Tuesday, January 31, 2006

From The Mouths of Babes

My colleague Wyatt Olson has been adamant for months that the King Tut exhibit is basically a sham. His argument: They’re making it sound like you get to see King Tut, but the boy wonder is, in fact, nowhere to be found. And the Sun-Sentinel and Herald haven't gone out of their way to make that clear. Instead, they've hyped the thing to death with more than 150 stories during the past six months. For a time there was a huge billboard on Broward Boulevard (it might still be there for all I know) that said, King Tut Is Here. This when the King was never even in the building.

Well, a while back, my ten-year-old son told me that a friend of his had gone to the exhibit and that he’d heard it was a rip-off. King Tut wasn’t there! Yesterday, the little guy finally went to the Tut exhibit on his own during a field trip. This is his description of the event in his own words, unsolicited by me:

“The artifacts aren’t even real, they’re models. It’s stupid. And you’re walking around for three hours. And the people that didn’t go on the field trip went to P.E. and got to play games. It was horrible. They don’t show the real King Tut. They don’t even show you pictures. It was weird. You just walk around listening on headphones looking at a chair and a flute. And it was 21 dollars to go there. It was not fun. We never have good field trips. Last time we went to Cinderella. It was horrible, too.”

Why can't we get that kind of honesty out of our newspapers?

License To Ill
Here's unofficial Pulp correspondent and fellow New Times scribe Sam Eifling’s take on the license plate story that was the centerpiece in yesterday’s Sentinel. His basic take was that story began with a prudish tone. Here's the beginning of the story:

"Some Floridians have a naughty streak, and they want the world -- or at least everyone driving behind them -- to see how clever they are.
They try to curse in code or express their hate for rival colleges or sports teams in just a few letters. They might try to boast about their anatomy or hurl insults.
But five people meet once a month in Tallahassee to stop those with their minds in the gutter from taking to the roads with a nasty nickname or a rude message on their personalized license plates. ..."

Here's Sam's new and improved lede:

"Some Floridians have some damn fun once in a while, even on that most staid of billboards, the license plate. But five people meet monthly to put the Fun Police kibosh on jest, wordsmithing and celebrations of natural human pleasures such as drug use, sex and heckling the Florida State Seminoles."

The Braunstein Factor
Well, actress Natasha Lyonne (of American Pie and The Slums of Beverly Hills) just can’t seem to make it to court in New York. I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t want to face the music. I mean all she did was threaten to sexually molest her neighbor’s dog. But her legal problems began in Miami a few years back, when she drunkenly ran her rented Dodge off the road. What’s gone wrong with this girl, what has prompted her to, as the New York Daily News put it so artfully, go "from a Hollywood golden girl to a volatile slob"? Well, a clue might come from her real last name. Braunstein. Could Natasha be related to the accused Halloween-Firefighter-Rapist, Peter Braunstein? Both showed great promise, Braunstein as a journalist and Lyonne as an actress, before they shot off the track. Have a look at those mugshots. There's definitely a resemblance. Isn't there? Doesn't this merit an investigation? Are there evil genes at work here? No? Gawker?

And now: The Story of the Day.
Not a great day for either the Sentinel or the Herald or the Post, so we'll have to go with the most interesting and sensational tale, that of the pawned-off three-week-old baby. (The Pulp is partial to crime stories). It's an outrageous scenario and I have to think the mother should be charged, too. She gave her baby, that beautiful little boy there in the picture, to an obviously unstable woman with a criminal history.

So which one of the three newspapers will win the coveted honor? The winner is ... Jennifer Lebovich of the Herald. Her story seemed the most cogent and complete. The Sentinel was disqualified for somehow missing that Stacy Counes, the 19-year-old woman who received the baby from the mother and then gave him away at a damn bus stop, had multiple battery charges in her past. I suspect the Sentinel held the info because it was on a juvenile record, which would make it another instance where touchy-feely editors deprive the readers of important information out of misplaced magnanimity.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Attn: This Story Is Crap

On the front page of the Sun-Sentinel’s always daring Community News section Sunday, a story by staff writer C. Ron Allen leads this way:

“When Victor Fortune failed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and then eighth grade, he didn’t get reclusive or bitter, his teachers said.
Instead, he channeled his efforts to helping his classmates who needed help in mathematics.
“I already had the class, I am learning the same thing I learned last year so I felt I should help someone to improve instead of getting mad,” the 13-year-old West Pine Middle School student said.”

Aren’t you glad the little feller helped classmates who needed help? The story then goes on to laud little Victor as one of the Sentinel’s “Kids of Character,” which is tied to the Broward school board’s character education program. Unfortunately for Fortune (and the Sentinel), a correction ran in the very same newspaper: “Victor Fortune passed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and was promoted to the eighth grade.”

There are two things extraordinary about this correction. First, it is the first pre-emptive correction I can remember. It appears on page 2A in the very same newspaper in which the mistake was made. Why? Because the Sentinel pre-publishes the Community News section before it prints the rest of the paper. In fact, the same bad information ran in a promotional box in Friday’s newspaper (so it was actually a double-correction, too).

