How Low Can You Go?


As public broadcasting has long shown, there is a thin line between philanthropy and advertising that is well on its way to being completely erased. Consider the recent proliferation of corporate logos on endowed professorships, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Stanford has a Yahoo! chair of information systems technology; the University of Arizona has a Coca Cola distinguished professor of marketing; and Washington State has a Taco Bell distinguished professor of hotel and restaurant administration.

I'm impressed by what companies have done so far, but I'm waiting for William Bennett to get the General Electric Chair in Philosophy.

Mere advertising isn't enough for some firms. At West Virginia University, the Kmart professor of marketing is required to spend 30 days a year training Kmart store managers. It was a condition of the gift.

Whole schools are out for bid, too. According to the Economist, Columbia University will rename its business school after a donor who is willing to put up $60 million.

It used to be that wealthy donors endowed professorships and schools in an individual's honor, often someone no longer alive. But we now have a more business-like approach. After all, these names are too valuable a marketing opportunity to be wasted on the dead. And it would be merely sentimental to use the names of great figures in science and the arts. The economic logic is overwhelming. Let us now praise famous corporations. Name your price? Price your name.


Who will be next to go to the journalistic guillotine?

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First there was the revelation of Stephen Glass's serial lying in the New Republic and other magazines. Then came the disclosure that a Boston Globe columnist made up quotes and anecdotes. In the midst of this brouhaha there arrived the inaugural issue of Brill's Content, reporting not only on Kenneth Starr's illicit intercourse with the press, but also on such other outrages as a 60 Minutes exposé of supposedly defective Audis that used a car deliberately rigged to malfunction and the seeming indifference of the Washington Post to a letter from a senator pointing out that a story about him was utterly false. (Indeed, Leonard Downie, the Post's executive editor, admits to Steven Brill that he never reads "Letters to the Editor," which are, as it happens, addressed to him.)

So who will be next? Surely one top suspect has to be the journalist who has so often protested, "I am not making this up." Dave Barry, they're closing in on you. Here's what Brill's Content will be asking to see: (1) your notes; (2) the names and phone numbers of all your sources; (3) all records relating to your alleged dog; (4) the sales receipts for your alleged 20 computers; and (5) the copies of all those letters from readers you wrote about-such as the "many" that asked, "Dave, are there any new developments in the field of artificial falcon insemination, and could these developments help improve the American electoral process?" (Do you expect us to believe that, unlike Downie, you actually read those letters?)

And what about the exploding whales, cows, and pigs you made so famous? They'll be checking them out, too. Maybe the animals were rigged like those Audis. Maybe they were deliberately ignited by a sadistic humorist. Say it isn't so, Dave.

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