Monday, August 03, 2009

E-mails show Ensign’s staff knew of affair By Lisa Mascaro

Las Vegas Sun

WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen. John Ensign’s top staff at the National Republican Senatorial Committee knew about the senator’s affair during the height of the 2008 election season last summer before the party’s devastating losses that bolstered Democratic control of the Senate, according to e-mails obtained by a Las Vegas Sun columnist.

The Sun’s Jon Ralston is also reporting this afternoon that the woman’s husband sought help from former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, further questioning if Santorum tipped off Ensign that the husband was going public with the affair.

Ralston reports that Mike and Lindsey Slanker, the husband-and-wife team that helped run the national committee when Ensign was its chairman last year, struggled as they dealt with fallout from the senator’s affair.

Ensign admitted an affair with Cynthia Hampton, his former campaign treasurer, whose husband, Doug Hampton, had been one of the senator’s top aides at the time.

Ensign later helped Doug Hampton get a job with November Inc., the Nevada-based political consulting firm run by the Slankers.

Mike Slanker worked as the committee’s political director for the 2008 election cycle, and his wife was the committee’s financial director.

In one e-mail exchange dated July 10, 2008 between Mike Slanker and Doug Hampton obtained by Ralston shows that Slanker would have been aware of the affair. The men are discussing the strain the situation has caused the friendship between their families and work environment.

Another e-mail that day from Lindsey Slanker to Cynthia Hampton further discusses the difficulty the situation has had on their friendship.

Mike Slanker had previously told the Associated Press he was unaware of the affair.

The e-mails are posted here.

Ensign’s Republican colleagues in the Senate essentially gave him a pass after losing eight seats during the 2008 election and putting Democrats within sight of a filibuster-proof majority, chalking it up to a difficult year for the Republican Party.

Ensign went on to be elected by his peers to party leadership last fall, but stepped down from the No. 4 position earlier this year after announcing his affair.

With Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch from Republican to Democrat, the Democrats have a 60-seat filibuster proof majority.

Ralston also reports that Doug Hampton’s e-mail to Santorum is dated June 15, the day before Ensign abruptly left Washington to return to Las Vegas to announce the affair.

Ensign’s office has said the senator decided to go public because the husband was taking the affair to the media.

Santorum has declined to address the situation when asked recently by Politico.

Sun Archives
■Behind the closed doors on C Street (7-19-2009)
■Ethics group amends Ensign complaint over $96,000 payment (7-17-2009)
■Ensign’s $96,000 question: Severance pay or gift to Hamptons? (7-16-2009)
■In D.C., some worry Ensign saga is not over (7-15-2009)
■Ensign gives first Senate speech since acknowledging affair (7-15-2009)
■Ensign to stay in Senate, seek reelection (7-14-2009)
■Silence, not calls for Ensign to quit (7-12-2009)
■If shockers done, Ensign could stay in office, many say (7-11-2009)
■GOP support for Ensign dwindles as new details of affair emerge (7-10-2009)
■Ensign's parents gave Hampton family $96,000 (7-9-2009)
■Hampton portrays Ensign as relentless (7-9-2009)
■Ensign’s pal lacked usual qualifications for top job (7-5-2009)
■Handling the public display of contrition (6-27-2009)
■Off the cuff, Ensign guarded but genial (6-26-2009)
■Fox News had Hampton’s letter earlier than it said (6-24-2009)
■For Ensign, a new lot in Congress (6-24-2009)
■Ensign apologizes during lunch with GOP senators (6-23-2009)
■Back in Washington, Ensign received warmly (6-23-2009)
■Ensign back in D.C.; group plans ethics complaint (6-22-2009)
■In state GOP, Ensign finds few defenders (6-21-09)

Confidential, With an Asterisk


I can understand why there are so many calls for the heads of the 104 players on the so-called “list” that marks them as guilty for testing positive in the 2003 survey drug test. It seems that publishing this list once and for all would make us all feel better. We could put this chapter behind us, convince ourselves that everyone not on the list is clean as a whistle, and rest assured the game would never return to such disgrace.

But it would be a Pyrrhic victory, at best.

The 2003 drug test was a “survey” test. It was devised to establish the extent of the drug culture in baseball. Instead of just running with innuendo, rumor and guesswork, the Players Association decided that they needed to actually find out for sure.

So this test was put in place to get a true number. It also allowed players a safe place to be truthful (or sloppy). And it is safe to assume that the assurance that the results wouldn’t leave the premises persuaded some to not mask their samples to hide a potential positive result. Here was a chance to actually be forthright, and give the league a truer sense of the extent of a problem that needed to be addressed. Ironically, the players who may have found ways to beat the test seem to be better off today. Those players are quietly in the “clean” column and those who were either sloppy enough or open enough to provide a real sample, which helped move this testing policy forward, are about to get a Scarlet Letter.

The tests were contingent on some semblance of confidentiality. No player in the game would have ever agreed to a collectively bargained drug policy if they had been told beforehand that the results would end up in the public domain. Sure, if the government found a way to bypass that, then we would have had to comply, but instead we got this chronic leaking of confidential and anonymous information after five years, with only selective players being “outed.” Kind of shady. Well, if this is for such a good cause, then why the negative approach? Why pick and chose who gets the center square stockade? How about we start leaking the names of the other 1000 players that didn’t test positive? That would be nice change of pace, but whoever is leaking this information isn’t playing nice, at all.

