Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Guns & Poses," April 13, 2002

Seeing ghosts
Ghostwriting and celebrity-author marketing practices are in the spotlight again. The latest flap began with a recent Charles Colson column in Christianity Today magazine. It took aim at a "Post-Truth Society" and decried pervasive lying in the modern culture. It pointed to prominent-name examples, including historian Stephen Ambrose. It accused him of "dealing in deceit" because he "plagiarized portions of other historians' works and-notwithstanding his public apology-seemed hardly disturbed by the resulting controversy." Someone tipped off Los Angeles Times media watcher Tim Rutten that the column, ironically enough, wasn't written by Mr. Colson at all but by one of his staff writers, Anne Morse. Her name appeared nowhere on the column. Mr. Rutten took the story public in a Times column of his own on March 22-without input from Ms. Morse (who declined to comment) or Mr. Colson (who returned a call too late for Mr. Rutten's schedule). He quoted C.T. editor David Neff as being under the impression Mr. Colson was writing the C.T. columns himself, but would pursue the question. Mr. Rutten also interviewed Nancy Pearcey, an estranged former Colson collaborator (co-author of How Now Shall We Live?). She said she had been writing Mr. Colson's columns for two years before he added her name to them in 1996, an arrangement that lasted until 1999. He took the action after C.T. received a letter from a reader criticizing the lack of disclosure. Mrs. Pearcey said that Mr. Colson "sometimes suggested ideas he wanted inserted, but usually just approved the drafts I had written." Reaction came swiftly. Mr. Colson released a Breakpoint broadcast and online commentary on March 26, acknowledging that his books, columns, and other output are the result of teamwork. Naming and commending some of his writers and consultants, he contended that he always has given credit. (However, he confirmed to WORLD that the how and when to credit others is a matter of discretion for him, based on various factors.) He also acknowledged he has not seen every film or read every book discussed in his columns and commentaries, but doesn't need to, thanks to his skilled staff. In many of his works, Mr. Colson's role, as he and others describe it, equates traditionally with that of an editor rather than a writer. Mr. Neff came to Mr. Colson's defense in a post on C.T.'s website on March 27. Among other things, he commended Mr. Colson as a trailblazer for disclosure of true authorship in the publishing industry. Mr. Colson told WORLD his C.T. column was Ms. Morse's best work so far (in an eight-year relationship), and she might reach a level where he would share credit with her. In a follow-up March 29 Times interview with Mr. Rutten, Mr. Colson was quoted as saying that "when we Christian leaders use the talent of others, we are ethically obligated to publicize that"-something, he added, that he does. MSNBC GOES LEFT TO CHALLENGE FOX
Phil vs. Bill
Donahue's back. Struggling cable network MSNBC hired Phil Donahue to host a new talk show, which will go up against Fox News Channel's powerhouse, The O'Reilly Factor. The political comparison is obvious. Bill O'Reilly is a moderate with some conservative leanings while Mr. Donahue is a doctrinaire liberal who supported Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election. Donahue once dominated daytime TV with a syndicated weekday hour that highlighted topical issues and guests. It collected seven Emmys from 1967 until it ran aground in 1996, as the talk-show world centered more around Oprah Winfrey or ran trashy sensationalism. At a time when Fox News and CNN have been dueling for dominance, MSNBC (the partnership between Microsoft and GE-owned NBC) has lagged far behind. The new Donahue show is expected to launch sometime this summer. MSNBC's schedule will be shifted around-Alan Keyes's struggling show will remain on the air, although bumped to 11 p.m. ET. MSNBC's average prime-time audience from last January through March was a little more than a quarter of Fox News Channel's and a third of CNN's. For Mr. Donahue, this will be his second major cable effort. The host appeared on MSNBC's more successful sister network CNBC on a show that ran from 1992 to 1995 where he spent his time slot nodding in agreement with co-host Vladimir Pozner, former PR man for the Soviet Communist government. REPORTERS PRESS BUSH FOR ACTION, THEN DEMAND: 'WHY NOW?!'
