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Ken has written the
Annals of Communications column for The New Yorker Magazine since
The New Yorker - December 10, 2012
On Saturday, July 2, 2011, a high-society traffic jam descended on the cobblestoned town square of Burford, a village sixty-eight miles northwest of London, not far from the market town of Chipping Norton. Hundreds of chauffeured cars approached a gated stone wall, which opened to a long, circular driveway and the sprawling country house of Elisabeth Murdoch, a prominent television entrepreneur and the daughter of Rupert Murdoch, and her husband, Matthew Freud, who runs what may be the most powerful public-relations firm in Great Britain. In addition to their professional accomplishments, the couple have gained renown for their lavish “Chipping Norton set” parties, which are often attended by their friend Prime Minister David Cameron, government ministers, financiers, C.E.O.s, celebrities, and newspaper editors. “You’re never likely to be bored,” the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, an occasional guest, told me. The CNN host Piers Morgan, a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s the News of the World, once told the Daily Mail, “I’ve never seen so many people who hate each other together in one room.”
The New Yorker - October 8, 2012
The square that borders the Dadar Railway Station is the largest of sixty-five newspaper-delivery depots in Mumbai. At 4 A.M., forty trucks and vans packed with newspapers and magazines have parked and slid open their back doors; the trash-strewn streets are otherwise deserted, and the loudest noise comes from the cawing of crows. During the next few hours, two hundred and thirty-one thousand newspapers will be unloaded, half of them published by Bennett, Coleman & Company, Ltd., India's dominant media conglomerate....
The New Yorker - June 25, 2012
At four o'clock in the morning on January 22, 2010, John Sargent was pedalling furiously on an exercise bicycle in the basement of his Brooklyn brownstone. Sargent, the C.E.O. of Macmillan Books, had a difficult decision to make. In five days, Steve Jobs would announce the first iPad, and he was pressing Sargent to agree to a new way of selling books....
Get Rich U.
The New Yorker - April 30, 2012
Stanford University is so startlingly paradisial, so fragrant and sunny, it’s as if you could eat from the trees and live happily forever. Students ride their bikes through manicured quads, past blooming flowers and statues by Rodin, to buildings named for benefactors like Gates, Hewlett, and Packard. Everyone seems happy, though there is a well-known phenomenon called the “Stanford duck syndrome”: students seem cheerful, but all the while they are furiously paddling their legs to stay afloat....
War of Choice
The New Yorker - January 9, 2012
Marco Rubio, a Republican who is the junior senator from Florida, has a full head of thick black hair and a movie star’s baby face. He speaks passionately and argues persuasively. Just forty years old, he has the youthful glamour of a Kennedy, with an attractive wife and four children. Tea Party activists love Rubio, and he is surely the most prominent Hispanic Republican in America.....
The New Yorker - October 24, 2011
At nine o'clock on the morning of September 6th, Jill Abramson was riding the subway uptown from her Tribeca loft. It was her first day as executive editor of the New York Times, and also the first time in the paper's hundred and sixty years that a woman's name would appear at the top of the masthead. Abramson described herself as "excited," because of the history she was about to make, and "a little nervous," because she knew that many in the newsroom feared her....
Steve Jobs 1955-2011
Newyorker.com - October 5, 2011
Steve Jobs is dead. One big question is whether the unbelievably innovative culture he forged will live. Jobs was not a great human being, but he was a great, transformative, and historical figure. Many books were dashed off describing what a tyrannical person Jobs could be—how he took the parking spaces of the handicapped, how he reduced employees to tears. Those tales will fade like yesterday’s newspapers. What will stand erect like an indestructible monument are the things Steve Jobs created that changed our lives: The Macintosh; the iTunes store that induced people to pay for music and other content; Pixar, which forever changed animation; the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. These were more than technological feats, but Apple products were beautifully designed, as well. For three decades, even as he got older, Steve Jobs and Apple remained "cool."....
The Brooks Resignation: Business and Loyalty
Newyorker.com - July 15, 2011
The only surprise in the resignation of Rebekah Brooks is that it took so long. She was the editor of the News of the World when a good deal of hacking was done, when police were paid bribes for documents and news tips. When she left the newsroom, she became the News Corp. executive responsible for overseeing at least one newspaper that continued these practices, as well as others that we may learn more about. And when she testified before Parliament, she offered misleading and contradictory answers. Yet she remained in place. When Rupert Murdoch flew to London last weekend to quarterback his company’s defense, a reporter asked: What’s your foremost concern?....
