Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wanda Sykes @ LV Gay Rally: "I’m Proud To Be Gay"

(UPDATE: Hear Wanda's speech and a brief interview by clicking here or right-click here to download the file. Also, hear our July 17 interview with Wanda on The Strip Podcast by clicking here.)

Dozens of rallies were held around the nation on Saturday to protest the passage of California's Prop 8, which re-banned same-sex marriage and sparked a fury. But only one that I know of featured a prominent celebrity coming out of the closet, and that would be the one here at the GLBT Community Center. Here she is...

I've just filed a few lines about it for tomorrow's New York Times, but I've also posted the audio of Sykes' remarks and my brief interview with her in the podcast feed. It adds up to about 8 minutes and you can hear it by clicking here or you can save it to your computer by right-clicking here. (The file also contains a brief chat with an 18-year-old UNLV student about why he was so fired up over Prop 8's passage.)

Here's a little bit of what Sykes said. She started by talking about how exciting it was to her to see Obama elected:

"I thought, man we are moving in the right direction. And then at about 11 o’clock I was crushed. We took a huge leap forward and then got dragged 12 feet back. I felt like I was being attacked, personally attacked, our community was attacked. I got married Oct. 25, I don’t really talk about my sexual orientation, I felt like I was living my life, I wasn’t in the closet, but I was just living my life. Everybody who knows me personally, they know I’m gay. And that’s the way people should be able to live our lives, really. We shouldn’t have to be standing out here demanding something we automatically should have as citizens of this country. ... They pissed off the wrong group of people. They have galvanized a community. We are so together now and we all want the same thing and we shouldn’t have to settle for less. Instead of having gay marriage in California, no, we’re gonna have gay marriage across the country. When my wife and I leave California, I want to have my marriage also recognized in Nevada, in Arizona, all the way to New York. ... I’m proud to be a woman, I’m proud to be a black woman and I’m proud to be gay."

In my interview with her, she said this: "People shouldn’t have to talk about their sexual orientation, we shouldn’t have to do it, but with the legislation that they passed, I can’t sit by and just watch. I just can’t do it."

Sykes also disputed the much-reported claim that 70 percent of black voters in California voted to ban gay marriage. Several prominent writers, including Dan Savage here, have railed against homophobic blacks. Wanda said the exit polls were wrong and admonished me, "Please stop spreading that 70 percent of African-Americans voted Yes on Prop 8 because it’s just not true."

After the speeches, the very large -- figure more than 1,000 people -- crowd lined Sahara Avenue with signs. This gives some sense of how immense this was.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On The Bright Side...

Oh, never mind. Remember last month when I looked at the monthly figures from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and managed to eek out a crumb of good news that Laughlin seemed to be thriving?

Well, that didn't last long. Even in the great mecca that is Laughlin, occupancy which was up 2.8 percent from August 07 to August 08 is now down 13.3 percent from September 07 to September 08. Passengers to the airport there was down 2.3 percent after being up 19.6 percent in August. And so on.

It's just so depressing. So guess who has to spend the rest of the day working on a piece on how depressing it all is? Hooray for me! If you want to see the miserable statistics for yourself, click here but be sure to have a good, stiff drink at hand. Hey, it's noon somewhere right? There is not one single indicator for September that's up. Well, room inventory for Las Vegas is up 3.2 percent year-over-year, but that's not GOOD news when room occupancy is down 10.1 percent, is it?

But just for kicks, atop this post is a Google Finance chart showing where the major stocks have gone in recent months. It's colorful, anyway.

Lanni Leaving On A Lark?

As has been widely reported, MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni is stepping down. It's a strange thing because it came about seemingly suddenly -- at least giving two weeks notice would seem to be odd for someone with another year-plus on his contract.

The Wall Street Journal has speculated that this may have something to do with the fact that their sources were leading them to a bombshell that Lanni's claim of an MBA from USC may have been fake. Lanni's online resume said so but USC has no record of his receiving the degree and Lanni's claim that he got an honorary MBA was refuted by the school. It seems they've only given out about five of those, the last one in 1933.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman categorically denied that the MBA flap was the cause of Lanni's retirement and cited personal and family issues instead. I get the journalistic value in the MBA story and maybe it is relevant to why he is departing, but I can't imagine that it has any serious bearing on Lanni's standing with a company he's run for so long. It may have simply been yet another bit of stress on top of the economic challenges facing the company, the city and the industry. To wit, Lanni told Bloomberg today: "The economies are in a position that I’ve never seen before. Frankly, I think it’s a lot easier for a person in his 40s than a person in his 60s to comfortably deal with this."

I will say this. When I interviewed Lanni for my New York Times piece on the rising stars of young Vegas a scant seven months ago, Lanni gave absolutely no indication that he was going anywhere prior to the end of his contract in January 2010. You can hear that conversation on the April 17 episode of "The Strip," but here's a transcript of the relevant parts:

Friess: Do these [younger casino bosses] make you feel old or past tense in any way?