Don't just stand there
After President Bush announced he was dispatching Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East to try to quell the violence and push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace, he took no media questions. A reporter shouted a question anyway: "Why now?!" That capped days of media pressure on the administration to "do something" about the Middle East-as if nothing behind the scenes was going on. ABC star Peter Jennings led into the weekend of heightened violence, complaining: "Almost everywhere you turn this weekend, inside the Middle East and out, you hear people criticizing the Bush administration for not doing more to end the violence." On the Sunday show This Week, ABC's Terry Moran portrayed the president as less of a diplomat than President Clinton: "Bush's positive comments about the Israeli president's personal endorsement of Prime Minister Sharon's tough tactics raises a question if the United States can continue to play its traditional role of honest broker in this conflict, a role that reached its apex under President Clinton." The next morning on ABC's Good Morning America, host Charles Gibson relayed without reservation from Israel how a Palestinian told him "that they felt it was 'criminal'-criminal was the word used-that the White House and President Bush have not involved themselves more to try to defuse what is such a high-tension situation here." In the next afternoon's White House briefing, UPI reporter Helen Thomas fired off the first question to spokesman Ari Fleischer: "Does the president think that the Palestinians have a right to resist 35 years of brutal military occupation and suppression?" After trying to explain that Mr. Bush supports a Palestinian state, but not the violence, Mr. Fleischer added, "Helen, I do not accept the description of the premise of your question, and the manner that you asked it." ENVIRONMENTALISTS' TALL TALES ON ENERGY MEETINGS REPEATED AS FACT
Green about greens
CNN and CBS haven't apologized yet for an embarrassing set of reports on March 26 suggesting the Energy Department didn't consult liberal environmental groups as they assembled an energy proposal for Congress. On NewsNight, CNN White House reporter Kelly Wallace featured complaints from the Natural Resources Defense Council that they were not consulted. On the CBS Evening News, reporter Wyatt Andrews announced that "one statistic stood out like a lopsided sports score. At least 36 times, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met representatives of the energy industry to discuss the policy, compared to zero meetings with environmental groups." Noting how the Natural Resources Defense Council complained the documents were "heavily censored," Mr. Andrews relayed that "environmentalists call this a coverup" and then asked an NRDC representative: "Do you think the amount of blackout breaks the law?" Two days later, The Washington Times exposed the NRDC's false claims: "The NRDC yesterday conceded that the [Energy] department obtained its recommendations and weighed them in drafting its energy plan." The group revealed it had three more previously undisclosed meetings with top energy task-force officials. But the NRDC wasn't conceding its tall tales to everyone. The next night on PBS's Now with Bill Moyers, officials with the group trotted out the zero-meetings-with-greens line again. PUBLISHER RUNS FOR OFFICE
Ready to rumble?
News consumers are used to political advisers walking through the "revolving door" and signing up to be political analysts or reporters for the media (see ABC's George Stephanopoulos). It's not as common for media stars or executives to run for office. But Joel Kramer, who spent 15 years as publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 1983 to 1998, is running for lieutenant governor of Minnesota, joining the Democratic-Farmer-Labor ticket of state Sen. Becky Lourey, who described him as a "businessman with a heart and a strategist with a soul." There's no word yet on whether the pair will have a smackdown with independent Gov. Jesse Ventura-no fan of the Twin Cities media-who hasn't decided yet whether to run for reelection. SALVATION ARMY SEES SUPPORT GROW DESPITE GAY GROUPS BOYCOTT ON GIVING
Army saved
When gay activists tried to give the Salvation Army a lump of coal last Christmas, donors showered the charity with cash instead. After the Army last November rescinded a policy that would have extended health benefits to homosexual partners of Army employees, gay-rights groups urged Americans not to donate to the charity. But according to 2001 holiday fundraising figures released last month, the Army received about $373 million in total Christmas contributions, including $91 million donors dropped into the group's famous red kettles. That eclipsed the previous year's total by more than $11 million, and 1999 donations by more than $30 million. The group's public-relations battle with gay activists began last year after the group's western territory decided