`Playboy' item jeopardizes Google stock

Company's founders face SEC ruling

August 16, 2004|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Playboy magazine has had more than its share of landmark moments, both high and low, over the years. Hugh Hefner's house organ has embarrassed presidents, governors, the occasional evangelist, corporate executives, not to mention corporations, police departments and universities whose employees and students have uncovered the naked truth.

But Playboy has never put a possible $3.47 billion deal in jeopardy before, which it has with the current issue. The subjects of September's Playboy interview are Sergey Brin, 30, and Larry Page, 31, the founders of Google, the Internet search engine company whose stock went on sale for the first time Friday. Depending on how the Securities and Exchange Commission rules on what they said, the statements might have been a no-no.

Strict SEC rules regulate what companies can disclose before an initial public offering of stocks. In the article, Page and Brin suggested Google's stocks might bring $108 to $135 a share, $3.47 billion at the top end. If the SEC rules against Google, the company might have to buy back all the stock it sells.

Playboy interviews have often had a "gotcha" quality. The most famous, possibly, is Jimmy Carter's admission during the 1976 presidential race that he had "looked on a lot of women with lust" and that he had "committed adultery in my heart."

He told Playboy he thought "God forgives me." God may have, but lots of Southern Baptists didn't. His polling numbers dropped.

Carter was still smarting nearly 25 years later when he told Jim Lehrer on the NewsHour: "It was a devastating blow to our campaign when this Playboy interview was published." Carter, of course, survived his uncommonly candid honesty to beat Gerald Ford.

When Jesse Ventura was governor of Minnesota in 1999, his ratings plummeted after he told a Playboy interviewer that "organized religion is a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers." Eighty-six percent of Minnesota voters disagreed. They began to think he was an embarrassment to the state and Ventura began to think he only wanted to be a one-term governor.

The closest Playboy has come to a billion-dollar interview until now was with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates in 1994. He talked mostly about the glories of free enterprise. He admitted he made a lot of money selling McGovern-Eagleton campaign buttons, that his mother used to help pick out his clothes and that he once got three speeding tickets in one day, two from the same cop. But it didn't get him fired.

Playboy ventured into the corporate world in a different way two years ago when it featured the "Women of Enron." Four hundred and fifty women from the bankrupt energy firm inquired about appearing in various stages of undress; 10 were chosen. The Enron women were so successful, Playboy then sought full disclosure from women of WorldCom, another troubled corporate giant.

Whoopi Goldberg, whose sexually explicit wordplay on President Bush's last name last month embarrassed some Democrats and inflamed some Republicans, has been interviewed twice by Playboy. She was positively benign and rarely used more than one forbidden word per sentence. And she even felt sorry for the guys who disrespected her in her youth but never made it out of the 'hood.

And Jessica Hahn, the church secretary whose charms brought down Jim Bakker's multimillion-dollar evangelist empire in 1987, appeared three times as a Playboy centerfold, always, it seemed, inflating her importance.

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