The Nonprofit 1 Percent

When music therapist Debbie Moran was notified she was being laid off from her job with the Jewish Guild for the Blind, her first concern was not the money.

“Me being let go is nothing,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The salary was minuscule.”

Moran’s final paycheck was $165.07 for two weeks, and while she noted “it’s sometimes a little more,” the gig had no benefits and brought in less than $5,000 a year. It was but one of several jobs Moran hustled up to eke out a living as a musician, therapist, and teacher.

Moran had been at the Guild for more than 20 years and worked with mostly elderly blind people, forming various choirs. She was at the Guild nursing home five days a week until it closed; then five days a week at the GuildCare Adult Day Center in Yonkers, and then three days.

Then came word that her program and the GuildCare choir were being axed entirely. “I am in shock but most of all horrified for my people,” she says. “They have nothing. They are old, poor, and on top of that, blind. They are totally dependent on Medicaid.”

Some had lost their sight entirely. Others with dementia were losing their memories. And now even the day care residents were losing music therapy, which could be, as Moran puts it, “sometimes the one thing that can draw someone out.”

Neither Moran nor Maria Claro (who made $38,000 a year), an outspoken aide laid off around the same time, seemed surprised that their salaries would fail to register with the Guild, whose revenues (including affiliated organizations) can go into the hundreds of millions.

At the other end of the pay scale at the Guild, it’s a different story. In 2008, the Guild was paying its CEO, Alan Morse, J.D., Ph.D., a total compensation package of $843,502. Then came 2009, the first full year after the financial crash, which compromised the Guild’s revenue streams.

Instead of going down that year, however, Morse’s compensation went up some 82 percent, topping $1.5 million.

Although he runs a nonprofit, Morse is comfortably in the 1 percent that Occupy Wall Street has made everyone so much more aware of.

In fact, if you use The New York Times‘ “What Percent Are You?” interactive tool, you’ll see that Morse was in the top 1 percent not just nationally, but also in the higher-earning New York metropolitan region, even before his big raise in 2009.

In the nonprofit world, things don’t turn out to be so different than in places like Wall Street.

Founded in 1916 as the New York Guild for the Jewish Blind and granted tax-exempt status in 1941, the organization’s name was changed to the Jewish Guild for the Blind in 1960.

A February/March 2011 article in The Jewish Daily Forward described Morse as the “head of a charity ranked among the fastest-growing in the nation.” It also described the Guild as a modern, nonsectarian organization.

At the Guild day center in Yonkers the Voice visited, most of the residents were black and Hispanic, and they were putting on a gospel concert. A Guild newsletter features a visit from Santa Claus at another center.

“We are a healthcare organization, the largest of our kind in the country, and not a Jewish Federation or social agency,” Morse told the Forward in an e-mail. (Through the Guild’s PR office, Morse did not respond to repeated interview requests from the Voice, nor to detailed sets of specific, e-mailed questions.)

Like many nonprofits, the Guild’s financial model is largely based upon receiving government funds in exchange for executing government contracts (in this case, getting Medicaid in order to facilitate services for the blind).

Or more simply—as several people who have worked there have put it—it’s a “Medicaid cash cow.”

Before the recession, when Medicaid funding was relatively flush, such nonprofits had incentive to get as many client contracts as possible. According to the Forward, the Guild had grown to 560 employees by last year, with locations in New York, Massachusetts, and Florida.

In addition to centers in New York City and Yonkers, the Guild operated a nursing home in Yonkers until 2009, when, according to employees there at the time, “it was no longer profitable.”

“It was terrible,” Moran says, when the home was closed, and the blind residents were moved to other facilities. “Imagine you are blind. Knowing where everything is is extremely important. And to lose that, at the end of your life . . .”

In a September 2011 article, the New York Daily News reported that “Michael Henderson, who once oversaw the guild’s procurement, claimed he was fired in 2009 after complaining about irregularities. Henderson said the guild spent $100,000 on imported furniture for Morse’s part-time White Plains office and he claimed another officer pocketed $100,000 from the sale of guild property.”


The Voice could find no court record of any such suit ever being filed. The Daily News says the suit was settled in 2011 and that Henderson died of cancer that same year. Colleagues who worked with Henderson allege that he was fired with the Guild knowing how serious his illness was.

The Guild’s day center in Yonkers is located in an industrial park near the Hudson River. Its clients, with various levels of vision, hail from the Bronx and Westchester County, many of whom are picked up by the Guild. Cognitively, they span from extreme clarity to dementia.

The main room is a bright, pleasant space with a lot of sunlight. For many of the 30 to 50 people found here on any given day, this is the primary point of human contact in their lives.

The choir met and performed here for the last time on February 8 in a gospel concert presented for Black History Month. Moran showed up in a black evening gown.

“I want this to be special for them,” Moran said. “I’ll go home and cry later.”

It was obvious that the GuildCare choir is a real gospel choir, but there were no matching robes. The women did take special care with what they wore, even though many of them are blind (like much of their audience).

There was also no slick choreography. When they marched in singing “This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made,” the members were bumping into one another and shaking homemade pom-poms made of crepe paper and pipe cleaners.

The music was not perfect, but that only made it feel more authentic. Like the blues, these songs were rough and rich with the texture of lived experience.

Rachel Gonzalez, a Hispanic singer who lost some independent mobility with the recent death of her Seeing Eye dog, recited a five-minute poem she had written from memory. Dorothy Mathis, an African American woman who suffers from dementia, sang “Amazing Grace.” It visibly appeared to shock the staff.

“Dorothy has days where she can’t remember the difference between apple juice and orange juice,” Moran said. “And there she is singing all four verses of ‘Amazing Grace!'”

Daniela Luna belted out “Confidence in You” in Spanish.

An old man started to weep during “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” and Maria Claro held him. The music touches not just the singers, the audience, and the staff, but also the former staff.

After the performance, Gonzalez talked about her life, which started in Brooklyn and led her to Yonkers. She might have lost her one and only service animal, but not her sense of humor. She said she’d had a reporter “checked out” for his age and appearance.

“What? You think blind people don’t care about what someone looks like?” she asked with mock surprise. “The blind men do it all the time! They’ll be talking to a woman for the first time, and as soon as she goes away, they’ll be asking their sighted friends: ‘She pretty? What’s her rack like?’

“Why can’t blind women do this, too?” she asked playfully.

Lunch was served by the professional staff of the Guild and often included clock-based instructions: “You’ve got chicken at 12 o’clock, collard greens at three, spiced yams at six.”

Before lunch was over, an announcement was made about upcoming activities. The following day, in the kind of room where choir practice or music therapy used to happen, a staff member announces without irony that there will be a lecture on “Medicaid and the federal deficit.”

During cleanup, Debbie Moran, who is technically no longer working here, had changed out of her nice dress into casual clothes and was helping others with their plates.

“Can’t we just get rid of plastic cups instead of getting rid of Debbie?” someone asked.

But it’s the presence of Claro helping out with these tasks that’s the strangest of all.

After all, she’d already been laid off a couple weeks earlier.

“They are mi gente, my people,” Claro says later. “I was there because I told them I’d always be there for them. They asked me to come to their concert, so I came.”

Claro had worked as an aide. She cleaned toilets and scrubbed floors and helped serve lunch. But she also translated for clients, helping them fill out forms and “giving people that personal touch—a hug or a kiss when someone needed it.”

Claro worked at the Guild for more than a dozen years, first at the nursing home until it closed before moving to the day center. When she learned her full-time position was being eliminated, she was given a couple of choices, including a total layoff.

“They offered me a job downtown” in the administrative office, Claro says. But that involved “a typing test” she seemed nervous about and no contact with “mi gente,” and it also meant, because of union seniority, “I would have bumped someone else off of their job, and I didn’t feel right about that. I don’t have kids. I don’t have a mortgage. How could I make someone else lose their job who might have those things?”


Claro was also offered a part-time job at the day center, but one where she would not have been working with people. “I’d have just been cleaning,” and she would have had to pay $800 a month for her insurance, meaning she’d earn “more on unemployment.”

She took the layoff.

“I lost a job, but they lost a person who cared about them,” Claro says. “And Dr. Morse doesn’t have the faintest idea of the damage he did to those clients.”

Despite this, Claro has nothing but kind words to say about Joan Clark, the manager of the center. “She’s in a hard place,” she says.

But Claro did call up the Guild’s main office and demanded to speak to Morse, who promptly called her back.

“I think he was surprised that I had the balls to call him,” Claro says. “Like I told him, I never had a problem speaking my mind. . . . Like the Puerto Ricans say: ‘I’ve been kicked out of better places.’ It didn’t hurt me at all” to confront him.

Morse, she says, wanted to know why she hadn’t taken the other jobs and told her they would let her know if any other positions opened up like the one she had been doing before. Claro still thinks he considers people like her “little cockroaches who can be fired.”

Like many people who worked under him, Claro has glowing things to say about John Heimerdinger, the Guild CEO prior to Morse. He was the kind of person who knew your name when he got in the elevator with you, several people told the Voice. He sent a personally signed birthday card to every employee every year, Claro and others say.

Morse is viewed as much more distant and cool. Like many members of the 1 percent, he does not like press looking too closely at his life. He answered the Forward with a short e-mailed statement, did not speak to the Daily News, and, through the PR department at the Guild, did not respond to multiple interview requests from the Voice nor to detailed questions sent to him via e-mail.

However, quite unlike 1-percenters employed in the for-profit sector, there is a great deal that can be learned about nonprofit 1-percenters, as their employers have to file publicly viewable tax documents showing their pay.

Over the past few years, Morse’s tenure at the Guild paints a picture of a CEO’s pay corresponding in no way with its revenue stream.

In 2008, Morse’s total compensation from the Guild was $843,502, breaking down as $199,775 in “reportable compensation from the organization,” $513,706 in “reportable compensation from related organizations,” and $130,021 in “estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations.” The Guild’s compensation committee reported on the “Schedule O” of its tax form that it had met and decided to freeze salaries for the CEO and executive and senior vice presidents for 2008 on December 10 of the previous year.

The year 2008 was a moderate one financially for the Guild: Investment revenue was down $1.3 million (after being up $10 million the year before), but the Guild still wound up with $3.8 million more in overall revenue after expenses.

