Wall Street Journal Waits for Missing Colleague Daniel Pearl; Steve Brill and Tom Rogers E-Tangle
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s disappearance last week was akin to a missile fired in the middle of the night, shaking his colleagues at the newspaper while leaving outside observers frightened and disturbed. Since last fall, when journalists were killed in convoys traveling through Afghanistan and every media outlet in New York was being evacuated or swabbed for anthrax, those of us in the United States have fallen into a kind of stasis: acknowledging the war, but moving on to stories that didn’t involve refugee camps or searching through caves.
And then Mr. Pearl went missing. A Bombay correspondent who rotated in and out of Karachi, Pakistan, Mr. Pearl was reportedly set to meet sources for a story on Wednesday, Jan. 23, while his wife Mariane visited friends. Then, having called her to say he’d be late for dinner, he never came back.
Journal protocol on the foreign desk requires that every overseas correspondent check in each night; in some cases, the paper asks that they check in every 12 hours. On this occasion, people at The Journal became worried when they didn’t hear from Mr. Pearl, especially after they received a call from his wife.
“Danny is one of the most cautious reporters we have,” said Steven Goldstein, a vice president at Dow Jones, The Journal ‘s parent company. “He left the region once because he was concerned with safety issues. That’s what makes this even more troubling.”
According to Mr. Goldstein, the paper contacted U.S. government officials in the late hours of Wednesday and told them of Mr. Pearl’s disappearance.
But mindful that Time ‘s Ghulam Hasnain was held and then released by Pakistani officials, the WSJ ‘s top editors waited until Thursday afternoon before managing editor Paul Steiger sent out the official word to the newsroom that Mr. Pearl was missing.
Mr. Steiger was unavailable to comment for this story. But appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live on Monday, Jan. 28, Mr. Steiger said: “I felt horrible. I mean, Danny is a wonderful young man. And to see anybody in this situation, but particularly somebody whom you know, is just terrible and heart-wrenching.”
It wasn’t until Sunday that any real news of Mr. Pearl’s status would be known. That day, an e-mail marked “kidnapperguy” was sent to The New York Times , The Washington Post , the Los Angeles Times and various Pakistani publications, and was fowarded to the WSJ by a “friend of the paper” at around 1 a.m. The e-mail claimed that Mr. Pearl was a C.I.A. spy, made a series of unreasonable demands on the U.S. government for his release, and included photographs of a person said to be Mr. Pearl in chains with a gun to his head, and another of him holding up a recent newspaper. Taking responsibility was a group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.
The Journal notified both the F.B.I. and the U.S. State Department and by 4 a.m. had forwarded the e-mail, along with official statements, to CNN International, the Dow Jones Newswires and the Associated Press.
Then came the question of Monday’s paper. In a series of conference calls at 8 a.m., noon and 4:30 p.m., which included Mr. Steiger, his four deputy managing editors and Dow Jones chief executive Peter Kann, the paper’s top managers determined how the WSJ would approach reporting on one of its own.
Early on, according to Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Steiger made the decision that their story would be an “A-head,” the paper’s term for those stories that run in the center column of the front page. Written by one unidentified staffer with input from others, the story (which included the paper’s staple portrait) ran under the anonymous byline of a ” Wall Street Journal reporter.”
Not included in the story were the pictures of Mr. Pearl. Mr. Goldstein said: “We didn’t feel it was appropriate. We wanted the words to be the focus of the story. The focus of the story is not about a person in chains. It’s one of a reporter accused of being a C.I.A. agent, and he’s not; he’s just a reporter trying to do his job.”
Needless to say, Mr. Pearl’s disappearance has left the paper’s staff a bit frazzled. Perhaps no news organization has been so interlocked with recent events as the WSJ . Its reporters and editors are now scattered in temporary sites in Manhattan and New Jersey after their offices were made uninhabitable by the events of Sept. 11. The Journal ‘s acquisition of a computer held by a bin Laden aide in Afghanistan helped provide new insights to the government for its war on terror. And now the paper’s own reporter had become the subject of White House briefings.
WSJ sources say that people in the newsroom receive information on Mr. Pearl the same way the rest of the world does. Work stops whenever a television report pops up. Said one WSJ source: “Everyone’s really concerned. But in the end, what can we do? We have work to do.”
Another WSJ source put it this way: “All of this is really, really distressing. It feels like someone in my family got kidnapped. And I’m mad as hell, too. How dare anyone do this to another human being? At the same time, it makes me think we’re all vulnerable–especially the reporters out there trying to get the story from the front lines. Right now, though, we’re all kind of helpless.”
