Saturday, January 8, 2011

VIDEO: CNN MisID's Giffords Suspect, Apologizes, Does it Again

Update: CNN and a friend of the kid whose photo was used both called, asked me to blur the non-suspect's image. So here's a new version of the video and a second blog post is coming. -sf

One of the most horrifying and irresponsible days in American journalism just got measurably worse when CNN, at about 8:59 p.m. PT apologized for airing a photo they said was Jared Lee Loughner, suspect in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and slaying of six in Tucson. Lemon explained that the image they had shown of a young man at a sporting event was taken from Loughner's Facebook page archives and that CNN was sorry for the error.

Then, about two minutes later at the top of the hour, CNN showed the same erroneous image again. It's stunning enough that ripping something off Facebook and not bothering to check the accuracy is what's done in the highest circles of American journalism today. But to get it wrong, apologize and then do it again is absolutely unbelievable.

The entire day has been appalling. First, of course, there was Reuters and NPR reporting the Rep. Giffords was dead. She wasn't, but all manner of credible news folk, including Ben Smith and Jon Ralston, retweeted it:

Next there was the bizarre spectacle of Fox, MSNBC and CNN going on all day about vitriol in politics and Sarah Palin's personal responsibility in this without having any specific information about the alleged gunman's motives. Also, if anyone is responsible for the vicious partisanship in this country, it's Fox and MSNBC first and second, with CNN in third for inventing the TV shoutfest concept with "Crossfire." Then, maybe somewhere down on the list might be Palin and other incendiary camera whores who are products, not the engineers, of this dynamic.

Speaking of camera whores and a lack of perspective, Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. went on the air to twice call the Arizona shooting a "dastardly deed" -- greatly offending the Joker, Dr. Evil and Lex Luthor, no doubt, because they figured they had the corner on the "dastardly" market -- but also claimed this was the worst "dastardly deed" he's seen in his lifetime. Apparently he shrugged off 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Mumbai attacks or Columbine.

I loved when he went on later to Tweet this:

Unspeakable, and yet there is he blubbering along on TV, huh? See, that's what I'd love to see, this guy tell Fox's producers, "No, no, I can't come on. This is just unspeakable. I cannot speak to it." Tee hee.

Finally, our local media in Vegas was utterly worthless. The Review-Journal sent out just a single news flash or Tweet about what was happening in Tucson:

You know what we got LOADS of info about from the Review-Journal's Tweeter today? Every frigging bowel movement by everyone on the Runnin' Rebels.

And nobody locally seems to have noticed the one Vegas-related connection: The owner of the Golden Nugget, Tilman Fertitta, flew Giffords' husband from Texas to Tucson on his private jet. Nicely done, folks!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why There's No Live Show...AGAIN

Our engineer, Kaan, is really sick with gout, so there's no engineer at the LVRocks.Com ranch to produce us for The Strip or The Petcast this week. The past two weeks, he's been off because of the Christmas and New Year's holidays. So we're having an unexpectedly extended hiatus. I'm going to try to get it together to produce an episode with Miles from home this weekend since it's just our normal year-end show anyhow. So we'll see how that goes.

Don't despair, though. We're not podfading. There's just been an unusual confluence of circumstance keeping us from that little blue house on Maryland.

R-J Breathlessly Reports False Cosmo Firing Story

It's always a tricky for journalists to decide which of the many rumors we hear or see published ought to be believed or reported. Usually we tread on the side of caution, but the R-J threw that out the window today.

The R-J's Chris Sieroty this morning posted a piece online about gaming analyst Bill Lerner's claim in a research note that a top executive at newly opened Cosmopolitan had been forced out. Sieroty did the proper thing by calling the Cosmo folks for comment. But then, when they told him it wasn't true, he decided to . . . write a story about it anyway. And he used what he then should have known was a false report to globalize with this lead:

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has been open for less than a month and already there's been talk on the Strip of Deutsche Bank AG being unhappy with executives at its $3.9 billion property.

Lerner claimed in the research note that gave rise to this article:

"We understand that Cosmopolitan has let go of its head of gaming operations believing that life-to-date the property had under-held notably."

