Friday, April 29, 2011

What If The Cosmo-Transgender Thing Is A Hoax?

Late Wednesday, I couldn't get relief from a nagging feeling that there was something awry about the hullabaloo that erupted regarding a transgender woman named Stephanie who alleged she was banned for life from the Cosmopolitan after being confronted recently for using the ladies' restroom at 4 a.m.

It was a startling account as rendered by HotelChatter.Com blogger Julia Buckley, complete with what is supposed to be the document given to Stephanie informing her that she could no longer come on the property without risking arrest for trespassing. That the Cosmo seemed to acknowledge the incident by issuing successive press statements helped lend credence, as does the fact that Buckley writes for a blog owned by Conde Nast.

And yet, something was off. It's dead of night, nobody around and here's this dramatic reaction from a security staff that was on their toes to address something even though there was nobody there to complain. It all seemed so . . . disproportionate.

So I dug. And you'll never believe what I found. And after I found it, I interviewed Stephanie. Hang on tight, folks.

Buckley writes a private blog, too, called BitchinVegas.Com. And on January 20, 2011, she had an item that was eerily similar. In fact, it's shocking. Under a headline, "The Hard Rock Needs Work On Its LGBT Outreach Program," there's this account:

I have taken an extreme dislike to [The Hard Rock] since I had my friend Stephanie visiting from New York the week before last. Stephanie is trans. Last time she was in Vegas (April 2010), she went to the Hard Rock and, in the course of an evening, used the ladies’ bathroom. At 4am, in an almost deserted casino.

On that occasion, upon coming out of the bathroom, she was greeted by an entire SWAT team, with bulletproof vests and dogs, asking her to leave the premises.

This visit, she was looking for a late night place to drink having been clubbing in the area, and, not being one to prejudge a place on one visit, she went back to the Hard Rock (I hadn’t had time to brief her on how the Rumor across the road is way way better). She got drinking with a group of fellow New Yorkers at the bar. And then, at 6am, she needed the bathroom. In her words:

"Finding the Unisex restroom occupied (or locked) I ventured again into the ladies restroom. At this time I was literally one of possibly 10 patrons in the entire Hard Rock establishment spending money at 6am.

Much to my surprise, waiting patiently outside the ladies restroom on my exit was a gentleman who wanted to view my ID to determine my gender. Upon determining the obvious, which he had already apparently determined by security camera, he read me the riot act for using the ladies restroom.

This was unbelievably humiliating for me. Like, don’t they have ANYTHING better to do. The only way I could possibly be more discrete is to be wearing a cloak of invisibility.

In my entire transition I have rarely been driven to tears such that I shed in the taxi that night."

Wow, right? The same person had not one but two nearly identical experiences at the same place, the first time involving DOGS and BULLETPROOF VESTS, before the Cosmo moment. Just to remind you, here's what Buckley wrote about Stephanie's alleged Cosmo experience, which would be the third situation for Stephanie in one year:

She sits down at the Vesper Bar, in the lobby of the hotel, and orders drinks. Her drinks are good, the barman is pleasant, all is well. And then, at 4am, she realizes she needs the bathroom.

She goes, as is her wont, to the women’s restroom, just across from the bar. It’s empty, as you’d expect at 4am on a Monday. Not a single person in there. She powders her nose and exits the restroom, only to be met by two security guards who immediately say “Come with us” and start marching her out of the hotel. As they walk her, they demand to see her ID (to establish her legal gender). It’s in her purse, and she fumbles for it as she’s being forcibly marched through the lobby of the hotel. As she fumbles, one of the men tells her to hurry up. She is scared, and starts apologizing, saying she’s not trying to cause trouble, but it’s hard to walk and look for her ID at the same time.

They march her outside the hotel (the bathroom is near the main entrance) and she finds her ID. One of the guards checks it, establishes that her legal gender is male, and pulls out a yellow form from his pocket and starts writing in her details to the blank spaces. As he does so, he says, “Are you working?” Way to add insult to injury.

There's a lot going on here, so stay with me. First, let's assume all of this is true. It's a stretch and I don't believe that, but hold that thought. How is it possible that Buckley didn't reference or mention the alleged Hard Rock incident in her Cosmo post on Wednesday? As a journalist, that's what we do; we put things in context, we reference back to similar incidents or a person's history. Especially on the Internet.

