Friday, October 26

Megyn Kelly's Mainstream Media Makeover Was a Disaster Waiting to Happen — But News Boss Andy Lack is NBC's Real Liability

What a head-spinning rise and fall it's been for Megyn Kelly. The TV personality was the darling of Fox News and the right until she came out bravely and forcefully about the harassment she suffered at the hands of the network's boss, the late Roger Ailes — becoming an early and powerful voice in the #MeToo movement — and until she moderated that debate of GOP presidential candidates where she stood up to Trump and was accused of having "blood coming out of her wherever." Suddenly she was superwoman, gracing the cover of Vanity Fair and getting courted by the broadcast networks. Seeing all this unfold a couple of years ago, I have to admit that I was also charmed, and convinced she was destined for the big time — even putting her on the cover of a magazine I was running features for at the time. I was hardly alone in my naiveté, but as has become clear this week in the wake of her colossally ignorant defense of blackface on national television, NBC proved the biggest dupe of all, investing $23 million a year for what turned out to be one huge, blonde bomb — and facilitating just the latest in a series of costly, image-wrecking disasters (Brian Williams, Ann Curry, Matt Lauer). The news is that Kelly and NBC are negotiating her exit. But in hindsight, was Kelly's swift flameout really so hard to predict? Her mainstream media makeover was always dubious — some might even say a disaster waiting to happen. Megyn is, to be sure, an authoritative TV presence, on script — it's when she goes off script that things get dicey. It was abundantly clear during her long tenure at Fox News that this is an individual who has a habit of not thinking before she speaks — a necessity on live television, one might argue. We all remember the cringe-inducing discussion on Fox in which she insisted that both Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were white. Then there were the repeated, embarrassing lapses in judgement she made once she got over to 30 Rock, involving Today show interviews with celebs like Jane Fonda (whose face work seemed to fixate Megyn) and Suzanne Somers (with whom she joked about marital rape), and that ill-advised, prime-time sit-down with conspiracy lunatic Alex Jones (which led to an advertiser and affiliate revolt). Those gaffes don't even take into account all the behind-the-scenes turmoil around Kelly that's been widely reported. As many have pointed out from the beginning, Kelly was an obviously bad fit for the Today show and the happy talk domain of morning television. But where, I wonder, would she have fit in? I can't imagine who'd want to hire Megyn Kelly — she seems to be damaged goods with the right, the left and everybody in between. (She can dry her tears with hundred-dollar bills, as they say.) But a bigger question might be: What's the next PR nightmare waiting in the wings for NBC's hapless, serially mismanaged news division — and what does parent Comcast intend to do to at least try to make sure there isn't one? Considering the epic debacles around Kelly and Lauer, and other recently reported revelations regarding NBC News's apparently questionable leadership, perhaps it's news division boss Andy Lack who should be the next high-profile personnel change at the network? 

Wednesday, September 5

CB2 Teams Up With Goop to Sell Ridiculously Overpriced Chairs and Ottomans to Help Gwyneth Paltrow Offload Her New York Loft

Do you know anybody who looks like any of these people? I didn't think so.
Leave it to Gwyneth Paltrow to help me get my hate back after a perfectly lovely closing weekend of summer. With an eye toward jumping back in the swing of things post-Labor Day, I opened the mailbox to find this staring back at me — just Paltrow and a few random catalog models she'd never met before of her closest friends trying to sell me furniture. Like me, you were probably at the beach or at the racetrack or experimenting with mixing Klonopin and Campari over the last few days and missed the big news that Crate & Barrel spinoff CB2 and Paltrow's lofty lifestyle brand Goop have joined forces to market a full line of "accessibly priced," midcentury modern-inspired furniture pieces you'll absolutely never be able to afford. Forbes, Arch Digest, Fast Company and Refinery29 all heralded the news, some with a straight face but most with the invited and expected dash of snark. Even the normally celebrity-ass-kissing People, in its headline, couldn't help but note with the slightest hint of raised eyebrow the $3,000 chair being peddled — a chair that, upon further examination, presumably is not such a bad deal since it is personally signed by Paltrow. And if there's anything I want in my living room it's a chair with the star of the Sylvia Plath biopic's autograph on it. (I went on to read the lead paragraph of the People story: "Gwyneth Paltrow's new furniture line is here!" I take back what I wrote back there about the normally celebrity-ass-kissing people.) Truth be told, there are some nice things to be found here, especially if your tastes, like mine, tend toward the stark, dark and brooding (Dracula could take a few tips for his castle). A few trinkets here and there — like an $18 tea light holder and a $6 wine glass — won't exactly break the bank. And I suppose a $3,000 chair may not be all that unreasonable an investment for somebody who doesn't happen to write for a living — or come to think of it, work for a living. But, c'mon, this catalog is just the kind of thing that gets Paltrow and the Goop brand trashed for being so out of touch, a point deliciously underscored by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in her must-read profile of the actress and entrepreneur in The New York Times Magazine. As if the $3,000 chairs and $6,000 sofas and $60 shower curtains weren't enough, consider the opening to Paltrow's personal note to shoppers in the front of the catalog:

After a long day, I try to leave work behind and focus on my world at home — filled with kids, dogs, friends, my fiancé and dinners. The sense of togetherness I get from having a cocktail with a friend while my son does homework on the floor is grounding and life-affirming. 

