"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 3 May 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 5.3.01

We've ended up involuntarily getting into many fights over the years, but Michael Tchong's undeclared war on Suck easily ranks as the most perplexing. What with his exhortation that "We must band together and send the world a loud, clear message that the Net will not only survive but thrive," we figured the talking head of Iconocast.com would be looking for all the support he could find. Why, when the chips were down we even managed to scrape up some semi-kind words for "Back the Net Day," Tchong's harebrained proposal to scare people into buying tech stocks back on April 3. That plan met with some richly-deserved ridicule at the time, and we're a little concerned it may leave Tchong with fiduciary liability for the 6.2 percent plunge in the NASDAQ — the largest one-day drop in the index since 1998 — that occurred when the Back the Net Day plan was implemented.

Still, we never would have suspected that Suck's defense of banner ads would earn the ire of the man The Industry Standard called an "e-marketing impresario," the formidable thinker whose laser-like insights include such pronouncements as, "All this free content isn't going to continue to be free unless users pay for it somehow, and the payment is advertising," and "What if I said, 'That's a Calvin Klein sweater, and it's also worn by your [favorite] star?' Then you have two reasons to buy it. I've never seen anything like this."

So you can imagine our dismay when Tchong attacked our article with the headline "Suck.com Gives Banners The Finger." Says Mr. Iconocast:

As the saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Given a media free-for-all, it's becoming well nigh impossible to defend the banner. Suck.com says we're all a bunch of "pompous blowhards" for continuing to support something that "doesn't work."

Ed: The strange part is that both Suck.com and its accompanying Plastic discussion site are ad-supported. As Russell Lynes once said, "Cynicism is the intellectual cripple's substitute for intelligence."

Actually, the strange part, as everybody who sent us mail and posted to Plastic understood, is that the article was an argument in support of banner ads. An official at Phase2Media in New York even called it, ahem, "one of the most articulate (and factually argued) defenses of banners out there." None of that could melt the flinty heart of Tchong (whose very creative use of quotes pulled from the story can be demonstrated by comparing the above review with what we actually wrote).

Nevertheless, we were willing to believe that Tchong had committed the honest mistake of not bothering to read the article. Could happen to anybody! A correction sent to Tchong by one friend of Suck produced no result, and when we sent in our own request that the e-marketing impresario rephrase his intemperate words, we got the following terse reply:

The story was very confusingly written. With the best collection of anti-banner rhetoric I've seen in a long time. It was misinterpreted by quite a few people in my industry. I will run a comment about it from you in the next issue.

That "quite a few people in my industry" tells the whole story. Like many a would-be industry seer, Tchong knows that his core business is making himself available for learned-sounding quotes in the press (and with that "intellectual cripple" line he appears to be on the right track). But a Nexis search reveals that the Tchong index of citations, like the NASDAQ, has plummeted steadily since its high in 1998-99. And we shudder to think how many reporters quietly Liquid Papered Tchong's name from their Rolodexes after the Back the Net embarrassment. Our last glimpse of the "widely sought" industry expert was on San Francisco public radio. But hell, Michael, we're all having a bad year. Low ad clickthrough rates are a big enough problem; do we have to add poor reading comprehension skills into the mix? More to the point, if this is any indication of who our allies are in defending banner ads, we may have to rethink our entire position.

The threatened war between Chinese and American hackers has begun — the result, according to Wired News, of escalating tensions between the two governments (and according to Attrition, of Wired News' desire to be the William Randolph Hearst of the first cyber war). Either way, the disintegration chambers are standing by. Apparently called "The Sixth Network War of National Defense" by the ordinally-challenged Chinese and "The Exxon-Mobil All-American Rock-and-Roll Cyber-Showdown, Sponsored by Doritos" by the Americans, the battle has so far resulted in warfare that's, um, almost indistinguishable from a typical day's spam. Perhaps the problem is that work-a-day script kiddie attacks — and their l33t haX0r spelling — are nearly indistinguishable from Chinese language Web site defacement. And though the attacks aren't supposed to peak until tomorrow — Qingnian Jie (Youth Day) in China — we ravaged refugees, wandering the endless dirt road that is the Internet, can only hope the aggressors will put aside their differences, meet in IRC and find the common humanity that binds them together: pictures of Lara Croft naked.

Harvey Weinstein, the physically repulsive co-founder of Miramax, is the subject of the current "Watching Movies With" feature in the New York Times, and the results are almost as grotesque as Weinstein's pockmarked multiple chins. "This is what I was afraid of," the unkempt maxi-mogul exclaims. "That the filmmaking wouldn't be as strong as the themes of the piece." The subject of Weinstein's complaints and "theatrical moans"? None other than Exodus, Otto Preminger's classic adaptation of the Leon Uris creation myth about Israel.

It's aggravating enough that in an article with multiple references to Preminger's "Teutonic persona" neither Weinstein nor Times writer Rick Lyman has the courtesy to note that the director himself was Jewish. But Preminger (characterized by Lyman as a man whose "critical reputation has diminished" and by Weinstein as not "a great director by any means") was a great filmmaker whose 1954 musical Carmen Jones alone guarantees he'll have a spot in Heaven while Harvey Weinstein lies howling in the other place. Preminger's directing is the only thing that raises Exodus above the level of crude propaganda, yet Harvey Weinstein can't muster up anything good to say about him. In what passes for political awareness in the movie industry, Harv does lavish praise on screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, the Soviet apologist who wrote pacifist screeds in the era of the Hitler-Stalin pact and gung-ho war pictures when Uncle Joe needed help, and eventually salvaged his historic reputation by getting blacklisted in the McCarthy era.

But it's when he makes his case against Preminger that Weinstein reveals what really makes a poshlust philistine slob tick. "Talk about minimalism," he groans. "I mean, look at this. These scenes are all just master shots. There is no cutting within any of these scenes. I am sitting here, and I am amazed." Not enough coverage, Harv? Should we go back and recut the picture with more closeups of hands flicking light switches? These are not idle questions: When Weinstein really wants to take a dig at Preminger, he compares him to Jim Jarmusch. Students of Miramax history know that Jarmusch and Weinstein had a falling out over Jarmusch's masterpiece Dead Man, which Weinstein tried to recut and then buried on its release. Now this one-man Merchant and Ivory, who fills up the multiplex with phony-baloney art fare like Chocolat, puts down Exodus and slags Jarmusch in print. There was a time when the proper way to describe an overweening personality was to say "His eyes are bigger than his stomach." Would that that were still the case.

Courtesy of BarTel d'Arcy

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