Ahh, the Internet. It's a tricky little thing, isn't it? Buckley pursued the Cosmo, apparently for a few days, and got this initial response:

We regret that any guest may have had an unfortunate experience at The Cosmopolitan. All guests are welcome to experience the city's newest luxury resort. Our guests' safety, comfort and enjoyment always remains our top priority. The resort contains numerous public restroom facilities that guests can use at their discretion as well as numerous private family restrooms throughout. Additionally, The Cosmopolitan is a TAG approved resort.

It seemed inadequate, but read it again from the point of view of a PR staff that doesn't think anything actually happened. Then it's cagey and cautious, but with good reason. Except it didn't do the trick because Buckley's post went viral and threatened to tar the Cosmo's reputation. So, to quiet the storm, they put this one out:

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is committed to maintaining a community that recognizes and values the inherent dignity of every person, by fostering sensitivity, understanding and mutual respect of our guests and employees. We sincerely regret any misunderstanding or inappropriate actions that any member of our staff may have taken. And to ensure increased sensitivity within this area, the organization will focus on continued training and on-going awareness initiatives. In addition, we apologize to the individual guest and welcome her back to the resort anytime. Again, we would like to apologize to the LGBT community and anyone concerned and hope to demonstrate our firm dedication to fair and unbiased treatment of all.

Again, imagine if the Cosmo folks know that this is a bunch of malarkey but also know that saying so is impossible because every Vegas resort is extremely strict about not discussing specific guest situations. But we all know how Vegas handles its boo-boos, by offering free rooms and meals and stuff. This apparent apology just says "the individual guest" is welcome back. It's vague; every word is chosen with great care.

So I spoke to Stephanie by phone today. When I asked Buckley to help me do so on Wednesday, I was sympathetic and interested in hearing more. I was not yet gripped by suspicion. But then yesterday we arranged a call, which took place this morning. She recounted the Cosmo drama pretty much as Buckley rendered it. Then there was this:

Friess: Has this ever happened to you before?
Stephanie: Yeah, I’ve occasionally had security, you know, mention to me, hey, could you not use the ladies room? There’s a unisex restroom over there or whatever. I’ve never been evicted from a premises. At any time in the few times in the past where this has come up, it’s just been a friendly, casual conversation with me from whatever security guard.

STOP THE TAPE! Scroll up and see what Stephanie told Buckley in January 2011 about the alleged incidents at the Hard Rock in January 2011 and April 2010. There were SWAT TEAMS and DOGS the first time! She was read "the riot act" the second time! Casual conversations with "whatever security guard?" Huh?

In my entire transition I have rarely been driven to tears such that I shed in the taxi that night.

But hey, no biggie!

I confronted Stephanie shortly thereafter. How is it that she's had three virtually identical situations -- drinking, dead of night, goes to tinkle, emerges to goons? It strains believability, and I told her. And she said:

When I said it wasn’t a big deal, I was referring to their reaction, which I compared to the reaction to the Cosmopolitan. In other words, the SWAT team not withstanding, the reaction of the Hard Rock wasn’t as big a deal as the Cosmopolitan, which required that I be threatened with trespassing if I returned to the premises. So I admit it was a big deal emotionally, but that wasn’t what we were discussing, I didn’t think. This is not about me, this is about the Cosmopolitan's reaction to the situation compared to the Hard Rock’s reaction to the same situation. Does that make any sense?

No. Not really. She said she had had "friendly, casual conversations" on the prior incidents. SWAT teams, dogs and the riot act are not what most people would consider "friendly, casual conversations."

Meanwhile, earlier in the discussion, we had this exchange:

Friess: So these instances have happened before in other places around the country or in Las Vegas or what?
Stephanie: Really just in Las Vegas. Generally speaking, New York City actually has laws protecting the rights of the transgender individual. It comes up occasionally in Las Vegas on the Strip. What makes it a big deal for me was the Cosmopolitan’s reaction. To me, that’s the issue. If they had just said, It would be better for you to use the men’s room or it would be better to use the unisex one" or anything, it would be a non-story.

And yet, later on I wanted Stephanie to explain to me why she would return to the Hard Rock after she had encountered SWAT teams (!).

Why did I go back? Because I live transgender. If I never went back a second time to places I had a problem, I would sit at home, cowering in fear. I would never walk down the street. At some in my life, I’ve had issues wherever I went. And if I never repeated those experiences, I’d never have a life.

