Dean Rotbart's Blog

Columbia University's Lee C. Bollinger Can Bunk with Ahmadinejad and Gaddafi

Seems that Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Libyan terrorist leader Muammar Gaddafi are having a hard time finding hotels and speaking venues that will welcome them during their current trip to spew lies at the United Nations.

In my Examiner.com column today, I recommend that the two blood-stained devils bunk with Columbia University's President, Lee C. Bollinger, who has a soft spot in his heart for genocidal maniacs.

Please read the article and share its URL with everyone who disdains the kind of evil embodied in A-Jad, Muammar and my dumb-assed academic nemesis, Lee C. Bollinger.

Cruise America Runs Aground When It Comes To Customer Service


PAN of the WEEKCruise America RV Rental & Sales
8950 North Federal Blvd., Federal Heights, CO 80260
 

Seldom have I experienced a business that is so daft when it comes to understanding its customers.  Based upon a single three-day rental of a 30-foot motorhome this past week, I believe I could teach a graduate-level business school course on how to misunderstand your business niche, relying strictly on Cruise America as a case study.

The Mesa, Arizona company, a 38-year-old family owned business, is the largest recreational vehicle rental company in America.  The problem is, Cruise America seems to have lost sight of the “recreational” aspect of its mission in favor of a mechanical, perfunctory execution of the unfriendliest sort of vehicle rental service.

I honestly believe that the worst U-Haul rental location I’ve ever visited is more customer friendly than the Cruise America rental center in Federal Heights, Colorado, where my family and I picked up our motorhome rental.

No one at the Federal Heights location, which has all the vacation charm of a tire-repair shop, smiles.  No one welcomes customers.  No one thanks customers. No one inquires about your destination, your satisfaction or your needs. Indeed, no one seems the least bit aware that Cruise America is in the vacation and entertainment industry.

I think the Cruise America ethos is actually comparable to what you might expect from a disgruntled parking lot attendant – although that may be unfair to parking lot attendants.

Truth be told, if I hadn’t gone out to our car and phoned company headquarters in Mesa to complain, I never would have gotten off the lot with my reserved RV at all.

Why?  Because Cruise America’s so-called “Hub Manager” at the Federal Heights location insisted that I watch a 23-minute video on how to operate an RV before he’d release the vehicle to me, even though I assured him that I had already watched the entire video as recommended on the company’s web site.

To say that the “Hub Manager” was unpleasant and combative is an understatement.  He told me that I scare him because I wouldn’t comply with his rule that each customer must watch the Cruise America video on site.  He said he has had other customers who claim they watched the video online only to go ahead and damage the RV after renting it and ignoring the warnings of the video.  In fact, he bragged that he has made some loyal Cruise America customers watch the 23-minute video as many as eight different times.

Imagine how long Hertz would stay in business if prior to renting a car it required each driver to watch a 20-plus minute safety video – and then refused to believe customers when they attested to the fact that they had indeed already screened the video online? (Ironically, the founder of Cruise America was a former president of Hertz.)

Since I was unwilling to invest another 23 minutes screening a video I had already viewed – and it turns out that despite what the Hub Manager maintained, there is zero requirement that Cruise America customers ever watch the video – the Hub Manager told me to take an inglorious hike and to forget my $300 deposit, since he wouldn’t refund it to me because of my insolence. 

But for the fact that I’m a stubborn customer, our family weekend outing and my $300 would indeed have been flushed down the refuse tank.

When I asked the Hub Manager to provide me the name of his supervisor so I might appeal, he refused.  Undeterred, I went outside and on my mobile phone tracked down Sean Dickinson, a pleasant and apologetic executive at Cruise America headquarters.  Dickinson heard my tale of woe and after his calls to the Federal Heights location, my family and I were out of the driveway and off on our holiday.

Dickinson told me, without yet knowing I was a journalist, that my experience would be used in refining the training Cruise America provides to its customer service personnel. 

To wit, Cruise America needs more employees like Dickinson.  But the problem, I’m afraid, runs deeper than a dismal Hub Manager.

Indeed, I would strongly advise Dickinson and his bosses, brothers Randall Smalley and Robert Smalley Jr. – the sons of company founder Robert Smalley Sr. – to take an actual aquatic cruise or visit a nice resort hotel and compare the customer service they receive at those vacation spots to the experience of Cruise America travelers. 

While it might be convenient for Dickinson and the Smalleys to blame the Hub Manager in Federal Heights, they allow him to continue to treat their customers worse than fingernail dirt.  Someone so poor in customer service isn’t in place by accident.  The Smalleys enable him and his surely crew of rental agents to haunt unsuspecting vacationers.

To be the largest RV rental company in the country, Cruise America must do many things right.  Our vehicle itself was splendid and the cost for our rental was really quite affordable, even in these difficult financial times.

Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine how truly successful Cruise America would be if it designed its rental centers to feel like vacation launch pads and if it trained all of its service agents to send each and every customer off with a smile and a warm bon voyage.

Our first Cruise America experience was an experiment.  If it had gone well, we planned to rent another motorhome at the end of this week for a second mini-holiday.  As it is, we now plan to use our own mini-van and stay at a hotel instead.  None of us can face the prospect of returning to the Federal Heights rental center.

Our lost business alone will cost Cruise America thousands of dollars in the years to come.  That’s enough money to invest in better training for its Federal Heights staff.

The bottom line is this:  We loved the motorhome but will never again entrust our family vacation to some grumpy parking lot attendants.

[This story originally appeared on Examiner.com]

Colorado's DeGette and Markey Rub Sandpaper in the Faces of State's Small Businesses

Do small business owners in Colorado just not get it?  How hard is it for them to understand that Congresswomen Diana DeGette and Betsy Markey are laboring in the halls of Congress for their destruction? 

Fools.

As if higher taxes, grander deficits and the heavy hand of government regulation is not enough punishment, now DeGette and Markey are co-sponsoring federal legislation that will allow powerful -- and intimidating --  national unions to organize businesses with ten or fewer members.  The so-called Employee Free Choice Act is a farcically named bill that oppresses small business owners and -- when placed under a microscope -- does little to help anyone but DeGette, Markey and the Democratic Party's union sugar daddies.

I'll be writing more on this topic soon.  For now may I recommend you read my most recent article for Examiner.com?  If you own or work for a small business, this is a nuclear bomb in your workplace.  Wake up before it's too late.

http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-16299-Denver-Business-Commentary-Examiner~y2009m9d2-Small-business-owners-could-be-wiped-out-by-proposed-union-legislation


'Half a Tank' Series from Washington Post Is Reason for Optimism

Since late May, The Washington Post has been running an ongoing series of articles and photos titled, 'Half a Tank.'  Written by Theresa Vargas with stunning photos by Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist, Michael Williamson, the series has chronicled how America and Americans are responding to the recession.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Theresa and Michael when they passed through Colorado last week.  We talked about their series, life, journalism and the lessons provided by all three.  You can read my feature story about our time together on Examiner.com.

The photo at left was taken at Emil-Lenes Sirloin House, on the outskirts of Denver International Airport

Vargas and Williamson plan to continue their road trip until September 15th, when they'll return to the Post newsroom.  Their series has been edited by Marc Fisher, the Post's Enterprise Editor.  The concept for the project was that of Bonnie Jo Mount, the paper's photo editor.

My appreciation goes to Maria Cereghino, manager of communications for Washington Post Media, for helping me to hook up with Theresa and Michael.

Oral Mucositis Newswire Offers News and Information to Cancer Victims

It is rather amazing to me how little media coverage I can find about Oral Mucositis, a painful side effect of radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

Oral Mucositis impacts more than 400,000 cancer patients annually -- killing some of them and making tens of thousands of others suffer -- and yet the mainstream news media largely ignore it. 

Worst of all, new treatments are available or will be very soon, that have shown great promise in reducing or even eliminating the symptoms of Oral Mucositis

Until the news media get plugged into this important health news story, I am hoping to keep the oral mucositis community abreast of important news and related resources at a new site, Oral Mucositis Newswire.

I hope no one ever has to visit that site.  But if you, a member of your family, a friend or a colleague does require radiation or chemotherapy, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with Oral Mucositis Newswire (www.oralmucositisnewswire.com).  There is no need for cancer victims to suffer additionally.

Draft Rush Limbaugh Journalism School Movement Launched

This morning in my Examiner.com column, I officially launched the draft Rush Limbaugh journalism school movement.  This is a serious bid to gather the needed people, funds and momentum to give birth to a fully accredited, online journalism degree program that will teach students how to report objective, non-liberal, news.

As a long-time Limbaugh listener, I have come to the conclusion that his critiques of the drive-by and state-run media are sadly accurate.  For our country and its core values to survive and prosper, we need to ensure that quality journalism does not end up as an exhibit in some museum.  It must live and breathe.

Please read the column and contact me if you want to join the effort.

(Photo:  Screen shot from the Rush Limbaugh DittoCam")

Whole Foods Throws Its Co-Founder, John Mackey, Under The Bus For His Conservative Views

Talk about PR messes!

Whole Foods Market, Inc. sure found itself in a major-league PR imbroglio after its co-founder, John Mackey, wrote an August 12th Op-Ed for The Wall Street Journal in which he observes that the "last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement..."

Rather than stand behind their executive, Whole Foods issued a statement in which it told its upset liberal customers, "We offer you a sincere apology."

I've inducted Whole Foods into my voluminous 'World's Dumbest PR Blunders' book.  You can read my extended thoughts on the company and its ill-conceived public relations strategy here.  If you have comments, please let them at the Examiner.com site.

Bank of America Takes My Tax Dollars Plus $400

I really wish there was something I could do beyond posting here and on other sites to punish Bank of America for its rude, ineffective, unsympathetic, outrageous customer disservice.

What a lousy bank and a lousy bunch of phone agents and phone supervisors.  I plan to close all my accounts as soon as logistics permit and take them to a smaller bank.

Today's Bank of America disaster is that I tried to withdraw $400.00 in cash from a Bank of America ATM.  Good luck.


The ATM dutifully deducted the funds from my account, but didn't deliver one cent to me.  In fact, AFTER it failed to give me my money, the screen posted a, "Sorry, temporarily out of service" sign and stopped working altogether.

Okay, machines will fail.

So I call customer service, expecting an apology and a rapid refund.  Fat chance.  The bank isn't parting with any of our $25 billion plus in TARP funds just to issue a refund of my stolen $400.

No, after 45 minutes, two customer service agents and a supervisor -- not a one of whom said, "I'm sorry" for the inconvenience, still no refund and no promise of any funds back for weeks. 