But 2009—the first full year after the Wall Street debacle—was a terrible one for the Guild. It lost almost $4.4 million in investment revenue, contributions and program-service revenue were down, and it ended the year about $5 million in the red. Without attaching a date to when this would have happened (presumably in 2008) as they had in the previous year’s tax documents, the compensation committee again froze top salaries for 2009.

Seems like a logical move, given how much revenue would have been projected to be down at the end of 2008 when the economy was in free fall. And yet Morse’s overall compensation went up 82 percent in 2009 to a total of $1,533,558 (breaking down in the three categories from the Guild, related organizations, and the Guild plus related organizations in lumps of $614,610, $782,231, and $136,717, respectively).

On the same year’s Schedule O, the committee reported that “subsequently the committee met on 10/19/09 to set compensation for 2010. At that time, the committee granted bonuses to the CEO, three executive vice presidents and senior vice president in lieu of a 2009 salary increase.”

The case is never made for any bonus made midway through such a bleak economic year (one in which the CEO, whose role in nonprofits often involves fundraising, actually lost $27,372 in fundraising after expenses were paid).


But as strange as it is that the CEO’s pay in 2009 seems to be at odds with the organization’s revenue stream (a fact pointed out by the Daily News in September 2011, a possibly important date) something even stranger happened in 2010. That year was better economically for the Guild than 2009. Investments were up ($2.2 million from negative $4.4 million the year prior), total revenue was up about $10 million, and the organization ended the year more than $5 million in the black, rather than $5 million in the hole.

And in this better year, Morse’s salary decreased 42.6 percent, coming “down” to $880,941 (breaking down in the three categories as $245,513, $509,911, and $125,517).

That amount of money kept Morse comfortably within the 1 percent. But 2009’s spike of 82 percent, followed by a drop of 42.6 percent in 2010—both seemed to clash with the revenue stream the nonprofit was receiving. It’s also presumably the kind of thing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new task force looking into pay at organizations that receive state money should be investigating.

Employees of the Guild say they were told by management that Morse’s pay had been misrepresented by the Daily News and that the bump was merely a payment to his retirement fund. But it did little to assuage their ire—employee pensions had been frozen a few months earlier.

A close look at the Guild’s 2010 tax returns, reported here in the Voice for the first time, reveals an interesting timeline. That year, the board’s compensation committee wrote that the “committee arrives at annual salaries for the CEO, three executive vice presidents and senior vice president at a meeting at which the auditors and attorneys are present.”

There is no date listed for the meeting, but the tax form is signed by Morse as president/CEO on December 4, 2011—two months after the Daily News article came out and embarrassed the organization. Did the board set his pay so “low” compared with the previous year after the article came out and because of it?

The Guild would not answer the Voice‘s question on this.

To be fair to Morse, There are many 1-percenters leading nonprofits and tax-exempt religious organizations.

In 2009, some congregants at the Riverside Church rebelled over the pay package of its new pastor, Brad R. Braxton, who had been selected by a search committee. The church offered Braxton a $250,000 salary and an overall annual compensation package reportedly worth $600,000, putting him in the 1 percent nationally, but only the 2 percent in New York. Unable to tame his flock over the flap, Braxton resigned after only nine months.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation drew more attention to its finances than it probably wanted to when it tried to stop funding projects with Planned Parenthood. According to the Los Angeles Times, Komen CEO Nancy Goodman Brinker was compensated $417,171 in 2010, putting her in the top 1 percent nationally and the top 2 percent in Dallas, where the organization is headquartered.

Brinker’s pay is completely normal in the nonprofit world, as she heads an organization that raises hundreds of millions annually. Komen for the Cure rakes it in by slapping pink on everything from races to guns to buckets of KFC (as well as by suing anyone else who uses “cure” in their fundraiser). As the Los Angeles Times reported, “Among charities that take in between $200 million and $500 million each year, the average chief executive salary is $430,000, according to CharityWatch.”

But what of a nonprofit where the work is with the destitute, and where the bulk of the money comes not from large-scale fundraising, but from government sources? Homes for the Homeless is a nonprofit in the same building as the Voice. In 2009, according to tax records, it received $19,531,261 of its $20,388,962 revenue (about 96 percent) from government grants. A fancy car can often be seen outside our building waiting for the CEO, Ralph Nunez, who, according to tax records for the organization the same year, had a total compensation package of $463,291—which has him in the 1 percent nationally and slumming it with the top 2 percent in the New York metro area.

When Barack Obama ran for the presidency, he encouraged Americans to follow his example as a young man and work as community organizers, presumably by doing work like Homes for the Homeless, whose mission is to “provide homeless families with the opportunities and support necessary to move out of shelter and live independently.” But Obama probably didn’t anticipate that such work itself would lead to people making more than he does by occupying the Oval Office ($400,000 a year, putting him in the 1 percent nationally and in the Washington, D.C., metro area).


Why do nonprofit boards pay their CEOs so much? As Professor Bruce Kogut of Columbia Business School explains it, one reason is that “the nonprofit sector wants to attract talented CEOs who also could be hired by for-profit firms. To attract talent, competitive salaries are offered.

“That said, nonprofit management is not the same as for-profit—the salary has less risk (it’s not tied to profits or stock performance), and the nonprofit environment is overall less fraught with competition. And it cannot be expected that a nonprofit CEO will be paid equivalently to a for-profit CEO (who bears higher risk).”

Another justification for high salaries is that nonprofit CEOs need to run in circles with big donors to raise big bucks. But as Kogut explains: “This is a bad explanation for high salaries. The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers its head an apartment across the museum that surely facilitates dining with donors—but the apartment belongs to the museum. Similarly, a nonprofit can pay the club fees, etc. Paying a salary to support a life cycle is not efficient and not very transparent as the argument for a high salary.”

(Another consequence of having to draw support from corporate fundraising is that it can bind nonprofits politically. Numerous nonprofits the Voice spoke with during Occupy Wall Street’s height said privately they agreed with the mission, but could not appear in Zuccotti Park for fear of upsetting their banking donors.)

Kogut, asked via e-mail about Morse’s pay in 2009, noted: “An 82 percent increase is surely unusual. To be fair, 2008 was a bad economic year where everyone lost revenue. While losing revenue due to an economic recession may not be reason for dismissal, it hardly constitutes reasons for a substantial pay raise.

Kogut added: “There should be transparent reasons for this pay. A president of a university can make $1 million; however, the budget can be several billions of dollars, especially due to hospitals that a university often runs. So $1.5 million by this benchmark seems high.”

There’s also the issue that the Guild gets a great deal of its money from tax dollars. Might it make sense to compare pay of CEOs of government-bankrolled nonprofits to government salaries? Like Homes for the Homeless, the Guild is largely in the business of processing government funds to provide social services. It is, in essence, a government contractor. And the point of contractors, we’re always hearing (even though it’s often shown to be untrue), is that they’ll lower costs by introducing competition.

So how are they successfully lowering costs for taxpayers when their CEOs are earning more than “government CEOs” like Mayor Bloomberg ($225,000, though Bloomberg only accepts $1 of that), Governor Cuomo ($170,000), and the president of the United States?

At least the Guild knows where to cut costs—like Debbie Moran’s $167 every couple of weeks, which is really a bargain, since she is willing to keep working.

Moran has been asked to conduct a spring concert without any rehearsal, so the Guild can pay her for only one visit.

“I know they’ll be prepared,” Moran says of her singers, but she knows they’ll be missing the formally therapeutic aspect of her work, and there’s only so much preparation blind elderly people—some with dementia—can do.

“I work with a lot of choirs,” notes Moran, who also teaches piano and plays in church to make ends meet. “But this one was special. Because when these people sang, you could really see how it brought them out of the dark.

“We have to find a way to keep this going,” Moran says, praising her singers who wrote letters and asked anyone who would listen to contact their elected officials on behalf of increasing Medicaid funding.

Despite being let go, just like Claro, Moran has nothing but good things to say about her former supervisor, Joan Clark, and understands the pressure she’s under. Moran knows she’s just one part of a multimillion-dollar operation. She doesn’t have anything bad to say about Morse, either.

Moran just wants to play her music with her people and seems optimistic that when Morse learns what’s being lost, he’ll set things right.


Evaluate Teachers? Let Students Also Do It

In more than 60 years reporting on public school districts here and in other cities, I’ve often found students to be useful evaluators of their teachers and schools.

During the current tumultuous debate on determining which teachers must be fired for incompetence, the New York City and State teachers’ unions are fiercely resisting the insistence of Governor Cuomo (now a self-declared lobbyist for students) and Mayor Bloomberg (always a lobbyist for himself) that a significant measuring base for teacher competence is student test scores.

Indeed, the ultimate decider, the boss—State Education Commissioner John King—has decreed, no matter what compromises are achieved, “teachers whose students don’t improve on standardized tests are prohibited from receiving good ratings.”

So, there will be no input from students with long-range direct knowledge of their teachers. One such high school student, Nikhil Goyal, in the January 26 New York Times letters column is nonetheless being heard. He writes: “It’s time to acknowledge that test scores are not a correct indicator in determining quality teachers.” I would add: Teachers who change students’ lives are those whose students love learning.

That quality can be determined when a teacher knows each of his or her students and the problems each might have in learning. You can’t find that out, Goyal says, “by their students’ ability to fill in bubbles.”

Confirming this real-life, real-time analysis in a January 29 letter to the Times (part of my education is in letters columns) Randi Priluck, a professor and director of learning assessment at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business, tells Cuomo and Bloomberg: “Testing, particularly standardized testing, does nothing to enhance knowledge and hinders the development of an appreciation for learning that should begin in school and last a lifetime.”

What can really change students’ lives while they’re in school is getting the confidence in themselves that they can learn and then begin to frequently experience the joy of learning.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrew Cuomo knows that from his own life—and not from taking standardized tests. But now, with his brimming confidence in himself as he’s talked of as a future presidential candidate, along with such plaudits as the January 28 tribute in The Economist to his record as governor (“Next, walk on water”), he champions himself as an educational reformer, demanding that teachers be measured, in large part, by their students’ standardized-test scores. Think again, governor.