If I had adopted a philosophy that wherever I had an issue I’d never return, I would never go anywhere. I have to get over that, I have to go back. I have to take the subway, I have to get on the bus, I have to walk down the street, I have to go to Home Depot. That’s how I live, that’s how I survive. A transgender people must get over those fears.

What I’m trying to say, Steve, is the Cosmo’s eviction notwithstanding, this exact incident has happened to me dozens of times all around the country. Not every time, but this exact thing happened identically and you’re presenting that as a problem in logic. The exact thing that happened at the Hard Rock, where the security was waiting for me to read me the riot act for using the ladies room, happened to me in a mall in New Jersey. The exact situation.

STOP THE TAPE! We just went from happening seldom and primarily in Vegas to happening "dozens of times" everywhere. We'll get back to that in a moment.

As the interview became more contentious, this happened:

Stephanie: I’m on the defensive here. I’m like a rape victim being cross-examined on the stand. That’s how I feel.
Friess: I don’t believe you, is what I’m telling you. I don’t believe these incidents happened in such an uncannily similar way that Julia nor you mentioned the earlier ones in the current account. It doesn’t add up.
Stephanie: I suggest you fact-check. I suggest you talk to the security officers at these establishments and validate the facts.

AHA! Ding Ding Ding! That's a smart thing to say. Why? Because, as Stephanie and Julia both must know, the security officers at these establishments CAN'T VALIDATE THE FACTS. It's against their policy, as referenced earlier. Stephanie could say absolutely anything she wanted about something that happened, she can wave some blurry expulsion paper and claim any sort of treatment and the resorts WOULD NEVER REPLY TO IT DIRECTLY. Well, unless there was an illicit accusation that the resort had broken the law; then maybe they'd be able to.

The Cosmo, of course, declined to discuss the matter with me beyond their statements. I've got calls out to the Hard Rock but thus far I've heard nothing back. Odds are it'll stay that way.

Stephanie also suggested that if I knew transgender people as I claimed to, I'd understand better. Except that I do. I was a finalist this year for a GLAAD Media Award for my 7,000-word cover story in the Los Angeles Weekly on the suicide of a transgender L.A. Times sports writer Christine Daniels. I know loads of trans people and totally get the whole thing.

I called up one of my best sources, Amy LaCoe. She was Daniels' best friend and is an out trans woman in L.A. preparing for her surgery this summer. I recounted the circumstances as Buckley had written them, explained that this one trans woman claimed to have been confronted three times in the dead of night when there was nobody even around to complain but also nobody to witness it.

It didn't pass LaCoe's smell test, either. I asked if she'd ever been confronted by security over restroom use or heard of such a thing happening:

I’ve known 80 or 90 trans women since I came out in the past five years, and I’ve never heard anything like this. And I wasn't passing well when I first started out. I’ve even carried on conversations in the restroom with other women. It sounds like a situation that’s a little more than a trans woman going to the bathroom. There’s a missing element here. It sounds fishy to me.

You must understand bathroom use is a huge issue for trans people. It's something that's discussed a lot. Stephanie says this has happened to her DOZENS OF TIMES and yet Amy hasn't ever heard of it happening once to any of the DOZENS of trans women she knows. Also, Stephanie initially said it was a relatively rare occurrence and primarily in Las Vegas.

By the way, here is how Stephanie described her appearance to me:

I'm 5-7, skinny. It’s not like I’m a steelworker in drag, absolutely not. I've got better legs than most women do. I’m not altogether horrible-looking. Most people, unless they look really closely, don’t take me as a guy. … I dress conservatively, I dress appropriately.

So this happens dozens of times to someone who isn't even that obviously trans? And security is alert to the point of bringing SWAT dogs to confront her at a time of day when nobody's even around to be offended or complain? Surely Stephanie needs to relieve herself during the day, too, when there's lots of people around. But, no, this only happened at the least likely time.

Now, I don't know what's really going on here. I can't figure out the angle. Did Stephanie actually get expelled from the Cosmo? Is Stephanie even a real trans person? Is she doing something else to draw security attention to herself? Why did Buckley not evaluate the inconsistencies in these stories? Why didn't she reference the earlier situations in her post on Wednesday?

