29 November 2011

New Western Has Big Hopes To Reach Audiences

Story first appeared in USA TODAY.

A few miles down a dirt road from a tribal casino, a lush green valley dotted with dandelions has been transformed into 1865 Nebraska.

Caked with inches-deep mud from spring rains, a tent city has sprung, populated with horse-drawn wagons, chickens, several hundred feet of railroad track to nowhere and a locomotive made from steel, Styrofoam and wood.

It's the world of AMC's Hell on Wheels, a story of greed, corruption and revenge framed by the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Premiering Sunday (10 ET/PT), the 10-episode drama is the cable network's latest twist on Westerns, after earlier success with 2006 miniseries Broken Trail. And coupled with a comeback in critically acclaimed films (True Grit, There Will Be Blood) it marks the latest chapter in an effort to revive the timeworn genre, which dominated the early days of television but has been seen only sporadically since. But old-time Westerns were both literally and figuratively black and white: Good guys against evildoers. The new model focuses on flawed antiheroes with impure motives.

Wheels spins around Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), a former slave owner who, just after the Civil War, finds work on a railroad crew purely to seek revenge on the former members of Gen. Sherman's army responsible for murdering his wife. Rap singer Common plays Elam Ferguson, a former slave who forms an uneasy bond with Bohannon on the prairie.

Construction of the railroad, touted as healing the rift between north and south by linking east to west, hasn't been explored much in fiction, says Tony Gayton (Faster), who created the show with his brother Joe. Their idea is to have 'hell on wheels' — that's the movable tent city — to feel like an urban development, and to juxtapose that with the big wide-open western vistas (and) the Native Americans.

Mount, a Tennessee native, says, it's not a show about the creation of a railroad, it's a show about the building of a nation. It's a group of people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different races, who have a shared dream of creating something that's seemingly impossible.

Connecting the coasts was like saying we're going to put a man on the moon, and it's not a pretty story: There's a lot of graft, a lot of corruption, a lot of hatred. Cullen is a guy who's hellbent on revenge, and he keeps losing that battle because he gets distracted by a sense of obligation and duty elsewhere.

Distinctly American themes

At the set on the grounds of the Tsuu T'ina Nation (ironic, given the scalpings in Sunday's premiere), extras clad in mud-caked canvas mingle with crew members incongruously dressed in jeans and rubber boots. One actor, dressed as a hobo, rolls a cigarette off camera. And plenty of old-timey slurs slip off tongues, from "copperheads" and "graybacks" to "darkies" and "bogtrotters." Irish, Germans and a Swede or two are part of the melting pot.

Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney) is the only character based on a historic figure, simply because "he was too good not to use. A corrupt railroad promoter who stood to profit from government subsidies, he manipulated the stock market by misleading investors about which railroad he planned to connect with. And though desperate to build the first 40 miles of track so he could begin claiming a $16,000-a-mile subsidy, he insisted on a snake-like path to make more money.

Dominique McElligott plays Lily Bell, widowed by the murder of her surveyor husband, who spends early episodes trying to survive in the wilderness. But she's not a damsel in distress. She's sort of badass. (McElligott struggled too, having spent an entire day lying in the rain and submerged in mud. The mosquitoes would come later.)

For some scenes shot at night or in bad weather, cameras roll in a former airplane hangar a few miles away, using replicas of tents and other props.

For AMC, Hell is the latest move in its strategy to develop companion series for its top movie draws: Fans of horror films marched to its biggest hit, The Walking Dead. Despite its recent success with original series.

Original programming chief Joel Stillerman says the search yielded a lot of traditional Westerns, but none had the scope and emotional intensity of Hell on Wheels. These stories have great universal themes that are distinctly American.

Executive producer Jeremy Gold says the cost of progress is very much an ongoing theme of the show, (and) the brutality of imposing civilization where it shouldn't be.

Producers and actors cite There Will Be Blood, Unforgiven and True Grit as inspirations.

Old genre, new 'flavor'

Though scarce on TV in recent years, the notion of frontier justice has been appealing to TV programmers almost since the medium started.

In the 1960s, modernism was much more in vogue, and current generations wanted to see themselves reflected on TV, and they weren't on horses. And newly available demographic data revealed that Western fans were an older crowd that was less appealing to advertisers.

And though Gunsmoke and Bonanza endured until the '70s, subsequent efforts to revive the genre were met with disdain. Brooks recalls working as a researcher for legendary NBC programmer Brandon Tartikoff, who — exasperated by relentless pitches — printed up T-shirts picturing a horse covered with an X. "They were really run out of TV," he says.

And yet struggling NBC — in a quest for something original, says the network's entertainment president Jennifer Salke — is now developing three Western-themed projects, including a drama about Dust Bowl pioneers in which a couple goes missing, and another reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with a strong female character added in. (ABC also has one in the works.)

Salke, who's looking for a postmodern version in which the setting provides a specific kind of flavor. NBC passed last spring on Reconstruction, a pilot also set just after the Civil War. But the difficulty of launching new dramas, not just at NBC, has pushed programmers to the frontier.

Writers are incredibly challenged in drama to come up with something unique that's going to excite people, Salke says. Fans of the genre will be interested, but it's her job to come up with something that's more modern and accessible and has appeal to a broader audience. If it's a doctor and family on the range, she is already asleep in her chair.

Of course, cable has the luxury of appealing to a specific niche audience. HBO's acclaimed Deadwood had a loyal following and a three-year run. And though Elmore Leonard stopped writing Westerns, his Fire in the Hole, adapted for FX's Justified, embodies the Western tradition, and they don't shy away from it, says executive producer Graham Yost. He is a marshal and he's got a star and he gets bad guys, but it's complicated because it's 2011, not 1952. Our heroes have more dimensions, flaws and foibles.

The modern-day allegory is unavoidable: Brooks says Westerns mark a pushback on the urbanization of TV" and gives voice to a populist focus on the "other America." The symbolism, says AMC's Stillerman, is almost too good to be true.

23 November 2011

CBS Fined for Janet Jackson Exposure

Story first appeared in USA TODAY.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld its finding that the Federal Communications Commissions acted improperly in fining CBS over the fleeting exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

A three-judge panel from 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that the FCC improperly assessed a $550,000 fine against the network for the so-called "wardrobe malfunction" that lasted just over half a second.

During the Super Bowl performance in Houston, Justin Timberlake ripped off Jackson's bustier, briefly exposing her breast and a silver sunburst "shield" covering her nipple. In arguments last year, the FCC argued that CBS should have been aware the performers might add shock value to the act.

CBS had a duty to investigate, FCC lawyer Jack Lewis argued.

The network countered that regulators were now trying to apply different standards to words and images despite previously excusing fleeting instances of both.

The Supreme Court last year ordered the appeals panel to reconsider its 2008 decision, citing a ruling in a Fox television-led challenge, when it said the FCC could threaten fines over the use of a single curse word on live TV.

In the majority opinion, 3rd Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell wrote that the Fox opinion did nothing to undermine the earlier decision on the CBS fine and, in fact, confirms the appeals panel's ruling.

The FCC "arbitrarily and capriciously departed from its prior policy excepting fleeting broadcast material" in assessing the fine, Rendell wrote.

The same panel initially sided with the network in 2008.

The Spread of Malicious Internet Ads

Story first appeared in USA TODAY.

The online-advertising industry is scrambling to quell a long-standing problem that has taken a turn for the worse: the spread of malicious ads on the Internet's top commercial websites.

Several new twists have made so-called malvertisements a fast-rising threat to consumers — and a big headache for publishers, advertisers and ad networks, say technologists and security researchers.

The spread of infected online ads has spiked tenfold over the past year, according to research disclosed by security intelligence firm RiskIQ at a recent Online Trust Alliance conference in Washington, D.C.

RiskIQ documented a peak of 14,694 occurences of malvertisements in May of this year, up from 1,533 in May 2010. Each corrupted ad could have infected the PCs of thousands or millions of website visitors, based on how long the ad ran, says Elias Manousos, CEO of RiskIQ.

Organized crime gangs have streamlined the process of sneaking viral ads into the distribution system run by advertising networks, causing billions of tainted ad impressions to appear on the top 500 websites over the past 12 months, say technologists and security researchers.