Now let’s go to one of this city’s teachers who strongly agrees with her union’s attack on students’ collective test scores deciding who gets fired.

In a January 21 letter to the New York Daily News, Kris Tapper writes: “As a teacher for almost 20 years, the last five in the city schools, I have no objections to being evaluated. However, I would like to see the parent-home component evaluated as well. Let’s remember that students spend only about seven hours a day in school. As a teacher, I can’t guarantee that every home environment is conducive to a student’s maximum learning potential. For this, I should not be held accountable.”

I agree with her up to a point. But Cuomo, Bloomberg, and her union should be held accountable for their not learning what more schools and systems across the nation are actually doing to learn about students’ home environments. And also adding to their schools’ medical care for students’ hearing, vision, and other health problems, some of which also might not be cared for in their home environments.

Has this need yet begun to be a demanding concern for our Education Mayor and Chancellor Dennis Walcott? (The latter is indeed beginning to pay other active attention to students with special needs.)

As for Bloomberg, he wants to reward highly effective teachers with $20,000 raises. But you say, your honor, that these raises will be based largely on standardized-test scores? Bad move.

And dig this from the Daily News, January 28: “Bloomberg also seeks to axe half the teachers at the city’s 33 lowest performing schools, which could free up $60 million in federal funding for the city.”

The reporter doesn’t mention the high percentage of black and Hispanic students in those schools who will be affected by the sweep of the mayor’s ax.

Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, is a big fan of standardized tests, like the mayor, but has it occurred to either of them to talk to the students in those schools to find out whether individual students are benefiting from the fact that some schools on the doomed list have actually demonstrated improvement in more than a few of these students?

Yoav Gonen, an excellent education reporter at the New York Post reports on January 24: “Seven of the 33 schools where the city is seeking to fire half of the staff were rated an ‘A’ or ‘B’ on their latest city-issued report cards, a review by the Post found. That means roughly 260 teachers are slated to be cleared out from schools that were celebrated just last fall for making significant gains.”

What do you say to that, Education Mayor, Rising Star Governor Cuomo, and Boss Education Commissioner King? Some students in classes taught by these to-be-discarded teachers would like an answer. And, I bet, so would some of their parents.

A New York Times January 28 editorial, “Cuomo’s Slow Education,” quotes from Andrew Cuomo’s recent state of the state address that in his first year up there, he “learned that everyone in public education has his or her own lobbyists. Superintendents have lobbyists. Principals have lobbyists. Teachers have lobbyists. Maintenance personnel have lobbyists. Bus drivers have lobbyists. The only group without lobbyists? The students.”

But there he is, kids, your own big-time lobbyist!

Encouraging the governor to be the students’ lobbyist, the Times notes: “Mr. Cuomo’s approval rating is near 70 percent, which is political capital he could use to take on the education status quo.”

Wait a minute. This most engaging governor since his father, Mario, includes in his lobbying team Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott, and the rest of the city and state enforcers of the status quo!

You have shown, governor, that you’re a learner, but, sir, you have a lot more to learn about education that can change lives and not create more dropouts. I believe you’re serious about this, so start learning how to really learn about it through the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum)——and its daily The latter, which I never miss, will educate you about schools, teachers, and even some school systems across the country that do teach teachers how to create lifelong learners.

You have to be an ASCD member to join, but it’s not expensive, and it also provides books, reports, and other challenging evidence that no student need be left behind—of whatever age.

I hope you don’t rely on your staff to tell you what’s on ASCD’s daily smart brief. Once you get into it, you’ll never get enough of it.


NYC’s Golden Gossip Era Fades

A few months ago, Richard Johnson, the 56-year-old long-time editor of Page Six, walks into the office of his boss, New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan. The venerable Johnson has recently agreed to stay on at the famous (and infamous) gossip column into 2012, adding to his two-plus decades of collective service at the paper. But just a few months into his latest contract, a new opportunity calls. The Hollywood Reporter has offered Johnson a lucrative package, worth in the ballpark of $1 million for his first year alone. That’s in addition to a change of scenery after a lifetime in Manhattan, better weather aside.

Johnson’s ready to accept the offer, but first needs to be released from his News Corp. contract; the Reporter‘s new owner, Jimmy Finkelstein, is not interested in a legal battle. Johnson tells the notoriously brutish Allan that the column is in good shape, and that Emily Smith — Johnson’s plucky British deputy since summer 2009 — is ready to take over. Allan replies, in his Australian baritone, that he’ll think about it.

A couple of weeks go by, no word from Allan. Finally, Johnson confronts his boss over the radio silence, expecting an answer, a bureaucratic hold-up, something. After all, if any one person is associated with the once fear-inspiring power — and everlasting brand recognition — of Page Six, it’s Johnson. He has earned understanding.

Allan barely looks up: Go back to your desk, mate, he tells him. And you know what? Johnson does. The most powerful gossip in New York returns to his purgatory.

In the history of contemporary gossip, New York City’s reputation for having the sharpest, most steely-nerved power players breaking news nobody else would — or could — touch was unprecedented. Music, film, and sports’ biggest boldface names shared column space with Forbes 500 moguls and politicians, all of whom feared and respected the reporters whose sources and collective wealth of otherwise off-limits information knew no limits.

Snicker at gossip pages (while you avidly read them yourselves), if you want. But don’t kid yourself that it’s all lighter-than-air stuff.

“The thing about gossip is, if you know it, you’re in the know, and most people want to sit next to you,” says Paula Froelich, the fiery, 10-year veteran of Page Six and deputy to Johnson who left last summer. “For the people who stick their nose up at it, I laugh my ass off. Complete governments have changed because of gossip. Everyone wants to sit next to someone who knows something.”

Maybe it’s a rationalization for the deep pleasure of zinging self-important and powerful people and grabbing readers, but one of the aims of New York’s gossip reporters is simple and sounds even noble: to keep powerful people in check. “It’s human nature to lie in one’s own self-interest,” says Ben Widdicombe, a Daily News gossip alum of six years, who prominently helmed their trademark Gatecrasher column for the majority of his tenure there. “Gossip is a way that powerful people can be publicly held to account.”

Traditionally leading that charge in New York City was Page Six, conceived in 1977 as the attack dog for Rupert Murdoch’s then-newly acquired New York Post. A group column, Page Six was cast in the mold of London’s Daily Express, which ran the pseudonymous, collaborative “William Hickey” column for over six decades. In 1976, at New York’s Daily News, Liz Smith had already set up shop in the classic style of a first-person column pioneered by the likes of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Cindy Adams would play Smith’s foil at the Post beginning in 1979.

Whatever the form, in the post-Watergate world the public clamored more than ever for a peek behind closed doors at not only movie stars, but also politicians, moguls, and New York’s most sacred personalities — and facts mattered. Manhattan’s gossip press delivered. “There were no rumors,” recalls Susan Mulcahy, an early Page Six editor and author of the gossip memoir My Lips Are Sealed. “It all checked out.”

With the city’s chief two tabloids leading the way, the local gossip landscape thrived, attracting competitors like the high-society-minded New York Observer and New York magazine’s Intelligencer column. And eventually, of course, the Internet, chiefly Nick Denton’s media slam-book Gawker, launched in 2003 to act as a gossip to the gossips, a meta power player in press circles when it wasn’t scooping others’ stories. In December of 2004, Johnson talked to the New York Observer about the first wave of New York’s gossip blogs, including Gawker, plugging the inherent value in Page Six’s product: “People have a limited amount of time in their day, and Page Six is tight and well-edited, so readers get the biggest bang for their buck.” The future, at that point, wasn’t much of a concern.

But recently, Page Six, the Daily News, and even Gawker, the Observer, and New York, have all experienced tidal shifts, leaving in their wakes a host of departed veteran reporters and their talent for great stories, yielding gaping holes in the spirit of this city’s once-renowned gossip industry. (Disclosure: Kamer worked for Gawker from May 2009 to March 2010, when he left to come to the Voice. In late June, Page Six beckoned to him for an interview; he wasn’t offered a job. Coscarelli has written one blog post for Gawker, which Kamer published on his last weekend there.)

To quantify and map the reach of New York’s gossip and how it’s changed, you need only look at declining print circulation, shrinking revenues, and shifting Web traffic. The trajectory seems clear. But that’s only part of the story, because gossip seems to be more ubiquitous than ever. At the same time, gossipmongering has clearly been democratized and decentralized by the Internet. That’s a problem for this city’s once golden reputation for the great names of great dirt. “I don’t think anyone in New York City has gossip cornered at the moment,” Widdicombe says.

What, exactly, happened to Gotham’s gossip glory? Here’s what we know. Or better yet: This is what we hear.

Popular culture documented the power and allure of New York City gossip early: J.J. Hunsecker, Burt Lancaster’s odious Broadway gossip from 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success, was willing to smear his own family to exert power. Hunsecker wound up No. 35 on the American Film Institute’s top 50 movie villains, but screenwriter Ernest Lehman didn’t pluck him out of thin air. The character was based on America’s popular but also widely reviled original gossip, Walter Winchell. His column, which made its debut in the New York Evening Graphic in the mid-1920s, prompted The New Yorker to note his influence on modern journalism as “a spirochete.” Since then, everyone from Madonna to Margaret Thatcher, to the various Kennedys, Clintons, Yankees, and Giulianis of this city, and far beyond have appeared, names bold, in Page Six, the Daily News, Gawker, the Observer, and New York.

Mulcahy recalls a time when gossip items were hitting at the highest levels, checking the rich and powerful for their frivolity, absurdity, or hypocrisy. Upon President Reagan’s inauguration in 1981, Page Six ran an item about Nancy Reagan’s insistence that two female senators not wear bright colors to the ceremony. The First Lady, in her “Reagan red” coat and hat, wanted to stand out in a sea of black and navy blue. The First Lady had “a fit,” though the certainty of the report prevented any serious blowback. “She didn’t call us directly of course,” says Mulcahy, “but I heard from others.”

Similarly, Mulcahy recalls a 1985 Page Six item on Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega’s penchant for spending thousands of dollars on fancy eyewear. “The Man Behind the Designer Glasses,” went a Time magazine headline the following year.

Where are the screaming fits these days from celebs skewered by the city’s gossipmongers?

