101 Dumbest Moments in Business
(Business 2.0) – GRAND PRIZE WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT OF 2004
1 Defrauding investors is sooooooo 2002. These days it's all about hosing your customers. When you're a bike-lock maker whose slogan is "Tough World, Tough Locks," it doesn't get much tougher than finding out that most of the locks you've been making for the last 30 years can be picked with a Bic pen. That, sadly, is what happens to Ingersoll-Rand subsidiary Kryptonite in September, after bloggers begin posting videos showing just how easy it is to pop open the company's ubiquitous U-shaped locks. Still in denial four days after the hullabaloo begins, spokeswoman Donna Tocci says that the locks nonetheless provide "an effective deterrent against theft" and that Kryptonite will speed up deliveries of new, Bic-proof locks to stores. Unsatisfied, bloggers continue to rail at the company until it finally agrees to exchange the old locks for new ones, at an estimated cost of $10 million. Um ... make that at least $10 million: In December the company explains that the process of manufacturing and shipping the 100,000 replacement locks is taking longer than expected. In the meantime, many dealers receive no shipments of new locks, costing Kryptonite as much as $6 million in sales.
2 Now that's pain relief. Withdrawing arthritis medication Vioxx from the market because of concerns that it raises the risk of heart attacks, Merck sees its stock drop 39 percent, shaving $38 billion off the company's market cap. Responding to the crisis, Merck management executes a bold, daring plan—a "change in control separation benefits plan" for 230 of its top executives. The plan gives them up to three years of guaranteed salary and benefits if they lose their jobs as the result of a merger or takeover.
3 What's the problem? We love a guy who stands behind his product. James Joseph Minder, chairman of gunmaker Smith & Wesson, is forced to resign when newspaper reporters discover that, before becoming a corporate exec, he'd spent 15 years behind bars for a string of armed robberies and an attempted prison escape.
4 Do as I say, not as I ... hey, get a load of those! After joining the Bank of Ireland as CEO, Michael Soden issues a dictate: No porn surfing on the job. His next dictate: The IT department is to be outsourced to Hewlett-Packard. Shortly after the outsourcing deal goes through, IT staffers, now employed by HP, discover porn on Soden's computer. Soden resigns, leaving the bank and HP scrapping over who should pay his severance, estimated at $5 million.
5 For more nostalgia, you can always check out your legal bills from the DOJ antitrust lawsuit.
"Microsoft has had competitors in the past. It's a good thing we have museums to document this stuff."
— Bill Gates, in a talk at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.
6 The family that colludes together, stays together. New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer files a lawsuit in October against insurance broker Marsh & McLennan, charging that the firm rigged bids by having insurers give artificially high quotes, thus deceiving customers into thinking their insurance policies received competitive prices. Marsh also allegedly received payments above and beyond the normal commissions for steering business to certain insurers. CEO Jeffrey Greenberg resigns, and the company vows to stop the practices, costing it $800 million in "commission" revenue. Finally, Spitzer also reveals that insurance giant AIG, headed by Greenberg's father, Hank, and Bermuda-based insurer ACE, headed by brother Evan, were among the firms that participated in the bid rigging.
7-9 If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. In April, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser—seeing his online music store struggling to compete with Apple's iTunes because it's not compatible with the iPod—e-mails Steve Jobs suggesting that he open the iPod to other purveyors of digital music. The e-mail is immediately leaked to the New York Times, which interviews a surprised Glaser. "Steve is showing a high level of fear," he says.
If you can't beat 'em, and you can't join 'em, encourage people to whine about 'em. Still peeved that Apple won't allow the iPod to play downloads from his online music store, Glaser launches an online petition urging Apple to open up. He quickly pulls the petition offline when he discovers that most of the signers have left strident pro-Apple comments.
If you can't beat 'em, and you can't join 'em, and you can't get people to whine about 'em ... put out some half-baked software that forever alienates potential customers? Not backing down, Glaser offers a software hack that allows iPods to play songs purchased from Real. Apple blasts its rival for exhibiting "the ethics of a hacker" and warns iPod users that future updates to its software will render the Real songs unplayable. But it turns out that if Real is acting like a hacker, it's not a particularly talented one: Several Real customers report that the software fills their screens with ads and crashes their computers. In November an Apple software update blocks the hack.
10 In fairness, though, they did turn away the $300 with Dennis Kucinich. A clerk at the Fashion Bug store in Greensburg, Pa., accepts a $200 bill—and gives the customer $100.58 in change—even though the bill is festooned with clues that it might not be legal tender, including a picture of President George W. Bush and the serial number DUBYA4U2001.