Website security firm Armorize recently discovered criminals selling tutorials, tool kits and ad placement services to anyone who wants to get into the malvertising game. "There is a whole ecosystem designed to do this," says Matt Huang, Armorize's chief operating officer.

A recent rash of infections have been triggering bogus security warnings, followed by an offer for fake antivirus protection.

Last month, SpeedTest.net, a site that measures home broadband connection speeds, began displaying legit ads carrying instructions to load pitches for Security Sphere 2012. Simply navigating to the site launched the promos, which locked up the visitor's PC until he or she purchased worthless "protection" for $35.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of Web diagnostics firm Ookla, SpeedTest's parent, says his engineers spotted the attack and cleaned it up within three hours. The criminals, in this case, pioneered a novel technique. They corrupted legit advertisements as they arrived in the ad-handling program, called OpenX, used by the SpeedTest site.

However, tens of thousands of other websites that use the free OpenX ad-handling platform are wide open to this new type of attack, says Armorize's Huang.

In another twist, consumers bedeviled by bogus anti-virus pitches have started bad-mouthing websites they believe triggered the fake promos. Armorize has documented numerous consumer complaints that have gone viral on Twitter and other social networks, causing a drop in visits to the sites in question.

Some ad networks have begun participating in a working group discussing "information-sharing about malvertisers and their ads," says Steve Sullivan, the Interactive Advertising Board's vice president of digital supply chain solutions.

The Online Publishers Association, the industry group of major website publishers, has yet to closely examine malvertising. Obviously, stuff like this is disconcerting to the industry, says Pam Horan, OPA's president. They haven't done any research in this area, and she has not specifically heard anything from the members about this.

Even so, validating ads has become a major conundrum. Web publishers trust the ad networks to continually rotate ads to their Web pages. Meanwhile, the big ad networks, such as Google, Adobe, Microsoft and Yahoo, use automation to pull ads into rotation from a series of smaller networks and agencies.

Malvertisements are also used to spread stealthy infections that quietly take full control of the victim's PC, which is then used to steal data, probe deeper into corporate networks and pilfer from online financial accounts.

Consumers can protect themselves by making sure anti-virus programs and all updates for their Web browsers and popular applications, especially Adobe Flash and Adobe PDF, are current. Consumers who want to protect themselves further can use browser plug-ins, such as NoScript and AdBlock, that block all online ads.

Craig Spiezle, the Online Trust Association's executive director, says publishers, advertisers and the ad networks realize what's at stake.

The good news there is growing interest of some of the key stakeholders — including Yahoo, Microsoft and Google — on the need to employ countermeasures. It's clear that validating the ads everyone depends on is a shared responsibility. If consumers don't trust ads, they may not go to the site, or they'll start running ad blockers, and that will compromise everyone's ability to monetize.

Andy Rooney Dies

Story first appeared in USA TODAY.

Andy Rooney, television's most celebrated curmudgeon, died Friday night, about one month after ending his 33-year run as the closing essayist on CBS' top-rated newsmagazine 60 Minutes.
He died in a New York City hospital of complications after minor surgery, according to a CBS statement released on Saturday.

Rooney was 92. In a 2010 interview with USA TODAY, he was asked about retiring and shot back his own question: "Retire? From what? Life?"

He allowed that "I suppose the time may come." It did on Oct. 2, when he delivered his 1,097th and final essay, telling his viewers, "I've done a lot of complaining here, but of all the things I've complained about, I can't complain about my life."

60 Minutes didn't replace him with another essayist — perhaps the ultimate compliment.

A former war correspondent, he wrote 16 books — from Air Gunner (1944), an account of the air war against Germany, to Andy Rooney: 60 Year of Wisdom and Wit (2009). And until last year, he wrote a syndicated newspaper column.

Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and the executive producer of 60 Minutes, wouldn't discuss why Rooney wasn't replaced, but said, it's a sad day at 60 Minutes and for everybody here at CBS News. It's hard to imagine not having Andy around. He loved his life and he lived it on his own terms.

In the 2010 interview, Rooney was asked if he did retire, who might replace him? With a straight face, he suggested another CBS legend, Charles Kuralt, who died in 1997.

Rooney liked to think of himself not as a TV personality but as a writer who merely appeared on television. With his whiny, sing-song oratory style and rumpled demeanor, his observation was a bit more than wry self-deprecation.

He could be grouchy, rude, funny, mischievous and occasionally out-of-touch and controversial. As he put it, "There's an awful lot of nonsense in this world. I'm not shy about expressing a dislike when I feel it."

In his first 60 Minutes essay, on July 2, 1978, he contended the Fourth of July weekend was "one of the safest of the year to be going someplace," and that since "fewer people are watching television over the Fourth, I suppose fewer die of boredom."

Few topics were off-limits. He debunked celebrities, consumer products, companies, hair styles, holiday traditions and human behavior with wit and a sly arch of his trademark bushy eyebrows. One of his Emmy Awards was for an essay pondering if there was a real Mrs. Smith behind Mrs. Smith's Pies.

Rooney's TV career began in 1949 as a writer for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, but took off in the late '60s as a writer/producer for correspondent Harry Reasoner. In an interview with Morley Safer that accompanied his final essay for 60 Minutes, Rooney said the late Reasoner was a good writer but lazy.

No one ever said that about Rooney. "The single luckiest thing that ever happened to me," he said, was as an Army private in 1942 landing a job as a reporter for the Armed Forces' newspaper, Stars and Stripes. In 1943, he was one of six correspondents who flew on the first American bombing raid over Germany. Near war's end, he was one of the first American journalists to report atrocities from recently liberated concentration camps.

During the war, he met Walter Cronkite, who would become his closest friend at CBS, and Don Hewitt, who would start 60 Minutes and have the idea in 1978 of closing each Sunday night's edition of 60 Minutes with a Rooney essay.

"I never had a great desire to have my face on TV," Rooney told USA TODAY. "I don't mind it. It means more money. … I like that part of it."

Before 60 Minutes, he wrote and appeared in several prime-time specials, including In Praise of New York City (1974), Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington (1975), Mr. Rooney Goes to Dinner (1978), and Mr. Rooney Goes to Work (1977).

He didn't always get along with his bosses. In 1970, in the midst of the Vietnam War, he quit CBS — returning two years later — when the network refused to air his morally questioning "An Essay on War." It aired on PBS instead.

In 1990, he was suspended for three months after making remarks seen as homophobic to a gay newspaper. He was rehired four weeks later after 60 Minutes ratings had fallen 20%.

In 1992, he angered Native Indians when he wrote in a column that it was silly for them to complain about team nicknames such as the Redskins: "The real problem is, we took the country away from the Indians, they want it back and we're not going to give it to them. We feel guilty and we'll do what we can for them within reason, but they can't have their country back. Next question."

In 1994, he complained that Kurt Cobain's suicide at 27 got more attention that Richard Nixon's death. He said he had never heard of Cobain or his band Nirvana and that "a lot of people would like to have the years left that he threw away." A week later, he apologized on air, saying he should have taken Cobain's depression into account, and read critical comments from viewers.

The same year, he blasted the French for not supporting the war with Iraq: "You can't beat the French when it comes to food, fashion, wine or perfume, but they lost their license to have an opinion on world affairs years ago," he said. "The French lost World War II to the Germans in about 20 minutes."

But he also said, "I am proud to say that no CBS executive has ever stopped me from saying anything, no matter how dumb it was."

CBS released a statement Saturday that praised Rooney's contribution to journalism.

His wry wit, his unique ability to capture the essence of any issue, and his larger-than-life personality made him an icon, not only within the industry but among readers and viewers around the globe, said Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corporation.

Rooney also won admiration from colleagues at CBS.

"Underneath that gruff exterior, was a prickly interior … and deeper down was a sweet and gentle man, a patriot with a love of all things American, like good bourbon and a delicious hatred for prejudice and hypocrisy," Morley Safer said.

In Rooney's cluttered office at CBS, one of his treasured possessions was a framed, handwritten note that said simply, "WOW," from the acclaimed essayist and children's author E.B. White, about Rooney's 1957 TV adaptation of White's famous essay, "Here is New York."

