On Dennis Kneale, Bulimia and Michael's: Why We Should All Hope to Be Banned from Manhattan's Media Commissary

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Viacom CEO Sumner "Get Off My Lawn" Redstone.
So, have you heard about that time Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone left a voicemail for Daily Beast reporter Peter Lauria, attempting to bribe Lauria into giving up sources? It was pretty classic. Even better, it ended with another reporter telling Lauria that he'd never have lunch in Manhattan's media commissary, Michael's, ever again. How'd we get here?

Well, it's not often that CEOs leave voicemails trying to bribe a reporter into giving up his anonymous sources, mostly because that's something nobody but a near-senile CEO would do! Not that the story even matters at this point, but it was about said near-senile, 87 year-old CEO trying to get a show about a girl group called "Electric Barbarellas" -- who (by name alone) sound like the low-rent swap meet version of the Pussycat Dolls -- on MTV against the objections of MTV's executives!

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The Electric Barbarellas, a girl group of apparently certified gerontologists.
Realize: This is the same network responsible for Heidi and Spencer Pratt. If MTV executives are saying that something isn't up to their standards, especially if it's being handed down by the CEO of the media conglomerate who owns them, well then: you've really got a pile of shit on your hands.

Thankfully, Sumner Redstone was not going to kill -- or even hurt! -- TDB reporter Peter Lauria's source on the story. Because apparently, that's something Lauria needs to be assured of:

"We're not going to kill him. We just want to talk to him. We're not going to fire him. We just want to talk to him...You will be thoroughly protected. We're not going to hurt this guy. We just want to sit him down and find out why he did what he did. You will not in any way be revealed. You will be well-rewarded and well-protected."

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Daily Beast writer - and Gold Star of the Week Recipient - Peter Lauria.
Of course, Peter Lauria did what any journalist with their head on their shoulders would do with an on-record voicemail from a CEO assuring him that if he gave up his source, his source would not be killed: He ran it as a story.

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Enter Dennis Kneale, CNBC Media and Technology Editor, and now, Nominee for 2010 Smug Assclown of the Universe as well as an early front-runner for Hack of the Decade. Kneale actually lept to the defense of Redstone, the poor, billionaire CEO.

Again: Dennis Kneale, a supposed journalist, lept to the defense of Sumner Redstone, a CEO who had been caught doing something brazenly unethical. Redstone's behavior isn't just crooked, but it's the kind of crazy, senile shit shareholders of Viacom might want to know about, as this is the same guy who ultimately makes decisions affecting their investment!

Dennis Kneale actually wrote these words:

Peter Lauria now ranks as one of the bravest (and one of the rudest) media reporters anywhere. He may never again be able to have lunch at Michael's, the midtown Manhattan media mecca. And no one will leave him a long voice mail.

Sumner Redstone continues in his venerable role as one of the most eccentric, erratic and impulsive billionaires on record. I don't believe this latest kerfuffle is a sign that he is senile or mentally incompetent.

He went to bat for The CEO, Redstone.

He trashed The Reporter, Lauria.

What more do you need to know? What Kneale is attempting to do here is induce bulimia in a news cycle by reaching his finger in its mouth, "pulling the trigger," and thus managing to get the story to come back up, only half-digested. But all it really does it make anyone with their head on straight want to puke on everything.

It's the kind of shameless thing only a reporter who is not just willing, but unabashedly excited to take a knee and their blow corporate masters -- with less hesitation than a whore who's actually paid to do so -- would do. Categorically, the whore has a better job than Kneale, who still has to write for CNBC at the end of the day. The whore just takes the money off the nightstand and leaves. The whore doesn't even have to pretend to like his or her clients in public. And at the end of the day, at least the whore has the chance to get off.

Kneale, on the other hand, will never be anything to these CEOs but a brown-nosing sycophant whose attempts to move upwards in the corporate world are shamelessly transparent. He will never be on the receiving end, either from journalists or CEOs. Anything Kneale now publishes -- any exclusive, any story, even any legitimately hard work on his part that might've gone into a story -- will be known by the profession he works in to be the product of his quid pro quo favors-for-friends journalism. If anyone ever hires him to do anything but to counter the journalistic slights on his rich friends, it will only be for his ability to eat the bullshit of the people above him, and nothing more.

As an aside, it's not really a shock: CNBC is owned by NBC/Universal, who also owns sister network MSNBC, the same people who once thought it was okay to just toss any old lobbyist on TV, dress him up as a reporter, and let him work for his lobby as "news." Cable news is, for the most part, a hyper-euphemistic joke! With few notable exceptions, you should trust the majority of it about as far as you can throw your TVs. Kneale just helped bury these networks' reputations for being anything that doesn't answer to the corporations and bottom lines who own them a few feet deeper.

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Felix Salmon of Reuters' evisceration of Kneale was far more mature and steady-handed than mine, but probably because he can't call Kneale a journalistic whore covered in a figurative clap picked up from a career of blowing octogenarians like Redstone. Before rightly cheering Peter Lauria, Salmon wrote of journalists like Kneale:

Once you start working your way up the masthead, and hanging out with moguls at places like Davos and Aspen, this tends to happen to you: you get more comfortable, and less hungry; you think that access is more important than actual stories. Clearly Kneale has reached that place, and in a way I'm impressed that he's happy to admit it. Most of the swanning-around class of journalists are delusional enough that they'd never do that.

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As for not lunching at Michael's, Lauria's better off. For one thing, the food is overpriced and it sucks. For another, not that there's anything wrong with midget wrestlers, but they're apparently letting anyone in there these days (when they're not desperately asserting their "status" by hysterically Tweeting about who's eating there). Finally, people who work in media* who have time for bullshit, hour-long lunches like those -- who still go to Michael's, and thus, are stuck in ten years ago -- are probably on their way out, useless, or worst of all, harmless anyway. Lauria, it would seem, has no business eating at Michael's in the first place. Thank god for that.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]

*[Publishing people who still eat at Michael's, I have no idea why, but you get a pass, since you only get to put out like two books a year now, anyways. But if you really want to impress a client, take them to a street cart and do it up in Bryant Park. It'll show taste. Or at least go to Ma Peche. It's right up the street. You have no excuse. Unless you want to be seen eating with Kneale. Or are desperately courting easily-impressed midget wrestlers. In which case, publishing is so, so fucked.]


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