I enjoyed the chapter in the book “Freakonomics” about how the true hazard of a situation often falls short of the outrage. We can be fuming about something, but it may not be the most pernicious problem. Of course I have no love for the drug culture in baseball — it was pervasive and, by raising the performance level in the league, probably contributed to shortening of my career — but systems have and will continue to be put in place to curb what will be an ongoing problem. No list of 104 guys being splashed up on your home page will change that.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of outrage being spewed, and I understand. Something dear has been lost. The culture of a game that had the rare ability to bridge generations of fans and players has been broken. Before the steroid era, a home run was a home run and we could look at and admire and compare the achievements of Mantle, Aaron, Kaline, Ruth, Schmidt, and Mays and feel like we were speaking the same language. The steroid era wipes that out: the magic created on the field starts to seem artificial, patronizing us, appeasing us, making us doubt whether we are truly seeing what we are seeing.

But we need to pay close attention to our outrage because the precedent set by allowing confidential and anonymous collectively bargained tests to be completely breached is a bigger problem. It creates the impression that agreements between employers and employees on policies and procedures can be thrown out at any time, just because someone felt they had the right to know. In such a world, what would prevent your employer from taking your drug test result at C.V.S., at I.B.M. or maybe the hospital you work for and slap it up on the Internet tomorrow?

Granted, somewhere in the morass is a federal investigation, which often changes the rules of these kinds of things. But while investigating the players wrapped up in the BALCO affair, all players got cast in its shadow. This led to the samples not being destroyed as planned since the union could not destroy what could have been evidence in an ongoing investigation. The union was just following the law.

(So if the test was anonymous, you might ask, why is there some key out there to match up the names with the numbers? Answer. There had to be some way to trace back in the event someone lost a sample, or it got tainted, or there could have been a false positive giving the players some right to re-test. )

I don’t know who or which organization is leaking these names. But, I find this act more outrageous than that of the players who tested positive. At least these players helped the game take a step towards putting a better policy in place. It may not have been out of nobility, but at least it was real. I do find it curious that whenever a player is arrogant and bold enough to declare his “cleanliness” he quickly gets nailed by their 2003 positive test. To me, it appears more like a targeted impeachment process. I am not crying for those players’ choices, but what is happening to them is telling.

Certainly, I can understand the frustration of the investigators. When all is said and done, these players are simply “users,” low men on the totem pole of a drug scheme. The players lying at hearings and in the media are creating a distraction and getting in the way of the investigators’ ability to do their job. They are also inhibiting their need to focus on the more significant issues, like the suppliers and the source of these drugs. We’re talking amounts that are changing local economies, not the meager thousands of dollars these guys spent in a year on their “fix.”

I think the release of this list of 104 would be a travesty. The promise of confidentiality was in place to allow players to be more willing to provide a true test. We can’t go back and change the rules after the fact and then claim we are now noble and honorable. I want drugs out of the game, too, but there is more effective, long-term way to go about it that doesn’t compromise principals that make the rule of law in our country so unique.

THE INFLUENCE GAME: Biotech drug lobbying war

ALAN FRAM Associated Press Writer

With the nation's $46 billion biological drug market at stake, the war between makers of the pricey biotech medicines and their would-be generic competitors has involved millions of dollars in lobbying, thousands in campaign contributions and uncounted visits to members of Congress. And one noteworthy letter.

The note from the private National Health Council, sent to House leaders drafting health overhaul legislation, said the plea was on behalf of "the more than 133 million Americans living with chronic diseases and disabilities and their family caregivers." It urged lawmakers to protect the makers of high-technology biological medicines against early competition from lower-cost generic copycats.

The letter did not mention that nearly $1.2 million of the council's $2.3 million budget in 2007 came from the pharmaceutical industry's chief trade group and 16 companies that sell or are developing the brand-name biotech drugs.

The July 20 letter is an example of a favored lobbying tactic — special interests quietly financing private groups that may take their side as respected, seemingly independent allies without obvious financial interests in the outcome. It also underscores how both sides are using every weapon at their disposal as they battle over an issue that will affect millions of Americans but has been overshadowed by Congress' larger struggle over reshaping the nation's health care system.

Biotech drugs, made from living cells that treat diseases from cancer to psoriasis, can cost a patient tens of thousands of dollars per year. Amgen Inc. and the other companies that make them want their products protected from generic products for at least 12 years, and have won early congressional votes on the issue, due in part to a lopsided edge in lobbying resources. Their generic rivals want to cut that waiting period to five years.

In its letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and other leading legislators, the council argued for at least 10 years of exclusivity, saying the longer protection would encourage biotech companies to keep developing products. The generic drug industry sees that as supporting the biotech companies, but council vice president Marc Boutin says its position is a balance of the views of the 50 patient advocacy groups, like the March of Dimes, that comprise the heart of his organization.

"The sponsors have no control or input" into council projects, Boutin said.

Manufacturers say they need the longer protection to earn a profit on biotech drugs, which can take over $1 billion and a decade to bring to market. Generic companies say waiting that long would discourage them from developing competing products and would keep drug prices high — just when President Barack Obama is trying to lower medical costs as part of his reshaping of health care.

The White House has proposed seven years of protected marketing for brand-name drug makers.

The health council's letter lists its board members, which include the drug makers Amgen and Pfizer Inc., along with patient groups and other companies and medical industry organizations. The council's Web site lists many of the contributions it receives from these groups, another rarity.

"Is all their work bad? No," Steven Findlay, health analyst for Consumers Union, which backs the shorter five-year period, said of the council and other patients' groups that accept medical companies' financing. "But when it comes to health care reform and biogenerics, are they going to oppose the industry on that? No."