The second unique aspect of the correction is that the entire story is based on the false premise that little Fortune is a great tyke because he didn’t let failure keep him from being a model student. Allen quotes the student, two of his teachers, and a school resource officer. The resource officer actually references the (bogus) fact that Fortune was held back. What the hell is going on here? Could it be that the kid of character duped the newspaper? Or was it all based on some colossal assumption by the reporter?

And, as you can see by the link above, the bogus story is still on the website. The Pulp is on the case. But while we’re on the Community News section, let’s look at the two other stories on Sunday’s front. The lead story is headlined: “Report unusual activity.” Okay. But what exactly is unusual activity? I mean, I have a neighbor who bleaches his sidewalk every week. That’s pretty weird. Should I report him?

Here’s how Nicole T. Lesson ledes her article.
“Crime prevention starts with you.
“Residents need to know what is suspicious activity and how to report it to police.”

So pray tell, what is suspicious activity?
“[Plantation Police Officer Bob] Wilkins says that if something piques your curiosity, it could be a suspicious incident.”
“If it doesn’t look right, it’s time to call the police,” Lesson adds later.

Still confused. What we need, of course, is a Tips Box. And the Sentinel didn’t let us down. In a box on page 2 is a box with the question that haunts us still: “What Is Suspicious?”

Answer No. 1: “Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or seems out of place.”
That guy Joe in the office does that to me all the time. Finally I know what to do. Call the cops on his ass.

Another suspicious thing: “A loiterer who doesn’t belong in the area.”
That’d be Uncle Ray. He comes around uninvited all the time, wanting to eat our food and drink our beer. Now the jail can feed him.

Then the wise box tells us to be suspicious of “Someone carrying a weapon.”
Oh man, so that guy who was running through the neighborhood last week with a Glock in his hand was suspicious? If only I had known.

Then, and I’m not kidding, the Sentinel instructs us to beware of people in your neighborhood who might be carrying something that is stolen, “such as an electronic device.”
I can hear it now.
“Maude, there’s a feller with one of them fancy new cell phones walking down the street. Call the police!”

To top off a newspaper section that is, without a doubt, one of the greatest journalistic abortions of the year, there’s a story about a private school’s “Best Buddies” program which mingles disabled students with “college-bound students.” (Sorry, couldn't find a link to it on S-S site).
Did you say you want treacle? Cause I got some treacle for you:
“The chief goal is tolerance,” Lisa Huriash begins. “Then again, it’s also love. And acceptance. Really, all of the above.”
And let’s not forget vomitus. Lots and lots of vomitus.

Channeling DeFede

Wonder what former Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede is up to these days? Well, things are crackling. On the airwaves. The man is on his way to radio and TV stardom. And his role model in the radio game?

Don Imus. That right, DeFede wants to be the Imus of South Florida.
But before I get into the latest news, let me give you the background on DeFede, just in case you've been living under a pier the past year: He’s the Herald (and former Miami New Times) columnist who was fired in July (my God, has it really been that long ago?) after he tape-recorded a conversation with Miami-Dade Commissioner Art Teele just before Teele shot himself in the Herald lobby. Since he was so well-respected in the biz, hundreds of journalists rallied for him. I still believe the hasty and cruel firing was an excuse to get rid of DeFede because he rocked too many boats, most notably Tony Ridder’s (see “Knight Riddance”).

Now he’s finalizing a contract with the Herald’s news partner, WFOR-Channel 4, to do three commentaries a week. That’s just about a full-time job. “I want to do with it what I used to do with my column in the Herald,” DeFede told me.

That means he’ll be riffing about politics and, if I know DeFede, digging up some breaking news while he’s at it. DeFede is also doing a Saturday morning AM radio show on 610-WIOD. I had the pleasure of being on the show Saturday, and we talked a bit about the Pulp during the segment. DeFede isn’t about spouting off some political ideology or party line. It is, as he said, “all about the facts.” Not that he doesn’t have some fun, too. DeFede happens to be hilarious. He spent a good deal of time talking about the recently deported Dorismar (see “Open the Door for Dorismar” below). “Give me your teeming masses, yearning to breathe free … but occasionally let one of them be hot,” he said.
He said it will be part cultural, part political, and all local.
“I want it to be like Imus,” he said.
If that goes well, and it certainly seems to be, the show will go to weekdays and DeFede will have completed the transition to the other mediums. God knows, radio and TV desperately needs first-rate journalists like DeFede to raise them up a notch. But that stuff also has a tendency to disappear in the ether once it’s aired. So I hope he finds a way to keep writing -- or at least documenting his radio and TV work for posterity -- while he conquers the airwaves.