That would be John Zaremba. He remains with the company in the same position. Spokeswoman Amy Rossetti says there's no reason to expect him to leave or lose his job.

Maybe Rossetti is spinning the stability of Zaremba's employment status. That doesn't matter. Lerner said the guy was gone. The guy isn't gone. In my world, that means Lerner's intel is flawed and not credible. In Sieroty's, evidently, it means you write the juicy story about troubles at the Strip's newest joint anyway. Even if Zaremba is canned next week, it doesn't matter; Lerner's note was factually wrong. Period.

But, anyhow, when did Lerner become such a credible source that his musings were news and refudiations of his remarks worthy of coverage? Was it when, a year ago, he advised investors that, based on the very scientific and fool-proof metric of eyeballing the scene at newly open CityCenter, that that New Year's "may have been the strongest in MGM Mirage history?" (It sure wasn't.) When he titled a research note in January 2010: "2010 Off To Good Start in Vegas, MGM Most Leveraged to Recovery?" (It also sure wasn't and Wynn and Sands were the biggest beneficiaries of whatever recovery happened last year.) Lerner's pro-MGM bent overwhelms all his analysis, and Sieroty should have at least noted that in giving context for Lerner or, better yet, not re-reported a disproved piece of gossip at all.

We can't know from the outside how Cosmo is doing yet for a couple of reasons. First, it's a privately held resort, so there's no obligation to publicly tell us. Second, its brief life has spanned at least two anomalous events -- New Year's Eve and CES -- that don't speak to how it'll be doing in critical, less intense periods after the newness factor has worn off a bit.

I understand Sieroty's itch to have something to say, but he'd be better served to pay attention to someone like Robert LaFleur of Hudson Securities, who traffics in data, not idle speculation and gossip. LaFleur, you may recall, tracks resort room rack rates weekly to see where resorts are raising and lowering the prices, an indicator of how they feel about their bookings.

His latest dispatch, from Jan. 4, 2011, indicated: "So far, Cosmo is adopting a very aggressive pricing stance relative to the market. We will see if it is sustainable."

Here's a graphic, showing average rates for February as they were between November and now. Click on it to see it closer:

That's real analysis. As is this, showing Cosmo pricing is above even Bellagio by a significant margin.

Now, that may change. It could plummet. In fact, I think it's sort of likely that it will; it's hard to conceive that Cosmo will charge more than Bellagio in the long run. But none of the actual data available suggests Deutsche Bank is so unhappy with the property performance that they're trying to sack top executives.

Again, Lerner may someday be proved correct. But to paraphrase Sen. Daniel Patrick Monyihan, while he's entitled to his own predictions, he's not entitled to his own facts.

Aria Wrap Disgrace Update: Elvis Is In The Building?

Solve the puzzle? Elvis is in the building. (Wish he weren&#0... on Twitpic

Panoramy just Tweeted this image, showing the second stripe of added to the Aria wrap. She's betting it'll say: "Elvis Is In The Building." And, she snarks, "(Wish he weren't ON the building.)"

Indeed. Sad. And, as Michael, a commenter on the prior Aria-related post, noted, they're doing THIS because they thought a proper marquee on the Strip was tacky and unsightly. Oh, the tangled intellectual webs they weave by staking out high ground without actually earning it.

This week's LVW Col: Spider-Man and Vegas

Here's the first Strip Sense column of 2011 for the Las Vegas Weekly. Enjoy. -sf

Broadway’s ‘Spider-Man’ is proof
Vegas does shows right


Last month when Miles and I were hunting around for shows to see while in New York City, a theater journalist mentioned Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark among the possibilities. I asked whether it was any good and he snarked: “Oh, it’s crap and nothing you haven’t seen Cirque do better.”

Or, it turns out, a heck of a lot safer.

This exchange occurred before a highly publicized rash of horrific accidents in front of audiences during previews turned an already troubled $60 million Broadway production into a full-scale catastrophe-in-the-making. One stunt double broke both wrists; another broke a toe; an ensemble member fell more than 20 feet into the orchestra pit when his cable detached from his harness; and a lead actress quit on December 30, a month after enduring a concussion when smacked in the head by equipment.