It's baffling, and I told her so:

Stephanie: I don’t know why you think I’m making these things up?
Friess: I don’t know. That is a great question. That is the one thing that bothers me the most. I don’t get it.

Maybe this was a gambit for a freebie? A misguided attempt to raise awareness of a serious and important issue? A plea for attention? Stephanie said she declined a request by a GLAAD spokesperson to appear on TV this week and she told me this:

If you’re suggesting I’m doing this for visibility to push transgender rights, I’m doing it very badly.

Finally, we agree on something.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rachel Maddow STILL Hearts That Dam Bridge

Hoodie-loving MSNBC host Rachel Maddow apparently came through these parts recently in order to make an example of the American can-do spirit out of ... the Hoover Dam and the Bypass Bridge. She did a whole slew of them, which you can see here.

The 45-second bursts are for the Lean Forward series of promos on MSNBC but they're just fun to see, too. Here's one:

This one's about the drought:

It should be no surprise that Maddow is high for the Dam and the bridge. On the day it was christened last year, here's what she did with it on the show:

Meanwhile, Transgender Drama Grips The Cosmopolitan

UPDATE: Cosmo issues new statement. See bottom of post.

The folks at the Cosmopolitan better realize they need to snap into major damage control mode right now after Julia Buckley, the Vegas contributor to Conde Nast's HotelChatter.Com blog, wrote a detailed and quite disturbing account of a transgender friend being banned for LIFE from the new resort. (That's the notice, by the way, courtesy of VegasChatter.Com.)

This thing has already boomeranged all over the Web at warp speed, being picked up by The Atlantic, the gay travel mag Passport, the Las Vegas Weekly and several aggregator blogs.

The synposis of the claim is that a transgender woman drinks alone at the Vesper bar until 4 a.m., then goes to pee. Upon emerging from the ladies room, she is strong-armed by some security dudes who ask her for her ID and accuse her of "working." Eventually they drag her out, see her "legal" gender is actually male and tell her never, ever, EVER to return to the Cosmo.

I know that the question of what restroom to use vexes many who grapple with the transgender topic. But ladies' rooms don't have urinals, they have stalls. Everybody gets a private space to do their business, right? And this was in the dead of night anyway.

I'm told the Cosmo PR team is working on a statement. It ought to be better than this one they gave HotelChatter.Com:

We regret that any guest may have had an unfortunate experience at The Cosmopolitan. All guests are welcome to experience the city's newest luxury resort. Our guests' safety, comfort and enjoyment always remains our top priority. The resort contains numerous public restroom facilities that guests can use at their discretion as well as numerous private family restrooms throughout. Additionally, The Cosmopolitan is a TAG approved resort.

TAG is a group that certifies that a place is recommended to GLBT people.

There's good reason, by the way, to believe the transgender woman's account, even if odds are good there were some other circumstances that have yet to come to light. For one thing, a source of mine at Cosmo tells me that they've been told to redirect inquiries to PR. But the source also told me this:

They basically told us to tell people there are men and women's restrooms and that we also have private/family restrooms.

Huh. I've been in the Cosmo a gazillion times and I've got absolutely no idea where those private/family restrooms might be. They certainly aren't as obvious and and ubiquitous as the normal restrooms are. Also, that explains being BANNED FOR LIFE.

As I mentioned earlier pertaining to Trump, being tarred as intolerant is not a good way to encourage business in this hyper-competitive environment. So it'll be interesting to see how the Cosmo folks play this one. That said, there is unfortunately a lot less sympathy for transgender people -- even among gays -- than there is for gays and other minorities, so maybe it won't much matter. Time will tell.


Here's the statement from Amy Rossetti, Cosmo PR queen:

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is committed to maintaining a community that recognizes and values the inherent dignity of every person, by fostering sensitivity, understanding and mutual respect of our guests and employees. We sincerely regret any misunderstanding or inappropriate actions that any member of our staff may have taken. And to ensure increased sensitivity within this area, the organization will focus on continued training and on-going awareness initiatives. In addition, we apologize to the individual guest and welcome her back to the resort anytime. Again, we would like to apologize to the LGBT community and anyone concerned and hope to demonstrate our firm dedication to fair and unbiased treatment of all.

Okay, then. They're sorry. It's their fault. They want the transgender woman to come on back. Also, they're sorry. Now let's see what they actually do about it.

