Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Benetton B.S.

25-Page Code of Ethics Goes for Naught After Bangladesh Factory Tragedy

The unfolding coverage of the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse that's left about 400 people dead naturally includes coverage of which Western companies were the customers of the manufacturers in this hellhole.

Some companies have owned up to their responsibility, like Primark, a European budget chain that will compensate injured workers, family members of the dead and children whose parents were killed.

The company said: "We have partnered with a local NGO to address the immediate needs of the victims, including the provision of emergency food aid to families. This initiative began in Bangladesh immediately the extent of the disaster became clear."

All well and good if too little, way too late.

Then there is Benetton, which on the day of the tragedy denied any connection to the factory. That is, until labor workers found Benetton-labeled clothes and related paperwork in the charred hulk of the factory.

Well, all of a sudden the united colors of Benetton all turned a version of beet red. Then came a new story. Yes, turns out the Italian retail behemoth had put in one order with a subcontractor, but cut off ties after it determined that "long-standing social, labor and environmental standards" were not being met.

Benetton Group strongly reiterates that none of the manufacturers housed in the collapsed building is a supplier to any of our Group’s brands. We have since established that one of our suppliers had occasionally subcontracted orders to one of these Dhaka-based manufacturers.  Prior to the accident, that manufacturer had already been permanently removed from the list of potential direct or indirect suppliers. In fact, it had come to light that it no longer met the stringent standards that would have made it eligible to even potentially work for us.


So, while that's the kind of statement you put out following such a horrible event, what remains unanswered is why that statement emerged five days after the fire. How hard would it have been to determine if there were any links to the company, however attenuated they might be? After news of the collapse spread across the globe--and this is a rare example of a South Asian story that resonates with a U.S. audience--wouldn't it be incumbent upon the company to exercise due diligence not only to get its story straight but, more importantly, to protect the brand and its multi-culti street cred?

After all, Benetton has a 25-page code of ethics on its website. On paper, it's committed to doing the right thing. But when they have to backpedal at such an important moment, the company's  credibility takes a glancing blow no matter how sincere it professes to be about its commitment to human rights and the protection of those who toil for them in rickety deathtraps like the one in Dhaka.

The truth may be ugly. But telling it need not be.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mike Francesa All Wrong About Jason Collins

No, It's Not Just a "Dramatic Attempt to Sell a Magazine"

Now that the sports story--indeed, the lead story--of the day is the coming out of Jason Collins, it's time for a little backlash. Already.

Teeing it up is WFAN's Mike Francesa, who Deadspin reports is peeved that he even has to talk about it. Francesa, the top-rated radio sports talker in New York, dismissed the first active male player in a major sport in the U.S. revealing in Sports Illustrated that he's gay as little more than a "dramatic attempt to sell a magazine, I guess."

Bad guess, Mike.

Francesa professed to be "honest" to his listeners when he proclaimed that "I really don't care" about the Collins story. Really?

Now, does he not care because he'd rather talk about Tim Tebow getting mercifully 86ed by the Jets, the surprisingly resilient Yankees or the desultory Mets? Or, does he have such an enlightened attitude about gays that he views a player's sexuality as irrelevant to what he does in a game? Or, worse, that he's less than enlightened and gets a case of the skeevies even thinking about a new definition of mano a mano?

Let's, for a brief moment, give Francesa the benefit of the doubt. He doesn't care about someone's sexuality. Roger that. And maybe a lot of his listeners don't either. But they want to talk about it anyway. And they have, dragging Francesa along. As well they should.

Maybe Francesa really doesn't give a hoot about a player's sexuality. It's a safe bet that most people, eventually, will feel the same, if they don't already. Either way, this is huge.
It's a watershed moment in the sports world that has made international headlines. It's an inevitable source of deep pride in the gay community. It also starts a conversation that is both intriguing and needed. And isn't that the essence of sports talk, anyway?

If Francesa doesn't care, he'll need to find a way soon. This is all callers will want to focus on for the next few days. And the stirring, heartfelt story told by Jason Collins is a hell of a lot more interesting than anything the Mets have done lately.

If Brits Don't Hate Jews, New York Times Shows They're Not Too Crazy About Them Either

Two Stories Don't Mince Words Highlighting Views About Jews on Other Side of Pond

I'm not saying that Britain isn't crazy about the Jews. I don't have to. The New York Times has done it for me.

It was striking to read in the most-recent Saturday Profile of John Bercow (below), the speaker in the House of Commons, this passage from reporter Sarah Lyall:

Many members of Parliament hate being lectured or reined in, and Mr. Bercow is not universally popular. Some Conservatives actively loathe him. In describing him, his detractors tend to use words like “cocky,” “pompous” and “ambitious” — the last often code for “Jewish” in an establishment with an undercurrent of anti-Semitic snobbery.