It’s an astonishing turn of events for the Great White Way’s most expensive show ever, one that was already producing pretty awful buzz. A veteran Vegas actor who saw it last week told me that he desperately tried to find something good about it—maybe some of the staging by Julie Taymor of Lion King fame, or the music by U2’s Bono and The Edge—but ultimately he declared it “the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

And then he said this: “It just looks so unsafe. My palms were sweaty the whole time.”

That’s a huge problem.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Calling B.S. On Why Alex Is Closing At Wynn

Something about the sudden closure next week of Alex at Wynn doesn't compute. My Las Vegas Weekly editor Sarah Feldberg broke this news yesterday with this peculiar passage:

A Wynn representative pointed to the strains of the economy as the reason for the restaurant’s closing, adding that “high-end French dining is not what people want these days.”

That's really very strange for a few reasons. First, Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace seems to be doing pretty well, as is Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand. High-end French dining is like the little black dress; it just doesn't ever go out of style. Especially in Vegas.

Second, as austerity measures go amid a recession, this seems like a strange choice for Wynn Resorts for tightening the bottom line. Wynn and Encore attract the highest-end customers who come to Las Vegas, and now they're basically announcing that the fancy people can't afford great French food anymore? That's a serious idea? Especially given the many, many very expensive restaurants across the Wynncore plain?

Third, Alex has been a major calling card for the property since the beginning and, as Steve Wynn has often said, sometimes you don't calculate the value of an attraction based on how much money it makes but what it adds intangibly to the property and experience. This is Wynn's most prestigious and award-winning (Michelin two-star!!!) restaurant, beloved by foodies and food journalists not just for Alex Stratta's cuisine but also for that gorgeous sunken dining room architecture. It is a transformative experience just to walk in, let alone sit down for dinner.

This just feels like a personality or financial conflict being blamed on the broader economy. Has any other super-duper-expensive Wynn shop or restaurant closed? If the economy was depressing sales, you'd think that would be a problem that would show up in other elements of the business, no? Should we be worried, given this statement, about Wynncore's ability to cater to very wealthy customers? Will we be seeing a decline in other areas of the business?

Perhaps Alex wanted more money and Wynn refused. Or maybe another resort has wooed him with more control or money? Maybe Alex wants to go to New York? Maybe he doesn't want to make vegan food? Maybe Alex, always a pleasant figure in person, is an egotistical jerk?

It's just a sense I have, but I suspect the personal relationship between Stratta and the Wynns deteriorated in some way. When I ate there with Mike E and his posse about a year ago, the chef de cuisine told us that Elaine Wynn had not eaten at the restaurant since the night the Wynn opened when, incidentally, Alex hosted her birthday party. Remember, the "Hello, Dolly!" staircase motif of the place was Elaine's idea; surely she would've enjoyed dining there for that reason alone. Steve Wynn was an increasingly rare presence as well. Wynn only came in when a business associate was with him, the chef said.

The other peculiarity of all this is the timing. They really have to shove their most successful and famous chef out the door in a week? Without even a statement from Wynn about how great Alex is, how much he has brought to the enterprise, how sorry he is to see him go and good luck? If they had been planning this for a while, wouldn't they want to give the mourning food world ample time to have one last meal there? Wouldn't that, in fact, drive sales and make a little scratch?

This feels a lot like another unceremonious dump we covered recently, doesn't it?

[P.S. to Al Mancini et al.: This closure's another reason you should have done an iPhone app, not a book. Just sayin'.]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Desecration of Aria Has Begun!

So much for wishful thinking. Here the MGM Resorts geniuses go, defacing a beautiful building with a tacky wrap and proving to the world that Las Vegas does not deserve nor in any way appreciate the work of great architects.

Here's a close-up:

Any guesses what it's going to be? I would think "Viva Elvis" would be the most likely choice but the figures we can see so far don't look right for that.

Just a reminder, there's absolutely no evidence that wraps on the I-15 side of resorts do anything to drive business. MGM Resorts tried, in fact, to rent out the I-15 side of the Luxor a couple of years ago:

Nobody in the advertising world took that bait. That should tell them something about the actual value of the signs, and the trade-off in slapping bumper stickers all over their crown jewel. Sad.

[h/t for pix to Panoramy.]

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Crystals *IS* An Airplane Hangar Now!