Lanni: Past tense. I’ve never thought of myself as past tense. You know I look in the mirror in the morning and I don’t see a 65 year old. Maybe I should, but I don’t. Maybe I should have my eyes adjusted. No, I think it’s great, that’s what happens in life, you go through and the next generation comes along and they’re going to hopefully learn a few things from people such as me or people my age and take over and I’m going to be the biggest cheerleader in the world when that happens.

Friess: Now you have a contract through 2010...

Lanni: No, it goes until the 3rd or 4th of January, 2010.

Friess: What happens then?

Lanni: I have no idea, that would be for the compensation committee and the board of directors to determine, but we always follow, religiously follow, the aspect of meeting with our board and discussing these matters. The good thing about our company – and I think this is probably more so than some of the other publicly traded companies in the industry and maybe some of the private ones – is that if I’m hit by a train, this company is going to do quite well. No one has to worry about do we have any successful potential successors in place. We have some very good people in our company who can fill that particular role. And that decision will be made at the appropriate time by the board of trustees and I will make my recommendation at that time and I think I know what that recommendation will be. And they’ll make the determination. I have no idea.

Friess: Is Jim Murren an heir apparent?

Lanni: I meet with our board annually and give them my views on what that succession at the right time will be and I honestly don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss it.

Of course, Jim Murren is the heir apparent. And seeing how he was the driving force behind CityCenter and the merger with Mandalay Resort Group, it's fairly unlikely that there'll be any significant change in direction for the company.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Show is UP: Norm Clarke Confidential

Miles wasn't feeling well, so Amy from GritstoGlitz.Com filled in this week as we grilled Norm Clarke about his DUI, his eye patch and his "come to Jesus" visit with Bobby Baldwin. Plus, Hunter Hillegas joined us to talk about his super-cool VegasMate iPod app. Check it all out by clicking on the date to hear it or right-click to download the show and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here.

Nov. 11: Norm Clarke Confidential

Pete Rose bitch slapped him. Criss Angel threatened to blind him. And countless celebrities and notables alternately love and loathe him. Norm Clarke, this city’s premier gossip columnist, joins us in the studio this hour to talk about his adventures in the ever-fascinating world of Las Vegas fame and to discuss his new book, “Sinsational Celebrity Tales.” In the process, we learn more about Norm's famous eye patch, about his infamous DUI arrest and about what kinds of stories he doesn't touch.

Plus: Criss Angel's suckage, poker's big night, Aliante opens, Adelson's fortunes keep sinking and Stomp is being replaced.

Also, thanks to Amy from for filling in while Miles was ailing.


See Norm’s website here
Buy Norm’s new book, Sinsational Celebrity Tales here
Check out guest co-host Amy’s podcast here
Find out more about RateVegas.Com’s new VegasMate iPhone app here
Read Criss Angel reviews from Mike Weatherford and Joe Brown here and here
See Steve’s column on his encounter with Wanda at the Criss Angel show here
Weekly rankings for Vegas s hows can be found from here
See the R-J’s coverage of the opening of Aliante Station here
Steve’s coverage of the poker finale is here and of the poker’s changing fortunes is here
Information about “The Real Deal” show at the Venetian here
See a recent Wall Street Journal piece on the Las Vegas Sands’ troubles here

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/ NORM CLARKE

Sorry I'm posting this so late but I was up until 4 a.m. finishing writing up my coverage of the conclusion of the 2008 World Series of Poker at the Rio for AFP and my Las Vegas Weekly column. But we do have a live show tonight with an in-studio interview with Review-Journal gossip scribe Norm Clarke, who has a new book out.

Plus, news from Vegas, a new trivia question and poll and a special INTERVIEW edition of the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week. Join us at about 6:45 p.m. PT tonight in the chat room at LVROCKS.COM for the chat and to listen live or wait until the podcast edition is up. Your call!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Other Media Musings...

There's other stuff to get to today beyond Corey Levitan's piece on this blog and whatever else I've got going on. In fact, there's a few things I've overlooked this week so let's get to it.

1. Is it just me or... did this cartoonist make Sarah Palin look like a transsexual?

2. Sheldon Adelson Drops John L. Smith lawsuit
. Perhaps he's making a bid for better karma now that his company is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy or maybe someone finally got up the guts to tell him that he's legally off his rocker, but LVS CEO Sheldon Adelson finally pulled the plug on his ill-conceived 2005 libel lawsuit against Review-Journal columnist and author John L. Smith. Smith, who had to file for bankruptcy to cope with the financial burden of all of this even as his daughter continues a dramatic and expensive cancer battle for her life, had already apologized in a variety of ways for his inference in his book "Sharks in the Desert" that Adelson had some organized crime connections.

