprehension. But the email inquiry drew my attention to a Yahoo! message board where people were discussing the stock for Xethanol, the company Chris wrote about. Now, the whole idea of stocks always seemed a tad strange to me. Buying these elusive "shares" and trading on hopes and possibilities just doesn't seem that far removed from gambling to me. And I'm the girl who went to Vegas once and wanted a refund on the nickel slots because it seemed "unfair" that I didn't win.

Thus, it is fair to say I was a tad naive about the sort of things passionate supporters of the Xethanol stock (which dropped 14% the day after his report) would post in response to Chris' story. I expected them not to like it, natrally. I expected them to float false theories about Mark Cuban's involvement and to try to discredit Chris, which is a little like trying to discredit the Pope. (Believe me, people, I've tried. With Chris, not the Pope. As you know, if there's one thing that drives me batty about my husband it's his unwavering integrity. Well, that and his obsession with stock fraud and, as he puts it, corporate "chicanery.")

I suppose I wasn't even surprised by the desperate, blatantly false and wildly imaginative claims they were making. For example, one genuis posted that Chris' fact-checker was his wife, thus blowing his credibility out of the water! (And explaining the email I got.) This sort of crack investigating was based on, as far as I can tell, the indisputable fact that the fact-checker's first name and my first name both begin with J-u-l-i. How could we not be the same person? What are the odds, after all, of Chris knowing a Julia and a Julie? One poster even linked to my site as "proof," although it seemed to me that the whole different first name/different last name thing might undermine their argument. But these people are not to be discouraged. What I did not expect to find, however, were posts on the stock message board insulting my appearance based, I suppose, on the photo on my site. One called me "fugly," a real "bow wow" and wondered why they hadn't been able to short me rather than the stock. (Side note, Chris does not and will not be trading on the content of his stories. Mark Cuban does, but I'm not actually his to short. At least I don't think so. Perhaps I should re-check the contract.) Another poster claimed that he had, shall we say, had sexual relations with me in St. Louis five years ago. I think I'd remember that. (Now, had he said it was eleven years ago, he'd have a good chance of being right. But I digress...)

Another clever poster opined that I look like a troll, which was fitting because, apparently, Chris does too. I'd refute that claim but, honestly, I'm not entirely sure what a troll looks like and I suspect these people have spent far more time under bridges than I have. I must, therefore, defer to their experience.

Had I been in a better mood when I read all this yesterday, more well-rested or, say, a tad less premenstrual, perhaps I would have been smart enough not to let it get to me. Or, at least, not to keep reading. But I think we know I wasn't.

Therefore, I found out that not only did these people (some of whom, alarmingly enough are stock brokers by trade) completely misunderstand the concept of insider trading and subsequently hope my husband's career ends in a jail sentence -- but one lovely poster also wished cancer upon my children. (Technical point: we don't actually have any children, so I'm not really worried about it.)

And it wasn't just me they had it in for. There was a tremendous amount of speculation about a certain "D'Na Hankins" who Chris listed as contributing to the story. Someone did a web search and found an article from the University of St. Louis - Missouri student newspaper quoting D'Na and listing her as a junior in college. Off to the races went the desperate crowd! The next rumor being floated was that Sharesleuth.com has college juniors doing its research. (Which, frankly, these people would probably benefit from doing. It certainly couldn't produce worse or less complete information.)

Here's the scoop, people, although this doesn't make for nearly as interesting mud-slinging. Chris needed copies of some government files for his article. For some reason, the files he needed are stored in a government records center just outside Kansas City. In a limestone cave, no less. Seriously. So he needed someone he knew and trusted who was available to drive over there, put in a request for the documents he specified and ask a government worker to make copies. He asked our good friend D'Na Hankins in St. Louis.

It's true she's a college junior. She's back in college working towards a business degree after receiving her Associate's Degree years ago and subsequently spending umpteen years in the professional world. She's a 36-year-old student with nearly two decades worth of professional experience, including handling human resources, accounting and payroll services for an Inc. 500 company.

It seemed to Chris that she was pretty qualified for driving over to Kansas City (too far for us, obviously) and asking a government worker to make copies for her of the documents Chris specified. In the interest of full disclosure, she did also put said copies in a Fed Ex box and overnight the package to Chris. I know. Pretty risky stuff.

Now, if these message board detractors feel that D'Na is unqualified to complete that task and that doing so somehow compromises the quality of Chris research -- well, then, I'd hate to be the guy who staples paper together at their offices. You must need a Masters degree for that.

I do understand that the people posting on these boards are, to put it mildly, in the minority. And they're people who have professional or personal interests in denying the information Chris has uncovered. They want or need to believe that he has any sort of financial interest in undermining Xethanol, which he doesn't. He doesn't trade on the information, as he's said, and we gain absolutely nothing financially for his exposure of their "chicanery."

But this level of vitriole is all a bit new to me, a tad unexpected. In all fairness, I've done more than my share of denying stuff over the years. I understand that it's much easier to threaten Chris with revenge than to consider that their company has betrayed its investors. The facts speak for themselves, which Chris has said from the start. He's invited detractors to email him personally to refute any specific facts and not a single one has done so.

If Chris can sit so calmly at his desk and not let these people ruffle his feathers, why does this stuff get to me? I suppose because he expected to be the target of these people, who he refers to as "the usual suspects." I suppose because he's used to the way they operate, the things they say, the depths they'll plunge to. I suppose because he's received literally hundreds of emails thanking him for the story, supporting his efforts. I suppose because, as we all know, he's often more of a grown-up than I am.

I just didn't expect it. Why poor li'l ol' me? After all, what do I have to do with Sharesleuth.com other than being the resident Movable Type pseudo-expert? Not a whit. But this is how this rolls and, probably, will continue to roll. Before all's said and done, Chris' sleuthing is going to piss off a lot more people many of whom, I suspect, may not find me attractive.

So I watch Chris let it roll off his back and hunker down with equal conviction on the next big story and I'm learning. I'm learning to let go. I'm learning to consider the source. I'm learning to stay away from those message boards. (Most of the time, anyway.) I'm learning exactly how it feels to be Britney Spears, hounded by the cruel and unfair paparazzi, having lies spun into magazine covers. It ain't easy.

So tomorrow, I'm going to find me a baby, preferably a cancer-free one. And I'm going to put that baby on my lap and I'm gonna drive around town, chomping on a brick of gum, breasts pouring out of my shirt, blissfully unconcerned with what the rest of the world has to say.