Flashes 03-16-2000

Crime of the Millennium

Nothing makes the Flash's day like being accused of a crime. Especially when the accusation comes from a lawyer. Especially when the lawyer is a former editor of New Times.

Strange but true. The mail brings a sniffly protest from First Amendment sharpie David Bodney, who edited this august rag during Phoenix's Great Real Estate Depression.

As an editor, Bodney was a damn fine lawyer.

Bodney's client in this case is Phoenix Newspapers Incorporated, wayward parental unit of the Millennial Arizona Republic.

Bodney and Republic ediots are passing stones over the Flash's February 17 publication of an E.J. Montini column that -- get this -- the Republic's editors refused to print!

The forbidden Montini column lampooned those very editors for publishing an exposé titled "Killing weaves bizarre web." The February 6 piece raised the possibility of a romantic link between U.S. Senator John McCain and former starlet Connie Stevens, and if you squinted really hard, perhaps, a homicidal link between McCain and a guy named Ron Bianchi, who wound up getting ventilated.

The piece prompted Montini to wax sarcastic: "I'm prepared to state with complete confidence that Sen. McCain was in no way involved with the disappearance of Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, the collapse of the Arizona Cardinals and the mysterious success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire..."

"Fine, but what about JonBenet Ramsey and Vince Foster?

"I've done some checking. McCain is not mentioned in any of these reports I've read concerning the death of President Clinton's late friend and lawyer, and, so far as I know, he has yet to be questioned by police in Boulder, Colorado.

"I've been unable to find out if O.J. Simpson -- on a nationwide tour of golf courses in search of the 'real' killer -- has removed McCain from his list of potential suspects."

You get the picture. The "bizarre web" story was a dog. It was to be the Republic's big blockbuster on presidential candidate McCain, and it barked. Its canine tendencies were so pronounced, the Republic's political editor quit in a huff -- only to be coaxed back into the kennel with a pork chop. The piece was such a mangy mongrel, the American Journalism Review is writing a story about it.

Yet none of Montini's commentary on the "bizarre web" story appeared in the publication that actually employs Montini. Republic bosses are beyond reproach, so they spiked Montini's column like it was a vat of prom punch. Predictably, humiliated Republic journalists leaked the column to the Flash, knowing that this Burst of Light is always ready to stand up for Truth, Justice and Unbridled Ridicule of the Republic.

Already embarrassed and tottering in an undertow of newsroom angst over her insistence on publishing the "bizarre web" piece, Republic managing editor Julia Wallace was apoplectic over the Flash's scoop. In a memo to her subordinates, she characterized the leakage as a breach of security and "trust."

And then she sicced her First Amendment attack poodle, David Bodney, on the Flash.

"I write with respect to your willful infringement of the copyrighted work of Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.," Bodney writes.

". . . As you may know, copyright infringement exposes your company to liability for up to three times actual damages on your profits, as well as injunctive relief. The Copyright Act also provides for criminal penalties in cases of willful infringement."

Well, lock me up with a dude named Delbert!

Flash forward to Friday, March 10, and Pat McMahon's weekly "Mosh Pit" on KTAR. The inspired lineup of guests: Louis "Chip" Weil, president and CEO of Central Newspapers Incorporated, PNI's parent company; grocery magnate Eddie Basha; and . . . Ted Nugent, known to metalheads everywhere as the Motor City Madman. Nugent's presence made for splendid radio, but that's a whole 'nother Flash.

McMahon and Basha appropriately chastised Weil over the suppression of the Montini column. Weil lamely responded that editors are really "censors" who possess that "right."

Yes, and the Flash has the "right" to remove his shirt in public. But that doesn't mean it happens.

Weil went on to knock New Times, saying the episode proves that we'll "print anything."

Damn straight -- especially "anything" created by our columnists, who are paid to speak their minds.

Weil must have taken a 3-wood to the head. Chip, good buddy, what about the "right" of your exalted commentators -- the truth-telling consciences of our community -- to practice their craft, unfettered by ass-covering editors? What about crimes against free expression?

