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Saturday, July 09, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"The death sentence for the News of the World was composed by James Murdoch. 'It’s only right ... that you hear it directly from me,' News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer wrote, clinically executing the 168-year-old British Sunday scandal sheet. But a stunned newsroom heard it instead from Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the title and head of the global media group’s UK news­paper arm, who read his statement out, pallid beneath her shock of red curls as security guards hovered.. Seven timezones away, his 80-year-old father sat in a ski lodge in the green foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains, listening to Charlie Rose interview fellow-broadcaster Oprah Winfrey. From the moguls’ annual retreat in Sun Valley, Rupert Murdoch assented to his second son’s proposal to kill the title that had put the News Corp chairman and chief executive on the world stage. When in 1969 the upstart Adelaide press baron bought what was then the world’s biggest-selling newspaper, it was 'his first poke in the eye for the British establishment', says a former Murdoch editor. This week, by standing behind Ms Brooks as politicians and some in his own company urged her to resign, he was facing off against that establishment again. In the intervening 42 years, the outsider whose Australian origins and taste for muck-raking journalism earned him the nickname of 'Dirty Digger' became the most powerful media owner Britain has seen. With influential interests from The Times to Sky News, he has been courted by politicians mindful of his daily tabloid’s boast after the 1992 general election victory by John Major’s Conservatives: 'It’s The Sun wot won it'." (FT)


"Billionaire Ron Burkle says hiring former President Bill Clinton as a consultant at his investment firm Yucaipa Cos. was 'the dumbest thing I ever did' after media scrutinity of their friendship damaged his reputation and made him a frequent boldfaced name in gossip columns. Burkle sounds off on his soured relationship with Clinton in a candid interview with Michael Gross for his new book, 'Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles,' coming in November from Broadway Books. It profiles owners of 16 estates, including Burkle and his palatial LA home Greenacres. Gross writes that Clinton stayed there about 80 times and flew on Burkle's private planes, but their relationship became raw meat for vulturous media once Clinton was hired as an adviser to Yucaipa in 2002. 'We were friends the whole time he was in the White House,' Burkle told Gross. 'He spent a lot of nights in LA and, frankly I never read about it. I went to Camp David and I went to the White House. Nobody was really paying attention. So I frankly, didn't give a lot of thought to what the downside was. Maybe I should have.' Vanity Fair ran a scathing profile of Clinton in 2008, which mentioned that Burkle's jets were nicknamed 'Ron Air' and 'Air [Bleep] One.' Burkle told Gross, 'I didn't create Clinton's reputation for issues with women, but I became part of it.' (PageSix)


"South Sudan is being baptized in blood. On Saturday, July 9, when the south formally declares its independence from Sudan, civilians in the disputed border region of Southern Kordofan will be scrambling to survive a sustained campaign of aerial bombardment. A report by an aid worker in the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan described a campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' carried out by 'troops, artillery, tanks, and machine gun carriers' as well as Antonov bombers. Since Khartoum has blocked the United Nations, NGOs, and the media from the region, it is impossible to know how many civilians have been killed in recent weeks, though aid workers cited in the New York Times put the number at 'hundreds.' And hundreds more were killed last month in Abyei, another border state. You might think that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for carrying out genocide in the western region of Darfur, has decided to violently nullify the January referendum in which the people of the south voted overwhelmingly for independence. But that's almost certainly not the case. A recent report by the International Crisis Group speculates that Bashir has launched the onslaught in order to improve his negotiating position on a range of issues between north and south, including the drawing of borders and the division of oil revenues. This is Bashir's idea of statecraft. As Sudan scholar Gérard Prunier once wrote, the regime's 'policy and political philosophy since it came to power in 1989 has kept verging on genocide in its general treatment of the national question in Sudan.' The essential story of Sudan over the last several decades is the story of the regime against the people. This is, of course, a perfectly familiar African story, but what makes Sudan's story distinctive is the way a small, homogenous class of riverine Arabs has used massive and barely controlled violence to maintain control over an immense and vastly diverse country. In Darfur, it has succeeded. In the south, it has failed; and on Saturday's independence day the beleaguered people of the south will explode with euphoria before settling down to face an extremely grim future, for South Sudan will be one of the world's poorest and least-developed countries." (James Traub/ForeignPolicy)