to extend health benefits to some employees' "same-sex domestic partners." When that happened, said the Army's Lt. Col. Tom Jones, "it appeared to some salvationists that ... the Army was acknowledging that same-sex relationships were the equal of the biblically enjoined family." A deluge of such criticism prompted the Army's Commissioner's Conference to issue a new national policy: Each territory's health plan would benefit only employees, their spouses, and dependent children-not unmarried live-in partners, whether homosexual or heterosexual. Gay-rights groups cried "discrimination" and urged activists and supporters to stuff the group's traditional kettles with phony money and notes of protest. Some groups asked supporters to donate only to charities that provide domestic-partner benefits. But man-on-the-street press interviews revealed that such anti-Army tactics didn't impress the public. "There are so many other things to worry about," one San Francisco woman told reporters: "The Salvation Army is trying to help people. Let 'em have a few bell ringers." MAN KNOWS NOT HIS TIME: BRITAIN'S QUEEN MOTHER DIES AT AGE 101 AFTER A BOLD, PUBLIC LIFE
'Mum' was heard
The Queen Mother's life spanned an entire era in British life. At her birth her nation was the most prominent in the world, while at her death it was becoming merely one spoke in the European wheel. Known officially as Empress Dowager Elizabeth Angela Margueritethe, the 101-year-old matriarch died in her sleep with her eldest daughter, Queen Elizabeth, at her side. She had suffered a respiratory infection late last year and her condition worsened after the death of her other daughter, 71-year-old Princess Margaret, last February. The Queen Mother will be buried beside her husband, George VI, who died in 1952. While she was known in later years as the small, gray-haired figure seen at public ceremonies, the woman dubbed the "Queen Mum" was also a symbol of toughness. She made one of the boldest acts of any royal during World War II, when she tramped around London's working-class East End against Winston Churchill's advice that she flee England. Her encouragement to those who faced nightly German firebomb raids was hailed for decades. When Queen Elizabeth took the throne, she was expected to retire, but she remained in public life for decades afterward. Meanwhile, a small but vocal number of Britons have called for an end to the monarchy. A MORI opinion poll published last month said 70 percent of young Britons wanted to keep the monarchy. Still, 48 percent of young people were more interested in the lives of The Simpsons on TV than in the royal family. GOV. DAVIS ORDERS INSURERS TO COVER MORNING-AFTER PILLS
A bitter political pill
What about the right not to pay for someone else's abortion? Late last month, California became the first state to force insurers to cover so-called morning-after pills. Gov. Gray Davis ordered California's HMOs to pay for the drugs, claiming that "a woman's right to choose must never be held up by red tape." The move comes as Mr. Davis tries to galvanize his liberal base by making abortion an issue in his campaign for re-election. His opponent wouldn't say whether he supports the order. "There are much more important topics," said Bob Taylor, a spokesman for GOP candidate Bill Simon. Pharmacists must take a special class to provide morning-after pills, but they haven't rushed to do so. Of the more than 15,000 pharmacists in California, according to Oakland-based Pharmacy Access Partnership, only 700 have received certification to provide the high dose of contraceptive to prevent ovulation or fertilization within 72 hours of sex. Some pharmacists have refused the credential on moral grounds. In 1999, Mr. Davis signed a bill requiring HMOs to cover federally approved contraceptives. In January, another bill passed allowing pharmacists to provide emergency contraception; this new order forces HMOs to cover it through their pharmacist networks. ENRON MAKES BIG LIST
Throwing away a Fortune
Enron is bankrupt, scandal-ridden-and No. 5 on the Fortune 500. Even with a historic downward spiral, the energy giant's official figures were enough to move it up the list of the largest publicly owned companies. This "achievement" might bring new skepticism to reports of corporate earnings. According to Fortune, Enron made the list with restated earnings from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, which gave it revenues of $139 billion. Bankruptcy did not disqualify the company, and fourth-quarter results were not yet available. (Wal-Mart topped this year's Fortune 500, see "Good and growing," p. 26.) Meanwhile, Enron is still struggling to remain in business. Company managers now worry about retaining valuable employees and their ability to hire new ones. So they've asked a bankruptcy court to approve payment of lucrative retention bonuses, severance pay , and the legal expenses of current executives and board members.

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