By Scott Barancik
On February 8, 1996, more than a dozen reporters and camera crew members assembled at the Clarion Executive Plaza Hotel on East Wacker Drive to hear Marc Klaas speak at a kickoff press conference for Kids Off Lists (KOL). A new coalition of child, privacy, and victims' rights advocates, KOL seeks to prohibit direct-marketing companies from collecting and selling data on children without parental consent. Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was murdered, blasted U.S. data companies for marketing information on kids. "I want no more victims, no more Pollys," he said.
Scores of direct-marketing firms collect and sell data on children, but Klaas and other speakers singled one out for criticism: printing behemoth R.R. Donnelley & Sons, and its direct-mail subsidiary, Metromail Corporation. They showed a KOL public-service announcement that urges viewers to call Metromail and "find out what they have on your child [and] tell them to dump it." They distributed a KOL report titled "The Dark Side of the Commercial Database Business: How R.R. Donnelley's Metromail Subsidiary Threatens the Safety of Children." Even the location of the event--just three blocks from Donnelley's West Wacker Drive headquarters--was like an arrow pointing to the publisher.
By the end of the press conference you could easily imagine that Metromail and Donnelley were the devil's own progeny, making a fast buck by selling your child's name, age, and address to any pedophile in the mood. And that's probably what John Aristotle Phillips wanted you to think. The 40-year-old Washington, D.C., businessman, described in KOL's press release as "a longtime critic of Donnelley's practices," was not mentioned in the invitation sent to reporters. But Phillips appeared at the event--and he funded it, too.
No one doubts Klaas's sincerity about child safety (although Polly Klaas's killer didn't use a mail list to find her). But Klaas and KOL's other members, including Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Evan Hendricks of Privacy Times newsletter, seem to be in denial about one thing: their role in Phillips's relentless war on Donnelley. Over the past five years, Phillips, cofounder and president of a 40-employee, $5 million firm, Aristotle Publishing, has battled Donnelley--a $6.4 billion firm with over 40,000 employees in 21 countries--in the courts, the media, and anywhere else he can stage a fight. Along the way, Donnelley has learned what almost everyone who has crossed John Phillips has learned: Phillips--a man who has run for Congress, published an autobiography, been cast in a movie about his own life, and designed an atomic bomb--knows how to play hardball.
"My mother always told me, if you must go into business, make a lot of money doing what's right," Phillips says. "And that's what I think I'm doing . . . without trying to hide the fact that I've got a business interest."
R.R. Donnelley & Sons, which produces everything from phone books and best-selling hardcovers to the National Enquirer and Windows 95 diskettes, is not used to being bested, particularly by a puny company like Aristotle Publishing. But so far its very public brawl with John Phillips has been no contest. With one hand firmly grasping Donnelley's throat and the other its genitalia, Phillips clearly controls this corpo-drama.
Aristotle, which Phillips and his brother Dean founded while in college, is a political software firm. The company, headquartered just three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, develops computer programs that help manage political campaigns. It also sells computerized lists of voters and campaign contributors.
Phillips's hate-hate affair with Metromail, Donnelley's $240-million-a-year direct-mail and consumer-information sub- sidiary, began in 1990. That year, Aristotle hired Metromail to append phone numbers to voter records Phillips had purchased from state and local election boards. According to Aristotle, which filed suit against Metromail for $5.3 million in March 1992, Metromail violated a contract by using some of the voter data for its own purposes.
The Aristotle-Metromail suit slogged on until 1994, when John Phillips and Aristotle lawyer Blair Richardson hit pay dirt. They found evidence, they believed, that Metromail had used restricted voter-registration data (obtained from the AFL-CIO and others) for commercial purposes, possibly in violation of state laws. Most states prohibit voter data from being used for nonpolitical purposes. "[Metromail is] an outstanding example of how you do not handle personal information in the 1990s," says Phillips.
With this and other damaging information in hand, Phillips commenced what he calls a "public shaming" of Metromail. He almost certainly leaked the story to the Wall Street Journal, which slammed Metromail's practices in an article on December 23, 1994. Phillips also took the ingenious step of buying shares of his nemesis's stock. "I became convinced," he explains, "that as a [Donnelley] shareholder I could effectively pursue my interest in getting to the bottom of this scandal through avenues which were closed to me as a litigant."