"It was March 2003, and Rebekah Brooks, then the editor of The Sun newspaper, was being interrogated by the House of Commons select committee on culture and the media. The topic: dubious tabloid practices. Asked whether she had ever paid the police for information, Brooks, a supremely confident and striking figure with her shock of wild red hair, looked unabashed and unperturbed. ''We have paid the police for information in the past,'' she declared. She was, in fact, admitting to breaking the law, which was pointed out to her soon afterwards. But she backtracked as fluently as she had come forward, declaring that she could not remember any examples and then proceeding, it seemed, to brush off the whole thing as another cheeky, walking-the-line incident in a career full of them.
Now 43, Rebekah Brooks has used a combination of charm, effrontery, audacity and tenacity to thrive in the brutal, male-dominated world of the British tabloids. She has risen to become chief executive of News International, Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper subsidiary. Her closeness to Murdoch, who is said to regard her as a kind of favourite daughter, has protected her during the recent scandal engulfing the company, even as parliamentarians have called on her to resign." (SMH)





"Until last autumn, (Michelle) Bachelet, 59, was best known as the first female president of Chile. It was just the latest twist in an extraordinary life: a leftwing activist in her youth, Bachelet came from a family that was tortured under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s; she went into exile and studied medicine, eventually returning to Chile and entering national politics, where she held ministerial posts before being elected as president in March 2006 and serving a four-year term in power. Last autumn, six months after stepping down as president, she was appointed undersecretary-general of United Nations Women, a high-profile UN attempt to put 'pink' issues firmly on the global policymaking map. As she sits down, I ask how she has settled in at the UN ... The waiter appears. The restaurant is charming, but basic, with dog-eared menus. Bachelet says she selected it for convenience and I observe that it is also cheap. “Well, I haven’t noticed that,” she admits, surprised. 'But it’s OK. It’s a normal restaurant, it’s nice, the food is good.' After some debate, I order a chopped rocket salad and soft-shelled crab; Bachelet chooses two appetisers: another chopped rocket salad, and steamed mussels. She shuns wine, without a thought. 'Are you on a health kick?' I ask. New York women who want to stay rake-thin usually only order two appetisers. Bachelet sports a middle-aged spread; indeed, elements of the Chilean media nicknamed her 'fatty' when she was president. 'No. I should and I try, but ...' She says she has no idea how New York women stay so slim: 'They drink! I have seen it myself! For me, I wake up very early, but I don’t work out because I’m preparing documents and things like that. Any meeting ... I go walking, but it doesn’t help much.' Her casual approach to ordering, like her indifference to the inexpensive restaurant, is another sign of Bachelet’s apparent lack of interest in the trivial and material."  (Gillian Tett/FT)


"Step into my time-travel machine for a short journey back to the early summer of 1997. Bill Clinton is six months into his second term, Tony Blair has just become prime minister in Britain. Princess Diana is eyeing up an unsuitable lover. Apple is dying without Steve Jobs as CEO. Broadband is something people wear around their heads while playing tennis. All so long ago, a time before time. On June 30 that year, a book was published that blew apart one of the iron rules of publishing. Children's books, a literary agent assured me around this time, when I submitted a proposal, did not sell. Kids had ceased reading, full stop. Only a television tie-in could make chain stores stock a children's book, and even that was unlikely. Twelve London publishers turned down 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' before an independent, Bloomsbury, offered J.K. Rowling's agent, Christopher Little, a paltry advance of £2,500. The original edition appeared on June 30, 1997, in a run of 500 copies, most of which went to public libraries. That's how few children were expected to read. Sales were sluggish until two awards—one from a confectionery brand, the other an industry award as Children's Book of the Year—put 'Harry Potter' into reprint. An American publisher, Scholastic, pitched in with $105,000—a record advance for a children's book—and amended the title to 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' when it brought it out in August 1998, by which time a second volume was out in the U.K. It is difficult to date exactly when, in the following months, Harry Potter went 'viral.' My family experience traces the phenomenon to the school library. Our youngest daughter brought home a copy around year four, when she was 9. Her elder sisters commandeered it and insisted that the parents read as well. What Ms. Rowling achieved—long before Warner Bros. adapted her work into films, the last of which will be released next week—was a children-led read-in that crossed all age barriers, uniting families in a primal fireside act of sharing an unfolding story, page by page." (WSJ)

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