Billy Tauzin, president of the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which gave the health council $290,000 in 2007, called them "a great organization" with unchallenged credibility.

"We'll stand by them whether or not they agree with us, any day," said Tauzin, who is also on the council's board.

The lobbying battle has so far been one-sided. The Senate health committee voted 16-7 for a 12-year protection period last month, while Waxman's House energy panel voted 47-11 for 12 years of protection last Friday on an amendment by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who has numerous biotech firms in or near her Silicon Valley district.

That dominance is partly due to a huge disparity in money, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and the Senate Office of Public Records.

Representing biotech companies, the Biotechnology Industry Organization has spent $3.7 million lobbying so far this year. Their ally, Tauzin's association of drug makers, has spent $13.1 million — the second most of any group that lobbies in Washington.

The main group opposing them, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, has spent $1.1 million lobbying this year. Another group, a coalition of generic drug companies, insurers and large employers, has spent another $180,000, though most of its members — like AARP and the General Motors Corp. — are more focused on the overall bill and are devoting few resources to the generic fight.

Individual biotech companies like Amgen are also easily outspending their generic rivals such as Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.

The one-sidedness extends to campaign contributions, too. The biotech organization contributed $192,000 to federal candidates in the two-year 2008 election cycle, the pharmaceutical association $155,000. The generic association: $51,000.

All that money has let the biotech industry launch a lobbying blitz, with targets including lawmakers from biotech-heavy states like California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and North Carolina.

The biotech organization has brought its CEOs to Washington, and has run print and radio ads in the states of pivotal lawmakers. The pharmaceutical association has helped organize lobbying by universities that conduct biotech research and venture capitalists who invest in such firms, and paid for a Duke University study that concluded biotech firms need 12 to 16 years of protection from generic competitors to break even.

With Democrats controlling Congress, doctor and former national Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean has spoken out for the biotechs — though initially he did not reveal he worked for a law firm advising the biotechnology organization. Former Rep. Ron Klink, D-Pa., and Charles Brain, a former top House Democratic health aide, are lobbying on the biotech side.

"They don't do one thing, they do everything," said a frustrated Katie Huffard, a GOP lobbyist leading the generic coalition. "They are a very formidable, powerful presence."

Other big pharmaceutical contributors to the health council included Pfizer, $184,000; Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, $141,000; and Eli Lilly and Co., $131,000.

18 clever time-savers for super busy people

Story Highlights

Send out birthday cards once a month
Turn over the role of meal planner and cook to your family
Quick breakfast: Put all fruit, milk, silken tofu, or yogurt in the blender pitcher
Stow a small paper shredder near the mail to destroy credit-card offers
By Amanda Hinnant; additional reporting by Laine Siklos and Winnie Yu

(REAL SIMPLE) -- Ingenious ideas from (and for) busy women everywhere.

Designate a space for "in use" cups

Create a special spot on the kitchen counter where everyone can put half-filled coffee mugs that need to be reheated, water glasses to be used again later, or sippy cups that can be refilled.

At the end of the day, put everything that's still out into the dishwasher. It cuts down on kitchen clutter, and it also avoids shouts across the house of "Are you done with that coffee yet?"

Presort the family laundry

Clean laundry is only half the battle it still needs to be sorted and put away.

Save those steps by keeping washer-and-dryer-safe mesh bags (27-by-36-inch mesh bag, $8, in each kid's room one for lights, one for darks.

Throw the bags directly into the washing machine and dryer, then hand them back to the kids. If they're old enough, they can do their own Get organized using everyday items

Minimize trips to the garbage can

While preparing a meal, keep a big bowl on the counter. Put all your chopping, cutting, and peeling discards into it, then make one trip to the garbage instead of 10.

Make a quick breakfast

Put all your fruit, milk, silken tofu, or yogurt in the blender pitcher and store the pitcher in the refrigerator overnight. (You can even prechop a banana. It will brown, but that will not affect the flavor of the shake.

In the morning, set it on the blender and press the button. 30 tips for easy outdoor entertaining

Put the kids to work

Tired of hearing "What's for dinner?" and "That again?"

Turn over the role of meal planner and cook to your family.

Ask each person to choose a night that suits his or her schedule (some family members may need to make a few meals each week), fill in a dinner menu, and add the needed ingredients to the grocery list.

Make the rules simple: a different menu every night, and only one pasta dish per week.

Everyone's food issues (allergies, picky taste buds) must be addressed. Every menu must be healthy and include vegetables. Include a dish-duty sign-up, too.

Prepare sandwiches for dinner

When in doubt, whip up a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for dinner to save time.

Make it with natural peanut butter, real fruit jam, and whole-grain bread. That way it's "real" food, unlike many of the additive-laden prepackaged meals so widely available now.

Keep an everything datebook

Buy a weekly calendar. Jot down all the traditional things: school events, birthdays, appointments.

But use it to keep track of nontraditional things, too.

Write down bills that come through the mail and mark their due dates six days ahead.

Plan weekly dinner menus and write them on the calendar. Use it to also record the kids' long-term assignments.

That helps prevent those evenings of racing around to do everything at the last second. Systems for managing your mail

Never miss another birthday

Send out birthday cards once a month. Receiving one early is better than not receiving one at all.

Have a shredder ready

Stow a small paper shredder near the mail to destroy credit-card offers and "checks."

Try a double-duty dustbin

Empty your bathroom garbage can and use it as a bucket when you wash your bathroom and hardwood floors.

Rinse it in the tub, then fill it with white vinegar and water. Both the floors and the garbage can are clean when you're done.

Start a recipe chain letter

Planning menus and getting the ingredients together for a quick meal after work can be time-consuming.

