Harvard Mafia Lives!

by, the new site that aims to charge users for up-to-date dish on the media industry, has gotten tons of press since its launch. But here’s an angle no one has noted: the staff of the start-up is teeming with alumni from Spy magazine. A press release names former Spy publisher Tom Phillips as a private investor, along with former Spy writer Paul Simms. Inside contributors include comedy writers Bruce Feirstein and Harry Shearer—whose names appeared on the Spy masthead. And, as everyone knows, Inside founder Kurt Andersen was a founding editor of Spy .

One Spy alum is conspicuously missing from the staff directory in Inside ‘s press release—David Korzenik, a lawyer Andersen has retained to handle licensing and libel review. Korzenik currently represents Vibe and Time Out , among others, and has a Spy connection of his own. His firm, Miller and Korzenik L.L.P., represented the cheeky mag from its 1986 debut until its death in 1998.

So was it hard being the libel lawyer for Spy ? Korzenik answers with characteristic discretion. “Spy was a humorous, investigative magazine,” he says. “It took a lot of time and attention, but the writers were smart, as well as funny, and they tookseriously the legal issues I presented.”

Of course, the fact that Korzenik scrutinized Spy stories prepublication didn’t stop people from threatening to sue when they were publicly humiliated in the magazine. Indeed, he says, Spy was widely read by plaintiffs’ attorneys as they scavenged for potential cases. But in its 12-year history it was sued only once, over a profile of actor Steven Seagal. Korzenik proudly notes that Seagal eventually withdrew his action and “we didn’t pay him a penny.”

Korzenik has a Harvard connection, as well. In the ’70s, his high school friend Eric Rayman met Andersen at Harvard, where Korzenik’s sister would become good enough friends with Phillips to bring him home for a seder in 1975. Korzenik also attended Harvard; he and Rayman went on to become lawyers. At a party in 1985, Rayman introduced Korzenik to Andersen. Phillips recruited Korzenik for Spy.

Korzenik’s work with Andersen didn’t end there. In the ’90s, as the original Spy staff graduated to high-paying gigs, the Spy mafia flourished. Andersen left to edit New York , where he used Korzenik as backup whenever the mag’s regular counsel had a conflict of interest. So it’s no surprise that Andersen tapped Korzenik for Inside .

“I think Kurt has always done great things,” says the lawyer. “When you work with writers and editors over the years, they develop a sensitivity to your concerns. I know how he thinks about these things and vice versa.”

Full disclosure: Korzenik and I worked together at Spy in 1988.

The ‘Times’ Drug Cocktail

Last week, the sheer volume of drug advertising in The New York Times was astounding. Pages 6 and 7 of the May 21 Magazine were occupied by an ad touting the “power and promise” of vaccines. The ad was placed by the Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunization, which touts the interests of third-world children and boasts the imprimatur of Bill Gates.

But in my opinion, vaccine PR has the most beneficial effect on the drug industry, which sees vaccines as a major source of revenue. Indeed, the ad’s stated function was to solicit public donations for vaccine research—as if the vaccine manufacturers couldn’t pay for their own research.

Just as the drug companies fund nonprofit campaigns to promote their own products, they have also invested in the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, an effort to discourage the use of illegal drugs. So it’s no surprise that the Times ‘s recent tsunami of drug profits included two Partnership ads, which appeared in the A section on May 22 and May 23, respectively.

The first, a full-pager, shows off the Partnership’s well-known marketing flair. “Every parent should take a drug test,” reads the first line of copy, in huge type. A multiple-choice test follows, implying that inhalants pose a major threat to today’s youth. Careful readers will learn that “Huffing” means “Putting a rag soaked with a chemical to your mouth and inhaling the fumes,” and “SSD” means “Sudden Sniffing Death.”

As is typical in the new crop of drug ads, this antidrug ad provides a URL for reference. Online, the Partnership concedes that it takes donations from pharmaceutical companies, though it won’t say how much. These “good samaritans” offer the following rationale: “Our mission is to reduce the demand for illegal drugs, not legal products.”

A few pages later in the May 22 Times came “An Important Message From America’s Pharmaceutical Companies.” This one had to do with the coming debate over the affordability of prescription drugs for senior citizens. Placed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the ad stresses the industry’s favorite selling point: its “ability to discover and develop life-saving, life-enhancing medicines.”

While this ad sounds altruistic, a skeptic might translate the message as: The drug industry needs all the money it can get, so don’t let the government tread on us with price controls. If you doubt that the industry is involved in a cynical exercise, go to and ask yourself whose interests come first in this business, those of senior citizens or corporate stockholders.

The Partnership’s May 23 ad, this one in conjunction with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, offered, instead of a headline, a photo of a winsome child. Scrawled on her arm was the message “Stay involved in my life.” Below came the pitch: Parents can be more influential than anyone in keeping their kids off drugs. Indeed, the ad concludes glibly, parents can be “the anti-drug.”

The drug connection is not so obvious in another Times ad that appeared May 23. Buried on page F9, this ad claims that biotechnology is good for cotton farmers like Donna Winters, a middle-aged woman photographed sitting on a haystack. The ad was placed by the innocuous-sounding Council for Biotechnology Information.

A review of the group’s Web site,, suggests that its motives are not altogether unselfish. Members include major drug companies DuPont and Novartis, as well as the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents dozens more drug companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Merck, and Hoffmann-LaRoche. Given that the drug companies are investing heavily in biotech, it makes sense that their nonprofit uses “good-farmer” images to sell biotech to the public.

My point isn’t that the Times and the pharmaceutical industry are involved in a vast conspiracy, or that the industry is buying favorable coverage. It’s that the drug industry, which boasts one of the top profit margins of any in the U.S., is paying hand over fist to reach the opinion leaders who read the Times .

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