While waiting for a recent America West flight to be delayed and then canceled, the Flash pondered the Arizona Republic's coverage of the airline's woes.
At the risk of inciting America West chairman Bill Franke (who also sits on the board of Central Newspapers Incorporated, the Republic's parent, and who once dashed off a letter reminding Republic publisher John Oppedahl that his airline buys more than $1 million worth of ads in the Republic each year), the paper dutifully reported what every other major American paper did: that on July 13, after a months-long investigation that found evidence of sloppy maintenance, the Federal Aviation Administration handed America West the largest fine ever levied against an airline, $5 million, which America West reduced by immediately forking over $2.5 million.
What the paper hasn't mentioned, however, is the news that had aviation industry watchers and America West employees buzzing since well before the announcement of the fines--that top America West managers and other stockholders dumped huge amounts of the company's stock in April and May.
"Rats deserting a sinking ship?" asks financial analyst Burk Files in a newsletter describing the sales, which totaled more than $60 million by nine different America West stockholders. On May 6, for example, Ronald Aramini, the airline's senior VP of operations and the man responsible for seeing that aircraft are properly maintained, cashed in just more than $1 million in stock.
The two largest sales were made by a group headed by David Bonderman ($54 million) and the company he used to own, Continental Airlines ($9 million). Not so long ago, Continental, which shares scheduling services with America West, was seen as a potential merger partner. That prospect seems to have crashed.
Were these stock sales insider trading? Did America West brass, knowing that the FAA investigation would result in a heavy fine, dump stock to avoid a financial hit? That's what stock analysts wonder in Internet dispatches, but the federal Securities and Exchange Commission refuses to confirm or deny that it is investigating the sales.
The Flash is no stock analyst, but wonders nonetheless how long Franke can retain his post.
Good News Is No News
Early in an otherwise distinguished career, the Flash was employed by a Thomson Newspapers publication whose readers happened to have been outnumbered by their livestock. It was a wretched rag that hewed single-mindedly to the chain founder's purported pronouncement: "News? That's the stuff we wrap around the ads."
The publisher of this particular little daily was an inveterate tippler, possessor of numerous DUIs. Thomson had exiled him to the frozen tundra. Late one blizzardy night, when the Flash was writing up high school sports results, there came a loud honk from the loading dock. Upon investigating, the Flash discovered the publisher inside the company pickup truck, which had been driven into the loading area through a big overhead door. He wore his parka. He clutched a pint of Cutty Sark. He was plastered.
"Jesh checkin' thuh buildin'. Everthin's perfeck," he slurred. It was the only time the Flash ever saw him smile.
Why does the Flash now dredge up such dim reminiscence?
Because when the Thomson group acquired the Mesa Tribune two years ago, the Flash knew it was only a matter of time before a mockery was made of newsgathering. That day arrived on July 21, with publication of the Good News Tribune. On that Tuesday, at the decree of executive editor Alan Geere, the publication printed only "good news."
The logic is hideously flawed. If a newspaper can choose to publish good news on one day, it follows that it simply prefers to publish bad news the rest of the year. It ignores a journalist's duty to report events forthrightly and accurately and in a timely manner.
Imagine a doctor setting aside a day for only good diagnoses. He'd be abrogating his professional duties, which is exactly what Geere did with the Good News Tribune.
A prominent front-page feature story declared: "Lucky puppy gets second chance."
Other Good News headlines cried out for subtext, which the Flash is happy to provide:
A page-one head: "Valley's tap water tastiest in years." Good News subtext: Cryptosporidium now comes in chocolate.
The strangely joyful: "Medical board suspends abortion doctor's license." Good News subtext: Delivered a cuddly pink little bundle!
"Clinton calls for summit on school safety"/If this reminds you of school shootings--of cherubic pupils with exploded heads--think instead of butterflies or daisies.
"Kindness makes a comeback"/Malice seen slinking through desert near Apache Junction.
Certain current events were deemed unworthy of the Good News Tribune. Some creative headline writing could easily have provided for publication of these stories in the feel-good format. To wit:
Slum area of Papua New Guinea gets a good scrubbing.
Albania Mania! Kosovons have happy feet.
Clinton: "Yeah, but the sex was really good!"
The Flash was astonished to see Good News obituaries, but was disappointed that a happy spin had not been employed, i.e., "Mabel Jones didn't suffer long . . ."
Geere tells the Flash that obituaries were included because "that's just a service to readers." (A novel concept--something inherently tragic could actually be of service.) He says the Good News Tribune was a smash with readers, and he may produce another one. He won't say when--he wants to "surprise" readers and staff.
Until then, everthin's perfeck.
Last week's Flashes contained a sampling of dream/nightmare juxtapositions penned by Phoenix Newspaper Inc. writers in the past year. One of those wordsmiths, Mike Fimea, was kind enough to respond.
How nice to see my name mentioned today in that grammatically challenged pile of sheep dip that you call a column. Now I know that I've truly made it in this town.
So . . . when are you going to stop downloading Internet porn long enough to write a legitimate story? Your act can't last forever, you know. One of these days a New Times editor is actually going to read your work, and you'll be back to pasting up titty-bar ads for a living.
Allow the Flash to correct a misimpression:
You haven't made it, Mike. You work for the Arizona Business Gazette.
Or, put another way, Mike Fimea's dream of a career in journalism has devolved into a nightmare.
Odds are, Senator John McCain will run for president in 2000. But will he win his party's nomination? Not likely, according to Campaigns and Elections magazine, which posts odds on its Web site, www.camelect.com/oddsmaker.html.
The magazine rates McCain's chances at a GOP nod at 40:1, or a 2.5 percent chance he'll get the nomination. The mag's take on Humble John: "Wants it, and is getting around. But the campaign finance reform issue hasn't been the rocket he had hoped. As Ross Perot said: Only in America could one of the Keating 5 be considered a reformer!"
The oddsmaker gave McCain a much better shot--1:3--at reelection to the Senate this November.
Meanwhile, a profile of Humble John in the July 19 Philadelphia Enquirer Sunday magazine speaks to his volcanic temper. The piece, written by Edwin Chen, opens:
"Johnny [McCain] was still in diapers when he began to black out, occasionally crashing to the floor from a couch or chair.
"Eventually, doctors delivered a diagnosis that at once reassured and confounded Jack and Roberta McCain. Their son's bouts of unconsciousness were self-induced, the doctors said. When he got especially mad, Johnny would hold his breath until he passed out.
"Their prescription was equally unorthodox: Fill up a tub with cold water. Next time, dunk him in it--clothes and all."
So the purple-faced rages that Senate colleagues have seen are rooted in McCain's diaper days.
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"Every time I lose my temper," McCain told Chen, "I regret it."
McCain's trail of apologies for uncontrolled public statements and temper tantrums stretches from Arizona to Washington, even to the White House. But, after expressing regret for one incident, McCain can't or won't control his outbursts.
Unfortunately, nowadays, McCain's mom and dad aren't around to throw him into a tub of cold water.
For the latest on our snowy-haired presidential wanna-be, check out "Running John: New Times' Field Guide to the John McCain Campaign Trail," on our Web site at www.phoenixnewtimes.com.
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