Friday, March 13, 2009

Forget Britney; Media Outrage Hits Big Spenders

Last month, Kenneth D. Lewis took a Bank of America jet from Charlotte, N.C., to New Jersey. ABC News captured the flight.

The New York Times - It could be called “To Catch a Rich Guy.”

The celebrity Web site TMZ and TV shows like “Extra” and “Inside Edition” are expanding their coverage of starlets and Hollywood break-ups to include billion-dollar business scandals and the economic collapse.
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A camera crew for “Extra,” the syndicated entertainment show, huddled alongside the BBC and The Associated Press outside the courtroom as Bernard L. Madoff pleaded guilty on Thursday. That night, the show started by calling him “the most hated man in America.” The previous evening, “Inside Edition” profiled one of Mr. Madoff’s victims who testified in court, a 60-year-old woman who lost millions and had to go to work as a maid.

The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable.

TMZ, a Web site better known for unflattering paparazzi shots of Britney Spears and Rihanna, drove mainstream coverage and Congressional outrage with a blog post late last month that exclaimed, “Bailout Bank Blows Millions Partying in L.A.” The site reported that Northern Trust, a bank that received $1.6 billion in taxpayer money, had hosted hundreds of clients and employees at a golf tournament and a series of parties in Southern California. “Your tax dollars, hard at work,” the site wrote.

Northern Trust never sought the bailout funds, but agreed to take them last fall at the behest of the government. Regardless, the photos of Tiffany gift bags and the grainy video clips of Chicago and Sheryl Crow performing for the group angered readers —as well as Congressional Democrats, who demanded in a letter that Northern Trust repay what the company “frittered away on these lavish events.” The bank said it would do so “as quickly as prudently possible,” news that earned four exclamation points from TMZ. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/business/media/13shame.html

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