I've been calling the God-awful Daniel Liebskind-designed Crystals "entertainment complex" at CityCenter an airplane hangar since my first preview tour of the place. Now they're going to prove me right. Check this press release out:

From January 6-8, Las Vegas will be treated to the first interior exhibit on The Strip of the Cirrus Aircraft SR22T. Taking center stage next to some of the best names in fashion, dining and nightlife, the SR22T will spread its wings and invite Crystals’ guests to climb aboard into the intimate setting of this luxurious plane. The turbo-charged SR22T will feature an interactive exhibit for guests. This hands-on display incorporates a special demo mode to allow interested persons to experience the SR22T in all its glory – climbing into the cockpit, trying out the controls, and exploring the advanced avionics and four-seat plush cabin – everything but take-off!

Guests also can engage in the “Cirrus Perspective” glass cockpit, allowing them to simulate a real test-flight and experience operating the SR22T. Two large screens will invite guests to try out the plane’s flight controls and navigation system. Cirrus representatives will be on-hand January 6-8 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day to answer questions and guide guests through their personalized flight experience.

It certainly sounds cool, I'll give them that. But is it enough to keep you from Cosmo?

A Weird Vegas/CES Day In Pictures and Snark

Yesterday was a weird one, even by Vegas standards. It started with me heading to the KSNV studio to tape an upcoming episode of Nevada Newsmakers, Sam Shad's Reno-based TV show. This, above, was idling next to me as I waited at a light. I had no idea Monte Rock III rides a moped!

Then I get to the studio -- the one where Miles, who was coming in late because he had been in Carson City on Monday, is executive producer -- and the tech guy who lets me in sees me craning my neck as we pass the studio. "Oh, I can show you around and show you how we do things if you'd like after your interview," he said. I giggled to myself.

Next I'm in the chair ready to take Shad's queries about Cosmo, CityCenter, Vdara death rays and Frank Sinatra Jr. (Shad's a big fan of The Strip and my interviews.) Sam and his crew were in Reno and I had an earpiece. So naturally, I shoot this:

Before we began, Shad told me there'd be a slight audio delay and they would edit out the pauses. That comforts me. My ear canals must be awful large and slippery -- 32 years of wearing hearing aids, maybe? -- and the ear piece kept sliding out. They tried to adjust it, kept happening. But now it's time to do the interview.

Except during my first response, the thing falls out again. So, knowing it's taped and not live, I stop talking, try to get it back in, it won't stay and I mouth the word, "SHIT." That four-second delay was priceless, because a few beats later, there's this raucous laughter coming from the other end. I apologize profusely and they decide they have to start over and Shad is in my ear -- they brought another, equally ill-fitting ear piece -- begging me not to cuss again. One of the things Sam seems to love about our show is the fact that we can curse -- no FCC, woo hoo! -- so he has this impression that I've got this real potty mouth. I actually don't, but it was entertaining anyhow.

So we do the rest of the interview, I think it went well despite having to futz with my ear thing every time I wasn't speaking, and off I go to interview Shae Wilhite, a Vegas comic-turned-baker whose "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" appearance from 2001 aired on GSN a couple weeks ago. Oddly, both Shae and I must speak really loud because on several occasions, other people at the Omelet House interjected to clarify or correct something. "Um, Lana Turner wasn't discovered in a drugstore, that's a myth," one guy advised. I'd never had group participation in an interview before.

Anyhow, I go home and I'm working on some stuff and I turn around to find our new dog, Aces, has chewed on my property tax bill:

Evidently, the little Mexican dog didn't get the memo from Harry Reid that Hispanics can't be Republicans.

Next I read the newspaper and my favorite section, The View, offers this unfortunate pairing of headline and photo:

Another unfortunate headline/photo pairing from The View sect... on Twitpic

So then I'm off to the Venetian for the press preview of the Consumer Electronics Show. And while everybody else is agog about 3D television -- which I can't quite imagine ever needing but I once said that about Twitter, too -- I liked the gizmos that help you find your car or at least your car's keys:

This also seemed practical, a camera that beams your baby's activities (or your college roommate's?) to your iPhone:

This clunker below fascinated me, particularly because it got an innovation award.