And Julia, babe, if you covet the trust of your subordinates, you might want to consider a novel approach -- try trusting them.

See you in court.

2 Jokes, 1 Stage, 0 Laughs

"Stop right there, Mr. Rockwell! Put your hands up!"

Dumped Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? groom and tabloid sensation Rick Rockwell halts his standup routine and raises his hands. The audience at the sold-out Tempe Improv sees the man ordering the comic to stop and is delighted.

It's Sheriff Joke Arpaio.

"You've already got way too much publicity, probably more than I have," the Sher says in his toughest, wish-I-was-John Wayne drawl.

"Watch out," warns Rockwell. "You're looking pretty good to me right now. It was a rough honeymoon."

Their awkward, back-slapping exchange plays like a Hee-Haw outtake as written by award-show scriptwriters. But the audience laps it up.

Rockwell's return to standup comedy is one of those events where the cheese on the stage so impresses the cheese in the audience that the Flash is almost embarrassed to be in attendance. After the show, national TV news reporters seem incredulous as exited fans cheer "Rick rocks!" and other overwhelming testimonials to the underwhelming comic.

Rockwell's appearance at the Improv last weekend was the first stop of his national "Annulment Tour," his return to standup comedy following the Fox TV phenomenon/disaster. His would-be wife, Darva Conger, filed for an annulment March 7. Since then, both parties have been chatting up their side of the scandal in the media, seeming more and more like a perfect match.

Arpaio says Rockwell emceed one of his fund raisers a while back, and Improv manager Dan Mer confirms Rockwell was a regular performer here in the late 1980s and early '90s before leaving the standup circuit to do corporate motivational comedy gigs. Standing with their arms thrown over each other's shoulders in a photo-op, Arpaio and Rockwell are two such oddly discordant popular media figures that they are difficult to absorb together. They're like a direct-to-video buddy-comedy duo: Joe Arpaio is the tough-talking sheriff who isn't really tough. Rick Rockwell is the wise-cracking partner who isn't really wise. Together they're chasing sound bites and stalking ex-girlfriends in Who Wants to Get Free Publicity?

Rockwell's self-pity-a-thon includes plenty of jokes based on fallout from the Fox special ("Why would I marry somebody named 'Darva Conger'? It sounds like an orthopedic problem!" and "Apparently, the title was supposed to be Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire Who's Never Made a Mistake in Their Life" -- a reference to Rockwell's history of domestic tribulations) as well as standup material cryogenically frozen since 1992 (Ross Perot impressions, Phoenix-Is-So-Hot-That jokes).

The Flash finds Arpaio's media scrum at the Improv door most amusing. As Arpaio lumbers to the exit, a photographer asks if he can take his picture.

"Who are you?" Arpaio demands. "New Times?!"

The photog assures him that he's not, that he's with the Arizona Republic, and notes that Arpaio always asks him that. (Arpaio is too doltish to know that New Times would never ask for permission.)

Arpaio's interest quickly shifts to the Improv's bulletin board, which lists him as one of tonight's headliners next to an outdated publicity photo. It's the photo that interests him.

"This my picture?" he asks. "I'm fat in this picture." He does look a bit like Louie Anderson. Before the sheriff can comment further, his inspection of his heftier self is interrupted by a reporter from Entertainment Tonight. Suddenly, Arpaio is excited.

"This is ET?" Arpaio asks. "This is for ET? Am I going to be on ET? When does it air? I talked to someone from ET before, to, uh, Hart."

"Mary Hart," the reporter says of the perky former Miss South Dakota.

"Yeah," Arpaio growls. "Mary Hart has my underwear."

For a second, the reporter appears thrown. Even knowing Arpaio is referring to the promotional pink boxers being sold tonight in the Improv lobby, the comment is still creepy.

Perhaps Arpaio and Rockwell are not so mismatched after all. Both headliners in unintentional comedy.


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