The problem is that while I'm a Bank of America customer and was at a Bank of America machine, I tried to withdraw cash using a card from a different bank.  It is Bank of America's position that while the machine is theirs, my problem isn't.  They suggest I file a claim with my other bank and await research and, possibly, a refund.

Reasoning with Bank of America was impossible.  "This is your machine," I repeatedly reminded them.  "I am your customer." The three reps I spoke with couldn't have been less concerned if I had told them I lost a paper clip in one of their branches.

Please, please pass this true story along and/or link to it.  When it comes to our tax dollars, Bank of America is ready and able.  When it comes to taxpayers and customers, it is permanently out of service.


90-Minute Webinar to Explore Media Relations Lessons from Peanut Butter Recall

Which companies handled media relations well during the ongoing peanut butter recall and which ones erred will be a core focus of a 90-minute webinar to be hosted late this month by an award-winning investigative journalist.

In addition, the webinar, titled “Media Relations Lessons from the 2009 Peanut Butter Recall,” will examine which news organizations and which specific journalists did the best – and worst – job keeping consumers, businesses and investors informed.  Registration for this seminar is only $69.95 and includes exclusive briefing materials.

The webinar will be conducted on Friday, February 27th at 2 p.m. EST and is being presented by health.newsbios.com, a journalism service that provides in-depth dossiers on the world’s most influential health and medical journalists.  health.newsbios.com is an affiliate of NewsBios.com.

 “Every company that could face a future recall, whether in the food industry or not, needs to incorporate the lessons of this massive recall into their emergency communications plans,” says Dean Rotbart, who won multiple prizes for his reporting both while he was a reporter and columnist at The Wall Street Journal and in the years since.  Rotbart has reviewed the reporting and reactions of dozens of key journalists and companies that have been in the spotlight as a result of the recent salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products.

Some of the companies that Rotbart will discuss are household brands, including Kellogg, Hershey, Nestlé, Clif Bar and J.M. Smucker.  Others distributed affected peanut products, including Costco, Kroger, Rite Aid and General Nutrition Centers.  Rotbart will also look at the communications effectiveness of the FDA, CDC, American Peanut Council, and Trust for America’s Health, among others.


Rotbart will examine how various reporters and news organizations handled their recall coverage, including specifically:  Gardiner Harris, The New York Times; Julie Jargon and Jane Zhang, The Wall Street Journal; Maggie Fox, Reuters; Elizabeth Cohen, CNN; Catherine Larkin, Bloomberg News; Mike Huckman, CNBC, Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post and others.

None of the companies, journalists or other organizations listed are affiliated with this webinar, which promises an “independent, blunt review” of their performance.

The 90-minute session will include an opportunity to ask questions to Rotbart, who has trained senior-level corporate media strategists for more than two decades.  Among the materials each registrant receives will be exclusive biographical profiles of a dozen influential journalists.

Those wishing to register must email their names, phone numbers, and company affiliations to: webinar@health.newsbios.com.  A webinar service representative will then reply to answer any questions and confirm reservations.  Space for the conference is capacity constrained, so health.newsbios.com urges those wishing to participate to register early.


The Yet-To-Be Told Story of Blue Nile v. Yehuda Diamonds

When David threw the stone that felled Goliath, is it possible that the projectile was actually a diamond?

I ask because of the David v. Goliath epic playing out in courtrooms in Washington State and New York.  In this modern version, comparatively tiny Yehuda Diamond, which specializes in so-called clarity-enhanced gems, is defending one lawsuit and prosecuting another against the 800-pound Goliath of online jewelers, Blue Nile.

In one respect, this is an age-old story of two squabbling competitors who are thrusting and volleying accusations and counter-charges that would best be resolved in the marketplace, not the courtroom.

Yet, if anyone bothers to look beyond the obvious, as I have, what they will find at stake here is the right of a business, in this case Yehuda Diamond, to freely compare its products and its prices to that of a competitor.

Additionally, Yehuda Diamond is fighting to force Blue Nile to make full disclosure to Blue Nile customers when its gemstones have been filled to improve their appearance.  Such treatments are a common industry practice, but nonetheless one that needs to be noted before a sale.  

Whereas Yehuda Diamonds has always been upfront and forthright about its proprietary clarity-enhancement process, such disclosures on Blue Niles’ web site have been off again, on again, at least in part in response to Yehuda Diamonds’ legal parrying.

I profess little objectivity in this matter, as my loyalties lie squarely with David ….er, I mean Yehuda Diamond, and I currently am advising one of its owners, Dror Yehuda, on how best to tell the world his side of the Blue Nile hostilities.

Dror and his family have been in the diamond business for three generations.  They are good stock.  Honorable. And hard-working.

Dror’s dad, Zvi, a brilliant inventor, perfected a method of injecting a microscopic amount of material into a natural diamond such that light is not reflected off so-called feathers, as it otherwise would be.  The result: two lovely natural diamonds, one without such feathers and one whose feathers have been treated by Yehuda Diamond so effectively that only a trained gemologist can tell.  

The chief difference?  Yehuda Diamond's stones sell for about 30% less than the feather-free diamonds offered by Blue Nile.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about comparing natural diamonds to cubic zirconia.  We’re talking apples to apples comparisons of natural diamonds to natural diamonds.  Only the treated diamonds sold by Yehuda Diamond sell for a lot less to the public than the equivalent weight and color gems offered by Blue Nile.  With Yehuda Diamond, consumers get more bling for the buck.

And lest you think that somehow ‘treated’ gems are unusual, think again. For some gems, such as emeralds, treating them with wax, oil or resin fillers is really the norm – even at Blue Nile.

Still, Blue Nile seems to detest the fact that Yehuda Diamond, on the popular Yehuda Diamond web site, compares its prices to those of comparable diamonds offered at Blue Nile.  In December 2007, Blue Nile filed a federal lawsuit in Seattle, its hometown, seeking to silence such Yehuda Diamond comparisons.

Even while Blue Nile is yelping that Yehuda Diamond is remiss for comparing prices of clarity-enhanced diamonds to Blue Nile’s non-enhanced diamonds, Blue Nile itself has been peddling filled emeralds to Blue Nile customers, without even bothering to tell those customers about the fillings, or so Yehuda Diamond says in its own lawsuit, filed last month.
 
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An Ode to Entrepreneurship

I phoned a business-to-business Internet service recently aiming to become a fresh client.  In these difficult economic times I thought that my purchases, certain to be several thousand dollars over the next couple months, would be graciously welcomed.

They were not.

As I endeavored to explain my needs to the representative on the other end of the phone, he consistently cut me off and admonished me for interrupting him.  I asked to speak to the owner and he told me he is the owner, just before hanging up on me and my prospective business.

I write this not as a tale of poor customer service, but rather as an ode to entrepreneurship in the midst of our current economic upheaval.  A bit of further investigation confirmed that I indeed had been speaking to the independent-minded founder and owner.

Shrugging off clients who annoy you is one of the many perks of being an entrepreneur, a status I’ve enjoyed now for more than two decades.

One of the first lessons I learned is that my business cycles and national economic cycles have minimal correlation.  At times, my business has suffered mightily even as the stock market set new records highs.  Now that the market has fallen sharply, I find my business fairing better than most publicly held concerns.

I’ve read with great interest of the sad tales of those who staked their retirement nest eggs in stocks or mutual funds only to be jolted into the realization that passive investments are not necessarily safe investments.

Most people perceive, wrongly I might add, that owning one's own business is risky.  They read about the failure rate of entrepreneurs and they reckon they’ll place their bets with the name brand fund managers on Wall Street. Such as Bernie Madoff.

Statistics can be instructive.  But they mean little to me day-to-day.  My business has risen or fallen based upon mostly upon my levels of hard work, creativity, hustle, endurance, flexibility and luck. The economy plays only a small factor.

When I offer advise to my two teenage children about how to secure their lifelong financial well being, I always remind them that when you own your own business its impossible to ever be laid off. You can call it quits, but no one will ever downsize your job if you refuse to give up.

Over the years, if I’m honest about it, I’ve told a select few existing or prospective customers where to put their attitude.  Those who build their own businesses and work for themselves come to know that financial success is an important benefit, but hardly the only one.

Sometimes it feels plain good to act haughtily, just because.

Gilbert and Dean Debate the Virtues of Charity and 'Genetic' Jews

I love intelligent debate, especially concerning issues over which I'm passionate.  Since I began actively writing for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles last month, I have enjoyed a series of debates with Gilbert H. Skopp, who I know only as a member of the loyal opposition.

Right now Gilbert and I are exchanging thoughts on the topic of charity, and specifically my belief that Eli & Edythe Broad should redirect their funding of charitable causes away from the art world and toward worthy Jewish non-profits.  You can read our back and forth at the Jewish Journal web site, or view part of the conversation below.


GILBERT:  I apologize for Mr & Mrs Broad for not donating to your favorite charity.

DEAN:  Apology accepted.  If you really want to make amends, write a check, even for $18.00, and mail it to one of Los Angeles’ fine Jewish Day Schools.  Send me a copy of the check and I’ll post it on The Memo to show you are after all a truly good guy.  Come on, it’s only 18 bucks and it will put you in good with the man upstairs.  Deal?

GILBERT:  I think that I’m a charitable man, more generous than some, not as generous perhaps as others. Your suggestion to post my check on your blog would lessen the level of my gift.  You cited the Rambam in your response to J.  Did the Rambam not say that the second highest level of Tzedakah is to give anonymously? The recipient of the donation should not know from where it came and the charity should remain unknown. However, rest assured there is a Jewish Day School that is receiving some support from me.

DEAN:  I believe you really do support an area Jewish Day School and I publicly thank you for it!  You are a good man after all wink.

I believe there are some concepts in the world that are absolute and charity is one of them.  There is a huge, huge difference between what is legal, what is constitutional and what is right.

Eli and Edythe Broad have not yet met a building they don’t want to see their names on.  Do they have the right?  Of course.  Is it right?  Obviously, I think not.

I believe great art museums enrich us all, Jew, non-Jew, atheist, communist, you name it.  I am a member of LACMA and my family and I regularly visit area art museums. 

But if my enjoyment of art is at the expense of securing the long-term viability of the Jewish people, then I can live without it.  I simply can’t equate the two as being morally equivalent.

The Broads have done plenty for the art world.  Enough!  Time for them to step up and bolster the many worthy Jewish causes.

Some may question whether or not God notes the difference in charitable giving.  All I can say is that the God described in the Torah most certainly does—if that matters to the Broads or any other ‘genetic’ Jews.

What, you may ask is a ‘genetic’ Jew?  A human whose DNA says s/he is Jewish, but whose behaviors would argue otherwise.