What Murdoch Made
Newyorker.com - July 7, 2011
During the first full day of the Allen & Co. Conference in Sun Valley, Rupert Murdoch was almost invisible. He was not spotted at the morning panels or at the outdoor lunch where he usually arrives early and holds court. Presumably, he was holed up strategizing about how to extricate his News Corp. from the worst crisis it has faced since it nearly went bankrupt in the early nineties. The seriousness of the situation is reflected in the dramatic step Murdoch’s son, James, announced Thursday: closing the News of the World, a one-hundred-and-sixty-eight year-old paper. In his absence, many attendees asked: did Murdoch know his London newspaper hacked into the voicemail of private phone lines—not only those of the royal family, but of a thirteen-year-old murder victim, and possibly relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan—and paid police to unearth information?....
A Woman's Place
Can Sheryl Sandberg upend Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture?
The New Yorker - July 11, 2011
In 2007, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, knew that he needed help. His social-network site was growing fast, but, at the age of twenty-three, he felt ill-equipped to run it. That December, he went to a Christmas party at the home of Dan Rosensweig, a Silicon Valley executive, and as he approached the house he saw someone who had been mentioned as a possible partner, Sheryl Sandberg, Google's thirty-eight-year-old vice-president for global online sales and operations. Zuckerberg hadn't called her before (why would someone who managed four thousand employees want to leave for a company that had barely any revenue?), but he went up and introduced himself. "We talked for probably an hour by the door," Zuckerberg recalls....
Murdoch's Best Friend
What is Robert Thomson doing at the Wall Street Journal?
The New Yorker - April 11, 2011
Last April, the magazine Hello! featured an exclusive eighteen-page spread on the baptism of Wendi and Rupert Murdoch’s young daughters, Grace and Chloe. The cover displayed a group photo of the Murdochs and their guests, all dressed in white, in Jordan, where they had come to witness the children’s baptism in the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The patriarch was in the front, bespectacled and earnest, a boutonnière pinned to his white shirt. Queen Rania of Jordan stood nearby, as did Nicole Kidman and Ivanka Trump.
The Dictator Index
The billionaire Mo Ibrahim battles a continent's legacy of misrule.
NewYorker.com - March 7, 2011
One day last March, students crammed into the Great Hall at the University of Ghana, outside Accra. They filled the plastic chairs set up to face an ornate wooden lectern, and lined the hallways around the auditorium. It was oppressively hot, and a fan was positioned to blow air toward the speaker, Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born billionaire who built one of the first mobile-phone networks on the continent. He stood alone onstage, flanked by four golden floor-to-ceiling columns. His speech was titled “Taking Responsibility—How to Fix the Mess That Africa Is In”....
Tim Armstrong's Hail Mary Pass
AOL's purchas of the Huffington Post
Newyorker.com - February 7, 2011
The game clock was ticking down on C.E.O. Tim Armstrong’s pledge to demonstrate by the second half of this year that AOL could mount a comeback from the near dead. AOL suffered a dismal last quarter of 2010, with revenues and traffic and subscribers continuing to fall. Quarterback Armstrong was not scoring with pledges to transform AOL into a content company....
Why Is Eric Schmidt Stepping Down?
Was the Google CEO pushed, or did he jump?
NewYorker.com - January 21, 2011
According to close advisors, the Google C.E.O. was upset a year ago when co-founder Larry Page sided with his founding partner, Sergey Brin, to withdraw censored searches from China. Schmidt did not hide his belief that Google should stay in the world’s largest consumer marketplace. It was an indication of the nature of the relationship Schmidt had with the founders that he—as Brian Cashman of the Yankees did this week—acknowledged that the decision was made above his head. He often joked that he provided “adult supervision,” and was never shy about interrupting the founders at meetings to crystallize a point. In the eleven interviews I conducted with him for my book on Google, he freely told anecdotes about the founders, sometimes making gentle fun of them, never seeming to look over his shoulder.
You've Got News
Can Tim Armstrong save AOL?
The New Yorker - January 24, 2011
In the past three years, newspaper advertising revenues have plummeted, a fourth of all newsroom employees have been laid off or have accepted buyouts, and more than a hundred free local papers have folded. During these unhappy times for the profession, a surprising savior has appeared: America Online. In the last year, AOL has hired many talented journalists. The surge of activity is even more noteworthy given AOL's dismal decade. The company still gets eighty per cent of its profits from subscribers. But AOL also runs popular service sites, like e-mail, Instant Messaging, MapQuest, and Moviefone. And, according to the company's newest C.E.O., Tim Armstrong, the most important part of AOL is the collection of blogs and news sites that it manages: DailyFinance, Politics Daily, Engadget, TechCrunch, FanHouse, and about ninety others. Armstrong, who is forty years old, thinks that AOL can develop a reputation as a place where reporters and editors craft original stories.
