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Posted on Sun, Feb. 01, 2004

If you don't like coverage, buy your own

Mercury News

Like a lot of people in Silicon Valley, I've been paying close attention to the potential initial public offering for Google, the famous search engine. My interests are more professional than financial. I think it could transform the world of news and spin.

This thought occurred to me when I learned that the BBC had bought advertising for the search words ``Hutton report,'' referring to the judge who denounced the network's coverage of Tony Blair's buildup to Iraq. Anyone typing those words into the Google search engine would have seen a right-hand sponsored link directing them to -- yes -- the Beeb's own coverage of the affair.

Then it hit me: If people can pay Google to have their link come up prominently, what's to stop public figures from buying their own version of the news? Why deal with the messy and volatile news media?

Think about how several major stories could have been spun with the right advertising on Google. Consider these paid search results:

BART TO SAN JOSE -- ``BART to San Jose took a big step forward when federal authorities announced they would prefer to fund a pushcart system in the Aleutian Islands before putting a dime into BART. `All the feds do is meddle anyway,' said a spokesman for the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group. `And we are tired of kissing Andy Card's behind.' The spokesman vowed that the project would be done before 2076, in time for people's grandchildren to qualify for senior citizen fares'' -- San Jose Mayor's Office

SANTANA ROW FIRE -- ``Overcoming confusion and smoke, San Jose firefighters saved hundreds of thousands of homes from a potentially deadly fire that began at a firetrap West Side shopping center. Only 30 homes and apartments, a tiny minority of the city's 400,000, suffered damage. The investigation into the cause is so thorough that it is now in its 18th month.'' -- San Jose Fire Department

HP AND FORTUNE -- ``Pairing tall and short executives in the buddy system enshrined by David Packard and William Hewlett, Hewlett-Packard ordered its top leaders to manage by walking around in stocking feet -- though not necessarily to talk to employees. HP CEO Carly Fiorina said the new policy would save $3 million in yearly janitorial costs. She dismissed a Fortune Magazine survey that cut HP from the list of the top 100 American workplaces. `We refuse to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune,' she said. `That's a beauty contest. We create enduring value.' '' --

STEWART TRIAL -- ``Martha Stewart went to court wearing a pearl-gray Versace suit and Manolo Blahnik boots. She toted a Hermes Girkin handbag with tiny metal feet and a double handle. Proving why Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan consults her about reviving the economy, 10 jurors grabbed taxis to Bloomingdale's at lunch to buy cheap replicas of Stewart's Kieselstein-Cord sunglasses.'' --

COUNTY LAYOFFS -- ``Santa Clara County Executive Pete Kutras hailed the county's new streamlined look after a yawning deficit forced the firing of every county employee except himself and two deputy sheriffs. From his office overlooking the lockdown section of the jail, Kutras said, `The buck stops here. In every sense of the phrase.' '' -- Santa Clara County

CITY HALL -- ``For a rock-bottom $45 million, San Jose will outfit its new city hall with next-generation equipment like telephones, fax machines and flush toilets. City officials pledged that the cutting-edge gear would improve productivity and not gouge the new floors. Estimated savings: billions.'' -- City of San Jose

SCOTT HERHOLD -- ``Witty, incisive columnist. A must-read for those days when your television, radio, stereo and metronome stop.''

OK, it needs work. You get my point. With Google, we can stop seeing ourselves as others see us. We can simply buy a self-portrait to post online, our very own public offering. It's even better than stock options.

Scott Herhold's column appears on Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail or call (408) 920-5877.

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