Daniel Snyder, the new Washington Redskins owner, was convinced that the Washingtonian magazine was out of bounds in its treatment of him over the summer. So he blew the whistle in a call to owner Philip Merrill.
The message got through loud and clear. In the October issue, Merrill gives Snyder a journalistic wet kiss and disses his own magazine in the process.
"New Redskins owner Dan Snyder has been taking a lot of flak from sportswriters and press junkies about the way he is changing the team. . . . Despite the fact that some of the flak has appeared in this magazine, I am betting on the 34-year-old whiz kid," Merrill wrote.
The publisher weighed in as a last resort. Washingtonian insiders say Merrill had threatened to write the valentine if a story he ordered up on Snyder wasn't sufficiently glowing. It wasn't, and he did.
Merrill says in an interview that "it's never bothered me to have people write for the magazine who disagree with me completely." He says he was "very impressed" with Snyder after chatting during two dinners and that it's not unusual for him to dash off a signed piece. "After all," he says, "I'm the publisher."
Like the team owner, says Merrill, "I was a 34-year-old company president. . . . I just have an instinct that he is going to be good. . . . It's one company president sizing up another company president."
The contretemps began in the July issue, with an item on Snyder's likes and dislikes--which described him as "intense and private" and "resentful that he has had to share the spotlight" with the "more gregarious" Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals.
Next up was a satiric piece by Editor Jack Limpert in the August issue, predicting a string of losses by the Skins ("Snyder chews out the players," "Snyder fires the groundskeepers").
Staff writer Kim Eisler, who wrote the Snyder-Leonsis piece, was frustrated that Snyder wouldn't return his calls and says he got little cooperation from the Boston PR firm that is part of Snyder Communications. Eisler says this and the other items "were intended to be light, fun. He just seems thin-skinned to me. . . . Here's a guy in the communications business. This all could have been averted if he'd picked up the phone."
Karl Swanson, Snyder's spokesman, says some of the faxed answers they sent Eisler weren't used (such as Snyder's explanation that he met his wife through friends--not, as the Washingtonian said, on a blind date). "That's what we were scratching our heads over," Swanson says. "They included erroneous information when the right stuff was right there at hand."
After Snyder complained, Merrill called an audible for the staff. "Phil said either we should do another item that cast him in a positive light or Phil was going to write an editorial," one staffer says. Another insider says that "Phil read the riot act to Jack."
The result, in the September issue, was a seemingly harmless rumination on which important folks might be Snyder's guests in the owner's box. Still, Merrill decided to start typing himself, predicting that the "aggressive young businessman" would take the team to the Super Bowl within five years.
Says Limpert: "I went back and forth with Phil and he wanted to write something, which was fine with me. He felt the first couple of things we did on Snyder were unnecessarily negative."
"Phil very rarely interferes," Eisler says. "He's the ideal owner for the most part. He can say whatever he wants. It's his magazine. I just disagreed with the fact that we had given [Snyder] any undue flak."
Off the Reservation
Vice President Gore's White House campaign really must be in deep doo-doo; even Paul Begala says so.
Begala was among the most loyal Clinton-Gore aides until leaving the White House seven months ago to become an MSNBC commentator and George columnist. "There's something fundamentally wrong with the Gore campaign," Begala writes in the magazine's October issue. "It lacks passion, it lacks focus, it lacks direction, it lacks energy."
The reason: "Gore's flat-footed run thus far can be traced to the fact that many of his top aides are continuing to work as lobbyists, advisers and public relations flacks for a long list of corporate clients." Begala's advice is for the veep to fire those who won't immediately quit their other jobs--and move the campaign to Memphis, a safe distance from the punditocracy.
Several top Gore aides are upset with Begala, but spokesman Chris Lehane took a lighter view, saying, "We hope this story is a sign that Paul will be giving up punditry and joining the Gore campaign."
Says Begala: "I say this in the spirit of someone who supports Gore and thinks the campaign should be as good as the candidate."
Close to Home
The Daily Deal is a brand-new newspaper dedicated to tracking and analyzing the action on Wall Street--and, oddly enough, controlled by Wall Street dealmaker Bruce Wasserstein.
Business journalists took note when the debut issue Sept. 15 reported that VoiceStream Wireless Corp. was in the midst of acquiring another firm, and speculated that it might be Aerial Communications.
So when the Wall Street Journal reported last week that VoiceStream was about to buy Aerial and the official announcement was made, insiders couldn't help but notice which investment banking firm had advised Aerial's special committee of directors: Wasserstein Perella. There was immediate chortling that the firm must have leaked its deal to the Deal.
"Completely false," says Editor Bob Teitleman. "I know who the source is, and it's certainly not anyone at Wasserstein Perella."
Teitleman says the 20,000-circulation paper is conscious of the perception problem and that Wasserstein, as chairman of American Lawyer Media, does not read the articles in advance. If Wasserstein tried to do so, says Teitleman, people would head for the doors.
"We will not go out of our way to write about Wasserstein Perella or anyone involved at Wasserstein Perella," he says. "If they're in a transaction that we're covering, we will acknowledge that. You won't be seeing a profile of Bruce Wasserstein or the firm in this newspaper."
Tim Noah must be one courageous guy to call up his boss and ask whether he'd ever done cocaine.
The "Chatterbox" columnist for Slate.com was writing about the C-SPAN appearance in which Michael Kinsley, Slate's editor, was almost (but not quite) asked about past drug use after a caller raised the issue. And Kinsley acknowledged to his reporter that, yes, he had used cocaine.
The background is a bit more mundane; Noah says he hatched the idea while Kinsley was sitting next to him in Slate's Washington office.
"I told Mike I was doing the item. He said, 'If you're doing the item, you should ask me.' So I am not the bravest soul in America. Mike is."