Archive for September, 2008

Drive-by pontification

Monday, September 29th, 2008

(1) It’s interesting how two separate news articles, published on the same day in papers a continent apart, used the same Orwellian description of the new debt agreement between McClatchy Newspapers and its lender. The Sacramento Bee, McClatchy’s flagship California paper, reported that the company’s negotiations with its lender had helped it “win greater financial flexibility.” The Raleigh News & Observer’s story about the same event for its North Carolina audience announced that the negotiations had resulted in McClatchy “winning concessions” from its lenders. So what exactly did the victorious negotiators from McClatchy win? Well, the company now has to (a) pay more interest on its loan, (b) cut its dividend, and possibly eliminate it altogether, (c) accept a reduction in its credit line, and (d) pledge all of the company’s assets to secure the loan. In return, McClatchy essentially got nothing more from its lender than a little time while the company looks for ways to keep afloat. If that’s winning, I’d hate to see what losing looks like.

(2) Paul Newman’s death was widely noted over the weekend, but almost nothing I read explicitly pointed out the obvious: Newman may have been the last movie star who actually deserved the admiration of the public. The fawning attention given to most celebrities is out of proportion to anything they’ve done to earn it. In fact, the more you learn about celebrities the less appealing they usually turn out to be. Not so with Newman. It was easy to admire that his private life was exactly that — private — and his choice to maintain a certain distance, both culturally and geographically, from Hollywood. Furthermore, he didn’t wear his politics on his sleeve, was married to the same woman for 50 years, disdained the trappings of stardom, and gave away huge sums for good causes. But for all his rejection of a star’s life, he was a hell of an actor. You always got good value for whatever you spent on a ticket to one of his movies.

(3) Who’s the one person who may come out of the current Wall Street crisis with his reputation improved? Eliot Spitzer. As you may recall, before Spitzer became best-known for being the country’s highest-profile john he was the scourge of financiers and corporate heavyweights who pushed the boundaries of ethical business practices. Sure, he was a thug and a bully with a badge. But among the things Spitzer helped fix was the less-than-arm’s-length relationship between investment banks and the analysts who appraised (and recommended) their deals. The long-term judgment of history may yet work in Spitzer’s favor.