By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
You could tell right off that Grant Woods was upset. "This was so bad and so outrageous," said the attorney general in a phone call to New Times managing editor Jeremy Voas. "It's absolutely fucking ridiculous."
Mr. Voas did not disagree.
We had asked Woods to be photographed, telling him it was for the paper's annual Best of Phoenix supplement. We'd said we wanted to take the attorney general's picture with the winner of the Best Hot Dog Stand category. The attorney general had been tickled at the prospect.
But Woods also suspected something was afoot.
"Oh, you're going to name me Best Hot Dog, aren't you?" he inquired at the photo shoot. Actually, what we did was take his photograph with a hot-dog vendor who was, in reality, an escaped convict.
We wanted to make the point that the county jail has an ongoing problem with inmates breaking out. We wanted to make the point that Grant Woods would do anything for publicity.
We wanted a good laugh.
Last Wednesday, the New Times cover read, "Grant Woods: There is no such thing as a bad photo opportunity."
Underneath these words, a four-color picture showed the attorney general receiving a wiener from a hot-dog vendor whose wide smile suggested he was having an excellent day. They were standing in front of the county lockup.
The headline stated, "Attorney General Poses With Escaped Convict. Felon flees custody, then sells hot dogs in front of jail." Mr. Woods was not amused.
"Like I'm supposed to recognize every escaped convict," said Woods to Voas. "Most of the guys who run hot-dog stands look like convicts, anyway."
Mr. Voas did not argue.
"I thought, there is no possible way anyone will do that to me," said a surprised Woods. "Anyone who's going to take me, as attorney general . . . why in the hell would a newspaper do that?"
Responding to media inquiries, Woods quickly announced that he was considering suing New Times. The vitality of the threatened lawsuit rested not upon its legal merits, which were dubious, but rather upon Woods' fit of pique. Others who called the office were laughing so hard it was difficult to understand what they were saying.
"I purposely waited until this afternoon to call," said Tseffos, who is Woods' press secretary, "because I didn't know if I could be in control this morning." And everyone at New Times knows just how out of control the high-strung Tseffos can get.
The press secretary is fondly remembered in this office as the fervent flack who called a radio talk show and assumed a phony identity to roast Woods' political rival, Governor Fife Symington. Tseffos disguised his voice with a Southern accent, but lost the drawl when he got excited, thereby blowing his cover. A now-calm Tseffos told Pasztor that the attorney general would never talk to New Times again. Even when he becomes president.
"I think Woods would have, over time, been real good for you guys," observed Tseffos. "I mean, if he moves on in his political career, he would have been someone that could have been a wealth of information."
Not only was Grant Woods not going to talk to us ever again, but he, Steve Tseffos, was so upset that he was prepared to break the law, if that's what it took to convince New Times just how far we had wandered off the reservation by laughing at his boss.
"If you need information from us," said Tseffos, "you can file a Freedom of Information Act request. If I get to it, great. If I don't, that's the way it goes." This, of course, is illegal.
Although Woods had huffed and puffed about suing the newspaper, he never actually did anything foolish enough to land him in a courthouse. Now his press secretary was volunteering to do it for him. Tseffos went on to describe the pain behind the humor.
"It was hurtful," said Tseffos. "I mean, you might think it was funny, but it was actually hurtful. The thing, 'In Pursuit of Publicity'; now we have Benson doing an editorial cartoon tomorrow, Montini is doing an article on it, we're going to be in every fucking paper in the state like the jackasses of Arizona. . . ."
Two days after the story appeared, an airline pilot, who'd just landed in Japan, phoned his wife in Phoenix to tell her he'd seen the story in the Asian edition of USA Today.
Sure, admitted Tseffos, his boss is known for his fondness of publicity. But this, this was an "outright lie."
What's more, Grant Woods has an outstanding sense of humor, said Tseffos.
The press secretary pointed out to Pasztor that when Woods did his recent fund-raising movie, it was called The Hound of Publicityville. "We have been one to kind of break the mold and just say, 'Look, nobody else will poke fun at themselves . . . we'll do some self-deprecating humor, just poking fun at ourselves.'"