Afghanistan’s first media mogul
New Yorker - July 5, 2010
Every day in Kabul, politicians and journalists in search of information come to a barricaded dead-end street in the Wazir Akbar Khan district to see Saad Mohseni, the chairman of Moby Group, Afghanistan’s preëminent media company. At the last house on the right, burly men carrying AK-47s lead them up creaky stairs to a small second-floor office. Mohseni, a gregarious man with a politician’s habits, often stands up to greet visitors with a hug, then returns to his desk, where a BlackBerry, two cell phones, and a MacBook Air laptop are constantly lit up; fifteen small flat-screen TVs, set to mute, are mounted on the office walls
Publish or Perish
Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?
The New Yorker - April 26, 2010
On the morning of January 27th—an aeon ago, in tech time—Steve Jobs was to appear at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in downtown San Francisco, to unveil Apple’s new device, the iPad. Although speculation about the device had been intense, few in the audience knew yet what it was called or exactly what it would do, and there was a feeling of expectation in the room worthy of the line outside the grotto at Lourdes. Hundreds of journalists and invited guests, including Al Gore, Yo-Yo Ma, and Robert Iger, the C.E.O. of Disney, milled around the theatre, waiting for Jobs to appear. The sound system had been playing a medley of Bob Dylan songs; it went quiet as the lights came up onstage and Jobs walked out, to the crowd’s applause...
With cable, the Web, and tweets, can the President
-- or the press -- still control the story?
New Yorker - January 25, 2010
On September 9, 2009, the day that President Obama was to make a televised speech in support of national health insurance before a joint session of Congress, he flew to New York in the morning to speak at a memorial service for Walter Cronkite. Although Obama had no personal connection to Cronkite—he was a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Occidental College when, in 1981, Cronkite signed off as the anchor of the "CBS Evening News"—he sat through the entire two-and-a-half-hour service, at Lincoln Center. As the closing speaker, the President used his platform to deliver a kind of sermon to the many hundreds of journalists who were in the hall. He was there to tell the gathered tribe that their work was, in no small measure, a frenzied and trivial pursuit.
Ten Things Google Has Taught Us
Google Squares off with its Capitol Hill Critics
Forbes.com - October 26, 2009
In researching his new book, Googled: the End of the World as We Know It, published by Penguin Press, author Ken Auletta had extensive access to the company's inner workings and reported widely on its impact on the media landscape.
In a Fortune.com exclusive, he offers ten enduring lessons drawn from his journey into Google's realm:...
Searching for Trouble
Why Google is on its Guard
New Yorker - October 12 , 2009
In a suit and tie and with closely cropped gray hair, Mel Karmazin stood out as he crossed the Google campus, in Mountain View, California, on a sunny June day in 2003. Young people in jeans and baggy T-shirts passed him holding their laptops before them like waiters' trays. Google was nearly five years old, and was thought to be merely a search engine. As the C.O.O. of Viacom, Karmazin represented one of the world's largest media companies—the owner of, among other holdings, the CBS network, TV and radio stations, Paramount Pictures, MTV and its sister cable networks, and the publishers Simon & Schuster. Two of Viacom's biggest competitors, AOL and Time Warner, had earlier merged to become the world's largest old-and-new-media conglomerate, and Karmazin was looking for potential partners in the tech world.
The Search Party
Google Squares off with its Capitol Hill Critics
The New Yorker - January 14, 2004
In June, 2006, Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google, went to Washington, D.C., hoping to create a little good will. Google was something of a Washington oddity then. Although it was a multibillion-dollar company, with enormous power, it had no political-action committee, and its Washington office had opened, in 2005, with a staff of one, in suburban Maryland. The visit, which was reported in the Washington Post, was hurried, and, in what was regarded by some as a snub, Brin failed to see some key people, including Senator Ted Stevens, of Alaska, who was then the chairman of the Commerce Committee and someone whose idea of the Internet appeared to belong to the analog era. (He once said that a staff member had sent him “an Internet.”) Brin told me recently, “Because it was the last minute, we didn’t schedule everything we wanted to.” It probably didn’t help that his outfit that day included a dark T-shirt, jeans, and silver mesh sneakers.....
What might the Wall Street Journal become
if Rupert Murdoch owned it?
New Yorker - July 2 , 2007
March was not the best of months for Richard F. Zannino, the C.E.O. of the Dow Jones Company, which owns the Wall Street Journal. Zannino joined the company six and a half years ago, after a career in the apparel industry, and his tailored suits and good looks set him apart from most people in the newspaper business. Until recently, Zannino assured his board of directors at Dow Jones that a resurgent Wall Street Journal would drive up advertising revenues, and that the stock price would follow. He believed that since becoming C.E.O., in February of 2006, he was rejuvenating a company whose revenues that year—$1.8 billion—were slightly less than they were in 1993, and he liked to say that under his control forty-five of its top eighty executives have been replaced or shifted; he promised that it would soon be clear that his team had transformed Dow Jones into “a more diversified, content-driven media company.”...
