Bill Bradley and Al Gore had a fierce debate at the Apollo Theater on Feb. 21 and the winner was … Time Warner Inc.
Time Warner aired the debate exclusively on CNN and various Time Warner journalists ( Time managing editor Walter Isaacson, CNN guy Jeff Greenfield) hogged all the camera time during the post-debate show. In fact, non-Time Warner journalists were not allowed in the hall, which seats more than 1,450.
A press release that went out before the big night advised reporters: “Members of the working press will not have access to the auditorium where the debate is taking place.” Nonetheless, Time reporter Eric Pooley was inside, wearing his press badge around his neck.
Matt Cooper, deputy Washington bureau chief at Time and the magazine’s organizer for the debate, said there simply was not enough room. “If you want to go up to Harlem and say to a church group that you can’t sit here because we need the seats for press, go ahead,” said Mr. Cooper.
Mr. Isaacson, who said he saw journalists from other news organizations in the crowd, but not necessarily reporting, said, “It was not a conscious policy of ‘Let’s exclude the working press.’ … I snuck my wife in without a ticket, which I guess gives you an indication of what the situation was like that night.”
James Dao of The New York Times did manage to get in and file a colorful story on the raucous scene. Adam Nagourney, the political reporter who wrote the main Times story, said his colleague worked his way in without a press pass. “Frankly, if Jim hadn’t gotten in, I would have been annoyed, to put it mildly,” Mr. Nagourney said. (Mr. Dao did not return a call for comment.)
Pressed on the point of not inviting non-Time Warner reporters into the Apollo, Mr. Cooper relented: “Fine. Next time, maybe there should be a pool.”
Most reporters on duty worked out of the United House of Prayer for All People across the street, where there were phone lines, TV monitors, soda and sandwiches. Gerald Levin, chief executive of Time Warner, watched the debate from an Apollo seat, then crossed West 125th Street for a visit to the trenches afterward. The room–it was the church cafeteria–was a frenzy of post-debate spin and furious typing. Whoopi Goldberg, Spike Lee, Al Sharpton, David Dinkins, Harvard professor Cornel West, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson and local politicians were giving quotes to any journalist willing to listen.
Mr. Levin, dressed in his post-America Online-merger-announcement uniform of slacks, tweed jacket and no tie, looked pleased. Sure, hosting the debate had cost his companies a small fortune–to equip the media center, he had to dig up the street outside to install enough phone lines; he also had to buy a satellite dish to get the debate broadcast, because the United House of Prayer isn’t wired for cable–but this little exercise in synergy seemed to be going smashingly. Even the questions to the candidates culled from e-mails were from users of Internet services Time Warner either owns or will be merged with soon enough.
Mr. Levin settled in to watch Ms. Goldberg telling why she supports Mr. Gore at a podium set up in front of a backdrop of CNN and Time magazine logos. When Ms. Goldberg finished, one of the publicists pulled her aside and asked, “Would you like to meet Mr. Levin?”
The actress made her way over to the media executive, and the two made some small talk before Ms. Goldberg got to business–a discussion of the Apollo itself. “Has anyone made the quintessential documentary?”
“We’ve done a short documentary,” Mr. Levin said.
“I’d like to be the narrator,” Ms. Goldberg said. “I’m very good at it.”
Mr. Levin nodded encouragingly, but didn’t make any commitments before Mr. West, a professor at the Harvard Divinity School known for his Marxist views, walked up to Mr. Levin and gave him a big bear hug. Mr. West asked if he had heard any of his speech in favor of Mr. Bradley a few minutes earlier.
Mr. Levin hadn’t arrived yet, but said, “If I knew you were going to speak, I would have been here.”
Then it was Mr. Sharpton, who had been pushing for a Democratic debate in Harlem for weeks and had, one might surmise, gotten the privilege of asking the first question of the debate. Mr. Sharpton thrust out his hand, which Mr. Levin shook, and said, “Thank you, Reverend.”
The Nasdaq television screen that graces the nine-story cylinder attached to the 4 Times Square Condé Nast building may be a hit with tourists, but those who work inside it don’t like it.
Affectionately referred to as “the can,” the Nasdaq sign, a television screen that curves around the cylinder, is five feet away from the building wall. The window cutouts are tunnels that don’t provide much light and don’t make for good views.
There’s also the fear that sitting every day a few feet away from a giant TV screen may not be good for your health.
One Gourmet staff member who moved to another office said, “We were lucky to get out because if we are ever going to reproduce, we’d like to not have aliens.”
Gary Nalven, president of Saco Smartvision Corporation, the U.S. subsidiary of the Canadian company that built the sign, said Condé Nast workers have nothing to fear from the more than 18 million light-emitting diodes that make up the screen.
“I know of no health warnings connected to this low-current device,” Mr. Nalven said. “This is the most benign type of equipment.”
Mr. Nalven did admit, though, that he knows of no other sign of that size that people sit that close to for so long. (They’re usually found in stadiums and malls.) The magazines that get to sit in the can include Self , Bride’s , GQ , House & Garden and Vanity Fair .
Adrienne Rhodes, a tough-talking public relations representative for the Daily News since 1993, is trying to get off the flack track. On Feb. 8, she sent a memo to her “colleagues and friends” at the tabloid, announcing that she would become a consultant for the paper. Her reason: She wants to “explore other career opportunities, including a possible run for a Congressional seat.”
Daily News press releases have lately come from Emma Clurman, the paper’s senior vice president of corporate communications.
Ms. Rhodes told Off the Record that she is working with the Republican Party in Manhattan on her potential campaign.
“I have been in discussions with the leadership of the Republican Party that were very encouraging … We’re going to take small steps towards launching a campaign.”
Ms. Rhodes was not known for her political finesse as the News ‘ authorized contact with the outside world.
“She doesn’t fit the definition of a glad-handing, be-nice-to-people kind of politician,” said one News staff member.
Describing some of her qualifications, Ms. Rhodes said she had been honored by Gov. George Pataki and was appointed to the Bush Administration’s U.S. Commission on Minority Business Development.
In her swan song as the News in-house flack, Ms. Rhodes also claimed, “On the media relations front, we have been consistently successful in generating more coverage of Daily News content on TV broadcasts than any other local newspaper on a weekly basis.” She added, “We have also been effective in communicating controlled messages during numerous crises … most recently, Scratch-n-Match.”
In that incident, the Daily News mistakenly printed the wrong numbers in its lottery-style sweepstakes game. Readers who thought they had won as much as $100,000 ended up disappointed and angry. The fiasco led to the controlled-message headline on the front page of The New York Times : ” Daily News Error: $100,000 Dreams Turn to Nightmare.”