Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

A Clinton alternative, more ABC legal woes and where’s A-Rod?

Steven Brill
Jun 24, 2014 05:00 UTC

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in "A Conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton" in Manhattan, New York1. The Hillary alternatives:

Can it really be such a certainty that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 that the media is taking the right approach in essentially ignoring other possible Democratic candidates?

In any other situation we would be seeing profiles of a half dozen or more alternatives. But not now. Yet there has to be some possibility that the former secretary of state will opt not to run and some possibility that, for a variety of reasons, she will not win the primary contest.

One reason Clinton might not be inevitable is that inevitable often doesn’t sell well. Besides, someone could emerge who Democratic primary voters decide is a better, fresher face. Which is why we should start seeing stories about those alternatives.

So far only Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has gotten much attention. (True, former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has gotten some press lately — but mostly for a series of clownish comments that should disqualify him, assuming he is ever taken seriously.)

What about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has high approval ratings but infuriates critics who decry his cautious, poll-driven approach to almost everything?

Whither Cantor and setting the price on a cure

Steven Brill
Jun 17, 2014 06:00 UTC

U.S. House Majority Leader Cantor gestures as he talks about his defeat in his Virginia Republican primary election during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

1. An Eric Cantor sweepstakes:

Who’s going to hire the soon-to-be unemployed but highly marketable Representative Eric Cantor (R-Va.)?

He’s got a law degree, a world-class Washington Rolodex and the kind of visibility that should make him a client magnet for K Street’s law firms and lobbying and public policy shops.

Or will he go to a think tank? That path might be more complicated because the most likely home for a conservative heavyweight, the Heritage Foundation, seems to have veered so far right that it might be awkward to welcome a guy just beaten by a candidate who attacked him from the right.

More questions for Snowden and the GOP establishment takes on the 2016 primaries

Steven Brill
Jun 3, 2014 05:00 UTC

Accused government whistleblower Snowden is seen on a screen as he speaks via videoconference with members of the Committee on legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg

1. Snowden questions NBC missed:

In his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams last week, Edward Snowden tried to bolster his credentials this way: “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word — in that I lived and worked undercover, overseas, pretending to work in a job … and even being assigned a name that was not mine …. Now, the government might deny these things. They might frame it in certain ways, and say, ‘Oh, well, you know, he’s a low-level analyst.’”

In that segment — and as best I can tell from watching what I think were all the segments of Brian Williams’ interview — three words never came up: Booz Allen Hamilton.

Booz Allen Hamilton is the government contractor that Snowden supposedly worked for. As Talking Points Memo reported a year ago in this article, in the video in which Snowden introduced himself to the world following publication of his initial leaks, he said: “My name is Ed Snowden, I’m 29 years old, I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for [the] NSA, in Hawaii.”

A follow-up on Dasani, fitting Credit Suisse punishments, when Hollywood meets Beijing

Steven Brill
May 28, 2014 05:00 UTC

credit suisse

1. What happened to Dasani?

Remember Dasani Coates?

She’s the homeless Brooklyn girl whose plight the New York Times’ Andrea Elliott chronicled in a moving series of Times features last December. The last we heard about Dasani in the Times was this February 21 follow-up by Elliott and Rebecca R. Ruiz. They reported that New York City officials had decided to move 400 families, including Dasani’s, out of the squalid shelter where she had been living and into rent-supported apartments.

What’s happened since? One would think that with all the attention Dasani received — much of it focused on how intelligent, articulate and determined she was in the face of unspeakable adversity — that she might have been recruited by now into a prestige private school or otherwise showered with attention and even donations that would have dramatically improved her circumstances.

Is that true? What about her parents and siblings? And what about the trust fund established for the family following Elliott’s series?

How to answer the Jill Abramson equal pay question

Steven Brill
May 16, 2014 18:57 UTC

abramson

With the firing of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson last week, a dispute broke out over whether her ouster by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. had anything to do with a complaint she reportedly made to Times executives that she had not been paid the same as Bill Keller, the man she succeeded.

Disclosure: Abramson is a good friend, so I have a favorite in this dispute. But I do know a way to figure it out objectively — with some simple reporting by a competent business reporter. The result would be a story that I’m sure many people would like to see.

The New Yorker’s longtime media writer Ken Auletta reported in two web dispatches (here and here) this week that, shortly before her firing, Abramson had complained to Times executives — and even hired a lawyer to discuss the complaint for her – about her compensation. She reportedly discovered that her salary in 2013 (and through this year) was significantly less than Keller made during his last year on the job in 2010 — $503,000 for Abramson in 2013/2014 and $559,000 for Keller in 2010.

