1. Borrowin' Bernie Strikes Again
Bernie Ebbers wants more money from
Yes, we know. Dog bites man.
Ebbers, of course, was the CEO on whose watch some person or persons at MCI -- then known as WorldCom -- committed an $11 billion accounting fraud. Whether Ebbers himself is one of those fraudsters is slated to be decided in a trial starting next month.
What is more certainly known is that Bernie had a particular talent for enjoying WorldCom's largesse when most employees couldn't. He did, after all, borrow more than $400 million from WorldCom in low-interest loans at a time when the company cut back on free office coffee. And when WorldCom went bankrupt, thanks to the downward spiral in which Ebbers led it -- well, employees lost upwards of $1 billion in retirement savings.
reported Tuesday that Ebbers wants MCI to pay his legal bills -- up to $2 million and counting -- were we outraged at his chutzpah?
Nah. However his trial turns out, Ebbers is way in the hole and he isn't coming out. To cut off his money right now is like refusing the proverbial last cigarette to a man facing a firing squad, on the grounds that he really should quit smoking.
2. Must Try to See TV
We can't help it. We still can't stop giggling whenever somebody tries to convince us that
software soon will be the lifeblood of our home entertainment system.
One reason is that we've heard it all before. We heard it in 1993, when Microsoft and Intel (INTC) - Get Report demonstrated Windows for cable television set-top boxes. We heard it in 1995, when Microsoft made a big investment in Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Report. And we heard it in 1999, when Microsoft made an even bigger investment in AT&T (T) - Get Report.
The other reason we're amused is that Microsoft doesn't seem to understand what an uphill battle it faces in convincing folks it's a paragon of reliability.
Maybe you think it's reliable. But consider the recent experience of Microsoft's own Moshe Lichtman, corporate vice president of Microsoft's TV Division.
Last week, Lichtman was at Goldman Sachs' prestigious Communacopia conference in New York City, explaining how Microsoft's IPTV multichannel video system was on its way to being the lifeblood of our home entertainment system.
And guess what? In the middle of the presentation, Lichtman's demonstration of this cool system crashed. It froze. He had to abandon it.
The day before, we noticed that the Hyatt's cool information displays were marred by a Microsoft error message.
To be sure, the fault may not lie in Microsoft's software. But the difficulty of diagnosing Windows problems only fuels our skepticism.
We fear the day when a cable software glitch pre-empts the last innings of a World Series game. There are errors enough in baseball -- who needs a fatal one from Microsoft?
3. I'd Rather Be President Than Right
We just learned a new lesson from
contentious shareholder meeting back in March: You can be right, and it still won't matter.
We're talking about executives Susan Lyne and Lloyd Braun, both of whom were in charge of turning around ABC's struggling prime-time schedule. They spoke reasonably eloquently about the three parts of their turnaround plan.
Part One was to get costs in order. Part Two was to improve the schedule, bit by bit, night by night. And Part Three, essentially, was to pray for a hit show.
We were fascinated. These were entertainment executives who were given their jobs presumably because someone thought they could methodically create success in Disney's TV operations. And here those execs were, admitting that a key part of that success was just plain luck. You have to just plug away, and hope that if you plug away long enough, the gods will smile upon you.
Knew Their ABCs
"In time, we will get a little lucky somewhere and find that mega-hit," said Braun at the shareholder meeting. "A single true hit would make a remarkable difference," Lyne said.
Both were right. ABC got lucky this fall, with new shows Desperate Housewives and Lost. And ABC's prime-time fortunes indeed appear to have turned around.
But neither Lyne nor Braun are around to run their victory laps; Lyne got pushed out last spring, and Braun, seeing writing on the wall, departed voluntarily.
Yes, they were right. Fat lot of good it did them.
4. Sinclair, the Moment I Met You, I Swear
Sinclair Broadcast Group
have an effect on the presidential election? Or will the presidential election have an effect on Sinclair?
Sinclair, you may recall, is the TV station operator that has told its stations to run an anti-Kerry documentary, uninterrupted, in prime time on its 62 TV stations next week.
Actually, we're not sure what Sinclair will be running, although we suspect it will not be too complimentary toward presidential candidate John Kerry. What Sinclair says on its Web site is that its "upcoming special news event" will feature "the topic of Americans held as prisoners of war in Vietnam."
What we do know is that Sinclair's desire to inform the public -- or what critics call an illegal, disguised political contribution to President Bush -- could have some unintended economic consequences. Maybe.
Some of Sinclair's critics on the left are trying to hit the company where it hurts: The wallet. The Web site
www.boycottsbg.com, for example, is compiling listings of Sinclair's local and national advertisers; the idea is to pressure these companies, with the threat of an advertiser boycott, to pressure Sinclair into pulling the documentary. Another site,
StopSinclair.org, has also sprung up.
Whether the pressure is working, or will work, is unknown. No one picked up the phone at Sinclair when we called Thursday. One national Sinclair advertiser,
, had no comment. Previous boycotts of media and entertainment companies, on various complaints, don't seem to have had injurious effect.
Two points we might bring up, though. One, Sinclair is already hurting; the company lowered third-quarter guidance, citing auto advertising weakness and ad cancellations stemming from hurricane season.
Two, Sinclair is due to report third-quarter earnings on Nov. 4, two days after Election Day. However the presidential election turns out -- assuming we'll even know how it has turned out by then -- we wouldn't be surprised if that day's earnings call is a little noisier than normal.
5. My Favorite Marsh & McLennan
American International Group
is in the news again.
Unfortunately for American International Group.
Last week, you may recall, the insurance giant disclosed that the
Securities and Exchange Commission
considering taking legal action against AIG for allegedly issuing false and misleading press releases.
This week, New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced that two AIG executives had pleaded guilty to a scheme in which an insurance broker owned by
Marsh & McLennan
allegedly participated in
illegal price-fixing and bid-rigging.
AIG, for its part, issued a statement saying it was saddened by the guilty pleas "because we hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards." AIG also indicated that it had previously sought regulatory guidance regarding the type of compensation agreements attacked by Spitzer.
Note to AIG executives: First last week, now this week. We can't wait until next week. We're dying to see if you can keep this streak going.
Want to get your Five Dumbest in the mail? Sign up for a free Five Dumbest email alert by becoming a TSC member; the email contains the Five Dumbest article for that week, plus other select TheStreet.com stories. And as a TSC member, you'll gain access to a sampling of our premium RealMoney content. Click here to sign up!