Everyone listens to Walter Mossberg.
New Yorker - May 14, 2007
On a blustery, overcast day early this year, P.R. representatives from Sprint and Samsung stopped by the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal to meet with the columnist Walter S. Mossberg. The agenda was clear: Sprint had a new music phone designed by Samsung, and the group was hoping for a positive reception from a man who has become to technology what Brooks Atkinson once was to the New York theatre—someone whose judgment can ratify years of effort or sink the show. Mossberg’s “Personal Technology” column, which anchors the front of the Journal’s Thursday Marketplace section, is particularly powerful when it comes to judging innovation intended for the consumer market. The opening sentence of his inaugural column, sixteen years ago, was “Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it’s not your fault,” a sentence that Mossberg has since described as his “mission statement.”...
Why New Yorkers call Howard Rubenstein
when they've got a problem.
New Yorker - February 12, 2007
A subscription to The New Yorker is required to read the full text of this article online. You may read the abstract by following the link below.
Mad as Hell
Lou Dobbs's populist crusade.
New Yorker - December 4, 2006
Regular viewers of "Lou Dobbs Tonight," on CNN, might be surprised at the venue that Dobbs chose for lunch not long ago: the Grill Room of the Four Seasons, a midtown bastion of the very same political and business "élites" that he denounces daily on his television program. The Four Seasons is the enduring commissary of the Old Guard, where Henry Kissinger waves to the former Citigroup C.E.O. Sandy Weill, there is limo-lock at the side door, and the regulars have their checks sent to the office. Dobbs's Town Car left him at the door, on East Fifty-second Street, and the restaurant's co-owner, Julian Nicolini, embraced him that day as warmly as when he welcomed, among others, Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and C.E.O. of the Blackstone Group; Nelson Peltz, the C.E.O. of Trian Partners; Edgar Bronfman, Sr., the former chairman and C.E.O. of Seagram; and Mortimer Zuckerman, the real-estate developer and publisher of the News. Nicolini led Dobbs to one of five choice banquettes, and Dobbs settled in, looking very much at home.....
How Carl Icahn came up short.
New Yorker - March 20 , 2005
Richard D. Parsons, who runs Time Warner the world’s largest media company, does not fi the C.E.O. stereotype. He has a scruffy beard He is black. He hugs strangers, and believe that he can make just about anyone like him. S it was natural that when, in August, Parson learned that Carl Icahn’s hedge fund, Icah Partners, had joined three others to acquir three-per-cent ownership of Time Warner, he called Icahn and asked if he could drop by. “I never hurts to show a guy some respect, Parsons said later. He knew that Icahn ha made billions as a corporate raider in th eighties and had pioneered the art of “greenmail." (The raiders would buy a block o shares in a company and sell them back at premium, in return for agreeing to drop challenge to the company’s management.) Bu Parsons, who once worked for Nelson A Rockefeller, and who was the chairman o Rudolph Giuliani’s 1993 mayoral campaign also knew that this was as much a politica campaign as a business battle
Can Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., save the Times—and himself?
New Yorker - December 19, 2005
Last month at the Chelsea Piers sport complex, a group that included corporat leaders, bankers, and teachers held a black-tie benefit dinner to celebrate Outward Bound, an to honor the winner of the award named for it founder, Kurt Hahn. The speakers talked abou Hahn’s belief in a person’s “inner strengths, recounted gruelling outdoor experiences, an gave solemn thanks for the sort of campfir encounter sessions they had come to value a Outward Bound. Throughout the evening people greeted each other with hugs, and eve tears; but there was silence when the award fo furthering “the Outward Bound mission” wa presented to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., th chairman of the New York Times Compan and publisher of the Times. Sulzberger was wryly introduced by a friend—“I found his infectious enthusiasm to be irritating when I was dangling over a cliff,” she said—and then Sulzberger, a youthful-looking man of fifty-four, bounded to the microphone....
Can the Los Angeles Times survive its owners?
New Yorker - October 10, 2005
By the morning of July 20th, after months o gossip, everyone in the third-floor newsroom o the Los Angeles Times knew that John S. Carroll, who had been the newspaper’s editor for five years, was going to resign. Through the large glass window of the conference room, the staff could see Carroll, along with the senior editors and the publisher, Jeffrey Johnson, who had rarely appeared in the newsroom. They all looked sombre. A few minutes after the meeting adjourned, the staff assembled at the national desk, across from Carroll’s office, to hear Johnson confirm that Carroll was indeed leaving.