“In the old days, they probably would have come at me with a hatchet. I kind of miss when people were more angry,” says the Voice‘s Michael Musto, a 25-year veteran disher. “I used to walk into a room, and half the room would run away.”

But Page Six wasn’t just dangerous for the famous. “It isn’t overstating the case to say that Page Six was sort of menacing and terrifying. Showing up in there, until fairly recently, was like a truck hitting you,” said Choire Sicha, co-proprietor of The Awl and a former editor at the Observer and Gawker. In 2008, Vanessa Grigoriadis, a reporter for New York magazine, wrote a profile of Gawker, daring to question the necessity of Page Six and calling them “emasculated.” The column responded all but threatening to rape her. The males on staff of Page Six would “take her somplace private and disprove her theory,” but, “lucky” for Grigoriadis, they, at that time, did not “like a woman with a mustache.” It might be worth noting that Grigoriadis, in a previous article on Page Six, called Johnson “movie-star handsome.”

Not to tempt fate, but many gossips agree that the viciousness — or at least the impact — of such violent prose is now muted. Gawker staff writer Maureen O’Connor says, “I can write the meanest shit in the world about Lindsay Lohan, and I’ll never even get an e-mail.”

One consensus is that the definition of “celebrity” has shifted, and even creations of the gossip pages no longer make the grade. “I’m sorry to say that Page Six helped make Donald Trump a big celebrity,” says Mulcahy. New York Daily Intel blogger Chris Rovzar, a former Daily News gossip stringer himself, adds, “Yes, [Trump] married beautiful women and had sensational divorces. But he ran a company.”

George Rush, formerly of long-time husband-and-wife gossip duo Rush & Molloy at the New York Daily News and one-time Page Sixer, saw the change firsthand during his 15 years at the Daily News: “It was supposed to be about the rich, famous, and powerful,” he says, leaning back over a beer one recent afternoon in Tribeca. “You weren’t supposed to waste the time of your readers by writing about soap-opera stars, people who weren’t worth the ink. That was one of the pleasures for the readers: people whose money couldn’t protect them from disaster.”

So who is it about now? Better yet: Who isn’t it about? “There’s just so much that gets instantly transmitted about so many ‘celebrities'” — Rush pauses to make air quotes — “we’ve never even regarded as celebrities,” he says. “You want them to go away. If Snooki passes out drunk, so what? She doesn’t have far to fall.”

When penning a gossip column, he notes, “Who you don’t write about defines you as much as anything.”

That led, in part, to his decision to take a buyout offered by the Daily News earlier this year, he says. “You felt like if you weren’t keeping up with the 15 varieties of Real Housewives, you weren’t doing your job, supposedly,” he says. “I did not have a heart for investigating such trivia.”

Rush is hardly the only gossip stalwart to quit the New York game, in part out of boredom. Elsewhere at the Daily News, Ben Widdicombe left Gatecrasher — which he had started in 2003 as a weekend column — in 2008, before leaving for work at Star, The New York Times‘ style magazine T, and, later, Harvey Levin’s Time Warner-owned, L.A.-centric gossip war room, TMZ.

Things were changing at the daily tabloids. “When I left Gatecrasher in 2008, it was all about Paris-Britney-Lindsay, and the columnists were essentially waiting for one of them to die,” he notes. “Preferably in as lurid and media-friendly a way possible.”

These days, Paris, Britney, and Lindsay have managed to cling on to their earthly existences, while New York’s gossip rosters have barely been able to hold on to ever-rotating staffs. Former Daily News “Lowdown” gossip Lloyd Grove, lured to New York from the Washington Post in 2003 for “a lot of green,” left the Daily News after only three years. He is now an editor-at-large for flashy online news aggregator The Daily Beast. Grove echoes a common sentiment about his time in the tabloid wars last decade: “The competition between the News and the Post was kind of like two bald guys fighting over a comb.”

“Note to [Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman],” he adds, “you can’t build a following for a gossip column if you keep changing it all the time.” Grove’s not wrong; the Daily News‘ gossip turnover is legion.

The Post has had its own high turnover, in a higher-profile manner, too. One watershed moment for its gossip legacy came in the spring of 2006, when the paper axed a bevy of freelancers for taking gifts indiscriminately in what was referred to by Gawker as “Payola Six,” a series of incidents so widely reported that it even inspired a Steve Martin-penned “Talk of the Town” in the New Yorker, where Martin, assuming the role of a Sixer, giggled that Page Six appeared on Page 12 of the Post because “we are getting a regular envelope under the door from the Committee to Promote the Number Twelve.”

Ian Spiegelman, who in 2004 compared Page Six to a “mafia family,” was let go from the column after a threatening e-mail he wrote to an (admittedly sleazy) publicist named Doug Dechert went public. (“That was a good one,” Rush laughs.) And then there was the infamous moment in 2006 when Page Six contributor Jared Paul Stern lost his job and almost faced criminal charges over an alleged extortion attempt of billionaire Ron Burkle. “That scandal was not a lot of fun to weather,” says Chris Wilson, who left Page Six in 2006. “It really cast a pall over the whole thing.” Burkle gave the scoop, of course, to the Post‘s rivals at the Daily News.

Froelich recalls this, saying it “was a very bad period of Page Six.” Things were so bad, at one point, that Jessica Coen at Gawker ran an item listing 12 Manhattan media names who had declined offers to work for Page Six, not including herself and “a tumbleweed.” Other than Froelich, Page Six hasn’t been able to find a suitable heir for the sheet’s legacy, the outlook of which got worse last April, when Froelich left after 10 years of working under Johnson. She was followed by Bill Hoffman in August, Corynne Steindler in September, and, two months ago, Neel Shah. But how is this a problem? Isn’t media turnover routine, especcially in “Internet years”? Shouldn’t fresh blood be great for a gossip column?

“I’m all about hiring young people,” Froelich says, “but … journalism isn’t about a higher degree. It’s about apprenticing. Maturity. Growing. Having an editor to help you understand that [an item] is not correct.”

At the same time that Page Six saw its pains go public, print was hurtling downhill faster and faster. Budgets were cut. Blogs invaded the gossips’ once-sacred territory and were scooping them routinely.

Desperately fighting back against the blogs by rushing to print doesn’t always work. During just one week this August, the (reputedly) reliable Page Six screwed up three times: a mistaken sighting of Conan O’Brien (who corrected Page Six on his Twitter to 1.5 million followers), a mistaken sighting of Hero-of-the-Moment JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater (remember him?), and an item confusing the African-American president of BET — Bob Johnson — with John Johnson, the dead African-American founder of Johnson Publishing. “That’s something no one in urban media would ever do,” says Fred Mwangaguhunga, the founder of Media Take Out, which specializes in black gossip. “Sometimes they would say that Jay-Z was at a club, but it was really P. Diddy. But as an African-American, you took what you could get.”

Asked by the Voice to chat about the business, Page Six’s Richard Johnson asked: Is this going to be a “Death of Page Six” piece? Told that it wouldn’t be, he laughed: “I’ll get back to you on it.” A few days later, via a publicist, Johnson declined to comment for this story.

Whether or not there is concern anywhere about any kind of “end” to Page Six’s power, Johnson himself has few, if any, detractors as a skilled gossip. New York magazine’s long-time party reporter Jada Yuan still thinks the Page is the standard-bearer: “They have better gossip, better sources. They’re meaner,” though she adds, “I liked it best when Paula [Froelich] was working there. She would tell me about these conversations with these celebrities where they’d be like, ‘Why are you writing this shit about me?’ And she’d say, ‘Well, did you do this shit?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, stop doing stupid shit, and we’ll stop writing about you.’ ”

Froelich recalls her time at Page Six as “the hardest job I’ve ever had,” and says that those who can do it and teach it are in limited supply. “The thing about gossip is that it’s all about who you hire,” she says. “Gossip is not easy. A lot of people tend to think it’s easy. It’s insanely hard reporting — you have to have a large Rolodex across the board held in your mind at all times. You have to understand how to comport yourself.”

Yet even Froelich — who calls Richard Johnson “one of the best professors I’ve had in my life” and cites the curiosity Johnson inspires in his troops as something disappearing from reporting in general — found the gossip business to be getting stale. “The time to quit,” she says, “is when you’re not learning anything anymore, they’ve taught you all you can, you’re bored, and you don’t want your boss’s job — that’s when to quit.” Chris Wilson, who worked with Froelich at Page Six, concurs: “I was ready to propel out the window after six years.” Referencing Johnson’s two-plus decades on the job, he notes, “He’s calm and collected, but there’s a limit.”

The proliferation of gossip outlets from seemingly anywhere appears to be unanimously frustrating. “When your field is too crowded, the quality starts to go down or the competitiveness drives people out,” Froelich says.

Lloyd Grove agrees: “Not everything is credited, and people steal constantly. It just all gets kind of chewed up, spat out. The Internet has no physical location. You don’t even know the provenance of things anymore.”

And what happens when New York’s gossip set turns to the Internet for salvation? Page Six tried launching a Web property,, in December 2007. It didn’t go too well, shuttering three months later, in March 2008. Froelich recalls: “ There were a couple of people they hired who were really good-looking and wanted to go out all of the time, but didn’t do anything. Or didn’t know how to ask even a simple question. Journalism is about asking questions, and not just pre-noted questions that an editor or producer might have already written for you.” It goes back to the idea of wanting to know more, the kind of moxie that‘s Web strategy seemingly didn’t push. A requirement for a substantive gossip begins with a reporter “who actually has curiosity,” says Froelich.

The obvious heir-apparent to New York City’s gossip legacy was Gawker, a site whose tagline once read, “Reporting live, from the center of the universe.” Gawker’s first iterations focused solely on New York’s otherwise unscrutinized media movers, and the hysterical minutiae behind them. An early narrative documented by founding editor Elizabeth Spiers involved a ban on garlic in Condé Nast’s cafeteria and subsequent debate on whether or not chairman S.I. Newhouse’s seemingly obsessive fear of garlic indicated his status as a vampire. Needless to say, Gawker has widened its reach since then.

