Health Insurance Giant Denies Funding Astroturf Facebook Ads

On WeGethealthreformrightdnesday, Business Insider reported that Facebook users were being plied with virtual cash (for games like Mafia Wars) to email their Senators to oppose a public health insurance option. The health insurance industry-backed website to which the ads directed users, Get Health Reform Right, is down today. We contacted the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, who runs the site, to find out why.

Players of social media games like Mafia Wars need money within the games in order to advance and win. Business Insider explains how they can do that without “earning” it in the game or paying for it with real money:

By accepting offers from third-parties — usually companies like online movie rentals service Netflix — who agree to give the gamer virtual currency so long as that gamer agrees to try a product or service. This is done through an “offers” provider — a middleman that brings the companies like Netflix, the Facebook gamemakers, and the Facebook gamemaker’s users together.

It’s this third method that an anti-reform group called “Get Health Reform Right” is using to pay gamers virtual currency for their support.

After the report ran, Get Health Reform Right suspended the site (you can see the cached page here) with the following explanation:

Because of unauthorized use of the Get Health Reform Right name and logo, we have temporarily suspended the Get Health Reform Right website.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association runs the website, and they say they had nothing to do with the ads. In a written statement, they said:

“Get Health Reform Right does not pay or incentivize people in any way to communicate to Congress their opposition to government-run healthcare. Under the terms of the contract with the advertising network, it explicitly states that no such incentivized ads may be used. Get Health Reform Right activities have been temporarily suspended until the source of these ads can be determined.”

BCBSA spokesman Jeff Smokler told Mediaite that the advertising network they use, WebClients of Harrisburg, Pa, has confirmed to them that they did not use any incentivized ads. “We’re investigating the use of Facebook to determine how this happened, but we’re not responsible for it, and we’re looking forward to finding out who is.”

I asked if it was possible that a subcontractor of Webclients was responsible. He said “Webclients uses blocking software to prevent any incentivized publishers from delivering incentivized leads, and the blocking was working on the site consistently.”

Smokler says they anticipate putting the website back up “shortly.” The association’s legal counsel is contacting Facebook to advise them that they suspect this is a case of fraud.

As Business Insider points out, “astroturfing” is not illegal, but it does apparently carry enough of a stigma for BCBSA to take extraordinary steps, like shutting down the Get Health Reform Right website, to distance itself from it.


Hollywood Paints It Black: The 2009 Black List is Released

hollywood-sign-addressToday is a hotly anticipated day inside Hollywood – the release of the annual Black List. You may be asking yourself the following questions: 1) What is the Black List, 2) Why should I care? and 3) Isn’t McCarthyism dead? Well to start backwards, the answer to #3 is I sure hope so, though I have my fears. But let’s get to the answers to #1 and #2. Rest assured that, as opposed to being on McCarthy’s Black List, to be on the 2009 Black List is a very good thing, and potentially a very lucrative honor.

Since 2004, Universal Studios film executive Franklin Leonard has been compiling a list of the top 100 unproduced screenplays of the year. He named this list the “Black List”. The list is compiled the good old fashioned way in Hollywood – by lots of insiders (executives, financiers, agents, assistants, you name it). Leonard first solicits these exclusive insiders for their top screenplay choices and then compiles the results in one hotly anticipated list. In most cases, if a screenplay cracks the top 10, all the big players in town have already fought over the rights to it and a film based thereon is usually in active development (for example, see this year’s #2 Black List choice “The Social Network” written by Aaron Sorkin – yes, he of “The West Wing” and “A Few Good Men” fame – this is the famous “how Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook” movie, and the film starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake will be a high-profile release by Sony Pictures in 2010).

But the number of screenplays on the list that are already greenlit pictures in production is very low. The true value of the list is that it shines a light on a lot of great not-yet-produced work out there, and if a screenplay does appear on this list, there is a very good shot it will actually get made. (According to the LA Times, 40% of the screenplays on the 2005 Black List were turned into features, and about 30% of those on the 2006 list had the same good fortune – and there are still a number of screenplays from the 2005 and 2006 Black Lists in active development so those percentages should only continue to rise). Some of the more well known films that started out as Black List honorees include “Little Miss Sunshine”, “Juno”, “There Will Be Blood”, and “Hancock”. In fact, Diablo Cody, writer of “Juno”, was pretty much catapulted to the big leagues thanks to “Juno” appearing #2 on the 2006 Black List.

