The founding Wonkette editor signs on to do irreverent political coverage for Maer's magazine, another Charles Kushner associate goes down, and Andrew Cuomo noses around Dick Grasso's package, in our daily roundup of news from the worlds of media, real estate, law, and finance.
• After testifying in front of the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform last week about the gargantuan pay package he picked up while his company hemorrhaged money, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo made Congress a nice little offer: "Mr. Mozilo said he had left a card in each Congressional office with a help line for constituents having problems with their loans. He added that if the number didn’t work, “call me— I take this very seriously.’” [NYT]
• Since the federal death-penalty statute was revived in 1998, New York federal juries have been reluctant to impose the death sentence. [NYT]
• You know those ads for legal firms in the Metro? Yeah, they're really not all that effective. [Legal Blog Watch]
Oh, not really. We're just exaggerating. That's what the media does, according to former Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, and former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal,all of whom who have all offered up the line that the media has "grossly exaggerated" the amounts of their compensation in their testimony in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today. “The reality is that I received no severance package," said O'Neal. This is technically true: but he did recieve $161.5 million in cash, stock and stock options upon his "retirement" in October. Over at Portfolio, Elizabeth Olson is live-blogging the hearing, and she has reported that, among other things, Countrywide Financial CEO Mozilo looks "tan and confident," but everyone looks totes unhappy. The day started out with a bang: Chair Henry Waxman, who called for the hearing, wondered aloud whether the "hundreds of millions of dollars [the CEOs] were given represent a complete disconnect from reality," but Republican representative Tom Davis killed his joy by saying that they "should not degenerate into a sanctimonious search for scapegoats.… Punishing individual corporate executives with public floggings like this may be a politically satisfying ritual — like an island tribe sacrificing a virgin to a grumbling volcano." Indeed. Also, who knew Davis was so creative?
Credit C.E.O. Comp Under Fire, IV [Daily Brief/Portfolio]
As you may know, Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, recently deposed Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal, and recently deposed Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince are scheduled to testify in front of the House and Government Reform Committee tomorrow, having been called by Representative Henry Waxman of California to defend the gigantic paychecks they received precisely as their companies were hemorrhaging billions of dollars in subprime investments. Muckraked got hold of a memo Waxman wrote summarizing the issue for his colleagues, and it is kind of awesome. "During the five-year period from January 2002 through December 2006, the stock of Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, and Citigroup appreciated, and the three CEOs collectively received more than $460 million in compensation," he wrote. Then, "Any alignment between the compensation of the CEOs and their shareholders' interests appears to break down in 2007, however." But the best part is an e-mail from October 2006, wherein Mozilo smacks down shareholders who suggest his $120 million compensation might be a little much.
Quoth the e-mail:
I appreciate your input but at this stage in my life at Countrywide this process is no longer about money but more about respect and acknowledgement of my accomplishments.… Boards have been placed under enormous pressure by the left wing business press and the envious leaders of unions and other so called 'CEO Comp Watchers' and therefore Boards are being forced to protect themselves irrespective of the potential negative long term impact on public companies. I strongly believe that a decade from now there will be a recognition that entrepreneurship has been driven out of the public sector resulting in underperforming companies and a willingness on the part of Boards to pay for performance.
That's right, Angelo. You've got to fight those liberal bastards or else they'll take away everything that is right and good in the world. Now go tell it on the mountain, friend.
[Muckraked via Salon]
Many of you know celebrity astrologer Susan Miller as the uncannily accurate predictor of your fate. You're in good company: She's got A-listers like Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom paying her to do their charts and gets fifteen million page views a month on her Website, Astrologyzone. She's asked to analyze the stars for actors, musicians, and starlets all the time — but when we got the chance to talk with her, we wanted to know what the future holds for a group of guys even nearer and dearer to our heart. Guys like embattled IAC CEO Barry Diller, Blackstone CEO Steven Schwarzman, ousted Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince, and Merrill Lynch newbie John Thain. After all, these people have much more power to wreak havoc in our lives if the stars choose not to shine on them. After the jump, read Miller's uncannily prescient analysis (it would be more precise if she knew the times of day they were born) and learn what warnings these four financial powerhouses need to heed if they want to come out of 2008 on top.
