Thursday, December 11, 2008

This week's LVW col: The R-J's Travesty

This is something that, when I saw it, I decided it was more than a blog item. It was a serious outrage. Then some of my R-J friends started emailing asking if I'd seen this, that many inside the paper were offended by it. So here's this week's piece, vivisecting one of the most embarrassing and journalistically specious things the R-J has done in a good, long while. As for the headline, I may need to take that up with my Weekly editors. I'm the poster boy for WHHSH fatigue. Three WHHSH-inspired headlines since August is annoying. Ahh, well. Such is life. Here's the piece...

What really happens in Vegas...
Getting to the bottom of the investigation into R&R Partners and the LVCVA

If I were an investigative reporter working for one of the local daily newspapers, near the top of my list for digging would be the complex, expensive and probably unprecedented relationship between R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Therein lies a very incestuous web of personal and professional conflicts and galling amounts of unaccounted-for taxpayer money. Any time there’s more than $80 million being spent on one company to do something as nebulous as promoting a destination, it’s fertile ground for scandal.

So here’s what I would do if I had a big handlebar moustache and wore a 10-gallon hat and viewed myself as Nevada’s last, best hope of staving off tyranny: I’d set aside some time for my best reporters to analyze the books, file Freedom of Information Act requests, work sources and produce something substantive. You know, I’d put some resources, some money, some elbow grease into it. And I’d make sure that whatever the reporters did, it was fair and balanced.

What I wouldn’t do is repackage the propaganda of some agenda-driven “think-tank” and call it my most pressing story on a Sunday when my circulation was at its peak.

The November 30 Review-Journal piece, titled “LVCVA, ad agency defend deal,” by A.D. Hopkins was a travesty of journalism. In fact, as hard as I’ve been on my blog and elsewhere about the R-J’s silly approaches to their Internet content, I never imagined that Editor Thomas Mitchell and Publisher Sherman Frederick would allow such a piece of tripe to touch the ink-stained fingers of their dwindling legions of readers.

Read the rest HERE

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Something maddening I don't understand

How is it possible that the subway systems in the biggest cities of China have cell phone service throughout and yet you cannot get a signal in the subways of New York City, a city that has been hit more than once by terrorists? How is it this does not compromise public safety? It's completely idiotic.

Tonight, after spending some late-night time with ex-Zumanity star Joey Arias in the East Village for a future LVW column, I went into the subway to return to my friend's Brooklyn apartment, where I'm staying. Alas, I got on the wrong train, went one stop the wrong direction, got off and waited forever for the correct train to go the right way.

All the while, Miles was sitting around in Vegas expecting to hear that I'd arrived safely and worrying sick as I'm not there or answering nearly an hour later than he would have expected. At the same time, I'm underground waiting on a spooky, damp, smelly subway platform at 2 a.m. with a few scary people and absolutely no way to make contact.

Hey MTA. If the Chinese can do it, so can we. Get up on that. Maybe part of the Obama public works stimulus package, perchance? Yeesh.

Tuesday With Dominick

Loyal readers and listeners recall that, by serendipity, I was assigned the seat next to Vanity Fair columnist and high-society-mischief chronicler Dominick Dunne in court at the O.J. Simpson trial this fall. I made the most of it, to be sure, with a New York Times Sunday Styles profile of him, an episode of the podcast called "Dominick Dunne's Last Sit" and a Las Vegas Weekly column that used his presence as validation against snooty local writers who sneered at those of us covering the armed robbery proceedings.

I had a standing invite to visit when I came to New York, but I couldn't tell if he was just being polite. Yet when I called on Sunday from Long Island, he couldn't have been more enthusiastic about wanting me to swing by. On Tuesday, I did so, picking him up at his apartment and walking over to a delightful nearby spot called Aretsky's Patroon where, not surprisingly, Dunne is a regular and was warmly greeted by the owner. I felt like a heel in my jeans and sweater since every other man in the place wore a tie, but nobody seemed to care.

Many have asked me about Dunne, especially with the closure fate uncannily provided him by the O.J. sentencing and the death the next day of comatose heiress Sunny Von Bulow. So here's the report: He's physically not so great. One way I know is that he was quite open about his various and sundry procedures and ailments in Las Vegas two months ago, before his removal from the courtroom in great pain and his recent operations in New York.

Now he's sick of talking about being sick, it's just a total downer and he's rather pump me for details on the O.J. sentencing he missed and ponder Caroline Kennedy's possible Senate appointment. He's 83 and his doctors want him on chemo for his bladder cancer but he says he doesn't want to and anticipates having to "cause a whole lot of trouble" to ward it off. Surgery has been ruled out because of a weak heart, so my impression was that Dunne was ready to let this cancer take its course. He didn't strike me as the sort to fly off to the Far East in search of a holistic cure, anyhow.

Yet, there's a sense that he's also not giving up in any practical sense. He's sent a draft of a long-awaited but unfinished novel to his publisher, is recording some oral history he wants to use for that long-promised memoir -- which he says he will write himself, thank you very much -- and has every intention of getting to the New York memorial for Von Bulow next week. His goal, he says, is to go to the Obama inauguration, which VF has asked him to do if he's able. My impression was that setting goals like that -- and following through -- is his way of triumphing over his infirmities.