This year’s list looks like it has a TON of potential. I’m very intrigued by the #1 choice “The Muppet Man” written by Christopher Weekes, which is a biopic based on the late, great Jim Henson, and apparently includes some very surreal sequences with the muppets. How can you beat that?

I’ve actually read the #5 choice “Cedar Rapids” by Phil Johnston about a naive small-town Wisconsin guy who takes the place of his deceased mentor and represents his company at a regional insurance conference held in the big city (in this case, the thriving metropolis of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and hence the name of the film). Based on that one sentence description you’d probably think this is going to be one depressing movie. Well, to give you an idea of the tone of the movie which is already in production for a 2010 release, Ed Helms (of “The Hangover” and “The Office” fame) has been cast perfectly in the lead role. So needless to say the film will have a LOT of laughs and a bit of heart to go with it. Further cementing this film as a must see 2010 release is the fact that the duo of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor who together produced “Sideways” are also producing “Cedar Rapids”.

Click the link above to see Nikki Finke’s coverage of this year’s entire Black List and let me know which ones you are dying to see come to a theater near you. Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @smarthollywood, and via email at smarthollywood@gmail.com.

Related:

The Black List 2009: Full Roster [Deadline Hollywood]


Soundbite: All The News That’s Fit To Pick

times12

“Our biggest scoop? Probably when we discovered that the anagram for “New York Times” was “Write, Monkeys.”

— The anonymous, mysterious NYTPicker in an interview with PBS Mediashift’s Craig Silverman, in which they reveal that they are actually a “they,” and that there are six of them. They think the paper’s best columnist is Philip Adler (on bridge), are no fans of Thomas Friedman, and promise the NYT that they won’t text and drive: “We get it. It’s dangerous. We’ll stop.”

The interview is very funny, and also interesting. Read it here.


How I Ended Up With Aught.com

Back in 1996 I was a young and eager media aspirant, only a couple of years into Silicon Alley and all of its promise. Somehow, I found myself with the title “executive producer” for SPINonline, where I was charged with developing their website (and leading the then-relevant music magazine into the digital age). Alas, a sexual harassment case against then-owner (pornographer’s son) Bob Guccione, Jr. led to an eventual sale of the magazine – and more importantly for me – a dearth of money to develop their website. This gave me a lot of time to surf a brand new web, and think futuristic (and perhaps pot-fueled) thoughts.

I remember it was early 1996 and someone was talking about the best bands of the nineties – a common conversation at SPIN magazine – which got me thinking of decades. This lead to the wonder of the next decade’s brand — I thought to myself “if this is the nineties, what will next decade be called?” At the time, I had I no idea what the next decade should be called – the zeros maybe? I did recall an episode of The Simpsons where Grandpa Simpson was going on about life in Springfield in aught-five when he wore an onion dangling from his belt (which was the style of the time.) Aha! Aught! That’s the name of the next decade!

I was delusional enough to think that I was the only person having this thought, and because I was working in the digital “space,” I went to networksolutions.com and saw that aught.com was available, Thinking that this was going to be the catch phrase of skateboard of the next millenium (”dude, that ollie was totally aught!”) I registered aught.com, fully expecting to eventually sell it for maybe $50,000 (which was the style of the time.)

Guess what? I never sold it. But its still my private email domain (and now serves as the private email domain for my wife and boys!). For most people it’s not that big a deal to have the same email address for 15 years. But a career as freelance television producer, writer and interactive consultant has made me appreciate the consistency of my own domain: aught.com. (I’m choosing not to be depressed by that last sentence.)

That being said, wanna buy a domain?


The Aughts In Architecture & Design

lamster1The decade got off to such a nice start, didn’t it? At the stroke of midnight, as the nines turned into zeroes, our millennial fears were allayed by magnums of champagne and an army of Silicon Alley wizards. Cities around the globe twinkled with the light of an infinity of camera flashes. It was all so beautiful. Who could have guessed what catastrophe awaited, and how pivotal architecture and design would be to the coming decade’s grim narrative? Our world is fundamentally different than it was ten years ago. That change has been shocking, painful, and paradigm-shifting. In that time, architecture and design reframed our world in ways we could hardly have expected. Here are a few signal moments in that recent history.