By his own account, Phillips amassed more than $1 million worth of Donnelley stock by the end of 1994. That investment, he says, gave him the "ability to demand" that Donnelley's board of directors finance an outside audit of Metromail's data-handling practices. In response to Phillips's demand, Donnelley hired Arthur Andersen & Company, the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, and three outside individuals to investigate.
On July 28, 1995, Donnelley held a press conference to announce the results of its self-audit. Barton Faber, then the company's president of information services, told reporters that Metromail officials had not intentionally broken any voter data laws or tried to cover up any such violations. He acknowledged, however, that Metromail had exercised "ineffective management procedures and a lack of adequate controls on the acquisition of voter and driver's license data from third parties." Donnelley also used the press conference to announce the resignation of Metromail CEO James McQuaid. (McQuaid remained with the company as a consultant and received a very generous severance package.)
By that time a besieged Metromail had agreed to settle Aristotle's lawsuit for $2.7 million. (Phillips earlier rejected a $4 million settlement that, among other differences, would have prohibited him from telling government authorities about possible Metromail violations of voter data laws. While lawyer Richardson characterized the clause as a "bribe for silence," Metromail spokeswoman Julie Springer says the provision was a "standard confidentiality clause . . . patterned after a protective order that was already entered in this case" by the court.) Even after the settlement, Phillips didn't loosen his hold on the rival firm. "There are legal and ethical issues here about which I care a great deal," he explains.
What Phillips doesn't say that seems obvious even to the casual observer is that he is having a wickedly good time. Business is part sport, and if Phillips is Dennis Rodman, R.R. Donnelley is Frank Brickowski.
After settling the civil suit, Phillips spoke with federal investigators about Metromail's practices. Why spread the word? So that Aristotle could assume Metromail's contracts with federal law enforcement agencies. Metromail has provided on-line "look-up" services--essentially a souped-up version of 411 directory assistance--to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, the National Drug Intelligence Center, and Fin-CENS (the Treasury Department's financial crimes bureau). "Even if it's just a few million dollars, we would like to cut into that," explains Richardson.
"It is in my business interest to have the sheriff visit this, you know, dusty outpost on a frequent basis," Phillips says, explaining his fixation with Metromail. "And when the sheriff finds a cattle rustler, string him up by the neck."
In one cowboy gambit, Phillips lassoed members of the press into covering an overblown story about one of Metromail's telephone look-up services. Callers to the service, which costs $3 for the first minute and $2 thereafter, can get the names, addresses, published phone numbers, and sometimes the birth dates of adult members of a given household. Prior to this year, operators even provided information about children in the household--that is, until Phillips and friends exposed the practice in a highly effective PR blitz.
Was Metromail actually endangering children? Company reps invited Marc Klaas to provide evidence of any misuse of the look-up service, but he could not. "The only stalking that's going on here," Donnelley's then-spokeswoman Diane Dunne told a newsletter reporter, "is the stalking of R.R. Donnelley and Metromail by John Phillips."
Lack of evidence didn't stop Phillips from capitalizing on Metromail's poor judgment. He, Blair Richardson, and Marc Klaas wrote letters and contacted the media with news that a Metromail 900 number--synonymous in many minds with sleazy phone sex lines--had been offering children's data to callers. "I have an immediate concern as any parent would," Phillips told the Associated Press last December, "about the potential for pedophiles or violent felons . . . to locate their victims through this type of service." Letters written by Marc Rotenberg to the Federal Trade Commission and by Phillips to Donnelley board members also made their way into the hands of the press.
Metromail soon succumbed to the bad publicity and announced that it would cease providing children's data via its 900 service. Today, Donnelley spokesman Steven Bono admits that offering information on children was a mistake. Still, the punishment John Phillips meted out seems out of proportion to the crime.
Now Phillips is turning the screws again with a PR offensive against the company. Early this year he enlisted the support of Klaas, who gained a horrid sort of fame in 1993 when his daughter was kidnapped from her own bedroom and murdered. As a victim, Klaas lends moral cachet and an urgency to every cause he backs.
Together, Phillips and Klaas founded Kids Off Lists, which is focusing much of its criticism on Metromail. "If there are other companies that are doing this I'm interested in knowing who they are," said Phillips, when asked why KOL was not attacking other companies that collect data on minors. "But the fact is that [getting kids off Metromail's database] is one of the goals that I have set."