"He was the best there was," Rooney said. When White died in 1985, Rooney noted, "Seems terribly wrong, but I'm probably better known than he was. As the phrase goes in the newspaper business, I couldn't carry his typewriter."

Rooney was often viewed as an American "everyman," but he acknowledged that when he encountered fans who "want to be your best friend, I'm rude. I don't like that in myself, but I can't stop it."

He once wrote, "I'm average in so many ways that it eliminates any chance I ever had of being considered a brooding, introspective intellectual." In fact, Rooney was a bit of an elitist who drove expensive cars, dined at fine French restaurants in Manhattan, was a member of several private clubs and a regular on the New York black-tie media circuit.

Rooney is survived by one son, Brian, a former ABC correspondent, and three daughters: Emily, who hosts a public-TV talk show in Boston; Martha, who works at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md.; and Ellen, a photographer in London.

In an introduction to the 2009 collection of his father's writings, Brian Rooney wrote: "As a father, he was the product of his time. He never said, 'I love you,' and never asked about my feelings."

But, he added, "His gruffness hides sentimentality. … When my mother (Marguerite) died (in 2004, after 62 years of marriage), he curled up on the bed like a child, crying her name. He loves life and wishes it would never end."

College Students Reach Out About Debt and Job Prospects

Story first appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Students rallying around issues of debt, job prospects.

Mo Tarafa stood before students at a small, outdoor concrete auditorium at Florida International University and called for volunteers to sit in the 10 chairs before her. Each chair, represented 10 percent of the wealth in the united States and 10 percent of the population.

The students, mostly in their 20s and wearing jeans and T-shirts on a balmy fall Thursday afternoon in Miami, took their places. Then Tarafa asked nine of the students to squeeze together into five of the chairs. This, she said, was the distribution of wealth in 1996.

Next she asked nine students to fit into three of the chairs. This, she said, is the distribution of wealth today.

She asked how they were filling and one student said "uncomfortable" as they sat piled up on one another.

The exercise was part of a teach-in that took place recently at FIU and dozens of other campuses across the country in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. As the protests have grown to cities across the United States. they've also taken root at the nation's universities, where students have staged rallies and walk-outs from classes.

On Thursday, students were among the thousands who took part in protest across the country. At the University of California, Berkeley, where 40 people were arrested in a violent confrontation with police last week, officers removed 20 tents on Thursday.
At Harvard University, dozens of students have set up tents in the middle of campus.

The student's concerns:the rising costs of tuition, seemingly insurmountable student debt and weak job prospects- issues unique to them, but which student organizers see as directly connected to the larger issues being raised by the Occupy protests.

Natalia Abrams, a recent UCLA graduate who has been helping organize students through Occupy Colleges said she loved her education and things that is was valuable, however, she fells she is not using it on a daily basis. Occupy College is a loose coalition of universities across the country. Whether the protest mark a rejuvenation of student activism in the United States is yet to be seen but already some important distinctions are being made from their involvement in politics and society over the last few decades.

In the 1960s, students held sit-ins to protest racial segregation and marched against the Vietnam War. Since then, activism on campus has tended to focus on specific issues, like rape awareness, anti-sweatshop campaigns, and equality for gays and lesbians.

There has not for a long time been a single issue like the civil rights or the war in Vietnam that brings a whole generation together.

Students at more than 120 university have participated in protest so far. They range from students from Ivy League colleges, many who come from middle and upper-class families, to those who work and attend state or community college.

Debt from college loans and poor job prospects after graduation are two of the main points of contention for student protesters. The unemployment rate for students who graduated from college in 2010 was 9.1 percent, among the highest levels i recent history, according to the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit research and policy organization dedicated to making college more affordable. Student graduated with an average of $25,250 debt, 5 percent higher than a year before.

27 October 2011

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29 September 2011

Reebok Settles Toning Shoes Case

Story first appeared in USA TODAY.
The Federal Trade Commission announced a $25 million settlement with Reebok on Wednesday over what it said were unsubstantiated claims about the exercise benefits of its "toning shoes."
But the issue may not be limited to Reebok. Skechers said in a Securities & Exchange Commission filing last month that the FTC is investigating its advertising and claims about its toning sneakers. A Los Angeles attorney filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status in January against New Balance, alleging its claims about the toning and calorie-burning potential of its toning shoes were false and misleading.
Toning sneakers have rounded heels and other features that purportedly require more energy for walking. Sales of toning shoes hit about $1 billion last year, the FTC said.
The FTC said Reebok made "unsupported" claims in advertisements that walking and running in its shoes strengthen and tone key leg and buttock muscles more than regular shoes. The FTC said these claims included that EasyTone shoes had been proved to lead to strength and tone improvements of: 28% in buttock muscles, 11% in hamstrings and 11% in calf muscles over regular walking shoes.
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine has taken a cautious stance against toning shoes, which it says can provide benefits for some users but may have consequences, especially for those with balance problems.
As is typical in advertising, some manufacturers greatly overstate the benefits and do not fully disclose the risks associated with toning shoes.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission's complaint database has more than 20 complaints about toning shoes, including two about Reebok versions. Consumers wrote about pain and injuries including stress fractures.
Under the settlement, Reebok is barred from making any claims that its products strengthen muscles unless they are backed by scientific evidence. Consumers who bought Reebok toning shoes or EasyTone apparel on or after Dec. 5, 2008, are eligible for refunds.
The FTC wants national advertisers to understand that they must exercise some responsibility and ensure that their claims for fitness gear are supported by sound science.

15 September 2011

Murdoch Family Business?