Trump En Route To Vegas As GLBT Ire Heightens

Last week, I reported for AOL News/HuffPo about growing anger at mogul Donald Trump on account of his recent spate of polarizing political statements. Among other things, he reversed his 2000 position favoring "a very strong domestic-partnership law" by telling the Des Moines newspaper he now opposes any legal recognition for same-sex couples.

Trump, fresh off of getting Obama to release his birth certificate today, is enjoying all the attention even as he fails to see how deftly the White House is using him to paint the entire GOP as nutcases. And he probably figures that all his blather in the past has only enhanced his prominence, so whatever!

The difference: Other politicians who take controversial stands on social issues can do so with less peril because their business is politics. Trump's business, however, is hospitality, and these remarks can and will resound when people choose a hotel. Today, my latest Las Vegas Weekly column examines that as well as why other proudly Republican CEOs in Vegas -- Murren, Wynn and Adelson, specifically -- don't get tarred for their politics in the same way.

But wait, there's more!

Today I'm learning of new fallout for the Trump Las Vegas. In addition to GLAAD listing all Trump properties as places for people to avoid and the IGLTA taking up the question of whether to boot Trump properties at their May board meeting, now the Human Rights Campaign, the federal GLBT lobby organization, is instructing its local members to refuse or return donations or gifts from Trump properties.

James Healey, the HRC Las Vegas guru, said today they have turned down an item offered for auction by Trump Las Vegas for HRC's big dinner fundraiser on May 7 at Aria. Healey explained via email the item was declined Monday after Healey checked with his Washington D.C. contacts who suggested they do so.

Healey told me via email: "This is a national policy that the local community [may] choose to support." He chose to.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas' GLBT activist community is jumping in, too. The Stonewall Democrats, a group of gay activists who managed somehow to get Sen. John Ensign, R-HisZipper, to support the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, put out a statement urging "those who believe in equal rights for all U.S. citizens [to] avoid the Trump 'Brand' in all of its various permutations. This would include his television shows and hotel properties amongst other ventures bearing the Trump name."

Stonewall chairman Derek Washington went on:

At some point, people like Trump have to learn that we LGBT Americans will no longer be used as cannon fodder to be sacrificed to the political ambitions of those who use bigotry to garner votes. We have money, and that money can be spent where it is appreciated. Caesars, Wynn and MGM are all places where our LGBT dollars are welcome and our business is encouraged. We have options.

Just to be clear, I am not endorsing this boycott. I am observing it. I've never personally believed boycotts are effective for either side of the political debate. But I do know that when a company gets tarnished as intolerant, it is extremely difficult to overcome or reverse. And in Las Vegas, where there are so many choices at so many price-points, that can absolutely make a already-flailing enterprise flail even more.

What will be interesting is if the Trump corporation finds itself having to publicly distance itself from the blabbermouth himself in order to reduce the long-term fallout. There's precedent for that; Coors did it in 2004 when Pete Coors ran for U.S. Senate in Colorado.

Oh, by the way, guess who's addressing a set of women's Republican groups at the Treasure Island on the Strip tomorrow night?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trailer Station Tomorrow!

I know many listeners and readers are fascinated by those eight-hour casinos that pop up every so often around town, dubbed by R-J gaming scribe Howard Stutz as a "trailer station" because, as depicted here, they sometimes take place in mobile units.

I'll be out tomorrow working on a feature on one, and it occurred to me that this, unlike most trailer stations, would be amazingly easy for tourists to access.

It's at 365 E. Convention Center Drive, at the corner with Paradise and across the street from the Las Vegas Convention Center. That means it's within a few steps of the Las Vegas Monorail, too. They're doing a tent this time, not a trailer, but it's the same concept. They have to do this because Clark County law requires active gambling on a site for 8 hours every 18 months or the property's unrestricted gaming zoning expires.

The downside: The tent will be open for play from 6 am to 2 pm on Wednesday. Someone's getting to bed early!

United Coin will erect a tent with 16 slot machines on behalf of the Marriott gang, which spent $225 million to acquire 14.4 acres in that area in several transactions between 2006 and 2007. The United Coin rep told the gaming commission Marriott wants to build a 3,500-room hotel-casino there, although 14 acres hardly seems like enough for that unless they go Cosmo on us. Also, the only land they don't own is Piero's, so they'd need to buy them out, too, to own the whole block.