Phillips hired two public relations firms to coordinate KOL's February kickoff press conference in Chicago. He has since helped fund four more KOL press conferences in other cities. By March 7, Phillips had won his biggest victory: Donnelley announced its intention to sell off a majority stake (approximately 58 percent) in Metromail. Spokesperson Steven Bono insists that the KOL campaign had nothing to do with the decision. "This would have happened with or without Phillips," Bono argues. "In the scheme of business decisions, [Kids Off Lists] was not very influential." Somehow, the statement does not seem entirely credible.
In fact, documents Donnelley filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 7 clearly show that the company's wariness of John Phillips persists. "No assurance can be given," Donnelley wrote to potential investors, "that Mr. Phillips will cease these efforts, or that governmental investigations or regulation or adverse publicity that adversely affect the Company's business will not result from his efforts."
If Donnelley was still worried about Phillips, why not sell Metromail outright? That would be like throwing out the merge with the purge. By remaining Metromail's largest shareholder, Donnelley continues to reap the strategic benefits of their partnership and to collect some of the profits Metromail generates. A key reason for acquiring Metromail (back in 1987) was so that Donnelley could enhance the services it provided to its catalog and magazine customers. Now, in addition to printing and mailing billions of such publications, Donnelley--with Metromail's extensive list of American consumers and their buying preferences--could help its customers decide precisely which households or businesses to target. "We and our customers still need very much what Metromail has to offer," explains Steven Bono.
At the same time, by selling a majority stake, Donnelley might dilute the venom John Phillips has aimed at Metromail's owners.
Under the terms of the sale, Donnelly will likely retain majority control over Metromail's board for years, so Phillips's attacks are not likely to abate. On March 28, he and Klaas attended Donnelley's annual shareholders' meeting in Chicago and peppered the board of directors with unfriendly questions about Metromail. "Will Donnelley permanently renounce the practice of providing personal information about children?" Klaas asked.
Even as KOL continues to thrash Metromail--for example, with news that a Texas convict, hired with fellow inmates by a subcontractor to enter consumer data into Metromail's database, used his access to harass and terrify an elderly Ohio woman--its credibility within privacy and children's movements is growing fast. (Bono says the subcontract was canceled in 1994 as soon as the abuse came to light.) In May, Klaas persuaded Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Congressman Bob Franks of New Jersey to cosponsor a bill that regulates the sale of children's data and establishes parental rights over such data. KOL members helped draft the bill. "We must act now to protect information about our children," said Franks at a May 22 press conference on the Capitol grounds, "before a real murderer or child molester buys a list of potential victims."
A recent sting operation conducted by a Los Angeles television reporter may increase the bill's chances of becoming law, although Congress is not expected to vote on it this year. Posing as an assistant to a fictitious children's clothier named Richard Allen Davis, reporter Kyra Phillips (no relation to John) bought a Metromail list containing the names, addresses, genders, and birth dates of 5,000 Pasadena kids ages one to 12. Richard Allen Davis is the name of Polly Klaas's murderer.
The televised report drew tremendous interest, both inside and outside Los Angeles. An aide to President Clinton asked Kyra Phillips for a videotape of the report to put on the president's desk. The sting added credence to John Phillips's contention that Metromail shouldn't be trusted with the names of young children.
If Metromail's data handling is worse than that of its several hundred competitors, we may never know: KOL has yet to put any other firm under its high-powered microscope. At its February unveiling the Kids Off Lists coalition might as well have been called Kids Off List. Not until a March 16 press release was another list vendor's name mentioned, and then only in passing. To this writer's knowledge, KOL has yet to publish a single word of analysis, criticism, or investigative reporting on any of the three non-Metromail list vendors it has cited.
KOL members argue that by raising the heat on Metromail (which they assert is the biggest supplier of kids' data), they are hiking the temperature around the industry as a whole. "You've got to go after the biggest offender," Marc Klaas told the San Francisco Examiner in May, "if you want to change anything." The argument carries some force. The Feinstein-Franks bill would change the way that every children's list supplier does business.
The child of a Yale engineering professor and a schoolteacher, John Phillips demonstrated a flair for theatrics early. In 1973, he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley "in hot pursuit of "the movement."' His timing was poor. Within a year, the Vietnam war had ended, President Richard Nixon had resigned, and the student movement had disappeared into a fog of marijuana and Pink Floyd. Phillips transferred to Princeton in the fall of '75.
He quickly made his mark at his new school. He signed up for Arms Control and Disarmament 452, a class that studied, among other topics, whether terrorists could design an atomic bomb. Many of his fellow students doubted that a bomb could be built without another Los Alamos project, but Phillips, a physics major, was not so sure. He decided to design one for a physics project.