That's where the recipe-exchange "chain letter" comes in. Have friends send you their favorite easy-to-make recipes, then you forward them on.

In addition, keep a few cookbooks at the office and download recipes from the Internet to a folder on the computer.

Photocopy or print out the ingredients list while at work and then buy groceries during lunch or on the way home.

Squeeze now, use later

If you have leftover lemons and limes from a cocktail party, squeeze them and freeze the juice in an ice-cube tray.

Once they're frozen, store the cubes in zippered plastic bags and use them for recipes that call for fresh lemon or lime juice. (One cube equals about one tablespoon of juice.)

Keep an ongoing shopping list

Whoever unwraps the last bar of soap from the four-pack or scrapes the last spoonful of mayo out of the jar should be responsible for writing it down on the shopping list.

Time-stamp your photos

When you get your photographs developed, label the envelopes before leaving the store.

On the top of the envelope, jot down the date, subjects, or activity. It's easier than trying to remember the details later.

Or take it one step further and throw out right there in the store any flattering, uninteresting, or unclear photographs.

Get ready for morning the night before

Set out everything you can -- dry breakfast ingredients, clothes, backpacks and bags, and lunches -- before going to bed.

It means fewer things to think about when you wake up and you're getting ready to leave the house.

Create a beauty station

Hang a mirror by the door, along with a basket filled with last-minute primping tools.

You won't have to run all over the house looking for brushes, barrettes, sunscreen, hand lotion, or various makeup essentials: It's all in the basket.

Start a day-by-day shelf system

To get out the door more quickly each day, dedicate baskets or shelves to specific days of the week.

When you remove things from your bag at night, place each item on the appropriate shelf or in the correct basket.

Designate a certain spot for everyday items like your wallet, transit card, and cell phone.

Organize your hand-me-downs

Keep a "future bin" in the kids' closets for hand-me-downs you get from others and anything that's too big for them right now.

Purge their closets once a season. Put removed items in one of three places: a younger sibling's "future bin", the charity bin, or the trash.

Many charities, such as Goodwill, call quarterly to let you know they will have a truck in the area, so you don't have to load your car and make an extra trip.

When they call, leave the bin out front for pickup, and they'll hang the receipt (for tax purposes) on your doorknob.

This is also a good time to get rid of any toys that the kids have outgrown.

The GOP's Extremist Dilemma E.J. Dionne Jr.

WasingtonPost Monday, August 3, 2009

Things are looking up for the Republicans, relatively speaking. President Obama's poll numbers have dipped, GOP recruitment for the 2010 elections is going better than expected, and the health-care battle has been rough on the Democrats.

On top of that, the surveys show Republicans now leading in this year's two major governor's races, in Virginia and New Jersey.

There's just one problem: The country still doesn't like Republicans.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last week captured the public's mixed verdict. The headlines focused on growing doubts about Obama's health-care plan and the drop in his approval rating, from 60 percent in February to 53 percent now.

But the same poll found that while Democrats as a party had a net positive rating of five points (42 percent positive to 37 percent negative), the GOP faced a 13-point deficit. Only 28 percent rated the Republicans positively; 41 percent rated them negatively.

Perhaps this has something to do with how few positive things Republicans have to say. As a result, the party is being defined by extremist voices who have faced little push-back from its leaders.

The extremists include the "birthers" who, against all evidence, insist that Obama was not born in the United States and thus is ineligible to be president. These guys are so out there that party leaders and conservative commentators have started to disown them.

Race-baiting is no longer off-limits on some of the right-wing talk shows. Fox News's Glenn Beck, for example, declared that Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."

Ethnicity has been an underlying issue in the debate around Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned whether she would be fair by repeatedly referring to her comment -- from which she backed away -- about the relative wisdom of a "wise Latina."

Rush Limbaugh was far less subtle when her comment first surfaced. "How do you get promoted in a Barack Obama administration?" he asked. "By hating white people -- or even saying you do, or that they're not good or put 'em down, whatever."

Some in the party are also entering never-never land in their attacks on the Democrats' health-care proposals. Last week, for example, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) claimed that the Republican approach to health care would be more pro-life because it "will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government."

Foxx's ludicrous notion -- taking off in the right-wing blogosphere -- is that Section 1233 of the House health bill is an invitation to euthanasia.

It's nothing of the sort. It simply provides Medicare funding so seniors with life-threatening diseases can consult their doctors on advanced care and get "an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title."

The harshness of the rhetorical salvos is feeding worries among some Republicans that the GOP is increasingly perceived as a right-wing, Southern regional party.

Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio brought those concerns to the surface in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch in which he spoke of the role played by Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

"We got too many Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns," said Voinovich, who is retiring next year. "It's the southerners." He added: "People hear them and say, 'These people, they're southerners. The party's being taken over by southerners.' "

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana shot back, calling Voinovich "a moderate, really wishy-washy" in an interview with the Washington Times. But Vitter offered indirect support for Voinovich's claim when he said: "I'm on the side of conservatives getting back to core conservative values. There are a lot of us from the South who hold those value[s], which I think the party is supposed to be about."

In the short term, these tussles and rumblings may not matter much. The country is focused on judging what the Democrats are doing with the power they hold. The path that politics will take depends largely on the outcome of the health-care battle and the direction of the economy.

But to take advantage of the opportunities that might come their way, Republicans will have to make themselves an acceptable alternative. They have not done this yet. Facing down extremism and breaking out of the party's regional enclave would be good places to start.

