Conflict of Interest at the Philly Inquirer (Updated)
In your ethical Monday media column: a movie review in need of some full disclosure, a trade magazine goes wacko, CBS is too good for Anderson Cooper, and Playboy looks grim(mer).
A tipster points out a conflict of interest that's apparently pissing off some insiders at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the financially teetering Brian Tierney-owned paper. A new documentary called The Art of the Steal explores the struggle over control of Albert Barnes' multibillion-dollar art collection after his death—a struggle between keeping the collection in Merion, PA, or moving it to downtown Philadelphia.
The problem? The Inquirer's review of the movie is written by Carrie Rickey, the paper's film critic, who happens to be married to Paul Levy, the director of the Philadelphia Center City District. As our tipster points out, "Mr. Levy's organization has actively campaigned in favor of the transfer of the Barnes Foundation collection to center city Philadelphia."
Rickey's review—which was certainly sympathetic to the move of the collection—did not carry any disclosure of her husband's role in the incident. Which doesn't look too good.
UPDATE: Carrie Rickey writes to us, "In your ethics column citing an apparent 'conflict of interest' in my review of the Barnes documentary 'The Art of the Steal,' you report that a tipster alleges that my husband, Paul Levy, has actively campaigned for the move of the Barnes to downtown Philadelphia. News to me. If that was so, I would not have reviewed the movie." We asked her to clarify, and she wrote:
1) My husband never campaigned to move the Barnes. Period. AFTER the judge's decision that the Foundation could be moved, in his capacity as a member of the Parkway Council he welcomed the Barnes — as he would the Calder Museum or apartment building or supermarket that had submitted plans for the Parkway.
2) The Center City District had zero involvement.
3) My husband had zero involvement.
The editors of the Inquirer are satisfied that there is no conflict of interest.
For more context, here's a quote from a Dec 14, 2004 story in the Inquirer about a judge backing the Barnes Gallery's move to downtown Philly, out of Merion—the subject of the film in question:
"With the addition of the Barnes to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, we will have one of the world's best ensembles of art collections within a half-mile from Logan Circle to the Philadelphia Art Museum, with the Rodin collection, the extraordinary collection at the Art Museum, and with the addition of Barnes and possibly a Calder," said Paul Levy, president of the Center City District.
So the question remains, should the Inquirer have disclosed the fact that its film critic who was reviewing (and taking issue with) a film deploring the Barnes' move to downtown Philly is married to a civic booster who's been quoted celebrating the move? I'd say a disclosure would have been wise. Carrie Rickey and the Inquirer disagree. There you are.
Haha: O'Dwyer's, a PR industry trade publication, has posted an editorial defending its practice of extorting PR firms of money in order to "rank" those PR firms in their annual rankings. Example:
Waggener Edstrom, with $119 million in revenues in 2008, 843 employees, and No. 2 on our rankings, has only one web/NL sub at $295. It refuses to pony up a nickel more.
We just don't fit into their "marketing plan," a marketing executive told us. Several other large ranked firms have the same attitude.
So we're booting Wagged and the others off the rankings. They're not "PR" firms.
Rather than having any sense of community, they only have a sense of what's in it for them. They don't like independent media that can challenge them. They don't live up to the term, "public."
[Full disclosure, I used to work for PRWeek, a competitor of O'Dwyer's. Also, O'Dwyer's is on crack, ethically speaking.]
The NYT says that CBS is courting Anderson Cooper as a possible replacement for Katie Couric. AC's rep is like, nuh uh. WELL WHY NOT? It's 2010, for chrissake.
It's "getting ugly," heh, ugh: Playboy's CEO is talking about cutting up to half of the company's 573-person staff in the near future. To be fair, 498 of those staffers are Hugh Hefner's harem, amirite? Kevin Eubanks and the Tonight Show band, ladies and gentlemen!