I'll Tweet some pix tomorrow. In case you don't recall, here was my New York Times piece from 2008 on the Trailer Station on the old Showboat/Castaways plot. That plot remains as empty as ever.

Here's that blog post, too. I actually won a few pennies that time, too!

Review-Journal Plans To Charge For App

A couple weeks ago, I chatted with the new Review-Journal editor, Michael Hengel, who in December took over following the ousters of both the paper's longtime editor and publisher. I just posted a slightly trimmed, 18-minute version of that discussion in the podcast feed, and you can hear it by clicking here. Also, you can right-click here to download it and listen whenever you wish.

The headline from the interview, however, was that sometime in the next few weeks, the R-J will unveil a smart-phone app that, Hengel said, they expect to charge for in some manner.

Here's that exchange, which started after I noted to Hengel that my reporting showed that one of the things he was known for at the Pine Bluff newspaper was instituting a paywall, meaning readers had to pay for access to some or all of the news content:

Friess: Are you looking at a paywall for the Review-Journal?
Hengel: Not on the website.
Friess: Ok…
Hengel: First of all, you’ve got to understand, and I think you do, it’s not just my decision on something like that. It’s primarily not my decision. But some of the things being considered are everything mobile, everything other than what you see on the website may at some point have some pay element to that. Right now it’s all fluid.
Friess: When you say everything other than the website, what are you referring to?
Hengel: Like mobile, an app, an iPad, an Android, a Kindle, phones…
Friess: You don’t see anywhere where the R-J will have a paywall similar to what The New York Times just started?
Hengel: I wouldn’t go so far as to say never, but I don’t see that in the immediate future, no. We’re not talking about that right now.
Friess: The Las Vegas Sun already has a mobile version of their website. If you look up their site on an iPhone, you get their mobile site. You don’t do that with the R-J site. Will that be coming?
Hengel: Yes.
Friess: When?
Hengel: Real soon. Within weeks.
Friess: What about an app?
Hengel: Yes.
Friess: Is it already in development?
Hengel: Yes.
Friess: And when will we see that?
Hengel: That’s also the same time. We don’t have a date, but it will be within weeks.
Friess: What will the app be? What will we get on it? And if you’re a home subscriber, do you get it for free? Is there any deal for that?
Hengel: Well, I can’t answer that right now. I’m sure there’s going to be some cost, I don’t know whether the cost will be for the app itself or for the app and some kind of subscription. That hasn’t been decided. But under consideration, Steve, is the fact that we’ll charge for some of those.
Friess: Will you charge for the mobile version of the website or just the app? They’re two different things.
Hengel: I know. They’re similar. They’ll look a lot the same, but… I’m not trying to dodge you, I just don’t know.
Friess: Are there newspaper applications you’ve looked at that are models for what they R-J’s one would be?
Hengel: Yeah.
Friess: Which one?
Hengel: The Associated Press.
Friess: They have an app people pay for?
Hengel: No. But that’s the look and the feel. Made by the same company.

So, obviously, the next thing I did was download the AP's free app and it's actually pretty awesome. But I do wonder how practical it is for the R-J to charge for a mobile app that does much the same thing when the AP's also has a "LOCAL" tab that then lists all of the R-J's stories, too. See?

Can they tell the AP to kill the Vegas section of their app? That would kind of ruin some of the charm and convenience of the AP's app, which I've grown to love since Hengel pointed me to it.

Clearly, they're still figuring this out, as the entire news industry is. It's just so great that they're finally on the case, anyhow. At a luncheon speech I attended two days before our interview, Hengel spoke smartly about the importance of being mobile, citing data that indicated half of all news consumed online came from referral via social media. He gets it.

While we're on this topic, though, I have to say that the crack Web staff at the Sun is bafflingly absent on this. Yeah, there's already a mobile version of the website, but where's the Sun app?!? So far as I can see, the only app Greenspun Media Group has put out there is the Las Vegas Weekly's, and it contains absolutely no news content from the magazine or site. Really, it should just be called the Vegas.Com app, since it's a city guide, not anything relevant to the Weekly as a publication. My editor, Sarah Feldberg, is awful cute in this explainer video, though it's ironically only available in iPhone-hated Flash:

See what I just did there? I took their video and presented it to you here. But I can't do that with any of the video on the R-J's website, and Hengel unfortunately doesn't think that's a problem. I noted to him that I can't download it or subscribe to it or embed it or any of the other means we are all accustomed to consuming and sharing such material. "We don’t have any changes planned for video," he answered.

