Remember, I got on my soapbox not long ago and ripped journalists for attending fancy schmoozefests in Washington. They sold out for the privilege of breathing the same air as the Beltway's powerful politicians, I wrote so piously in this space.
As it turned out, I too sold out last week for an opportunity to gawk at a lot of celebrities in Manhattan. We were all bought and paid for by Time Warner Inc. -- for one night, anyway. The annual "100" dinner celebrates the most influential people in the world, based on inclusion in the list compiled by Time magazine.
You could argue that events like these are what the People's Choice Awards are to the Oscars. One has a tradition and the other has a gimmick. Still, the Time party is brilliant public relations. (Newsweek? An afterthought here.)
Like all lists of this nature, the Time 100 is mostly silly. But it's also another attempt by Time Inc. to build a potential franchise, though it dilutes the editorial clout of the brand. Time already has the melodramatic Person of the Year award in December. It was marked the last time by a special show on CNN, another Time Warner property.
People -- also owned by Time Inc. -- has the 50 Most Beautiful (or whatever it's called). So I guess the trick is to somehow land on that and on Time's 100.
I am a lousy martyr.
For all of my hand-wringing, I admit that I had a lot of fun at Time's fiesta. I enjoyed a very nice white wine at the cocktail hour and then devoured a generous portion of lamb at dinner.
I met some fascinating people, schmoozed with Time's representatives and gushed to Managing Editor Rick Stengel that he had done a good job of hosting. (He had.) I was one of the last stragglers to leave.
Even though showed a shred of independence and didn't dress in a tuxedo (hey!), I'm still disgusted with myself. I don't think my editorial independence was compromised, and I'm sure I can produce critical, fair-minded takes on Time Warner. But it doesn't feel right to be bought and sold, even for one night.
It seems shameful that a magazine could spend so much money on a party after its publisher announced last January that it would be cutting staff by nearly 300 people. Affairs like the Time event are designed to thank advertisers, above all. (That's what one of Time's executives did, exhaustively, during the toasts.) The function of the working press at these shindigs is similar to that of little boys and girls at their parents' dinner party. We're supposed to look cute. We're also obliged to write puff pieces.
No wonder Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert created such a stir at one of Washington's high-toned media gatherings.
Mike and me
In general, I can't say I was blown away by the honorees. I had one or two memorable moments. Jim Cramer reaffirmed why he is the smartest journalist (in print) when it comes to analyzing mergers and acquisitions and the stock market.
Best of all was my brief encounter with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, someone I was happy to see.
I walked over to ask if he was going to make a run at Dow Jones & Co. , which publishes the Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch, among other properties. On May 1, News Corp. announced that it had made a $5 billion takeover offer for Dow Jones.
Media people have suggested that Bloomberg might get involved at some point, particularly after Thomson and Reuters Group said that they were considering a possible combination. That new company could put pressure on Bloomberg's news and information operation.
I put it to Bloomberg: Are you going to make a run at Dow Jones?
"NO!" he thundered.
Then a few starstruck women asked the mayor to pose in a picture with them. Sure, he said. "Take the picture," he told me, treatig me just like the ex-employee I was. (I wrote about the financial-services industry at Bloomberg News from 1993 to 1999, before I quit to join MarketWatch.)
I liked Bloomberg very much in those days, and still do; I think he has done a terrific job as my city's mayor. Still, it was amusing -- and even a little heartwarming -- that someone so busy and powerful could slip so naturally back into his old role as my boss. It would have been perfect if I'd had the self-awareness to sing Bob Dylan's lyric, "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more."
Bloomberg is on a roll at Time Inc. Not only did Time add him to its list this year, but Fortune's Carol Loomis recently did a cover story entitled "Bloomberg and his Magnificent Moneymaking Machine," reeking of compliments (and alliteration).
What does this have to do with Time magazine? I suppose it has to do as much with Time as the Time 100 list and the big party.
I'm not sure how throwing a gala for hundreds of people translates into publishing a good magazine or Web site. I mean, people sobered up eventually. They probably feel as ambivalent about the new Time as ever.
The bottom line is that journalists should have an obligation to their readers, listeners and viewers. That's it.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you think I should I feel like a hypocrite?
MONDAY REPORT CARD: Rumors are circulating again around Katie Couric, as the CBS Evening News' ratings continue to sink. Linda Mason, CBS News senior VP of standards and special projects, amazed me by saying on CBS' Public Eye site that the public "seems to prefer the news from white guys, and now that Charlie's doing so well, from older white guys. I guess they want the reassurance of a Walter Cronkite." She was referring to ABC's Charles Gibson.
I hope Mason doesn't really think that anyone other than an old white guy won't cut it on an evening-news broadcast. (Ah, for the good old days -- last year -- when Bob Schieffer sat in the anchor chair at CBS, eh?)
THE READERS RESPOND to my column about New York Times' columnist Maureen Dowd: "I thought your descriptive phrase 'hypocritical, pompous, ineffective and self-important lout' also applies quite well to Ms. Dowd. Any implication of her NOT being completely biased is nonsensical." Kevin Brink
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By Jon Friedman