curious rise of morning television,
and the future of network news
New Yorker - August 8, 2005
still finds it surprising when people come up to her and
say things like "You're in my bedroom every morning." But
Couric, the co-anchor of NBC's "Today" show, understands
the impulse. "People have a very personal relationship
with us," she says, referring to herself and her co-anchor,
Matt Lauer. For most of the past fifty-three years, "Today"
has been the favored companion of morning viewers. It is
the most profitable program on any network—its commercials
earn about two hundred and fifty million dollars annually,
about three times as much as ABC's "Good Morning America"
or CBS's "The Early Show." ("Today," which averages six
million viewers, earns more because it reaches a larger
and younger audience and, unlike its competitors, is on
for three hours, not two, on weekdays.) While the networks
have been rapidly losing viewers throughout the day—to cable,
the Internet, and other distractions—the morning shows have
Long and Complicated Career of Dan Rather
New Yorker - September 20, 2004
On the door
to Dan Rather's office at CBS are two fading gold lines
of script: "Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest
by, / That here, obedient to their laws, we lie." The
quotation, Rather told meÑthe words of the Spartans who
died holding off the Persian army at the Battle of ThermopylaeÑhas
served as an inspiration ever since Mrs. Spencer, his fourth-grade
teacher in Houston, Texas, first read it aloud in class.
"They fought to the last man," he said. "I
read that as loyalty. That's what it's come to mean to me.
Loyal to the very end. Loyal to their beliefs. Loyal to
their code." Rather, it was clear, was talking about
himself; it was December, and he and several CBS News colleagues
were awaiting the results of an outside investigation into
their work which threatened their livelihoods and their
ads still work?
New Yorker - March 28, 2005
In the introduction
to his 1963 best-seller, "Confessions of an Advertising
Man," David Ogilvy apologized for writing "in the old-fashioned
first person singular." In the intervening decadesÑthe years
of, among others, Madonna and Donald TrumpÑthat modest impulse
has faded. The inclination now is more toward emphatic self-promotion.
Linda Kaplan Thaler, who today enjoys an Ogilvy-like reputation
as one of advertising's creative talents, co-wrote a book
on marketing in 2003, and advised her peers, "Don't worry
about whether the news is good or bad. Just get covered.
. . . PR breeds PR."
Shrum is one of the biggest names in the campain business
-- but is he prepared to take on Bush?
New Yorker - September 20, 2004
a senior adviser to John Kerry, is probably the Democratic
Party's most celebrated speechwriter. But Shrum, who has
made speechwriting a specialty, dislikes being described
by what he does best. "I don't want to be a speechwriter,"
he insists, and he is eager to make clear that he has broader
strategic responsibilities in the Kerry Presidential campaign.
According to Kerry's former campaign manager, Jim Jordan,
"Anything having to do with words and message, Bob
had the last word."
Bird Flies Right
Republicans learned to love PBS.
New Yorker - June 7, 2004
year and a half ago, Pat Mitchell, the president of the
Public Broadcasting System, was invited to tea at Vice-President
Cheney's house. The federal government is PBS's biggest
patron, and Mitchell was happy to accept. There to greet
her, on December 11, 2002, was Lynne Cheney, the Vice-President's
wife, and Michael Pack, a producer. Cheney has written a
number of children's books, and Mitchell especially liked
"A Is for Abigail"ÑAbigail AdamsÑwhich was subtitled "An
Almanac of Amazing American Women." She knew that Pack,
who had made documentaries for PBS, had ties to the Bush
Administration; he had recently been nominated by George
W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate to serve on the National
Council on the Humanities....
Creation of the Media: Political Origins of American Communications;
Paul Starr; Basic Books: 484 pp., $27.50 All the News That's
Fit to Sell: How the Market Transforms Information Into
News; James T. Hamilton; Princeton University Press: 342
August, in Crawford, Texas, George W. Bush gave a barbecue
for the press corps. Bush has let it be known that he's
not much of a television-news watcher or a newspaper reader,
apart from the sports section; and during a conversation
with reporters he explained, perhaps without intending to,
why his White House often seems indifferent to the press.
"How do you then know what the public thinks?"
a reporter asked, according to Bush aides and reporters
who heard the exchange. And Bush replied, "You're making
a huge assumptionthat you represent what the public
first glance, the Wall Street Journal and its parent company,
Dow Jones & Co., appear to be models of serenity. The newsroom,
as newsrooms go, is surprisingly tranquil, despite a recent
round of layoffs. Paul E. Steiger, the managing editor (the
paper's top editorial position), listens more than he exhorts,
and jokes about how boring he is. The chairman and C.E.O.
of Dow Jones, Peter R. Kann, glances at his watch when he
makes presentations, as if he couldn't wait to flee.
One morning not long ago, the co-hosts of "Fox & Friends,"
the Fox News network's raucous and right-leaning version of
the "Today" show, were promoting Fox-branded merchandise such
as baseball caps and soap-on-a-rope when Steve Doocy, a co-anchor,
turned to his partner, E. D. Hill, and said, "You know who's
really jealous about our merchandising?" Doocy, who doubles
as the weatherman, answered his own question: "My dentist
is so jealous. You've seen him on TV--Aaron Brown. You know,
the guy on CNN--he does that show at night? He just works
nights over there. But during the day he's our dentist. Do
we have a picture?"