See! She has a dog and eats dinner just like you do! Her kid lies on the floor to do his homework just like yours does! She gets drunk at the end of the day just like you do! Does anybody happen to have a $900 hammered-brass spittoon with a gracefully aged patina for me to vomit into? The real dirt about this unholy union of inaccessible accessible brands can be found buried in a story on the real estate blog Curbed, which notes that many of the pieces found in the CB2xGoop catalog are inspired by Paltrow's Tribeca loft — which, oh, by the way, after being listed a couple of years ago, is still on the market for a deeply discounted $10 million. So what we learn here is that, aside from offering regular old people like you and me access to a movie star's lifestyle by way of Eames knockoffs, the CB2 partnership has the added benefit of helping Paltrow dump her pricey apartment. I guess that's what Paltrow and her disciples would call "synergy." I'll take a $40 tufted suede throw pillow before they're sold out and my chance to pass out drunk and drool on it like a real live movie star is gone forever, thanks.

Saturday, August 25

A Closer Look at Out Magazine's New Editor

With rare exceptions like the phenomenal breakout that is VH-1's "RuPaul's Drag Race," the quality of media created for the LGBTQ community — like that of restaurants, bars, art, fashion and music targeted largely or exclusively at a gay clientele — pretty much sucks. Ironic, I've always thought, considering that gay people are supposed (or as the stereotype goes) to be innately gifted arbiters of style and taste. But nobody questions the style, taste or talents of Teen Vogue's rockstar content chief Phillip Picardi, who, it was reported this week, is taking over as editor in chief of the LGBTQ lifestyle and fashion magazine Out. I look forward to seeing what the highly regarded 27-year-old — who is credited with increasing traffic to the Teen Vogue website by 500 percent in just two years and who made Forbes' "30 Under 30" list this year — will do to breathe new life into the formulaic monthly, with its tips on cocktails, clothes and trendy vacation spots and shallow celebrity profiles as favored by Out's outgoing EIC of a dozen years Aaron Hicklin. (Though it has carved out a long-running and lucrative franchise with its "Out 100" special. Who doesn't love a list?) On the ad side, the magazine continues to rely on those copy-heavy spreads for all those HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals, though mainstream consumer brands like Lexus, Miller Lite and John Varvatos have also thrown in their support. Still, like most print vehicles these days, its overall advertising profile is pitifully anorexic.

Maybe Picardi's touch will lure advertisers and readers both. But besides being a solid journalist who's in touch with the zeitgeist as well as the requirements of today's magazine editor, there's something else you should know about Picardi: He might just be the hottest dude working in the media business right now, maybe ever. With that shamelessly superficial assessment in mind, let's take a closer look at those bona fides, shall we?

The talented and telegenic Picardi is most definitely a celebrity editor for our times — don't be surprised if he knocks his former Condé Nast mentor Anna Wintour off her pedestal someday. There was a virtual media stampede to report Picardi's gig, with The Wall Street Journal, WWD, Fashionista and The Cut all devoting plenty of ink to the news. Speaking of the latter, and having absolutely nothing to do with editor appointments or anything else really, I couldn't help but notice what sits atop that website's list of its most-read stories of the week:

Now that's what I call content that's fresh and new — it also happens to suck, and is the perfect example of why we need the likes of Picardi taking over this sad business.

Saturday, August 18

How The New Yorker's Aretha Cover Came Together and Why It Happens to Be Genius

I couldn't help but notice the chorus of complaints across social media about The New Yorker's quick-turnaround tribute to Aretha Franklin—including more than a hundred comments on the magazine's own Facebook page. The common refrain: the illustration, by Kadir Nelson, simply does not look enough like its legendary subject. A sampling of the critics: "Nice thought, but it doesn't look like her." "Not crazy about this one." "The artist is not familiar with Aretha Franklin. Redo." "Worst Aretha portrait ever." "This neither looks nor feels like Aretha!!!" Maybe The Washington Post's excellent account by columnist and cartoonist Michael Cavna of how the cover happened and Nelson's explanation of his interpretation of the Queen of Soul (no quotation marks needed) will help observers to better appreciate its genius. Not only did the acclaimed Nelson (whose work hangs in the Smithsonian and who is responsible for some of the most beautiful, most memorable TNY covers) set out to reference Aretha's gospel roots, but he also got inspiration from this incredible 1957 ink drawing titled "Folksinger" by Charles White:

Was I myself familiar with the Charles White piece or Kadir Nelson's inspirations prior to coming across the Post story? No. Did I appreciate TNY's Aretha tribute all the more after learning about these things? Absolutely. There's no question that what an artist creates becomes more relatable to us when we understand the inspiration and stories behind the work. And we depend on journalists and trusted purveyors of journalism like the Post to see the value of publishing stories like this, thus illuminating the world and educating us all. I think most of the haters, after reading the Post piece, would have a different point of view about it — although I suspect that even after learning more about the artist's thinking, many would still have preferred something more on-the-nose (that is to say, obvious) and immediately relatable. How boring the world would be if that's how things actually were.