WTC

The Destruction of the World Trade Center: Since the Towers came down, it has been hard to have a rational discussion about anything in this nation, least of all those two buildings themselves. Hated by critics at the time of their construction, gradually accepted as members of the urban family, they now, in their absence, occupy a space in the collective imagination that is larger than they ever possessed while they stood guard over New York harbor. The wound of their erasure is still fresh, a physical reminder of the corrupting dangers of politics, money, and ego that have defined not just the rebuilding process, but our entire culture in the years following their fall.

nola

The Deluge of New Orleans: In the wake of 9/11, Americans were promised a secure homeland. Instead, we were the victims of an unpardonable abrogation of government responsibility. Decades of intentional urban neglect and environmental exploitation inevitably gave way to a catastrophe that will not be remedied any time soon, no matter our intentions.

mortgage

The Mortgage Crisis: The home has been the locus and symbol of American prosperity for decades, the ostensible lynchpin of our dreams for both emotional contentment and fiscal well-being. But the shelter and security promised by architecture have proven to be, for many Americans, an illusion. The exploitation of our desires, whether fraudulent or merely irresponsible, triggered economic collapse. The toll that overbuilding has taken on our environment and our communities has been enormous.

birdsnest

The Rise of China: Perhaps the most memorable building of the decade was the “Bird’s Nest,” the extraordinary stadium designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron for the Beijing Olympics. It was just one of several recent high profile commissions in China that have captivated the press. But the real story of architecture in China is not so much a few high-end buildings designed by international luminaries, but the overwhelming growth of China’s cities, and the pressures that growth has exerted on the environment and China’s historic fabric.

dubai

[Photo by Karrie Jacobs]

The Fall of Dubai: An Ozymandian empire built on credit and in the desert by what amounted to slave labor. It was so obviously a parable it’s hard to believe it was ever something more than a mirage wafting over hot sands. A tower nearly half a mile tall? An artificial archipelago in the shape of a palm tree? An indoor ski slope? One could not dream up a more vivid symbol of a decade of irrational exuberance. Tread carefully, Las Vegas.

philipjohnson

The Death of Philip Johnson: The reign of America’s pre-eminent architect was so long that, when he died in 2005 at the age of 98, it was hard to believe the profession could go on without him. It was Johnson, as a young man, who established the parameters by which architecture would be judged and practiced in the United States. He oversaw the construction of America’s greatest skyscraper (The Seagram Building), designed its most storied restaurant (The Four Seasons), and built himself a national landmark (The Glass House). His protégés included Robert Venturi, Peter Eisenman, Richard Meier, Michael Graves, Rem Koolhaas, and Robert A. M. Stern.

>>>NEXT: The iPod, Hipster Culture, Green Design & Barack Obama’s Butterfly Effect


The Aughts: A Decade Of “Huh?”

Screen shot 2009-11-22 at 12.40.54 PMThis new decade has snuck up on us. It’s mid-December and only just now has the media world seemed to have awoken to the fact that, wow, we’re about to enter a new decade. I myself had not even realized it until I got an email from Newsweek inviting me to participate in their end-of-decade package. What a difference from ten years ago, when a millennium was drawing to a close and we lived in fear of the havoc to be wrought by Y2K even while we were partying like it was 1999. (I was dreaming when I wrote that.)

By contrast, this year has been so crazy that just chronicling the madness of 2009 has seemed like more than enough work, let alone reflect on the past decade. But part of the import of a passing decade being so overlooked lies to in how un-unified it seemed. The 90s were a big deal because they were so different from the 80s and so different from the 70s. And when we left the 90s behind, we left them for…what? Sure there was Y2k and The Year 2000 and A New Millennium, but beyond that, who knew what to call it? I certainly didn’t and never really called it anything, and certainly not anything generally-accepted or official-sounding (the Oh-Ohs? No-oh.) . In fact, it wasn’t until I started working with Colby Hall, our managing editor here at Mediaite, that I even heard a term for the decade: The Aughts. Flying in the face of our Gmail generation, Colby’s email address is at “aught.com” which I wondered about, asked about, and subsequently learned was what this decade was supposed to have been called. (Colby registered the domain in the late 90s thinking he was sitting on a gold mine. Aw. Read his account of that decision here.)