Not so fast there, boys. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Henry Waxman isn't going to let fired Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal and fired Citigroup CEO Charles Prince III waste away in Margaritaville just yet. He's organizing a little field trip down to Washington February 7, where he's holding a hearing as part of an "ongoing investigation into executive pay" related to subprime. The executives will be expected to answer questions about the massive pay and severance packages they received after making a mess of their companies and why they thought they could get away with armfuls of money while leaving the rest of America holding the bag. Yeah. Who do they think they are, anyway? "You collected tens of millions of dollars in payments and other compensation upon your departure from Citigroup," Waxman wrote in a letter to Prince, according to the Financial News. "You should plan to address how it aligns with the interests of Citigroup’s shareholders and whether this level of compensation is justified in light of your company’s recent performance and its role in the national mortgage crisis." Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo has also been invited along for the ride, since Bank of America announced they would acquire that ailing beast for $4 billion on Friday, and if Mozilo, thought he was going to go sailing into the sunset scot-free, well, we guess he's got another think coming.
Congress Panel Wants to Grill Subprime CEOs on Pay [Reuters]
Some finance pundits may be giving newly installed Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit a hard time, but there's one person who knows he can get the job done: his dad. "I am not apprehensive about his abilities," Shankar Pandit, 84, told the Times of India last night. "I am confident he will do a very good job." In his interview with the Times, Shankar, the former director of a pharmaceuticals company, talked about getting the phone call from Vikram about his promotion ("He told me in a calm but happy voice that everything had gone well") and what Pandit was like growing up ("He was a brilliant boy. In school, he always stood first in his class") and gave some insight into the man Vikram is now.
He is a very simple person at heart. He likes reading and reads on all sorts of topics; he even reads up a cookery book! He is a very good photographer and enjoys being with family. He derives pleasures from simple things in life, not playing golf etc.
Again with the golf! Apparently, during the months following CEO Chuck Prince's departure from Citi, Pandit discussed the possibility that he might get the Citigroup job with his father. Like an Indian Fred McMurray, his dad told him that although he hoped he would, but he would still be proud of him if he didn't. "I told him he was only 50 years old and had enough time ahead of him to prove his worth," he said. Aw. Even Wall Street titans are just little kids to someone.
Vikram Has To Put In A Lot of Efforts, Says Dad [Times of India]
Earlier: Daily Intel's Coverage of Vikram Pandit
• Bill Keller on Rupert Murdoch: "I don't know Rupert Murdoch, he is a combative 76-year-old newspaper guy with a tabloid soul and more money than God. With those resources at this stage it looks like he will do whatever the hell he wants to do. I don't think he is going to be constrained by some strategic planning consultant telling him what he can do. That makes him very hard to predict." [Media Mob/NYO]
• Meanwhile, the Times gave Sam Tanenhaus still more power, expanding his purview beyond the Book Review to the halcyon halls of "Week in Review." It's hard to tell if this is Keller's endorsement of Tanenhaus's talents or just an absurd overselling of some serious cost savings. [Radar]
• Jon Stewart shows he's a real mensch and begins paying his staff just like all the other late-night hosts (Even though Stewart is paid far less himself.) Daily Show staffers never even missed a check. [Mixed Media/Portfolio]
• The Gucci family is up in arms over Ridley Scott’s biopic. They fear he’ll focus on the family scandals. You know, instead of making a movie about all the boring stuff. [British Vogue]
• Helmut Lang is opening a pop-up shop in the meatpacking district. Just what we need, another fabulous place to spend our money while we are drunk. [Fashion Informer]
• Kaiser Karl rocked the U.K. with a Chanel fashion show. [WWD]
• Is Jon Stewart really the only late-night host not currently covering the salaries of his laid-off, non-striking employees? [Mixed Media/Portfolio]
• The key lines from the n+1 essay that helped convinced Choire Sicha and Emily Gould to quit: "The purpose of Gawker Media was always to improve on the print publishing business model. It was never, as the content of Gawker sometimes seemed to suggest, to produce critiques of the waste that model created. The content at Gawker, like most Condé Nast titles, is a service to the advertisers. … You could say that as Gawker Media grew, from Gawker's success, Gawker outlived the conditions for its existence." Joshua David Stein announced his own departure, due mostly to personal loyalty, on Saturday. [n+1, Media Mob/NYO]