10 Years Ago, an Omen No One Saw (except one ME!)


Ten years ago Sunday, on an island off an island off the coast of America, something impossibly glamorous took place. Partygoers took boats from Manhattan to the home of the Statue of Liberty to plop pashalike on pillows and blankets and munch on lamb chops while Macy Gray sang, their faces illuminated with multicolored Chinese lanterns and fireworks curated and narrated by George Plimpton.

“That was a silver-flanged fleur-de-lis,” said the voice, highly recognizable but disembodied by darkness.

This was the Talk magazine launch party on Aug. 2, 1999 — simply called The Party at the time — and it seemed as if a new era of media fabulousness had been christened. The Hearst Corporation and Miramax, owned by Disney, decided to finance a new general interest magazine led by Tina Brown, fresh off her triumphs at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, that would lead the national conversation.

It was all kicked off with the kind of lavish party that would seem unthinkable in the current context.

Sponsored liquor flowed, women teetered about on heels in deep grass, and the A-list guest list — Mr. Kissinger, please meet Miss um Ms. uh meet Madonna — was a testament to the power of the synergized word. Content was king and Ms. Brown was its queen.

“Now you’re not exactly the tired masses, the huddled masses, but then again, I’m an immigrant who toiled here on the Concorde,” she said to the crowd after being introduced by Queen Latifah. “But I just want to say, here’s to Lady Liberty tonight.”

Too bad nobody saw the sharks circling in the harbor. Rather than the culmination of a century of press power, the Talk party was the end of an era, a literal fin de siècle. Flush with cash from the go-go ’90s and engorged by spending from the dot-com era, mainstream media companies seemed poised on the brink of something extraordinary. But that brink ended up being a cliff.

“It seems like that happened in the 18th century,” said Ms. Brown by phone last Friday.

Magazines are on pace to book little more than half of the advertising pages that the industry did 10 years ago, and dozens of longtime titles have disappeared. The last big magazine introduction — Portfolio at Condé Nast Publications — flamed out this spring after two years at a cost of more than $80 million. Now even Condé Nast Publications, the world headquarters of printed luxury, has brought in the bean counters from McKinsey with an eye toward further cuts. There may never be another large magazine launch ever, and certainly not one that was accompanied by the fanfare of Talk.

I’m still ashamed to admit that I wasn’t one of the lucky 1,000 people invited to the party — old prerogatives die hard — so I was trapped on shore, covering it secondhand with a nose pressed up against the glass. But it is worth thinking about how this future, or lack of one, arrived so unforeseen.

Ten years ago, journalists, long the salarymen of the publishing economy, began gorging on big contracts and options from digital start-ups like shrimp at a free buffet. With coveted writers commanding $5 for every typed word into magazines that were stuffed to the brim with advertising, there was a fizziness, some would say recklessness, in the air. The industry was drunk on its own prerogatives, working a party that seemed as if it would never end.

Peter Kaplan, the former editor of The New York Observer, attended the party and oversaw coverage of the event.

“Tina, for all the excellence of her antenna, was scratching the air, and like many of us, was unable to pull in the new signal,” he said. “She failed to see that it was probably already over and that there was something slightly hollow about that event.”

Most of us who covered media did not fully understand the implications of the new technology that could publish and distribute information at zero marginal cost. The Web was viewed as a niche, as a way to supplement and enhance the printed product, certainly not a threat that would make many of those publications obsolete.

“Most of the talk at the Talk party was about the party itself,” said Kurt Andersen, a novelist, radio host and founder of Spy magazine. “It was weird and interesting because you were sort of wandering around in the dark out there and bumping into people. There was a meta quality to the thing, a self-consciousness, that in retrospect was probably telling.”

At least Ms. Brown did not compose a rap ode to the new magazine. That fell to Mr. Big, Ron Galotti, the former Condé Nast publisher who managed to get a flock of advertisers to buy the hype and commit to the first four issues of a magazine they had never seen. After Talk closed, Mr. Big quit Manhattan media and moved to a farm in Vermont. Maybe he knew something we didn’t. (He did not return a call.)

“It was the end of something extraordinary, but none of us knew it at the time,” Ms. Brown says now. “What followed was a very turbulent odyssey, not just for me, but for all of us. There has been a volcanic realignment that none of us foresaw.”

After Talk closed early in 2002, Ms. Brown hosted a television show on CNBC and wrote a book about Princess Diana. Demonstrating a nimbleness that has characterized her entire career, she is now running The Daily Beast, a scrappy but promising digital media site owned by Barry Diller’s InterActiveCorp.

She pays her writers, increasingly an exception these days, but there are no huge contracts or boat rides to sylvan lawns full of impossibly famous people. The Daily Beast has 1.5 million unique visitors a month, according to Quantcast, and has kicked up some notice, but its opening party of a hundred or so took place at the very much land-locked Pop Burger on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. There was no Sarah Jessica Parker, no Robert De Niro and no Hugh Grant in attendance. There were a lot of bloggers instead.

Modern media success is enabled by brutal cost control and using hard, fast numbers to convince advertisers they will get a return for their spending. Once stalwart magazines like BusinessWeek are up for grabs and entire formerly lucrative categories have been wiped out. The magazine canard of associative glamour, of selling aspiration by the bucket-load with page after page of pricy merchandise, is all but dead but for a few exceptions.

Ms. Brown once wrote the book “Life as a Party” and on that night, it was.

“I was aware it was a historic night,” Ms. Brown said. “We were on a boat and I was with Natasha Richardson. We were talking and laughing, looking at the lights of the twin towers. And then a big wave came over the side of the boat and soaked us both. Now Natasha is gone, the towers are gone. It’s very, very sad, but I am very excited by this new world we are heading into.”