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The Two Faces of Bernard Madoff – Good and Evil

The article below was first published this afternoon on the web site of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.  But so many people have been trying to read that site, it keeps crashing.  For anyone who can't access there, I'm re-posting it.


December 16, 2008

Madoff’s ‘unspeakable evil’ shocks those who thought they knew him well

By Dean Rotbart

In April 2004, Bernard L. Madoff and his wife, Ruth, devised a plan to save Jewish lives.

In the effort to bolster Gift of Life, a Florida-based nonprofit that maintains a unique Jewish bone marrow registry, the Madoffs funded and helped roll out an ongoing program to enlist large numbers of fresh, young donors whose marrow will be available for decades to come to provide life-saving transplants.

The same Bernie Madoff this month decimated untold Jewish lives and institutions.

The paradox -- one man possessed of bountiful quantities of good and evil -- is confounding to many who knew Madoff and only now are discovering his dark side.

"Like everybody else who trusted and invested with Bernie Madoff, he betrayed my trust," said Stanley Chais, a long-time Beverly Hills philanthropist who not only personally invested with Madoff, but also facilitated others who wished to do likewise. The Chais Family Foundation, which for more than two decades provided substantial funding to global Jewish causes, ceased operations on Sunday after Madoff-related losses left it penniless.

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Think of All the Good Eli & Edythe Broad Could Be Doing, But Aren't

Eli and Edythe Broad are revered among many in the Los Angeles Arts community, as well they should be given all the funds they've donated to support worthy art-related causes.

Their own private collection of contemporary art, which they generously lend out to museums around the world, is one of the best anywhere. The Broads spend tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars a year in pursuit of this passion.

Too bad, too!

It boggles the mind to contemplate all the good they could do the Jewish community -- their community -- if they'd leave it to others from this point forward to support the arts and instead concentrate their donations on Jewish Day Schools, Jewish charities and support of Israel.

I have written a memo to Eli and Edythe on my blog at the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles that spells out my full reasoning. I hope you'll click over to it. It's worth reading and emailing to friends and family who agree.

DEAN
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THE MEMO: Click on Image Below to Read My New Blog on JewishJournal.com

MAILBOX: Haaretz Columnist Thinks Right-Wing Israelis Are Self-Hating Jews

I thoroughly resent the statement by Bradley Bursten ( bbursten@haaretz.co.il ) in his editorial, below, that certain right-wing Israelis are self-hating Jews. I wrote to him, saying just that and more.
I request that anyone who agrees with me will also contact him.

M.
========
 
An article from Haaretz.
The URL is http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1044645.html


אתר הארץ
www.haaretz.co.il
Haaretz English
www.haaretz.com

Republicans Fumbled Their Right To Govern, Meanwhile Obama Recognized the 'Tide of Discontent'

Dear Dean,

When you last wrote to me your salutation was "Dear Gilbert". Now it's "Dear Mr Skopp". I'm sorry if we somehow lost a little intimacy with each other. I hope I have been civil to you in my correspondence and that I may continue to address you as Dean.

I agree whole heartily with your observation that the future will confirm the past:

"...If I and other McCain voters are the fools so many family members believe, then time and President Obama will prove us wrong and we will be deserving of a badge of shame."...Rotbart

However, I do not believe that you are a fool for supporting McCain if your reasons are compelling and I do not think that you are deserving of a "badge of shame" should you be wrong in your predictions.

After 8 years of prosperity under President Clinton, we have, in the following 8 years, become bogged down in two wars; we are in a recession brought about by the policies of our lying, incompetent, Republican Administration and supported by a Republican-Controlled Congress; our Constitution has been weakened by the loss of Habeus Corpus, unchecked government spying and torture. For these reason alone the Republicans should not be returned to power. However, John McCain supported all of these Bush Policies, and ran one of the worst campaigns ever, showing that he is largely now inept.


My concern is that we in the USA protect the freedoms given to us by our Constitution, that we remain militarily strong and moral in our foreign policies. I believe in diplomacy before war and I'm not naive to believe that  Hitler should or could have been appeased. I do not believe that Ahmadinjhad is a Hitler. I do not even believe that he has significant power in Iran. I think he is a puppet of the Imams and it's the Imams that we should be concerned about. And yes, I believe Iran is trying to build an Atomic weapon and I think that the present government should not be allowed to do that. I think the western powers should take the lead to show Iran that it would not be in their interests to develop an Atomic weapon.  Of course it's easier said then done, but better than the "Bring it on" stupidity of our outgoing president and his desire to take on the world alone.

I believe a strong USA is important for Israel, but in the end, Israel must depend on itself.

After 8 years of prosperity under President Clinton, we have, in the following 8 years, become bogged down in two wars; we are in a recession brought about by the policies of our lying, incompetent, Republican Administration and supported by a Republican-Controlled Congress; our Constitution has been weakened by the loss of Habeus Corpus, unchecked government spying and torture. For these reason alone the Republicans should not be returned to power. However, John McCain supported all of these Bush Policies, and ran one of the worst campaigns ever, showing that he is largely now inept.

So, Obama was smart enough to recognize the rising tide of discontent in the USA and used that to champion change and ride that wave to victory. If you recall McCain, in 2000, rode a similar "wave" with his "Straight Talk Express", but in South Carolina Bush's campaign consultants used Robo- Calls to imply that McCain had a natural born black child (actually the child was adopted). Bush won, McCain lost. In 2008 McCain hired the same Bush Campaign Consultants to run his campaign and with that, his desire to win overcame his integrity and the campaign showed it. To me, McCain could no longer be trusted.

Obama, as it turned out, impressed me with his oratory, his ability to answer questions with grammatically correct sentences which made sense to me. He is probably one of the brightest men to be elected President and his selections to date in forming his cabinet have been widely applauded by almost all.

So we shall see how it turns out and I'm sure that we are both wishing him success!

Gilbert


(See next post from Gilbert H. Skopp and comments there)

Critics Are Welcome: 22% of Jewish Voters Who Voted McCain Also Eschewed Judaic Values

Dear Dean,

After reading your column in the Jewish Journal, I felt it necessary to respond. I wrote a letter to the editor and sent a copy to you. The Jewish Journal did not print my letter (it was relegated to their website) and neither did you in citing examples of responses that you received from your article. I was probably being too "cutesy", but this is the letter that I wrote:

I just read Dean Rotbart's brilliant tongue-in-cheek apology for the Jewish vote for Barack Obama. The tip-off, of course, was his naming of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Mike Gallagher as deserving of an apology.

These talking heads -- with Rush Limbaugh -- have committed one of the worst of Jewish sins, i.e., malicious gossip. Rotbart even repeats some of them in his positive take on guilt by association and fear-mongering.

Unfortunately, as Rotbart points out, there are about 22 percent of Jewish voters who will look upon his opinion piece as being serious, which supports President Lincoln's observation that you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Gilbert H. Skopp
Calabasas


Also relegated to the Jewish Journal's Website was the following letter which more clearly describes my feelings:

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and gave demagogic credence to the poisonous venom that spews like raw sewage from the convoluted minds and mouths of conservative television and radio hosts.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and embraced hatred, bigotry and fear, while eschewing the traditional Judaic values of love, acceptance and hope.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and want the continuation of the war in Iraq, a war that has left Israel with more enemies and fewer choices and options to chose from.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and abandoned the majority of non-Jews who elected a president that carefully addresses the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio and seeks to end the Wild West shootout that has become the Republican substitute for thoughtful diplomacy.

And finally, I apologize for Rotbart and his ideological cousins at the RJC, who believe that in Orwellian doublespeak, a fact is an epithet and a falsehood is the truth.

Marc Rogers
Sherman Oaks

I wonder if you will print our letters in your newsletter.

I am interested in your views and would like, on occasion, to respond to you. Therefore I will not unsubscribe from your newsletter.

Gilbert H. Skopp

MAILBOX: Let's All Pitch In To Buy Sharp Blades For Our Executioners

Dear Dean:
 
Well, well, well. Bunch of enlightened souls we Jews are, with our electoral preferences, aren't we now?
 
"Martin Indyk (Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution), along with Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Hass, recently provided the foreword and first chapter to Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President. Indyk was [a] strong and visible supporter of Barack Obama's during the campaign who assured Jewish audiences of Barack Obama's strong support for Israel."
 
Refreshing, isn't it? Isn't our peculiar brand of elitist self-loathing just grand? Aren't we the savvy ones, making common cause with our enemies out of ignorance? Oh yeah, these folks we have supported for so long out of kindness, or pity, or whatever emotion we've intellectually talked ourselves into with our twisted internal dialog can really turn tail, can't they? Boy, are we one enlightened bunch or what? We sure know how to vote those fine Democrats in, we're always thinking about how truthful they are, what selfless public servants they are, and how they've tirelessly supported Israel.
 
But wait, Obama appointed Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff, that proves he's not anti-Semitic. Wow, the brilliance of this insight just leaves us conservatives scratching the heads surrounding our shriveled little neanderthal brains in confusion, doesn't it? Where did we go wrong?
 
Congratulations, my fellow Jews, nice job on that voting thingy. What's next, shall we pool our resources and see if we can get a wholesale deal on fine German cutlery to donate to the poor suffering Muslims in Palestine, so when they cut our throats, they'll have nice sharp blades and at least it will be quick?

A.P.
December 7, 2008 12:38:49 PM PST
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7 Reasons This Conservative Is Actually Glad Obama Got Elected

7) When we pull out of Iraq, it will save the US a ton of money.   
  But, the immediate results will be bad for Obama.  Most of the
  military over there now are from the National Guard, not regular
  military.  When these people come home, they will try to go back
  into the labor force, which is already laying off people left and
  right.  Unemployment will skyrocket - and Obama will get the blame.

  If the economy continues to crumble, as it will, Obama and the
  Democrats will get the blame for it.  They all got elected to get us
  out of this mess, but the mess is way beyond their control.  In
  today's times (or any time, for that matter) Obama can't possibly
  live up to his soaring rhetoric, which will lead to mass
  disappointment.  The Messiah is supposed to perform miracles, after
  all.  I predict a huge Republican gain in the next election in two
  years just as there was after Clinton's first two years.  Clinton
  ruined the Democratic party for a generation - I suspect Obama will
  do the same.
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Pathetic Paul Wrote Back - But Is Afraid To Have His Comments Printed

In the blog post just beneath this one, I challenge Pathetic Paul S. Kessler to write back and respond to my questions.  Big brave Paul, who labels me a "self-hating, kool-aid drinking" Jew, huffs and puffs and tells me that he doesn't want his pitiful response posted. 