• Meanwhile, Portfolio's Jeff Bercovici proves that Condé and Gawker really are at the same level: "By the way, those who feel wronged by Gawker over the years can take some satisfaction in the uniquely terrible timing of the walkout for Denton, who is pumped full of painkillers after a recent back injury. Last week, the pain became so intense he needed an ambulance to get to the hospital. As he was being loaded into the ambulance, he says, his greatest fear was that he would be spotted by someone from Gawker, which is headquartered just down the block from his home." [Mixed Media/Portfolio]
• Jeff Bercovici wants to know: "What's Regan's price for selling out her country?" After all, if Regan's info on Giuliani is that damaging, shouldn't she divulge it in any case, no matter how much Uncle Murdoch is willing to offer? [Mixed Media/Portfolio]
• Dan Rather's lawyers are getting fed up with CBS nondisclosure agreements. "Who do these guys think they are? The National Security Agency?" [NYO]
• Intrepid Observer reporter spends 45 minutes staring through a window just to see who showed up to a lame Times party. Now that's journalism! [Media Mob/NYO]
• Al Gore, venture capitalist? The Nobel laureate and Apple board member is taking a hands-on role at Kleiner Perkins, the leading Silicon Valley venture firm. His goal: Save the world. And annoy GE's Jeff Immelt as much as possible. [Fortune]
• Harvard picked Robert S. Kaplan, a former Goldman Sachs vice-chairman, as the new steward for the $35 billion endowment. Something tells us his kids won't have any trouble getting in. [Reuters via NYT]
• A few management consultants with nothing better to do gave the Times its newest buzzword: CEO version 3.0. With the departures of Stan O'Neal, Chuck Prince, and Richard Parsons, it's now time for leaders "who can assemble a team that functions as smoothly as a jazz sextet." Because, as James Cayne showed, the old CEOs were way too bebop. [NYT]
• Princely girlfriend Kate Middleton quit her job at fashion chain Jigsaw, sparking rumors of an imminent engagement! [British Vogue]
• Daria Werbowy is doing a line of makeup for Lancôme that benefits a Brazilian children’s charity. Hot and philanthropic? Sigh. [Fashionista]
• Surprise, surprise: This holiday shopping season is gonna suck for retailers. [NYT]
Rosie O'Donnell burst into tears after Bill Clinton called her and apologized for being unfaithful to his wife. The guy who won the marathon said he did so by refraining from sex and eating pasta. Katie Holmes said her marathon run was "hard, but good." (She also wore a velvet Hermès gown to a Museum of the Moving Image event honoring her husband.) Damien Hirst installed a bunch of dead sheep carcasses in formaldehyde tanks at Lever House. Ousted Citigroup chief Chuck Prince didn't say hi to Sandy Weill at the Four Seasons. Annie Lennox gave a bunch of fans the finger. Governor Spitzer, Governor Corzine, and Nora Ephron went on a triple date to Cafe Boulud.
Now that Chuck Prince is out at Citigroup, everyone can say what they really thought of him. Todd Thomson, the former head of Citi's wealth-management department, who was fired in January after a delicious spate of reports questioning his spending (his extravagant office was commonly referred to as the "Todd Mahal") and his relationship with CNBC's Money Honey Maria Bartiromo, jumps in first. Thomson told Reuters today that he suspected Prince himself orchestrated the "smear campaign" against him, because he was trying to divert attention from the issues at Citibank and also, perhaps, because he considered Thomson a rival. "There was a very significant rift between me and the now ex-CEO," he told Reuters (click the picture to watch the video). "I've never been accused of having anything other than an appropriate relationship with Maria Bartiromo. And I do have an appropriate relationship with Maria Bartiromo." Bartiromo concurs: “Something happened between Todd Thomson and Chuck Prince, and somehow I got wrapped up in it,” she told the Times the other day. “Clearly, there was another agenda going on.” An agenda! A rift! A triangle! It's all so Shakespearean! These people have been wronged!
• Incoming Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes may well spin off the company's huge cable unit, but a sale of Time Inc. looks unlikely since the small potential proceeds (and big tax penalty) would little benefit a company of Time Warner's size. [NYT]
• Times editorial-page editor Andy Rosenthal calls all executive editors, including Bill Keller and his own father, crazy. Sweet. [Radar]
• Rupert Murdoch is confirming to all his friends he plans to bring in Times of London editor Robert Thomson to become the Journal's publisher as part of an "Aussie invasion" in the first few months of next year. [Guardian via Media Mob/NYO]