Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

America’s lobbying abroad, and following a wonder drug’s money trail

Steven Brill
Feb 26, 2013 12:34 UTC

1. Find the story here:

Let’s begin this column with a quiz, one designed to test your story-generating talents. If the answer comes to you within 10 seconds, you, too, could be an editor or TV news producer. If you are an editor or producer and don’t see it instantly, you need better radar.

First, read the opening two sentences from a story that appeared in the Financial Times a few weeks ago:

Europe’s  most senior justice official is adamant she will fight US attempts to water down a proposed EU data protection and privacy law that would force global technology companies to obey European standards across the world. Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for justice, said that the EU was determined to respond decisively to any attempts by US lobbyists – many working for large tech groups such as Google and Facebook – to curb the EU data protection law.

What’s the story that screams out to be written or televised based on these two sentences? Hint: It’s all about how Washington has been brought to its knees by special interests.

The answer: Let’s compare lobbying practices and regulations in the United States to those in other venues, including the European Union and its constituent countries. This story – with its reference to the EU commissioner vowing to fight “attempts by U.S. lobbyists,” which are the words that rang the idea bell in my head ‑ presents the perfect backdrop for reporting I’ve wanted to see for years comparing how lobbying is done, if at all, in other developed democracies to the way lobbyists and big money have come to dominate the agenda in Washington.

Questions for Ryan, working for welfare, updates on Olbermann and Facebook

Steven Brill
Aug 14, 2012 12:26 UTC

1.   Quick questions for Paul Ryan:

It’s too bad Bob Schieffer didn’t get to these questions for Paul Ryan on 60 Minutes last Sunday night:

Have you calculated how much the average American enrolled in Social Security would have lost in the 2008-2009 market collapse if he or she had been allowed to move those funds into private stock accounts, as your 2004 Social Security privatization plan would have encouraged? Does that change your view of whether we should move Social Security in that direction?

In his recent profile of you in the New Yorker Ryan Lizza says you were “embarrassed” by the Bush years and by the votes you cast in support of deficit-widening programs such as the extension of Medicare to cover prescription drugs. Which votes, including that one, would you take back? And, more important, would you now urge a President Romney to move to repeal prescription drug coverage if you are elected?

The Kennedys and Caro, Facebook IPO suits, the Edwards trial judge

Steven Brill
May 29, 2012 12:57 UTC

1. The Kennedys’ take on the Caro book:

Robert Caro’s stunning new volume on Lyndon Johnson has received enormous coverage, but one angle I haven’t seen is what the reaction to it is of John F. Kennedy family members and loyalists. Caro’s depiction of how LBJ was treated by JFK and his team (especially Robert Kennedy) during his vice-presidency and how he basically resuscitated the Kennedy administration’s domestic agenda – which seemed doomed in Congress had Kennedy lived, because of how JFK and his aides fumbled the ball on Capitol Hill – presents a pretty damning picture of the Age of Camelot. Are there any Kennedy people out there willing to argue otherwise?

2. Facebook: Race to the courthouse

The three suits claiming class action status that have been filed against Facebook, its underwriters and  Nasdaq charging various misdeeds in the run-up to its IPO would be great material for a fresh look at class action securities suits. More often than not such suits are an exercise in plaintiffs’ lawyers racing to the courthouse to file dubious claims to force defendants into making settlements that typically pay the lawyers handsomely while leaving little for their supposed clients.

The suits – one in Maryland, one in New York and a third in California – were filed within hours of news reports pinpointing Nasdaq’s screwups and the fact that analysts apparently warned some big clients, but not the rest of the buyers, that Facebook’s supplemental filing with the SEC just before the launch of the IPO might be a significant negative development. The filing noted the increasing use of mobile devices to access Facebook and explained that Facebook has so far not done well generating ad revenue from mobile traffic.

A trove of stories from the Facebook IPO

Steven Brill
Feb 6, 2012 16:19 UTC

Facebook’s landmark IPO filing suggests lots of meaty stories. Among them:

1. Facebook, third parties and data security:

Embedded in the typically long recitation of “risk factors” designed to shield IPO issuers from shareholder suits should things go wrong is a section of the prospectus that warns:

Our efforts to protect the information that our users have chosen to share using Facebook may be unsuccessful due to the actions of third parties … If these third parties or Platform developers fail to adopt or adhere to adequate data security practices or fail to comply with our terms and policies, or in the event of a breach of their networks, our users’ data may be improperly accessed or disclosed. Any incidents involving unauthorized access to or improper use of the information of our users could damage our reputation and our brand and diminish our competitive position. In addition, the affected users or government authorities could initiate legal or regulatory action against us in connection with such incidents, which could cause us to incur significant expense and liability or result in orders or consent decrees forcing us to modify our business practices….

Not explained here is what protective mechanisms Facebook has to prevent these kinds of third-party security breaches and other abuses. Is the privacy and data protection of Facebook users only as strong as the weakest link among these third parties? Is there an Internet equivalent of the Gulf oil spill out there waiting to happen, after which Facebook points fingers at these third parties?

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