It's a $3,000 oven, see. And I thought, "Oh, you can control it from your computer so you can, say, look in on what you're cooking from another part of the house and adjust the temperature or something." That would be cool, right? Nah. For $3,000, it cooks stuff faster with some sort of steam induction thing.

I asked the guy if this was supposed to be someone's main oven. He said yes. I asked if it came in any other sizes. He said no. I asked how anyone was going to get a baking sheet in there. He had no clue.

Why am I telling you all this today instead of via Twitter yesterday? I mean, this is the most sophisticated tech conference and the whole world is wired to transmit every thought instantaneously, right?

Well, this... why. For hours yesterday at the Venetian, I couldn't get email or Tweet except for occasionally via text-message. I couldn't even use my AT&T air card to get online on my laptop with any reliability.

As one of my Facebook friends responded, "Oh, the irony." Way to represent, Venetian!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Our New Year's Eve In Las Vegas On TV

So here's the montage version of the Party at the Panorama that KSNV Channel 3 anchor Marie Mortera staged featuring me, Marie's boyfriend and Panorama resident Amy Turner, whom many of you know as fill-in guest host on The Strip and co-host of the GritstoGlitz podcast. (Ladies, surely this experience merits a new edition of your show?!?)

At the end of the video is a photo montage from behind the scenes and of the fireworks from the Panorama deck.

A few things to note:

* I didn't record the closings/goodbyes because the show went over time and Cox Cable is simply incapable of knowing when shows actually end. But thanks to Norm Kresge of Las Vegas for helping me figure out how to get it from DVR to DVD to YouTube!

* KSNV won the night! Their 11:45-midnight ratings were stratospheric. I'm quite proud not just because I got to participate but because it was, of course, Miles who managed this coverage and ran the show from the News 3 ranch. I don't know what the other channels were doing, but it's clear that News 3 has regained its mojo after losing to KLAS a couple years running. Yay! Miles hates it when I toot his horn, but toot toot and deal with it, Smitty.

* We did the party in the Panorama unit I own. Marie misspoke about Amy owning it, but Amy has been living there for about six months.

* KSNV arranged the food from LBS Burger and Hachi at Red Rock Resort and the Champagne provided by Southern Wine & Spirits. I was not involved in those arrangements. It was all quite lovely, though!

* Happy New Year, Everyone. If you don't mind, here's the most awesome picture taken so far in 2011:

As you can see, Aces (left) is already an integrated part of the family with Black and Jack. Hooray!

Is Wi-Fi Now Free Throughout Aria?

On the very same day that Liz Benston noted in the Las Vegas Sun that Cosmopolitan had decided to provide free wireless Internet without fees or resort fees, reader/listener John wrote in with some evidence that next-door neighbor Aria has unyoked its wi-fi access throughout the property as well.

That, above, has been the Internet greeting screen every day since he checked in last week. Gone was the room number request or other authentification that he's a guest, and it works everywhere. From John's emails:

I thought maybe they changed it for New Year's Eve, but it's still going and it's well past New Year's Eve now. ... It seems to ask you every few hours to reconfirm that you agree to the terms of use, but it's just a single button click - absolutely no input (like room number etc) required. Since it's wi-fi there is no way for them to actually tell if you're in a room or otherwise identify you. If you are within range of the network, you can access it.


Ok I'm sitting in the casino and sending this over wifi


Just walked throughout the promenade at Aria, throughout the casino, and even into part of the convention center, and had a strong wifi signal throughout. It's all on the same free network. The name of the wireless network is simply "Aria". I couldn't get a signal at Bellagio, so I don't know if they've switched.

That's kind of a big deal if it's permanent. I just called Aria and the lady who answered the phone laughed at me when I asked if there was now free wi-fi everywhere. She explained that you must be a guest and you get an ID code when you check in. It's part of the resort fees, she said.

Huh. If Aria really has freed up its Internet access, it would be marvelous and 100 percent thanks to John Unwin and Cosmopolitan. It also, however, would beg the question of why they need to charge so much (anything) for resort fees if Internet access, the most used perk of the involuntary cost of staying at an MGM property, is not among the privileges.

It could also be a system glitch. So let's see where this goes.