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Rumor Mill: Separating fact from fiction

While many rumors these days turn out to be true, there are still some questions--Does Larry Ellison have cancer? Has Wired cut its staff?--that remain firmly in gossip circles.

I've always admired my journalistic colleagues who strive to report the truth. The pursuit of accuracy is such a noble calling--one I occasionally hear despite my natural orientation toward rumors, lies and innuendo. But you can have too much of a good thing.

In recent weeks the Rumor Mill has sustained criticism that it is erring on the side of accuracy. Why call them rumors, carp our critics, when they consistently turn out to be right? One by one, yesterday's rumors of misfortune, mutiny and sheer chutzpah have found their way into today's news headlines. As a result, I have been advised to tone down the trustworthiness.

In that spirit, today's column is dedicated to falsehood. We've gone the extra mile and dug up four rumors that turned out to be completely wrong. Enjoy them while they last, because there's enough stranger-than-fiction bad news circulating in the Valley these days to keep us on strictly factual turf until the Nasdaq regains its old high.

All for a good cause
Contrary to rumor, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison does not have cancer. Skintelligent analysis suggests the rumor may have arisen from Ellison's philanthropic activities, specifically his endowment of the Ellison Medical Foundation.

"Those rumors are totally ridiculous," EMF Executive Director Dr. Richard Sprott said of the Ellison cancer reports. "Those kinds of searches for his motivation turn up in a variety of articles. Quite frankly it's not the world's greatest press, looking for why would he be doing this. But this is not tied to his own health. He does this to make a difference for people everywhere."

The EMF was founded in 1997, and the following year it started doling out as much as $45 million annually from Ellison's personal fortune. Board members and grantees include two Nobel laureates.

The group, whose scientific advisory board met Wednesday in New York, is funding research in two hot areas of medical science: infectious disease and the aging process.

Standing his ground
eLance founder and former President Srini Anumolu is not, contrary to rumor, being deported. Whispers had circulated that the embattled former investment banker and entrepreneur would be heading back to his native India after his indictment on fraud charges, but his lawyer says Anumolu plans to stay and fight.

"Mr. Anumolu continues to devote his attention to fighting the pending legal charges," his lawyer said. "In order to devote his attention to vigorously fighting them, Srini Anumolu resigned from his positions on the board and as an officer of eLance. Mr. Anumolu and his legal team are confident that these charges will be resolved in Mr. Anumolu's favor. He looks forward to putting his personal legal difficulties behind him and resuming his work developing complex software on the cutting edge of technology."

Changing of the guard
Reports of layoffs at Wired magazine turned out to be greatly exaggerated. What probably ignited this rumor brushfire was the sudden departure of longtime Wired fixtures on the editorial staff, though the installation of a new editorial regime under Chris Anderson might have clued in layoff watchers that this was not your typical head-count reduction.

"We let three people go, but we're replacing them all," said a Wired representative. "The jobs are all posted at JournalismJobs.com. When new executive producers come in, they make changes. It's a standard personnel issue. We have three openings, plus we just hired an articles editor, and the position never existed at Wired before. We also hired a creative director for the magazine--a newly created position."

Dirty money?
We close by debunking the rumor that free-speech defender Larry Flynt was the silent partner of Internet business analyst Phil "Pud" Kaplan in the latter's high-tech start-up obituary service whose name tends to be whispered in finer public venues.

Skinformed sources speculate that the scuttlebutt stemmed from Pud's recent visit to the Hustler offices. Pud was mum on the details when we queried him about his trip to Hustler, but he was much more loose-lipped about his recently completed book.

Commenced this past summer, Pud submitted the final manuscript three days ago to his editor at Simon & Schuster. It is scheduled to hit the local Barnes & Noble in mid-March.

"The key was turning it around fast," Pud observed, noting the fickle nature of all things Internet-related. "I was late turning it in. It's a compendium of over 100 different dot-coms and Internet companies...But it's also an entertainment book."

Pud slammed his own title--"F'd Companies"--as a betrayal of his values and his trademark brand of English prose.

"That was my idea," Pud admitted. "In all honesty, I will never claim to not be a complete and total sellout. With a Web site like F***edCompany, we're just talking about regular people who are going to the Web site. But when you're dealing with books, it's sort of a B2B thing, and you're dealing with relatively few retailers. Barnes & Noble sells one-third of all the books in the U.S. So it was just a sellout move on my part." I've been trying to sell out for years, but the only thing I've got is your rumors.