Through a combination of exhaustive research, college physics texts, declassified Los Alamos papers, and guile, Phillips reached his goal: He drew a blueprint for a cheap, portable, and allegedly workable plutonium bomb. "Student Designs $2,000 Atom Bomb," read the headline of an article in the New York Times.
Phillips's design attracted attention from people other than just reporters. A Pakistani diplomat clumsily offered him a bribe for his drawings. Phillips reported the offer to the CIA, and a friend passed the story on to Senator William Proxmire. Proxmire later used the incident to embarrass the French government, which was preparing to sell "peaceful" nuclear technology to Pakistan.
Though he was still a student, Phillips handled these events with ease, demonstrating the knack for PR that has served him well ever since. When the media got wind of the Pakistan affair, for example, Phillips held an impromptu press conference at Princeton. Dumbfounded classmates watched as he skillfully fielded questions from network television reporters.
The hardcover edition of Mushroom: The Story of the A-Bomb Kid, a book coauthored by Phillips at age 21, sold nearly 30,000 copies and was excerpted in Esquire. Phillips parlayed the book into a movie deal and stunned CBS producers by demanding to play himself in the film: no role, no sale. According to Mushroom, the reluctant producers agreed to give Phillips a screen test and his performance earned him the part. (The movie was never made.)
Phillips graduated in 1978, then hit the college lecture circuit to warn of the dangers of nuclear proliferation. In 1980 the 24-year-old declared himself a candidate for Congress in Connecticut. Rival politicians snickered at first, but they weren't laughing when he out-fund-raised them and won the Democratic primary, running what he called "the best-organized campaign this district has seen in a decade." Phillips lost the general election by a wide margin to five-term Republican incumbent Stewart McKinney.
Phillips ran again two years later, this time gaining the unanimous support of local Democratic leaders. He again lost to McKinney, but he didn't leave the race empty-handed. Using skills he developed in both campaigns, he embarked on a new career as a political software entrepreneur.
In the early 1980s most political candidates still managed their voter, contributor, and volunteer lists by hand. But Phillips had studied computer programming in college, and his campaign manager was his younger brother Dean, who had studied engineering at MIT. The pair designed campaign-management software for their Apple computer. Word of their program spread quickly among other candidates and political operatives. In 1983, the Phillips brothers and Aristotle Publishing (then Aristotle Industries) issued Campaign Manager, their first software product.
The market for political software has expanded exponentially since then, and now even the poorest candidate uses computers to organize a campaign. Aristotle has grown with the industry. Campaign Manager software remains a top seller, as do Aristotle's voter lists; Aristotle also developed and sells Constituent Service, a program that helps legislative staff manage mail and casework.
Phillips brought the skills he learned on the campaign trail to his business. In May 1987, Campaigns & Elections (C&E) magazine reviewed Campaign Manager. According to a deposition transcript, Phillips discovered in advance that the review contained negative observations that were, in his estimation, false or unfair. He badgered the editors to make changes, but to no avail. He concluded he was being punished because he had pulled Aristotle's ads from the magazine and because the publisher, James Dwinell, didn't like him. According to Phillips, Dwinell remarked upon meeting him for the first time, "I understand you are a sleazy guy."
As former Aristotle employee Mike Shannon observes, "Once John gets unhappy about something, he stays unhappy." Weeks after the review appeared, Phillips retaliated by starting a competing publication, Campaign Industry News. Then he filed a $2 million suit against C&E on Thanksgiving eve 1987, alleging that its "false and defamatory statements" caused Aristotle to "suffer a substantial loss of sales [and] damage to [its] reputation."
Eighteen months later a weary Dwinell settled with Phillips, paying him attorneys' fees and $100,000 cash, much of which Phillips promptly plowed back into Campaign Industry News. But Phillips stayed in the magazine business only as long as he could compete with Dwinell. Weeks after Dwinell sold C&E to current owner Ron Faucheux in 1993, Phillips struck a deal with Faucheux in which Phillips stopped publishing Campaign Industry News and transferred his subscribers to C&E. In exchange, Faucheux gave Phillips a small amount of cash and several years' worth of valuable free advertising.
Since settling the C&E lawsuit in June 1989, Phillips has kept the clerks at D.C. Superior Court busy. Aristotle Publishing sued a software competitor for mailing excerpts of C&E's review of his software to current and "potential" customers, sued a former employee (and current competitor) for allegedly breaking a noncompete promise, and of course sued Metromail. In each of these cases the defendant agreed to settle with Aristotle rather than fight a prolonged court battle with the tireless Phillips.