Harvey Weinstein sometimes believes that Hollywood is out
to get him. He believed this even before it was true. Weinstein,
or Harvey--in the movie business, there is only one Harvey--believes
that he is a target partly because Miramax, the studio that
he co-founded with his brother, Bob, is based in New York.
Mostly, he believes that the movie industry resents the success
he's had in the past two decades, making movies--sometimes
brilliant, innovative movies--that Hollywood wouldn't touch.
A man who takes the subway wearing the white panama hat of
a plantation owner is either blithely arrogant or irrepressibly
self-confident, and in the nine months that Howell Raines
has been the executive editor of the Times both qualities
have been imputed to him. Raines is fifty-nine, and has worked
for the Times for a quarter of a century; he has been praised
and derided for the sometimes coruscating editorial page that
he ran from January of 1993 until August, 2001. But until
last year his acquaintance with the newsroom was only passing,
and to most of his Times colleagues he was an alien--as the
metropolitan editor, Jonathan Landman, characterized him,
long will the networks stick with the news?
New Yorker - December 10, 2001
Like so much else, television news changed on the morning
of September 11th. Six weeks later, as Aaron Brown, CNN's
new anchorman, shifted from a Pentagon briefing to the ruins
of the World Trade Center and then to a dissection of the
latest anthrax scare, a familiar figure appeared in a box
in the right half of the screen: O. J. Simpson on the witness
At AOL Time Warner, as everywhere else, life has been altered
dramatically since September 11th. The company has donated
hundreds of wireless mobile communicators to law-enforcement
personnel, produced fund-raising concerts, contributed more
than five million dollars to the recovery effort, and persuaded
AOL subscribers to donate more than fifteen million dollars.
The company also lost considerable income (the company claims
not to know these costs) as movie and magazine schedules have
been disrupted and costs at the Cable News Network and Time
have risen sharply. Nevertheless, the world's largest and
most powerful communications company has not lost sight of
its primary goal--to encircle and seduce consumers.
At the Rockefeller Center headquarters of AOL Time Warner
last Thursday, one of the company's senior executives took
time to watch the breaking news. The U.S. Court of Appeals
for the District of Columbia had delivered a ruling in the
Microsoft antitrust case, and, as depicted on the cable television
networks, the verdict appeared lopsidedly simple: Microsoft
The idea came to Kurt Andersen and Michael Hirschorn in early
1999, at the height of what has come to look like the Internet
gold rush. Print was doomed, it was said; revolutionary forms
of online journalism were at hand, and would also make you
Early last year, Ted Turner seemed invincible. He was the
largest shareholder in AOL Time Warner, owning around four
per cent of the soon-to-be-merged companies; his celebrated
name was on the door of a major division, Turner Broadcasting
System; and his dimpled chin, gap-toothed smile, and pencil-thin
Gable-esque mustache were recognizable everywhere.
first time Microsoft's team of lawyers entered the courtroom
of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, of the U.S. District Court
in Washington, in 1995, they had good reason to believe that
he would side with them. Jackson, with a cloud of white hair
and a tan acquired from sailing, certainly looked like the
sort of judge who makes businessmen feel comfortable.
does Bill Gates think that the Microsoft antitrust trial has
been such a disaster for him?
camp is a chance for a kid to play, to forge friendships,
to escape his parents. For a media mogul, the five-day Sun
Valley, Idaho, camp conducted for the past seventeen years
by the investment firm Allen & Company offers similar advantages.
There is a head counselor and there are activity directors;
each day has a morning activity period, canteen, then playtime
and evening programs. The session culminates in an awards
ceremony. This year, for the first time, an outsider, a reporter,
was permitted to attend. This is my diary.
long ago, Mel Karmazin, the president and chief operating
officer of CBS, got a call from Rupert Murdoch, the owner
of the Fox network and the chairman and C.E.O. of the News
Corporation. "I wanted to introduce myself," Murdoch
reportedly said. "We've never met, but I’m looking
forward to meeting you."
Debora Vrana, a business reporter for the Los Angeles Times,
arrived at her office on October 15th, she found a press release
from an advertiser along with a note from an advertising-sales
executive asking, “Could this run on page two or three?”
Cannon affects a grave, almost funereal mien, greeting a visitor
to his dimly lit offices with a solemn handshake. Although
it is a warm July day, his windows are shut and the air-conditioning
is off. When he sits, he doesn’t unbutton his double-breasted
blue pin-striped jacket; when he speaks, he barely gestures.