Story first appeared in the Wall Street Journal.
Youngest son James, 38 years old, has been groomed as heir apparent. But people close to the company say his future has been clouded by questions about his role in the scandal, which has shaken the media giant's U.K. newspaper unit and led to the closure of the 168-year-old tabloid News of the World.
A U.K. parliamentary panel said Tuesday it has asked him to come back for a second round of testimony over events at News of the World, where voice mails were intercepted in the pursuit of scoops. His earlier appearance in July set off a crossfire of conflicting accounts over what he was told and when.
James, currently News Corp.'s deputy chief operating officer, has said he became aware of evidence late last year that phone hacking went beyond the former News of the World royals correspondent and a private investigator on the paper's payroll. Contradicting him, though, the tabloid's former editor and former top lawyer say they told him in 2008 about evidence suggesting that phone-hacking extended beyond one reporter.
With no hard evidence yet to support those allegations, some people inside News Corp. feel the threat to James's career has diminished. But many accept that he still faces a challenge ahead to clear his name and preserve his path to the top.
A News Corp. spokeswoman said James, who has said he stands by his testimony, is happy to appear in front of the committee again to answer any further questions that members might have.
The questions facing James Murdoch are the latest hiccups in a succession strategy orchestrated—and often improvised—by his father. James's older siblings, Lachlan and Elisabeth, long ago left the company, although Elisabeth rejoined this year. The family controls the company through its 40% voting stake.
In August, Rupert Murdoch, age 80, told analysts that if he were hit by a bus, chief operating officer Chase Carey would succeed him. It was the first time the plan was publicly clarified. Mr. Murdoch had discussed that short-term succession scenario internally before, including earlier this year, as a likely interim step to one of the Murdoch children taking the role, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Murdoch also said he and Mr. Carey have full confidence in James but in the end, it's a matter for the board.
Mr. Murdoch has since continued to defend James in conversations with executives and advisers, according to a person familiar with the matter.
News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal, declined to comment.
Over the years, Mr. Murdoch tried not to show favoritism toward Lachlan, James or Elisabeth, all children of his second marriage. Oldest son Lachlan, the original front-runner, quit six years ago in part because his father sided with other News Corp. executives in disagreements over strategic moves. Lachlan, who now lives in Australia, has advised the company recently on the scandal, and his father has in the past discussed finding a way to get him to return, say people familiar with the matter.
The children have at times bristled under a patriarch who is easily frustrated and difficult to please. In some ways it's easier to be a Murdoch outside News [Corp.] than inside, said Elisabeth Murdoch in an interview in 2004, four years after she left News Corp. to start her own production company.
She rejoined the fold this year when News Corp. bought her production company, Shine, and Mr. Murdoch has envisioned her one day running an array of News Corp.'s television properties, according to a person who has spoken to him about it. But Ms. Murdoch recently shelved plans to join the board, and her husband has told her News Corp. colleagues she has no plans to leave the U.K. right now, according to a person familiar with the matter.
His siblings' departures created an opening for James, who joined News Corp. when it bought his hip-hop label, Rawkus, in the mid-1990s. He has earned respect among executives for overseeing growth at News Corp.'s Asian satellite business Star TV and then British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC. But he has had a sometimes disruptive effect as he tried to put his stamp on the company, say people close the matter.
In one instance in 2007, James, based in London, pressed for a series of new hires in News Corp.'s headquarters in New York, where his father is based. The elder Mr. Murdoch felt James was over-reaching.
The two quickly put the episode behind them, the executive added. News Corp. declined to comment.
Stylistically, James has been a contrast to his father—deliberately so, say some people close to him. While Rupert Murdoch famously shuns textbook management practices like focus groups, James is known for fluency in business jargon like ARPU, the average revenue per user. He rehearses earnings calls and takes copious notes during meetings.
Cautiously navigating his roles of son and scion, James sometimes calls his father "Dad" or "Pop," other times "the boss," the term used by other News Corp. executives. He argues with his father openly. At a strategy session for a since-scrapped digital subscription service in early 2010, the two debated how content from various News Corp. properties should be packaged, interrupting each other and finishing each other's sentences, say people familiar with the discussion.
After running News Corp.'s Internet division, James became CEO of News Corp.-controlled BSkyB in 2003. There, he made his name, transforming the company from a satellite business to a phone, Internet and TV company. Analysts feared his target of reaching 10 million subscribers would sacrifice profits. But he kept earnings steady and, in 2010, the company reached that goal.
In December 2007, he rose to become chairman and CEO of Europe and Asia. James, who inherited little of his father's sentimentality toward newspapers, focused on TV. In 2008, he helped persuade his reluctant father to enter Germany, known as a risky market for pay TV, by acquiring a 15% stake in Premiere for $423 million, according to people familiar with the matter. The company, now called Sky Deutschland and 50% owned by News Corp., still isn't profitable but has started to increase subscribers.
From his London base, James pushed a corporate image makeover for the entire company. Executives in New York questioned the need for the campaign, say people familiar with the matter, while James argued the company ought to take corporate reputation more seriously. Ads featuring a timeline of News Corp. milestones that stirred things up, like acquiring 20th Century Fox studio, ran in papers in the U.K and U.S. immediately after the company's acquisition of Dow Jones & Co. in December 2007. But a next phase with video and new logos was killed, as James and executives in New York fought over how it should proceed, say people familiar with the matter.
This past March, James was named deputy chief operating officer, a move widely perceived as a stepping stone closer to the top, though it was also aimed at bridging two increasingly separate power centers—James's in London and News Corp. headquarters in New York.
A few months ago, James appeared on the verge of capping his crowning achievement. News Corp. was poised to buy the rest of BSkyB. But in July, just as U.K. officials were expected to sign off on the deal, allegations of phone-hacking and police bribery at News of the World escalated with the accusation that a former reporter hacked into the phone of a murdered schoolgirl in 2002.
As a political firestorm erupted, James proposed to his father the idea of closing the 168-year-old tabloid. Rupert Murdoch agreed. The July 10 edition was its last. In a note to staff, James said News International didn't have "full possession of the facts" when it made earlier statements to Parliament and when James signed off on out-of-court settlements to victims of phone-hacking. "That was wrong and is a matter of serious regret," James said.
James turned his focus to BSkyB as politicians urged News Corp. to abandon the deal. In July, James agreed with other executives that News Corp. should pull out.
It was a blow for James, who would have played a major role in consolidating the company he once ran and exploring integrations with other News Corp. properties, says a person familiar with the matter.

25 August 2011

‘Today’ Promotes Curry to Hot Seat as Surging ABC Closes Gap

Story first appeared in the Bloomberg News

Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) -- NBC’s “Today” show, making its biggest talent change since Katie Couric left in 2006, heads into the new television season with its 15-year dominance of morning TV challenged by a resurgent ABC.

Ann Curry, 54, joined Matt Lauer as “Today” co-host in June, moving from news reader to replace Meredith Vieira, who held the job since Couric left. While both “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” attract more viewers than a year ago, NBC’s lead has shrunk to a four-year-low, Nielsen Co. data show.

“That’s a little bit of a P-R blackeye,” according to Horizon Media, a New York-based advertising company. He predicts NBC will promote “Today” and Curry more heavily with the new season, when viewers return from summer vacations. “She didn’t start at an optimal time.”

The shows are significant profit contributors for both networks because their audience of 25-to-54-year-olds attracts ads from automakers, drugmakers and foodmakers. according to Shari Anne Brill, an advertising consultant. ABC and NBC are third and fourth in prime- time ratings, respectively, putting more of the profit burden on the rest of their schedules.

Since Curry became co-host, “Today” is averaging 5.03 million viewers daily, up 6.7 percent from a year earlier, according to Nielsen data through Aug. 14. “Good Morning America” is averaging
4.46 million, up 15 percent, according to ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co. That puts NBC’s year-to- date lead at its smallest in four years.

News Audience

NBC, part of Comcast Corp., has done a better job protecting its lead in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic group targeted by news advertisers. “Good Morning America” is up 8.2 percent in that group and “Today” is up 7.1 percent. With a larger audience base, NBC has widened its advantage by 22,000 viewers since June.

“Ann wasn’t a big change in co-anchor chair,” says an investment officer at Omnicom Group Inc.’s PHD USA media planning and buying unit in New York. “It wasn’t as big of a switch as Katie Couric leaving and Meredith Vieira coming in.” As news anchor since 1997, “Curry was already known to the ‘Today’ show viewer,”.

The gains by “Good Morning America” have been driven by its guests, including President Barack Obama, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Donald Trump, according to Keeshan, whose clients include Safeway Inc. and HBO.

On July 11, the show outdrew “Today” by airing parts of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jaycee Dugard, the Northern California woman who was kidnapped as a child and held for 18 years as a sex slave.

“It’s all about the ‘gets,’ and who has the best musical guests,”.

Revamped Show

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, hosts of “Good Morning America,” are connecting with audiences after the show’s long-tenured hosts, Charles Gibson and Sawyer, left in 2006 and 2009, according to James Goldston, who took over as executive producer five months ago.

Goldston said “Good Morning America” has revamped its cooking segments and other standing features to make them less predictable and more distinctive. The program has also introduced a daily entertainment segment.

Ad Rates

NBC, with a half-million more viewers in total and a similar advantage in the age demographic, commands higher ad rates. A 30-second “Today” spot was priced at an average of $67,900 in May compared with $41,400 for ABC, according to Nielsen data supplied by Adgate.

“Today” has seen its lead dwindle with past talent changes, only to recover later. The show will enjoy a unique promotional opportunity next July when NBC airs the Olympics from London, according to Adgate.

“The only number that matters is the demo,” reports an executive producer of “Today,” in an interview. “Our advantage over our competitors since Ann joined has only grown. I’m not sure what further evidence we’d need. That’s a resounding endorsement.”

