"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 September 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 9.28.00


Many Phish fans were totally unready for this reality as Ohio police arrested nearly 90 revelers on substance related charges outside a concert in Cuyahoga Falls. Undercover police prepared for the bust by visiting Phish fan sites to pick up the appropriate lingo for everything from LSD and Ecstasy to hemp jewelry and grilled cheese sandwiches. It seems questionable whether police needed to bother with so much cyber-research, as scoring "Molly" at a Phish show is easier than scoring stock tips at a Kenny G show. Still, it now seems indisputable that the Internet has become just another tool for the man. There is comfort, however, in knowing that even such a sour event could not stop Phish from another evening of uninspired guitar noodling around flat, lifeless songs.

It's a lesson taught by drug-dealers and AOL: addiction comes easier when the first hit is free. And nothing is quite as addictive as a TiVo. The unholy union of a computer and a VCR, the TiVo is heroin for couch potatoes - it lets you do things to television that only Elvis and a .45 have accomplished before. Want one? It's free, dude. What's the matter, you chicken?

Ready to retire their 14-hour model, TiVo could have either bulldozed the whole lot into a hole in the ground or created an enormous early-adopter rumpus and the attendant free publicity by giving them away. Guess which one they chose. If you high-tail your corpulent, sofa-bound ass over to the Great TiVo Giveaway and burp up a 250-word essay on why you desperately need the ability to bend the boob tube to your will, you could win a free TiVo. A simple cynic might suspect that the company is doing this only to generate revenue from the required subscription fee; but the more sophisticated cynic believes that they're bribing a whole generation of epinion makers. Hand out a box to anybody capable of making a decent argument for its existence, and you've created a zombie army of sales people on the cheap, all of whom will happily set about addicting their friends, neighbors, co-workers and pets. Pretty clever for something that combines the idiot box with the dummy pipe.

Online real estate shares an endearing trait with Florida swampland: It can be sold once, sold twice, sold again — as many times as shareholders demand, really. That's why Yahoo's recent advertising deal with Barnes & Noble is unremarkable. A three-year deal to put Amazon.com links on Yahoo search results recently expired, but Yahoo had been pimping for the Riggio brothers' text saloon for over a year now in its shopping directory.

This isn't the first time we've seen an "exclusive" deal turn out to be anything but. The most famous example came when, in the same week, AOL sold beachfront property on its proprietary service to Barnes & Noble, then turned around and sold links on its AOL.com website to Amazon.com. Salon, infamously, had a deal with Borders to direct book readers to Borders' website. One small problem: in those days, Borders didn't have a website. In search of revenue, Salon turned to Barnes & Noble for its commissions. But lately, the scrappy site has also been touting Amazon.com DVDs.

The most surprising double-dealing, though, comes from the New York Times. While the Times has long been a Barnes & Noble supporter, online and offline — to the point of compromising its editorial integrity — it's lately let slip a few Amazon.com ads right below its long-running homepage spots for Barnes & Noble. The Amazon ads tout CDs, DVDs, videogames — anything but books, of course, since those are Barnes & Noble's "exclusive" turf. (For what it's worth, Suck splits the difference, too.) So we have to ask: Do you believe it's a coincidence that Times publishing reporter Doreen Carvajal has been pulled from covering Amazon.com since May, in favor of filing hard-hitting stories about scary puppets? If you think so, we've got some prime plots in the Everglades for you.

You can't really blame the Times for toning down some of its coverage, however, given the shame The Paper of Record is now enduring over its tendentious five-alarm reporting on Wen Ho Lee, a.k.a. the Spy Who Came in from Its Own Institutional Imagination. A more flexible publication, the old Pravda, for example, might call Lee's legal ordeal — which included 10 months of near-solitary confinement, 59 counts of high-nuclear espionage, and finally a conviction on a single count of leaving the toilet seat up — the most colossal belly flops of federal prosecutorial zeal since, oh, June. But the Times has managed to stand by Jeff Gerth'shyperventilating, research-challenged March 1999 story, which stoked much of the whingy political hysteria surrounding the China espionage affair. Even as critics multiplied and the case atomized, the Gray Lady, hewing to its trademark "Just the facts, Mr. Secretary" approach to reporting national affairs, proceeded uncritically to emblazon in its lead pages every half-baked suspicion of Lee that the FBI, the sachems of Justice and Energy and all-purpose GOP hysteria cases could cough out.

Every one of these players has since proceeded, in high Stooges form, to promiscuously blame the others for creating boatloads of quasi-mystical "pressure" to push Lee's prosecution forward — a quantity apparently far more familiar to government hands these days than that fusty Old Paradigm known as "evidence." After snoozing fitfully through these oobleck-showers of accusation, the Times on Tuesday stepped forward with its "From the Editors" account of all things Wen Ho — and the stilted results of its Olympic-scaled turn at self-exoneration are indeed revealing in one respect: They continue to be couched entirely in the language, the lightning-fast evasive reflexes, and the discomfittingly subject-less jargon of federal officialdom. On the plus side, the Editors were pleased to report that the paper's coverage produced "clear, precise explanations of complex science." But prodded by a dark chorus of "criticism from competing journalists, media critics and from defenders of Dr. Lee" (the descending serial order of accusers saying far more about the Times' preoccupation with its own professional regard than its jowly, harrumphing professed interest in "a man's liberty and reputation"), the editors allow as to how they "could have pushed harder to uncover weaknesses in the F.B.I. case" — a procedure known in other media outlets as "reporting." But just as briskly, the editors reminded the paper's poor "confused" readers that "the prevailing view within the government is still that China made its gains [in nuclear technology] with access to valuable information about American nuclear weaponry." And for good measure they remind us that even before Wen Ho Lee stormed the Gray Lady's front pages, "a bipartisan congressional committee had already conducted closed hearings and written a secret report unanimously concluding that Chinese nuclear espionage had harmed American national security." A bipartisan committee! And unanimous, too! Surely it couldn't be wrong! Even so, the editors noted, in that rueful, preoccupied preppy way of theirs, that "We never prepared a full-scale profile of Dr. Lee, which might have humanized him and provided some balance," and that it might have been adviseable to take "a closer look" at Lee's Moriarty at the D of E, Notra Trulock, who in a court affidavit is accused of hurling wild racial epithets and spitting upon a black coworker.

Suck's own institutional memory is long enough in the tooth to recall when the American press used to flatter itself with the notion that it was the "Fourth Estate," adverserially charged with holding government institutions accountable to the interests of the people. Now however, the Paper of Record is pleased to remind readers, in a ranks-closing cadence worthy of any modern chief executive, that "nothing in this experience undermines our faith in our reporters, who remained persistent and fair-minded in their newsgathering in the face of some fierce attacks." But unless we can be shown that Jeff Gerth has been detained without visitors in a maximum security facility for the past 10 months, we can't help but think that a certain Los Alamos scientist deserves a bit more of our sympathy. But at least Asian American scientists everywhere have now been extended fair notice. "Our coverage of this case," The Editors threaten in closing, "is not over."

courtesy of The Sucksters