'Perfectly Serena' Covers Time Magazine

Monday, August 13

Gimme Gimme Gimme a Cher-Madonna Mashup After Midnight, or Anytime Really

As y'all know by now, Cher's irresistibly awesome remake of the classic "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)," on the heels of her appearance in the "Mama Mia" sequel, is the first single off her forthcoming album of Abba remakes. Naturally, it took about five minutes for someone to make a mashup of the 72-year-old icon/my mother's mega-insta-dance-hit of summer and the "GGG"-based "Hung Up" by about-to-celebrate-her-sixtieth Madonna. I personally think both songs are better as stand-alones than as a combo, but Toronto-based Alex Simpson, its creator, certainly gets an "A+" for effort. You be the judge, at Billboard. Now, isn't it about time these living legends gifted the world an actual duet? Or how about these ladies, who seem to already be well acquainted?

You will recall that Dolly's no stranger to dance music ...

Lordy, I sure do miss the 70s—and as this video reminds us, and as they say down South, "the higher the hair, the closer to Jesus." Which I suppose applies even if it's not real hair.

Thursday, August 9

Kendall Jenner, the Klassy Kardashian, Makes Splash on Love Mag's 10th Anniversary Issue

Back to School? Halloween? But Why Haven't You Done Your Christmas Shopping, Slacker?

A couple of years and a few (hundred?) pounds ago, I went on CBS This Morning to talk to the lovely Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell about how Christmas advertising and retail holiday displays seem to happen earlier and earlier each year (see video above) — and how much everybody, including Gayle and Norah, supposedly hates that, even though marketers clearly didn't get the memo. (My local Walmart already has pre-lit Christmas trees on sale — even though the whole Northeast is in the midst of another fires-of-hell heat wave this week.) You might think it's a purely American phenomenon, what with our hyperconsumerist culture, but you'd be wrong. As Reuters reports, Santa himself showed up last week to open the Christmas shop at Selfridges department store in London. The whole Christmas in the summer thing may be working, too, as retailers seem to be making headway persuading us to jingle our wallets earlier. According to the National Retail Federation, 10 percent of adults in the U.S. start shopping for the holidays during the month of August. That's not all. Some consumers are getting a jump on holiday decorating, too — which, besides infuriating your neighbors, apparently has the added benefit of a Xanax or a shot of Jack Daniels or whatever your fix for staying chipper happens to be. A recent study found that those of us who put up our trees, lights, menorahs and stockings earlier are happier people. As Steve McKeown, a psychoanalyst, puts it: "In a world of stress and anxiety, people like to associate to things that make them happy, and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of childhood ... so putting up Christmas decorations early extends the excitement." What was that somebody once said? Oh, yeah: Bah, humbug.

Thursday, August 2

Why Is CNN Covering Klan Rallies Anyway?

CNN's Jim Acosta greeted in Tampa by local members of the Charles Darwin Hall of Fame
Yep, it's depressing people. Especially if you do journalism for a living. And while I agree wholeheartedly with Jim Acosta's assessment of the cretins who heckled and threatened him in Tampa and warnings about how dangerous they probably are, I think the best way to handle them (if you insist on continuing to cover them, though at this point the benefit of that escapes me) is the same way you deal with any screaming maniac: turn up the lights and mic, point the camera directly at them and let them show themselves for the nutty, potbellied circus freaks they are. Hire more bodyguards (I will happily be your wingman, Jim—just let me check with my minister and grab my Kevlar vest first) and give 'em the platform they so crave. You wouldn't try to compete for attention with a dumpster fire or plane crash, would you? Just take a picture while it goes up in flames. I don't think most Americans watching this lunatic fringe think like them, show their asses like them, or want anything to do with people like them. These are the same fine citizens who burn down the city after their team wins the Super Bowl. The rest of us just stare in disbelief and scratch our heads. You're never going to be able to talk rationally or deal rationally with those whose singular motivation and contribution to the public discourse is violent, unhinged rage. In case you hadn't noticed, this country has no shortage of woefully undereducated and uninformed (and raging) people. Go ahead, let their fires light up the sky. They always end up burning themselves out.