"[Phillips] is a tough, smart competitor," says David Beiler, who has served as editor at both C&E and Campaign Industry News and remains friendly with his former boss. "And if I were up against him, I wouldn't sleep well at night."
If media relations were a martial art, Phillips would wear a black belt. Through press conferences and whispers to reporters, Phillips has buried Donnelley's public relations staff in a stack of negative articles and televised stories on the company's marketing practices. As Beiler points out, "He has a grasp of the media far beyond [that of] your typical CEO."
Phillips's political career, though brief, no doubt gave him a level of media savvy that his business peers lack. But even prior to his campaign experiences, he displayed a precocious understanding of the media. "After a while, I begin to enjoy the interviews with reporters," wrote Phillips, then 21, in Mushroom. "I learn quickly about the fast-food journalism mentality. I become adept at manipulating the reporter."
I found out just how adept he is. Early on, Phillips and attorney Blair Richardson tried to turn my story into an expose on Metromail by leaking documents and tips on the company. Richardson, for example, mailed me a copy of the Metromail-proposed settlement clause that would have prohibited Aristotle from telling government officials about any Metromail violations of voter-data laws.
Both men provided names and phone numbers of people to interview, including Donnelley officials. Phillips offered to have Richardson draft a list of probing questions to ask John Walter, Donnelley's chairman of the board. They did everything for me except offer to pay my reporting expenses and dial the phone.
Unlike most people who quake when a reporter calls with tough questions, Phillips seems energized by the process. A quote from Mushroom sums up Phillips's understanding of the symbiosis between reporter and subject. "I discover that the interview. . . is a mutual use: I am using the journalist to get across my message about [nuclear] proliferation. He in turn is using me to make a living."
Phillips is not the type to inspire tepid feelings in people: Many fear him, some revere him, and most get a kick out of him. Phillips's larger-than-life persona has nothing to do with his height (average) or frame (wiry); it has everything to do with his unusual intelligence, his guts, his tenacity, and the ease with which he seems to file lawsuits.
Phillips's brother Dean provides Aristotle with needed balance. Dean is "a good technician. He's very, very bright, in a technical sense," says David Beiler. "John's very bright in more of a broad-picture sense . . . so they make a pretty good team."
Phillips's competitors and detractors generally refuse to speak on the record about him, fearing that the slightest slipup will bring subpoenas. Brief comments from James Tobe, an Aristotle competitor, are typical: "The Phillips brothers are aggressive, litigiously," he says. "Nobody wants to say much [about them]." Efforts to get Donnelley and Metromail to return some of Phillips's fighting words yielded little.
Beiler acknowledges that people in the industry are "leery" of Phillips. "Part of this stems, I think, from his reputation for being this genius with the "Mushroom Kid" thing," he says. "People think he's smarter than they are, but he doesn't come across as some geek so they don't really see any vulnerability. . . . It puts them on the defensive."
Richardson admits to holding his boss in awe. "He [gives] you this impression like you're playing Kasparov in chess, like he's 15 moves ahead of you."
Phillips's motivations are another source of speculation. What, for example, is behind his crusade against Metromail? The money? The publicity? The principle? Vengeance? The safety of children? Phillips himself doesn't mind fueling the speculation: "As my motivations have been a constant source of interest to the Company," he wrote in a letter to Donnelley board members last November, "you may therefore choose to view my comments as those of a shareholder, a competitor, a citizen, a publicity seeker, or a whistle-blower. It really does not matter to me."
In Washington, where even the appearance of a conflict of interest can end a
career, one is supposed to pursue either personal gain or social good but never both at the same time. Phillips admits to wanting it both ways. "I believe that if I can do something that is in my business interest that is also what is right, that's the ideal thing to be doing."
Does doing well by doing good describe Dean Phillips's presidential campaign? John Phillips's brother declared himself a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in June 1995. Soon after, he loaned his campaign $5,010. But he didn't apply to get on the primary ballot in New Hampshire, Illinois, or anywhere else. And according to an April 15, 1996, quarterly statement he submitted to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), his campaign hadn't spent a dime on advertising, literature, or travel. (Dean withdrew his $5,010 personal loan to the campaign in late March.)
Plain and simple, Dean's candidacy has been a business tool. Through Dean, now on Aristotle's competitors' mailing lists, Aristotle is learning which products and services its rivals are pitching to presidential candidates, as well as the prices they're quoting.