Gawker soldiered on through the media recession — 2008 was a particularly rough year — documenting every step of the various layoffs, buyouts, and bankruptcies of New York’s biggest boldfaced names and companies, from Condé Nast to Hearst to the Times and beyond, keeping true to form that nobody was sacred. Last year, pictures of Katie Couric at a wedding party doing a “coochie drop,” under the headline “Katie Couric’s Forbidden Dance of Gin,” appeared alongside items about Annie Leibovitz’s financial troubles, military contractors in Afghanistan simulating gay sex, and even pictures of Richard Johnson playing with his wife and child in Madison Square Park. The vengeful streak of old-school New York gossip villainy and competitiveness — now also seemingly absent from Gawker — was there, too. When Allen Salkin — a Times writer who once penned a Styles piece asking if Gawker had “jumped the snark” — was laid off at the Times last year, Gawker Media owner Nick Denton responded on his Twitter: “Since Allen Salkin wrote Gawker’s obit in January 2008, site’s audience has grown fourfold. And he just lost his job at NYT. No tears for him.”

Denton’s probably not wrong: Gawker Media — specifically, the flagship site — has continued to grow in traffic and in reach, readily available figures show. In July 2008, the site broke the two-million-monthly-readers mark — in June 2010, a little under seven million. Part of this strategy was Gawker’s pronounced move away from New York-centric gossip. It’s also why the media press and fellow gossip brethren scratched their heads when Denton replaced Gabriel Snyder — an editor who oversaw Gawker’s growth into a national news outlet — with Remy Stern, the founder of CityFile, a website Denton acquired as a condition of Stern’s hiring.

CityFile was nothing if not a New York-centric blog, one that pulled only a small fraction of Gawker’s monthly traffic. Denton claimed excitement over acquiring CityFile’s most prominent feature, however: a database of profiles cataloging New York’s most powerful and visible characters, and their scandal-marred histories. Of the new, nationally focused Gawker, Denton told the Observer in February: “We were left without a channel for the old Gawker. There are — even now — some people who want high-media gossip and news about Manhattan power-brokers.” Yet at the same time, Denton said, “There just aren’t that many of those readers. They’re important and influential — but not that numerous.” Maybe Denton will bring back that cachet he once valued, but six months into Stern’s tenure, it doesn’t seem likely.

“A lot of the New York characters don’t play to a national audience,” says Stern. “There aren’t people in San Francisco or Kansas City that care about Ron Perlman’s personal life. For better or for worse, they’d rather read about Snooki than some hedge fund mogul.”

Can Denton be blamed for desiring eyeballs?

Lloyd Grove recalls Gawker’s debut on the gossip scene: “They were raucously tasteless. Taste has sort of descended on them a little bit. Even more to the point, advertisers are probably more willing to be associated with the product now.” Froelich agrees, saying, “If you don’t get page views, even if it’s interesting and five of the right people read it — and you want those five people because that’s who you covet — if 50,000 peons read it, that looks better.”

Where is New York’s gossip industry heading? Anywhere the Internet wants to take it, apparently. “Gossip is now everywhere,” says Michael Musto. “Everyone on earth is a gossip columnist, and everyone has a blog. I used to be competing with five or six people, and now I’m competing with five billion people. Gossip used to be New York-L.A. Now it’s located in cyberspace.” George Rush sees the New York tabloids as having gone through “a kind of identity crisis,” saying that “their dominance has been assaulted by the Internet, specifically TMZ, but all the blogosphere, which can instantly throw up the most thinly sourced gossip and see it picked up widely.” It’s easy to argue, as many others do, that Harvey Levin’s L.A.-based TMZ is a dominant force in contemporary gossip—and in news, as well.

Over the past two years, TMZ has been first to many huge stories, including the death of Michael Jackson. These stories end up getting repurposed by other gossip outlets, which are losing the “breaking news” edge on their competition, especially locally.

“TMZ is the Ghostbusters of American gossip — it’s who you’re gonna call,” says Ben Widdicombe (who has done work for TMZ). “Old-school New York gossip is basically bleeding to death at the same rate as the newspaper industry. That’s why something like TMZ in L.A. is so exciting. It’s a new model, and it’s working. There’s no reason why New York couldn’t innovate something like that, but so far the East Coast mindset has not been in that place. Too often, getting your gossip in New York is like reading a bad blog on a dead tree.”

As Musto puts it, “TMZ has pretty much changed everything. Nothing is secret about celebrity life, right down to their last ambulance, and they break these really amazing, dark, depressing stories all day.” It has even inspired imitators, like Radar Online, which made a name covering the “Octomom” story more comprehensively than any other outlet and by releasing the Mel Gibson tapes of the Academy Award-winning actor-director ranting about “wetbacks” and “niggers” and threatening to burn the mother of his child’s house down (but not before she “blows” him). And imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery. Musto has a simpler explanation for the rise in popularity of this stripe of gossip: “People in L.A. — well, the sun doesn’t make you that literate.”

To call the New York City gossip industry dead, though, would be inaccurate. People in New York still read it. Gawker’s page views are higher than ever, despite seemingly seasonal staff turnover. But another New York City-based gossip site — less recognized than its overexposed contemporaries — is actually beating Gawker and most other competitors for hard-nose reporting and even, at points, in the traffic race. Fred Mwangaguhunga cites‘s numbers and stories as irrefutable evidence of success: “I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that in 2009, Media Take Out broke more provable, reported stories than Page Six. That’s just fact.” Yet common recognition in New York City’s press circles of Media Take Out as a breaking news source has yet to show up. “In the black community,” says Mwangaguhunga, “Media Take Out is a more ‘go-to’ source than Gawker. In the media world, it’s different.” There, he notes, “people might end up working at the Post, or working at Gawker. They say, ‘I’m never going to have a job at Media Take Out.’ ”

New York’s most prominent broadsheets are flirting with gossip. For a few weeks in April 2006, The New York Times played in the mud with the city’s tabloids, publishing stories regularly on the Jared Paul Stern fiasco. This was the Times “uncovering the seamy side of the gossip industry,” wrote media critic Rachel Sklar at the Huffington Post. And yet almost to the day, the Times ended its own version of a society column, “Boldface Names,” which ran in the Metro section. Some, like Sklar, wondered if the Times no longer wished to “sully its hands,” though the column never even came close to being a Page Six. Which is too bad for the Times. “There’s a really important need that is slam-dunk territory for [the Times],” says Choire Sicha. “It’s very rough and tumble, and it’s about real estate and it’s about finance and City Hall politics, and it’s a great place to be in.”

Even more recently, the Wall Street Journal launched its Metro-style supplement, Greater New York, in April of this year, complete with another take on the gossip column. “Publicists are much more excited about the fact that there are three people out there printing [gossip],” explains the Journal‘s head gossip, Marshall Heyman, formerly of W magazine. “People still want to believe that it’s going to be in the paper. That sort of legitimizes it somehow.” But the Journal, too, worries about getting dirty, whether it’s overdosing on celebrity coverage or the private lives of power players. “Their positioning, the nitty-gritty piece of New York City, is really the right aim,” says Sicha, though this early on, it might feel “too diffuse.” Heyman stresses the column’s youth, too: “I think we’ll reassess in a few months and see what’s working and what’s not.”

The Daily News, meanwhile, is taking a new stab at gossip prominence, rebuilding its Gatecrasher brand by hiring ex-Page Six, Observer, and Vanity Fair writer Frank DiGiacomo to bring back items that resonate with a wide audience, while taking on Gotham’s royalty in the process. He joins Carson Griffith (a holdover from Gatecrasher’s last iteration) and the newly hired Molly Fischer, formerly of the Observer. All three receive high praise from contemporaries. Froelich calls DiGiacomo “a classic example of a really good, old-school reporter,” while George Rush is quick to note that “Frank has gone a long way to necessitate the traditional values I was talking about: mixing together politics and pop culture.” Like Page Six, Gatecrasher also declined to comment for this story.

And many gossipmongers, too, still cite Page Six as an established brand worth trusting. Grove says he reads Page Six “every damn day,” and Jada Yuan calls it “still the best out there.” Musto calls it “still my go-to place for gossip” and adds, “I think they’re doing really amazingly, considering the challenges.” But Sicha notes, “I read the Observer in large part because I worked there and I care about it.” When you worked in daily tabloid gossip, “of course you’re going to read it forever.”

Yet if Richard Johnson were to leave Page Six sooner rather than later, that could be one challenge too many. “I don’t know,” sighs Chris Wilson. “I can’t even imagine who could fill those loafers.” Froelich is more hopeful, not just for Page Six, but for powerful gossip in general: “I’m a full optimist,” she says. “I don’t feel like it’s over. I feel like we’re in a downward end of the cycle, and it will go back up. It will take someone who goes out and gets a goddamn investment to start his own fucking site. And do his own fucking reporting.”

Even George Rush — after having been off the job for only a few months and playing “camp counselor” to his young son — wonders about getting back in the game at some point. “You could,” he says, “if you were offering something better, if you got some people with money together. There are certainly enough people around to follow. The best stories are always about genuinely powerful people doing embarrassing sexual things, where they are jeopardizing some wealth or influence. In New York City, the cachet of good, juicy information nobody else has the moxie to print will never lose currency, even in an oversaturated market.”



  • Bob Dyan & The Band-The Basement Tapes is named best album in the Pazz & Jop Music Critics poll.
  • Christopher Walken wins the Obie Award for best performance for his role in Kid Champion.
  • The Voice institutes a new program of monthly editorial and advertising supplements on specific subjects.
  • Publisher/Editor Clay Felker raises newsstand price to 50 cents.
  • Publisher Clay Felker names Thomas B. Morgan editor in chief .
  • Saturday Night Live debuts on NBC. The 90-minute comedy-variety show, whose cast is joined by a guest host and musical act each week, is one of the longest-running network entertainment programs in American television.
  • FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD. This famous New York Daily News headline is prompted by President Gerald Ford’s refusal to give financial assistance to the city as it neared bankruptcy.
  • J. Hoberman begins writing for the Voice.
  • Categories

    Did I Ruin My Chances With Anderson Cooper?