Thursday, July 26

Nope, Vanity Fair Is Not Getting Any Better

There once was a glorious, glamorous magazine that covered Hollywood and politicians and media titans and the royals and scandals and the lowdown and dirty better than anybody, and it was called Vanity Fair. Tina Brown resurrected it in the 80s, made it great, then handed it off in the 90s to Graydon Carter, who made it even greater. But then, with one penny-pinching, jaw-droppingly shortsighted move, the publisher, Condé Nast, in the direst position of any of the beleaguered magazine publishing giants, seemed intent on destroying it all. There was really only one choice to replace the retiring Graydon, of course, and that was Janice Min, who'd turned The Hollywood Reporter from a sad rag into a gleaming, glitzy affair—and took home National Magazine Awards for it. But someone with the chops of a Janice doesn't come cheap (she was pulling down seven figures at THR), and even though Condé's artistic director Anna Wintour is said to have (wisely) wanted her bad, bad, bad for VF, the bean counters, in cahoots with the eggheaded in one regard (politics) but apparently not so smart in other areas (business) David Remnick, tapped an unknown book editor with a razor-thin resume from The New York Times for a song—and on the subject of music, with several issues under her belt now, it's become clear to all of us watching and listening (and waiting, impatiently) that poor Radhika Jones can't carry a tune to save her life. VF under the underwhelming Radhika has no idea what it is, or what it wants to be, or apparently even what it once was till not so long ago. The covers have been edgy—and to a one, dreadful. The features are boring and irrelevant. The design is godawful. I can't imagine who this magazine is being produced for, or who'd bother reading it with all the other, so much better sources of information and entertainment out there. (The magazine's sad demise is even more poignant on the heels of Tina's terrific, rollicking reminiscence of her years at the helm, The Vanity Fair Diaries. Even the worst chapter of that book is infinitely more entertaining than anything you'll find in Radhika's VF.) Looks like Condé saved some admittedly much-needed cash (including not only Radhika's relatively wee salary, but all the heads her bosses continue to force her to chop) but in return may well have done in one of the few remaining strong heritage print brands around. It's not too late—they can quietly retire this young woman, leaving her to return to the brainy world of writing about books nobody will ever read or whatever she's presumably adept at, and get a real star of an editor in there, maybe Janice or maybe somebody else. But every passing month that they let this experiment drag on is another that VF loses cred and luster, and most urgently, once-loyal readers. The trend is not irreversible—yet. But not with this losing formula, dreamt up by an editor who's clearly in way over her head. Truly visionary and talented editors, though the owners of media companies may not think it, are an extremely rare thing. And as with anything in life, you get what you pay for.

ADDENDUM: As if all that weren't enough, now it appears the new VF is blurring the line between editorial and advertising on its very cover, reports the Times.

Thursday, July 12

Kylie Is a Selfish, Unprofessional Little Twit

I feel like I've aged 10 years in the day since I learned Kylie Jenner made the cover of Forbes, she having made its list of the richest self-made women. Much has already been made of the hilarity of the magazine dubbing Kylie as "self-made," considering the famous, wealthy family from which she was spawned. And let's not even get into the fact that her "empire" is built on lipstick that purportedly gives you pouty lips — conveniently ignoring the fact that, as anyone can tell from photos of Kylie as a kid versus now, she obviously had surgical enhancements to pump up her pie hole. (A lot of things on my person have grown as I have ticked off days — ears, bunions, and those wispy little gray hairs sprouting from my eyebrows spring to mind — but I assure you my lips are not one of them.) As it turns out, I have a bit of history with this little twerp posing as a grown-up businesswoman. I once ran features for a magazine that negotiated with Kylie's reps to put her on the cover. Her business had already started to take off, and this was to be her first ever cover of a business publication. Then the hell started. First she stood up our reporter, repeatedly, after having agreed to a sit-down interview. Then after our having secured for the photo shoot an expensive studio out in L.A. for the better part of a day, plus a photographer, stylist, makeup artist, hair person and even caterer of Kylie's choosing, she decided after a couple of snaps that she just wasn't feeling it and walked off. Her rep pleaded with us to reschedule for another time. We explained that, having flown 3,000 miles and gone to considerable planning and expense to make this happen, that wasn't likely. (I seem to remember our having sunk more than $10,000 in the failed shoot. That might not be a lot of money for Forbes or Vanity Fair, but it certainly was a lot for our little pub to flush.) Mind you, all her shenanigans were blessed and fully aided by her P.R. handlers, who seemed to have absolutely zero control over the little diva and throughout the process took obvious delight in torturing us on behalf of their snot-nosed client. (I have no clue if they're still repping her, nor do I care. As I understood at the time, that family has blown through, so to speak, a series of kneepad-donning lackeys, so I wouldn't be surprised if these particular enablers were also 86'd.) What a contrast that experience was from one we had with her sister Kim Kardashian, who we'd shot for our cover a couple of years earlier and who couldn't have been a nicer, more professional subject to work with, showing up on time for her shoot, meeting with our reporter as planned, and staying present and engaged through the whole affair. Not that it'll hurt Kylie one bit (she can dry her tears with hundred dollar bills, as they say), but I must admit to taking a wee bit of satisfaction in the backlash that has greeted this absurd Forbes cover. After many years of dealing with celebrity subjects — even notoriously difficult ones like Martha Stewart — I never encountered such a headache as I did with this one, before or since. Now I'm going to check to see how much bigger my eye bags have grown overnight while Kylie counted her money.