Frankly, I think Paul is a wuss.  Hiding behind his mommy's skirt, he is big and threatening.  But having the courage to spew publicly what he vomits at me in private is just too harrowing for sad sack Paul.

I could publish his response despite his warning not to.  I never agreed not to publish what he writes me, in fact, if you read my response to him, I specifically promised him that I would publish his unedited response. 

So what does Paul do.  He writes me and tells me I have no right to publish his remarks.  Duh?

Oh yes, Pathetic Paul also tells me if I email him again he'll consider it spam.  Ooh. Ooh.  He is so scary.

I guess Paul doesn't know the actual definition of spam.  Here is what I emailed him back:

I think the definition of spam involves me sending out mass emails to persons I don't know.  Obviously, we now know each other.  I think the law would say if you don't want email from me, block it or don't open it.

When I studied law, I seem to recall that if you send me mail and ask me to abide by any "restrictions," I'm under no obligation to do so unless I previously agreed to some such restriction, which I most certainly never did.

I'm a journalist and a blogger.  You knew that when you emailed me.  If you didn't want me to publish what you write to me, you probably shouldn't have sent it.

Could it be that you are full of yourself when you write one-on-one, but sheepish to stand in public exposed for the shallow intellect that you really are?  Just curious.

DEAN
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ATTENTION PAUL S. KESSLER: When Will You Be Going To Dinner in Gaza?


Finally, let me ask you to rationally try and explain what you mean when you state that I am "more dangerous than an Arab with a gun in a group of Jews; at least everyone knows that individual's true intentions."  For real?

I invite you to spend a Shabbos at my home after you've spent a Shabbos with your Arab friends in Gaza.  Only then you can make a fair comparison.
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Snowed. Bamboozled. Completely Taken in by Media Spin!


Very, very few in this country have any kind of recollection, personal or otherwise, of true tyranny. The old Soviet Union is gone and forgotten; never mind it threatens to re-emerge under Putin. Hitler? He's so incorporated into ordinary media-speak that folks routinely compare a surly sales clerk or bureaucrat to Hitler. Even Jews who self-righteously compare any number of others whose policies or actions they disagree with to Hitler; Somehow they have forgotten that to casually do so cheapens the memory that Jews, above any other people, must keep finely honed and singular. Shame on them! That is not material for an off-the-cuff throwaway comment in my book! Hopefully, they can just confine themselves to spitting on you and calling you a moron, always the hallmark of an informed opinion, no?
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Rogovin on Rotbart: "I Cannnot Share Your Enthusiasm" for the Jewish Journal



I am ashamed to admit it, but liberal Jews are generally a bunch of Christian haters. They don't mind intermarriage with pagan Christians (meaning unchurched), but they really loathe believing and practicing Christians. With the reaction to Palin, I am afraid, this bias is too obvious to deny any longer. They will even accuse of her being a "Nazi" even though it is obvious that she would have hidden Jews if she had been there.

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FAN MAIL: Me, George Bush, Dick Cheney and the Other Fear Mongers


...you have a way of blasting your opinion, using one-sided rhetoric and giving conclusions with few hypotheses. You use the current administration's methodology of fear to drive your points. Its unintelligent and drives people away more than it includes them. Some may say its clever and prefer that approach but this approach is unfortunately used by some very skewed, sick, and hateful media mongers. The majority of the public is sick of this style. I know that I am. That is how you come across.

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The Ghost of America's Future: December 2010


Despite the charges, President Obama remains popular in broad public opinion polls.  Surveys show that large portions of the American electorate continue to support the President's defense and economic positions and believe the charges against him are politically and racially charged.

"The fact of the matter is that President Obama is restoring America's reputation among our allies and the cancer that is global terrorism is too large for any one nation to combat," said Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House.  "The tragedies of Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas and Charlotte should not be politicized," she added.

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Unpublished Letters to the Editor

My article in the November 12, 2008 edition of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles has generated a great deal of response.  Many thousands of people have read it in print and online.  Dozens of readers have written responses to me directly because I listed my email at the bottom of the article.  

In the November 19th edition of the paper, three letters to the editor concerning my column were published.  A few additional letters are included in the Jewish Journal's online edition.  Undoubtedly the paper received many more comments.  

At last count, a couple dozen bloggers and other Internet sites are discussing the column.  I've been interviewed by one news organization and have an interview scheduled with a second.

I have found the letters instructive.  Some accuse me viscously of narrow-mindedness and base motives, without pausing even momentarily to reread -- much less consider -- their own hate-filled screeds.   A few have been amazingly thoughtful, even among those who criticize me.

That the column touched a nerve is undeniable.  My guess is that I failed to move anyone off what was their basic view prior to reading the piece.  Those who share my beliefs were heartened to hear someone else express them.  Those who disagree, were only reinforced in their conviction of our idiocy.

I will keep trying in the hope that I may yet plant a seed of doubt even in those who are most forceful in their denials of my words and my right to express them.  Can those who speak with such unadulterated anger truly believe that they do so in the pursuit of a greater good?

As comments below, you will find real, unedited emails that I've received from those wishing to comment on my article.  They are posted in random order.  (Please check back often as I will load fresh posts and am still adding earlier comments, which takes some time.) When I've been able to reply, I have.  You can read my replies as well.

If you wish to comment, I encourage you to add your thoughts too.  I can be reached at dr@deanrotbart.com.
   


Republican Jewish Coalition Responds To My Query

On November 11, I wrote to Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington D.C. to ask about his article titled Tough questions about Obama need to be asked.  The editorial is posted on the RJC website and has subsequently been reprinted in a variety of venues.

I copied my email to Suzanne Kurtz, press secretary and she replied on behalf of the RJC.  I hope you will take a moment to read Mr. Brooks's column, my questions and comments and Ms. Kurtz's reply.  Then tell me what you think.

=============================
MY Email to Matt Brooks:


On 11/10/08 1:02 PM, "Dean Rotbart" <dr@deanrotbart.com> wrote:

Mr. Brooks,

I am a Los Angeles-based writer and have a question about your remarks in the Op-Ed titled "Tough Questions about Obama..."

I am planning to comment on your thoughts and hope you can clarify your thinking so I don't inadvertantly misrepresent your remarks.

What most caught my attention was this sentence:  "Obama was unable to exceed Bill Clinton or Al Gore, and only slightly improved on John Kerry's support in the Jewish community."

To my eyes, such a result is a huge disgrace.  Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry didn't have Obama's long record of associations with anti-Jewish preachers and other hateful leaders.  That the Jewish community actually voted Democratic in numbers similar to past Presidential elections sets off five-bell alarms with me.

What am I missing?  If the Jewish community didn't abandon the Democratic party in 2008 with Obama at the head of its ticket, what would it take for them to vote Republican?  

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An Apology to John McCain, Sarah Palin, et. al.

In this Friday's edition of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal I have an Op-Ed piece about the Jewish vote and the non-Jews who continue to offer unyielding support to Israel.  It can be found here.

You may also wish to read some of the comments posted on my blog, as well as those on the Sean Hannity forums and Ann Coulter forums.  Registration may be required to view the Hannity and Coulter forums.  You may comment here without editing.

Please feel free to leave your comments.  If you wish me to respond, include your email (not for publication). You may also send comments directly to the editor of the Jewish Journal at: letters@jewishjournal.com.  I have zero control over which letters and comments the paper selects for publication.

My column is generating a lot of response, much of it well-reasoned and some of it quite nasty.

Bad Reporting Is Bad Reporting, Even If You Like What Is Being Said

In the aftermath of the this week's Presidential election, there is one journalistic observation that I believe merits attention: regardless of your political affiliation, bad reporting is bad reporting - even when it favors your candidate or your point of view.

Election 2008 was the granddaddy of all elections when it comes to partisan, ineffectual, inaccurate reporting and in that regards, both John McCain and Barack Obama were losers. 

More importantly, the American people were losers because on way too many occasions, we read and watched the sort of agenda-driven news coverage that only fuels public suspicion that all journalists are shills for some puppet master.
 
 Cameron
To single out a specific example is probably unfair because there are so many worthy examples.  But I simply can't let pass unnoticed the incendiary, flagrant television dispatch I witnessed the day after the election.
Fox News' Chief Political Correspondent, Carl Cameron, who covered the McCain campaign, breathlessly reported on the O'Reilly Factor about McCain insiders who were now letting out the 'truth' about how dumb, how uncooperative, how greedy and how bitchy Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin really is.

Quoting unnamed McCain campaign sources, here is some of what Cameron reported on Nov. 5th*:
Early on, they [McCain operatives] began to discover that there were these gaps in her knowledge.  I just want to rattle off a couple of the things that insiders say she just simply didn't know.  There were real problems with basic civics, government structures; municipal state and federal government responsibilities.  She didn't know the nations involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement, we're told.  She didn't understand, McCain aides told me today, that Africa was a continent and not a country, and actually asked them -- they argue, they say -- if South Africa wasn't just part of the country as opposed to a country in the continent. 
And this Leona Helmsley-like characterization from Cameron*:
There are stories that say she would look at her press clippings in the morning and throw what has been described to me as "tantrums." .... They have suggested that she's a bit of a shopoholic and that on more than one occasion she would go out and buy clothes that to many seemed unnecessary because the campaign had already provided her with a very large wardrobe, uh, a wardrobe that famously rang up a bill of $150,000, mostly because they bought extra sizes to make sure everything fit.
For the sake of argument, let's say that Cameron's reporting is 100% accurate.  One does not have to be a fan of the Alaska governor to realize Cameron's unprofessionalism in conveying those "facts' in a vacuum.

Cameron made no effort to explain what his sources have to gain from releasing this information.  Many solid journalists, obviously not including Cameron, wouldn't repeat such pernicous information coming from sources who ask to remain unnamed.

Nor did Cameron venture to point out that even if all that the McCain operatives are saying about Governor Palin is factual, they were the ones who nominated her in the first place.  Might it be in their self-interest, masked behind anonymity, to try to get the public to believe they weren't responsible for their own dumb choice - if that is what they are now contending adding Palin to the ticket was?

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Everywhere I Look I See 'It': Self-Serving Journalists

Some would say "it" is just one of the perks of being a journalist. "It" is so commonplace, few question the ethics of "it" any longer.

CBS News' Bob Schieffer does "it" quite openly and his colleagues in the media applaud. Literally.  Most other journalists are more discreet, but no less guilty.

A recent example is Julie Bain, who writes on health for Reader's Digest.  While traveling with her mom not long ago, Julie became worried after her mother complained repeatedly of leg pain.

"Being a health journalist with lots of medical knowledge (although no clinical training), I was worried that she might have developed deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the leg that can block blood flow and cause pain," Julie writes in a September Readers Digest blog post.