    In addition to some touching support, I’ve gotten a steaming heap of flack for my current Out magazine article in which I examine why CNN’s fabulous Anderson Cooper hasn’t come out or been at least asked about his sexuality in the lengthy but guarded profiles written about him. A lot of the people attacking me haven’t even read the piece, which references my Voice writings and which is not a screed at all—it’s just a questioning look at why Cooper’s open-secret life hasn’t gotten ink, a practice he obviously goes along with.

    Still, I’m getting all the same old arguments from the early ’90s and have to drag up all those hoary, old defenses in response. You know: “How do you know he’s gay?” Gee, well, I’m a reporter.

    “His off-camera life is private and I don’t care about it.” Good, then I presume you’ll scream the same sentiments at anyone who dares to write about Brad and Jen, Ben and Jen, Katie Couric’s fling, Diane Sawyer’s marriage, Lindsay Lohan’s gropefests, and so on and so on. And don’t let me catch you reading any of those items, by the way. You’re not interested, remember?

    “But some of those people have been spotted doing stuff in public.” Well, Anderson’s been seen at gay spots.

    “No one’s forced to come out.” I never said anyone was (though they certainly should). In fact, I gently examine the reasons why he won’t.

    “But he IS out.” Sort of, but not on the record. And if he IS out, why are you so upset about the article?

    “But he never said he was straight.” Yeah, that’s in the article. And I never said he was straight either. I said he was gay.

    “Outing is disgusting.” But you didn’t think so with David Gest, Al Reynolds, Fabien Basabe, Mario Vasquez, or even the false rumors about Marcia Cross coming out or all the Jacko jokes (which started way before his public travails). Not one person complained to me about any of those reports. So producers, party boys, singers, “freaks,” and women are OK to report about, just not newsmen (and former Mole hosts)?

    “I thought it was disgusting with them too. Outing is just gross.” But what’s gross about saying someone’s gay? It’s OK to be gay, remember? Project much, dear?

    “But my cousin was outed and . . . ” Wait, your cousin is not a public figure. There are different rules for celebrities.

    “We should only out our enemies and hypocrites.” So I should only reveal when HORRIBLE people are gay? That would really advance the gay cause, wouldn’t it? In my book, outing isn’t only trotted out as a revenge tactic—it’s a statement of equalizing and truth.

    “You’re just outing someone to get your activist credentials.” Please—I was doing this before it was cool. I outed Methuselah.

    “You’re just jealous of Anderson.” No, I’m actually very proud of Anderson and in fact the article is wildly appreciative of his talent and charm. It’s just saying he’s smart, successful, and happens to be gay too.

    “You’re out of line!” But I write about celebrities’ personal lives for a living. To leave out anything gay because it might seem distasteful to someone would be extremely hypocritical. And the media certainly didn’t omit mention of Anderson’s brother’s tragic suicide. Nor do they avoid covering all kinds of celebrities’ adulterous affairs, out-of-wedlock babies, narcotics problems, bad movies, or gross misbehavior.

    “But after your writeup, someone on Don Imus’s radio show made homophobic remarks about Anderson.” So I should never say anyone’s gay because someone else might make a dumb comment about it? In that case—you heard it here first—Jamie Foxx is white.

    “This will ruin his career.” One 800-word article in a gay magazine? And a pretty gushy one at that? Besides, I’m not making him gay, I’m just saying he is.

    “If he came out himself, it could hurt his career.” But the article addresses that. The article, in fact, covers practically all the bases. You should read it.

    “You didn’t ask him for comment.” I asked CNN for a comment from Anderson and/or themselves. They apparently didn’t even forward it to him, they just responded by sending me a blanket no comment. Besides, in the past, Anderson’s turned down the chance to be labeled “gay.” And when New York Daily News columnist Ben Widdicombe asked him if he had any comment about the Out piece, he said “No.”

    “This is sick!” Oh, really? And you’re on that website all day where the fake Marcia Cross thing started and where they relentlessly out celebrities, including a lot of people who aren’t even gay? I’d say you’re conflicted. Oh, and probably gay too!


    No Peace, No Justice

    Whatever the outcome, the ultimate lesson of this case . . . is that the truth can be irretrievably muddied when the prosecution sets out to make a case rather than simply determine the facts.

    —Michael Daly, 2002 Pulitzer finalist for commentary, New York Daily News, July 10

    In his third trial, his first as the sole defendant, Charles Schwarz has been convicted of one charge of perjury—that he lied when he said he did not take or escort Abner Louima to the 70th Precinct bathroom where Louima was savagely assaulted. The jury deadlocked on another perjury count and on charges that he conspired with Justin Volpe to deprive Louima of his civil rights and that Schwarz himself violated Louima’s civil rights by beating and sexually assaulting him.

    Before trying to pierce the miasma of reasonable doubt as to Schwarz’s guilt on any of the charges, I’ll discuss a point that has not been covered in the press about Al Sharpton’s characteristic compulsion to manipulate the media and to intimidate juries. Sharpton has been trumpeting the charge that the new verdict is racist because there were only two blacks on the jury. But if Sharpton hadn’t pressed to remove the trial from state to federal court, there would have been more black prospective jurors. And Sharpton doesn’t mention that in the four cases involving the assault on Louima, all the jurors excluded by the prosecution, in a total of 24 peremptory challenges, were white. The jurors dismissed by the defense were both black and white. (In the fourth trial, police officers Francisco Rosario and Roland Aleman were charged with making false statements.)

    And when this federal jury declared itself seriously divided, Reverend Al, in a televised weekend press conference, urged his supporters to insist that Schwarz be thoroughly convicted. Accordingly, on the following Monday, while the jury continued to deliberate, busloads of anti-Schwarz demonstrators descended on the courthouse, shouting dire epithets and becoming so boisterous that Schwarz and his attorney, Ronald Fischetti, needed a police escort to get through. The intent was to convince the jury to do the right thing. Remember: This jury was not sequestered.

    As for the trial itself, and Abner Louima’s credibility as a witness with regard to Schwarz, consider that judge Reena Raggi, in instructions to the jury—as the July 17 Daily News noted—”warned them that they should view the victim’s testimony ‘with caution and weigh it with great care.’ ”

    In the June 25 Newsday, Patricia Hurtado noted, “In cross-examination, Fischetti assailed Louima’s credibility and highlighted dozens of inconsistencies that have surfaced in the numerous accounts Louima has given, including two state grand jury appearances in August 1997, February 1998, federal grand jury testimony, and four occasions in federal court.”

    On the stand, under oath, Louima admitted he had committed perjury in saying that the arresting officers told him, “It’s Giuliani time.” Moreover, Louima waited five months, until he found out his lie was going to be exposed, to admit he had spoken falsely. The lie had spread around the world, and the swashbuckling Reverend Al had led his troops across the Brooklyn Bridge, brandishing “It’s Giuliani time!” signs.

    And while Louima was testifying repeatedly that “the driver” was the second cop in the bathroom, he was never able to identify Schwarz as that cop—either from photographs shown to him in the hospital, or later, face-to-face, in open court. Yet he had seen Schwarz directly when the patrol car carrying him to the precinct from Club Rendezvous stopped and Schwarz turned around and looked right at Louima. “I saw his face,” he said of the driver, in cross-examination. And he said Schwarz was standing next to him at the desk in the precinct. But he never identified Schwarz in court as the second man in the bathroom.

    As for the prosecution’s two key witnesses, John Marzulli reported in the June 30 Daily News that both Eric Turetzky and Mark Schofield “had major differences in their accounts, which implicate Schwarz. Turetzky said he saw only Schwarz leading the handcuffed Louima toward the bathroom. But Schofield, who was standing nearby, stated that he witnessed Schwarz and Volpe escorting the prisoner and that he didn’t see Turetzky anywhere.” No reasonable doubt?

    In the July 7 New York Times, William Glaberson quoted Judge Raggi as saying, while the jurors were out of the courtroom, “I know from this trial many witnesses remember events at that desk [as to who escorted Louima where] differently.” The trial transcript is replete with witnesses, particularly prosecution witnesses, contradicting each other and themselves on this and other contested evidence. Then there was Sylvia Stewart, a police clerk, testifying for the prosecution (New York Times, July 16) that “she saw an officer lead Mr. Louima toward the bathroom. ‘I think it might have been Schwarz.’ ” (Emphasis added.) Any reasonable doubt there?

    Early in the investigation, Thomas Wiese, against his lawyer’s advice—”You’re crazy,” said Joseph Tacopina—told Internal Affairs he, not Schwarz, led Louima to the bathroom, but didn’t go inside until he heard what was going on. Wiese made the same admission to Ed Bradley on CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes (February 18, 2001).

    Wiese did not testify at Schwarz’s new trial because prosecutor Alan Vinegrad has been quick to indict for perjury. (He added two perjury counts to Schwarz after Schwarz’s previous convictions were reversed.) Defense lawyers not on this case tell me they would have instructed their clients not to testify in the face of such prosecutional practices.

    However, no witness at any of the trials put Schwarz in the bathroom. Even the prosecution’s star witness, Eric Turetsky, said at an early point in the investigation that he wasn’t sure whether he saw Wiese or Schwarz leading Louima in that direction.

    In his summation to the jury, Ron Fischetti said: “If you find beyond any reasonable doubt that my client, Chuck Schwarz, was in that bathroom with Justin Volpe assaulting Abner Louima, go no further, convict him of the perjury, because he had a motive to lie. . . . But if you agree that the prosecution has not proven by their burden of proof beyond any reasonable doubt that he was in that bathroom participating in that brutal assault, then please have the courage to come in here and say not guilty.”

    In her charge to the jury before they began to deliberate, Judge Raggi said: “If the government fails to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, you must find him not guilty.” If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?

    Next week: press prosecution of defense lawyer Ronald Fischetti. Meanwhile, do you think justice will yet be done in the next trial of Charles Schwarz?

    Related Article:

    The Schwarz Verdict: in Praise of Vinegrad by Wayne Barrett


    Are We Dead Yet?

    A New Yorker I know recently compared U.S. media companies to a forest of saguaros, the giant cacti that grow in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. With their fat arms raised to the sky, the saguaros throw grand shadows and can stay alive for hundreds of years. But scientists say these cacti can be dead for five to 10 years, and you wouldn’t know it until they fall down.