Wednesday, July 11

#MeToo Ax Falls on Another Creative Chief

Bombshell news in the advertising world today that Ogilvy fired its widely revered global creative chief Tham Khai Meng over behavior it called "a clear breach of our company values and code of conduct" — his apparently becoming the latest in a growing line of agency bigwigs to get snagged up in the #MeToo mess, among them Droga5's Ted Royer, another onetime superstar CCO. Here I am, as it happens, posing with both men at an industry party during obviously happier times. The fact that I am beaming in the photo is not incidental. What a thrill to be flanked by two seriously accomplished, enviably talented ad guys. These sexual misconduct allegations are always troubling and infuriating, but especially so when the accused is someone you have known, written about and admired for years. Someone remarked the other day that, on Madison Avenue, in Hollywood and in other trades where the mighty have been swiftly brought down over alleged misdeeds, the stream of sexual misconduct scandals that dominated headlines not so long ago seems to have slowed to a drip — suggesting that maybe we'd heard the worst of the worst already. Today proved that there's still plenty of filth gushing from that spigot. Heroes, it would appear, are getting harder and harder to find, in advertising and elsewhere.

Friday, June 22

Killing Roseanne: Let's Have Fun With This

"The Conners" (Season 1, Episode 1)
After a series of tweets, Roseanne Conner becomes a hero of red state America, gets invited to the White House by President Trump, dies on the way there after choking on a waffle fry at Chick-fil-A

Thursday, June 21

Nobody Wants to See Children in Cages — But Here's Why We Must Not Turn Away

I think we've all seen enough of caged children on the U.S.-Mexico border the last few days. I know I have. I've never exactly been a journalist of the war-hardened, seen-it-all, trenchcoat-wearing type — I write about consumer brands and ad agencies and how they try to sell people stuff — but I have, as not only a reporter but as a human being who's hung around this mortal coil long enough, seen enough to have developed a reasonably hearty stomach when it comes to observing death and destruction and mankind's worst moments. But even I have struggled to watch this kids in fucking cages in America shit. What a low moment for this country, just when you thought it couldn't get any lower. But of course, I do watch, because remaining willfully ignorant is not an option for any person of conscience, especially under this regime. As Barry Blitt, whose illustration "Yearning to Breathe Free" covers next week's New Yorker, explains: "I can't watch TV news anymore. It's always people yelling at each other or, worse, people agreeing with each other. There's always a background drone of outrage, it seems. Stories like this, obviously, are different. The outrage and disgust is justified and real, and needs to be paid attention to." Well stated, Barry. (Oh, and by the way: Fuck Ann Coulter.)

Thursday, May 31

Magazines Rule, the Beekman Boys Rock, Roseanne Sucks, Plus More Rules for Flacks

Magazines will always be front and center in my home
I've covered the magazine business for 20-something years now. I still can't get enough of them. Which is why they are front and center in my home (this is my coffee table at the moment) and in my life. I buy them for myself, I buy them for friends and family, I get endless ideas from them, I learn about new people and places from them, and I rip out and keep and refer back to the pages that mean something to me. I write stories for them and about them. I read books about them and the people who create them — most recently, Tina Brown's Vanity Fair Diaries, which is delicious if you haven't dived in yet. I have artwork on my walls that is inspired by them. I have close friends and longtime colleagues who make their living off them. I still get excited when they arrive at my desk every week. Digital media has become an indispensable part of all our daily lives, but print makes me feel connected to content in a way machinery and the internet never will. Which is why a good chunk of my working life remains devoted to contributing my own words to them. And why I prefer actual books to ebooks. And why I still subscribe to three daily papers and write letters to the editor and get a thrill when they opt to print them. 

Home to 122 goats
This past Memorial Day weekend was spent over in Sharon Springs, New York, at the town's annual Garden Party, where we took a tour of the Beekman Boys' famous goat farm and picked up a passel of awesome handcrafted products of theirs and other local shopkeepers, artists and artisans — barbecue sauce, peanut butter, soaps and lotions. Meeting and visiting with the "boys" — Brent Ridge and Josh-Kilmer Purcell — in their shop, Beekman 1802 Mercantile, was good fun, though, having followed their successes in marketing and media all these years, it felt like I already knew them. (I'd actually already met Josh, a former ad guy, a time or two in passing. We have some mutual acquaintances and have been Facebook friends for a while.) It was especially interesting to chat up Brent — an expat of Martha Stewart's empire — about their terrific quarterly magazine, Beekman 1802 Almanac, one of the most beautiful and soulful lifestyle titles I've ever come across. Brent told me they had wondered whether a big, thick, lushly produced print magazine would fly in this day and age, and it did — right off the shelves. He seemed pleased that they'd sold so many subscriptions at a premium price (30 bucks for four issues; the newsstand price is 10 bucks). It's always mystified me that magazine publishers virtually give their products away — and never more than now, as they become ever more desperate to compete with digital media and hold onto readers. (Just look at the number of $5 annual subscription offers you get in your email box.) The boys have proved that consumers will — even in our digital age — pony up for a lovingly crafted, high-quality product. 