11 Gas pains. Royal Dutch Shell stuns Wall Street when it suddenly announces it's missing more than $60 billion in oil and gas reserves. The news shouldn't come as a surprise to industry analysts, however: ChevronTexaco, a partner with Shell in an Australian gas field that figured in the overstatements, has yet to count any of that petroleum on its balance sheet. Investors decide Shell's value is also overstated, issuing their own $14 billion reduction in market cap.
12 From the folks who brought you Riding in Vegas With Tupac. In March, Italian firm Comet Records releases Burning House of Love, by Great White, the band whose onstage pyrotechnics started a nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 96 people in 2003. The band disclaims any connection with the release, saying it was unauthorized. The label, which licensed the release through a New Jersey firm, apologizes, saying the employee who picked the title wasn't aware of the fire. An understandable mistake—after all, the blaze was only covered in more than 800 newspapers worldwide.
13 Also to be revealed: the names of the three people who actually went to see The Village. In July, an AP reporter learns that The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, a supposedly unauthorized documentary aired on NBC Universal's Sci-Fi Network, is actually a promotional piece for Shyamalan's new movie, The Village. Sci-Fi Network president Bonnie Hammer apologizes to the Hollywood press corps.
14 OK, we've paid for the study. Now can we pay you not to publish it? Bristol-Myers Squibb funds a two-year study comparing its cholesterol drug, Pravachol, with Pfizer's Lipitor, only to blanch when the results come out in March: Lipitor actually does a better job of preventing heart attacks. After the report is published, the number of patients saying they're going to ask their doctors for Lipitor jumps by more than a third.
15 Of course not. It's just an innocent little game called "hide the carrot."
"It's a playful and fun launch. There is no sexual connotation to it, in my opinion."
— Swatch Group U.S. president Yann Gamard, reacting to protests over a Times Square billboard depicting cartoon rabbits in what appear to be various sexual positions. The watch being advertised is called the Bunnysutra.
16 Still fattening, but now with a funky aftertaste! Ignoring a long history of failure with similar products, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo spend a total of $75 million to launch "midcalorie" sodas C2 and Pepsi Edge, banking on the low-carb trend. The carb-conscious reject the drinks en masse, since one of their key tenets is avoiding refined sugar in any amount. The new brands go on to grab a combined market share of less than 1 percent.
17 Just wait until the ugly people start suing. In November, Abercrombie & Fitch pays $50 million to settle claims that it discriminated against minorities in hiring salespeople for its "all-American" line of clothing.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, MANUFACTURING
18 Try it in spicy, mild, or totally f+=%ed up. Hormel Foods is forced to recall 104,000 pounds of Stagg canned chili—labeled "hearty beef with a kick of green chilies"—after the kick turns out to come instead from the ground-up parts of a plastic handheld calculator.
19 Now wipe your tears and go sit on that block of ice.
"I give Gene permission to bust my behind any way he sees fit."
— Agreement given to female workers at Tasty Flavors Sno Biz in Red Bank, Tenn. The owner of the shaved ice operation is charged in November with two counts of sexual battery after it dawns on a pair of 19-year-old ex-employees that spankings are not a professionally sanctioned management tool.
20 Apparently, Shimada forgot to have the "bust-my-behind" clause included in his contract. In October, Japanese comedian Shinsuke Shimada is suspended from on-air appearances by his employer, TV production company Yoshimoto Kogyo, after hitting a female co-worker who he felt was insufficiently polite in greeting him. Shimada spends two months looking after cows in Okinawa, pays a $2,900 fine, and then returns to the airwaves with an apology, calling himself "a naughty boy."
21 Oh, we thought it said "do not not call." A year after winning a $3.5 million contract to set up the National Do Not Call Registry, AT&T pays $490,000 to settle FCC charges that it repeatedly called consumers who had asked the company not to call them again.
22 See line 46 of our income statement: Expenses—nonrecurring and oopsy-daisy. A NASA investigation reveals that while moving a $239 million weather satellite, workers at Lockheed Martin accidentally dropped it, causing a reported $135 million in damage. The culprit: 24 missing bolts.
23 An accounting scandal that's completely derivative.
"Unlike Freddie Mac, we didn't do any of these things."
— Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines, on the accounting woes of fellow mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac. As federal regulators start to dig into the company's books, however, it becomes clear that Fannie did do some of the same things, toting up its $1 trillion portfolio of derivative contracts improperly. In November, Fannie Mae announces it will miss a deadline for filing its third-quarter earnings because auditor KPMG won't sign off; a month later SEC chief accountant Donald Nicolaisen says the firm must restate its earnings going back to 2001. Raines abruptly announces his "retirement" a week later—then tries to wangle his full severance package of $1.4 million a year and $30 million in stock options.