    Like the saguaros, many Web sites, newspapers, and magazines are standing tall these days but dying slowly from within. While symptoms have been noticeable for months, the blight began looking like an epidemic last week, when economists admitted that the U.S. is in a recession. Not only did the gross domestic product shrink during the third quarter, but unemployment also rose sharply, and 400,000 Americans lost their jobs in October alone. In the media sector, an estimated 100,000 media jobs were eliminated in the past year or more, according to—and many editorial types fear a new wave of layoffs any day now.

    Last week, the major dailies were careful to mask the bad economic news, putting unemployment stats on the front page but burying the inevitable conclusion. While The Wall Street Journal was optimistic, one of The Washington Post‘s stories waited until the fourth graf before quoting an expert who declared us to be “in the throes of a nasty recession.” The New York Times avoided the R-word in headlines, and over the weekend, Times writers insisted the recession was “mild” and not yet official.

    A few theories to explain this timidity: First, journalists are wary of delivering another scintilla of bad news, what with wacky anthrax and no sign of victory in Afghanistan in sight. Second, since only consumers can save the economy, editors may feel that it’s patriotic to withhold news of the recession, in the hopes that an ignorant public will continue to part with its money. Finally, media companies may be in denial about their own financial health and determined to put a good face on an industry whose services are no longer so much in demand.

    Space constraints make it impossible to list all the editorial products that have gone out of business of late. Some of the more prominent ones include the political magazine George, which folded in March; Feed, Suck, and The Industry Standard, which fell to earth this past summer; and the doomed troika of Brill’s Content, Lingua Franca, and Mademoiselle, which burned down in the wake of the twin towers this fall. In a feat of cosmetic legerdemain, the aptly named Salon has kept its skin fresh while constantly purging from within: 25 people lost their jobs last winter, three slots were shed from the unlaunched radio show this spring, and 14 were sacrificed in August to appease investors.

    Layoffs are caused by myriad factors: In 2000, after the dotcom bubble burst, ad sales began to plummet; this year, the costs of printing, mailing, and distribution rose, while media companies’ ad revenues and circulation declined. For executives at AOL Time Warner, layoffs were a necessary, if brutal, part of restructuring. No one expected the terrorist attacks, and now the recession feels like a knockout punch.

    “I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news,” says Patrick Phillips, founder of, “but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is just the way things are going to be for a long time. Media companies are going to be run very lean from now on. It may be more comfortable to ride in a car with four wheels, but if companies can get by on three, that’s what they’ll do.”

    “Because of unprecedented growth in the 1990s,” concurs magazine analyst Samir Husni, “we forget that for every seven good years, there are seven bad years.”

    Last January, when the dotcom blues had begun spreading to broadcast and print media, Phillips launched a Web log linking to news reports about layoffs. He includes editorial, business, and support staff in an attempt to be comprehensive, but an exact count is impossible because some layoffs are estimates and others are never announced. The anecdotal evidence is stunning. “Sometimes,” says Phillips, “it’s just unreal. Every day there’s another one.”

    Herewith a sampling of the magazine companies that announced layoffs this year, according to Phillips’s log: Wenner Media (more than 40), Hachette Filipacchi (about 50, not including 39 jobs from George), U.S. News & World Report (58), Playboy (90), and Cahners (about 500). Another 90 people lost their jobs when Condé Nast shut down Mademoiselle, and Primedia sent 38 packing from Brill’s Content and Even Brill‘s editor in chief David Kuhn is gone.

    Many newspapers also announced layoffs this year, including: The Wall Street Journal (16), the New York Daily News (36), Newsday (30 to 50), Morning News (73), The Orange County Register (105), The San Jose Mercury News (120), Financial Times (150), The Miami Herald (180), The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News (200), and The Seattle Times (300). The New York Times cut 69 jobs last January, 47 more in April, and about 1200 in June. Knight Ridder expects to shed 1700 this year; Reuters, a few hundred.

    God knows how these people are paying the bills; they must have fumed last week when Bush said there would be no “instant gratification” for this economic crisis. Of course, the compassionate conservatives would rather give tax cuts to corporations than subsidies to individuals in need. And no one expects the once altruistic Steve Brill to bankroll a 21st-century equivalent of the Works Progress Administration, a program launched by President Roosevelt in the 1930s that paid creative types modest wages to practice their art.

    Meanwhile, media companies continue their slow process of dying from within, a/k/a belt-tightening. This can be more or less subtle. At Primedia, there is talk of selling off New York magazine, though execs deny it. New Yorker employees can no longer use a car service unless they pay first with their own credit cards, and their expense account lunches are now subject to infinite restrictions. Last week, two days after the Daily News began soliciting pro-Giuliani display ads from readers, the New York Post did the same. And here at the Voice, offices are now closed on weekends—a decision which management attributes to “security,” but which most regard as a cynical money-saver.

    Industry-wide, complaints have been muffled; everyone who’s ever collected a salary knows the price of dissent. But last week, shortly after Time Inc. canned the remainder of its mail-room staff, 351 employees sent a petition to CEO Don Logan, demanding that he put a stop to the layoffs that have been roiling Time Inc. all year. It was the loudest anti-layoff protest since March, when Jay Harris, publisher of The San Jose Mercury News, resigned on the ground that oncoming layoffs would compromise his editorial product. The owners didn’t blink, and 120 people lost their jobs two months later.

    Welcome to the desert. Are we dead yet?

    Unemployed media types with stories to tell, please contact


    World War Free

    The global newspaper war—the biggest conflagration you never heard of has finally reached New York city. You can blame the Swedes for it.

    Typical of its inability to solve a decades-long circulation slide, the New York Daily News tried to throw the first punch by announcing late last month that it would launch a free afternoon version on September 12. Rupert Murdoch immediately threw a counter-punch: a 50 percent slash in the price of his New York Post in Manhattan before rival Mort Zuckerman’s Daily News Express even began.

    As News honcho Les Goodstein hinted to the Voice last week and confirmed in an interview in Monday’s New York Times, the handout of 75,000 Daily News Express copies five days a week was itself a preemptive strike to try to keep Swedish media mogul Jan Stenbeck from launching a New York City version of his worldwide Metro freebie.

    Only a global golem like Murdoch is assured of surviving a New York City newspaper war. Stenbeck, however, has already been dubbed “the Swedish Rupert Murdoch,” and for good reason: He forced commercial television into Scandinavia and now has a worldwide empire of satellite and cable systems. And he lives in New York.

    It’s not just the Swedes’ presence that makes this war global, however. And the war is not just about newspapers.

    Murdoch owns some of the most well-known entertainment commodities on the planet—like The Simpsons—and his vision is starting to resemble that of his cartoon character C. Montgomery Burns, the evil mogul who tries to stretch his tentacles into every aspect of the lives of Homer Simpsons everywhere.

    “Our reach is unmatched around the world,” Murdoch crowed in his Chief Executive’s Review in the News Corporation’s 1999 Annual Report.


    “We’re reaching people from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep,” he wrote. “We give them their morning weather and traffic reports through our television outlets around the world. We enlighten and entertain them with such newspapers as the New York Post and The Times [of London] as they have breakfast, or take the train to work.

    “We update their stock prices and give them the world’s biggest news stories every day through such news channels as FOX or Sky News. When they shop for groceries after work, they use our SmartSource coupons to cut their family’s food bill.

    “And when they get home in the evening, we’re there to entertain them with compelling first-run entertainment on FOX. . . . Before going to bed, we give them the latest news, and then they can crawl into bed with one of our best-selling novels from HarperCollins.”

    This real-life Mr. Burns went on to tell his shareholders and investors that “achieving more meaningful relationships with our customers is so important to the company” that News Corp. has created “a new structure called E-Direct.”

    And this is the scary future, at least for people concerned about privacy in the newly interconnected world. E-Direct, he wrote, “is responsible for developing one of the most sophisticated databases of customer information ever assembled by a corporation, telling us not only who our customers are, but what they buy, what they watch, what they read and what they want. The e-commerce opportunities in book, video and merchandise sales already flowing from this knowledge are just a trickle of what they will be a year or two from now. Such is the potential from fully activating our media and leveraging our potent brands in the new media world.”

    All of that makes Zuckerman’s real estate empire seem like just a fiefdom. On a recent list of zillionaires, Murdoch ranked 36th and Zuckerman ranked 456th. So how can Zuckerman survive a battle with the likes of Murdoch and Stenbeck?

    Don’t feel sorry for Zuckerman. Even if you don’t read the Daily News, you may be helping to prop up his money-losing paper. Only four months ago, State Comptroller H. Carl McCall agreed to pour $270 million of public employees’ pension funds into Zuckerman’s real estate investment trust, Boston Properties Inc. The first phase of the deal called for Boston Properties, the moneymaking center of Zuckerman’s life, to receive $47 million in cash and for the New York State Common Retirement Fund, of which McCall is the sole trustee, to assume $126 million of debt. If you’re one of the 880,000 state and local public employees with money tied up in the $127 billion pension fund, you now are invested in Zuckerman’s development plans. Good thing the real estate market is booming.

    Zuckerman has personally spent millions on the Daily News to keep it afloat. But even with the help of millions of dollars from Joe and Jane Average’s pension funds, he doesn’t have Rupert Murdoch’s money.

    Did the News think Murdoch would do nothing when it announced the afternoon freebie?


    “We knew there would be some reaction from that camp,” Goodstein, the Daily News president and chief operating officer, told the Voice last week. “We didn’t know what it would be. What it was surprised us somewhat.”

    Looks like some News executives haven’t been keeping up on their reading. In 1993, Murdoch started a price war in England, slashing prices on his London papers and pounding the opposition into submission. All observers say that Murdoch will spend as much money to keep the Post going as he needs to.

    “It’s ego over purse,” says one person who rubs elbows with the likes of Murdoch and Zuckerman. And that thrill of owning a New York City newspaper goes for both of them, the observer says.

    If anyone has to blink, however, it would be Zuckerman. If Mort were to try another move, like a renewed search for new readers in Queens and Brooklyn, the high-level observer says, Murdoch could always slash the price of the Post in those boroughs as well. Another onlooker, a former Manhattan newspaper executive who wants to see the Daily News Express succeed, has a concise prediction: “It’s doomed.”

