Saturday, July 24, 2010

Petcast But No Strip Today

As referenced in last week's show, we're going to skip a new episode of The Strip this week because I've got to be at Netroots Nation today to hear Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. But I am skipping out for an hour to do The Petcast from 12:30-1:30 p.m. PT because we've got Dog Fancy editor-in-chief Ernie Slone coming on, we've wanted to speak to him for a while and I didn't want to jerk him around after setting a time with him. So please join us at LVRocks.Com to listen live at 12:30 p.m. PT to hear Emily and me chat first with Animal Planet host Keegan-Michael Kay ("The Planet's Funniest Animals") and then Slone in the second show. Or wait for the podcast, which you can subscribe via iTunes or Zune to The Petcast.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Daily Beast Exclusive, Behind The Scenes

So I'm in the press room at the Rio today charging my computer while covering the liberal blogger confab called Netroots Nation for AOL News and I listen in as Fox News interviews DailyKos contributor Dante Atkins. He has some things to say that are germane for the tack I'm planning to take -- and, in fact, he makes the bold prediction that the Democrats will PICK UP seats in this fall's election.

When he's done on camera, I ask him to sit with me for an interview. He does. When we're finished, Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron immediately strikes up a conversation with Atkins about some of what he had said on camera.

The rest is what you can read on TheDailyBeast.Com right now, comments in which he tacitly agrees with Atkins' claim that conservative Fox News personalities essentially created the Tea Party Movement, Cameron's raising the Shirley Sherrod drama as an example of an effort by some at Fox to influence the news and about his remark that Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle.

AOL News passed on this bit, so I moved on to pitch it elsewhere and The Daily Beast grabbed it eagerly. I emailed Fox's spokeswoman for comment and got a response that Cameron claimed I had taken his comments completely out of context. When Cameron reached me, he claimed all he was doing was sticking up for the integrity of Fox's news division. Evidently at the expense of the rest of the schedule.

Thing is, Atkins, the blogger, was there, too, and not only backed up accuracy of the quotes but the context in which I wrote them. And Cameron claimed first that I didn't hear the whole thing and then that it only lasted maybe 40 seconds, and Atkins said it lasted at least 4 minutes. I thought it was even longer, but OK.

Now, those of you who follow this blog know I'm not new to analyzing and reporting on the media. I routinely defend the Review-Journal against charges of conservative bias in its news pages, I've taken journalists to task at the Las Vegas Sun, The New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. I've appeared on KNPR and several TV stations discussing media matters as an analyst. In this case, I don't even know if I believe what Cameron said was inappropriate because I don't actually have a problem with reporters expressing certain types of opinions.

But I did know it was news. And so did Cameron, which is why he moved the conversation with Atkins out of the room and away from my observation.

You may wonder if it's ethical or appropriate to report on overheard conversations. Journalists do it every day. It is not necessary to be a party to a discussion to find its contents newsworthy, but as you can read in the piece, I became a party to this conversation and Cameron began it while I was still interacting with Atkins. Plus, he said stuff about his own news organization within earshot of journalists, and there were others in the room, though I don't know who they are or what they heard.

Also, Cameron hasn't questioned whether I should have been listening or even whether the quotes themselves are accurate. He just has an elaborate explanation for what he was really saying that makes little logical sense. He chose to raise the Sherrod matter and he offered the snark about Angle. If there was some deeper, more complex point of view he hoped to express, he didn't express it in this discussion.

He also complained to me that I wasn't being fair with him because I was refuting his version of events. The good news is, I was there. I heard it. I'm not taking stories from witnesses and reconciling them as journalists normally must. So when he gives his version and it is so clearly different than what I witnessed and what the other person in the conversation had to say, I am comfortable saying that Cameron is either misremembering or being deceptive. If I wasn't there, then I certainly would be dutibound to assume his version was as likely and valid as Atkins'. In this case, that's not necessary.

