New York Post and Daily News Battle for the Scoop on New York’s Quacks

Did Brill’s Content founder Steven Brill dodge a scheduled appearance at the New York Deadline Club’s panel discussion on corporate influences on the media? Lilly Gioia, the event’s organizer, thinks so. So does Deadline Club president Betsy Ashton, who called Mr. Brill’s excuse for skipping the event “lame.”

“Could it be that he didn’t want to hear criticism?” said Ms. Ashton.

She was referring to the alliance between Brill Media Holdings L.P. and CBS, NBC, Primedia Inc. and the Ingram Book Group in Mr. Brill’s retail Web site, Contentville.com. Skeptics believe that Mr. Brill’s magazine, Brill’s Content , cannot continue to function as a media watchdog now that Brill Media Holdings is in business with so many big media companies.

According to Ms. Gioia, Mr. Brill agreed on Dec. 30 to show up at the event. She added that she sent him an e-mail noting the time, place and date. Later, he made his big deal with the other media companies. On the day of the event, March 1, his office called Ms. Gioia, claiming that he had not known the exact time of the event and that, alas, he would have to cancel, because of a scheduling conflict.

“I was flabbergasted,” Ms. Gioia said.

Mr. Brill’s spokesman, Cindy Rosenthal, was not amused. “This is a stupid story of incompetence,” she said. She explained that Mr. Brill had been trying to find out the exact time he was needed for the panel so that he could duck out of the dinner portion of the evening because of his other plans. “I called 30,000 times between Tuesday and Wednesday,” Ms. Rosenthal said, referring to Feb. 29 and March 1. “She didn’t return my calls.”

Ms. Ashton mentioned that Bill Moyers managed to make the same event, despite having endured three hours of dental surgery that afternoon. “He showed up with a mouth full of novacaine,” Ms. Ashton said. “If anybody had an excuse not to show up, it was him.”

Mark Crispin Miller, a journalism professor at New York University, was also on the panel that night. Asked about Mr. Brill’s last-minute dodge, Mr. Miller alluded to the Brill’s Content slogan: “As far as his excuse for not appearing,” said the professor, “I’d say skepticism is a virtue.”

A while back, Jason McCabe Calacanis, the founder of the Silicon Alley Reporter , heard that John Battelle, the chief executive of his competitor, The Industry Standard , was talking about him.

“John has been going around town saying he is going to buy Silicon Alley Reporter ,” Mr. Calacanis said. “So when I heard that, I decided I would buy him–at least metaphorically.”

So Mr. Calacanis registered Mr. Battelle’s name, and those of two other Industry Standard heavies (editor in chief Jonathan Weber, New York bureau chief James Ledbetter) as Internet domain names. That makes Mr. Calacanis, who has been known to call himself the “Latrell Sprewell of publishing,” the proud owner of Johnbattelle.com, Jonathanweber.com and Jamesledbetter.com.

(Mr. Battelle was not available for comment. Mr. Ledbetter said of the prank: “I’m glad he has a lot of free time.”)

Recently, Mr. Calacanis finally met Mr. Battelle at a “billionaires dinner” (neither Mr. Calacanis nor Mr. Battelle are billionaires), where Mr. Calacanis said that Mr. Battelle denied the boast. “He told me, ‘I would never say that. That is very presumptuous,'” Mr. Calacanis said.

Still, Mr. Calacanis owns his rivals’ names. For now.

“In all seriousness, John and I have become friendly since we hung for about an hour at the dinner,” he said. “In all likelihood, I’ll be giving John and company their domain names back or putting them up on Ebay with the proceeds going to charity.”

Still, with The Industry Standard expanding its coverage of the New York Internet scene in recent months, the business rivalry between Mr. Calacanis and Mr. Battelle is more intense than ever. Mr. Calacanis has hired Veronis Suhler & Associates Inc. to raise money for his company. A source close to Silicon Alley Reporter said Mr. Calacanis is looking to raise around $20 million.

