Thursday, September 03, 2009

"Appearance of conflict": Steve Friess attempts to reconcile his roles as Michael Jackson reporter and exploiter

Las Vegas blogger, New York Times stringer, Gay Vegas author and comp queen Steve Friess knows he violated journalistic ethics when he produced his “Michael Jackson’s Untimely Death Was The Best Thing That Could Ever Have Happened to Michael Jackson’s Music Show” at the Palms over the weekend.

This morning, in a piece called "What did I just do that for?", he calls his actions “journalistically complicated,” admits that he’s “duty-bound to stay out of the news, not to make it, to observe and analyze, not to participate,” that “the two roles caused me plenty of angst,” and that “I also knew there could be an appearance of conflict.”

But no worries. Steve Friess reasons his way out of the mess!

And he also promises to open his books to us...

It seems that Steve Friess always has a lot of ‘splaining to do.

He’s a music critic who has a severe hearing disability; a media critic who sleeps with a local television news producer; a supposedly unbiased Vegas correspondent for many out-of-town outlets who’s known to cadge free show tickets whenever relatives are in town, then mentioning the show on his blog to legitimize the scam.

He’s also the guy who called us “a**hole” and other names and then attempted to have the TabloidBaby.com site shut down, after we emailed privately to ask why his colleagues in the local Las Vegas news media were not investigating the recent, very mysterious death of Strip headliner Danny Gans.

In the weeks to follow, he and other Gans friends would campaign to mislead and distract from the facts about Gans’ death. After it was revealed that Gans died from a dose of Dilaudid (AKA “drugstore heroin”), he followed up with an apologia in the Las Vegas Weekly (which looks like an alternative paper but is really a screeding and story dumping ground for reporters and columnists for the daily Review-Journal and Sun and establishment freelancers like Friess. that was meant to put the matter to rest, but instead was viewed as an instant camp classic of hilarious, infuriating, self-deluding justification.

This morning, it’s Michael Jackson, and how he came to cross journalistic lines, violate basic journalistic ethics and reveal a gross hypocrisy by promoting a Michael Jackson “tribute” show while simultaneously covering the federal probe of his death, and negotiating and schmoozing with Jacko’s father and associates after writing that "Michael Jackson’s untimely death was the best thing that could ever have happened to Michael Jackson’s music."

Friess claims it was magical serendipity after a performer named Erich Bergen, whom Friess says he befriended after devoting a column to him) “tweeted something vague about wanting to do a tribute show… and I called Erich to find out more.”

And just like that:

“I was suddenly co-producer of a benefit that, at that point, we thought would maybe fill the Liberace Museum showroom.

“Whoa! Aren’t I a journalist? Aren’t I duty-bound to stay out of the news, not to make it, to observe and analyze, not to participate?

“Fair questions, all. And given what has happened to the Jackson story since then—that the death is considered a homicide and that a Vegas doctor is at the probe’s epicenter—those questions are even more pertinent. But when this started, it was a few days after Jackson’s death, and nobody I knew imagined it would be a criminal matter. It took weeks before any national media outlet recruited me to dig into Dr. Conrad Murray’s background and a month before his office and home were raided…”

As Fries says: “Whoa!”

“When this started, it was a few days after Jackson’s death, and nobody I knew imagined it would be a criminal matter”? Friess has tried that line in his own column, and still rings demonstrably untrue.

The LAPD was all over Jackson’s death from the moment his doctor, Conrad Murray, ran away from the emergency room of UCLA Medical Center within minutes of the official death call. Police towed Murray’s car from Jackson’s driveway that very first day with full knowledge that Jackson’s death was suspicious and by the time Friess announced his Jacko show, the investigation was in full swing and publicized widely

Friess gets to the point when he claims:

“When I informed my editors at various outlets of the concert, they just told me not to write about it in their publications. Good help, evidently, is hard to find in Vegas.”

Once again, Tabloid Baby was the only journalistic organization to criticize Friess for covering the investigation of Dr. Murray after celebrating Jackson’s death in print and then churning up a money-making scheme to capitalize it. Friess ignored our requests for comment. At one point, he emailed us an hysterical attack.

Yet, he reveals this morning that he took our criticism to heart:

“The two roles caused me plenty of angst. I knew there was a distinction between a charity show and a death investigation, but I also knew there could be an appearance of conflict. I don’t dismiss such concerns— they’re valid and part of every journalism school’s curriculum— but it’s telling that every nonjournalist I groused to viewed one as having little to do with the other. Did putting on a show have any bearing whatsoever on the criminal probe, or vice versa? Of course not. I agree that journalists shouldn’t become involved in political causes, but must we never do charitable works?”

Let’s put aside the encouragement Friess says he received from the “nonjournalists” he associates with in Las Vegas.

“Did putting on a show have any bearing whatsoever on the criminal probe, or vice versa?”