 Is it acceptable for financial journalists to take their children to special screenings of soon-to-be-released films, when those children don't have a byline and could never get in if mom or pop weren't a journalist?


Worried, Julie did what any concerned family member might well do, she picked up the phone and called DVT expert Geoffrey Westrich, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, who has published more than 20 studies on DVT prevention.  The good doctor reassured her that mom was ailing with shingles, not DVT.

Would Dr. Westrich have taken Julie's call if Julie were not an influential health journalist?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

When Bob Schieffer took the stage earlier this week at the Grand Ole Opry and sang to an appreciative, invitation-only crowd comprised of many journalists in town to cover the Presidential debate, he fulfilled a long-held dream.

"Can I say something I've wanted to say all my life?" Schieffer asked the receptive crowd.  "I'm Bob Schieffer, and I'm proud to be on the Grand Ole Opry!"

Schieffer's performance, sandwiched between country and western stars Trisha Yearwood and Brad Paisley, is an experience that I'm certain many tens of thousands of other Americans would also enjoy.  But they aren't journalists, so they might as well forget it.

Does being a journalist imbue one with the right to accept what is offered strictly by dint of one's chosen profession?  Schieffer was not at the Grand Ole Opry to report a first-person story on singing there.  He is, after all, not CBS's music correspondent.

No, Schieffer used his journalism renown to buy himself an experience with a currency not available to the bulk of his viewers.

Was it okay for Schieffer to accept the invitation to perform when it has nothing to do with his editorial duties, but everything to do with the stature his job affords him?  Is it okay for a restaurant reviewer to use her position to get a hard-to-get table, when she has no plans to review the restaurant?  Is it acceptable for financial journalists to take their children to special screenings of soon-to-be-released films, when those children don't have a byline and could never get in if mom or pop weren't a journalist?

A number of years back, Gina Boyd, a reporter working for me, interviewed Robert Thomson, now managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.  At the time, Robert was the U.S. managing editor of The Financial Times and seen frequently on national television.

Gina asked him if all the television exposure and recognition ever goes to his head.  Robert replied: "I think you have to be careful.  One of the things you learn in Australia is to take the piss out of yourself.  You have to be self-effacing.  Or otherwise, you lose your way.  And if you don't have your bearings, in whatever you do, you won't do it well."

Well, I don't know whether Bob Schieffer, Julia Bain, and hundreds like them have failed to take the piss out of themselves or not.  

But I do know that journalists, as a bunch, are not held in the high and noble esteem that they should be, and I believe one of the reasons is that they mistake the importance of their jobs for self importance.

"It" means accepting any perk, no matter how trivial or lacking in pecuniary value, that is offered to you that wouldn't be offered just as willingly to the lowliest of your viewers or readers.

I do not ascribe good motives to anyone who facilitates the wishes of a journalist, unless those needs are clearly and openly related to the immediate performance of that journalist's job.  

 
 Medill's Richard Hainey
At best, such facilitators are suck ups.  At worst, they are dolling out well-disguised bribes for which they expect to collect at a future date.  And any journalist who accepts is a co-conspirator.

One of my journalism school professors and mentors, the late Richard Hainey, used to lecture us at Northwestern University about being seduced by journalism's perks and privileges.  Like Robert Thomson, he warned us in sometimes colorful language about those who might dangle goodies in front of us, be they gifts, meals or experiences unavailable to others.

Professor Hainey might have liked to sing at the Grand Ole Opry (though I doubt it) or to harvest the best medical minds anytime a family member took ill.  But he never would have done it.

No.  In his best inimical editor's voice, Professor Hainey would have told anyone who offered him a chance to sing along with Trisha and Brad exactly where they should shove "it."  Would that more journalists follow suit!

PR: A Game You Can't Win Playing By the Rules

Being nice doesn't work.  Being honest is only rewarded, if you say something that is honestly shocking.  Asking for fairness is silly.  Behaving the way you'd like your competition to behave may get you into heaven, but it won't get you on television.

These are just a few of the many public relations insights I've garnered by observing the profession for more than 20 years.  Here are some more that have been in my view of late....

On a scale of 1-10, with five being the  truth as you see it and each integer up being the truth "magnified" exponentially, then those who get the most media coverage pitch journalists stories that are 9s and 10s.  They don't lie.  They just lead with their strongest argument and then magnify it until the media can't ignore it.

When CEOs and PR people tell me "the story" they wish to get press coverage for, I can pretty quickly map for them where the 9s and 10s of their particular tale lie.  The visceral reaction I usually get is, "but that is such a simplification" or "that's a gross exaggeration."  Exactly.  Fives don't get noticed.  Tens do.

Here is the formula: Find a message.  Your message.  Trim it to its core.  Your core.  Then re-inflate it until it moves from a 5 to a 10.  That is, if you want publicity. 

Lots of CEOS and PR people think they want publicity, but they want it on their terms.  Won't happen.  The media have too much to do to bother with stories that can't rise to the top of newsworthy scale.  If you won't make your story exciting, reporters and editors certainly won't do it for you.

I really don't know if there is such a thing as 'absolute truth.'  But I can tell you this: Those individuals who play by the rules of media relations lose or lose almost always.  To win, you have to be willing to play the media relations game the way it really works.  Not how you wish it worked.

What's Wrong with WSJ. Magazine Cover?

It's a businessman's fantasy: Sexy model Diana Dondoe clad only in recent editions of The Wall Street Journal that have been contoured to fit her sumptuous figure by none other than fashion bad-boy designer Roland Mouret.

Okay, so forget about the printer's ink that Diana no doubt later had to shower off will a Brillo pad and the fact that the dress couldn't be very perspiration friendly. 

What really kills the fantasy for newsroom junkies such as me is the fact that the bylines appearing on Diana's dress are outdated.  In fact, Jackie Calmes, featured on the front-page story that adorns Diana's left should (along with June Kronholtz) now writes for The New York Times and hasn't graced the pages of the Journal since June of this year.

Other discernible bylines on the cover of WSJ. magazine include:

Suzanne Craig -- precariously close to Diana's left breast.

Valerie Bauerlein and David Enrich -- folded over Diana's heart.  
(Article dated June 3, 2008 on the forced departure of Wachovia Corp. CEO G. Kennedy Thompson.)

Monica Langley, deputy Washington bureau chief --  whose bylines is punctuated by Diana's right...um....nipple.

Sarah McBride -- barely visible adorning Diana's right shoulder.

Two of the articles visible on Mouret's dress clearly focus on Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama.  

Celebrities Unplugged: A Few Unrehearsed Moments wth Will Ferrell and Minnie Driver

WHO ARE THEY: Strangers on a Plane, Faces in a Crowd, The Driver in the Rear-View Mirror?

I suppose that living in Los Angeles, I should expect to have that periodic encounter with a genuine celebrity.  Yet each time I do, I'm wowed by the convergence of circumstances that must take place in order to put me and some famous entertainer, business leader or politician in the exact same location at the exact same time.

Yesterday my wife and I were running late, rushing to an appointment in a multi-story Beverly Hills office building located a brief stroll from Rodeo Drive.  We both boarded an elevator only to realize we didn't know what floor our meeting was on, so we made a hasty exit to consult the building directory.

Scurrying into the next elevator we joined a single occupant, standing along the back wall at the far left, humming to himself.  "We've seen a few of your movies," I said casually, trying to distance myself from the ordinary star-struck fan.  "Our whole family is a big fan."

This is true. 

 
 A Chance Encounter: Will and Talya
A year earlier, I, my wife and our two kids made a day of it standing in line and waiting endlessly as movie extras, just so we could watch Will Ferrell film Semi-Pro in a mock stadium constructed near Chavez Ravine, not far from where the Los Angeles Dodgers play baseball.  At the time, the closest we got to Ferrell was row 135A.

Now we are standing alone with the movie star and Saturday Night Live alum in a closed elevator. He is my captive audience.  At least for another 15-30 seconds until the elevator deposits him on the next floor. (We got off with him and he kindly and warmly agreed to pose for a picture with my wife.)


Coincidentally, it's not been a week since my kids and I were standing in the checkout line at a Malibu coffee shop and I glanced over to recognize a very pregnant Minnie Driver paying for her order in the adjoining line.  Like Will -- (having shared that elevator moment I'm now on a first-name basis with him) -- Minnie seemingly went unrecognized by others.  Either that, or the Malibu crowd was just too cool (jaded?) to acknowledge her.

  
 The paparazzi were so focused here...
 ...they missed Minnie and her pooch


As we watched Minnie leave the shop and recover her dog -- which had waited obediently outdoors for her return, we found it funny that 100 yards away a swarm of paparazzi were waiting to catch a glimpse of some lesser-light models who were doing a promotional gig for some cosmetic or fashion designer.  They were oblivious to Minnie, who wasn't wearing makeup and was quite unplugged from the usual celebrity trappings.

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Walter Tittle: Writer, Sketch Artist, Bon Vivant!

By Maxwell Rotbart

I am a 21st century blogger who recently searched for my name on Google to see how many results show up.

A modest four websites mention me. I then entered the name Walter Tittle, a virtuoso from the first half of the 20th century who is not very well known today. (He is so little known that I was able to purchase www.waltertittle.com for six dollars and eighty-five cents, before fees.) Much to my astonishment, his name appears on 4,370 websites picked up by Google. Not bad for a man who died well before Al Gore invented the Internet.

  
  

I first stumbled upon Tittle's name after reading an article (Personalities in a Parisian Salon: More Portraits in Pencil and Pen) that he wrote in 1925 for Century Magazine. In the article, Tittle speaks of the different social graces among the "Anglos" and all other cultures (namely the French). I was fascinated by how vividly he depicts the streets of Paris.

At one point, Tittle describes the Marquis de Castellane, a guest at a Parisian party, in the following terms:

"He is still quite handsome, with his patrician cast of features and exceedingly erect carriage; his salient chest suggests military training, and his blond hair is still worn high, though time has thinned it considerably.

He was clad in light tweeds, with white boutonnikre and kerchief in evidence, the note being repeated by white spats, which he always wears. He had a bulldog in leash, smart with its curious clown-like ruff of heavy leather trimmed with monkey fur, and the frantic greetings between it and Mme. Carolus-Duran's dog, one of the same litter, stopped all conversation temporarily and threatened the physical equilibrium of guests and furniture alike."


And yet, despite Tittle's artistic and unique compositions, he is best remembered by the sketches and portraits he drew.

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Eyewitness Heaven: What Do You Think the Almighty Had to Say to Leona Helmsley?

I would like to be the heavenly correspondent who witnessed Leona Helmsley when she went to meet her maker last year, at the age of 87.

