Culture

The case of the missing Case?

Thanks to the three feet of water outside Rumor Mill Central, not too many notes have been slipped under the door lately.

Thanks to the three feet of water outside Rumor Mill Central, not too many notes have been slipped under the door lately. That's why my ears pricked up late last week when the office intercom squawked with unusual urgency. "Boss, we got a hot one!" said my secretary and biochemical lab analyst, Trixie Pixel. "Fine, Trix. Just make sure it's got extra anchovies and give the kid a few extra bucks for driving through the storm," I replied. "It's not a pizza, imbécile!" she snapped back, mocking my accent. "It's a rumor!" I swung my galoshes off the desk and my butt into action.

While sniffing around the possible sale of Netscape's parts and the just-announced AOL reorg, my agents also picked up the musky whiff of testosterone-soaked bodies jostling for position in the AOL executive suite. By the year 2000, there could well be a new soap salesman atop the heap in Dulles, Virginia. My radar has picked up low-flying whispers that Steve Case is slowly but surely easing himself out of AOL. And why not? Monsieur Case was sitting on some 2.4 million shares of stock as of October, according to a filing with the SEC. That, mes amis, is a huge hunk of potential cash and growing fatter by the day as AOL's stock shoots past the century mark.

Who would inherit the talking stick? At the moment, Bob Pittman seems to be poised nicely. Case and company brought him on board in late 1996 as a very strong No. 2, and the Pittmeister has responded by steadily increasing the flow of green into the company's coffers. His first step to the throne, as announced today, is his ascendancy as president and COO of the entire company. Ted Leonsis, the third leg of the Pittman-Case power trio, seems to be odd man out.

But there are mixed messages coming from my Skinsiders. Some say Leonsis, who remains president of AOL Studios, will be busier than ever developing in-house content. But others say don't be terribly surprised if Leonsis suddenly announces that he's going to "spend more time with his family." A lot more time.

Scott McNealy's second child wasn't the only thing hatching in the world of Sun Microsystems last month. The company also introduced the Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 workstations, two "low-cost" desktops that are supposed to keep the NT wolves at bay. (The low-end Ultra 5 costs $2,995.) C'est bon, but what Sun neglected to mention in its big presentation is that part and parcel of the Ultra deal is an overpriced Sun monitor. According to my crack research staff, the monitors cost anywhere from $200 to $700 more than their open market counterparts. Just like a newborn--full of hidden surprises!

It's not so surprising when a member of Congress rants and raves about the Internet being the cause of everything evil--from bomb construction and hatemongering to toe jam. But according to a Reuters report last week, Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) is spreading perhaps the strangest fear about the Net ever to surface: online pregnancy. Traficant spoke briefly on the House floor about a woman who claims to have a bun in the oven thanks to an email exchange with a distant lover. The lawmaker warned--hopefully with his tongue in his cheek--about the dangers of "immaculate reception." (Franco Harris was not involved.) Traficant also called for the use of a "chastity chip."

Given the metaphorical proclivities of some of my media brethren, I propose a rhetoric chip. Believe it or not, a Media Daily article about professional wrestling was able to squeeze dethroned boxing champ Mike Tyson and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig into the same sentence. It seems Tyson has been named "special enforcer" for an upcoming match between two large hairy men in tight shorts. Unfortunately, Tyson recently had a, um, gentlemen's disagreement with one of them, prompting Media Daily to write, "Tyson's objectivity during the match should fall somewhere around that of Lawrence Lessig's regarding Microsoft."

For those not up to snuff, Lessig was suspended as "special master" in the Justice Department's antitrust case against Microsoft by an appeals court, perhaps due to an email he once sent to a colleague joking that installing Microsoft software was like selling his soul. I may not be able to damn your soul to eternal hellfire, but I'll be flaming mad if you don't send me a rumor or two.