Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats, political stalling, and the lawyer who could nail Christie

Steven Brill
Feb 4, 2014 05:00 UTC

1. Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats? Or are its rivals overdoing it?

I may be imagining it, but while the other network news organizations are giving full, even avid, coverage to the threat of terrorism at the coming Sochi Olympics, NBC — which is televising the games — seems to be playing it down. Or at least not playing it up.

It’s no surprise that NBC has been full of segments featuring the arrivals or practice sessions of members of team America, especially the good-looking ones. That’s a time-honored, if cheesy, effort to use ostensible news shows to boost the games’ ratings.

But it also seems that its coverage of the security threats and accompanying precautions is nothing like what we’re seeing on CBS, ABC, Fox or CNN — where images of barb wire-encased arenas and helmeted Russian security forces abound.

Am I right? Someone on the media or sports beats ought to check that out by doing a full count of the types of stories aired across the networks.

Either way — if NBC’s security coverage is just as strong as its rivals or not — I’d like to see an inside report on how the network’s bosses are instructing their producers and talent to juxtapose their cheery coverage of our athletes with the more grim reports about the challenges of Sochi as the venue for the games.

Christie’s legal bills, who profits from retailer hacking, and Davos economics

Steven Brill
Jan 28, 2014 16:46 UTC

1. Christie’s legal bills and lawyers’ conflicts:

When it was announced earlier this month that Governor Chris Christie had hired Randy Mastro, the New York litigation head of California-based Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, to represent the Christie administration in dealing with all of the investigations involving Bridgegate, some observers told reporters that signing on Mastro signaled that Christie and his team might be gearing up to take an aggressive posture that is inconsistent with the governor’s initial promise to cooperate fully in all investigations.

That’s a logical assumption: Mastro, a former protégé of tough-guy New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is a notoriously hard-nosed litigator.

But what’s also intriguing is that Gibson, Dunn is one of the country’s most expensive law firms. Which raises the question of how much the state is paying to bring in this non-New Jersey team to represent the New Jersey governor’s office? And what is Christie’s rationale for passing over the local talent in a state full of terrific lawyers and law firms?

Finding Obamacare’s authors; assessing J&J’s CEO culpability; and grading Chris Christie

Steven Brill
Nov 12, 2013 11:48 UTC

1. Finding the folks who wrote Obamacare:

As I report a story I am writing about Obamacare, it’s become clear to me that — as we are already seeing with the controversy over people getting their insurance plans dropped — there are all kinds of issues related to provisions in the massive law that are bound to get lots more attention once the website is working. A few weeks ago in this column, for example, I mentioned the as-yet-little-noticed high penalties that smokers will have to pay.

As with the smoking penalty, many of these issues are related to narrow provisions that are hard to spot in a 906-page law. But as someone who has now read those 906 pages I can also report that, in addition to the substantive issues likely to become bigger deals as the law is implemented, there are also potholes soon to come because the law is filled with inconsistencies, gaps, and just plain wording errors. More generally, even for legal writing, it’s badly constructed and seems written to torment even someone who is used to reading legislation.

With that in mind, I recently asked a senior Senate staff person who was heavily involved in designing the law who the person or persons who actually wrote it are, and how I might track them down for an interview. His answer: “Senate Legislative Counsel. They don’t talk to anyone.”

Campaign questions, the world’s worst government agency, and medical lobbies

Steven Brill
Jan 17, 2012 14:28 UTC

1. Mitt’s tax bracket:

Note to television producers or editors about to do interviews with Mitt Romney on the campaign trail: The tax rate for the lower-middle class and middle class (joint filers earning roughly $17,000 to $70,000) is 15%. So any of your reporters doing an interview with Romney should ask him if he paid more than 15% of his total income in federal income taxes last year, or more than 25% — the bracket for income from $70,001 to $142,700.

Because of preferential treatment of capital gains, of “carried interest” income earned by people in the private equity business, and of money derived from offshore investments, as well as other tax breaks, there’s a good chance that Romney didn’t pay at a rate of 25% or even 15%. Be sure to use “total income” in the question, which would be Romney’s income before taking deductions for many of the tax breaks not available to average wage earners. Update: Shortly after this column was published, Romney was asked precisely this question, and told reporters that he paid “closer to the 15% rate than anything.”

Romney’s likely answer, based on what he has said so far, will be that he has not decided to release his tax returns but that he may do so later.

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