Time magazine nearly wrote off Ronald Reagan too early (J Scott Applewhite / AP)
Time magazine nearly wrote off Ronald Reagan too early (J Scott Applewhite / AP)

Does it really matter who’s running the show?



When a famous – or notorious – person dies, it’s often remarkable to notice how quickly the obituaries are published. It’s not particularly unusual for the span of time between the official time of death and the appearance of a thoughtful, 1,000-word appraisal of the deceased’s life and works to be measured in minutes, not hours.

The dirty little secret, for many major news outlets, is that most of their obituaries are pre-written. Some hapless editor is tasked with the business of surveying the world scene and identifying elderly or infirm persons of note, and assigning even more hapless young reporters to pre-write their obituaries, on the theory that, “hey, you never know when one of these old dudes is going to wheeze his last breath”.

In 1981, when president Ronald Reagan was shot in the portico of the Washington Hilton, it was certainly inconvenient for him – but even more inconvenient for the editors of Time magazine, who were facing a printing deadline. Should they wait and see what odds the president's surgeons were giving him for survival before they printed up hundreds of thousands of copies of Time with a black border and a lengthy (pre-written, of course) obituary? Or should they just assume that Reagan wasn't going to make it and tell the printer to roll the presses?

In the end, they chose a middle path. They printed up several thousand copies of the Reagan obituary cover story – just in case – but they waited for absolute confirmation from the hospital before they gave the order to complete the press run. And it was a good thing, too, that they showed such prudence. Reagan made a full recovery – the news was everywhere within hours – and so the cover story had to be totally scrapped and rewritten, from The country mourns a president to Ronald Reagan: unstoppable cowboy president (or something like that).

The only reason I know this story is because, as I mentioned, several thousand copies of the now-useless Reagan obituary edition of Time were floating around, and I came across one of them years later at a rare book show priced at less than $50 (Dh184). How could I resist? It sits, framed, in my office, to remind me of two things: one, that news organisations get a lot of stuff wrong; and two, that if you're a really important person, someone somewhere is making sure your obituary is ready to go.

The man who owns Viacom, one of the largest and most sprawling media companies on Earth, is a 92-year-old multibillionaire. His obituary, it’s fair to say, is ready to go.

If you watched MTV or CBS or Showtime, have seen a movie produced by Paramount or watched a television show on Nickelodeon – if, in other words, you own a device that shows moving pictures of any kind – you’re a Viacom customer. Sumner Redstone, the man who controls the constellation of companies that make up the Viacom galaxy, has been at the helm for 25 years.

But in the past few years, Redstone – once a meddling and hands-on executive – has seldom been seen in public. His messy personal life, which consists of almost-constant feuds with his family and heirs, and a series of much-younger girlfriends, has been the subject of local Los Angeles gossip.

There are some people – mostly those who are in favour with the elderly Mr Redstone and want to keep it that way – who insist he’s at the top of his game, mentally sharp and totally alert. And there are some people – mostly those who are out of favour with Mr Redstone and aren’t happy about it – who insist that he’s mentally incompetent and should be removed from any position of power. Mr Redstone himself has been absent from meetings for the past year, and communicates only by email.

If you add it all up – an elderly mogul, a couple of mistresses, a complicated and self-interested family, a multibillion-dollar empire, a murky or non-existent plan of succession – you get a plot so lurid and over-the-top that even I, a writer of television scripts, would react to that pitch by saying: “Can’t we make this a little more realistic?”

And yet, the massive collection of media properties he owns continues making movies, producing television, pumping out product every day. Despite – or maybe because of – the utter chaos at the top of the organisation chart, nobody in the Viacom universe is waiting around for the boss’s obituary to appear. They’re just busily going about the task of making entertainment for a world audience.

It’s almost as if – and here I hope that I’m not shocking any­one – it doesn’t really matter who runs these kinds of large companies. It’s almost as if – despite decades of laudatory profiles of this or that CEO, despite the emergence of the “rock star” executive and the brilliant turnaround strategist – the guys at the top (and they usually are guys) are irrelevant. Interchangeable.

Perhaps the myth of the powerful and effective and indispensable corporate mastermind should be laid to rest.

I volunteer to write its obituary.

Rob Long is a writer and producer in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl

UAE SQUAD

Jemma Eley, Maria Michailidou, Molly Fuller, Chloe Andrews (of Dubai College), Eliza Petricola, Holly Guerin, Yasmin Craig, Caitlin Gowdy (Dubai English Speaking College), Claire Janssen, Cristiana Morall (Jumeirah English Speaking School), Tessa Mies (Jebel Ali School), Mila Morgan (Cranleigh Abu Dhabi).