17 August 2011


Story first appeared in USA TODAY.
Isabella Sweet doesn't wear a target on her chest. But kid marketers covet this 9-year-old as if she does. Perhaps it's because she's a techie.
The fourth-grader from Davis, Calif., spends almost an hour a day on the Webkinz website. The site charms kids by linking Webkinz plush animals — of which she owns 18 — with online games that encourage kids to earn and spend virtual money so they can create elaborate rooms for virtual versions of their Webkinz pets.
The site does one more thing: It posts ads that reward kids with virtual currency when they click. Every time a kid clicks on an ad, there's a virtual ka-ching at the other end for Ganz, which owns Webkinz.
At issue: With the use of new, kid-enchanting technologies, are savvy marketers gaining the upper hand on parents? Are toy marketers such as Ganz, food marketers such as McDonald's and kid-coddling apparel retailers such as 77kids by American Eagle too eager to target kids?
At stake: $1.12 trillion. That's the amount that kids influenced last year in overall family spending, says James McNeal, a kid marketing consultant and author of Kids as Consumers: A Handbook of Marketing to Children. He says that up to age 16, kids are determining most expenditures in the household, and this is very attractive to marketers.
It used to be so simple. A well-placed TV spot on a Saturday-morning cartoon show or a kid-friendly image on a cereal box was all it took. No longer. The world of marketing to kids has grown extremely complex and tech-heavy. Marketers that seek new ways to target kids are aware of new calls for federal action — including voluntary marketing guidelines that would affect food marketers. Kids, who are spending less time watching TV and more time on computers or smartphones, are becoming targets online.
Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a watchdog group says that marketers are getting more and more devious, and with the growing use of smartphones and social media they have new avenues for targeting children that parents might miss.
Even ad-savvy parents are sometimes unaware how marketers are reaching out to their children.
Getting around ad blockers
While on the Webkinz site, Sweet recently clicked once a day for seven days on an ad for a film trailer that was posted for Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer. She says that she wasn't really interested in the movie. But each day that she clicked it and answered three questions, she earned a virtual lime-green dresser and bulletin board for the rooms she created online for her Webkinz.
This kind of marketing to kids drives Isabella's mother crazy. She says they're doing this right under the noses of parents. Even so, she says, she had no idea about the video ads on Webkinz until her daughter told her. She said this whole planting of movie videos in the online game experience is new to her, and what bothers her most is that when she first signed up for the site, she thought it was OK.
Sweet has an ad-blocker app on her browser. These movie ads are woven into the site content in such a way that her daughter sees — and responds to them — anyway, she says.
Ganz said that they occasionally introduce limited-time promotions so that their Webkinz World members can enjoy fun, unique activities and events.
But Elizabeth Sweet isn't the only parent who's unhappy with how and what Webkinz markets to kids.
Last month, Christina Cunningham, a full-time mother from Port St. Lucie, Fla., happened to look over as two of her daughters — ages 9 and 7 — were signing onto the Webkinz website. On the log-in screen, an ad flashed for BabyPictureMaker.com, which nudges consumers to download pictures of two people — promising to send back a picture of what a baby they might have together would look like.
She said that this is not acceptable, shooed her kids away from the site and fired off an e-mail to Webkinz. When she didn't hear back, she sent another. Again, she says, she received no response. But McVeigh says Webkinz e-mailed Cunningham responses, twice. A frustrated Cunningham contacted Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The group contacted Webkinz, which removed the ad.
The fast-food connection
Webkinz declined to share the outcome of this investigation— nor would it explain how the ad got on the site.
But in the eyes of some parents, no one goes more over the top in marketing to kids than the big food sellers — particularly sellers of high-sugar cereals and high-fat, high-calorie fast food.
That's one reason the Obama administration is proposing that foodmakers adopt voluntary limits on the way they market to kids.
These proposed voluntary guidelines, to be written by a team from four federal agencies, have set the food and ad industries howling — even before they've been completed.
A spokesman for the Grocery namufacturers Association commented that he can't imagine any mom in America who thinks stripping tigers and toucans off cereal boxes will do anything to address obesity.
But Wayne Altman thinks the voluntary guidelines are critical.
He's a family physician in the Boston area who has three sons ages 13, 5 and 4. He's particularly concerned about Ronald McDonald. He stated that we know that children under 8 have no ability to establish between truth and advertising, so to have this clown get a new generation hooked on a bad product just isn't right.
He added that because of the obesity, heart disease and food-related illnesses fed partly by savvy food marketers such as McDonald's, we have a generation of children that is first to have a life expectancy less than its parents.
Plenty of others think as he does, even though Ronald is regularly used to promote Ronald McDonald House Charities. Ronald also shows up in schools. He's got his own website, Ronald.com, where the clown promises that kids can learn, play and create while having fun. And he's the focal point of a new social-media campaign that nudges kids to download their own photos with images of Ronald and share them with friends.
More than 1,000 doctors, including Altman, recently signed a petition that asked McDonald's to stop using Ronald to market to kids.
McDonald's — which recently announced it will modify its Happy Meals in September by reducing the number of fries and adding apple slices — has no plans to dump Ronald. McDonalds CEO said Ronald McDonald is an ambassador for McDonald's and an ambassador for good and he is not going away.
77kids entertains shoppers
But American Eagle is going somewhere. And if any retailer exemplifies the techie new world of marketing to kids, it may be 77kids by American Eagle.
The outside-the-box store that it just opened at New York's Times Square sells midpriced clothing targeting boys and girls from toddler to 12. But the heart of the target is the 10-year-old.
Getting a 10-year-old's attention is all about whiz-bang technology — like the chain's virtual ticket to rock stardom.
In the center of the Times Square store sits a "Be a Rock Star" photo booth. It's all about music and tech. The booth has a big-screen TV that shows a video of a rock band composed of 10- to 12-year-old kids singing I Wanna Rock by Twisted Sister. Any tween, with parental permission, can download his or her photo and substitute it on the screen for one of the rock stars.
Each 77kids store also has two iPad-like touch-screens that allow kids to virtually try on most of the clothing in the store. Who needs a dressing room when you can download your own photo and have it instantly matched online with that cool motorcycle vest or hip pair of distressed jeans? The same touch-screen also allows kids to play instant DJ, where they can mess online with the very same music that's being played in the store — slowing it down, speeding it up or even voting it off the playlist.
Nearly nine in 10 kids who shop at 77kids try one of these technologies while visiting the store.
The company makes no bones about laser-targeting 10-year-olds. They said the point is to keep a kid engaged so that shopping is enjoyable, and that kids are looking for entertainment when they come to the mall.
Ex-adman wants change
Marketers, in turn, are looking for kids. And profits.
It isn't just advertising watchdogs who think it's time for a change. So does the guy who two years ago was arguably the ad world's top creative executive, Alex Bogusky. The agency that he has since left, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, has created campaigns for such kid-craving companies as Burger King and Domino's. Now, with the ad biz in his rearview mirror, Bogusky suggests it may be time for marketers to rethink.
He recently posed the questions of what if everyone decided that advertising to children was something none of us would engage in anymore? What would happen? A lot of things would happen, and almost all seem to be for the good of society.
Babies as young as 6 months old can form mental images of logos and mascots — and brand loyalties can be established as early as 2, says the watchdog group Center for a New American Dream. McNeal, the kids marketing guru, says he consults with companies that are constantly trying to figure out how to get inside day care centers and bore their images inside the minds of preschoolers.

08 August 2011


Story first appeared in USA TODAY.

Gap, the nation's largest clothing chain, on Monday is rolling out a marketing campaign that features 30- to 90-second online documentary-style videos centered around the goings on at its denim design studio in Los Angeles called the Pico Creative Loft.

The series of about 30 videos shows designers talking about what it takes to create the Gap's 1969 denim line, which has been expanded with stretch leggings, corduroy pants and other offerings for between $59.50 and $89.95. The campaign is the first major marketing push by Gap, since a management shake-up in February ended with a new brand president, chief marketing offer and ad agency.

Gap's campaign comes just as the retail industry is bracing for a back-to-school season in which consumers are expected to cut back spending because of economic woes and rising prices for everything from clothing to food. The campaign is critical for Gap, which used to be a retail darling but is struggling to regain its cachet after merchandising misfires, slumping sales and shrinking profits that began well before the recession.

The company's Gap division hasn't posted a sales gain on an annual basis since 2005. And In Gap's most recent quarter, revenue in stores open at least one year — considered a key measure of a company's financial health — fell 3% at Gap brand stores, 1% at Banana Republic and 2% at Old Navy.

Seth Farbman, the chain's new CMO since February, says the campaign is not a quick fix, but an effort to drive sales and revive Gap's image, which he says has lost a bit of relevance. Farbman says the focus of the campaign — jeans — is appropriate because they have been one of Gap's strengths.

He said this is the start; one step. This campaign begins to put them on the right course, and longer term, it starts a conversation about the brand.

But one analyst said it will take much more than a marketing blitz to turn things around at the chain.

