She said, he said.
The New York Times
columnist Gretchen Morgenson wrote articles critical of
and CEO Barry Diller.
By Monday morning, Diller issued a blistering response to Morgenson, suggesting that the "numerous inaccuracies" in her articles would amount to a violation of federal securities laws under different circumstances.
If that wasn't enough dispute-related press release publication for one company in a day, InterActiveCorp subsidiary Ticketmaster got into a separate public relations spat with the Colorado-based rock band The String Cheese Incident, which sued Ticketmaster in federal court last week.
The String Cheese Incident's ticketing company accuses Ticketmaster of various antitrust violations, as have other companies -- both formally and informally -- in the past. Ticketmaster says, in its Monday counterpress release, that its contracts and conduct are "legal and proper."
InterActiveCorp's shares, which fell as much as 4.5% Monday, traded at $33.99 Monday, down 72 cents, or 2%.
Morgenson's articles, and Diller's response to them, spotlight the personal territory into which business journalism sometimes wanders -- not necessarily to the benefit of understanding the strategic and financial issues under dispute.
, for example, ran its Sunday IACI stories under a large photo of Diller and his wife, Diane Von Furstenberg, who is a director of IACI. But Von Furstenberg makes only a cameo appearance in the second story. And more than a story about Diller's reign at InterActiveCorp, the lead item in the pair of stories has to do with the less personality-driven issue of hotel room-tax liabilities at two of the online commerce company's subsidiaries.
Meanwhile, going beyond the common corporate damage-control practice of attacking an article under dispute and the publication in which it appears, Diller is drawing attention to the reporter herself, advising the recent Pulitzer Prize winner and others in her profession that "in a world where markets react to headlines in newspapers, reporters need to be more vigilant to ensure they print accurate rather than misleading information."
As for the disputed material in Morgenson's stories, they don't appear to be issues that could be immediately settled. Morgenson suggests InterActiveCorp is downplaying the potential liabilities stemming from how hotel room taxes are calculated when InterActiveCorp subsidiaries
buy room-nights on a wholesale basis and resell them to their customers.
Having admittedly incomplete data from which to calculate such a liability, Morgenson estimates that using certain assumptions, one-quarter of InterActiveCorp's operating earnings in the first quarter of the year stem from the company's room tax-calculation policy -- earnings that could be at risk if local taxing authorities impose a different policy.
"Of course, these figures are rough estimates, and the actual numbers could be less or more," writes Morgenson.
In Morgenson's article, she includes various statements from IACI Chief Financial Officer Dara Khosrowshahi and other company sources indicating the company doesn't believe the room-tax liability is as large as Morgenson suggests. In his letter, Diller takes issue with one more of the assumptions in Morgenson's article. He writes, "There is simply no basis for the supposition that the companies will face liability in all jurisdictions."
Diller also disputes in his letter what he calls "the entire premise of the articles" -- that InterActiveCorp has insufficient public disclosures. He makes a similar point when quoted by Morgenson for her articles.
Separately, Mike Luba, co-founder of SCI Ticketing, the ticketing company co-owned by The String Cheese Incident, says that Ticketmaster has unfairly limited the amount of tickets that SCI Ticketing can sell to its fans.
"For bands like The String Cheese Incident, who depend on heavy touring and lasting fan relationships in order to succeed, services like direct artist-to-fan ticketing are essential. It allows fans to enjoy the complete String Cheese experience, from beginning to end," Luba says in a statement.
Ticketmaster responds that SCI Ticketing simply wants too many tickets. "Ticketmaster has always recognized the practice of allowing artists a meaningful allocation of tickets to give away or sell through legitimate fan clubs," says Ticketmaster. "The allocation of fan club tickets in excess of historical reasonable levels flies in the face of our contractual guidelines with our clients. By demanding very large allocations of tickets, SCI has attempted to break valid contracts for its own self-promotion and monetary gain."