Car Sales Rise in July, Helped by Rebates for ‘Clunkers’

Ford Sales Rise in July, Helped by Rebates for ‘Clunkers’

DETROIT — The government’s “cash for clunkers” program gave automakers a desperately needed sales boost in July, though their relief could be short-lived if the Senate does not vote to extend the trade-in program after it unexpectedly ran out of money.

The Ford Motor Company said Monday that its United States sales rose 2.3 percent last month, marking the first year-over-year increase for any of the six largest carmakers since last August. Ford had not posted a monthly sales increase in nearly two years.

Ford, which heavily promoted the government-sponsored rebate program at its dealerships, in television ads and on its Web site, sold 18 percent more cars and crossover vehicles than it did in July 2008, though sales of its trucks and sport utility vehicles fell 18 percent. The company did not say how many of its sales were made to people who turned in a vehicle to be scrapped under the program.

“We had another strong month in progress before the ‘cash for clunkers’ program started,” Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president for marketing, sales and service in the United States, said in a statement. “Our products, our dealers and our advance preparation enabled us to leverage the program and drive traffic and sales to another level. In addition, we achieved a sales increase even though we decreased incentive spending in an increasingly competitive environment.”

Other carmakers, including General Motors, Chrysler and Toyota, are scheduled to report their July sales later Monday.

The government trade-in program, which began July 24, lets consumers give up an older, inefficient vehicle and receive a credit of up to $4,500 toward the purchase of a new vehicle with a higher fuel economy rating. Its unexpected popularity caused the program, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, to quickly exhaust its initial budget of $1 billion, which was enough for about 200,000 people to take part.

The House of Representatives voted Friday to provide $2 billion more, and approval from the Senate is needed to extend the program. Many dealers are now unsure whether to continue taking trade-ins under the program, not knowing if the government will reimburse them.

Automakers welcomed the program at a time when high unemployment and low consumer confidence levels have pushed new-vehicle sales to their lowest level since the recession of the early 1980’s. Through the first half of this year, sales were down 35 percent compared to the first half of 2008.

The Transportation Department said Monday afternoon that based on 80,500 cash-for-clunker applications — which officials believe is about a third of the total deals so far — average fuel economy of the new vehicles was 9.6 miles per gallon better than the old ones, 25.4 m.p.g. versus 15.8 m.p.g., an improvement of 60.8 percent. The improvement, the department pointed out, is much larger than the minimum required to be eligible for the government rebate: a gain of 4 miles per gallon for cars and 2 miles per gallon for trucks.

Part of the reason for the gain was that some people were turning in old trucks for new cars. So far, 83 percent of the “clunkers” were trucks or S.U.V.’s and 60 percent of the new vehicles were cars, the department said.

The department also said that Ford, General Motors and Chrysler supplied 47 percent of the new vehicles, slightly more than their overall share of the market, which is 45 percent. The top-selling new vehicle bought with the help of the rebate was the Ford Focus, and three more of the top 10 were also made by American companies, the department said. Of the remainder, it said, “preliminary analysis suggests that well over half of these new vehicles were manufactured in the United States.”

Voices From Above Silence a Cable TV Feud


It was a media cage fight, televised every weeknight at 8 p.m. But the match was halted when the blood started to spray executives in the high-priced seats.

For years Keith Olbermann of MSNBC had savaged his prime-time nemesis Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel and accused Fox of journalistic malpractice almost nightly. Mr. O’Reilly in turn criticized Mr. Olbermann’s bosses and led an exceptional campaign against General Electric, the parent company of MSNBC.

It was perhaps the fiercest media feud of the decade and by this year, their bosses had had enough. But it took a fellow television personality with a neutral perspective to help bring it to at least a temporary end.

At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

In early June, the combat stopped, and MSNBC and Fox, for the most part, found other targets for their verbal missiles (Hello, CNN).

“It was time to grow up,” a senior employee of one of the companies said.

The reconciliation — not acknowledged by the parties until now — showcased how a personal and commercial battle between two men could create real consequences for their parent corporations. A G.E. shareholders’ meeting, for instance, was overrun by critics of MSNBC (and one of Mr. O’Reilly’s producers) last April.

“We all recognize that a certain level of civility needed to be introduced into the public discussion,” Gary Sheffer, a spokesman for G.E., said this week. “We’re happy that has happened.”

The parent companies declined to comment directly on the details of the cease-fire, which was orchestrated in part by Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, and Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice president who oversees corporate affairs at the News Corporation.

Mr. Olbermann, who is on vacation, said by e-mail message, “I am party to no deal,” adding that he would not have been included in any conversations between G.E. and the News Corporation. Fox News said it would not comment.

Civility was not always the aim of Mr. Olbermann and Mr. O’Reilly, men who, in an industry of thin skins, are both famous for reacting to verbal pinpricks. Both host 8 p.m. programs on cable news in studios a few blocks apart in Midtown Manhattan.

The conservative-leaning Mr. O’Reilly has turned “The O’Reilly Factor” into a profit center for the News Corporation by blitzing his opponents and espousing his opinions unapologetically. He found his bête noire in the liberal-leaning Mr. Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s “Countdown,” who saw in Mr. O’Reilly a regenerating target he nicknamed the “Bill-o the Clown.”

The 6-foot-4 Mr. Olbermann started sniping regularly at the also 6-foot-4 Mr. O’Reilly in late 2005, sometimes making him the subject of the “Countdown” segment, the “Worst Person in the World.” Mr. O’Reilly was also a stand-in for the perceived offenses of the top-rated Fox News.