24 Not exactly a Kodak moment. After spending eight years and $1 billion to develop next-generation photo-film system Advantix, Kodak kills its camera line. Sales had dropped 75 percent since 2000.
25 Here's your -ink slip. There's no "p" in it. Get it? In May, recently fired Caterpillar employee Tom Smith sues for wrongful dismissal and accuses the company of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. Smith's disability? Paruresis, a.k.a. shy bladder syndrome. Why fired? Because he couldn't pee into a specimen cup for a drug test—even after drinking 1.2 liters of water and waiting three hours. According to Smith, Caterpillar fired him despite the fact that he paid for an independent drug test using a hair sample and came up clean.
26 Nice pants. Too bad they're on fire.
"I'm not going to buy another router company for a router. I could not be more comfortable with our routing strategy."
— Cisco CEO John Chambers, mere days before spending $89 million to buy the assets of router maker Procket.
27 Corruption, kickbacks, lying, greed—sounds like the kind of riveting story that'll boost your circulation for sure! Newsday, the Long Island, N.Y., newspaper owned by Tribune Co., publicly confesses in June that it briefly inflated circulation numbers at its daily paper (by 40,000 copies), its Sunday paper (60,000), and its Spanish-language edition, Hoy (15,000). New revelations seem to emerge with each passing week: The fudging of numbers went back to 2001 and involved more copies than originally admitted. By December, 14 circulation executives and other employees at the paper are fired, and—in a separate, sleazy sidebar—at least three others are reportedly being investigated for demanding kickbacks from vendors.
28 Thanks for presiding over an incredibly embarrassing circulation scandal. As a token of our appreciation ... A week before Jack Fuller, president of Tribune Publishing, officially steps down from his post in December, Tribune Co. announces a one-year deal that will pay him $618,000 for consulting services "with respect to publishing operations, strategy matters and other mutually agreeable projects on an as-needed basis."
29 We were wondering why our paperboy just changed his name to Jack Fuller. Tribune Co., which also owns both the Chicago Cubs and the Hartford Courant, deposits $301,102.50 in the bank account of Mark Guthrie—Mark Guthrie, Courant newspaper deliveryman, as opposed to Mark Guthrie, Cubs relief pitcher.
30 Hmmm, Fog Cutter Capital. Is that by any chance owned by Tribune Co.? In June, shortly before Andrew Wiederhorn, the former CEO of Fog Cutter Capital, begins serving an 18-month jail sentence for tax and securities fraud, Fog Cutter's board decides to name him the firm's chief strategic officer and grant him a $2 million "leave of absence" payment—covering the fine levied against him. Nasdaq subsequently delists the publicly traded company for violating excessive-compensation rules.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, ADVERTISING
31 The download speed's only 56k? Goodbye, cruel world. Nextel puts up a billboard in Cleveland advertising its wireless data service, with a mannequin of a laptop user perched on top. The billboard causes fender-benders as drivers gawk, concerned that a distraught soul has climbed up and is ready to jump.
32 Guess we'll have to make do with Honest Abe Takes In a Show. On Nov. 22—the 41st anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy—Scottish videogame publisher Traffic announces the release of JFK Reloaded, in which players reenact the killing. Traffic, which also announces a $100,000 bounty to the first person to accurately re-create the three shots that struck Kennedy, says the game will "stimulate a younger generation of players to take an interest in this fascinating episode of American history."
33 Must be a British thing. U.S. cable companies don't give their customers nearly this much respect.
"You are through to NTL customer services. We don't give a (expletive) about you. We are never here. We just (expletive) you about, basically, and we are not going to handle any of your complaints. Just (expletive) off and leave us alone."
— Recorded message heard by subscribers of British cable firm NTL upon calling the company in September. Authorities say the message was created by a hacker, who was arrested the next month.
34 That's funny—what we bought was fashion designed by a hypocrite with stretch marks. In November, designer Karl Lagerfeld partners with Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz to sell an affordable line of high-fashion clothing. The togs, unveiled simultaneously at 500 European and American stores, instantly sell out. Instead of celebrating the success, Lagerfeld blasts H&M management for not producing enough of the clothes and for daring to make them in a variety of sizes. "What I designed was fashion for slender and slim people," says Lagerfeld, who himself recently lost 90 pounds.
35 Was he a) laying the groundwork for an insanity plea, b) drunk the whole time he was running Enron, c) actually being tailed by a phalanx of FBI agents, or d) all of the above? New York City police take former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling into custody at 4 a.m. on April 9 after several people call to report that he pulled on their clothes and accused them of being FBI agents. Skilling, who reportedly spent the evening at Manhattan bars American Trash and Vudu Lounge, is taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital for observation.
