Red Herring Editor Does Double Duty as Bush Fund-Raiser

It’s not uncommon for editors to try to tell their readers whom to vote for. It’s a little more out of the ordinary for them to beg their readers for money on behalf of their favorite candidates. That’s what’s going on at The Red Herring , a publication that covers the business side of the Internet.

If you haven’t guessed already, this is an item for your “E-Ethics” file.

The Red Herring , like many other Net-related publications, offers free newsletters to readers by e-mail, including a weekly dispatch from its editor in chief, Tony Perkins. This is called “The Red Eye.” It’s typically a series of short reports on conferences and companies, but the one for Friday, Sept. 3, was a bit different, with the subject heading, “Presidential Politics & Silicon Valley.”

It began, “Tony Perkins here with a special invitation.” What followed was a solicitation for contributions of $500 or $1,000 to George W. Bush’s campaign. Donors going along with Mr. Perkins’ request will get a ticket to Sept. 30 luncheon with Mr. Bush in Silicon Valley. Mr. Perkins’ pitch concluded: “P.S. If you want to be a really big Fish, you can become a co-host of this event by committing to raise $5,000, which will get you into a special V.I.P. reception with the Governor. In addition to hanging out with the other big Fish, you can also get your picture taken with the next President of the United States. Please make checks payable to ‘Bush for President, Inc.'”

Mr. Perkins, reached on vacation in Spain, said it was a mistake for his e-mail to go out under his editorial heading as “The Red Eye.” The message, he said, was technically a paid advertisement sent to e-mail addresses rented from The Red Herring ‘s database.

“I wasn’t trying to fool anyone out there. I don’t need to hide behind my column,” Mr. Perkins said.

The cost of sending the e-mail out, around $900, will be paid by Mr. Perkins to Red Herring Communications, of which he is the largest shareholder, and then be recorded as an in-kind contribution to the Bush campaign, the editor added.

According to Kristin Hueter, a Bush campaign fund-raiser from northern California who is handling the responses from Mr. Perkins’ e-mail, 92 people replied over the weekend. She was unable to say how many pledged contributions and how much.

Prompted by calls from Off the Record, Red Herring staff members began looking into the snafu. “If we have behaved inappropriately, we will send out an apology,” said Red Herring editor Jason Pontin said.

Mr. Perkins has made no secret of his support for Mr. Bush. In May, Mr. Perkins stepped down as chief executive of Red Herring Communications but stayed on as editor in chief of the magazine, in part because he wanted to co-chair a fund-raising group, Technology and Entertainment Entrepreneurs for George W. Bush. Mr. Perkins wrote of the group in his monthly Red Herring column in the July issue: “Our goal is to recruit 2,000 entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to donate the legal limit of $1,000 each to the campaign.”

There appeared to be a quid pro quo involved. Mr. Perkins added, “And at [ Red Herring editor Jason Pontin's] request, I have secured an interview with George W. himself, in which the Texas governor will articulate for the first time his positions on the economic and political issues that most directly affect the technology industries.”

That’s one exclusive The Industry Standard , Red Herring ‘s prime competitor, won’t be getting. And it cost just $2 million in fund-raising by the editor in chief.

Mr. Perkins is scheduled to conduct the interview himself in Austin, Tex., later this month. Mr. Perkins said, “Did I use my connections to arrange the interview? Yes.” But he added, “When I am asking questions, I am asking questions as a journalist.”

Jonathan Weber, editor in chief of The Industry Standard , was none too sure. “I think that that’s not valid. One of the bases of journalistic principle is that you don’t have a personal relationship with your subject.”

Tom Goldstein, dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, said, “Even if you do want to wear your politics on your sleeve, there’s certain journalistic conventions to abide by. One of them is not to become a campaign fund-raiser.”

On this one, Mr. Goldstein is right.

Mark Golin’s got a secret. While other Condé Nast editors in chief are trapped behind the sealed windows of their shiny new tower at 4 Times Square, the Details big shot’s eighth-floor office has a window that opens. Top that, Anna Wintour.

Mr. Golin, a notoriously incessant smoker, is known to keep the window cracked for ventilation.

