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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Throw Another Blog On the Fire

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2005; Page C01

Billionaires can be bloggers, too.

And if you're Mark Cuban, high-tech entrepreneur and basketball team owner, blogging enables you to communicate directly with the fans -- and slap some sportswriters with such labels as "the new moron in town."

In the coverage of him and the Dallas Mavericks, Cuban says, "there was not a whole lot of fact-checking done, not a whole lot of accountability," and blogging "was my chance to correct what needed to be corrected. Too many times I read what I was doing from people I'd never talked to -- 'rumor had it,' 'sources say.' " He says blogmaverick.com "has changed how the media deal with me" because if reporters are sloppy, "they know I'll call them on it."

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says his Internet blog is "my chance to correct what needed to be corrected" in media accounts about him. (Craig Sjodin -- Abc)

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But, he insists, "I don't really try to get even with people."

For millions of critics, activists, watchdogs, partisans and just plain opinionated folks, online commentary is a way of drawing an audience. Show-business types have taken up blogging, from Rosie O'Donnell, who writes in verse, to Pat Sajak, a self-described "conservative entertainer" who complains that the press is unfair to conservatives.

Cuban, who founded Broadcast.com and starred in a reality TV show last year, can make news any time he wants. But by blogging -- to an audience he estimates at 300,000 -- he eliminates the media middleman.

Last month he headlined one posting: "ABC should suspend Jim Gray until he apologizes." He cited an NBA telecast in which Gray, interviewing Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, said he had asked Cuban if the team's chemistry had improved after the trade of another player, Steve Nash. Cuban insisted that he had never mentioned Nash in talking about team chemistry and that "what Gray did is pretty much the definition of slime reporting."

"I thought he was wrong. . . . To me this was a whole bunch of nothing," Gray says. A transcript shows Cuban had told Gray on ESPN that he meant "no disrespect to Steve," but the team now had "great chemistry."

"I've gotten along well with Mark over the years," Gray says, adding that they discussed the incident and "we basically agreed to disagree." Cuban says he's moved on after giving Gray a "one-game suspension" -- meaning he was barred from interviewing Mavs players for one game.

"He doesn't pay my check," Gray says. "I don't work for Mark."

Cuban isn't shy -- the NBA has fined him more than $1.2 million in five years for out-of-bounds comments -- and the blog reflects that. He has called Chicago Tribune sports columnist Sam Smith "clueless" for criticizing Cuban's constant tinkering with the Mavericks.

"He's always been a bully and is not used to people standing up to him," Smith says. "I'm a columnist -- I write my opinion. I don't have to check with him. . . . If you question what he's done, he can be very vindictive about it." Smith, who's amused by the blog, says Cuban has called Tribune editors to try to get him fired. Cuban says he e-mailed them to ask whether their employees had to meet accuracy standards.

Cuban has also written that "the new moron in town is Chad Ford of ESPN.com" after Ford, who declined comment, criticized the Nash trade. Cuban says his beef is with journalists who don't bother to check with him, since he says he's easily accessible by e-mail. He gets 1,000 e-mails a day and considers them important feedback from customers.

In January, Cuban caused a stir by proclaiming on the blog that President Bush should show restraint by canceling his lavish inauguration parties. He said later he had voted for the president, twice.

Cuban used his online platform to promote his television program "The Benefactor" (and criticize the Dallas Morning News's coverage of the reality show). When he wanted to disclose last month that he was funding the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a Supreme Court appeal of an entertainment industry lawsuit against online sharing of music and videos, he did it on his blog:

"This isn't the big content companies against the technology companies. This is the big content companies, against me. Mark Cuban and my little content company."

Cuban recounted how he launched HDNet Films and other digital information firms, working in a plug: "Our first theatrical release will be 'Enron, the Smartest Guys in the Room,' which will be released in theaters on April 22nd of this year."

Talking Points Fallout

Conservative critics had a fine time kicking around ABC's Linda Douglass and The Washington Post's Mike Allen for reporting on a mysterious strategy memo about the Terri Schiavo case that the reporters said was distributed to Republican senators.

Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes, after checking with the office of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), said the stories were evidence of "crude liberal bias. . . . The offensive part -- it didn't come from Martinez -- left the strong impression that Republicans are callous and cynical in their attempt to save Schiavo's life."

But after The Post reported that a Martinez aide had fessed up as the author and resigned, reactions have been mixed. One critical blogger, Josh Claybourn, apologized to ABC News. Powerline blogger John Hinderaker says he "made a mistake" in concluding it was "an inauthentic document," but still quarrels with the two news organizations' descriptions: "The memo was not a 'GOP talking points memo' prepared by party leaders or distributed only to Republican senators." Barnes says he was "wrong about its origin" but that if a similar strategy memo from a Democratic aide had leaked, "it wouldn't have been paid any attention to by the media."

ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider says "we obviously took a lot of heat on this story from many quarters" and that the Martinez disclosure "vindicates Linda Douglass, who is an outstanding reporter who was dragged through the mud."

Flagrant Foul

On Sunday, April 3, Mitch Albom's sports column in the Detroit Free Press involved the Final Four basketball game the day before between North Carolina and Michigan State.

In the crowd, he wrote, "there were two former stars for Michigan State, Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson," who "sat in the stands, in their MSU clothing, and rooted on their alma mater." Except that the two men weren't at the game. Which Albom had no way of knowing, since he filed the column Friday, before the basketball game.

That, the best-selling author admitted in a column last week, was "a bad move." Although the former players told him they planned to attend, "I wrote it in the past tense, as if it already had happened. . . . You can't write that something happened that didn't. I owe you and the Free Press an apology."

Albom has been suspended and Free Press Publisher Carole Leigh Hutton has ordered an investigation. "It's pretty obvious" that editors should not have approved the story, says Public Editor John X. Miller, and that "the alarm should have been raised" before publication.

Hunting Small Game

"New Study Links Hunting to Small Penis Size," said the press release, citing work from the "Diminutive Male Genitalia Disorder Research Organization."

Yes, it was another one of those April fool spoofs, this one from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and a couple of papers, including London's Independent, bit. But the PETA folks were surprised at an e-mail from Washington Times outdoors editor Gene Mueller.

"You might have something there. . . It might apply to a fellow I know who's not well endowed, but who's one heck of a hunter," Mueller wrote. "But then there's my brother, Lou, who's amply endowed but also loves to hunt."

Mueller says he "kind of suspected it was just tongue-in-cheek" and that he was just baiting his "enemies. They'd like nothing better than for me to disappear, because I write about hunting and I advocate hunting."

PETA spokesman Michael McGraw says outdoors writers such as Mueller "don't necessarily present a balanced view" and that the gag was "a lighthearted way to draw attention to a serious issue," which is "killing of defenseless animals."

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