WASHINGTON -- It was, perhaps, inevitable. But Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group, and Rupert Murdoch, the famed media titan of various conservative outlets, have had a bit of trouble reaching an agreement on when they can sit down for a long-scheduled charity lunch.
Back in November, Media Matters successfully bid $86,000 for a lunch with Murdoch that was being advertised by the site Charity Buzz. The purchase was well above the estimated value ($15,000) and the proceeds were for a philanthropic cause (the Global Poverty Project). But officials at the watchdog group were eager to rub elbows and break bread with a man who is, more often than not, the object of their investigations and ire.
Fast-forward more than two months and little progress has been made in scheduling the lunch, according to several email exchanges that Media Matters passed along between its officials and the staff group at Charity Buzz.
Within seven days, the full amount of money had been wired to the charity company. But then talks abruptly became less frequent. In particular, there appears to have been a bit of haggling, if not foot-dragging, over a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), a standard procedure for high-profile events like the one being organized with Murdoch.
On Dec. 14, Media Matter's Executive Vice President Ari Rabin-Havt followed up on a phone call by emailing a Charity Buzz official saying that he had not received the agreement for review. On Dec. 23, he sent a second email to the same official: "Still have not received the agreement. Any word on eta?" On Jan. 4, the group had its lawyer, John Pomeranz, call Charity Buzz to ask for the agreement yet again. He followed with an email.
From: John Pomeranz
Sent: Tuesday, January 04, 2011 4:59 PM
Subject: Contact info
Nice to speak with you, Alex. My contact information is below. I'd appreciate it if you and your contact at Mr. Murdoch's office could get back to me regarding the non-disclosure agreement, which I look forward to reviewing on behalf of Media Matters. We can also work with Ari at Media Matters to finalize any other details involved in their claiming the lunch with Mr. Murdoch that they won in your auction.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
On the 14th, having not received a copy of the agreement, he sent another email:
As it's been a week since we last spoke, I wanted to check on the status of this event and to see if I could get a copy of the release you were going to ask my client to sign. Our office will be closed for the MLK holiday on Monday, but I would appreciate hearing from you on Tuesday.
Pomeranz followed up again on Jan. 20. As of Jan. 25, the group still hadn't received an NDA to review or sign.
Reached by phone, Glenda Luft, Director of Communications for Charity Buzz said there was nothing deliberate or lethargic about the exchanges (or lack thereof). Charity events require detailed planning, and with public figures involved, the specifics of non-disclosure agreements tend to require an even finer-toothed, legal combing.
"I'm sorry to hear that they think this is foot dragging," she said. "For big media moguls like Rupert, or for President Clinton, the Dali Lama, the Pope, Glenn Beck it does take a lot of time to coordinate their schedule."
Media Matters would get its lunch date within a year's time from the original purchase, Luft added, meeting the timeline specified under the auction's arrangement. "Rupert is happy to do the lunch despite what has been reported. We are excited for the lunch to happen and Rupert is completely on board."
Media Matters, for its part, is sounding like a cynic. Releasing the emails was done, Rabin-Havt acknowledged, with an eye towards spurring Charity Buzz into action. And while Luft may insist that the process is merely following its natural path, there is a growing sense that the hold up isn't merely about logistical hurdles.
"If it is completely standard to fill out a non-disclosure agreement then please send it to us so we can sign the form," said Rabin-Havt. "We would like to schedule this lunch, and will do everything we can to schedule this lunch, and we will do it any date they are willing to do that. The fact is, it has been now two months since we won this auction and they have yet to set a date or have us sign the documents they want to sign."