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Hmmm, this Phoenix firebird speaks with forked tongue — at least when it comes to the New Times story on white-trash diva Anna Nicole Smith's Native American love child, "Tohono O'odham with Love" (March 8, 2007). Lest you've been on a spelunking expedition for the past two weeks, you'll know that this parody of the media spectacle surrounding the tabloid queen's demise has been spewed far and wide, suckering in the very media entities that the Onion-esque tale was satirizing: Star, People, US Weekly, Globe, Court TV, Access Hollywood, Inside Edition. Even CBS News. They all found the loony lampoon too tempting to ignore, despite "tells" littered throughout the freaky farce.

As most now know, this starry-eyed starling's doppelganger made up the crux of the story, though certain details of Anna Nicole's bizarre bio included in the parody were true. There's no Indian Casanova named Johnny Soto, no half-O'odham heir named Marshall Soto. The brother-in-law of a New Times staff member played Johnny in the pix. Little Marshall is the son of pals of a staffer. A half-assed birth certificate was cranked out, revealing that the tyke was born in secret at Burbank, California's Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center. Pics of players in the actual Anna Nicole saga, such as Howard K. Stern, Larry Birkhead, and Zsa Zsa Gabor's hubby Prince Frederic von Anhalt, added to the narrative's believability, as did details like genuine O'odham words and customs.

Anna Nicole's train-wreck existence, her contentious post-mortem, the extent of her drug abuse, and her gargantuan sexual appetite kept the fabrication within the realm of the possible. But the "tells" were big enough to pilot space shuttles through. First off, there were no photos of Anna Nicole, Johnny and Marshall together, though don't think we didn't consider crafting some via Photoshop. The birth certificate was only partially reproduced, and it didn't have the requisite border and seals. Then there's the ridiculousness that a tabloid star of Anna Nicole's popularity could have hidden her pregnancy and given birth in total secrecy so close to La-La Land.

Lastly, there's the byline "Charles Tatum." This was Tatum's first story ever for the Phoenix paper, supposedly. Some break for the new journo on staff, eh? However, a few movie buffs recognized the name as the same as that of Kirk Douglas' character in the 1951 Billy Wilder flick, Ace in the Hole. In it, Tatum's a cynical, corrupt big-city reporter who falls from grace and ends up chasing stories for a rag in New Mexico, hoping for a big break that will propel him back to the top. As Tatum tells his Albuquerque editor, "I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog." So he ends up manufacturing a media circus out of some poor schlub stuck in a mine shaft.

After the Anna Nicole cover story ran, all calls to Charles Tatum were routed to this devious dodo's alter ego, who affected a deep Southern twang, calling himself "Charlie," for short. Since folks were asking to get in touch with Johnny Soto, we set up a New Times extension to act as Soto's voice mail. People magazine was the first to phone Tatum and then call Soto. The Boca Raton-based supermarket tabloid Globe was hugely interested in the story and asked to get in touch with the photographers to buy pics. On Globe's behalf, correspondent/photographer Eric Munn rushed to Sells, where he spent a day and night desperately phoning both Soto and Tatum. "We're in Sells right now, Johnny," Munn said in his first recorded message to Soto. "Just down by the convenience store, actually."

This rascally roadrunner hopes Munn enjoyed his stay in the capital of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Sure, this tweeter feels a little guilty about sending the sap on a snipe hunt, but then, how was it to know that supermarket tabloids even had reporters!? This seed-swallower figured they made all that crazy shit up! Ah, despair not, Eric, according to this peacock's source on the rez, at least half a dozen of your colleagues in the fourth estate also made the trek to Sells. Indeed, on the Thursday the spoof first saw the light of day, our rez contact says they fielded more than 100 calls from eager members of the press!

Even more persistent than the Globe was the gossip site Splashnews.com, which offered our freelance photographer Giulio Sciorio a syndication deal worth up to $500,000 for pics of the boy. Ultimately, Splash, with offices in London and L.A., was told that New Times owned the rights, but that it could have the photos free of charge. They must've figured Tatum and his Zona colleagues as real shit-kickers to relinquish such digital gold for nada.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons