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Media Follies

The TaskMaster can take the heat, but he can also dish it out.
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Trolling for Media

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tonight's column focuses on my friends and neighbors in the financial press. Given the scrutiny I've received from reporters (both in-house and out) for some off-the-cuff remarks, I figured I'm perfect for the job.

And nobody else is doing this and it's late summer before a long holiday weekend.

Now They Tell Me's

"Featured Visionary of the Week" on

Aug. 25 was David Wetherell, chairman and CEO of



. In the introduction before a Q&A, editor Matt Ragas gushed: "Possibly no one understands the concept of doing things in 'Internet time' better than" Wetherell.

The intro went on to describe CMGI's backing of "incredibly successful" Netizens such as





, and its "vast portfolio" of over 40 Internet firms. "Quite simply, CMGI has proven time and time again that it is on the cutting edge of shaping and building the Internet economy," the piece continued.

Could be. But readers had to wade through a 350-word intro plus a near 1600-word Q&A (huge in the online world where readers can't deal with over 800 words, according to my editors) before discovering CMGI is


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an investor in Raging Bull.

I give them full marks for making the disclosure -- and Ragas responded via email they are "comfortable" with its placement -- but couldn't it have been just a tad higher up?

Speaking of CMGI


Andrew Serwer discussed the firm in both his "Street Life" column last night and his summary appearance on


"Moneyline." (

Oh c'mon. It's all synergies these days, maybe you boys need a refresher ...


Actually, Serwer was talking about

Safeguard Scientifics


and how it's "cheap" relative to CMGI.

In his televised appearance, Serwer called Safeguard Scientifics "a stock that a lot of people on Wall Street are talking up these days" after mentioning a "source close to Safeguard" in the column.

I don't think I'm giving away any trade secrets here, but when a journalist mentions a source "close to" something it's often a euphemism for someone who works at said company.

The column ended with a nod to Steven Frankel of

Adams Harkness Hill

in Boston, who is someone who "knows all this stuff. Real well," according to Serwer. If he was the Safeguard source, why not come out and say so?

Reached late tonight, Frankel reiterated his belief Safeguard is undervalued relative to CMGI.

But Frankel thinks


CMGI and Safeguard are "compelling buys for slightly different reasons" and has strong buy recommendations on both. (Adams Harkness has done underwriting for Safeguard investments such as

U.S. Interactive


but not the parent company, nor CMGI.)

Meanwhile, Serwer might be better served turning his Internet incubator focus to

Internet Capital Group


, in which Safeguard Scientific has invested.

Internet Capital rose 6.8% to an all-time high of 80 1/16 today and has soared 567% since going public on Aug. 5. (In the same period, Safeguard is up 9.1% despite dipping 1.6% today.)

Scott Bleier of

Prime Charter

observed Internet Capital now has a market capitalization in excess of CMGI's. Internet Capital sold 14.2 million shares to the public but has around 126 million shares in total, giving it a market cap of over $10 billion. At today's close of 80 7/8, CMGI's 95.3 million shares left the better-known firm with a market cap of $7.7 billion.

Frankel notes that with the shares CMGI recently issued to acquire

Alta Vista




are taken into account, CMGI has a slightly higher market cap. Still, Internet Capital "which is brand-new, is selling at essence in parity with CMGI," he said. Investors "have seen the tremendous value CMGI has created and are hoping ICG can do the same."

Frankel plans to initiate coverage of Internet Capital in the next 30 days, but laments there's "pressure to do something clever and original now that the stock had this run. The stock has run away from me. I assumed it might take a break, but no such luck." (Adams Harkness has done no underwriting for ICG.)

So where could you have gotten the early insight about Internet Capital? At

, of course, specifically Adam Lashinsky's

July 12 column.

Final note on my pal Serwer. He and Nelson Schwartz are reportedly set to run


Investor section.

Best of luck to Serwer and the "Nelman." We'll be watching.

And Finally

Some folks at

The New York Times

confirm Floyd Norris is returning to the business section, which he left in May 1998 for a stint at the paper's op-ed page.

No word on whether Norris will reclaim the "Market Watch" column, currently occupied by Gretchen Morgenson, who seems to be waging a one-woman war against online investing and daytrading.

Morgenson loves to compare online investing and daytrading to gambling (OK, we get it), quote Muriel Siebert of

Siebert Financial


and talk about how "all brokers are not the smirking pickpockets that online brokers' advertisements portray. Many are honest and hard-working, and bring years of experience and professionalism to bear on their clients' behalf."

In the June 6 story "Call Off the Death Watch for Brokers" (from which that quote is taken), Morgenson disclosed she was a stockbroker at

Dean Witter Reynolds

from 1981 to 1984. Good thing to remember when reading her other missives.

Speaking of full disclosure,

The New York Times


is a minority shareholder in



, the publisher of this Web site. (Should I have put that higher?)

Given the performance of TSCM's stock (of which I'm an owner), I wonder if this scorched-bridge strategy with other financial news outlets is really such a good idea.


TaskMaster, looking harried, picks up the phone

): "Get me rewrite!"


Voice at other end

): "We don't have one."



): "Whoops."


Voice offlline -- from Rocky II

): "Can't you say anything tougher than 'Whoops'?"

Aaron L. Task writes daily for In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at .