    That exec recalled the last time the News tried to enter the afternoon market. It was during the 1980s, when the paper launched Daily News Tonight. “It cost $20 million and lasted 12 months,” the exec said, giving a rough tally of the damage. “And afterward, the Daily News lost 250,000 in circulation.”

    Goodstein said there’s little comparison between that ill-fated venture—which occurred in the days when no daily newspaper publisher would have dared issue a free paper—and this one.

    “The problem then was selling enough papers,” he said. Not a problem if you’re giving them away. “It’s a different business today,” he added. “We’ve done the numbers.”

    Asked whether the News‘ announcement simply woke the sleeping giant Murdoch, Goodstein insisted, “It wasn’t a case of waking a sleeping giant. We didn’t do it to go after the Post. We did it to fill what was a desperate void in the afternoon.”

    But who’s being desperate here? Veteran industry analyst John Morton said of the Daily News Express, “I’m not terribly optimistic. The potential gains are not very big. They tried it in the ’80s and it was a calamity. If Murdoch’s strategy [of slashing the price] is as successful in New York as it was in London, it could be a big problem for the Daily News.”

    No, said Goodstein, “the analysts don’t understand. Tonight was the same paper as the Daily News, only with a different front page [and] a different wrapper around it.” The Express, he said, will be 40 to 48 pages, aimed specifically at the Internet generation, with 3000 to 4000 words per story, “more like USA Today.”

    And an awful lot like what people can get online. Goodstein said CBS MarketWatch would provide 90 percent of the content of the Express‘s business coverage.

    The aim, he said, is to reach new readers, people who don’t now rely on newspapers. “The Daily News is the main product,” he said. “It’s like the Daily News in the morning is the novel, and the Daily News Express is the short story. It’s for the younger reader—it’s more like a Web site viewer, with short bites. Yes, we want to lure people to the Daily News.”

    Sounding like a typical Internet corporate dweeb, Goodstein said, “What we feel is that all of this helps promote our brand.”

    But analysts like Morton know the paper’s history of losing circulation.

    “The Daily News‘ lifeblood was the five boroughs,” he said. “But the middle class started fleeing to the suburbs.”

    Going to the suburbs to recapture them is out of the question. To the east is Newsday, a profitable paper just swallowed up by the Tribune Co. multimedia conglomerate. To the north is Gannett, the nation’s McPaper chain. To the west are scads of Jersey papers.

    And on the far western horizon, almost as scary as Murdoch, are the Vikings.

    Rupert Murdoch has his trusted lieutenant, Peter Chernin. And Jan Stenbeck has his: a fellow named Pelle Tornberg. The Swedes have already landed in Philadelphia with a free newspaper called Metro, distributed in Philly’s subways. They’re doing the same thing in Toronto. The cookie-cutter Metro freebie is spreading around the world. What kind of paper is it? For depth, Metro makes USA Today seem like The Wall Street Journal. And the head of the Swedes’ newspaper operations in North America is Jan Sjowall, who was once the king of infomercial production in Europe.

    Groan, but don’t laugh. Stenbeck, educated at Harvard and at Morgan Stanley, has already conquered Stockholm, Budapest, and Amsterdam, forever shaking up the newspaper markets in those cities. His Modern Times Group, which, in just the past year, also has moved into Rome and Santiago, Chile, has targeted 60 other cities around the globe.


    And these Swedes can be just as pushy as anyone else. The Swedish press claims that one of their countrymen invented New York’s skyscraper elevators, another one had the Bronx named after him (that “fact” is in dispute), and yet another Swedish immigrant turned out to be Donald Trump’s grandfather.

    Stenbeck himself, now 57, is not just off the boat. He lives on Sutton Place and on a farm in Locust Valley, Long Island.

    He’s enough of a New Yorker that the Swedish press calls him an expatriate. And he’s enough of a rich New Yorker that the housekeeper who answered his phone on Long Island last week said he was unavailable because he was in either Sweden or Luxembourg, where he owns a castle.

    Les Goodstein knows who these freebie-newspaper Swedes are. So do the other biggies. The New York Times and Gannett both went to court in Philly to fight the distribution of Metro by that city’s transit authority. The Americans lost.

    In London, publishers tried a preemptive strike against Metro by launching their own freebies and price cuts. Asked if the Daily News Express was a similar move, Goodstein somewhat confirmed it, saying, “Whatever new endeavor you do, you want to be first.” In a September 11 New York Times story about the debut of the Daily News Express, Goodstein acknowledged that the threat from the Swedes prompted his company to act. But the Times story neglected to point out its own company’s attempt to keep the Swedes out of Philly’s subways.

    Papers in Toronto tried to preempt the Swedes earlier this year, and the newspaper war there is literally ablaze—so many freebies are winding up in the Toronto subway tunnels that traffic-crippling fires have broken out.

    It’s no comfort to New York’s other publishers that Metro‘s North American operations are headquartered in Manhattan. But the Swedes’ point man, Floyd Weintraub, is playing it close to the vest—while keeping an eye on the dustup between the News and Post.

    “We’re watching it,” said Weintraub, Metro‘s North American vice president.”We’re sometimes amazed, but we’re never surprised.”

    So when’s the launch date for a New York City version of Metro? The Swedes have been known to blitz a city, without warning, with 200,000 copies of a new free paper. “We really don’t want to speculate,” said Weintraub. “There’s no benefit to us to speculate.”

    For now, he noted, Metro has 6 million readers in 11 countries. What they get, he said, is a “very conservative” approach. “We’re nonpartisan: We give a summary of the news,” he added. “We’re very conservative. Just the facts. Like the all-news radio stations.”

    The Swedes change the way newspapers are produced wherever they go. And they’re going.

    “We’ll continue to expand,” promised Weintraub. “But when we are ready to do it, we do it.”


    Who Will Indict the Lawbreaking Mayor?

    Patrick Dorismond just said no to an undercover drug cop, then wound up dead and smeared.

    —Jim Dwyer, New York Daily News, March 19

    Mayor Giuliani said yesterday he won’t visit the family of Patrick Dorismond because he doesn’t want to give the “impression” the police shooting was unjustified.

    New York Post, March 23

    In a March 21 letter to The New York Times, David Hawkins asked: ‘Is it now standard practice for the Police Department to instigate criminal behavior?’

    Although there has been some very good reporting on the police killing of Patrick Dorismond, it is necessary to answer Hawkins’s question—all of us should know what constitutional rights we’ve lost so we can be on guard.

    Although Howard Safir’s undercover Operation Condor—which ended Dorismond’s life—was started on January 17, this kind of proactive policing, as it’s known in law enforcement parlance, has been with us for a long time throughout the country.

    Instead of focusing all law enforcement resources on solving crimes, the thinking goes, why not get plainclothes cops—like those dressed as derelicts who accosted Dorismond—to create crimes? That is, to entice people into breaking the law and then bust them.

    This way the number of arrests and convictions mounts; the police department looks good; and the mayor looks to higher office. The “buy and bust” operation, in which Dorismond was targeted, is a common version of proactive policing. It is dangerous, not only for the unsuspecting mark, but also, at times, for the hunters. Cops have been killed when a “buy and bust” went bad.

    But how come it’s legal to entrap someone like Dorismond, who, unarmed, was standing with a friend, trying to get a cab?

    Giuliani, in what is particularly disgusting behavior, even for him, is telling us that Dorismond was himself responsible for being killed.

    But the cops who approached Dorismond knew nothing about the man they were hoping would sell them drugs. They didn’t know if he had a criminal history or not.

    They couldn’t know that Giuliani would later wave around Dorismond’s record, in viciously exaggerated form, like Joe McCarthy with his list of Communists in the State Department. (Dorismond served no jail time for any of his arrests.)

    In a constitutional democracy, how can anyone be ensnared this way by the police? For years, there was an often fierce argument on the Supreme Court about entrapment, but, so far, police have been granted appalling latitude.

    Entrapment is no defense—according to United States v. Russell (1973)—unless the conduct of the government “is so outrageous” as to violate due process (fairness). Doesn’t the killing of Dorismond meet that definition?

    There was a moment of hope for due process in these cases in a 1982 decision (Jacobson v. United States). In a bitterly divided five-to-four decision, Justice Byron White said for the majority:

    “Government agents may not originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime so that the Government may prosecute.”

    The police tried to entrap Patrick Dorismond, but he refused to commit a crime. He angrily rejected the cop’s inducement.

    In any case, since Justice White’s ruling, the Supreme Court has been less and less interested in the rights of individual citizens against the state. The passion of the current majority is to protect the rights of individual states against the federal government.

    There are a number of professors of constitutional law I call for guidance on these matters. One of them, Yale Kamisar, who teaches at the University of Michigan, is a leading expert on the individual’s right of privacy against the government.

    With regard to the killing of Patrick Dorismond, Kamisar told me: “As a general rule, the police do not even need a reasonable suspicion that someone is predisposed to criminality to approach him or her and provide an opportunity to commit a crime.

    “The only way an entrapment defense might work is if the police accost someone, offer an extraordinarily attractive offer to do something criminal, and that offer is accepted.

    “Of course,” Kamisar continued, “this kind of ‘buy and bust’ operation is an invasion of privacy, but the way the law is now, the police do not need any specific reason to ask someone to engage in a crime.”

    One thing is certain in the aftermath of the killing of Patrick Dorismond. The mayor of this city committed a crime in authorizing the release of Patrick Dorismond’s sealed juvenile release record. That case was dismissed before it ever got to a judge.

    Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, is a nationally recognized expert on legal ethics, among other matters. He was quoted in the March 21 Daily News about sections 375.1 and 381.3 of the Family Court Act, which mandate that a juvenile’s arrest and disposition shall “be withheld from public inspection.”

    Gillers said Dorismond’s juvenile record “should never see the light of day unless the court allows it.”

    Speaking for the state Office of Court Administration, David Bookstaver added: “Absolutely no information was released about the Dorismond case by the court system.”

    Rudolph Giuliani is, in fact, a lawbreaker.

    Meanwhile, 12-year-old Felix Serieux of East New York tells The New York Times: ” ‘Say no to drugs.’ They tell you that in school. So what happens now? Do you have to say yes?”

    41 Bullets and Counting…: The Voice archive on NYPD brutality.