Myhrvold is Bill Gates's favorite geek. "I don't know anyone
I would say is smarter than Nathan," Gates says. "He stands
out even in the Microsoft environment." But the thirty-seven-year-old
Myhrvold, the chief technology officer of the company, is
considerably more than a resident geek.
It's fabulous being Michael Bloomberg, as he is quick to tell
you. His name is stamped on seventy-three thousand computer
terminals that companies lease to receive the Bloomberg –
a treasure of up-to-the-minute and historical financial data.
April 12th, a crowd filled the First Church, in Wenham, Massachusetts,
for the funeral of Nathaniel C. Nash, the Frankfurt bureau
chief of the New York Times. Nash, a much admired reporter,
had been among the thirty-five passengers and crew killed
when the airplane carrying Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown
crashed into a Croatian mountain.
the 1996 Presidential race ended--when the last bridge to
the twenty-first century had been proposed and the last "He's
a liberal, he's a liberal" had been uttered--the press called
it an awful, dispiriting campaign. President Clinton and Bob
Dole, many wrote, were negative and cynical and had become
slaves to the latest poll.
Michael Kinsley announced, last November, that he was leaving
Washington, D.C., to edit an online magazine in Seattle, colleagues
and friends reacted as if he were moving to another planet.
And, in a sense, he was.
October, the top executives of NBC and of Microsoft met on
the fifty-second floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza to talk about
a dramatic news partnership.
the afternoon of Tuesday, January 16th, Frank Biondi's secretary
told him that Sumner Redstone, Viacom's chairman, wanted to
see him at three-thirty the next day. This was an unusual
request, since Redstone often popped unannounced into Biondi's
office, which was just a few steps away from his own. "I knew
then that something was going on," Biondi, who at the time
was Viacom's president and chief executive officer, says.
When Rupert Murdoch arrives at his office on the Twentieth
Century Fox lot, in Los Angeles, the single television is
set to CNN, and the sound is off.
In a season of media madness topped off by the announcement
that the Walt Disney Company was buying Capital Cities/ABC,
consider these bombshells.
Last November at election time, Sumner Redstone, the chairman
of Viacom, asked Frank J. Biondi, Jr., Viacom's chief executive
officer, if the company's political-action committees had
hedged their electoral bets by supporting Republican candidates
as well as Democrats. Redstone had reason to be concerned.
Herbert A. Allen's official biography contains just five sentences,
and they reveal almost nothing about the man. The biography
says that Allen is the chief executive officer of Allen &
Company, a privately held investment-banking firm; is a member
of the board of directors of the Coca-Cola Company; was once
chairman of the board ofColumbia Pictures; and graduated from
Williams College. There is no hint that Allen has becomethe
unofficial investment-banking consigliere to many of the world's
To decision-makers in the communications business, government--not
titans like Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch--is the true powerhouse.
Not since the Communications Act of 1934, which authorized
the federal government to license radio and television stations
to use the public airwaves, has the government become entangled
in so many momentous communications issues.
Who is Frank Biondi? Viacom's president and C.E.O. is
nowhere near as visible as Sumner Redstone, his boss, but
Biondi is the one who "makes the numbers," and last
year those numbers got Paramount and Blockbuster for Viacom.
Now Redstone and Biondi want Viacom to become the Microsoft
of the entertainment world.
The initial hint of anger from twenty-five or so members of
the House Democratic leadership came on an hour-and-a-quarter-long
bus ride from Washington to Airlie House, in rural Virginia,
one morning last January. They had been asked by the Majority
Leader, Richard A. Gephardt, of Missouri, to attend a two-day
retreat for the Democratic Message Group, and as the bus rolled
southwest the convivial smiles faded.
When Charles Van Doren was about to be exposed for his role
in the nineteen-fifties quiz-show scandal, Albert Freedman,
the associate producer of the show "Twenty-One," tried to
comfort him by saying, "Besides, what did you do wrong? Everybody
knows the magician doesn't saw the lady in half."
My car phone rang. It was August 30th, and I was on my way
to Kennedy Airport to fly to Los Angeles for a dinner with
Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios. He
had told me earlier by phone that he would give me the real
story of why, just six days before, he and Michael Eisner,
the chairman of the Walt Disney Company, had announced their
The contest for the control of CBS and QVC resembles a game
of musical chairs: after each round, there are more participants
than there are seats. On July 12th, it appeared that Barry
Diller had lost his seat as the prospective chief executive
officer of CBS and might soon leave as the C.E.O. of QVC.
is true of any enabling relationship, Laurence A. Tisch, the
chairman of CBS, and Barry Diller, the chairman of the QVC
home-shopping network, needed each other in order to go on
to something else.