From national treasure to national disgrace
When I first read about Roseanne's horrific tweet whose contents shall not be repeated here, I literally got sick to my stomach. Then, the media reporter part of me kicked in and wondered how in the world ABC was going to deal with this mess. It wasn't too long before we all got the answer. In one quick moment, Roseanne destroyed her show, her career and the livelihoods of many people who'd taken a chance on her despite the strange, hateful fringe she's been loving up to for a while now. Someone shared this bit of nostalgia on social media: a TV Guide cover from the 80s featuring the two biggest TV stars of the day, Roseanne and Bill Cosby. How time changes things. From superstars to national punchlines in just three short decades. No matter one's successes or fame or money, it seems human beings simply cannot be trusted to not succumb to their own worst instincts.

How you PR flacks make me feel sometimes
Finally, I'd just like to say that I usually, greatly enjoy my job as a journalist. I have found that most people who've managed to survive this business for any stretch of time are a pleasure to work with, and that goes for bosses and colleagues I've had, subjects I've covered, and even the PR people whose job it is to control my access to the powers that be and at least attempt to shape the things I write about them. I am proud to say that I have many PR people I think are super at their jobs, who expertly ride that tricky line between serving their masters and getting me what I need to do my work. Many of them I consider friends. Which is why it makes the bad ones so glaringly awful. I just have to share with you that I've spent the last two weeks trying to arrange a quick and easy interview with a bureaucrat through his handlers, who seem to think they are negotiating either the release of a hostage or the terms of a 60 Minutes firing squad. After the umpteenth time of going over the broad strokes of what the talk was to entail — and even agreeing to do that which no reporter ever wants: sending over the questions in advance — I finally reached the point today where I told the flack: Look, this is now in your hands. The decision is yours whether or not this profile is going to happen. If there is not an interview set up by end of business today, I will assume my request is denied and I will find someone else to write about. By now you can probably write the end of this story yourself: Of course they caved and started scrambling to get me whatever I wanted. A close friend of mine gave me some smart advice once about getting information out of people: Act the most uninterested, get the most dirt. In her memoir, Linda Ellerbee shared a story about an interview she once tried to do with an erratic Hunter S. Thompson, who seemed more interested in mouthing off and prancing about than sitting for an agreed-upon, on-camera conversation. All she had to do was start packing up her shit and heading for the exit to get the famous writer to finally get control of himself and sit his ass down for the work at hand. Sometimes all you have to do is tell some self-important jerk you didn't really want to talk to him all that much anyway, that he's not nearly as remarkable or fascinating as he thinks he is, and that you've got a lot better things to do with your time — and just watch how fast he comes running. It's an annoying little game for an adult to have to play with another adult, but also a necessary one to get the story — and one every old reporter can relate to when it comes to wrestling these massive egos to the ground.

Sunday, May 27

R.I.P. Interview (Even Though You've Been a Cold, Lifeless Corpse for a Very Long Time)

Everybody bemoaned the seemingly sudden shuttering this week of Interview — Andy Warhol's iconic and onetime influential chronicler of actors, models, rock stars, artists, writers, politicians and others who compose impolite society — following years of financial woes, alleged depravity in the ranks and, the absolute worst thing that can happen to you if you're in the business of purveying content, nonexistent readers, advertisers or buzz. But let's face it — Interview died a long, long time ago. I for one would prefer to remember it as it once was: my gateway, as a fish-out-of-water teenager in Tennessee, to a world of 80s-era New York art, culture, and debauchery. I even had framed covers of the magazine, with their striking, technicolor drawings of the most important people of the day, lining the walls of my apartment in college. (A few covers that come immediately to mind: a mesmerizing, luminous Grace Jones, a gravity-defying Dolly Parton by Robert Risko, and an uncomfortably jailbait-ish Marky Mark in his underwear, before he became Mark Wahlberg: Movie Star.) I remember experiencing Interview for the very first time when I was 14, at a now-defunct newsstand called Mosko's near the Vanderbilt campus. It's also the first place I ever saw the Sunday New York Times, newspapers printed in other languages, and art and nudie magazines. (I believe this all-important way station in my development is now a Subway sandwich shop. At least Obie's Pizza and the Elliston Place Soda Shop have survived the gentrification bulldozer.) To say flipping through the pages of Interview for the first time was a seminal moment in my history is downplaying things — I'd never come across anything like this, had never read about people and places or seen images like this, and had certainly never read writing like this. As a wannabe writer, the magazine served as my entree to and tutorial in Q&A-style journalism — and Interview did the very best of it there ever was thanks to a long line of editors and writers that includes Bob Colacello, Ingrid Sichy and Kevin Sessums. Q&As get a bad rap — a lot of people think they are the cheapest and easiest thing to produce when in reality, when done at their most expert, they can be the most intimate and revealing form of reporting. But aside from all that, and probably most significantly, the magazine was my introduction to a lady who would shape my writing style, fuel my youthful fantasies about New York City and cement my cockeyed view of the world — I refer, of course, to the one and only Fran Lebowitz. (In Martin Scorcese's documentary about Fran from a few years back, she recalls going down to the Factory in 1969, the year Interview was started, to talk Andy into hiring her to write for it. When she knocked on the door, the voice on the other side — belonging to Andy — asked, "Who is it?" Fran shot back: "Valerie Solanas!" Andy opened the door.) Like you, I haven't read Interview in years. It had become boring and pointless, one more irrelevant, heritage media brand running on the fumes of its former glory and competing with way too much other, more vital content. But I will always remember it, and revere it, for helping make me, me.

