City Paper is not for tourists
Last Sunday, Newsday reported that Lockheed Martin Corp. is spending $31 million in taxpayer monies on cash bonuses for managers at the newly merged defense contractor. The 19,000 workers at Martin Marietta Corp. and Lockheed who will lose their jobs because of the merger are outraged by the executive booty, which is being distributed to 200 fat cats from both companies. Newsday also pointed out that the deal was approved by a Department of Defense (DOD) official who used to work for Martin Marietta. Pentagon auditors and the DOD Inspector General are currently investigating whether the pricey parachutes and payoffs violated federal law.
It’s just the kind of greed that might motivate Haynes Johnson to crank up his Pulitzer Prize-winning indignation machine. Lockheed Martin’s outrageous grab of public funds might even inspire Johnson to a broadcast sermon about the defense contractor’s gluttony on his WMAL-AM (630) newschat program, Look at Today.
But don’t bet on it. Johnson only gets truly pissed off at Lockheed Martin when it mails his checks late. Johnson, a national editorialist who frequently writes in the Washington Post, is on Lockheed’s payroll for appearing as a commentator on the defense-contractor-sponsored Look at Today, which airs at 6:30 p.m. every weekday. Lockheed Martin has recruited four other members of the punditocracy to the show: at-large commentator Mark Shields, the New York Times‘ Hedrick Smith, and U.S. News & World Report‘s Gloria Borger and Steve Roberts. (Roberts probably feels pressure to hold up his end in the honoraria department, given the dough his wife Cokie rakes in every time she accompanies rubber chicken.)
A few weeks ago, Johnson reportedly called Lockheed Martin’s corporate headquarters in a dither because his regular check hadn’t arrived. He complained at length about the injustice of having to track down his money after a long, hard day schmoozing at the White House. The check was immediately mailed to his house.
When asked about the payments, WMAL general sales manager Zemira Jones said, “I can tell you who is on the show, but how they are compensated is something that I really would not talk to you about.”
Buzz Bartlett, Director of Corporate Affairs for Lockheed Martin, was more forthright about the arrangement.
“We pay them a fee for the time that they spend on the air. We have a contractual relationship with the commentators,” he said in a phone interview Monday, July 31. Roberts sees no conflict in his work for Lockheed Martin. “We all work for corporations and it baffles me that people see this as any different. It’s not.”
Bartlett defended the company’s rental of some of the most hallowed names in journalism. “It’s very straightforward. We pay them for the time spent on the air….Doing it any other way would be a shell game.
“We are extremely sensitive to conflicts of interest and we do not tell them what to do. It’s not like we tell them, “don’t say that’ or “don’t say this.’ If something we did was appropriate to the show, I’m sure they would not shrink from doing it,” he said.
Extramural income among journalists has received its share of appropriate coverage lately, so it’s both creepy and amazing that guys like Johnson didn’t see this one coming. Tune in to WMAL and you can hear the conflict plain as day: “Pulitthat’s truth in advertising.
Putting Race on the Table Charging racism at the bargaining table is a time-honored tradition in labor matters, but in the current negotiations at the Post, it’s the boys in the front office who are playing the race card.
Negotiations between the Post and Local 35 of the Baltimore/Washington Newspaper Guild were grinding along in predictably dissonant ways until Monday, July 24, when management’s chief bargainer charged that the guild’s historical distribution of wage increases discriminated against black employees. (Black employees generally occupy lower-paying positions at the paper and hence receive a smaller portion of any negotiated raises.) Union reps were dumbfounded because they showed up at the meeting confident they were about to settle a long-standing discrimination complaint they had filed against the company back in the late ’80s. Instead, Frank Havlicek, Post vice president for labor and environmental relations, turned the tables with a vengeance. Havlicek insisted that the company’s proposal of a freeze on base pay combined with a $2,000 bonus for all employees was the only fair way to go—and that the union’s demand for base-pay increases was discriminatory.
“The company’s tactics are despicable,” says Carol Rosenblatt, administrative officer of the Newspaper Guild. Rosenblatt says the union has a demonstrated history of progressive distribution of raises. Havlicek is on vacation and unavailable for comment.
In a newspaper environment in which runaway newsprint costs have been used to justify the sacking of almost a thousand reporters in Los Angeles and New York in the past few weeks—and set off a bitter strike in Detroit—Post management apparently feels it has a strong hand, as reflected in its “take it or leave it” approach at the table.
Union members argue that the company’s whining about the rising price of paper doesn’t make much sense when you consider the company’s substantial stake in two paper companies. And they also mention that the Post managed to eke out a $172-million profit last year, while still scrounging up $250 million for a new printing plant.
The Waiting is the Hardest Part Digital Ink, the Post‘s much-touted online service, looks like a virtual no-show so far. (Post staffers probably guessed that their paper’s cyber-revolution was in trouble when Managing Editor Bob Kaiser’s internal e-mail hailing a digitized future came up indeciperable because it was incorrectly sent.)
Call me a Luddite, but the quickest, most searchable technology the Post launched last week landed on my front step last Wednesday morning. At 7:22 a.m., I picked up my paper. Thirty seconds later, I could clearly see that Marion had had his way with District suppliers in redoing his house to Cora’s standards. At 1:00 p.m. I decided to take a second look at Kate Boo’s outstanding story through the much-ballyhooed window of Digital Ink. I logged on and waited a minute before entering my password; 30 seconds later, my modem dialed; after another 30 seconds, my cursor blinked; and finally, after two minutes, the teeny-tiny print told me I was connected. But wait, down in the corner, the computer whispered that it was still running through “tasks.” At 1:05:30, the buttons representing the day’s coverage finally appeared, but I accidentally skated past the lead story as the result of clumsy mouse management. It took me three more minutes to back out and find the story about Barry’s no-cost rehab, although the piece was bolstered by a bunch of options offering a customized chronology of Marion’s misdeeds—18 juicy items in all. I decided to skip the download through memory lane….There will be plenty more where that came from.