Streamlining the Postal Service, when a merger fails and ‘Who lost Ukraine?’

Steven Brill
May 13, 2014 05:00 UTC

U.S. postal service trucks sit parked at the post office in Del Mar, California

This piece has been updated with a postscript at the end.

1. Postal Service blues:

Last week’s report that the U.S. Postal Service lost another $1.9 billion in the last financial quarter made me yearn for a story detailing the cost constraints afflicting this largest and most hidebound of government services. Everything from union restrictions, to legacy pension obligations, to congressional pressure that keeps even the smallest rural post office not only open but open on Saturdays, to lobbyist strong-arming that keeps the service from using its 32,000 retail footprints to offer other services.

Here’s the way for a reporter to write this: Completely reimagine the Postal Service by supposing it was sold to a private company. In fact, suppose the uber-opposite of a government agency — Amazon — bought it.

What would the real estate be worth if a more efficient company, freed from congressional oversight, bought the agency and slimmed down its holdings, cashing in on some of the premium properties scattered through every town, while using those that remain to offer all kinds of additional retail services?

Value of big data, news on Newsweek, White House Correspondents Dinner’s costs

Steven Brill
May 6, 2014 12:46 UTC

U.S. President Barack Obama is shown on a screen as he speaks during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner

1. What’s the real value of big data?:

The Obama administration’s report last week on the need to consider restricting how Google, Facebook and other Internet powerhouses collect and use big data reminds me of a story I’ve been hoping to see for a while: How much does this collecting and slicing and dicing of big data actually help advertisers and marketers?

I get the idea that a woman who lives in New Jersey and has accessed information online about baby carriages makes a great target for advertisers selling other baby or maternity products. But do marketers really benefit from data that they buy that goes way beyond that — that zeroes in on what other websites she has been to, where she buys what online, where a location service says she has physically been lately or whether her Gmails refer to different products or subjects?

Two years ago, I was in an audience of media and marketing people mesmerized by a presentation from a Yahoo data expert who promised that his firm could target, to take one example, “men who had shopped online for a BMW and also been to a New York Giants football game in the last year.”

Regrouping for Detroit, GM’s bankruptcy evasion and Chinese corporate records

Steven Brill
Apr 29, 2014 05:00 UTC

1. Kevyn Orr and a Detroit rebound?

Last Friday, I happened onto a C-Span broadcast of a speech to a national group of bankruptcy lawyers given by Kevyn Orr — the emergency manager who Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed to take over Detroit’s finances and guide the fallen city through bankruptcy. Since I couldn’t stand watching the Yankees get slaughtered by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, I stopped on the Orr speech for a minute. I stayed 45.

I had never seen Orr speak or paid much attention to Detroit’s troubles and his efforts to dig the city out from under. But if his talk — riveting, funny, emotional, self-effacing, forceful, fact-filled, wholly convincing and seemingly off the cuff — is any indication, both Orr and Detroit 2014 are big national stories.

They are worthy of coverage beyond the good work that’s been done by, among other local outlets, the Detroit Free Press, which ran this comprehensive story  last month, on the one-year anniversary of Orr leaving a lucrative partnership at the Jones, Day law firm to take on the rescue job.

Obama’s unaccountable briefers, pipeline bribery, and economic woes at Yankee Stadium

Steven Brill
Apr 22, 2014 14:38 UTC

 

1. Obama’s unaccountable briefers:

Here’s a key paragraph in Saturday’s New York Times report explaining the Obama administration’s decision to delay yet again a decision on the Keystone pipeline:

’The Nebraska Supreme Court decision could lead to changes in the pipeline route, and it’s important to have that information and better understand that route, because it could have implications for environmental, socioeconomic and cultural impacts of the pipeline,’ a State Department official said Friday in a conference call with reporters that was conducted on the condition that the official not be named.

Why did this official have to remain anonymous? Was he or she providing a national security leak? Was he or she blowing the whistle on some government wrongdoing?

Sealing deadly court files, and Obama and his Cabinet

Steven Brill
Apr 15, 2014 04:44 UTC

1. Sealing deadly court files:

In the wake of continuing disclosures about General Motors’ failure to acknowledge critical safety issues related to faulty ignition switches, there’s a looming issue that has not been addressed: How litigation settlements negotiated by private parties can result in court-sanctioned cover-ups that endanger the public.

We now know that there were several cases in which the families of people who died in crashes after ignition switches failed quietly received cash settlements from GM.

In return for the cash, the plaintiffs not only promised to withhold the settlement details but also agreed with GM that the court files would be sealed. In some cases, those sealed records included documents and transcripts of pre-trial deposition testimony that contained evidence gathered about the dangers of the faulty switches.

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