Saturday, May 19

Gentlemen, Burn Your Blue Blazers and Neckties: An Ode to Working From Home

The Times has some pointers for those of us who work from home — including setting alarms to remind ourselves of certain tasks we need to get to. Personally, if I had bells going off all times of the day, I'd have to check myself into a loony bin. It seems to me that if you have a work ethic and a measure of self-discipline, it ought to make no difference whether you work in a cubicle surrounded by other drones or at Starbucks or on the wing of a 757 — or in your own home. And it doesn't much matter, despite advice to the contrary, whether or not you have a devoted workspace in your domain. I've had deadlines that got met just as timely and efficiently from the kitchen countertop next to a boiling chicken as they did the quiet second bedroom I call an office. That said, there are clearly those personalities that require the structure, procedure and camaraderie that come with office jobs. I am definitely not one of those people. During my years as a working journalist, I have been my own boss from time to time, and while it's not for everybody, I have always found it to be a productive, creative and largely happy predicament. Meanwhile, the same does not apply to all the 9-5 jobs I have had in between. (My ambivalence about my fellow man, rubbing elbows with him and breathing his second-hand air is well documented.) As a freelance person, there is tremendous satisfaction in setting your own hours, wearing t-shirts and flip-flops all day (I've saved a small fortune in dry cleaning), and being free to say yes to working for certain people and no to others. I for one don't miss languishing in pointless, unproductive staff meetings where I'm forced to pretend an unctuous CEO's stream-of-conscience blather and steaming pile of corporate-speak amount to pearls of wisdom. In office life, as in life in general, so much time is wasted listening to other people who like to hear themselves talk but say nothing. Ah, bosses. One particularly awful one even had his charges (including me) take personality tests to determine whether they were compatible with him and were, in fact, "company material." You know, there was once another group that exercised strict rules determining whether people were in or were out based on certain identifiable and perceived inferior characteristics: the Nazis. Now, there's only one person my personality has to suit: me. And I don't even own a pair of jackboots. I think I shall keep it that way. As for this week, you can find me out in my garden finishing another deadline. If it ever stops raining.

Tuesday, April 3

Great American Kathy Griffin Is Finished Apologizing: She's Too Busy Going on Stern, Selling Out Carnegie Hall and Radio City

The fearless Kathy Griffin announced this morning on "The Howard Stern Show" that, after selling out Carnegie Hall in a single day, she is doing a second show in NYC, at Radio City Music Hall. (I've already got my tickets. How about you?) The Stern interview was entertaining, inspiring and informative — we learned that basically everybody in Hollywood turned their backs on Kathy after her Trump photo stunt, even (as we already knew) her supposedly close friend, former New Year's cohost, and embarrassment to journalism and gay men everywhere Anderson Cooper, and (as we just learned today, sadly) her onetime bestie Cher. (If you didn't catch the show this morning, find a way to listen to it after the fact on the SiriusXM app or YouTube or wherever. Listening to her talk the tweets she gets from Trump supporters — I won't spoil the fun here, but, oh boy — is alone worth the cost of a Sirius subscription.) Look, you are absolutely entitled to not like what Kathy did, or to think whatever you want about it, or to hate her guts. But the thing is, surely you agree that, in retrospect, considering what a shit show this administration has turned out to be, a celebrity photo shoot is pretty small potatoes. Understood, saying what you think does not always come without consequences, but I — and I'm not alone — don't think this woman deserved to have her life ruined over it. (I find it interesting that, on the topic of free speech, people like the CEO of Barilla pasta and the grand wizard or whatever he is of "Duck Dynasty" certainly never had to pay for their hateful homophobic comments. Donald Trump, who said the most vile things about President Obama, and encouraged even worse from his fans, was not subjected, as was Kathy, to an investigation by the Department of Justice but, rather, was rewarded with the presidency. And isn't it funny how the right demonized Roseanne Barr back in the day for her supposedly vulgar and disrespectful rendition of the national anthem at that baseball game, but now suddenly she's their poster girl, her show has been renewed by ABC and she's been praised by the president himself — all because the Roseanne the character and the person is a Trump supporter. Thinking about all the double standards are enough to make your head hurt.) The full-on assault Kathy Griffin has been subjected to — from the Hollywood "community," the media and the Trump administration, which apparently has nothing better to do than use the full powers of the U.S. government to torment a comedian — fits the very definition of the punishment not fitting the crime. But happily, just like the Dixie Chicks and others before her, she's coming back and is going to be bigger than ever. With everything else going on in the world, why am I ranting and raving about Kathy Griffin? I am a longtime fan and admirer, yes, but more importantly, I find the way she has been dragged through hell to be particularly ugly, unjust, egregious, infuriating, un-American — and familiar. Surely on some level all of us know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of, as Kathy would put it, a falling wall of shit. (I know I do.) As a journalist, I am supposed to remain neutral, but about Kathy Griffin I am and will always be totally and unapologetically biased. She is an American treasure, a heroine and a very funny lady. Do your patriotic duty and support her:

Monday, February 5

Madison Ave Takes on Trump: Could 'Diversity Bowl' Mean That Hate Is No Longer Winning?