36 That last part is a mistranslation. He said that to everyone but Hillary.
"The town of Hope, where I was born, has very good feng shui."
— First line of a pirated Chinese version of Bill Clinton's My Life, in which the former president also sings the praises of Chinese innovation and explains to Hillary that his nickname is Big Watermelon.
37 Oddly enough, that's exactly what Bill Clinton wanted to call his autobiography. In the fall, New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority pulls bus ads for the clothing company Akademiks that feature the slogan "Read Books, Get Brain"—once it realizes that "get brain" is slang for oral sex.
38 Phase two of the campaign will bring in his girlfriend, Miss Phlegm, and their dog, Li'l Loogie. Promoting the powers of the expectorant Mucinex, Adams Respiratory Therapeutics teams with ad firm Torre Lazur McCann Healthcare Worldwide on a $22 million campaign that introduces the world to a slimy green animated character known as Mr. Mucus.
39 OK, but why did she go back for seven more interviews? Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel—a company whose reputation has been built around its high-quality, politically correct "sweatshop-free" T-shirts—agrees to be interviewed by a reporter from Jane magazine, who reports in July that Charney masturbated eight times in her presence over the course of two months.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, CORPORATE GOVERNANCE
40 Putting the double-cross in Crossharbour.
"I have been horribly defamed and in fact characterized and stigmatized as an embezzler. I am trying to retrieve my reputation as an honest man."
— Conrad Black, a.k.a. Lord Black of Crossharbour, defending himself in court in February against legal action brought by the board of his newspaper conglomerate, Hollinger International. Six months later, an internal report details Black's "aggressive looting" of the company, including more than $12 million spent on leasing a plane to "indiscriminately" shuttle Black and his wife, Barbara Amiel, to their various homes; $9 million to buy presidential papers and memorabilia from the FDR administration; $1.4 million for staff at Black's personal residences; $1.1 million for a no-show job for Amiel; $90,000 to recondition Black's Rolls-Royce; and $42,870 for a birthday party for Amiel at New York's La Grenouille restaurant. Hollinger's investigators estimate that between 1997 and 2003, the "corporate kleptocracy" fostered by Black resulted in the loss of $400 million, or 95 percent of the company's adjusted net income.
41 The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily—but, under certain circumstances, might be—my friend ... In March, a memo is posted online suggesting that Microsoft arranged a $50 million investment in SCO, a company suing Linux users and distributors over ownership of some of the code in Linux. SCO denies that Microsoft had any involvement, but the investor, private equity firm BayStar Capital, rapidly fesses up: Microsoft executives, a spokesperson says, introduced the firm to SCO and suggested it would be a good investment.
42 Thanks for the tip, Bill. Got any swampland in Florida? After paying nearly $17 a share to invest in SCO, BayStar watches the value of its investment collapse by half as SCO's attempts to get Linux users to license its software code fall flat. In fiscal 2004, SCO pays $20 million to its lawyers but takes in a mere $829,000 in licensing fees. BayStar later asks SCO to return its investment, eventually settling for a $23 million share buyback.
43 Geez, the used Gremlin we bought after college made it farther than that. The Pentagon-sponsored Grand Challenge, a robot race through the Mojave Desert designed to spur innovation in self-driving vehicles, proves all too challenging when none of the 15 entrants is able to get within 134 miles of the finish line. The "winner," a converted Hummer built by a team from Carnegie Mellon for $3 million, covers just 7 miles before it hits a rock and its tires burst into flames.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, PUBLIC RELATIONS
44 You gotta admit, it's a brilliant way to introduce their latest flavor, Tutti Frutti Destituti. Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's partners with an Amsterdam charity run by nuns to give free jackets to the homeless. One catch: The jackets advertise B&J ice cream on the back. Says Erwin van der Laan, a spokesman for the firm that helped arrange the ads, "You have to see this as something they're doing to repay the nuns, something that they're proud of."
45 If I wanted tasteless bread, I would've bought that Atkins crap. Interstate Bakeries, the maker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies, files for bankruptcy in September. While the company is quick to blame its woes on the low-carb diet craze, it turns out that Interstate had tinkered with its Wonder recipe to lengthen shelf life. Consumers rejected the stale, gummy bread, contributing to a net loss of $25.7 million in fiscal 2004.
46 Would that be more flexible or less flexible than, say, fungus?
"The carbon fiber mixed mold casing of the X505 notebook is as rigid as magnesium but as flexible as mold."
