"Wall Street got drunk," the president said, "and now it's got a hangover." Also, Donald Trump Jr. invests in India, 'Esquire' editors decide to flash people, and more, in our daily roundup of finance, real-estate, media, and law news.
Heh. Naked short selling. Sounds like something a frat boy would do, right? Well … it sort of is. Read all about the SEC's bold move to crack down on market manipulators and more, in our daily roundup of finance, media, law, and real-estate news.
Part of what Dan Rather was hoping for, in his $70 million lawsuit against former employer CBS, was the ability to open to public scrutiny the company's actions that led up to his ouster in 2005. So it's no surprise that when the network asked Manhattan Supreme Court to keep documents concerning Memogate private, the former anchor got a bit upset. CBS originally said it would keep things public, but they have backed off that. Rather, who wanted the public to see all the information involving the media giant's investigation into the origins of disputed memos about President Bush's National Guard Service, railed against network execs. "It is a fact that corporate overlords working in secret collusion with the powers in Washington are intruding far too often in far too many newsrooms," he said. "Corporate overlords? "Secret collusion"? "Powers"? What is this, a Wachowski movie? Whether or not he is right, Rather isn't doing himself any favors in the battle to rescue his reputation. He, of all people, should know how much phrasing matters.
Rather: CBS Bosses Hiding Truth [NYDN via Jossip]
• William A. Ackman of Pershing Hedge Funds got everyone freaking out about bond insurers by issuing a report yesterday afternoon predicting that MBIA and the Ambac Financial Group might just lose $24 billion on mortgage investments. “Here comes Ackman at the 11th hour upsetting the apple cart,” Douglas M. Peta, chief market strategist at J.& W. Seligman & Company, told the Times. “I don’t think anybody has really thought it all through, but we all understand the implications of real trouble in the bond insurers could be far reaching.” [NYT] Related! MBIA announced a $3.5 billion write-down this morning. [CNN]
• Wharton is still the number-one place in the universe to pick up an MBA.
• Following in the steps of other CEOs with giant mortgage-related losses, Merrill won't give its top brass any bonuses. But they will give them stock options "to promote the continuity of the management team as they continue to navigate through challenging market conditions in 2008." That's one way to hang on to staff. [Reuters]
New Yorkers watching Will Smith walk through the ruins of an uninhabited Manhattan onscreen in I Am Legend knew just how he felt; it was a week for contemplating loneliness. Rudy Giuliani, indulging in fantasy population control of his own, envisaged a city in which he’d deported 400,000 illegal aliens. (“I would have had fewer problems,” he’s quoted as saying in a new book.)
Exactly seven minutes before their scheduled 3 p.m. protest today, Viacom freelancers received a memo from HR's JoAnne Griffith saying that the company had decided to let them keep their old health-care plans (although the controversial Aetna plan "has certain advantages that may make it the preferred option for many of our freelance and temporary employees," the memo said — as if!). When the e-mail arrived, "there was a palpable sense of relief," said one freelancer, "however, we are still missing several key items that we had before," including the company's contributions to their 401(k) and paid holidays. So it was back out to Times Square and chanting, and someone even started a blog for True Life stories of Viacom freelancers, such such as this one, titled "Engaged and Underpaid":
"My girlfriend and I recently got engaged and set a date for the fall '08 for our wedding, but [getting on her health-care plan] will cost us a huge chunk of what we had been saving for our wedding. So much for getting married in ’08. THANKS VIACOM!"
The section of 42nd Street directly below the glass-walled studio where MTV's Total Request Live is filmed is usually occupied by screaming fans of pop-music acts and MTV personalities, but at 3 p.m. today it was filled with nearly 300 MTV employees, who gathered outside the Viacom building to protest the drastic cuts the company is making to the benefit plans of its full-time freelancers. "The TRL people were all looking down at us," said one freelancer. "We booed them." They may have been angry, but the protesters weren't uncreative: They held aloft signs bearing twisted Viacom logos — Nickelodeon became "Sickolodeon" and MTV "WTF." They were even musical, chanting "I want my benefits" to the tune of the Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing," and "You've Got to Fight for Your Right to Health Care!" to the Beastie Boys' "You've Gotta Fight for Your Right (to Party)." "It was pretty catchy," said one freelancer, who added that some of the chants were more direct. "There was one where everyone just shouted, 'I want teeth,'" she said. But the protests weren't, after all, just for fun. "We deserve to be able to take care of our bodies when we get sick," said the freelancer about the new health plan, which she called "a piece of shit." "We're worth more than that."
According to a press release sent to us from embittered Viacom freelancers, 3 p.m. is the hour that they will storm out of the offices today to protest large changes in the company's benefit program. Though Sumner's army of evil attempted to make some concessions last week, it seems like it's still on. From the release:
The holiday season has arrived and you work for one of the largest
media corporations in the world. You receive your invitation to the company’s annual
holiday gala event, and along with it, you are given the alarming news that in a few
weeks, large portions of your employee benefits – including health insurance and
retirement benefits – will be slashed or cut.
It sounds like a tale only Scrooge could spin, but this was the case for thousands
who work each day for Viacom but are classified as ‘freelancers’, some of whom
have been working for the company as long as 9 years.
Wow, Scrooge? Someone get these creative people a raise! Any readers planning on walking out, too? Send us what's going on in the interior; we're dying to know. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. After the jump, the full press release.
Viacom employees and freelancers weren't sure what to expect from their holiday party last night. After the company announced they were making major cuts to employee and freelancer benefits, no one was in a great mood. People talked about protesting at the party, wearing "Permalancers Are People, Too" T-shirts and handing out stickers that someone had made on which WTF replaced the MTV logo. Some people were talking about boycotting the party altogether. But at 5 p.m., after HR veep JoAnne Griffith sent around a memo announcing the cuts would be less severe than previously announced, the rage subsided, the angst transmuted into relief, and Sumner Redstone's serfs succumbed to Weimar-esque debauchery. Daily Intel got a report from inside the belly of the beast.
• Viacom screws over its army of freelancers by rolling back benefit programs drastically. Merry Christmas! [MixedMedia/Portfolio]
• The Washington Post is sending veteran reporter and inveterate partier Keith Richburg to town to take over the paper's New York bureau. He's well known for throwing parties with, get this, as many as 30 people! Will Manhattan will be able to handle it? [NYO]
• No holiday party at Time Inc. or the New York Times. Suckas! [Radar]
Just how nuts is Sumner Redstone? Clearly quite nuts, or at least quite senile. But there's also a chance he hasn't been quite as nuts, for quite as long, as today's Times suggest. Yes, yes: He's probably trying to oust his daughter and heir apparent, Shari, from their companies. And yes, yes: He summarily fired Tom Cruise last year and then ousted Tom Freston. But perhaps he hasn't always been quite this bad. Consider one of the best anecdotes in the Times story:
In 1999, at a news conference for Viacom’s purchase of CBS, Mr. Redstone interrupted Mel Karmazin, CBS’s chief executive, by blurting “I’m in control! Remember — I’m in control!” into a microphone. Despite being widely considered Mr. Redstone’s successor, Mr. Karmazin left the company in 2004.
We were amused, and intrigued, and wanted to find out what happened next in the press conference. So we went to trusty Nexis, where we discovered something interesting.