The thing that's so interesting about Dunne is that while he walks slowly and cautiously and seems frail, he misses not a single beat in conversation. And, while not intentional, walking slowly in Manhattan gives passers-by a chance to recognize him, which makes him bask. At lunch, a former journalist approached to tell him he's been an inspiration to her; when she walked away, he glowed and said, "I love that." I've never met a celebrity more appreciative of his notoriety.

Dunne let me shoot a few pictures around his place, which was precisely as I figured it would be, a handsome top-floor penthouse cluttered with papers and books. Some, of course, were his.

It was a lovely experience. Telling my pneumonia-stricken mom all about it as I I took a long walk across Manhattan afterward, I burned off many calories consumed by Monday's diabetes-inducing sundae. As I did, I unexpectedly passed this.

That's the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Very famous, but I'd never actually seen it before. And as I passed it, I thought of something that hadn't occurred to me in maybe 20 years. When I was 15, I was on a national bus tour of the US with other Long Island teens. I had just started writing for regional magazines and wanted to impress the other kids since, as covered on Monday, I wasn't a popular chap. So -- and this dates this story indeed -- I told everyone that when I got back, I had to go interview Emilio Estevez at the Waldorf-Astoria. Don't ask me where I got that from; I must've read a celebrity profile where the star was interviewed there.

Of course, that was a lie. I've never, to this day, interviewed Emilio Estevez. But I have gone on to interview a great many stars and a zillion prominent politicians and business leaders. And, of course, I also had just come from having lunch with Dominick Dunne, whom I profiled for The New York Times. I guess it's worked out OK after all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mondays With Uncle Steven

Take a good look at that. Gaze upon it. Lust for it. We'll get back to it in a moment.

So I'm in New York this week squeezing a half-year of uncling into a few fun-filled days. I'm also busy reconnecting with the sights, sounds and flavors of my youth. There really isn't much better an excuse to do so than via the kids.

My sister, Lynn, has three of them. Garrett, the 14-year-old iPod-esconced brooder; 12-year-old Nick the hip-n-happening athlete with the cutie-pie girlfriend who you might recall from a YouTube vid I posted earlier this year; and Allyson, the 9-year-old bolt of sunshine.

Well, Ally had school yesterday. Except that Ally came down with a horrible case of Uncle Stevenitis. She "wasn't feeling so good" at school. So after two passes at the nurse -- the requisite number for going home, an anonymous source confirmed -- it was determined she needed to get home for the antidote. The only known cure for Uncle Stevenitis is, of course, Uncle Steven. Thank goodness I was on hand to provide the injection!

By the time I came in from my day working at the cafe, Ally was miraculously feeling well enough to follow through with our plans to bowl and go for Friendly's for dinner and ice cream. Is it not simply amazing how resilient children can be? So inspirational.

We went bowling. Turns out, you can have the rails up or down but not both. So I had to use the rails. Which makes these scores even more pathetic, although not Obama-level horrid:

Ally wanted to take my picture. Here's what she did:

I explained to her that I didn't want a photo with the ceiling, as lovely a ceiling as it may be. So she actually -- get this!!! -- stood UP to take a second one...

Better, huh? I took one of Ally but it came out blurry, so who am I to be critical? But here's one of her whipping it down the lane...

And here is Ally gazing like Carrie Bradshaw at a Manolo rack into the glass of that nemesis of guilt-ridden absentee uncles everywhere, the CLAW-FOR-CRAP machine.

$3 later, still no stuffed penguin to show for it. Sad. I did, however, get 67,000 points on Ms. Pacman -- and a wrist-ache...

But let's get back to this:

Let me tell you a story of little Stevie Friess. He was a bit of a loser, which is what makes his success on Facebook with the very same people who so tormented him so satisfying. But, anyhow, little Stevie Friess got $5 for allowance every week, not bad for the early 1980s. With that, he would ride his blue Mongoose into town, stopping at the 7-11 for an Archie or Richie Rich comic and then on to Friendly's to read it over a Reese's Pieces Sundae.

Yes, this was excitement once upon a time. Still is, sort of. The Friendly's I went to is now a Chinese restaurant, I think, which is somewhat fitting considering where my life and career would take me. But there's still another one in the town of Syosset, N.Y., where I was raised. So Ally and I went there for dinner after bowling. See?

What, you ask is this concoction? Five scoops of butter crunch ice cream, marshmallow sauce, peanut butter sauce, hot fudge, Reese's Pieces, whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles and the cherry. I eat about two a year. Sometimes Miles tries to simulate it with something he gets for me at Cold Stone, but it's really a losing battle. There's only one real Reese's Pieces Sundae.

Ally was contented to have something less offensive and observe the gluttony...

Halfway through, here is my condition...

Ally didn't want to be left out, so she struck a pose, too...

Can we finish it? All of it? Well, it was dicey, but...


I didn't need a comic book this time. I had Ally.