— From a description of the new Sony Vaio X505 laptop on SonyStyle.com.
47 Sorry to bother you, Ms. Minnelli, but your agent's on line 1. In November, Britain's Channel 4 announces that it's looking for a corpse that it can film as it decomposes for a show tentatively titled Dust to Dust.
48 Man's best utterly absurd way to blow his hard-earned dough. In June, K9 Water introduces four flavors of vitamin-enriched bottled water for dogs: Gutter, Hose, Puddle, and Toilet.
49 Um, you know that the "viral" in "viral marketing" isn't meant to be taken literally, right? In August, antivirus firms start getting panicky calls from people who've received a message on their cell phones informing them that they're infected with the "T-virus." It turns out that the message is just a marketing campaign for Capcom's Resident Evil: Outbreak. By way of apology, PR manager Ben Le Rougetel observes that the virus "has spread much quicker than we originally anticipated. It's now totally out of control, and we're not totally sure how to stop it."
50 How the phrase "boob tube" became a triple entendre. In October, a month after CBS is docked $550,000 by the FCC for Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction," Fox is slapped with a $1.2 million fine for an episode of the reality show Married by America in which two topless strippers spank a man and have whipped cream licked off them. The levy prompts 65 ABC affiliates to refuse to air the film Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day for fear of more fines.
51 If you can't do the time, don't tell your victim you're doing the crime.
"This feels like a blackmail session."
— 32-year-old programmer Michael Anthony Bradley, at a secretly videotaped meeting with engineers from Google. Bradley claims to have created software that could cost the company millions of dollars through bogus advertising clicks and is demanding $100,000 to refrain from selling it to the "top 100 spammers." He is indicted on extortion charges in March.
52 So that's why we saw Rob Glaser behind the 7-Eleven emptying a bunch of Pepsi bottles. In February, Apple and PepsiCo launch a giveaway of 100 million iTunes song downloads, with codes hidden under soda bottle caps. Enterprising contest hackers quickly point out that it's easy to determine which bottles have winning codes: Just tilt the bottle and look at the inside of the cap.
53 To: Ikea From: Everyone Re: Getting sixth-graders to do your product naming
54 On the one hand, it offends our customers' sense of decency. But on the other hand, it insults their intelligence. In March, stock-image company Corbis kicks off a sweepstakes promotion by sending its clients e-mail featuring a couple frolicking under the sheets and the slogan "Enter the contest you can win without sleeping with a judge."
55 Can you hear me now? In August, Siemens discloses that its newest series of phones, the 65, could potentially deafen users by blasting a melody when the battery runs low. Cell-phone carriers mmO2 and T-Mobile pull the phones from shops for reprogramming, and Siemens, which previously predicted that the 65 would help the handset division turn a profit for its fourth quarter, instead reports a loss of $185 million.
56 Can you pay me now? In September, Verizon whips gadget geeks into a frenzy by announcing that it will carry the Motorola v710, the carrier's first Bluetooth-equipped handset. But the frenzy turns into a virtual riot when the geeks discover that Verizon has disabled the Bluetooth's file-moving functions, forcing them to buy ringtones from Verizon rather than moving them directly from their PCs to their phones. One reviewer is outraged enough to announce a $3,000 prize for the first hacker to reverse Verizon's modifications.
57 Can you kill me now? Attempting to invite its customers to a festive gathering at an industry trade show in Germany, cell-phone maker Nokia sends out a text message that instantly disables hundreds of phones, damaging them so badly that they must be taken to Nokia service centers for repairs.
58 We hear the next album's going to be called Chapter XI. At the beginning of the NBA season, Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest reportedly exasperates his coach by requesting a month off to promote Allure, an all-female R&B trio signed to his record label, Truwarier, explaining that his goal is to "have my girls go platinum." Artest gives his music sideline some free publicity on Nov. 19 by brawling with fans at a game against the Detroit Pistons, earning himself a season-long suspension that costs him $5 million in forfeited salary. Allure's album, Chapter III, is released four days later; in its first six weeks, it sells a whopping 1,900 copies.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, MARKETING
59 The (plastic) lady is a tramp. In an attempt to freshen the image of its iconic doll, toymaker Mattel announces that Barbie has dumped her boyfriend, Ken, after 43 years of anatomically incorrect bliss. The makeover—which also includes a version of the doll with a new car, a darker tan, and an Aussie surfer-dude boyfriend named Blaine—results in critics deriding the doll as "Sleazy Easy Barbie" and, worse, U.S. sales dropping 26 percent in the third quarter.