Three days before Mr. Calacanis claimed ownership of the Standard honchos’ domain names, on Jan. 19, The Industry Standar d closed a $30 million round of venture capital financing led by New York-based Flatiron Partners and Chase Capital Partners.

And now, a tabloid skirmish: On Sunday, March 5, the Daily News unveiled the first in its six-part series on the 15 most-sued doctors in New York. The same day, the New York Post ran a special investigation on how “Bad docs get off easy.” Coincidence? Not quite.

According to Arthur Browne, senior managing editor at the Daily News and the editor on the malpractice series, the Post didn’t get to work on the special report until March 3. The News series was originally set to go for March 12, but, hearing of the Post ‘s entry into the story from sources in the medical industry, the News ran with what it had a week earlier. Reporters Russ Buettner and William Sherman had been working on the News series for months.

“When we heard that, in their typical fashion, they were going to do something cheap, quick and dirty, we decided to get it in the paper,” Mr. Browne said.

Post health reporter Susan Rubinowitz said she came up with her story before she learned of the upcoming Daily News series, as a tie-in to the recent rash of medical malpractice horror stories in the news (i.e., Dr. Zorro). “It was my idea, and I worked on it for about a week,” Ms. Rubinowitz said. Making one of her final round of calls on March 3, she found out about the News series, she said. Told that the News bumped its malpractice series up, Ms. Rubinowitz said, “That’s nice … That makes me feel good.”

The Breakfast Table is a nice feature at Slate . The idea behind the column is that you take two interesting people, get them to write e-mail to each other throughout the day, and then publish the results all week long. At their best, the exchanges have the zip of e-mail dashed off in just a few minutes.

For the week beginning March 6, Slate readers are treated to an exchange between Hanna Rosin, a religion reporter for the Washington Post , and David Plotz, Slate ‘s Washington bureau chief, who is also Ms. Rosin’s husband. And so the tone of the e-mail between the two has swung back and forth between pillow talk and wonk-speak.

On March 1, Ms. Rosin wrote: “Hi, Honey. Did you see the papers this morning? (Why of course I did, Sweetie, because I stole them out of your bag at the gym this morning.)

Well, in the few minutes I managed to steal them back (while you were treadmilling away, no doubt mesmerized by Katie Couric’s on-air colonoscopy) …”

After that bit of “domestic cooing,” as one Slate reader put it on the Web site’s message board, the tone went suddenly New Republic : “Maybe the answer is less sociological than pheremonal,” Ms. Rosin wrote to her husband. “The religious right’s hatred of McCain is viscerally, inexplicably venomous. It goes way beyond his support for campaign finance reform.”

Then it was right back to the billing and cooing: “P.S.: Do you think I can post a query to the general public about our ‘bug problem’ or would that embarrass you as regards the thoroughness of our housekeeping?”

Mr. Plotz responded a couple of hours later: “Hi Sweetie, (Note my use of ‘Sweetie’ rather than your bogus ‘Honey.’ ‘Honey’ is an endearment you’ve never directed toward me in real life. Please don’t start now.)” And he, too, fell into wonk-speak as he described for his wife a photo of Al Gore in The New York Times : “This picture highlights one of my pet peeves about the phony populism of modern campaigns: American Presidential candidates prove their fitness for office by doing all the things they would never do in office. The campaign is an exercise in anti-governance.”

Reading Ms. Rosin and Mr. Plotz was like switching from a Thirtysomething rerun to News Hour With Jim Lehrer , and back again. Off the Record called to ask if the Breakfast Table setup was making them feel awkward.

“I am perfectly happy to coo over my wife in public,” Mr. Plotz said.

“It’s embarrassing to have the conversations with your husband called awkward,” she said.

Both Mr. Plotz and Ms. Rosin put their accounts of their conversations with Off the Record in their next Breakfast Table installments. You can read them–and, perhaps, sadly enough, their reactions to this item–at http://www.slate.com.