When asked by Off the Record if, indeed, his window opened, Mr. Golin said, “Untrue.” And then, “Let’s put it this way then–no comment.” Next, he tried another tactic: “Please don’t print that one.” Why not? “Because then I won’t have one.”

Ted Rall, the cartoonist whose work appears in Time and Fortune , has accused New York Press illustrator Danny Hellman of libel and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, in a $1.5 million lawsuit filed Aug. 19 in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

The filing comes after Mr. Hellman sent out a prank e-mail. In the e-mail, Mr. Hellman was posing as Mr. Rall. He sent the letter to about 30 people.

Mr. Rall got Mr. Hellman angry with an article in the Aug. 3 edition of The Village Voice attacking Art Spiegelman, the author of Maus . Mr. Rall portrayed Mr. Spiegelman as the self-appointed lord of the cartooning world in the midst of an artistic decline.

In a retaliation of sorts, on Aug. 5, posing as Mr. Rall, Mr. Hellman signed up about 30 people–a group that, he claims, included Mr. Rall and his friends–to an e-mail discussion group he called “TedRallsBalls.” The welcome note to the group, signed with Mr. Rall’s name, said the list should be “a rowdy punk free-for-all where courageous cartoonists with balls can boldly tear down all those imperious golden idols of yesterday.”

What followed on the list were other fake e-mail messages from publishing people such as S.I. Newhouse Jr. begging to get off the e-mail list.

Mr. Rall checked his e-mail shortly after Mr. Hellman sent the message. Then he went into a panic that the prank was making him look like an idiot in front of media heavies. “I was like, my career is in total meltdown,” he said.

Two days later, Mr. Hellman fessed up to the prank, after Mr. Rall and his attorney, Paul Levenson, sent him a letter to cease and desist.

“I created this list to play a prank on Rall,” Mr. Hellman wrote. “The essence of the prank was this: to create the illusion that untold numbers of publishing industry professionals were receiving messages from the list, and were not happy about it.”

So far, Mr. Rall has identified just one real publishing professional who actually received the counterfeit message: Nicholas Blechman, art director for the New York Times Op-Ed page.

Mr. Rall’s $1.5 million claim is now a question for the court to decide. Mr. Hellman has until the end of September to file a response to the suit.

Martin Garbus, a libel attorney who has had clients ranging from Lenny Bruce to this newspaper, assessed the case: “Mr. Rall’s going to have to show that he has been hurt. If it’s just his feelings hurt, he’s not going to get much money. If he loses jobs because of it,

then that would become a different situation.”

Mr, Garbus also noted that the stronger one’s professional standing, the more difficult it can be to win a libel suit–simply because it is less likely that one’s reputation can be tarnished.

In Mr. Rall’s lawsuit papers, nearly two pages detail his professional accomplishments, while he dismisses Mr. Hellman in two lines as “a relatively minor New York based illustrator whose illustrations appear in such publications as Screw and Brill’s Content .” (A low blow! Mr. Hellman’s work has also appeared in Time , Entertainment Weekly and The Wall Street Journal , among other publications.)

Mr. Rall argues that possibly clouding the mind of Times Op-Ed page art director Mr. Blechman is damage enough. “The biggest chunk of cash I’ve ever gotten in my life was my last book advance and I got that book because of an article I had written for the Op-Ed page,” Mr. Rall said. “I can’t call Blechman and pitch him something. What am I going to say? ‘Hey, Nicholas, how’s it going? Oh, yeah, I’m that jerk that brought that asshole Danny Hellman into your life.'”

Unsurprisingly, Andrew Krents, Mr. Hellman’s lawyer, disagrees. “I haven’t seen any evidence that Mr. Rall was harmed by any communication whether it was delivered to Blechman or not,” he said.

When reached by Off the Record, Mr. Blechman said he received Mr. Hellman’s e-mail messages, but would not say what he thought of them or whether he was any less likely to hire Mr. Rall again in the future. “If I answer that question,” Mr. Blechman said, “then I’m taking sides in the whole thing, and from the get-go I just didn’t want to get involved in this.”

Mr. Blechman did say, though, that he was annoyed to be the linchpin of Mr. Rall’s lawsuit. “The whole thing is such nonsense to me, so I would like to leave the lawsuit to those two people.”

Carl Swanson is vacationing in Russia.