60 The bad news is, you're fired. The good news is, your severance just dumped Ken for this totally hunky Australian guy. Laid-off workers at a Dan River textile plant in Sevierville, Tenn., are given a going-away package that includes a $100 Wal-Mart gift card, a Dan River cap, a calculator, a plaque, and three red-headed Barbie dolls.
61 A razor-sharp idea. Gillette spends more than $1 million on a sponsorship package that includes having its razors added to the goodie bags of delegates to the Democratic National Convention—only to alienate hundreds of attendees who are delayed when attempting to pass through security.
62 Wonder who gets fired for that?
"I don't think it's a failure. It's a success."
— Donald Trump, after Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts files for bankruptcy protection in November. The filing, amid $1.8 billion of debt, is described by the real estate developer and "Apprentice" star as "something that worked better than other alternatives. It's really just a technical thing."
63 It's a fine line between "stupid" and "stupid, stupid." But at least Mark Cuban didn't run a huge casino operation into the ground.
"It's going to be stupid, but I don't think it's going to be any of this stupid, stupid stuff."
— Rich, a contestant on "The Benefactor," speaking during the first episode of the reality TV show starring billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as the man who evaluates 16 contestants to find the one who deserves a million bucks. The competition includes go-cart racing, playing Jenga, and organizing games of H-O-R-S-E. ABC cuts the season to six episodes from eight, getting it off the air before the November sweeps.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, CUSTOMER SERVICE
64 Apparently he misunderstood the slogan "Think outside the bun." Responding to a prank call from a man purporting to be a police officer, a Taco Bell manager in Fountain Hills, Ariz., performs a strip search on a 17-year-old female customer.
65 No ifs, ands, or butts about it. Less than five months after the death of singer Johnny Cash, Big Grin Productions of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attempts to gain rights to the song "Ring of Fire" from co-writer Merle Kilgore for use in an ad for a hemorrhoid-relief product—much to the dismay of Cash's children. "[Kilgore] started talking about this moronic tie-in without talking to any of us," says Rosanne Cash. "We would never allow the song to be demeaned like that."
66 Who says Hollywood is full of witless jerks? It's the usual bartering at a location shoot: TV production in progress, homeowners noisily having trees trimmed, annoyed rep from the show paying them to stop. Here's the new twist added by producer Ronald Schwary: Agree to pay 'em a thousand bucks, but pay 'em with 100,000 pennies divided into 20 bags weighing 30 pounds each! Revenge! Ha-ha-ha! Paramount apologizes, offers to make the payment in a more manageable form, and donates $1,000 to charity.
67 Oh, well, in that case ...
"I don't know what to tell this woman! 'Well, actually we're trying to see if you have a juicy past that we could use against you.'"
— From an e-mail written by an intern at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The intern, asked by higher-ups to seek out personal information about consumer activist Katherine Albrecht, inadvertently copies Albrecht on the e-mail.
68 CSI: Career Suicide Instigation. In July, actors Jorja Fox and George Eads of top-rated show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation protest their $100,000-per-episode salaries and miss the start of taping for the upcoming season, prompting CBS chief Leslie Moonves to fire them. After a couple of days of explaining to the press that, really, their nonpresence was an accident and a misunderstanding, both are rehired by the show—at a salary of $100,000 an episode.
69-71 Trademarks? We don't need no stinkin' trademarks. Part 1 In January, Microsoft threatens to sue Canadian teenager Mike Rowe for registering the domain name Mikerowesoft.com. After an online hue and cry, the company backs down and offers Rowe free software. "We take our trademark seriously," says spokesman Jim Desler, "but in this case maybe a little too seriously."
Part 2 In July, Microsoft settles a trademark-infringement lawsuit with Lindows, offering to pay the Linux company $20 million to change its name to Linspire. In court testimony it comes out that Microsoft's own CD-ROM dictionary defines "windows" as a generic computer term, not a trademark.
Part 3 In November, Microsoft sends a letter to SavvySoft, the maker of TurboExcel, demanding that the small software company change the product's name. Only one problem: Microsoft has yet to obtain a trademark for the name "Excel."
72 OK, here's a refresher. Heaven is the happy place with the puffy white clouds ... Southern Living, Business 2.0's older and far more successful corporate sibling, is forced to pull its April issue off newsstands and mail warnings to 2.5 million subscribers after it becomes clear that a recipe for dinner rolls described as "little pillows from heaven" creates a rather impressive firestorm. Five readers are injured while following the faulty directions, which one food scientist calls a mixture for "napalm."
73 Well, at least it gave them some riveting stories for the March issue. Trail, one of the most popular hiking magazines in Britain, apologizes for printing in its February issue a route that would send climbers plunging off the north face of the country's highest peak.