He stated they have larger merchandising problems, and he just doesn’t think they've had the right sizes, fits and colors within the women's business, and there's a lack of interesting products in the men's business.

The campaign follows a series of management and organizational changes Gap made this year. In February, Art Peck became the brand's president, its fifth in nine years. The company also established a Global Creative Center which consolidates all of Gap's design, marketing, fashion public relations and production in New York. It hired Farbman from Ogilvy & Mather in New York and shifted marketing duties to that advertising agency from longtime agency Laird & Partners. And in May, it ousted the, design director for the Gap chain.

The campaign features videos that show shots of the airy, loft-like denim design studio with its hardwood floors and exposed brick walls. In the videos, Gap workers talk about the process of making certain jean styles and washes and why they love their jobs.

The videos will air on a dedicated Facebook page, YouTube, on sites like Hulu, and embedded in banner ads elsewhere. The campaign also includes print ads and "Pico de Gap" taco trucks with celebrity chefs that will hit New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco beginning Monday and broadcast their location via Twitter. The tacos will be $1.69 but free if you show Gap clothing.

Gap would not disclose how much it is spending on the campaign, but said it was similar to what it spent last year, except with a much heavier focus on social media and the Web. Farbman said the online push is a way to reach Gap's new, slightly younger demographic — a highly connected 28-year-old — rather than Gap's traditional focus on people in their early 30s. Although, he adds, the broader target is anyone with a young American mindset.


Story first appeared on WSJ.com
News Corp. and Elisabeth Murdoch have shelved plans for her to join the board of the media giant for now, as the company attempts to defuse shareholder concerns about its corporate governance.
The 42-year-old daughter of News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, Ms. Murdoch was expected to join the board as part of her return to the company through News Corp.'s acquisition of the Shine Group, the television-production company she runs.
Mr. Murdoch said in a news release in February that he expected her to do so when the £415 million ($680 million) deal was completed. The deal closed in April.
News Corp. independent director Viet Dinh said in a statement Friday that Ms. Murdoch suggested she felt it would be inappropriate to join the company board at its annual meeting later this year. Mr. Dinh said the company's independent directors agreed.
The eruption of a years-long phone-hacking scandal at the company's U.K. newspaper unit has raised shareholder concerns that the board is too beholden to Mr. Murdoch. The Murdoch family maintains a 40% voting stake that gives it effective control of the company, which owns The Wall Street Journal.
Three Murdochs—80-year old Rupert, 38-year old James and 39-year old Lachlan—already serve on the company board. In all, seven of the company's 16 board seats are held by Murdochs and News Corp. executives.
The Shine deal has also been a lightning rod for corporate governance complaints.
In March, several News Corp. shareholders sued the company in Delaware Chancery Court, claiming the takeover of Shine was a sweetheart deal for Mr. Murdoch's daughter. Among other things, they sought to block her appointment to the board, according to a copy of their complaint.
News Corp. filed a motion to dismiss the suit.
Mr. Dinh said the board and Ms. Murdoch hope the move reaffirms that News Corp aspires to the highest standards of corporate governance and will continue to act in the best interests of all stakeholders.
A spokesman for Ms. Murdoch said she had no further comment beyond the statement from Mr. Dinh.
In recent weeks, pressure has mounted for the company to overhaul its corporate governance.
Some institutional investors, such as California Public Employees' Retirement System, have made public statements criticizing the company's ownership structure and expressed a desire to meet with executives.
Ms. Murdoch's brother James has had to fend off calls from some BSkyB shareholders for him to surrender his chairmanship of British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC. The U.K. pay-TV system is 39% owned by News Corp. The BSkyB board recently reiterated its unanimous support for James Murdoch.
News Corp. directors are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Los Angeles, ahead of the company's fiscal year-end earnings release the next day, according to people familiar with the matter.
The board is expected to discuss what to do with the nearly $12 billion in cash the company had on its balance sheet as of March.

04 August 2011

Ferris State Participates in Google Maps Street View Partner Program

Story first appeared in Ferris State University's University News.

Ferris State University is participating in the Google Maps Street View Partner Program, which provides interactive 360-degree ground-level photos of special attractions around the world.

A Google Street View team visited Michigan last week to capture imagery of the Ferris campus that will be stitched into immersive panoramic views and viewable directly on Google Maps in the coming months.

The Google Street View crew spent the day on campus with a vehicle called the “Street View Trike,” a three-wheel pedi-cab with a camera system on top that is pedaled through pedestrian walkways and paths, automatically gathering images as it goes. It weighs about 250 pounds, but its small size enables maneuvering and access to places not accessible by cars.

“We’re so excited to participate in this free program that provides a wonderful opportunity for prospective students and their parents, in particular, to get a unique perspective of Ferris’ Big Rapids campus before coming here. It also gives alumni, who may not have visited Ferris in a long time, a glimpse of how the campus has changed over time and to reflect on their fond memories of the University," said Shelly Armstrong, associate vice president for Marketing and Communications.

Armstrong said the campus locations captured by the Google Street View team were pedestrian-only areas, enabling Ferris’ facilities and grounds to be showcased in a very personal, up-close manner for those who may never set foot on campus. “We have no doubt this will be a valuable tool to anyone who wants to explore the Ferris campus virtually and will be especially helpful to those who are planning a visit. We can’t wait to see the final 360-degree panoramic images on Google Maps and to be able to make the campus available to the world,” Armstrong said.

25 July, 2011

01 August 2011


Story first appeared on WSJ.com.

CNN said it is standing by television host Piers Morgan amid growing media scrutiny over his past as a tabloid editor in Britain, where a widening scandal over reporting tactics has led to a re-examination of the tabloid-newspaper industry.
Mr. Morgan launched a 9 p.m. show in January on Time Warner Inc. cable network CNN, transforming himself from tabloid journalist and entertainment host into a more serious prime-time news figure, interviewing celebrities but also covering major news stories such as the U.S. debt crisis and, earlier this year, unrest in Egypt.
But a scandal over voice-mail interceptions at the News of the World, a tabloid recently shut down by News Corp., has put a spotlight on U.K. tabloid tactics. In the process, media attention has turned to Mr. Morgan's past in the tabloid trenches now that he is a TV celebrity and a familiar face from his gigs on "Britain's Got Talent," "America's Got Talent" and "The Celebrity Apprentice."
News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Morgan, who had a brief stint editing the now-defunct News of the World in the 1990s, spent most of his tabloid newspaper career editing the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004. The tabloid's owner is conducting a review of editorial practices at all its newspaper titles. It has called allegations in the U.K. media of phone hacking at the Mirror totally unsubstantiated.
Last week, several news outlets resurfaced an audio recording of a BBC interview Mr. Morgan gave in 2009. In the interview, Mr. Morgan responded to a question by the BBC about dealing with people who rake through garbage bins and tap phones for tabloids. He said not a lot of that went on...A lot of it was done by third parties rather than the staff themselves. That's not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work.
Mr. Morgan, 46 years old, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of or involvement in voice-mail interceptions in public statements and interviews, and he reiterated such denials after the BBC interview resurfaced.
A spokeswoman for CNN said Piers Morgan has been firm and specific in his denial, and we continue to be supportive of his program. The cable-news channel declined to comment further.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Morgan declined to comment beyond prior public statements, including his response to the resurfacing of the BBC interview.
Two people close to CNN say that there has been ongoing discussion about the situation internally at the network, and Mr. Morgan has repeatedly reassured executives that he never hacked a phone or did anything illegal.
Meanwhile, late last week, Conservative member of parliament Louise Mensch apologized to Mr. Morgan for misquoting his memoir and using it to wrongly accuse him of admitting to hacking phones. In a letter, she said she had misread an article in the Daily Telegraph on which she based her allegation.
CNN hired Mr. Morgan to succeed Larry King and he has since become a key part of the network's prime-time lineup. Before signing him, CNN executives carefully read his books and thoroughly questioned him about his journalistic habits and ethics, a person close to the network said. A lot of the questioning, this person said, surrounded not telephone-hacking practices but Mr. Morgan's firing from the Mirror in 2004, after he authorized the newspaper’s publication of photographs showing Iraqis being abused by British soldiers that the British army alleged was fakes.
Since CNN was hiring Mr. Morgan to host an interview show, rather than cover breaking news, the discussion focused on Mr. Morgan's methods for booking guests for the show. CNN wanted to ensure that Mr. Morgan would never pay for interviews, this person said, and were satisfied with his answers.
One person stated that he wasn't hired to be a news anchor or correspondent; he was being hired as a personality—that dictated the standards. They added that he came off as a guy who had been chastened by his past and as someone who had the intelligence to grow and learn from it.