I doubt that He would probe her deeply about her 1989 conviction on federal income tax evasion or even on her haughty disposition when it came to employees and others less fortunate than she.

But I do think the Almighty would have some important questions on why Mrs. Helmsley wrote indigent people out of her $5 billion to $8 billion will in favor of directing that all the money go to the care and welfare of dogs.  

No doubt Mrs. Helmsley loved canines and no doubt dogs deserve our respect for their companionship and loyalty.  But I seriously doubt that God has the kind of sense of humor that would appreciate Mrs. Helmsley's total disregard for the good her funds -- which she earned by the grace of God -- could do for two-legged humanity.

Perhaps, in our capitalistic system, we have no right to tell the über rich how they should allocate their estates.  Perhaps.  But I doubt that heaven shares our free-enterprise sensibilities.

No, my suspicion is that all her money did not buy Mrs. Helmsley a first-class ticket to eternal bliss.  Quite the contrary, if there is justice in the afterlife, she will be spending eternity picking up after the canines she was so devoted to in her mortal life.   

Making the Routine Extraordinary: Wall Street Journal Karen Richardson

Writing a stock market column for the Monday edition of a business newspaper always requires a certain amount of creative imagination.  A journalist can't really report on what happened during the previous (Friday) trading session -- that's old news -- and how much can one freshly forecast about the upcoming Monday morning trading session?  By the time most readers crack open their Monday morning financial dailies, the markets will have rendered moot any forecasts anyway.

So that is why I always teach my public relations clients that one way to help measure how savvy a financial columnist is, is by reading his or her Monday morning offering.  Based on that formula alone, I think The Wall Street Journal's Karen Richardson is one sharp scribe.

Her most recent Ahead of the Tape column, on Monday, June 9, is a fine piece of financial journalism.  Karen points out that so far every all-star private equity or sovereign-wealth fund that has ponied up billions of dollars to bolster distressed U.S. financial institutions has watched a serious portion of their balance sheet evaporate.

In Where Will U.S. Banks Beg Next?, Richardson notes that rescues from Corsair Capital, TPG, Temasek Holdings, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, China Investment Corp. and Warburg Pincus have left all would-be heroes with a lighter wallet. 

"Given the performance of these investments so far, how much worse does it have to get before pension trustees and university endowments and the top-tier private-equity firms they back ask whether it makes sense to keep doing this?" Richardson asks.  "How long before rich overseas funds stop giving cash to Wall Street firms that lose their money?"

Those are good, insightful questions and ones investors and securities firm executives need to weigh.  If the A-team funds do get wary, Richardson suggests State investment funds in less politically 'pc' places such as Algeria, Angola, Libya and Zimbabwe may be the only true alternative.

"Selling stakes to funds of authoritarian or unstable regimes in frontier markets doesn't quite mesh with Wall Street's lofty image of itself," Richardson concludes.  "But it created this mess, and beggars can't be choosers."

Now that is just plain, good writing!

Time to Give CNBC's Dennis Kneale His Own Show

Memo:  Roger Ailes, Fox Business News and Mark Hoffman, CNBC

Subject:  What Are You Guys Waiting For?

Perhaps the two of you über news craftsmen didn't get the memo, so I'm resending it.  Step up and give Dennis Kneale, currently Media and Technology Editor at CNBC, his own show.  

Dennis is bright, funny, telegenic (he's gotten better having traveled from the print world) and enthusiastic.  He used to be managing editor at savvy Forbes and before that was a top editor at The Wall Street Journal.  So he's not only entertaining, he knows business and financial news.

When Dennis joined CNBC in October 2007, Jonathan Wald, CNBC senior vice president for business news, said it himself:  "He's one of the best connected journalists in the business."

Although Dennis started out with media and technology as his core beats, he's expanded that role significantly -- and now is a go-to commentator on every variety of business and economic story from early morning to late night.  He's often showing up on Kudlow & Company and periodically hosts the show when Larry is off.  

Dennis gets it wrong sometimes and he gets it right a whole lot of the time.  Is that any different than Jim 'Mad Money' Cramer?  What I like so much about Dennis are his reportorial skills and his willingness to bare-knuckle fight with anyone and everyone who disagrees with him.  CEOs and other reporters get no slack from Dennis.

When Dennis used to show up regularly on Forbes on Fox, he was impossible not to watch.  Just the kind of host television networks covet.

I suspect the question of whether or not to place a bet on Dennis has crossed both your minds.  Perhaps you think he needs a little bit more on-camera seasoning.  Perhaps.  But having watched the best and the worst on both your respected networks, I am convinced that Dennis is already closer to the top than the bottom.

So get with it gentlemen.  One of you needs to give Dennis his own show.  And I'd say better hurry.  Business news is not the only venue where Dennis could thrive.  The other news networks, without a doubt, could use a journalist of Dennis' caliber, too. 

See:  NewsBios

H.C. Chatfield-Taylor's Coverage of the World's Columbian Exposition

At a used book store the other day I picked up a hardbound copy of The Century Magazine from 1925 and found within it a wealth of early 20th century journalism -- most of it lost to the dusty stacks of libraries and their microfiche rooms.

 
 H.C. Chatfield-Taylor in 1897

One article that was too good to let lie in obscurity was When the World Came to Chicago, a reminiscence by Hobart C. Chatfield-Taylor of his time spent as a host of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago.  The great fair drew 27 million visitors, including some real characters who Chatfield-Taylor saw up close.

Anyone who loves Chicago and especially anyone who loves its rich literary and art history, really will enjoy reading this 83-year-old feature.  It includes mentions as well of local and national politicians, doyennes, and actors.

I was particularly struck by the timelessness of a letter that Chatfield-Taylor quoted written to him in 1891 by Eugene Field, the essayist and children's author.  Field, after whom many public schools in Illinois and Missouri have been named, served as editor of the defunct Denver Tribune for two years.

"If you intend to follow writing as a profession, you must cultivate your skin until it becomes hide - the hide of a pachyderm," Field told Chatfield-Taylor.  "I believe it is better to be antagonized than to be patronized.  Go right along doing the best work of which you are capable and you are bound to succeed in spite of the ill will of some people.  There are in the midst of us many who, incapable of ambitious endeavor, themselves,  envy and hate those who do try to do somewhat and to be somebody.  Do not let these creatures worry you.  After a while they will be only too glad to fawn upon you."

Sadly, Field died in November 1895 at the age of 44 and Chatfield-Taylor served as one of his pallbearers.
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Bob Dole Calls Scott McClellan a 'Miserable Creature,' 'Weasel,' and 'A Total Ingrate'

Hurray for  former Senator Robert Dole, who  doesn't mince words in his email (below) to  former  First Spokesman,  Scott McClellan.

===============

Scott,

There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don't have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues. No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits, and spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique.

In my nearly 36 years of public service I've known of a few like you. No doubt you will "clean up" as the liberal anti-Bush press will promote your belated concerns with wild enthusiasm. When the money starts rolling in you should donate it to a worthy cause, something like, "Biting The Hand That Fed Me." Another thought is to weasel your way back into the White House if a Democrat is elected. That would provide a good set up for a second book deal in a few years.

I have no intention of reading your "exposé" because if all these awful things were happening, and perhaps some may have been, you should have spoken up publicly like a man, or quit your cushy, high profile job. That would have taken integrity and courage but then you would have had credibility and your complaints could have been aired objectively. You're a hot ticket now but don't you, deep down, feel like a total ingrate?

BOB DOLE

Scott McClellan Shames the PR Profession

The public relations profession should be outraged by former White House press secretary Scott McClellan and his newly awakened sense of righteousness.

As spokesman for the President, McClellan served effectively as First Spokesman, the most visible  and most influential public relations practitioner in the world.  That he would stand daily at the pressroom briefing podium and espouse a position that he, himself, came to disbelieve and then wait to act upon it until he had the time to write and publish a book is inexcusable.

Too many people already think that the public relations profession is a polite form of prostitution – that is, we’ll say just about anything for money.  Now McClellan comes along and confirms our critics’ worst suspicions.

For the record, McClellan is NOT worthy of the designation of spokesman or public relations professional.  There is nothing professional about his abuse of his former position of trust to enrich his own career and bank account by betraying those who trusted him and were led by him to believe that he shared their values.

When President Gerald R. Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, Ford’s press secretary, Jerald F. terHorst resigned in protest.  Which reflected well on the PR profession.  Ms. terHorst told Associated Press this week that she believes “it’s unethical to carry our a job and then turn around and kiss and tell.”

I couldn’t agree more.

As a media relations consultant, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of corporate scoundrels.  When I see that my clients lack the kind of ethics and standards that behoove good corporate citizens, I quietly resign.

Sure, I could then turn around and issue a news release highlighting what scum I had worked for.  But I believe as a profession – just like lawyers, accountants, and physicians – PR executives are entrusted with client confidences that they must never betray – short of being compelled to do so by court order.

Really, what McClellan should have done if he had any loyalty, professionalism or ethics whatsoever was to strongly and privately argue his position to members of the Bush administration.  He was more likely to change the Administration’s viewpoint from the inside – if his aspirations were noble -- than two years later hawking his book on the Today Show as a disgruntled and morally ambiguous former spokesman.

Writing on the subject, AP’s Deb Riechmann noted “presidential spokesmen traditionally have worn cloaks of loyalty to their graves.”  Which is how it should be.

In this case, McClellan wore it only to his professional grave.  For while I know that some will defend his actions and others will hire him for his experience and insights, in my mind he is stone cold dead as a communications professional.

In my mind, anything he does from this point forward is just intellectual prostitution, gussied up to look legitimate.

A 'Grimm' Welcome to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers RAPID 2008 Conference

This post was originally published on the Low-Volume Manufacturers Association web site: www.l-vma.org

I plan to continue to probe my "welcome" and try to better understand what turf Todd is so anxious to protect.
===========================================

Orlando (May 22, 2008): In his official pictures Todd A. Grimm of T.A. Grimm & Associates looks so friendly. He has a warm smile and an earnest disposition. So I was taken by surprise this morning when I went up to Todd to introduce myself face-to-face and discovered a less smiley facade.

Grim, indeed, was Todd's assessment of me and the Low-Volume Manufacturers Association, which I founded and work for as a volunteer. Todd told me flat out -- just an instant or two before he turned his back on me and walked away -- that he views me as "the competition" and doesn't like my style of business.

Fair enough. Todd is entitled to pick and choose who he associates with and if he doesn't want to speak with me it is his option.

The one nit I have to pick, however, is with the fact that Todd also is a senior representative of the SME's RAPID conference and Vice Chairman of its RTAM community. Indeed, next year, Todd will become chairman of the RTAM community steering committee.