R-J Editor Thomas Mitchell writes today that Adelson gave up because some confidential records about his background could have been made public if the lawsuit went forward. Either way, it's over for John. And it seems that his way out was thanks largely to Vegas attorney Donald Campbell, whom I profiled as the cover boy of this year's annual Mountain States edition of Super Lawyers magazine. You can read that here.

3. Not All Exits This Week Were Graceful. Liberal political columnist Erin Neff signed off the other day after five years with the R-J's editorial page. She took a buyout. It was her decision. But now she whined to Norm Clarke in today's paper that she felt had to go because she was the token lefty anyway and that she was propelled out the door by the fact that the publisher held her column endorsing Barack Obama for a day prior to the election. Now, I don't know what the rules were for R-J columnists, but I did learn recently that New York Times columnists are not permitted to directly endorse candidates for president. So it's not an uncommon restriction; I guess they're afraid if there are conflicting endorsements from the same newspaper it would lessen the impact of the paper's official imprimatur and confuse people. (Both sides would be able to say "Endorsed by the Daily Whatever.")

But Neff did end up getting to essentially make her endorsement, so I don't know what her fuss is. And, either way, she had chosen to take the buyout anyway, so why suddenly get all haughty about it? That said, I do hope that the R-J continues to have some left-leaning local columnists to maintain the balance.

4. Joe The Correction Writer Strikes Again. I'm not going to belabor this because it's getting to be silly and, besides, someone at the Sun may try to gin up a fake controversy against me again if I go too far. But. Our old friend Joe Schoenmann was responsible for yet another very lengthy correction this week, this time a 140-worder that appeared in the Nov. 4 edition of the newspaper. (Remember this 535-word one?) It regards an Oct. 26 piece. But the Sun did not see fit to post the correction on the Internet OR to at least to fix the mistakes in the Web version of the story, so I've done them the service of typing it in:

The Sun’s Oct. 26 “Answers About Clark County Government” contained errors in the segment regarding a report about the North Las Vegas Airport. During the Oct. 21 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, not Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, said that errant pilots should be punished for accidents just as errant motorists are. The airport accident statistics in the story were also incorrect, in part because of errors in the transcript on the county’s Web site. Randall Walker, county aviation director, told the commission that since 2003 there had been only one accident out of 3.3 million “operations,” meaning takeoffs and landings, at McCarran International Airport. In the same period, Henderson Executive Airport had three accidents and 426,000 takeoffs and landings, or one accident for every 142,000 operations. At North Las Vegas Airport, the ratio was one accident for every 62,000 operations.

Hey, Sun folks, how about letting your readers know the OTHER part of why these errors happened? Could it be because your reporter was relying in his reporting not on interviews or actual attendance at public meetings of the body he covers? I once did this job, covering the Clark County Commission. Those meetings are a snooze, no doubt. But it still helps to actually go to them if you're going to write about them. Otherwise, you might as well save some money and outsource this coverage to India, as that newspaper in California did.

In Defense Of The R-J

I've been receiving a number of texts and emails from VegasHappensHere.Com readers and friends simply floored that the Review-Journal featured me so prominently in Corey Levitan's piece today about the Vegas blogosphere.

I am not blowing smoke when I say that I am completely unsurprised. No, really.

Yes, I have provided in this space some intense criticism of the R-J and its publisher, Sherm Frederick. Yes, I still think most of Sherm's columns are ridiculous and that his spending priorities do a disservice to his product. But I also preach that there's excellent work done there and that the sins of publishers and editors should never be blamed on the many terrific reporters working in this town.

And as brutal as I have been about Sherm -- and he has returned the love in kind on his blog -- I would never imagine that he would tell one of his reporters not to include a newsworthy element of a story simply because he's got a personal or ideological bone to pick. Contrary to the conspiracy theories out there about how news operations are run, it's always been my experience that publishers and even top editors meddle in the content very, very sparingly. I worked for three years in the 1990s at the R-J, a right-leaning paper on its editorial pages, and I write regularly for The New York Times, the epitome of what some view as the "liberal media elite." On no side have I ever been instructed as to how to slant or frame a story beyond the normal reporter-editor discussions fleshing out what we see as the news. In those conversations, though, throughout my career in daily journalism, editors defer to the judgment of reporters almost all of the time. (Magazine journalism is a bit of a different matter.)

So I'm quite thrilled to have received the coverage today from Corey's story. And I loved, loved, loved that he managed to include the libel lawsuit vexing that moron blogger Michael Politz. But I'm not surprised that Sherm behaved professionally. In fact, I suspect he probably didn't know the story was being done. It's not his job to micromanage that way.

Oh, and while I'm tooting the worn-out horn, UNLV journalism student Laura Davis wrote a extremely flattering profile of me appearing in the current issue of Q Vegas (free registration req.). So it's been quite a nice Sunday.