Another reason for his candidacy, Dean said, was to enhance Aristotle's access to voter data, the backbone of its voter lists on CD-ROM. For privacy reasons some states and counties prohibit nonpolitical entities from purchasing such data. Virginia law, for example, provides that "the State Board of Elections shall furnish to candidates, elected officials, or political party chairmen and to no one else, on request and at a reasonable price, lists . . . of persons who voted at any primary or general election held in the two preceding years." Doors that might have shut in the face of Dean Phillips, business owner, might swing wide open for Dean Phillips, presidential candidate. Richardson says he knows of no "instance where Dean's candidacy was used . . . to get access to data we are not supposed to have."
Dean's candidacy has also helped Aristotle double-check the accuracy of its Campaign Manager software. A key feature of the software is its ability to print financial disclosure forms that are, as a company brochure boasts, "preapproved by all state and federal election agencies." Since election boards aren't actually willing to preapprove these forms for software companies, Dean, as a presidential candidate, submits his own forms. Aristotle reviews the results of his submissions to determine whether Campaign Manager's versions are in compliance.
The ability to purchase voter data on the cheap was, Dean said, a "big part" of his rationale for running. In some states and counties the cost of voter data varies according to who's buying it--and candidates, he indicated, sometimes pay less. (Richardson says he is "not aware of any states or jurisdictions where candidates get a discount.")
In short, running for president was a shrewd idea. Dean's candidacy may have helped Aristotle get free feedback from state election boards, gain access to restricted data, cut acquisition costs, and provide information on the opposition--all just for filing a few forms with the FEC.
On the other hand, the tactic is not the sort you would expect from the John Phillips who portrays his firm as the ethical alternative to Metromail. "I won't use tainted data," Phillips said with characteristic moral fervor in a January press release. "[Metromail] will." Imagine what Phillips would say if a Metromail executive, not Dean, had registered as a presidential candidate.
The state of Virginia was not amused by Dean's candidacy. "It was obvious from the moment he sent [his application to purchase voter data] what he was doing," says Jim Hopper of the state attorney general's office; Hopper says he referred the case to the criminal investigations unit. "They're selling [the data] for profit," he explains, "and for whatever reason, our general assembly says, "No, you can't do that."' Even if the ultimate use of the data were for political purposes? "Macht nichts. It matters not," Hopper says. A spokesman for the attorney general's office refused to disclose the existence or status of any investigation.
The state of Maryland prohibits the use of voter data for business purposes, but state employees interpret the restrictions more loosely. Joan Mobley of the board of elections is aware that some vendors, like Aristotle, repackage Maryland voter data and resell it to candidates. "I don't think there's a problem with that," she says.
News of Dean's candidacy prompted a hearty laugh from John Convy, a competitor who was sued by Aristotle in 1987. "More power to 'em . . . I think it's brilliant," he says. "I'm not really opposed to finding end runs and work-arounds."
Asked his opinion of Dean's candidacy, Donnelley spokesperson Steven Bono cracked, "He can pretty well count on not getting support from our PAC."
KOL member and Privacy Times editor Evan Hendricks reacted coolly when I told him about Dean's run for the presidency. He deferred comment on the issue until he had a chance to hear Aristotle's side of the story. Two days later, Hendricks left an angry message on my answering machine: "John Phillips has done more than anyone else to shed light on the highly secretive direct-marketing industry, and for that he is a hero in the privacy movement." Hendricks went on to question my motives in reporting the story and finally wound up asking me, "Are you working for Donnelley and Metromail?"
The past couple of months have been winners for John Phillips, archvillain cum superhero. Marc Rotenberg and Evan Hendricks participated in a Federal Trade Commission forum on children, privacy, and the Internet. Meanwhile, in Boston and then in New York City, Marc Klaas and a KOL truth squad held preemptive press briefings at the Bay Club and the Plaza Hotel. They'd come to discredit Donnelley, which was throwing lunch for investors in the hope of tempting them with Metromail's new stock offering. Donnelley was better prepared at its June 6 lunch in Chicago, where Standard Club employees kept the front doors sealed against KOL's leafleteers.
All the while, Phillips sits back in his Capitol Hill office, enjoying the fruits of his cunning labor. He probably spends some time wondering which is his more ingenious creation: the portable atom bomb or Kids Off Lists.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of John Phillips by Paul Hosefros-New York Times, Photos of R.R. Donnelley building by Randy Tunnell.