To convince skeptical regulators that Timer Warner was serious, the company set up several card tables in the lobby of Time Warner Center, the most expensive office building ever built, and offered to give away 2005 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendars and old America Online installation discs to passersby who opened passbook savings accounts. Free checks were bordered in distinctive Time magazine red. In former media sales offices across the country, signs fresh off Kinko copiers appeared taped to the window glass promoting the new venture: "Jeff's Bank. Low Fees, Lower Standards."
"We are building on our past successes to assure we execute on our strategic vision for the new millennium. We're intensifying the company's focus on growth by aggressively capitalizing on our most promising opportunities," said the company in the usual obfuscating prepared statement. "Fast-changing industries are challenging, but they also provide our greatest opportunities to innovate and stay ahead of the competitive curve. Time Warner is built on strong businesses--'cept maybe AOL and those magazines--but going forward, we'll be even more revolutionary than evolutionary in pursuing new opportunities."
Asked to translate that into English, Time Warner president & CEO Jeff Bewkes said: "We are simply taking Henry Luce's vision to the next level. After all, Henry was Time's first business manager and a big Republican, so he knew all about banking. He went to the bank a couple of times a week most of his life. Some of his best friends were bankers. Especially after he launched Fortune. He had a piggybank on his desk at the office.
"Just like online, we know banking is part of our corporate DNA. Besides, in the annual report, the outline of RISKS RELATING TO TIME WARNER GENERALLY went on for 17 straight friggin' pages. And that didn't disclose what might happen if we continue to just screw it up ourselves," Mr. Bewkes might have told Over the Line if he were speaking to us. "We figured, why should we keep cracking our heads against the wall? Just let the Treasury Dept. figure out what to do with all the subprime inventory and underwater ad pages. My homies and I get paid no matter what, so... now we're a bank."
Merrill Lynch--er, Bank of America--immediately uninvited Time Warner EVP & CFO John Martin, who was to participate in its Media Fall Preview Conference--and Goldman Sachs told Mr. Bewkes not to bother showing up at its upcoming Communacopia Conference.
"Is this some kind of joke?" John Mack, Morgan Stanley's chairman and chief executive, should have asked Over the Line. "Where does a little sucker fish come off trying to swim with the sharks in a bailout pond? Taxpayers are already on the hook for $700 billion give or take, and these guys want to add to their burden? We let these buttheads in, and every newspaper, online and magazine company sucking wind will be like those Night of the Living Dead guys reaching through the barricaded windows. Let them go invent something cool like derivatives; then they can play in the deep end."
"Something cool? Something cool!" retorted Mr. Bewkes. "I guess he never heard of Platform-A! You know, a lot of people think we paid a corporate ID company for that name, but I thought of it myself. No, really, I did. I mean, Lynda was in the room, but it was all me, babe. Right down to the hyphen."
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