The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, November 21, 2003  

I Hope Nobody’s Listening

In case you didn’t notice, the Washington Post’s newest columnist, Tina Brown, just gets worse each week, and to be honest, I’m really not sure it’s her fault. Is anyone editing this stuff? Does she have a supervisor? Or is she “too talented” or “too much talent” for such oversight?

I should think not.

Brown’s latest column, “The Slough of Uncertainty,” is an incredible display, sort of like watching a semi-accomplished finger-painter trying to make the transition to oil on canvas.

Yes, it’s that bad.

Ostensibly covering, at least to start, a broker’s “conference for media big shots” in New York -- Does Brown not realize such gatherings are completely contrived and that no one, no one of importance anyway, actually listens to the presentations? -- Brown offers Post readers these valuable bon mots from Howard Stringer, chief executive officer of Sony USA: “Every day is Halloween. Between the combination of more information than you can possibly cope with and global markets stealing your employees[,] and price erosion happening faster than you can develop new products, you can’t tell a mask from a reality.”

Now, if Brown has even the slightest clue was Stringer was trying to say here, she doesn’t reveal that to her readers. And why not? She can’t. It’s a completely meaningless statement.

More junk from Brown:

In the TV world, executives are in denial about eyeballs swiveling to cable, Internet[,] and video games. They’re blaming Nielsen, the Delphic oracle of the ratings, for mislaying a chunk of young Hispanic men in the abysmal ratings for the fall season.

Movie executives and producers are in a funk about working in a medium that's a blip on the radar screens of the multinational corporations that own the studios. “The decision-making process is so diffused among layers, power in Hollywood these days is a hologram,” says Brian Grazer, producer of hits such as “A Beautiful Mind” as well as co-chairman of Imagine Entertainment, whose corporate partner, Universal, has had three overlords in three years and now has to learn a new cast of characters at General Electric’s NBC.

I’m sorry, what?

But wait, Brown, the Queen of Buzz, the Faith Popcorn of God knows what, spots something new:

The corporate executives who preside over these [media] empires are questioning all the rules they’ve lived by. Bigness, for instance. For CEOs, bigness turns out to mean that they have to spend their days managing downward -- communicating with increasingly remote and baffled employees, trying to explain why certain decisions haven’t been made.

What insight! Watch out, guys: If you get too bogged down in the little stuff you might not make the next issue of the Vanity Fair (a book that still bears Brown’s scars, sometimes all too proudly) “Power 100” or “Power 250” or “Power 500,” or whatever the hell they call that dopey issue with all the rehashed and mirror-image Annie Leibovitz photos. (I swear they rerun them. I’m going to sit down and research this contention some day.)

Of course, guys, if you were to stop listening to Brown and her ilk and give a second thought to, say, long-term shareholder (i.e., equity) value, you might gain a little more respect from the people who really count. But never mind, the photos are nicely framable, right? Or are they delivered to you already framed? (Because that would be a totally Tina Brown/Graydon Carter touch.)

Brown goes on: discursively, incomprehensibly, and irrelevantly, with a thoughtful nod to weblogs, the conventional wisdom about Howard Dean and the internet, something about the “hunger . . . for focus, for tangibles to vent against,” a stray comment about Malaysia and anti-Semitism (So last month, Tina!), a bizarre comparison between the Bush administration and “the baffled leaders of the music industry,” and this tasty send-off quote of her own: “The White House, too, is learning that power is a hologram.”

I don’t know. Don’t ask me. I read the article three times and I still don’t get it.

What a disaster. Someone must be held accountable. Not Tina, of course, since she never is, but someone. (Care to pick that one up, Bob? Gee whiz, talk about yesterday’s news. And yesterday’s newsmakers.)

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