Then there was this:

Friess: How much longer are you going to have Nate Tannenbaum doing that daily thing that he does?
Hengel: I have no plans to change anything.
Friess: Is it popular? Do people look at it?
Hengel: Yeah.

So I went back to take a look and, you know, it's a much-improved product. It's certainly a smoother, more sophisticated production and there's a lot less of staring a Nate and his see-through dress shirts. (Sorry! Nothing happens when you click above. See the problem?)

But I still don't get it. These videos are teasers to what's coming in the newspaper the next day, right? Wouldn't it make sense to allow people to get it as a podcast or to find it in places other than the R-J website? If you're watching it on the site, you're already, umm, on the site and you've already seen the headlines. It's not like they're putting links to the stories discussed within some vicinity of the video. The entire enterprise is mystifying.

There's much more in my Hengel interview, which you can hear for yourself as I mentioned. We talked about the albatross he bears trying to convince the community that the paper's news coverage is not tainted by right-wing bias, his perspective on the odd Sun-RJ relationship, how he reacts to all of the Pulitzer talk surrounding the competition. (This interview was done three days before the Sun was a Pulitzer finalist, so I was asking in order to have some comments in my back pocket in case the Sun won.)

Just one last nugget, though. I noted to Hengel that since he and Brown took over, there's been a notable and welcome absence of petty personal attacks going back and forth between the R-J and the Sun and others. I also noted that neither he nor Brown had taken a column, as Frederick and Mitchell had. His response:

If you’re going to write, you’ve got to do some reporting. If you’re going to be a columnist, you’ve got to do some reporting. There aren't very many columnists who can just offer opinions and be really compelling. So if you’re not going to do any reporting, that’s what you’re left with.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

* * *

One final amusing and tangentially related note. This is the info on iTunes for the AP's news app.

I love that! "Rated 9+ for "Infrequent/Mild Realistic Violence." This is an app that presents news, photos and videos about wars, disasters, the most horrific crimes. Something tells me the violence is somewhat more than "infrequent" and "mild." As for being "realistic," I've always thought reality was about as realistic as you can get, but what do I know?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Strip REALLY Is Live Tonight!

We're on! Tonight's show features two 1970s heartthrobs with Vegas gigs in the next few weeks, CHiPs star Erik Estrada and teen idol David Cassidy of The Partridge Family. We'll probably play some of the Cassidy conversation -- he speaks at length about his period rescuing the MGM show EFX in the 1990s and his recent Celebrity Apprentice stint -- but all of both will be on the podcast, of course.

Plus, news from Vegas -- there's a lot because we've been off for a week -- as well as a new trivia question, the poll, listener feedback and the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

Join, watch and hear us at at 8 p.m. PT. Or you can subscribe to The Strip (it's free!) in iTunes or Zune to get the latest show and various specials. Your call.

Sad Shermy Socks Steve & Sun

Some of you expect me to blast back at disgraced former Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick after a desperate-for-attention post -- yes, he still blogs, who knew? -- in which he finds fault in both the Las Vegas Sun's multiple award-winning series on Vegas health-care problems and me for being in position to cover that paper's possible second Pulitzer in three years. I did toss off a few quick replies via Twitter, but I'm otherwise going to abstain. Frederick is a sad, infirm, irrelevant man whose tenure at the helm of Nevada's largest newspaper will be remembered for:

(a) Catty, juvenile, occasionally off-colored feuds with competitors and political adversaries
(b) A disastrous inability to capitalize in circulation numbers on one of America's most intense population booms in history
(c) A failure to comprehend or embrace new media in a meaningful or convenient way, thereby placing his entire enterprise in grave jeopardy
(d) Some of the most foolish and now demonstrably inaccurate political commentary of our age
(e) Having, through a completely inappropriate and obsessive jeremiad, undermined the credibility of several fine and hard-working reporters attempting to cover the most important Senate race in state history
(f) This somnolent, mumbling, coffee-cup-fondling moment of greatest glory, a Fox News appearance:


(g) Having his inaccuracies vivisected on national TV and later being so tone-deaf as to be proud of this:

So, yeah. I'm gonna lay off. It's the only appropriate thing to do.