It was the decade of September 11th, which really changed everything — but even in a world fraught with the scary realities that were made manifest that day, it was also the decade of that world getting so much smaller.

So – The Aughts. As the decade’s close drew nearer it seemed prudent to actually call it something, and the Oh-Ohs, Double-Os and Two-Thousands frankly sound dumb. “The Aughts” is nice, clean, short, simple and definitive, and also sounds vaguely British which means it’s classy. That is why, here at Mediaite, our end-of-decade retrospective series is called…The Aughts. And you ‘aughta’ call them that too! Ha, ha.

But whatever we call them — and none of us agree, which is actually sort of appropriate for the decade in which everything nichiefied and individual opinion gained primacy — there’s obviously no question that they contained multitudes. The Aughts changed the way we lived, and worked, and thought about the present and the future, and became the future way quicker than ever before (Seriously? Just think about the iPhone. A marvel). It was the decade of September 11th, which really changed everything, but even in a world fraught with the scary realities that were made manifest that day, it was also the decade of that world getting so much smaller. For those of you reading this on the go on a little screen on a devide you’re holding in your hand, that you will soon use to make a phone call, watch a video, send an email, self-publish your thoughts in an instant or receive any of the above from someone halfway around the world, you know what that means. You’re living it.

There’s much to grapple with in this decade and we’ve invited our staff, columnists and contributors to think about it from any and every angle — politics, movies, music, TV, technology, religion, demographics, art and architecture, fashion, sports, feminism, human rights, science, ridiculous trends like Crocs — and how all of those categories relate to and can be viewed through the media prism. (We’re also accepting submissions so if you have an idea let me know at rachel@mediaite.com.) Lots has happened since we all held our breath waiting for our computers to implode at midnight on January 1, 2000, and we’re already having fun breaking it down for you. (And when we miss something, please do let us know.)

In the meantime, we’ve got 20 days to go until…the Tens? The Teens? The One-Oh’s? Whatever it’s called, by the end of the next decade what we’ve come to take for granted in this one will be obsolete. So please join us in marking it here, before Richard Branson buys it and sends it into space or Mark Zuckerberg just takes it. Enjoy it while it lasts, folks. If there’s anything the Aughts have taught us, it’s that over the next decade, everything is gonna change.

The Aughts [Mediaite]


Rachel Sklar On Julie Menin’s Give And Take

Screen shot 2009-12-11 at 2.18.13 AMRemember a few weeks back when Ann Coulter was on Julie Menin’s show talking about Maxine Waters and racking up the pageviews on HuffPo and this site in her usual, controversial way? Well, that probably won’t happen with Menin’s latest interview, which was with me. Still, I enjoyed it, mostly because Menin is a smart, prepared interviewer who hits a lot of different points well and with an eye to conversation and dialogue, not soundbites.

Part I:
Here we talk about the White House vs. Fox battle royale from a few weeks back, whether it was acceptable for Glenn Beck to call President Obama a racist, what happened to Van Jones, and whether Fox News is biased in their coverage (I said yes it was, citing their Tea Party coverage as an example).


Part II:
Here we talk about a favorite topic of mine, women in media and politics, and I revisit my coverage of Hillary Clinton from early and mid 2008, and how it took a while before people in media acknowledged that yes, fine, there were aspects of her coverage that were sexist (”When I hear her voice I cross my legs involuntarily” “She reminds me of a first wife in probate court” etc.)

Part III:
Here we discussed the Stupak Amendment and how the Health Care Debate became The Abortion Debate. I contend that abortion=health care, based on it being, you know, a surgical procedure. Menin asked me if I would have voted no on the whole health care bill over it, which was a tough question (and I am still not sure what I would have done, there were so many factors at play). I also call out Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) for his ridiculous and insulting “I object” stunt. Oh and I use the phrase “Abortion Candy Store.”

Part IV:
Rachel Maddow, Jane Velez-Mitchell, (possibly/presumably) Anderson Cooper: Does it matter if a TV host is gay? Are we past it yet? And, what standard are they being held to? We also talk about the nexus of comedy, media and politics and how to balance the fun stuff/pageviews (cough Megan Fox) with the serious and important stuff (what I call peas vs. ice cream).



How nice of Julie and her team to welcome me for such a great interview. Julie Menin’s Give and Take airs on WNBC’s new 24-hour news channel, New York Nonstop on Sundays at 7pm Eastern.