Last 10 NBA champions

2017: Golden State bt Cleveland 4-1
2016: Cleveland bt Golden State 4-3
2015: Golden State bt Cleveland 4-2
2014: San Antonio bt Miami 4-1
2013: Miami bt San Antonio 4-3
2012: Miami bt Oklahoma City 4-1
2011: Dallas bt Miami 4-2
2010: Los Angeles Lakers bt Boston 4-3
2009: Los Angeles Lakers bt Orlando 4-1
2008: Boston bt Los Angeles Lakers 4-2

The biog

Fast facts on Neil Armstrong’s personal life:

  • Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio
  • He earned his private pilot’s license when he was 16 – he could fly before he could drive
  • There was tragedy in his married life: Neil and Janet Armstrong’s daughter Karen died at the age of two in 1962 after suffering a brain tumour. She was the couple’s only daughter. Their two sons, Rick and Mark, consulted on the film
  • After Armstrong departed Nasa, he bought a farm in the town of Lebanon, Ohio, in 1971 – its airstrip allowed him to tap back into his love of flying
  • In 1994, Janet divorced Neil after 38 years of marriage. Two years earlier, Neil met Carol Knight, who became his second wife in 1994 
RESULTS

1.45pm: Green Oasis Trading – Maiden (PA) Dh50,000 (Dirt) 1,400m
Winner: Meeqat, Saif Al Balushi (jockey), Khalifa Al Neyadi (trainer)
2.15pm: Al Shafar Investment – Maiden (TB) Dh60,000 (D) 1,400m
Winner: Flying Hunter, Ray Dawson, Ahmad bin Harmash
2.45pm: The Union 51 Cup – Handicap (TB) Dh84,000 (D) 1,400m
Winner: Ibra Attack, Adrie de Vries, Ahmed Al Shemaili
3.15pm: ASCANA Thakaful – Maiden (TB) Dh60,000 (D) 1,200m
Winner: Onda Ruggente, Royston Ffrench, Salem bin Ghadayer
3.45pm: Commercial Bank of Dubai – Handicap (TB) Dh76,000 (D) 1,200m
Winner: Dignity Joy, Antonio Fresu, Musabah Al Muhairi
4.15pm: Dubai Real Estate Centre – Handicap (TB) Dh76,000 (D) 1,600m
Winner: Tolmount, Xavier Ziani, Salem bin Ghadayer
4.45pm: Jebel Ali Racecourse – Handicap (TB) Dh84,000 (D) 1,950m
Winner: Rakeez, Tadhg O’Shea, Bhupat Seemar

The specs

Engine: 6.2-litre V8

Transmission: ten-speed

Power: 420bhp

Torque: 624Nm

Price: Dh325,125

On sale: Now

Ipaf in numbers

Established: 2008

Prize money:  $50,000 (Dh183,650) for winners and $10,000 for those on the shortlist.

Winning novels: 13

Shortlisted novels: 66

Longlisted novels: 111

Total number of novels submitted: 1,780

Novels translated internationally: 66

Torbal Rayeh Wa Jayeh
Starring: Ali El Ghoureir, Khalil El Roumeithy, Mostafa Abo Seria
Stars: 3

INDIA SQUADS

India squad for third Test against Sri Lanka
Virat Kohli (capt), Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Vijay Shankar

India squad for ODI series against Sri Lanka
Rohit Sharma (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddarth Kaul

Tax authority targets shisha levy evasion

The Federal Tax Authority will track shisha imports with electronic markers to protect customers and ensure levies have been paid.

Khalid Ali Al Bustani, director of the tax authority, on Sunday said the move is to "prevent tax evasion and support the authority’s tax collection efforts".

The scheme’s first phase, which came into effect on 1st January, 2019, covers all types of imported and domestically produced and distributed cigarettes. As of May 1, importing any type of cigarettes without the digital marks will be prohibited.

He said the latest phase will see imported and locally produced shisha tobacco tracked by the final quarter of this year.

"The FTA also maintains ongoing communication with concerned companies, to help them adapt their systems to meet our requirements and coordinate between all parties involved," he said.

As with cigarettes, shisha was hit with a 100 per cent tax in October 2017, though manufacturers and cafes absorbed some of the costs to prevent prices doubling.

Match statistics

Dubai Sports City Eagles 8 Dubai Exiles 85

Eagles
Try:
Bailey
Pen: Carey

Exiles
Tries:
Botes 3, Sackmann 2, Fourie 2, Penalty, Walsh, Gairn, Crossley, Stubbs
Cons: Gerber 7
Pens: Gerber 3

Man of the match: Tomas Sackmann (Exiles)

Stan Lee

Director: David Gelb

Rating: 3/5

The National in Davos

We are bringing you the inside story from the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, a gathering of hundreds of world leaders, top executives and billionaires.

MATCH INFO

Tottenham Hotspur 1
Kane (50')

Newcastle United 0