As the day wore on, the rumor that Seagram was about to mount
a hostile takeover of Time Warner echoed loudly. Perhaps the
rumor began with stockbrokers, who tipped their clients, who
placed their bets and then alerted reporters, who jumped at
a scoop and phoned Seagram officials, who were not in, and
then reached jittery Time Warner sources, who could not deny
that their company was a target, because they did not know,
and naturally made their own inquiries, thereby confirming
hunches that something was afoot.
the Politburo wanted to signal a change in the leadership
of the Soviet Union, reporters knew because the Soviet state
radio suddenly switched from its regular programming to sombre
classical music. When the College of Cardinals chooses a new
Pope, reporters know because the Vatican releases puffs of
white smoke. When the Times is about to shift editors, reporters
know because a memo printed on stark white paper is posted
on the third-floor bulletin board.
Kate seemed to be the perfect customer for what Time Warner
calls its Full Service Network--the first switched, digitized,
fibre-optic, multimedia, interactive TV system. She was just
thirty, and so was presumed to be open to change; she was
affluent, and so was presumed to be willing to pay for what
she watched; and on a form she had filled out for a recent
Time Warner "viability test" she had expressed a desire to
be liberated from network programmers, who told her what she
could watch and when.
This seems to be a season of transitions. Michael Gartner,
the beleaguered president of NBC News, has fallen on his sword
because of the faked crash of a General Motors truck on "Dateline
"Diane is the John Madden of network news," a Fox executive
who is engaged in a feverish but still quiet contest with
ABC, CBS, and NBC to recruit Diane Sawyer said last week.
There is no television set in John C. Malone's office. This
seems odd, since Malone, the president and chief executive
officer of Tele-Communications, Inc., is the most influential
man in television. After twenty years at the helm of TCI,
Malone now controls one of every four cable boxes in the country,
and through TCI and Liberty Media, a programming company formerly
owned by TCI, he has an interest in twenty-nine cable services,
including CNN, TNT, QVC, Court TV, Black Entertainment Television,
American Movie Classics, and the Discovery Channel.
Ask Vice-President Al Gore about telecommunications and he
thinks of highways. During a recent interview at his office,
in the West Wing of the White House, Gore recalled that when
he was a boy in Carthage, Tennessee, his family couldn't get
into their new car and drive to Nashville--a fifty-mile trip--with
any speed, because the road was just two lanes all the way.
New Gold Rush
programming has invaded overseas markets once dominated
by state-run television, and ABC's Herb Granath has led
New Yorker - December 1993
Herbert Granath's personality is as steady as a dial tone.
Although Granath is a formidable figure in worldwide television
and theatrical production--as chairman of ESPN, as co-chairman
of two other cable networks, as a pioneer in the selling of
network shows to foreign outlets, as a partner in ten overseas
television enterprises and production houses, as a facilitator
in the recent linking of ABC News with the BBC, and as a producer
of Broadway plays--"power" is not the word that jumps to mind
when people first meet him.
Although Sumner Redstone hadn't played poker in twenty years,
he knew he couldn't lose this hand. He had five aces--the
supreme hand in a seven-card game called day baseball. Redstone
was travelling with three colleagues, and this was the final
hand before their plane landed. Redstone did not want just
to win; he wanted to empty his friends' pockets.
IN the corporate jungle, Jack Welch has emerged as a lion.
Welch, the chairman and chief executive officer of General
Electric, is a former chemical engineer who has made G.E.
into a sixty-billion-dollar global behemoth, which since 1986
has included NBC.
"Unless American soldiers are there, American television is
not there," the Cable News Network correspondent Christiane
Amanpour observed recently about network coverage of foreign
On the surface, the New York Times, the world's most majestic
newspaper, retains its serenity.
The producer Lawrence Gordon was convinced that his movie
"The Warriors" would be a major success. The research told
him. Word of mouth told him. The year was 1979, before Gordon
had produced such hits as "Die Hard," "Predator," "Field of
Dreams," and "48 Hours," and he thought that "The Warriors"--a
movie about street gangs--was his ticket to producer Heaven.
When Barry Diller, the former chairman of Fox, Inc., speaks
of his Apple PowerBook, a laptop computer, he grows rhapsodic.
"My odyssey began with the PowerBook," Diller said recently
of the months he spent after leaving Fox.
Although David Letterman and his contract negotiations had
been the subject of intense media attention for months, the
prospect of facing reporters for a press conference to announce
his new contract filled him with dread.
The swarm of reporters hovered outside Blake's coffee shop in Manchester, New Hampshire, waiting for the candidate to appear. Suddenly Bill Clinton stepped out into the New England cold—not that you could see him, of course. What you could see were the boom microphones and TV cameras and tape recorders, all diving toward the dense center, reporters frantic to capture the moment—that gotcha! question, that gaffe—that would kill one candidate's quest for the presidency.