Will he choose not to speak to anyone he competes with or anyone who competes with those he consults with during his tenure? I wasn't approaching Todd because I wanted his rapid prototyping consulting and marketing services. I approached him because I wanted to greet him as a highly regarded leader of SME's RTAM. (Indeed, Todd was honored as one of this year's keynote speakers.)

Todd can tell you directly what his problem is with me and L-VMA. You may agree with his views or may not. But as best as I can ascertain, he is most concerned that I may one day find a way to make money from my work with the L-VMA. Not that he, as a respected RTAM leader, makes any money from the high visibility his volunteer work for the group brings him!

In all trade associations I've been affiliated with in the past, the fact that one member competes with another is not grounds for an official snub. I do wonder how Todd can justify this unusual position and who else he has blown off in his role as a RTAM leader because he doesn't approve of their style of doing business?

What do you think is the likelihood that RTAM will give me a speaking opportunity at a future RAPID conference so long as my "competitor" is in charge of the community and won't even stand still to speak with me?

Officially, I am a paid member of SME and don't think it right to be excluded because I may -- at least in Todd's view -- compete with him. Tough.

Douglas B. Mitchell, who currently chairs RTAM and works for Ford, seems to have no problem working alongside Thomas A. Sorovetz of Chrysler in a civil fashion. Why would Todd treat me any differently?

Todd, who provided me a telephone interview for L-VMA some months back, told me he went so far as to call SME members he knows and speak poorly of me and L-VMA, suggesting that somehow I am up to no good. I pointed out that I did free PR for him and promoted his interview without charge -- an offer I extend to any company or individual in the RAPID industry. (Does T.A. Grimm & Associates make a similar free offer for its marketing services?)

Todd would have none of this. Even as I asked him to recall how much I invoiced him for my work on his behalf -- a big fat zero -- he just skulked away.

More about Todd and his consultancy in the coming days.

Photo: Todd A. Grimm by Dean Rotbart

Airlines to Install Pay Toilets to Help Bolster Bottom Line

Beverly Hills, CA --  In the effort to bolster their bottom lines, some air carriers have begun to charge passengers extra to check their baggage.  In the spirit of giving, this site's editors have devised some other steps the beleaguered air carriers might test in order to offset the rising costs of fuel.

"Not everyone who flies needs the bathroom in-flight, so why should everyone on board have to pay," asks HopelessUtopian.com.  Instead, the website suggests the airlines could install credit card swipe devices on each toilet stall, allowing passengers to be charged a minute-to-minute rate depending upon usage.

A second popular idea on the HopelessUtopian.com site is to charge extra for experienced pilots.  "Just as better hitters in baseball get paid more, those pilots with more experience are worth more than those who just emerged from flight-training school," HopelessUtopian.com writes.  "If you want a pilot who knows what to do in an emergency, you should be willing to pay more.  It's kind of like life insurance: some people want a lot, some only a little, and others none at all."

The editors at HopelessUtopian.com fielded numerous related suggestions from their readers.  Among other frequent suggestions:  Charge extra for fat customers and pregnant flyers; make seat belts a paid amenity just like headphones; create seated and non-seat sections on board, charging more for those who don't wish to stand the entire time; make passengers pay extra for on-time departures; and offer bus service for those who can't afford to actually lift off.

In recent years, the airlines have struggled to remain viable, fighting to offset rising fuel prices, stricter security measures, and record new levels of flight attendant dissatisfaction and surliness.  Since air transportation is vital to the global economy, HopelessUtopian.com said it believes consumers must carry a larger share of the responsibility for corporate mismanagement and lack of vision.

"Why should airlines take it upon themselves to operate with more efficiency and imagination when their passengers are a captive audience upon whom they can push pretty much any absurd idea?" HopelessUtopian.com asks.  Indeed, the web sites thinks the airlines may well serve as role models for other cash-strapped industries, such as hospitals.  "Would you like your surgery with (extra cost) or without anesthesia?" may indeed be the next question we all hear.

There Is a World Outside the Media Snow Globe

It sure is chilly in here.  Perpetually gloomy in fact.  From where I sit, I see a world in which a large percentage of the population is anti-business and believes that government and increased government regulation is the best answer to the ordeal of their lives.

To this vocal group, life is an ordeal.  The planet is overheating due to greedy energy companies.  Their health is diminishing due to conspiratorial fast food and pharmaceutical companies. Their right to Internet access is threatened by Internet Service Providers who are not willing to lose money to deliver more high-definition pornography to them.  Their privacy - both online and off - has been sold to the highest bidder.  And their tea is cold.

These whiners and malcontents, like bacteria, thrive in the enclosed world of the blogosphere, where fresh air and logic are about as jarring as a large meteorite crashing through our planetary atmosphere.

Forget for a moment that their presumptions and facts are warped at best, downright sick at worst.  This is a wonderful time - perhaps the greatest time ever - to be alive, and a large part of that thanks rests with the very businesses that these bellyachers disdain.

Their blog posts come courtesy of the ISPs they revile.  The furnaces and air conditioners that keep them comfy are delivered via the energy companies they pummel. Those extra pounds around their waists are due to the fact that we live in a marketplace of plenty.  What they know of the world - news, music, entertainment, etc. are all provided on demand from the companies they so much enjoy pillaring. 

All of this would be laughable - a small brigade of Archie Bunkers in the 21st century - but for the fact that the mainstream media (who never could resist a good sound bite) pay these ne'er-do-wells attention and bestow upon them a veneer of credibility.

Now, the inmates run the asylum.

The mainstream media, forgetting that they are the ones who propped up these faultfinders in the first place, begin to quote them in their stories and link back to their blogs.  Opportunists in all walks of life - but especially politicians - seize upon this as evidence that more government and, in particular, their brand of government is urgently needed.

The media write about the politicians, the blogosphere writes about the media, the politicians quote the media who quote the politicians who mimic the blogosphere.  Bad enough.

But the worst of this is that the companies who are the targets of all this mythmaking themselves begin to buy into the fantasy world.  They become defensive (which is natural).  Companies know what the media say about them is often untrue, yet when snowglobers rant about a potential vendor or business partner, many companies become wary of getting too cozy with another company that has run afoul of the blogosphere.

Soon, the companies are playing by and responding to the rules of the snow globe, rather than recognizing the process for the absurd, insulated, isolated, deliberately manipulative universe that it is.

Inside the snow globe, at least for business, it is always snowy.  That is the nature of snow globes. 

That leaves businesses two very clear choices.  Play by the rules of the snowglobers and submit to their tariffs - no matter how illogical.  Or make your decisions based not upon the over-inflated views of the few and concentrate instead on the needs, opinions and wishes of the vast majority of people who pay zero attention to the snow globe.

In the outside world, where fresh air and reality are in abundance, this is -- to steal a quote from George Bailey -- a wonderful life. 

Milken Institute's Global Conference 2008: Market Movers by Felix Salmon

I like the rules Portfolio.com's über-blogger, Felix Salmon plays by.  Basically, as Felix views it, among those who are pure bloggers, there are no rules.  Anything goes.  

"Blogging is not a craft which is honored by the good bloggers and sullied by the bad," Felix writes in a May 7th post responding to a proposal I floated.  "It's a medium, a conversation, a babble.  Its very variety is its strength."

Or, as I see it, its undoing.

On Felix's Internet, bloggers' only obligation is to themselves and possibly to their readers and/or sponsors.  He is not alone in that view.


 Portfolio.com Blogger Felix Salmon at Milken

On our Econobloggers panel at the 2008 Milken Institute Global Conference, Paul Kedrosky was real clear in stating more than once that he doesn't care who reads his blog, whether they like it, whether they act on it, or anything about them.  Reciting the bloggers anthem, Paul says he writes for an audience of one, himself.

Frankly, I think that is double bunk.  If he is the only one he cares to please, why not keep a personal journal or a diary? Why bother to vomit your views on the world wide web?

I offered to Felix a proposal to set some standards for econobloggers and even help fund a non-profit group to encourage and recognize the best econobloggers.  Felix thinks the idea sucks.

Okay.

His view is that I'd push to honor journalist-like bloggers:  "the ones with disclosure and accountability, the ones without gossip and rumor and snark."  Ah yes, the three virtues of the blogosphere -- gossip, rumor and snark.  What was I thinking?

Look, there is room in the world for The Economist and for the National Enquirer.  And, yes, once in awhile, the NE actually gets a scoop that turns out to be factual, although its batting average is far from major league.

Still, I think the public -- especially the investing public, will only have an appetite for the National Blogging Enquirer for so long.  There is only so much gossip, rumor and snark that anyone can willingly consume without some solid intellectual nutrition to go along with it.

Economic thought and reporting has needed a livelier delivery for a long time.  And the bloggers out there have enlivened the dialogue to great effect.  Yet some of what I read, in fact much of what I read, is all snark and no substance.

If the blogospher is a medium, a conversation and a babble, over time it has to be a number of additional things:  pertinent, informative, factual (sorry, Felix) and accountable (double sorry, Felix).

You can go to a dinner party and be amused by the slightly inebriated guest who speaks of his financial and sexual conquests.  He is certainly more lively than the staid insurance salesman.  But after a steady diet month in and month out of hearing about the lush's financial and sexual adventures, I think most people will grow wary.  Especially when the boaster shows up night after night in shabby, worn clothes and no date.

There are far more examples in the old dead-tree world of journalism of financially successful credible news organizations than their are of gossip rags such as the National Enquirer.  There is a reason for this.  The marketplace votes with its wallet and its feet.  Over time, serious, well-researched, accountable writing (dare I say 'journalism') has won out repeatedly over gossip, rumor and snark.

There is room in the world for a Matt Drudge.  There is room for a National Enquirer and for a Paul Kedrosky.  But those shoes are filled.  In the inevitable shakeout that will come down the road, most bloggers will go back to keeping journals or shooting the breeze at their neighborhood watering hole.  Only quality will survive.  And my offer to help nurture those quality blogs and bloggers stands.

I hope Felix will reconsider my invitation to be a part of this movement, although I know that he won't.


Milken Institute's Global Conference 2008: Infectious Greed's Paul Kedrosky

I met blogger Paul Kedrosky face-to-face for the first time yesterday, just before he appeared on a panel I moderated at the 2008 Milken Institute Global Conference.

The panel was titled Econobloggers: Real-Time Information and Analysis From the Keyboard Next Door and Paul was a most appropriate expert, given the large following he has attracted for his Infectious Greed blog. Paul likes to stress in his official bios that he is "a sought after media personality" and no wonder, he is articulate, outspoken, even charming.

But he is, in my opinion, also dangerous.