26 July 2011


Story first appeared in the Associated Press
Australia's competition watchdog has expressed concern at a bid by Rupert Murdoch's cable television operation to buy out a rival, saying it would create "a near monopoly" of pay TV service in the country.
The statement Friday by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is another setback for Murdoch, whose media empire is embroiled in a phone hacking scandal in Britain. His News Limited, a subsidiary of his U.S.-based News Corp., has substantial stakes in Australian media companies, including in FOXTEL, the country's largest subscription television provider.
Although the ACCC's statement is only on its preliminary finding, it gives a clear indication that it would be opposed to such a merger. The deal cannot go through without the commission's approval.
FOXTEL, which delivers more than 200 channels to 1.63 million subscribers in metropolitan areas of Australia, is seeking to buy Austar, which has over 760,000 subscribers.
Austar, however, is available mostly in regional and rural Australia, and the only place where the two rivals are competing is in the Gold Coast.
The ACCC said that because of the distinct markets of the two companies, there is substantial room for competition in the cable TV business in Australia.
It said its preliminary view is that the proposed acquisition is likely to result in a substantial lessening of competition in the national market for the supply of subscription television services. It said that the proposed merger would therefore effectively create a near monopoly subscription television provider across Australia.
The statement said that disallowing a merger will substantially increase the ability and incentive for FOXTEL and Austar to compete with one another outside of their existing distribution regions, and the proposed acquisition would prevent any such competition from occurring.
The ACCC says free-to-air television networks are not sufficiently close competitors to subscription TV to constrain the actions of a combined Foxtel-Austar.
The ACCC has asked for further submissions from interested parties by Aug. 11, and it intends to publicly announce its final view by Sept. 8.


Story first appeared on the Associated Press.
Kim Kardashian wants Old Navy to stop using a lookalike to advertise its clothing.
The reality show starlet and model on Wednesday sued the clothing store and its parent company, The Gap Inc., in a Los Angeles federal court alleging their ads violated her publicity rights with ads that feature a woman who looks like her.
A video of a broadcast ad featuring a smiling, dark-haired woman who bears a resemblance to the real Kardashian has been viewed more than two million times on Old Navy's YouTube channel.
Kardashian's lawsuit claims consumers may be confused by the ads and the model's actual endorsements, which include her own clothing store and shoe line. A commercial, titled, "Super C-U-T-E," began airing in February and Old Navy is still using some of the promotions, the lawsuit states.
The case cites all the benchmarks of modern celebrity: her eight million followers on Twitter, more than five million fans on Facebook and ranking as one of the most searched-for celebrities on the Internet.
The lawsuit states that Kardashian has invested substantial time, energy, finances and entrepreneurial effort in developing her considerable professional and commercial achievements and success, as well as in developing her popularity, fame, and prominence in the public eye.
Louise Callagy, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Gap said the company has not yet seen the case and had no comment.
Kardashian, 31, has rocketed to fame in recent years after gaining prominence as a friend of Paris Hilton and for having a sex tape. She appears along with her family on the E! Entertainment Television series "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and routinely graces magazine covers.
Her lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages and wants a federal judge to prevent Old Navy from using a Kardashian lookalike model in its ads again.
The model in the ads, Melissa Molinaro, is not named in the lawsuit. She expressed exasperation that the resemblance was being pointed out again.

19 July 2011


To his many enemies, Rupert Murdoch is getting his comeuppance.
Murdoch's tabloid newspapers long have reveled in the misdeeds of others with salacious photos and pun-packed headlines. Now, one of the world's most powerful media executives is learning what it's like to be enveloped in his own scandal.
For some there is a feeling that Murdoch has been king of the world for too long and it's about time that somebody brought him back to Earth.
But no one is calling press conferences to gloat about Murdoch's troubles. Even his bitterest media rivals are keeping quiet.
Liberty Media chief John Malone, who engaged in media-mogul head butting with Murdoch over his stake in Murdoch's News Corp and other issues has not commented.
CNN founder Ted Turner, who once challenged Murdoch to a boxing match in Las Vegas isn’t talking either.
New York Daily News Publisher Mort Zuckerman, whose newspaper fights every day for front page dominance with the Post for New York's tabloid audience also has clammed up.
It's hardly surprising, of course. Despite a scandal that has claimed two of his top executives and led him to close one of his British tabloids, Murdoch still runs News Corp., one of the world's most imposing media empires. There's no percentage in gloating publicly about the scandal if you still have to compete - and perhaps do business - with the 80-year-old Murdoch.
But others aren't as charitable. In recent days, Murdoch has drawn comparisons to a cruel monarch, Richard Nixon, even the devil.
The scandal centers on revelations that journalists at his top-selling British tabloid, News of the World, gathered information through a variety of possibly illegal endeavors that included phone hacking and bribery of police officers. Last week, he closed the 168-year-old tabloid and withdrew a hard-fought bid for 100 percent ownership of prized satellite TV carrier British Sky Broadcasting. He even met with and apologized to the family of a missing, murdered girl whose phone was hacked by News Corp. journalists.
On Friday, he accepted resignations from two top News Corp. executives, Rebekah Brooks, who ran News International, which controlled News of the World and the company's other British newspapers, and Dow Jones & Co. CEO Les Hinton, who used to run the same unit.
The unfolding saga threatens to expose Murdoch and his company to further scorn and legal troubles. News Corp. stock has shed billions of dollars in value. And criminal investigations are under way in Britain, while the FBI has begun a preliminary inquiry in the U.S., where the company's holdings include the nation's largest newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Fox TV network and the 20th Century Fox movie studio.
For now, Murdoch's job as News Corp.'s CEO is secure because he controls 40 percent of the company's voting stock through a family trust and the board is stacked with directors that shareholder activists have long criticized as his cronies. He also remains one of the world's richest people, although a fortune pegged at $7.6 billion in March by Forbes magazine has been clipped by a 13 percent decline in News Corp.'s stock during the past two weeks.
But the British lawmakers who have traditionally supported Murdoch rather than risk being pilloried in the pages of his newspapers no longer seem to be in his corner because their fear of retaliation is fading. He will surely face tough questions Tuesday when he appears before a Parliament committee eager to grill him about the phone hacking and bribery allegations.
All the powerful allies that used to help him, either publicly or behind the scenes, have appeared to be faded to the sidelines, and now it looks as thought he is on his own, and he is in over his head.
Some Murdoch critics compare the crisis and widespread antipathy surrounding Murdoch to the unraveling of Richard Nixon's presidency in 1974 as details of the Watergate cover-up were revealed. Like Nixon then, Murdoch is in free-fall mode, and there seems to be nothing he can do to stop this story.
The lack of control over the situation seemingly bothers the notoriously autocratic Murdoch, who said he was getting annoyed with the media's unrelenting coverage of the scandal.
If the scandal widens, some believe Murdoch eventually will have to step down as CEO, though he could still retain the chairman's title.
Disgraced newspaper publisher Conrad Black, whose former ownership of The Daily Telegraph turned him into a bitter Murdoch rival, thinks his old foe is more like another polarizing historical figure - French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. He stated that like Napoleon, Murdoch is a great bad man, and it is as wrong to dispute his greatness as his badness.
Black, who was convicted of fraud in 2007 and still has some prison time to serve, wrote that it would be astonishing if Murdoch's British newspapers didn't commit crimes while reveling in the climate of immunity that has been the group's modus operandi for decades. Although he stopped short of calling him a crook, Black lambasted Murdoch as an an exploiter of the discomfort of others and a malicious myth-maker, an assassin of the dignity of others and of respected institutions.
Murdoch also is despised by union workers who still remember how he used a new printing plant to foil a printers' strike in the gritty London district of Wapping in 1986 and 1987. One area resident, recalls seeing police regularly harass and arrest picketers while making sure delivery trucks got into and out of the printing plant. That fed his suspicions that the police were in Murdoch's pocket.
In the U.S., much of the ill will toward Murdoch has stemmed from the belief that he uses his media properties, especially the Fox News cable channel, to promote a conservative political agenda. There is essentially a partisan reaction against Murdoch and his use of right-wing politics.
Fox News isn't covering Murdoch's scandal as aggressively as other outlets. From July 4 through July 13, Fox aired 30 segments about the story. Rival CNN showed 109 segments and MSNBC 71.
When Murdoch bought Dow Jones, parent company of the Wall Street Journal, for $5.7 billion in 2007, there were fears the Journal's quality would deteriorate. But Paul Steiger, who left as the Journal's top editor shortly after the acquisition was completed and started a non-profit journalism service called ProPublica, credits News Corp. for investing in the newspaper to maintain its quality and increase its circulation.
Some members of the family in control of the company that sold the Journal to Murdoch seized on the scandal to express seller's remorse. They stated that they did a deal with the devil and it really saddens them.
Hinton, 67, became the first of Murdoch's U.S. executives swept out in the scandal. He resigned Friday from his post as CEO of Dow Jones & Co. and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, ending a 52-year career working for Murdoch. Hinton was executive chairman of the division that included News of the World during some of the years in which the phone hacking occurred. He had assured British parliament in 2007 and 2009 that the hacking had been limited to a rogue reporter, an assertion that proved to be untrue. Hinton joined The Associated Press' board of directors in April.
In his resignation statement, Hinton said he never knew about the rampant hacking at the British tabloid.


