Wednesday, December 31, 2003

"CBS News doesn't pay for interviews." No, but CBS's entertainment division does. And that distinction is behind a sickening media revelation.

Sharon Waxman reports in today's New York Times that Michael Jackson and/or his business managers talked CBS into paying him $1 million - on top of the $5 million he had already received - for an entertainment program that he's headlining this Friday and for his appearance on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

As Waxman describes it, the payment was handled just delicately enough for CBS News executives to have deniability - although that old Nixonian phrase "plausible deniability" is certainly not what comes to mind. Absolutely no one is going to buy this load of garbage.

Here's the killer, admittedly dependent on an unnamed source:

"Michael was in his room," the associate said. "Ed Bradley had set up. Basically Michael wanted to see the rest of the money. Bradley kept saying, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of it.' Michael said he wouldn't do the interview unless they paid. It came to a stalemate. But they didn't want to put anything in writing."

Bradley ended up walking away from the interview then, but he did it later.

The best quote is from Orville Schell, dean of the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, who tells the Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten:

[CBS] has gone from one humiliating event to another in recent years. But it's particularly demeaning to compromise your integrity so fundamentally over something as worthless as Michael Jackson. I suppose you could make a case for getting a story that laid bare the terrorist networks operating inside Iraq by paying for it. But to lose your reputation, as CBS now has done, to get more Michael Jackson? That's really sad.

As Schell notes, CBS News has been a pathetic joke for years. But 60 Minutes, while by no means perfect, has managed to maintain its basic integrity. Not now. It's gone.

And since there are zero indications that there will be any firings, resignations, or heartfelt promises not to do it again, then it's fairly safe to say that it's gone for good.

Nomar, Mr. Nice Guy. Gordon Edes has a fascinating inside look in today's Boston Globe at what went wrong with the Alex Rodriguez trade.

But there's another angle to this, too. Edes gives free rein to the Red Sox ownership to do damage control with Nomar Garciaparra, who almost certainly would have been traded if Rodriguez had come to town.

(Edes does not disclose that the Globe's corporate owner, the New York Times Company, is part of the Red Sox' ownership group. Since this is mainly a baseball story, I'm agnostic on whether he should have.)

What really stands out is that Sox principal owner John Henry really, really wants Garciaparra to know is that the only reason he considered this deal in the first place was that he was convinced his star shortstop didn't want to stay in Boston.

Here are some excerpts from an e-mail that Henry sent to Edes:

I am not sure of the exact date, but almost immediately after this meeting, I heard from [general manager] Theo [Epstein] that the gulf between [Garciaparra's agent] Arn Tellem's demand and the club's view of the right number for Nomar was so wide that he felt we were not going to be able to re-sign our shortstop....

I had a hard time imagining finally winning a World Series in Boston without Nomar being there at that great moment. Nevertheless, we faced the realities such as they were and determined to move forward.

Former Globe baseball reporter Peter Gammons, writing for, has a rather different take on the breakdown. According to Gammons, the principal bad guy in this was Sox president Larry Lucchino, who pissed off Rodriguez by grandstanding against the Players Association for nixing the proposed downward restructuring of Rodriguez's $252 million contract.

Lucchino doesn't come off all that well in Edes's telling, either. But the Edes version is that the man Lucchino really infuriated was Rodriguez's current employer, Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks.

The Edes version leaves the Sox with the best of both worlds: the possibility that the trade will still take place, along with indications that if it doesn't, Garciaparra could be signed to a new, long-term contract.

Two Dans, no waiting. Secret Agent Cathy is upset that I went after Dan Savage yesterday for suggesting that Americans deserve to die because the US propped up Saddam Hussein for many years.

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