74 Look at it this way: At least we didn't set your buns ablaze. On Nov. 1, a year after its cover proclaimed the "Tech Bubble Is About to Blow," Business 2.0's editors check the stock tables and find that, rather than blow, the Nasdaq 100 index has risen more than 5 percent. They fail to publicly apologize.
75 In search of the killer app. In April, Amr Mohsen, the former CEO of Silicon Valley electronics firm Aptix, is jailed for violating his bail agreement, and his company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. While in jail, Mohsen allegedly approaches a fellow inmate to find out what it would cost to arrange a "funeral" for William Alsup, the judge overseeing his case. Mohsen—originally indicted for perjury in a patent case, for which he likely would have served a year in a federal country club—could now face a life sentence in a maximum-security prison.
76 And if he points the remote just right, he can steer the land rovers on Mars ... Chris van Rossman of Corvallis, Ore., has a Toshiba TV that's loaded, baby. Digital cable, DVD, VCR—and the ability to emit the international distress signal, as he learns when police and Air Force representatives show up at his door, having been alerted by an orbiting search and rescue satellite. Toshiba, mystified, offers to replace his TV.
77 Meanwhile, a number of other adult consumers told the company that they wanted their hot dogs to grow at least 3 inches GUARANTEED.
"Our adult consumers said they wanted a larger frank that wasn't overwhelmed by the bun.... In fact, consumers told us they were looking for more girth in their hot dog."
— Julie Ketay, a spokeswoman for Sara Lee, after ads for the company's Ball Park GrillMaster hot dogs come under fire for touting the franks as "girthy."
78 But on the plus side, he had the churros guy all to himself. Hoping to make a killing in the collectibles market, L.A. investment banker Michael Mahan spends $25,000 to buy a block of right-field bleachers—6,458 seats—at Dodger Stadium for Oct. 1 and 3, based on his calculation that Barry Bonds would hit his historic 700th homer there on one of those dates. The Giants slugger hits his 700th in San Francisco on Sept. 17; the ball is retrieved by Steve Williams, a mortgage broker's assistant from Pacifica, Calif., who sells it for $804,129 on Oct. 27.
79 Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to keep collecting my $3,500 an hour I go. In March, after 45 percent of Disney shareholders withhold their votes from chairman and CEO Michael Eisner for the company's board of directors, he announces he'll step down—but only as chairman. In September, still under fire, Eisner announces he'll resign his $7.25 million-a-year gig as CEO—but only after his contract runs out in 2006.
80 I believe I can fry. In the fall, a much-hyped concert tour uniting hip-hop and R&B titans Jay-Z and R. Kelly collapses after a string of show cancellations and an alleged assault on Kelly by one of Jay-Z's crew members. At its nadir, Kelly cuts short a St. Louis show and heads to a local McDonald's, where he serves burgers for three hours. Kelly then files a $75 million lawsuit against Jay-Z.
81 Looks like we're not the only thing you guys have been fattening up. Krispy Kreme is forced to restate fiscal 2004 earnings after the SEC begins an investigation into its accounting practices, including allegations that it hid compensation expenses. Meanwhile, plaintiffs in shareholder lawsuits claim that the company improperly booked extra sales by shipping double orders of doughnuts to grocers at the end of the quarter, knowing that the extra doughnuts would be returned after the quarter's books were closed.
82 Just what the AV club needs—more fat and acne. In a year when federal health officials decree that childhood obesity has become an epidemic, Krispy Kreme comes under fire in Palm Beach County, Fla., for a program that awards grade-school students a free doughnut for every A on their report cards.
83 Then again, maybe childhood obesity's not such a bad thing.
"I'm glad it wasn't the chocolate milk. We don't usually get a lot of takers on the fat-free."
— Barbara Freeman, principal of the E.R. Dickson Elementary School in Mobile, Ala., after it's discovered that cartons of nonfat milk in the cafeteria have accidentally been filled with cleaning fluid by the school's supplier, the Dairy Fresh Corp.
84 What's particularly galling is that Marrakech isn't even Glasgow's sister city. The Careers Scotland organization, in a show of support for the country's struggling manufacturing sector, provides its staffers with T-shirts bearing the motto "Make it in Scotland." The shirts are made in Morocco.
85 What's particularly galling is that Glasgow isn't even Cardiff's sister city. David Williams, president of the Welsh North American Chamber of Commerce, pays a visit to the Magic of Wales gift shop at Disney's Epcot center near Orlando, Fla., and finds that it's stocked almost entirely with goods made in Scotland. A Disney spokesperson explains that the shop's supplier of Welsh goods recently retired.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, BRANDING
86 The sound of one hand ... The Yamamoto Bussan candy company attempts to trademark the name of a confection called Snot From the Nose of the Great Buddha. Priests in Nara, Japan, succeed in blocking the application but fail to stop vendors from selling the sweets outside their temple.
