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The Digital Skeptic: Getting Paid to Pick a Fight With the Internet

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Andrew Left simply cannot abide being left out.

"I bring up the points no sell-side research analyst wants to talk about," Left told me during one of our many bare-knuckle shout fests that technically count as phone interviews.

Left is founder and executive editor of Los Angeles-based Citron Research. And this essentially self-employed investor/analyst has spent more than a decade self-publishing some of the most derogatory, pugnacious -- yet surprisingly articulate -- investment arguments against the digital age's highest flyers.

"Citron challenges any reader to identify any publicly traded company that has lost money for 18 years in a row and is trading at an all-time high valuation," was my favorite line from the shot -- oh, sorry, the "story" -- Citron wrote about Indianapolis-based online referral service Angie's List. "Are they curing cancer? Are they solving the world's energy problems? No ... they are referring a plumber to you."

Investors should realize that Left's analysis flies smack in the face of, by my count, 18 sell-side analysts that cover Angie's List. Or that the rank-and-file investor has ginned this ticker up to a $1.6 billion market cap. Or that Angie's List's management essentially laughed at me when I asked them to comment on the validity of his arguments.

Or the fact that the man openly bets against the companies he runs down.

"What do they think, this is a charity?" was Left's answer when I told him about the esteem he is held in by Angie's List. "This is not the United Way. This is how I make my living, and my returns have been tremendous."

Left would not quantify what "tremendous" actually worked out to. "I just can't go there, for a million reasons," he said.

But a search of public records shows the judge in Left's high-profile divorce not only felt comfortable with his stated profession of stock trader, but felt it a fair split of the household resources to burden Left with paying $47,137 a month(!) in combined spousal and child support.

"I have to be doing pretty well, right?" he said quietly, when I told him what I had dug up.