For the uninitiated, that last sentence is striking, even if it is true. Because Lyall's piece is a feature, maybe she was given a little leeway to at least tilt her reporter's hat sideways so she can torch the Tories who view Bercow as a little too uppity for their refined tastes. Even in the Times, it's doubtful that line would've made the cut in a news story. Nonetheless, that kind of candor is refreshing.

Bercow, as Lyall mentions is the son of a used-car salesman turned gypsy-cab driver. That he is not to the manor born may also factor in the antipathy toward him. But by inserting that sentence, she makes clear that the Star of David looms at least as large as the lack of an Eton education.

Then there was an interesting feature in yesterday's sports section about an all-Jewish soccer team in the lower ranks of British football, the London Maccabi Lions. They are also the first club made up solely of Members of the Tribe to win an F.A. Cup match. But, as Sam Borden points out, not everybody is happy for them (surprise, surprise).

Though the Lions have had tremendous success in expanding — there are 26 junior teams and 7 adult teams playing under the club’s umbrella — the response from outsiders is not universally friendly. Intolerance remains a persistent problem in Europe, especially as it pertains to soccer, and Lions teams have not been immune to anti-Semitism.
Often, the worst of the incidents are in the youth games, according to Andy Landesberg, the club’s director of football. But even the first-team Lions have experienced abuse. Gold said there had been relatively few problems this season but smiled when asked how he has instructed his players to deal with overt bigotry.
“We tell them, do it on the field, don’t give in,” Gold said. “Then, afterward, when you’re shaking hands, you can say, ‘You’ve been beaten by a bunch of Jews — how do you feel now?’ ”

In your face, goyim!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chef Un-Wanted

Anne Burrell Show That Finds New Executive Chefs Cooks Up Wrong Version of Reality

I'm not sure if I want to peel off the lid on some of the shows on Food Network and see what's really cooking. After all, the shows are generally well-produced. And that's the problem.

All those pithy comments you see from diners bitching about their dishes on shows like "Restaurant Stakeout?" Well, let's not forget those utterances are within close proximity of cameras and producers, who just might--and often do--coach those at table five to complain on cue once they get the shot straight. OK, so we've long known that the reality in reality TV is often an adjective and nothing more. Still.

On exhibit now is Chef Wanted, a Food Network show starring Anne Burrell, she of the honking voice and spiky blond hair that would get any kitchen flunked by the Health Department for going without a net. The premise is that a restaurant of some renown, for whatever reason, needs a new executive chef. Burrell brings in four cheftestants to cook their hearts out. One of them is weeded out in each of the first two rounds. Then the last two get a chance to run a dinner service for a night.

Invariably, what we see are gradations of chaos, flop sweat, Burrell alternating between unbearable screaming and tough love, and nervous owners watching their livelihoods go up in flames. Eventually, each episode ends with one of the finalists being crowned the winner, given a chef's coat and subject to effusive hugs from the restaurant staff. Happy ending, right, especially after all of the chefs have told us in the beginning that they "need this job," or that working at Fill in the Blank Bistro and Grill would be their dream. Not so.

Viewers can track on a Food Network blog what's happened since each episode was filmed. It features a recap and video with the winner. And with few exceptions, none of them wind up taking the job or leave soon afterwards. Some just had a change of heart. For others, their current employer showed them some love. Two, who competed for spots at New York eateries, turned thumbs-down--one for family reasons, the other determined that the salary would be eaten up by the cost-of-living. Better to stay an executive sous chef in Philadelphia.

Put aside, for the moment, that this is a horrible way for a restaurant to pick the leader of the kitchen. And, that some of the cheftestants have appeared on other cooking shows, like FN's Chopped and Fox's Hell's Kitchen, whose season 3 winner Rock Harper, won on Chef Wanted, but walked away from a chance to run upscale eatery in Cincinnati to stay at a D.C. nonprofit that trains disadvantaged kids in the culinary arts. Given his less-than-satisfactory, though lucrative experience in the kitchen post-Hell's Kitchen, maybe Harper knew better.

Unsurprisingly, blog readers have been whining about this discrepancy. Many feel the restaurants aren't serious about the premise and just want free publicity. Others rant about how there's no communication about salary, benefits, etc. until afterwards. That leaves many a chef with a way to say thanks, but no thanks.

