Dan Dorfman, Market-Moving Business Reporter, Dies at 80
Dan Dorfman, a journalist whose stock reports were once so market-moving that U.S. exchanges imposed regulations to limit the resulting price swings, has died at the age of 80.
Dorfman began swaying share prices regularly at the Wall Street Journal, where he wrote the Heard on the Street column for six years. Stints with New York and Esquire magazines, the New York Daily News, USA Today and Cable News Network followed.
His influence peaked in the 1990s, when he appeared daily on the CNBC cable network and earned at least $800,000 annually for his television and print reporting. He paved the way for TV pundits such as Jim Cramer, the former hedge-fund manager who hosts CNBC’s “Mad Money” program.
“I always found him entertaining, but I always thought he was a negative force, not a positive one,” Cramer wrote in 2006 for TheStreet.com. Dorfman “became so pressed for stories that I believe he had to compromise his own standards.”
Money magazine, where Dorfman worked as a columnist, fired him in January 1996 as the government examined his relationship with a stock promoter. He suffered a stroke later that year and lost his position at CNBC.
Even though the network exonerated him and regulators never accused him of a securities-law violation, his career wasn’t the same afterward. He wrote for the New York Sun, a newspaper that closed in 2008, and also blogged for Huffington Post as recently as last year. Dorfman was writing for a blog published by TrimTabs Investment Research at the time of his death.
Daniel Donald Dorfman was born on Oct. 24, 1931, according to Marquis Who’s Who. The death notice in the Times said he was 82 and didn’t give a date of birth. Dorfman grew up in Brooklyn, one of New York’s five boroughs. He spent two years in an orphanage after his parents divorced, and then lived with his mother.
In 1949, he graduated from the New York School of Printing, a vocational high school. He worked as a printer before joining the Army. While stationed in Germany, he was a driver for the editor of a local newspaper distributed to U.S. soldiers.
“They were interviewing interesting people; I thought that was a fun thing to do,” he said in a 2008 interview with a website about the history of business journalism. “So I asked the editor if I could do some reporting.”
Dorfman took a journalism course at New York University after leaving the Army. He went to Fairchild Publications and worked as a copy boy, a boys’ wear reporter for the Daily News Record, and a retail-management reporter for Women’s Wear Daily.
From Fairchild, he moved to the New York Herald Tribune as a business reporter. The paper shut down and he worked for its successor, the World Journal Tribune, which closed in 1967. He also spent time at Merchandising Week magazine.
The Journal then hired Dorfman for Heard on the Street, a column designed to break news about the reasons for stock moves. He departed in 1973 after the Securities and Exchange Commission told the paper’s editors that a source made special arrangements for Dorfman to buy new stock, the Journal reported.
Dorfman then wrote New York magazine’s “Bottom Line” column for three years and Esquire’s “Full Disclosure” column for two before arriving at the Daily News, where he was part of the Chicago Tribune Syndicate.
Along the way, Dorfman expanded into television. He was a panelist on public TV’s “Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser” from 1975 to 1984. He joined CNN in 1980, the network’s first year, and appeared three times a week on “Moneyline,” a business show that aired after the stock market closed.
After six years at the Daily News, he rejoined New York magazine in 1985. He left the following year for USA Today, where he wrote two columns a week for the paper and a third that was syndicated by Gannett Co. (GCI), its owner.
CNBC hired him in 1990 and featured him at 12:36 p.m. New York time each weekday. His reports caused share prices to swing so often, and so much, that the Nasdaq Stock Market, the Midwest Stock Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange all had so-called Dorfman rules for trading in the companies he cited.
Dorfman’s reports weren’t always on target. Quaker Oats Co., for instance, rose 14 percent in January 1995 when he told viewers that Coca-Cola Co. (KO) had made a $60-a-share takeover offer and might pursue a hostile bid.
Coca-Cola responded with a statement that said: “It is the policy of the Coca-Cola Company not to comment on rumors about acquisitions or divestitures. That remains our policy. However, today we would like to elaborate on our statement and observe that Dan Dorfman does not have a clue.” PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) bought Quaker, the maker of Gatorade sports drinks, in 2001.
Even so, he had numerous scoops to his credit. He was first to report on Time Inc.’s merger with Warner Communications Inc., the insider-trading investigation of financier Ivan Boesky and the 1980s emergence of Donald Trump as a corporate raider.
Money magazine lured him from USA Today in October 1994 to write a monthly column. Frank Lalli, Money’s managing editor, had been his editor at New York magazine and the Daily News.
A year later, he took a leave of absence after Businessweek magazine said the SEC was looking into his relationship with promoter Donald Kessler. Kessler, a public-relations consultant and friend, later pleaded guilty to tax evasion and securities fraud. He charged $5,000 to $10,000 in fees to set up meetings between company executives and Dorfman, prosecutors said.
After the Businessweek story was published, Lalli asked Dorfman -- who was earning $450,000 a year at Money -- to name confidential sources for his columns. He refused and was fired.
Regulators had previously investigated Dorfman’s ties to Centaur Partners, an investment firm cited several times in his writing for USA Today, according to a U.S. News and World Report story in 1989. No one was charged.
Four months after his ouster from Money, he suffered the stroke, forcing him off the air at CNBC. His network contract, valued at $350,000 a year, lapsed and wasn’t renewed.
Financial World magazine hired Dorfman as a columnist in December 1996, after he recovered from the stroke. The magazine folded 18 months later. He then wrote for JagNotes.com, which failed in its attempt to expand beyond compiling brokerage analysts’ calls, before joining the Sun in 2002.
Dorfman was married twice. His first marriage, to a woman named Iris, lasted 28 years and ended in 1986. The couple had one daughter, Leah Dorfman Kelly, who died of cancer in 2008. After divorcing Iris, he married Harriet Kasenatz.
“On my tombstone, I would like it to read, ‘Here lies Dan Dorfman, a reporter who cared,’” he said in the 2008 interview. “All that I’ve tried to do is to give to the masses what was known to a chosen few. That was my contribution.”
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