Well, things cleared up a little later, when Sgro called us back. "I was completely mistaken," he says. He did indeed talk to Loeb afterward. But Sgro insisted there was nothing purposeful about Loeb's exclusion.

"The operator on the call didn't tell us he was ready to ask his question," he said. It would be irrational for Salton, he said, to deliberately ignore Loeb. "Every shareholder is important to us," said Sgro. "Why mess with one of the bigger ones?" (Salton, another spokesman told us, "has always been willing to directly speak to Mr. Loeb in the past.")

Loeb, suspicious of Sgro's changing recollection, calls him a liar.

"If the point of the conference call is to disseminate information publicly, and to have an open give-and-take with shareholders and analysts, how can they censor their largest shareholders?" Loeb asks. "It seems to me more like Soviet-style PR presentation, where only those people friendly to management are allowed to ask any questions."

2. A LeapFrog in Our Throat

Leave it to a learning technology company to teach us something new about communicating on Wall Street.

We're talking about LeapFrog Enterprises ( LF), developer of the LeapPad -- which, depending on your point of view, is either a revolutionary educational toy or simply the latest fad in the history of gadgets marketed to parents seeking a stealthy way to make their kids smarter.

Things got particularly gloomy at LeapFrog this week. Both a director and the company's chief operating officer resigned. The company announced layoffs of 180 employees. And it reported much-worse-than-expected fourth-quarter results. Shares in LeapFrog, which traded as high as $47.30 in late 2003 but has dropped like a stone in a pond since then, were trading at $10.76 Thursday, down 14 cents.

But what cheered us up was the explanation that LeapFrog CEO Tom Kalinske gave for part of the disappointment. LeapFrog was hurt not only by operational issues and increased operating costs, he said, but also "by an industrywide lack of retailer reorders around the critical Thanksgiving period."

More Like a Tadpole
No princely sales for this LeapFrog

"Lack of retailer reorders around the critical Thanksgiving period"? Is that some kind of fancy-pants way of saying, "Much to our surprise, people weren't buying what we were selling"?

A LeapFrog spokeswoman pretty much confirms that, yes, it is. "Demand was down across the board for all toy retailers," she says.

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