If you thought the divisive blowhard with the orange hair and bloated ego would loom large during this year's Super Bowl, you'd be wrong. In fact, the most horrible person alive wasn't referenced even once during the parade of multimillion-dollar commercial spots — maybe because we're all sick of him, maybe because we've finally come to realize that the best way to deal with a pathetic bully and attention whore is to ignore him, and maybe, most vitally, his brand of proud racism, xenophobia and sexism is no longer to be tolerated, and the biggest advertisers in the world aren't afraid to say so. As CNN's Chris Cillizza writes: "The calculation was clearly made by several different ad agencies — and the corporations who hired them — that using their 30 seconds or one minute to provide a check on the vision of the country pushed by Trump was the way to go. That there are enough consumers in the country who flatly reject the way in which Trump sees and talks about the country to make it financially worth the companies' time to hang an ad on that sentiment." When I first saw the ads last night from Coke, T-Mobile and Kraft (see video above), I have to say, I thought they were a pretty sappy (and safe) effort from a creative point of view. (Toyota's take on the old "a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar" trope was a clever exception.) But seeing them fresh, and considering them collectively and through Cillizza's sharply focused lens, it occurs to me that it did take nerve for these advertisers to so boldly embrace multiculturalism — which is a seriously depressing sentence to have to write in the year 2018, but also a hopeful one, in that maybe it means that the tide is turning. This was "The Diversity Bowl" at a time of extreme antipathy (that's the nice term) toward anything or anyone "different" in this country, where the American public is being divided, bamboozled, gaslighted and scared shitless on a daily basis. You can only be so full of anger and bluster — before long, even the most spiteful among us must get exhausted from all that hate. It's a far cry from last year, when the CEO of 84 Lumber felt compelled to clarify that its terrific, and obviously anti-Trump, commercial in the Super Bowl was not, in fact, meant to be political — effectively yanking the fangs out of what was a ballsy, righteous statement. So far this time around, though, the world's most powerful consumer brands and their partners on Madison Avenue aren't backing down. They don't have to. Reasonable people of every persuasion — cultural, political, whatever — seem to have grown pretty weary of the hostility.

Thursday, January 18

LA Times Publisher Gets Called Out by NPR

A most distressing story today from NPR about my former boss Ross Levinsohn—currently the publisher of The Los Angeles Times—and an alleged history of sexual misconduct and what's being called "frat house behavior" at companies he's worked for. In the handful of months (just under a year, as I recall) he held the reins of the company that published The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard and my old magazine, Adweek, all I can say is, I never witnessed such behavior. Of course, that's not saying much—I never witnessed him much, period. The company was in New York but Ross lives in LA, and as one of the senior most editors of one of the media properties he oversaw, I think I laid eyes on him two, maybe three times tops—usually when there were a red carpet and paparazzi involved. In fact, I remember one glitzy event where I snapped a picture with my own iPhone of Ross with a couple of our colleagues, along with our guest of honor Russell Simmons—a powerful man who's been the subject of some unfortunate headlines himself lately. As for Ross, he was one of a number of CEOs the company ran through in a few short years, before my magazine was spun off and eventually sold off to a group of foreign investors. Within a couple of hours of NPR breaking this story, it got picked up by sites like The Cut, Mediaite and the LA Business Journal, while The Daily Beast reported that the Times's guild called on Ross to be fired. But by 5 p.m. New York time, I'd yet to find anything about any of this on the Times's own homepage. Still, the Times itself has now become part of the news cycle, one in a long list of news organizations—including Fox, NBC, CBS and Vice—caught up in a seemingly bottomless mess of sexual misconduct scandals. And you thought Hollywood and Washington were of morally dubious character. If Caligula, Mussolini and Charles Manson were alive today, they'd probably run a media company.

Thursday, January 11

Underwear Brand Uses Leaked Nudes of Olympian Tom Daley as Marketing Tool

Well here's an all new and different marketing technique — but not one that'll win any awards. The racy men's underwear brand Andrew Christian — whose ads, even at their least controversial, are most definitely NSFW — has taken exploitation to a whole new level with a promotional email blast teasing leaked nudes of Olympic diver Tom Daley, as Queerty reports. The link was quickly taken down by the advertiser, but not before some people took to Twitter to slam the stunt:

But Calvin Stowell of The Trevor Project had the most spot-on take:

(Don't forget all those media and advertising blogs too, Calvin.)