By punching up at his higher-rated prey, Mr. Olbermann helped his own third-place cable news show. “Honestly, I should send him a check each week,” he remarked to a reporter three years ago. Fox noticed. Mr. Murdoch remarked to Esquire last year that “Keith Olbermann is trying to make a business out of destroying Bill O’Reilly.” Mr. O’Reilly refused to mention his critic by name on the “Factor,” deeming him a “vicious smear merchant,” but he regularly blamed Mr. Zucker for “ruining a once-great brand,” NBC.

In late 2007, Mr. O’Reilly had a young producer, Jesse Watters, ambush Mr. Immelt and ask about G.E.’s business in Iran, which is legal, and which includes sales of energy and medical technology. G.E. says it no longer does business in Iran.

Mr. O’Reilly continued to pour pressure on its corporate leaders, even saying on one program last year that “If my child were killed in Iraq, I would blame the likes of Jeffrey Immelt.” The resulting e-mail to G.E. from Mr. O’Reilly’s viewers was scathing.

The messages hit nerves on both sides. Mr. Immelt remarked to MSNBC staff members last summer that he would “never forgive Rupert Murdoch” for Fox’s behavior, according to two people who were present. In private phone calls, the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, told NBC officials to end the attacks.

In February, Mr. Zucker told Newsweek what he had told Mr. Olbermann privately: “I wish it weren’t so personal.” The previous year, Mr. Murdoch said that Mr. O’Reilly “shouldn’t be so sensitive” to the attacks lobbed by MSNBC.

Over time, G.E. and the News Corporation concluded that the fighting “wasn’t good for either parent,” said an NBC employee with direct knowledge of the situation. But the session hosted by Mr. Rose provided an opportunity for a reconciliation, sealed with a handshake between Mr. Immelt and Mr. Murdoch.

But like any title fight, the final round could not end without an attempted knockout. On June 1, the day after the abortion provider George Tiller was killed in Kansas, Mr. Olbermann took to the air to cite Mr. O’Reilly’s numerous references to “Tiller, the baby killer” and to announce that he would retire his caricature of Mr. O’Reilly.

“The goal here is to get this blindly irresponsible man and his ilk off the air,” he said.

The next day, Mr. O’Reilly made the extraordinary claim that “federal authorities have developed information about General Electric doing business with Iran, deadly business” and published Mr. Immelt’s e-mail address and mailing address, repeating it slowly for emphasis.

Then the attacks mostly stopped.

Shortly after, Phil Griffin, the MSNBC president, told producers that he wanted the channel’s other programs to follow Mr. Olbermann’s lead and restrain from criticizing Fox directly, according to two employees. At Fox News, some staff members were told to “be fair” to G.E.

The executives at both companies, it appears, were relieved. “For this war to stop, it meant fewer headaches on the corporate side,” one employee said.

Tensions still simmer between the two networks, however, and staff members have been unwilling or unable to stop the strife altogether. This week, for instance, the Fox host Glenn Beck called Mr. Obama a racist, prompting rebukes on a number of MSNBC shows. But for now, the daily back and forth has quieted.

“They’ve won their respective constituencies,” said a former member of MSNBC’s senior staff. “They don’t need to do this anymore, really.”

David Sirota News In the Olbermann-O'Reilly Feud

The Real -- And Most Disturbing -- News In the Olbermann-O'Reilly Feud

The New York Times story about MSNBC's corporate parent, General Electric, forcing the network to soften its criticism of Fox News has generated a lot of buzz over the weekend. But what's so telling about the story and the residual chatter is that, with the exception of Glenn Greenwald's typically terrific coverage, it largely misses the newsiest -- and most taboo -- part of the whole brouhaha.

What the Times story and the aftershock gossip focuses on is the personality feud and new detente between MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. That's supposedly the "news." And yet the real story is the heavy-handed intervention by the CEO of General Electric effectively forcing MSNBC's news team off a crucially important set of stories -- namely, Fox News' politicization/Republicanization of media.

For years, Establishment media voices like Charlie Rose (yes, the same Charlie Rose who the Times story says played a direct role in the corporate parents' intervention at MSNBC and Fox) have insisted that it's a black-helicopter-style conspiracy theory to assert that corporate parent companies pressure/impact/limit the newsrooms they control.

But, of course, the evidence has become overwhelming in the last 15 years.

The three most obvious that come to mind are:

1995: CBS' 60 Minutes backs off it's expose of the tobacco industry, due, in part, to pressure from its parent company and the tobacco industry. This sordid affair was made famous by the movie The Insider.
2001: NBC's president engages in direct political lobbying against a government order that would force NBC's parent company, General Electric, to clean up its mess in the Hudson River. At the same time, environmentalists noted that NBC did not give the Hudson River cleanup story nearly enough attention.
2009: The Washington Post's parent company offers corporations and their lobbyists "off-the-record access" to its reporters and editors in exchange for direct financial contributions of up to250,000.
This, of course, says nothing of the even more nefarious and arguably more widespread practice of these same corporate media outlets promoting as "objective" voices reporters and editorialists* who have secret financial interests in the news they cover -- all without any disclosure. Just a few examples:

Richard Wolffe: This former Newsweek reporter is now a paid corporate PR consultant. Yet, he appears on MSNBC as a disinterested "political analyst," even hosting Olbermann's show. Wolffe, in fact, publicly sells his media prominence on MSNBC as a reason for corporations to hire him. The implicit suggestion is that the corporate client will be able to buy a spokesman who gets to go on television without disclosing his financial interests - that is, Wolffe offers the corporate client the veneer of non-partisan objectivity. I flagged this ugly situation a week ago, and think I was the first to even notice it, despite how blatant a conflict of interest it is. The fact that it has gone on for so many months without anyone -- much less MSNBC's management -- questioning it shows just how mundane this kind of thing is.
Doug Bandow: In 2005, Businessweek reported that this senior fellow at the Cato Institute "resigned from the libertarian think tank on Dec. 15 after admitting that he had accepted payments from indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing op-ed articles favorable to the positions of some of Abramoff's clients." Specifically, Bandow "had accepted money from Abramoff for writing between 12 and 24 articles over a period of years, beginning in the mid '90s."
Armstrong Williams: In 2005, this syndicated radio host and columnist took a quarter million dollars from the Education Department to promote President Bush's controversial education policy "on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same," according to USA Today.
Thomas Friedman: This New York Times columnist has become the single most prominent media voice in support of the multinational corporate agenda and the ultra-wealthy - and his credibility is based on the perception that Friedman is a completely disinterested commentator. However, Friedman -- by marriage -- is a member of the Bucksbaum empire, one of the biggest real estate conglomerates in the world.
Former Generals: David Barstow of the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for "reveal[ing] how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended."
A corporate media apologist might try to argue that both the latter and former sets of examples are just the very rare egregious examples and further, that in the case of Wolffe and Friedman, there's no direct corporate control/conflict-of-interest because they don't report on the companies they directly work for. But that's actually the bigger point: A newsroom or an individual reporter doesn't have to be directly shilling for their financial interest in order to be unduly compromised.

Sure, examples like CBS's corporate management backing off 60 Minutes on the tobacco story and General Electric heavy-handedly intervening in MSNBC's news decisions are probably somewhat rare. And sure, Wolffe and Friedman (at least to my knowledge) never shilled directly for a client/business interest they were making money off of. However, the direct connect/interest undoubtedly shapes their content by the silent processes of story selection, omission and tone.

For every blatant example of a newsroom or a journalist brazenly shilling for their corporate master's bottom line, there are infinite examples of those newsrooms or journalists avoiding or omitting stories that might offend those masters' in the first place. Is it, for instance, really just a coincidence that the frightening effects of corporate agriculture have rarely been the topic of all those Sunday "news" shows whose sponsor are Archer Daniels Midland? Is it really just a coincidence that Friedman shills for corporations and the wealthy, when he is member of a billionaire family? Is it really just a coincidence that a newspaper like the Washington Post, which was trying to effectively sell its news coverage to corporate interests, generates stories that tend to be particularly soft on corporations and chock full of unchallenged corporate PR?

The list of examples is endless -- and the obvious answer is that none of it is a coincidence, even if most of these conflicts are kept completely hidden from the news-consuming audience.

But, then, the deception -- and the ubiquity of the deception -- is a big part of the corruption that is destroying journalism. Indeed, the fact that the Olbermann-O'Reilly personality feud was presented as the "big" story -- and not the General Electric intervention -- is a tacit confirmation that corporate-media symbiosis has become such an assumed part of journalism, that many journalists themselves don't see it as any kind of problem, much less news.

Of course, there are certainly some who do. The New York Times' David Barstow did when he reported on the financial interests of former generals appearing on television. Rachel Maddow did when she went out of her way to inform viewers that a supposedly disinterested guest she had on the night before was actually on the board of a corporation the guest was effectively shilling for. And most leading bloggers -- as opposed to most leading journalists who criticize bloggers' ethics -- go out of their way to disclose to readers their personal/financial connections to the news stories they are covering. Those, however, are the exceptions, not the rule.

The victims of this increasingly corrupt media system are both the viewers who are unknowingly fed a steady diet of stealth propaganda, and those trying to build truly independent media. I can personally attest to the latter.

As an independent journalist, I have gone out of my way to avoid financial/personal conflicts of interest, at considerable financial cost to me and my family. That means, for example, turning down various job/client opportunities (even for political groups I agree with), even when money is tight in a recession.

I'm not complaining -- I am proud of my independence and I can sleep at night knowing my credibility isn't compromised. However, now that the media ecosphere no longer demands, incentivizes or rewards that kind of independence, that decision to be independent has become purely a decision of personal virtue -- not industry mandate. It therefore puts me at a financial/competitive disadvantage in the economy at large.

Like other journalists and outlets who work to protect their credibility, I am sacrificing job/income opportunities in order to preserve my journalistic independence in a journalism industry that doesn't even pretend to insist on that independence. Quite the contrary, you can be Richard Wolffe and openly get paid by corporations and not risk your place on MSNBC or your billing as a supposed disinterested "political analyst." The result is a truly corrupt incentive system: the economic incentive now for the average journalist isn't to protect one's independence by avoiding financial conflicts of interest -- but to sell out knowing there probably won't be any ramifications for one's journalism career.

Will this ever change? Well, it's hard to know. But I can say this: You can bet that until we build a vibrant independent media and until the news consumers use their economic/audience power to demand more independence (or at least disclosure) from the corporate media, the rule will continue.

* Note: I know that editorialists/opinionists/commentators aren't "objective" in the sense that yes, of course, they have subjective opinions because that's their stated job. But the expectations of professional editorialists/opinionists/commentators is that their opinions are ideologically motivated -- not motivated out of a desire to protect their own undisclosed financial interests. So, when I use "objective" when referring to editorialists/opinionists/commentators, I am referring specifically to that kind of personal financial objectivity.