E-mail gaffe leads to billion-dollar news leak

A simple e-mail slip-up, the kind any one of us could make at any time: A Philadelphia lawyer addresses his electronic missive to an Alex Berenson instead of Bradford Berenson.

But what happens next is anything but routine; it's front-page news in the New York Times. That's because Alex Berenson happens to be a reporter for the New York Times, as opposed to Bradford being another lawyer, and the e-mail happens to concern settlement talks between the U.S. government and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly that include the proposed sum of $1 billion.

Oopsie.

From Portfolio.com:

With the negotiations over alleged marketing improprieties reaching a mind-boggling sum of $1 billion, Eli Lilly had every reason to want to keep the talks under wraps. It was paying the two fancy law firms a small fortune to negotiate deftly and quietly.

If and when it did settle the allegations that it had improperly marketed its most profitable drug, Zyprexa, for schizophrenia, it would certainly want to announce the news on terms carefully negotiated with the government.

"We usually try to brace for that [kind of] story," a Lilly staffer said.

Bracing generally doesn't include prematurely dropping the 411 into the lap of a Times reporter (except for those cases when it does, but that's another inside-the-news-biz story).

Lilly executives immediately suspected that the government had ratted them out to the Times. And why not? When in doubt, casting blame upon the government is always a viable option. This time, however, Uncle Sam was innocent.

While not an everyday occurrence, you'd be surprised how often stories of this nature - if not this magnitude - simply pop into the inboxes of ever-grateful news reporters. It has happened here at Network World on a number of occasions, although personally I have never been the recipient of such a gift.

Usually it's public relations professionals and marketers who are careless, however, not high-priced attorneys.

Lilly and feds have clammed up about this instance.

Portfolio.com reached Times reporter Alex Berenson, who said: "I can't say anything. I just can't."

But can't you just see the smirk on his face?

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