Ever since their grand plans to team up Brill’s Content , Inside.com, and a host of Primedia-owned trade publications–dubbed Media Central–unraveled last October, Steven Brill and Primedia chief executive Tom Rogers have publicly made like the old pals they once were.
Of course, a failed business deal puts stress on the closest of friendships. Case in point: an e-mail Mr. Brill sent to Mr. Rogers and Media Central chief creative officer Craig Reiss on Jan. 11.
Mr. Brill, it seems, got wind of a story that Mr. Reiss had spiked at Cable World concerning how family ownership of cable companies–like the Dolan family’s control of Cablevision–was slowing merger-and-acquisition activity in the industry. Mr. Brill obviously thought the worst, because in the e-mail he sent, he accused Mr. Reiss of trying to placate the Dolans by killing a story they didn’t like.
“I hear from a Denver reporter working on a story,” Mr. Brill wrote to Messrs. Rogers and Reiss, “that the Dolans called Tom who called Craig who made Cable World kill a story about them and that Craig stepped on his dick by telling someone at Cable World that he was ‘in discussions’ with the Dolans. Do you guys sleep well at night?”
Asked to confirm whether he sent the e-mail, Mr. Brill told Off the Record, “I cannot confirm that.”
Asked if that meant he was denying sending the e-mail, Mr. Brill said: “Nope.” He declined further comment.
Both Cablevision and Primedia denied that the cable company tried to have any story spiked from Cable World .
The back story here is that the Oct. 15 issue of Cable World –one of the last issues to be published before Mr. Brill began winding down his role at the magazine–included a story headlined “Jim Dolan [the chief executive of Cablevision] misses meetings with investment bankers,” and speculated that Jim’s absences could mean that his father, Chuck Dolan, “may be preparing to sell the company.” According to sources at Primedia, the story angered Cablevision and the Dolan family.
A spokesman for Cablevision said, “We don’t typically offer comment regarding articles written on the company.”
Mr. Reiss, who was reportedly the inspiration for the boss of Kevin Spacey’s angry trade-mag reporter in American Beauty , took over as chief creative officer for Primedia’s trade publications at the beginning of the year. Sources at Primedia said the story on family ownership of cable companies was scheduled to appear in the Jan. 14 issue of Cable World . The sources also said Mr. Reiss came to the magazine’s staff meeting and explained the decision by saying he wanted the story to have a news hook.
Mr. Reiss confirmed that he spiked the story, but said it was not done to satisfy the Dolan family. “Nothing in Steve’s e-mail was based upon anything remotely factual,” he said.
As for Mr. Rogers, a spokesman for Primedia called Mr. Brill’s allegations “completely untrue–total fantasy.” And he said that Mr. Rogers and Mr. Brill remain friends. Of their relationship, the spokesman said: “I think it’s always been cordial.”
Following a round of executive reshuffling at Condé Nast that left open the job of GQ publisher, insiders are rolling out the red carpet for Ron Galotti, the former president of Talk who left Condé Nast in 1998, when he was the publisher of Vogue.
On Jan. 28, Condé Nast announced that Peter King Hunsinger, an executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Condé Nast, would be leaving the company. Taking his place is Richard Beckman, who had been the publisher of Vogue . And sliding over to Vogue is Tom Florio, the current publisher of GQ .
The GQ job was still vacant as of press time, but inside Condé Nast they think it belongs to Mr. Galotti if he wants it. Mr. Galotti was not available for comment, but following some sightings in recent months at 4 Times Square, it’s been assumed that he was trying to make some deal to come back to his old company.
A spokesman for Condé Nast had no comment.
The GQ job would be something of a demotion for Mr. Galotti, however, because the Vogue publisher’s job he once held is seen as unofficially ranking above GQ inside Condé Nast. But no matter how eager Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. may be to have the great ad salesman back in his stable, Mr. Galotti did commit an act of disloyalty by bolting to Talk , which until it folded on Jan. 18 was backed by Condé Nast rival Hearst Magazines and Miramax Films. So, insiders told Off the Record, it would make sense not to reward his defection with a promotion.
One person who sounded eager to have Mr. Galotti back in the fold was GQ editor in chief Art Cooper. Asked whether he thought Mr. Galotti would get the job, Mr. Cooper said, “I hope so.” He said that back in December, at the “Italian Guys Lunch” held by Condé Nast chief executive Steve Florio, Tom Florio, Mr. Galotti, and non-Italians Mr. Cooper and Mr. Beckman, Mr. Cooper had told them, “All you guys have been my publisher except Ron. That’s going to happen some day.”