British Prime Minister David Cameron, under huge political pressure over the intensifying phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's embattled U.K. newspaper empire, said Monday that Parliament should delay its summer break so he can brief lawmakers.
Parliament is due to break up for the summer on Tuesday, but Cameron said that it may well be right to have Parliament meet on Wednesday so he can make a further statement.
Cameron was speaking in South Africa, on the first day of a two-day visit to the continent. He had planned a longer trip, but cut it short as his government faces increasing questions about its relationship with the Murdoch media empire amid a scandal that has tainted some of Britain's top political, media and police figures.
London police chief Paul Stephenson resigned Sunday over his ties to a former News of the World executive editor who has been arrested over the scandal. In his resignation speech Stephenson made reference to Cameron's hiring of Andy Coulson, a former editor of the shuttered tabloid who was arrested earlier this month over hacking.
Murdoch's former British CEO - and Cameron's friend - Rebekah Brooks, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of hacking.
Cameron said his government had taken very decisive action by setting up a judge-led inquiry into wrongdoing by the newspaper.
Both Stephenson's resignation and Brooks' arrest are ominous not only for Murdoch's News Corp., but for a British power structure that nurtured a cozy relationship with his papers for years.
The arrest on Sunday of the 43-year-old Brooks, often described as a surrogate daughter to the 80-year-old Murdoch, brought the British police investigations into the media baron's inner circle for the first time. She was released on bail some 12 hours later.
Brooks, the ultimate social and political insider, dined at Christmas with Cameron. His Conservative-led government is now facing increasing questions about its relationship with Murdoch's media empire.
Rupert and James Murdoch are to be grilled by British lawmakers Tuesday over the scandal. Brooks also had agreed to be questioned before a parliamentary committee, but her arrest throws that appearance into doubt.
Stephenson said he did not make the decision to hire Wallis and had no knowledge of allegations that he was linked to phone hacking, but he wanted his police force to focus on preparing for the 2012 London Olympics instead of wondering about a possible leadership change.
Stephenson said he had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice and the repugnant nature of the selection of victims that is now emerging, and that he will not lose any sleep over his personal integrity.
Cameron's office says he is back in Britain on Wednesday. He will visit South Africa and Nigeria. He had also planned to visit Rwanda and Sudan but a decision was made last week to drop that part of the itinerary.


News Corp.’s phone-hacking crisis claimed two top newspaper executives as Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch defended his handling of the scandal and the FBI began a U.S. probe of the company.

Les Hinton, chairman of News International in the years the alleged hacking occurred, stepped down as head of the Dow Jones division yesterday. That followed the exit of News International CEO Rebekah Brooks. She was editor of the News of the World, the newspaper implicated in the scandal, from 2000 to 2003.

The spotlight will shift back to Murdoch and his son, James, the deputy chief operating officer, on July 19 when the two testify about the phone-hacking scandal before the U.K. Parliament. With the FBI involved and the company facing civil litigation in the U.S., the scandal is likely to grow.

In a statement announcing Hinton’s departure, the 80-year- old CEO downplayed his own importance to the company he built from two inherited Australian newspapers. He stated that News Corp. is not Rupert Murdoch, that it is the collective creativity and effort of many thousands of people around the world, and few individuals have given more to this company than Les Hinton.

FBI Role

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, prodded by members of Congress, began looking into whether News Corp. employees may have targeted the phones of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

U.S. Representative Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, asked FBI Director Robert Mueller in a July 13 letter to investigate whether News of the World employees tried to access voicemails belonging to the victims through bribery and illegal wiretapping.

The FBI stated they are aware of certain allegations pertaining to a possible hacking by News Corp. personnel and they are looking into those charges.

Hiring Counsel

News Corp. has hired criminal defense lawyer Brendan V. Sullivan Jr.
of the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly LLP, the New York Times reported. Sullivan’s clients have included former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, ex-New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso and Reagan White House aide Oliver North.

Murdoch, in an interview with the News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal, said an independent committee led by a distinguished non- employee will investigate the phone-hacking allegations. He claims the company has handled the crisis extremely well, with minor mistakes.

He met yesterday with the parents of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl whose voicemails were hacked by News of the World in 2002.

After meeting the Dowlers, Murdoch said he was appalled to find out what happened. He claims he apologized.

Dropped Bid

Murdoch has been in London since last weekend as the scandal escalated and politicians of all parties called on him and James, 38, to take responsibility. News Corp. is publishing an apology in all national newspapers in Britain, the younger Murdoch said in a letter to employees.

The now-defunct News of the World tabloid is accused of hacking hundreds of voice mails, including those of murder and terrorism victims, and bribing police for confidential information. Last week, News Corp. closed the 168-year-old newspaper. London police have made at least nine arrests as part of their investigation.

The scandal led News Corp. to abandon its $12.6 billion (7.8 billion-
pound) bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.

News Corp. rose 21 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $15.64 yesterday in Nasdaq Stock Market trading in New York. The Class A shares have fallen about 13 percent since the first reports on July 4 that News of the World had hacked Milly Dowler’s voice mail.

The resignation of Brooks marked a U-turn for Murdoch, who had stood with the newspaper executive and said she would stay on. Murdoch this week backed his son and heir apparent, saying James had acted as fast as he could, the moment he could.

Family Holdings

The Murdochs must cooperate fully with inquiries into the phone- hacking scandal.

Murdoch controls News Corp. through a 38 percent stake in the company’s Class B voting shares. Those shares represent a 12 percent economic interest in the company, when nonvoting shares are counted as well.

In addition to Rupert Murdoch, News Corp.’s board members include his son Lachlan, 39, as well as James. Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, 42, was expected to become a director after selling her Shine Group TV production outfit to News Corp. for $673 million in February.

Justice Department

King’s request to Mueller was one of several by elected officials and media watchdog groups to investigate News Corp. King, who represents part of New York’s Long Island, said in the letter that his district lost 150 people in the attacks.

In a July 13 letter, New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg asked U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder and SEC Chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro to investigate whether News Corp. or its subsidiaries breached the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The act makes it a crime for a U.S.-based company, such as News Corp., to pay foreign officials to get or keep business.

Holder yesterday confirmed the existence of a U.S. probe in public comments he made while in Sydney.

He claims there have been members of Congress in the United States who have asked them to investigate the same allegations, and they are progressing in that regard using the appropriate federal law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

Rupert Murdoch said the company isn’t separating its newspaper assets, which also include U.K.tabloid The Sun, the Times of London and the New York Post. The company will establish a protocol for behavior for reporters across the company, he said.