87 We knew it was fake. We've tried it, and they're way too quick.
"The action in the video clip was totally computer generated, and we would like to assure you that no animal was harmed in its making."
— From a statement by Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, apologizing for the unauthorized distribution on the Internet of an ad for the Ford Sportka, a hatchback sold in Europe. The ad, conceived for a viral marketing campaign, shows an inquisitive cat being decapitated by the car's moonroof.
88 Lies and the lying liars who can't even decide whether or not they're lies. As software maker PeopleSoft attempts to fend off Oracle's hostile takeover bid, its board abruptly fires CEO Craig Conway. Shortly after the firing, PeopleSoft director Steven Goldby testifies in court that the board discovered that Conway had lied to analysts when he told them the Oracle bid wasn't affecting sales. Conway himself fesses up, saying the statements were "absolutely not true." Conway's contract allows him to be fired with cause for lying, but because the board decides, as Goldby puts it, that Conway's statements were not "a material act of dishonesty," he walks away with severance and options worth more than $30 million.
WINNER, DUMBEST MOMENT, MEDIA
89-94 What's the veracity, Kenneth?
[THE FOLLOWING DESCRIPTIVE TEXT APPEARS WITHIN A DIAGRAM]
Sept. 8 60 Minutes Wednesday airs a report citing memos from President Bush's Texas Air National Guard stint that suggest Bush received preferential treatment. Scholars of the vicissitudes of IBM Selectric typewriters take note of their ship coming in.
Sept. 10 "CBS News stands by, and I stand by, the thoroughness and accuracy of this report, period. Our story is true." — CBS News anchor Dan Rather
Sept. 11 "We believe the documents to be genuine, we stand by our story, and we will continue to report on it." — Posting on a CBS News website
Sept. 15 "We established to our satisfaction that the memos were accurate, or we would not have put them on television." — CBS News president Andrew Heyward
Sept. 20 "The failure of CBS News to ... properly, fully scrutinize the documents and their source led us to airing the documents when we should not have done so. It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it. Also, I want to say, personally and directly, I'm sorry." — Rather
Nov. 23 Rather announces he'll retire from CBS News in March.
95 That's Dasani Classic. New Dasani will come from Biggleswade. Coca-Cola is forced to recall 500,000 bottles of Dasani water in Britain—where the "super pure" H 0 comes from the municipal water supply in the town of Sidcup—after testing reveals twice the legal limits of the cancer-causing compound bromate.
96 Wait'll they hear about Screwgle.
"The entire universe gets the joke."
— From a response by the owners of porn site Booble.com, claiming parody as their defense against copyright infringement claims asserted by Google in January.
97 Your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device—and to absorb blows from the angry drunks working this flight. Weary of the sloppy service he's receiving from two inebriated flight attendants, a passenger on a domestic Aeroflot route in Russia asks if there's a sober crew member available to serve him. The two drunk attendants beat him up.
98 Guess you'd like to start getting your mail again, eh? Canadian retail chain Pet Valu agrees to stop selling Bark Bars in its more than 290 stores after complaints from the Canadian postal service. The doggie treats include mailman-shaped biscuits.
99 Save 30 percent! Or, on second thought, don't buy from us at all! In late December, Walmart.com begins taking preorders for a new book, How Wal-Mart Is Destroying America and the World: And What You Can Do About It, for $7.55, a hefty $3.40 off the publisher's list price. After links to the product page are posted on popular blogs, Wal-Mart quickly yanks the book from its online catalog.
100 In a related development, the Department of Homeland Security announces that it's dropping the terror alert level to "mellow yellow." In May, a U.K. company called AudioBooksForFree.com begins selling a $600 portable MP3 player designed to fit into the magazine clip of an AK-47 assault rifle, inexplicably modeled on the site by a woman clad in a bikini. "Hopefully, from now on many militants and terrorists will use their AK-47s to listen to music and audio books," says ABFF co-founder Andrey Koltakov. "They need to chill out and take it easy."
101 MP3 war, huh? Sounds like you need to take a meeting with the guys from AudioBooksForFree.com. Despite having brought out a portable MP3 jukebox a year before Apple came out with the iPod, Singapore-based Creative Technology watches as the sleek white device takes over the market. Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo vows to strike back, promising to unleash new models and a $100 million marketing campaign: "The MP3 war has started, and I am the one who has declared war." Thanks to his efforts, Apple's 90 percent market share ... goes up three points.