We’d say the question deserves more debate than the “of course not” Friess inserts before the reader can make up his or her mind:

Steve Friess was assigned by the New York Times on July 28th to cover the probe of Las Vegas doctor Conrad Murray in regard to alleged illegal prescriptions and the possible homicide of Michael Jackson. Friess, who wrote on his blog that he spent time “chilling” in the newsvan of the local NBC affiliate (“Miles’ TV station”—Miles being his unofficial husband).

On July 11th, Friess’ friend and mouthpiece Norm Clarke had written in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “How widespread has the practice of doctor-shopping become in Las Vegas? Will the investigation into Jackson's prescription drug abuse lead back to the Las Vegas medical community, given Jackson spent a good deal of time here in recent years?” Surely. a probe that exposed widespread prescription abuse among Las Vegas entertainers would harm Friess' show. Any local show business criminal probe, especially one related to Michael Jackson, could have bearing on his ticket sales.

Friess went beyond reporter’s role on August 19th when, on his blog he criticized ABC News for assigning a reporter to cover Dr. Murray's movements.

"Any credible reporter
could have quizzed me"

Then again, Friess admits more while again attempting to justify his actions::

“True, we relied on contributions from many whom I cover, but that cut both ways. Erich did virtually all of the asking, often leaving me out of it to avoid being denied because of something I had written. My coverage has accrued me plenty of detractors in the hotel and show industries, a fact I wear as a badge. I avoided offering myself for interviews until the last week, when Erich became overwhelmed with creative duties. Not because I feared journalistic criticism—any credible reporter could have quizzed me, but only one, my own Weekly colleague John Katsilometes, did—but because I thought I could harm the effort.”

Again, Friess is not being candid. The credible journalists at TabloidBaby.com have criticized and quizzed Friess for weeks, sending him lists of questions and interview requests that he ignored before Katsilometes took them to the source. Thanks, Kats.

Friess winds up with two final stabs at justifying his actions. One is an alternative reason for putting on the show:

“I co-produced this show to raise money for kids, but also to learn what it takes to put on a production like those I cover. To me, this was the equivalent of a cop reporter going to the police academy. In this crash course, I learned the costs of everything involved with putting on just one show, much of which never occurred to me, and discovered all the legal and logistical elements of such an effort..."

The other is an ungracious attack on those who didn't go along with his plans, as if his use of obscenity would somehow prove he's still got his journalistic cred:

“…I also learned who in Vegas is for real and who is full of shit. That means those of you who claimed you could get us Celine Dion, Brandon Flowers and even Taylor Dayne. That means you, ‘journalists’ from TMZ, who promised coverage when really you were gunning so obviously for an entirely different story. That means you, singer Earl Turner…”

Friess ends with a promise, though with a caveat that he’s bound to use as an excuse:

"The records of revenue and expenses will be available soon for any legitimate journalist who asks.”

As soon as this item posts, we will “ask” for the revenue and expense report. We expect that Friess will refuse us.

We will, however, obtain the records and present them to you.

So in the end, does Steve Friess realize that his actions in the Danny Gans and Michael Jackson cases hurt his credibility and legitimacy? Sure. But in Las Vegas, does it matter? Probably not. Friess can say anything he wants in today's column because he's protected by the code he revealed in his Danny Gans apologia:

"In Las Vegas, when left to our own devices, we do things a little differently.”

Read Steve Friess’ entire Michael Jackson apologia here. We welcome your comments.


Anonymous said...

Hey! he wrote 'credible.' You're not credible. You make stuff up. And I know you do because you've make it up about me, too. You seem to forget that those of us whom you slime actually know the truth, even if your tiny readership doesn't. It's not worth refuting given how obviously ridiculous you are and how you embarrass yourself all on your own with your antics, but we still know it. Why would Friess possibly respond to you knowing you fabricate? I am so proud of him for standing up to bullies like you. Never heard of him before all of this, but he is my HERO now! You have no idea how much you've lost in your jihad against him!!!!!

Hugh J said...

I don't disagree that Friess' roles are confusing and troublesome. But I also think that anyone who reads or listens to Friess' work knows he is the most independent, the most forceful and critical thinker in Vegas today and the only one who is likely to ask really tough questions in interviews and press conferences. I wonder how many of his podcasts TB has heard, given that TB has called the show a "promotional" podcast when Friess is frequently so critical of a lot of things in Vegas on it, as he also is on his blog and in his columns. That harms TB's credibility which, I agree with the prior poster, is nonexistent anyway.

One wonders why TB doesn't take after OBVIOUS shills like Robin Leach and Norm Clarke, people who shamelessly plug things, clearly take more freebies than any other journalists in the city and never offer any criticism. Recently, Norm Clarke tweeted lovingly through a lengthy, expensive but FREE wine dinner at Guy Savoy. Didn't hear a peep from TB about that conflict.

The only logical explanation is that neither of them has ever acknowledged TB's existence, neither of them are as open about their processes as Friess is -- which opens him up for misinterpretation by those who wish to do so -- and neither of tickle TB's homophobic, disability-phobic fancy.

Anonymous said...

well documented rebuttal to his bullshit. kol hakovod.