Despite Losses, Hatch Helps Out Good Folks at Ma Bell


Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, informed the Federal Trade Commission in writing a few weeks back that he's troubled about the corporate power of America Online Inc., Time Warner Inc. and AT & T Corp. as partners in Time Warner Entertainment, owner of 9.7 million cable subscribers, Home Box Office and the Warner Bros. studio. Hatch strongly hinted that he wants the agency to require Time Warner to bargain with AT & T on the latter's exit from TWE-a step Ma Bell reportedly favors, but will not confirm. Normally, a letter like this gets tossed on the pile. But Hatch's missive was different in one respect: He owns between $15,000 and $50,000 in AT & T stock,

according to his latest financial disclosure. Hatch spokesman Chris Rosche said that although the senator holds the AT & T shares, his stake is relatively small and does not represent a controlling interest. "Like millions of Americans, Sen. Hatch invests in the stock market as part of his savings or retirement-type plan," Rosche said."I would point out to you that he has lost quite a bit of money on AT & T stock. I don't know how much."A Senate ethics official declined to comment, instead sending along a 22-page extract from the Senate rulebook that, in part, advises against intervening "with an executive agency for the purpose of influencing a decision which would result in measurable personal financial gain."

When workers at most companies get together to pick each week's National Football League games, they usually call it an "office pool." At Time Warner, it's called the " Beat The Experts" game. Indeed, it's hard to find anyone involved in this game, in which users try to top the picks of several "NFL Experts" and "Celebrity Experts," who doesn't get a paycheck from the company.Sports Illustratedswimsuit model Shakara trailed Dan Marino of HBO'sInside the NFLby one game last week. The NFL experts include a dozen CNN/SI and HBO analysts, including HBO's Nick Buoniconti and Jerry Glanville, as well as CNN/SI's Vince Cellini and Fred Hickman. All of the celebrity experts work for Time Warner, except David Gardner of personal-finance Web site The Motley Fool (maybe he's long on Time Warner stock). Other celebrity experts include SI model Daniela Pestova and Atlanta Braves outfielder Brian Jordan.The Wire wasbeginning to think the game was more than another case of cross-promotion gone awrywhen we saw ABC star/DirecTV pitchman Drew Carey on the celebrity list.But it turns outThe Drew Carey Showis produced by Time Warner's Warner Bros. Television unit. didn't intend to include only Time Warner employees, a spokeswoman said. It's just that several other celebrities, ranging from Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura to boxer Evander Holyfield, turned the Web site down.

Two days before he denounced unnamed FCC employees for leaking confidential, market-sensitive agency information to the media, agency chairman William Kennard attacked broadcasters for the slow pace of the digital transition. In a speech, Kennard called for a spectrum tax; a requirement that all new TVs have digital receivers in 2003; and removal of a loophole that allows TV stations to occupy two channels until 85 percent of households have digital converters or TVs. No subscriber toThe New York Timeshad to actually read Kennard's Oct. 10 speech, however.Key details, including Kennard's stinging "spectrum squatters" remark, were dutifully reported by broadcast basher William Safire,the day before the speech was delivered-when all the Wall Street markets, where all the big broadcasting stocks are traded, were open for business on a slow Columbus Day. Tax proposals and unfunded government mandates on TV-set makers issued by one of Washington's most powerful bureaucrats sounds like market-sensitive information. We'll never know who leaked Safire the Kennard speech, but here's our guess: The ship of state leaks from the top.

Elsewhere in Washington, the White House recently released a list of campaign donors who have spent the night in the Lincoln Bedroomor at Camp David. The list includes such cable notables as Fox Family Worldwide Inc.'s Haim Saban and VH1 chief John Sykes. The total list comes to 360 donors. No wonder New York Senate candidate Rick Lazio, during his latest debate with Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this month,referred to the White House as "Motel 1600."

Speaking of debates, just prior to Cable News Network's coverage of the second presidential debate last Wednesday night, there was a spot-for Fox News Channel. That kind ofguerrilla marketing strategyhas occasionally been employed by networks running spots on rival networks at the system level-in FNC's case, it bought local time on Time Warner Cable in New York-but it never ceases to annoy. "We do not take advertising for direct competitors-[FNC] bought local avails," said a Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc. spokesman, adding, "We have started doing a bit of that [local guerrilla marketing] ourselves."