To business writer James Sterngold, the IBM hostile takeover bid to acquire Lotus Development signalled "an historic marker," but for reasons only he seemed to appreciate. His June 7 New York Times analysis told us, "the gentlemanly days when corporate giants operated through the Old Boy network and extolled the values of corporate citizenship have been replaced by a sense that competing, and competing aggressively, is a corporate executive's highest calling, whatever it takes." Before June 1995, you'll be happy to learn, "aggressive competition" didn't exist in this country.
Bi-coastal banter: L.A.'s Buzz magazine for May carried a major Joel Kotkin article, "What's Happened to New York?" that appropriately dismantled New York magazine's earlier cover story embarrassments titled "Goodbye, LA-Hello, NYC" and "New York is Back." Then I come upon a William Stadiem article stating, "Angelenos seem to be spending more time in New York these days ...." and ".... sometimes Hollywood comes to New York to get as far away from Hollywood as it possibly can." No, it's not a New York riposte; it's from this month's Is this any way to perpetuate a feud?
Mucho MurdoMedia: The New York Observer's June 19 issue presented an in-depth Rupert Murdoch profile by six reporters, one of whom, Michael Lewis, tells us that the "Prince of Adelaide" is a) hooked on conquest and "wants money not for money's sake but for the sake of his next purchase"; b) wants "the only thing he doesn't have: CNN"; and c) has no "high-cultural ambition" because he is by nature "immune to the allure of social class distinctions." Remember when our newsmedia were charging Murdoch with having signed House Speaker Newt Gingrich to a lucrative book deal in order to curry congressional favor? Murdoch didn't invent the process, of course, but a recent New York Times dispatch from Shenzhen, China, indicates just how hooked on it he is. It tells how, after underwriting the first volume of "My Father, Deng Xiaoping," by Xiao Rong, daughter of China's supreme leader, Murdoch,"seeking authority" at the time to expand his TV services to the China market, "personally attended" her publicity tour. Will he accompany Newt on the "To Renew America" book tour?
Graffiti rap: If someone sprayed graffiti on Time Warner's Manhattan headquarters building, how long would it take to order its removal? A day? An hour? Or would TW Chairman Gerald Levin have it laminated and framed, a lasting symbol of free artistic expression under the First Amendment?
Graffiti's rhythmic outlet at the moment is gangsta rap, by now a dying offshoot of mainstream rap. It so happens that Warner Music's label, Interscope, is our leading gangsta rap marketer and, as such, has been allowed to become a TW embarrassment and disrupter of TW's corporate activities.
That's because TW chose to ignore clear signs of what New York Daily News columnist Jim Sleeper calls a "civic rebellion" against cultural pollution. Last March, U.S. News columnist John Leo tagged TW "the world's lead ing cultural polluter" because of Interscope's albums. TW thereupon chose to increase its Interscope holdings from 25% to 50%. Ignoring wild-eyed writers is one thing, but TW couldn't ignore Senate Majority Leader Dole, who picked up on the issue and attacked not only gangsta rap lyrics but gratuitous movie violence as well.
As the old question of proper corporate behavior in a democratic society reemerged with Dole's speech, it suddenly became worthy of The New York Times' Page 1. The erstwhile Interscope cheerleader accompanied Bernard Weinraub's story with a sidebar by Mark Landler that sought to shunt the debate off the "civic rebellion" track and onto the political track. Landler explained that gangsta rap has "offended not only white conservatives .... but also many black political leaders." Bernard Weinraub's NYT coverage also took the political path as he wrote that the "more vocal liberals in Hollywood were unresponsive to the Dole speech." He failed to report that the "unresponsive" movie people he talked to offered no vocal support for gangsta rap. TW's Time was inspired to devote 14 pages to the flap, led by Richard Zoglin's lead story reference to a "campaign against pop culture." Not a campaign against gangsta rap? Against the notion that our great megamedia companies have no choice but to market demeaning products? Time carefully selected only 16 words from the lyrics that aroused Dole and others while the June 12 New Yorker quoted the complete 45-word set. Yes, again, The New Yorker.
Newsweek, licking its chops over TW's troubles, presented three pages of coverage and went out of its way to employ the phrase "Slime Warner." Yes, folks, it gets mean and nasty in the media jungle.
While liberal columnists attacked Dole, their favorite target after Newt, and questioned his pop-culture credentials, Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Bartley on June 15 was trying to depoliticize matters by noting that "concern about the moral tone of society is deep and broad, not easily dismissed with a snicker."
So TW is out there now, trying to get out from under the "cultural polluter" cloud and in sync with the "civic rebellion" taking place. People are being fired. Finger-pointing is taking place. The sad part is that TW leadership could have scrubbed away the graffiti before the paint dried.