Paul is one of many econobloggers who build audiences by opining on topics with great zest, but not always great knowledge.
On our panel, Paul stressed more than once that he writes Infectious Greed for an audience of one: him. He maintains that he doesn't really care who reads his blog, how they use it, or whether it lives up to anyone's standards other than his own.

Perhaps that is why he is comfortable passing off hearsay (the polite word for gossip) as worthy of repetition, such as when he called for the firing of Microsoft's Steve Balmer on April 28th, citing Balmer's handling of the Yahoo! bid and relations with Jerry Yang as evidence.

Fair enough, everyone loves a critic and Paul is better than most. That Paul's extensive bio does not give rise to believing that he knows better than Microsoft's board what kind of leaders the company needs now is only a trivial point. Paul told the panel that much of his call to oust Ballmer was his own ranting - not anything he expected the world to take action upon.

It's what Paul wrote elsewhere in his same blog post that unsettles me: "The insider-ish sources I have say that while bankers are still fitfully running up some hours, on Sunday Ballmer and Yang still hadn't spoken in weeks -- and doing a deal will requires (sic) those two to get over one another."

The first part of that sentence isn't opinion. It is either true -- Ballmer and Yang have not spoken in weeks, or it is not true. No perspective needed there.

I questioned Paul on this and you might want to view his answer, as well as the supportive comments of fellow panel members who think that such gossip has a place in the blogosphere. Their oft-cited proof is Matt Drudge, who frequently gets scoops by daring to print gossip that later turns out to have merit. (What we don't hear about as often is all the gossip Drudge and other bloggers publish that later turns out to be utter rubbish.)

Bloggers aren't mainstream financial journalists and my panel of bloggers argued consistently that the world needs both. I remain unpersuaded.

I believe the greatest benefit financial bloggers offer is to express well-reasoned opinion based upon demonstrable logic and facts. I think it is valuable to hear why one smart observer thinks Ballmer should be ousted, even if that observer has not run his/her own mega-giant company and even if I don't share his/her opinion.

Where I fail to find the value is in taking shortcuts with the facts and fact-gathering. Paul knows the unlikelihood that either Ballmer or Yang will bother to correct him if his sources are ill-informed, so he is safe in pretty much passing along any such unsubstantiated information.

Maybe readers of Infectious Greed and other econoblogs know to take such "facts" with a large grain of salt. Maybe. But I am old-fashioned in that respect. I still prefer my facts unsalted.

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Milken Institute Global Conference 2008: Watching CNBC's Maria Bartiromo Work

BEVERLY HILLS, CA -- At this year's Milken Institute Global Conference it is hard to miss the fact that CNBC's Maria Bartiromo is covering the event live. She is frequently on the air, interviewing high-powered speakers and attendees at the influential confab or just presenting and commenting on the day's unfolding events.

Like the vast majority of other prominent journalists covering the conference, Maria is a seasoned and savvy financial journalist who understands the financial markets and corporate America and can go mano-a-mano with the likes of Michael Milken, T. Boone Pickens, Steve Wynn and Eli Broad.
But Maria has talent and a skill-set that really towers over other journalists and she makes what she does look so easy that you really have to study her on the job to see how truly impressive she is.

What CNBC viewers see is Maria seated at an anchor desk in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. More often than not, the camera delivers a tight shot, which fills the screen with her and CNBC's various scrolling graphics and charts. When the camera does periodically pull back, one can see conference attendees walking to and fro, oblivious to her presence.

But the CNBC camera lies.

Maria is impossible to miss. Petite and coiffed, she sits at the center of a canyon of lights, teleprompters, cameras, computer banks and production crew members who make her live shots possible. They in turn are front-and-center in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton, right across from the main hotel registration desk; only feet from its main bank of elevators; and just a few more paces from the grand ballroom where lunch and intellectual protein are served.

People are taking Maria's picture. They are standing on the side and in front of her watching her work. They are also standing to her side and in front of her ignoring her, carrying on loud conversations on their cell phones and amongst themselves. In her ear is the audio link to producers back East, who yack at her constantly. Standing directly off camera is a field producer who is either yapping at her or delivering her cues using hand signals.

And in the midst of all this, Maria has to tune it all out and work as a quality journalist.

I contrast this to Andrew Ross Sorkin, the print and digital journalist who is covering the same conference for The New York Times. Andrew walks through the crowds and navigates his way in and out of sessions unnoticed by all but a few. He has no earphone yapper telling him how many seconds until he must again be smart and peppy. He can go off to a corner, unnoticed, and write and file his stories with virtually no interruptions.

I've always respected both Maria and Andrew as excellent journalists. But after watching them at the Milken conference, I must say that I respect both of them even more.

I respect Maria because I don't think I ever realized just how demanding live financial television journalism remains, despite all the technological advances of the past decade that now permit financial journalists to be on scene. That Maria can seize her focus out of the swirl around her and remain composed and articulate is truly amazing.

As for Andrew, well my respect for him also rose after watching him work. After all, he had the good sense to stay away from a multi-tasking job such as Maria's.

-- Dean Rotbart
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Milken Institute Global Conference 2008: Media Turnout

First journalist I ran into this morning is Andrew Ross Sorkin, the influential founder of The New York Times' DealBook site and newsfeed. This is Andrew's first Milken conference and an early indication of the way in which the annual Milken Institute Global Conference is increasingly attracting A-Team journalists, such as Andrew.



Top Left: Maria Bartiromo prepares for a live CNBC
broadcast from the 2008 Milken Institute Global
Conference.

Top Right: Steve Forbes ready to go live as a
guest on Fox Business Channel.

Bottom Right: New York Times DealBook editor,
Andrew Ross Sorkin, drafts a column in the Global
Conference press room.


Andrew, who is based in New York and orchestrates the paper's M&A coverage, tells me he plans to be at the Milken conference for the full three-days -- a serious investment of his time. Truth be told, the conference is a "candy store" of sources for journalists who know how to work it. Besides what happens in the formal sessions, the opportunity to have so many influential sources and potential sources at your disposal is the payoff for journalists.

While the annual Davos conference is still a bigger magnet for top journalists, the Milken Institute Global Conference has many advantages, including that it is more intimate, there are more opportunities to get one-on-one with participants, and on top of all that, you get Beverly Hills.



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Milken Institute Global Conference 2008: Opening Thoughts

The 2008 Milken Institute Global Conference is underway and is already off to an impressive start. The annual Beverly Hills-based conference has grown in stature and size with each passing year.


Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus (r) pauses to have his photo taken
with an unidentified registrant at the 2008 Milken Institute
Global Conference

This year's conference will feature CEOs, entrepreneurs, educators, elected officials, portfolio managers, journalists and an army of other influencers.

Having both covered the annual event as a journalist and participated in it as a moderator and speaker, it is rewarding to see this important conference continue to be a hotbed for new and innovative ideas. One of the great aspects of the conference is that it brings together thought leaders from many different public and private sectors who exchange insights and learn from one another.

Throughout this three-day conference I will continue to post thoughts and photos here.
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Mercer Hotel in New York Doesn't Understand the Power of Word-of-Mouth

When I do the math, I figure the Mercer Hotel in New York's Soho made at least a $50,000 mistake in mistreating me during my recent visit.  Likely, the price will be much greater.

I had a bad experience at the hotel.  Upon check in, I thought my week-long stay was prepaid and presented the hotel with a credit card to cover only incidental expenses.  Through no fault of The Mercer Hotel, it turned out that my room had not been paid in advance, and when the hotel tried to charge my entire stay plus incidentals, my credit card company rejected the expense.  (Had I known just how much the Mercer intended to 'block,' I would simply have used a card with a higher limit.)

None of that was a problem or should have been a problem.  It was a simple misunderstanding.

Yet each time I tried to explain to the hotel's clerk that if I had known the Mercer Hotel was planning to charge the entire fee in advance to my card I would have used another card, she insisted that the hotel's actions were standard operating procedure and I should have been aware of it.  She was not at all pleasant about it.

In fact, her tone with me was so rude that I immediately asked to speak with her supervisor.  You see, I know from experience, that you can't hold an entire institution responsible for the attitude of a single employee.  To my real surprise, the supervisor was no better.  Indeed, the supervisor told me that she had overheard the employee's tone and found nothing wrong with it. 

What was I to argue in response to that?  That the supervisor is tone deaf?

So I asked the supervisor to have the hotel's general manager, Philip L. Truelove, contact me the next morning during regular business hours. I also sent him an email recapping my version of my exchanges with his employee and her supervisor. "There was a nice way for Angela to explain the hotel's actions and position and then their was the haughty way.  I feel she chose the haughty way," I wrote.

The next day Mr. Truelove did not call me or stop up to personally apologize.  Instead, he emailed me back saying that he had received no previous complaints about the employee in question (which must prove that my version was wrong).  "It does surprise me that it was the case and it is the first time that anybody has commented in that way about Angela – many great comments but none about rudeness and unpleasantness," Mr. Truelove emailed.

He, nonetheless, offered to buy me and a guest dinner in the Mercer Hotel restaurant as a "gesture of goodwill."

A true gesture of goodwill would have been to offer me a face-to-face apology.  I wasn't gunning for a free meal and I didn't accept his offer.

I found all three employees arrogant and rude.  The hotel, I believe, is owned by Andre Balazs, who also owns the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood.  I wonder if Mr. Balazs knows how the three employees I encountered are squandering his profits?

Here is my math.  I won't ever stay at the Mercer Hotel again.  As I told Mr. Truelove, I would have checked out immediately but for the fact that I had already arranged multiple business meetings at the hotel that I would have had to rearrange -- inconveniencing my guests, a colleague and me.  But now that I've checked out, I've checked out for good.

My business alone will cost the hotel at least $50K in lost revenues over the next year or two.  And the question then arises, how many other people who hear my story and read my reviews -- which I've begun posting on travel sites, will also opt out of the Mercer Hotel?

Maybe it doesn't matter.  Maybe the Mercer Hotel is so successful and Mr. Balazs so rich that he need not concern himself with $50k here, $100k there.  Maybe he, too, is willing to stand behind his employees, even if he doesn't have the facts in hand.

Or maybe, just maybe, it will all add up.  Reputation is an art and subject to change.  The Mercer Hotel could have stanched this with a simple, heartfelt apology from the employee, her supervisor or Mr. Truelove.  Instead, it has given an incident that could easily have been forgotten a permanent life on the Internet.

It will be interesting to see just how far my complaint -- which went nowhere with Mr. Truelove and the hotel's personnel -- will travel on the Internet and beyond.

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TravelPost.com Review

Mercer Hotel

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Stay Away From the Mercer Hotel - Not at It!