And while all of this tumult has been occurring on a network-hosted blog, Food Network and Burrell have been quiet about these kerfuffles. Ditto for these racy accusations from a chef who claimed to be a contestant from the first season. As I said, peeling off the lid may not be pretty. Or, just leave the lid on and watch what happens, regardless if it really happened. Even the anonymous chef waxed philosophical about his purported experience:

It was a total cluster fuck and shit show to say the least. The editing blew and the show still pretty much blows as far as I am concerned. However, I had a blast doing it. I won, so I can't bitch about that, and now I have a little "appeared on Food Network cooking show" blurb for my resume.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bitten By The Hand That Feeds You

Brian Stelter Gets Cover of NYT Magazine, Then Gets Trashed in Daily Paper

There's been a lot of buzz surrounding the supposedly juicy revelations in Top of the Morning, the new book about morning show wars from New York Times TV news whiz kid Brian Stelter.

The book was excerpted in the Times Magazine on Sunday, and I found that piece to be a compelling read. A lot of dirt without too much smarm--at least from Stelter. His numerous unnamed sources are another deal. I have not read the whole book yet, and some reviewers are telling me not to bother. One of them comes from a particularly interesting place--the Times itself.

In today's Times, former Dallas Morning News TV critic Ed Bark reviews the book--the Times, for obvious reasons, goes outside its fold to review books written by its staffers--and finds Stelter and his prose very much lacking.

"Mr. Stelter seems to throw out verbiage mainly for his own amusement. His run-on riffs reach the point where he himself ends one big gulp by mentioning a list “longer even than this sentence.”
As sentences go, it’s a veritable life imprisonment, lasting for 109 words. That’s three words more than the mood-setting second sentence of this book, in which Mr. Bell is said to experience “a growing warmth that spread through his broad bosom like the aftereffect of a double jigger of single-malt scotch,” etc."
Ouch. So give the Times credit for allowing for an opposing view about one of its wunderkinds on its own pages. Bark is not alone in his sentiments.
Henry Goldblatt in Entertainment Weekly graded Top of the Morning with a "C," who accuses Stelter of having a vendetta against Matt Lauer--who wouldn't talk to Stelter--over how he treated Ann Curry during the "Today" mess that led to her ouster (Curry also clammed up). But:
"Just as disturbing are Stelter’s Hemingwayesque sentences (in length, not substance), hackneyed analogies (Today is Coke! Good Morning America is Pepsi!), and antipathy for the medium he covers (“Wisely — not a word you will see all that often in a book about television…”).
Then there's Andy Lewis in The Hollywood Reporter , who dings Stelter for his "purple prose" and "love of gossip."

Maybe the book isn't all it's cracked up to be. Or, maybe there are a lot of people in the biz who are jealous of Stelter, who founded a well-read blog--TV Newser--at an impossibly young age, and at just 27, files more stories to the Times than just about any other reporter. That could be the topic for another book, though not one Stelter should think about writing.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

USA Today Makes Strange Advertising Bedfellow

Daily News Takes the Money Anyway For Its Work-In-Progress Mobile Site

As I was scanning the mobile version of the (N.Y.) Daily News, what should be viewed as an unusual banner ad kept popping up at the bottom, even in these desperation-driven times in the troubled realm of newspaper advertising.

It was there that readers were offered an opportunity to click to get a discounted subscription for USA Today for $10 a month. In other words, a newspaper selling ads for another newspaper.

Granted, the degree of overlap between a typical Daily News reader and one who might regularly scroll USA Today is likely limited. And if someone is reading the News on an Android, chances are better than even they're not plunking down a George for the real thing. But even if it's not Macy's reluctantly taking ads for Gimbels (as he seriously dates himself), that the News or whichever digital ad behemoth it uses to sell banners would cough up real estate on its home page to a putative rival is a bit unseemly and certainly sad.

What the News should be working on more is the user-unfriendliness of its mobile incarnation. Exactly what is the real difference between the "Metro View" and "America" sections, anyway? Not much, unless you scroll to the borough tabs in the former. Ah, the tabs. For the city, that means Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and, uh, "Uptown." Apparently, the News has no readers in Manhattan below 125th Street. Who knew?

Only thing: if you're going to have sections, you have to do a better job of restocking the shelves and removing the journalistic equivalent of moldy bread. On April 10, we should not still be seeing prominently featured a March 31 story about a dead Columbia co-ed.

While you're at it Newsies, make those tabs a little easier to the touch. I felt like all thumbs pressing on the "Mets" tab in the sports section and stories about the Knicks kept coming up. And why not also include the sports columnists--some of the best in the biz--in the sports section, rather than just lumping them in with the paper's other columnists in yet another section. The sports columnists are destination reading, so you shouldn't have to go on a maddening journey to find them.

If making people work for their free content is a way for the News to gently encourage people to buy the paper, it won't work. At least not as long as the New York Post site is free. And I haven't seen any USA Today ads there.