As for speculation that Mr. Galotti would be taking a de facto demotion from his job at Talk and his last job at Condé Nast, Mr. Cooper said, “He’s the president of a company that no longer exists.” He added, “Nothing negative about Ron–everyone has the utmost respect for his entrepreneurial abilities. I think a lot of people would love to have him back in the company.”
Mr. Cooper had one more word for his potential future publisher: “He knows he’s Mr. Big”–a reference to the nickname Mr. Galotti got from the Sex and the City column in this paper–”but I’m Mr. Bigger.”
Bunim-Murray Productions–the people behind The Real World and Road Rules –have quietly reached a settlement with the young journalist who sued the company, alleging that it stole her idea for a reality-based television show based on the launch of a new magazine.
Deborah Baer, then a recent journalism-school graduate working at Ladies Home Journal , charged that she’d met with Bunim-Murray executives in July 1997 and pitched an idea called “The Real Working World.” The suit alleged that Bunim-Murray had expressed interest in the proposal, flying Ms. Baer to Los Angeles for a meeting, but later passed on the idea. When Bunim-Murray announced in the spring of 2000 that it was planning a series based on the lives of real-life magazine editors and writers assembling a magazine in New York, Ms. Baer sued Bunim-Murray co-founders Mary Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, as well as executive Scott Freeman, for $1.2 million.
After considerable behind-the-scenes wrangling, the parties reached a settlement this month. Under a confidentiality agreement, no dollar figure was disclosed. Attorneys for both sides declined comment, other than to note that the case has been “resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.” Calls to Bunim-Murray went unreturned.
Ms. Baer, now a senior editor at CosmoGirl , said that under the conditions of the settlement, she couldn’t speak to the particulars of the case.
“If the project goes forward and gets aired,” Ms. Baer said, “I will get creative credit.”
Since 1991, Pranay Gupte, a columnist for Newsweek International and a former reporter with The New York Times , has edited The Earth Times . Mr. Gupte’s staff puts out a daily Web site and publishes a monthly magazine and a nonprofit paper every two weeks that focuses on “economic growth, humanitarian issues and social development.” But at conferences like the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meetings, Mr. Gupte’s staff takes its show on the road, producing a daily paper on-site, usually in conjunction with an in-town news organization.
In the case of this week’s World Economic Forum, Mr. Gupte said he turned to his friend Jim Michaels, the senior group vice president at Forbes . Mr. Gupte has written occasionally for the magazine for a number of years and said he’s known Mr. Michaels (who stepped down from his day-to-day perch as the magazine’s editor in 1999) for close to three decades. Seeking a “co-branding opportunity,” Mr. Gupte approached Mr. Michaels via e-mail about some sort of collaboration in December.
Mr. Gupte, whose paper has covered W.E.F. meetings since 1994, said the two came to an agreement in early January. In exchange for lending the Forbes.com name to its product, The Earth Times would put out a daily paper at its own expense.
“It was one-way traffic directed at Forbes ,” Mr. Gupte said. “We were undertaking all the costs. Of course, we would have liked the attention the Forbes name would have brought. They’re an international brand.”
Everything was set, Mr. Gupte said, until two weeks ago. On Jan. 14, Earth Times publisher Theodore Kheel and Mr. Gupte met with Forbes officials to iron out the specifics. The following day, however, the company backed out via e-mail. Given the timing, Mr. Gupte said, he had no time to find another partner. When Mr. Gupte later asked Mr. Michaels for an explanation, he was told it was the decision of Robert Forbes, president of Forbes Global and Forbes FYI .
“It’s embarrassing to us,” Mr. Gupte said. “We’d already told our advertisers that Forbes was on board.”
Mr. Michaels did not return calls for comment. Mr. Forbes referred the matter to a spokesperson, who said that “after input from the various operating groups at Forbes who would have been involved with The Earth Times project, it was determined that the project–while interesting–wouldn’t be viable for us to execute at the W.E.F. this year.”
Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times , was recently on C-Span giving a speech on the history of The Times that included a surprising addition to his own family’s history. As PoliticsNY.com first noted, in the speech, Mr. Sulzberger said this regarding The Times ‘ coverage of the Holocaust:
“We terribly regret that we did not do our journalistic job. We did not fully publicize the full horrors perpetrated by Adolph Ochs and his wretched Third Reich.”
Unless Mr. Sulzberger knows something we don’t, Adolph Ochs–the founder of The New York Times and Mr. Sulzberger’s great-grandfather–had nothing to do with Adolf Hitler. Mr. Sulzberger told Off the Record, “I just wanted to make sure the audience was awake.