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Story Weaves Bizarre Web

There's a telling quote from a spokesman for Senator John McCain in the February 6 Millennial Arizona Republic. It's in the story on Humble John's non-role in a murder, and his non-dalliance with faded starlet Connie Stevens.

The campaign flack, Dan Schnur, warned Republic editors and reporters that the newspaper would be "the laughingstock of the industry" if it published a story saying that McCain had been interviewed by authorities in connection with the murder of former Phoenix Gazette columnist Ron Bianchi.

"Laughingstock" is not much of a stretch when it comes to the Millennial Republic, but that doesn't diminish the rectitude of Schnur's observation. The swill-thin content of the investigative piece, "Killing weaves bizarre web," was indeed laughable, and so was the fashion in which the Republic told it: defensively, apologetically, meekly yet self-referentially. The story was a joke, all the way around.

A little background: The Republic's investigative coup reported that in February 1999, Bianchi had told Republic publisher John Oppedahl and managing editor Julia Wallace that McCain had had an affair with Connie Stevens. The Republic reported that Bianchi learned this from a friend who worked for a supermarket tabloid. Bianchi winds up getting ventilated; his body is found near Payson in September.

After Bianchi's murder, Scottsdale hair salon diva Valerie Pape supposedly moved in with Bianchi's widow. Pape her ownself was recently arrested and charged with the murder of her husband, Ira Pomerantz, whose headless torso was found in a Dumpster behind a Bashas' grocery in Mesa.



In a palsied attempt to justify its corpulent convolution of rumors, the Republic intoned, "When Wallace, the managing editor, learned of Bianchi's death, she could not help but wonder if he had told anyone else his rumor, and whether it may have been connected in some way to his death. She felt an obligation to try to find out."

Finding out is one thing. Publishing it like some kind of pulp noir thriller is quite another.

Even Richard De Uriarte, the congenital kid-glover who serves at the Republic's putative "Reader Advocate," would write on February 13 that the newspaper had erred in including McCain in the piece. De Uriarte conceded that "sometimes, we end up with a set of facts that don't quite make a story."

And sometimes "we" end up with a set of facts that are too embarrassing to make a story.



Conspicuously absent from De Uriarte's mea culpa was mention of two other significant developments that followed publication of the "bizarre web" story. One is that Republic political editor Dave Wagner resigned in disgust over his superiors' decision to publish the story. One media news Web site has De Uriarte denying that Wagner walked, but the Flash's sources say that he did. In any case, he didn't walk far. Wagner's indignation was ephemeral -- he's reportedly back at work.

More significant is Wallace's spiking of a column E.J. Montini produced that poked fun at his own newspaper's "bizarre web" story. Wallace likes to boast about the Republic's openness and honesty with readers. But Wallace, a prime candidate for a pica-pole fragging, won't let just any staffer snipe within. It's odd that De Uriarte was allowed to condemn the piece -- a week later -- but Montini's more timely piece was censored. The Flash has obtained Montini's offending prose, which is reproduced here in its entirety for your edification:

Report from

journalism's

grassy knoll

After three months of investigation by some of its best reporters, The Arizona Republic published a whopping two-page exposé in last Sunday's paper proving that, as far as anybody knew, U.S. Senator John McCain had absolutely nothing -- as in nada, zilch, diddly-squat -- to do with the murder of one-time newspaper writer Ron Bianchi.

Not only that, but the Republic reported that its three months of digging, probing, seeking out clues, analyzing, tracking down leads and generally leaving no stone unturned provided "no evidence sustaining Bianchi's claim" that McCain had an affair with performer Connie Stevens.

Whew!

I'm relieved. At least temporarily. A person can't be too sure about these politicians. I'm sure some of those weighing the pros and cons of McCain's candidacy must wonder if there are any other potentially sinister connections we should be giving the once-over.

With that in mind, I would like to report that after three intense . . . hours of exhaustive investigation (two of which may have looked like lunch but actually involved the grillings of "sources") 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.

Consider McCain clean on all these counts, as well as that Bianchi thing.

The story goes that Bianchi was in terrible trouble, in debt to the wrong people. He pitched the story of McCain and Stevens to a tabloid, which actually produced an article about the rumor, though there never was any proof.

When Bianchi was found murdered last September, the titillating old gossip resurfaced.

However, after three months of investigation, the Republic reported that "Gila County Attorney Jerry DeRose and sheriff's detectives would find no evidence whatsoever of an affair between McCain and Stevens or of any mob ties."

Also, in a taped interview with McCain, Gila County Deputy Byron Mills told the senator, "I will put it in writing that we have absolutely zero evidence to prove that you had anything, or any knowledge even, about this man's death. . . ."

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, Colo.

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.

However, "sources" tell me it's unlikely McCain had anything to do with the kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst. That is, unless he concocted the plot while locked up in Hanoi.

I've also been assured that McCain's name has not surfaced in court proceedings related to a triangle UFO, big as a football field, reported over Phoenix three years ago.

Nor has a credible witness come forward with any proof of a McCain-Elvis connection.

Finally, I've been assured by authorities inside the Republic that, in spite of my differences with McCain, neither the senator nor his operatives are in any way responsible for the goofy picture presently used to adorn this column.

Maybe. But I'm still having O.J. check it out.

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