Will be interesting to see where this one goes and if Atkins offers up his version of the situation on his considerable forum on Daily Kos.

As an aside, I have defended Fox's news division as well. I went to college with Brett Baier and think the world of his work. Just as with the R-J, the opinion shows and the news shows are usually significantly different and differently managed. I haven't seen Cameron much, but I suspect he's a fair reporter who strives to be accurate and balanced. Then again, he did try to rewrite an entire conversation that two other people bore witness to, so now I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The 4 Jewish Poker-Playing Brothers

This picture sorta says it all, doesn't it? That's Michael Mizrachi, 29, at the World Series of Poker table on Saturday, when he qualified for the November Nine and won himself at least $800,000. Behind him is older brother Robert, twin Eric and little bro Donny from left to right. They are the poker world's answer to the Williams sisters. Or maybe the Osmonds.

As readers of this blog well know, when I come across a human interest story that fascinates me, I mine and mine and mine it until there's nothing left. That is, of course, how I pay the bills. So expect more from me on these guys, but below is the top of my piece for a very popular Jewish-interest web magazine, TabletMag.Com, that posted today that must be, as of now, the definitive story on these guys. But you can hear the whole interview with their mother -- and trust me, it is absolutely amazing -- by clicking here or right-clicking here to download it and hear it at your leisure. If you already picked it up when it posted Sunday, I apologize for the audio error and promise this version works great.

Full House
Michael Mizrachi and his three brothers are observant Jews
and champion poker players


The boys were being irksome and unruly on that night 20 years ago. As their mother and her friends were playing gin rummy late into the evening, they ran wild around the table, announcing to the room what cards the women had in their hands, until, finally, they were banished to their bedrooms. With that, the house grew quiet. Susan Laufer Mizrachi had proved she could control her brood.

Except that, as anyone with young sons knows, silence is a good clue something’s up. And sure enough, at 3 a.m., when Susan’s friends went home and she checked on her four sons, then aged 4 to 12, she found them playing their own card games and keeping track of their accumulating debts to one another on pieces of paper that she still has.

“Their father would say, ‘Look what you’re doing to these kids, you’re playing cards every night and they’re just gamblers,’ ” she recalled. “And I said, well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Two decades later, those apples have grown into a quartet of Jewish card sharks who have taken Las Vegas by storm.

Read the rest at TabletMag.Com

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Show(s) is UP: Johnny Chan/Mama Grinder

It's a poker kind of week around here, so we grabbed the legend Johnny Chan for a chat and he let loose on Harrah's for taking a cut of the WSOP pot. Then, of course, I chatted with Susan Laufer, mother of the four Mizrachi sons who cashed in the WSOP Main Event. You decide which is more fascinating. Click on the date below to listen or right-click to download and listen at your leisure or subscribe via iTunes or Zune.

July 19: Johnny Chan's WSOP Complaint
Special: Mama Grinder Explains Mizrachi Mania

The current generation of professional poker players generally have little regard for those who ruled the game prior to the big boom, except when it comes to at least one guy: Johnny Chan. That’s because Chan was the champ who appeared as the idol successfully bluffed by Matt Damon’s character in “Rounders,” the seminal 1998 poker flick frequently credited with inspiring thousands of young people to take up the game. Chan, the last player to win back-to-back World Series of Poker Main Event championships 22 years ago, was back in the news this week when appeared briefly in the top 10 in this year’s tournament before hitting a few bad beats and busting out in 156th place. The outspoken pro spoke to Steve this hour about why he’s unhappy with the current management of the World Series, why he was unimpressed by Phil Laak’s recent 115-hour poker-playing spree and why he’s never played a hand of cards at Aria.

In Banter: Steve’s new boob job, it’s fucking hot, Veer opens, South Point expands and thoughts on the Vegasness of Top Chef and Holly’s World.

Links to stuff discussed:

Johnny Chan’s website
The Johnny Chan-Matt Damon video clip from Rounders
Steve’s piece for AOL News on the 2010 World Series of Poker’s final table
The special edition the Strip with the mother of the Mizrachi brothers
The R-J’s coverage of the opening of Veer
The website for Holly’s World
The Top Chef profile of Stephen Hopcraft of Sea Blue at MGM Grand
The image of the chefs on that Mandalay Place wall and the chalk Justin Bieber worship
The Las Vegas Sun on the expansion at Suncoast
WSJ blog on Steve Wynn buying the Plaza Hotel
Steve’s AOL News coverage of Phil Laak’s 115-hour poker feat

Gays Screw Up Strip Traffic, The Wrap

So how often do you see something like this in Vegas?

In fact, almost never. The cop spokeswoman in my AOL News piece says the last political protest to disrupt traffic on the Strip was a good 15 years ago, so far as she can recall. Even the AIDS Walk, when it went along the Strip instead of downtown, took place on the sidewalk.

Yet for a good half hour, southbound traffic at Nevada's busiest intersection -- LVB and Tropicana -- was largely halted by eight GetEQUAL activists with that banner attempting to embarrass/inspire Sen. Harry Reid over sluggishness in passing ENDA, a workplace non-discrimination bill that has languished for years.

The results were quite colorful. A limo driver nearly came to blows (the wrong kind, har har) with one of the banner-holders. I sympathized; it was ridiculously hot out and sitting stuck on the Strip in traffic would make me lose it, too. Especially in my piece of shit car. So maybe I don't feel quite as much for folks in a limo.

The cops claim they got there six minutes after they got the call. There's probably important follow-up to be done on why (a) it actually took more than 20 minutes and (b) the cops lied about when they arrived (1:14 p.m.) when everyone was there with watches, cell-phones and time-stamped Tweets to prove otherwise. Given that a terrorist attack would collapse this economy even more and the oft-stated worst-case scenario would be some bomber in the middle of that very high-profile intersection, it's quite, quite alarming. I highly doubt the local media will dig in on this, so it'll probably be up to me.

Anyhow, you can see all the pix in my Flickr set. There may be others in my TwitterPhoto stream, too, with my requisite on-the-spot description/snark as they were transmitted.

This shot is interesting for two reasons:

First, the banner on the pedestrian crosswalk stayed there for nearly two hours -- and nobody was arrested for putting it there. So expect more of that, perhaps even this week as Netroots Nation, the liberal blogger/activist confab, brings a lot of political energy to the city.

Second, that Las Vegas Monofail sign is stupid. The arrow should point to the right, since the station is across the street at MGM Grand. God help the hot, disheveled tourist who doesn't get that those two signs are related or, given the huge number of international travelers, can't even read the English.

I just want to thank this guy above and his cohorts for remembering to grab my laptop bag as I ran all over the place taking photos and doing my thing. And PLEASE don't tell my partner I just left it there. (And no, I'm not worried about him reading this. He never does.)

I couldn't resist, amid all the mayhem and arrests, the fact that New York-New York folks were carting Häagen-Dazs® tubs into the resort. They couldn't spare one? For gay rights? Or sweaty journalists?

One of the GetEQUAL dudes brought his dog, Marley, which means that tomorrow I'm going to have to cover a PETA protest.

Speaking of PETA, I am reminded that they have done some protesting recently on the Strip. But, again, I don't think they did any civil disobedience with arrests and screwy traffic and all that jazz.

So how about a little perspective, huh? This homeless guy, to whom I gave $5 after I shot this photo, was using the crosswalk banner for shade. Something tells me his employment problems are NOT about being gay, but you never know.

And, finally, as I headed back to the Tropicana to get in my car and go write, I saw that all had returned to normal rather quickly.

I did not give this guy $5. He looked healthy, clean and well-fed, and I didn't think that anyone sane or unafflicted should be rewarded for torturing themselves in this heat. Which, I am aware, means that I've declared today's activists and journalists insane. I'm not sure anyone would disagree, though.