Speaking of Dorismar
Casey Woods, the reporter who did such a great job telling the story of the deported Argentinian bombshell, is a “she,” not a “he,” as I reported below. The mistake was the result of general ignorance and perhaps a slightly sexist assumption. We apologize to Casey for implying that she possesses male genitalia and ask her to keep up the excellent work.
By the way, this is a bit of history, as it is the Pulp’s first correction. Hopefully there won’t be many more.
And we take this opportunity to restate our position on Dorismar: Open the door for her, America. Please.

And lest we forget, our story of the day is Jon Burstein's muckraking look at swindling charities, published on Sunday. It's just the type of reporting the Sentinel does too little of. It was a toss-up with this story by Brittany Wallman (my industrious wife, I should disclose) about the whitewash investigation of a cop accused of sexual misconduct. It includes the cop's claim that, no, he wasn't exposing himself, he was reading a magazine about "swordfishing."

I'll let you fill in your own snappy one-liner.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Pigs and More Pigs

On this baseball bat beating thing, relentless crime beat reporter Wanda DeMarzo had this story in the Herald about the homeless beatings. She reports that Hooks and Daugherty left town on the morning of the beatings between 9 and 11:30 a.m. Here's my question: When did the videotape of the beating first air on TV? What I want to know is if it was videotape that prompted them to leave town. I assume the answer is yes. Wanda?

DeMarzo also had this article about another BSO deputy fired for falsely clearing crime reports. Another day, another scapegoat. Powertrac generated a culture of fears and lies -- and it was meant to produce low crime numbers to advance Ken Jenne's political career. Quit ruining lives, Michael Satz, you coward, and arrest the top brass that were responsible for this debacle, including the sheriff himself.

Give it up to the Seminoles ... these guys know entertainment when they see it. First airboat rides, then the casinos, and now this: Dog-Pig Fights. Depends on the individual dog and pig, but all things equal, I'll put 20 on the oinker, man. Those things are wily and tough as mules. Can I get a hells-yes?

Pretty slow news day locally, but the story of the day goes to Wanda's counterpart at the Sentinel, Brian Haas, for his report on the shooting of a crazy old man. Listen, if a naked old man in a nightgown winds up in your house looking confused, try not to shoot him. The next one could be your own grandpappy.

(Sorry for the late post: Had a morning stand-off with Steve Kane. See comment below "Kane And Able.")

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Kane And Able

If you're up in the morning, I'm going to be on the Steve Kane Show at about 8 a.m. That's 1470 AM. It should be good, especially since I'll be on with Broward Times reporter extraordinaire Elgin Jones, who has busted up many a scandal in this corrupt burg.

Kane, you might know, used to be on the school board's diversity committee where he kicked up a lot of dust over gays. I don't agree with him on much, but I got to admire the way he speaks his mind. All the time. I just got off the phone with producer Brian Craig and he was like, "Uh, is it fair to characterize you as a liberal?" I told him I don't like either party and am conservative on some issues, but I probably fall on that side of the ledger more often than not. He was like, I'll take that as a yes, so you two will have a lot to talk about. Let's get ready to rumble, then.

Was It A "Set-Up" Or Just A Damn Beer?

On Monday came a post about the kids on southfloridaracing.com going off on the media after Sun-Sentinel reporter Brian Haas e-mailed them to request information on the teens accused of the homeless murder [see "What Goes Around" below].

One of the posts came from the nephew of Rick Robb, an editor at the Palm Beach Post, who used to be metro editor at the Sun-Sentinel. The nephew said Sentinel columnist Mike Mayo once "set [him] up" for a column. Below is Mayo’s first-hand account of what happened (which he permitted to run in the Pulp). It involves one of the most controversial trials in recent South Florida history.

“[Robb’s nephew] is Rich DeBerardinis and he served as a juror on the David Farrall wrong-way driving DUI/manslaughter trial. Because of his connection to Rick, who was the Sun-Sentinel's metro editor at the time, we had agreed to sit down and talk once the verdict was in. Naturally, it was big news, a high-profile case and 1A story, more so when the jury acquitted former FBI agent Farrall of the most serious manslaughter charges in the crash that resulted in the deaths of brothers Maurice Williams and Craig Chambers.

After the verdict, we went to a place on Las Olas (the Italian joint Across from the Floridian, I think it's changed names a few times since then) and I interviewed him for about an hour. I went back to the newsroom and banged out the deadline column, a juror's-view perspective/explanation of how they arrived at their decision. Rick Robb recused himself from editing the story (he was my usual line editor), because of the family connection.

I decided to lead with what I thought was an ironic touch: after a nerve-rattling DUI case, when we sat down and I asked what he wanted, Rich said he wanted a drink. He ordered a beer and we talked, and he showed himself to be an intelligent and conscientious juror. Needless to say, Rich took a lot of grief for the verdict (he eventually left one job after his boss had to order some black co-workers to stop hassling him about the decision in the racially-charged case). He also ridiculously took some grief for drinking that beer, with the Sun-Sentinel printing a letter to that effect from some prudish scold.

If I was in his shoes, I would have done the same thing -- except I probably would have had a double Kettle One on the rocks, not a beer. Because I was on deadline and we don't live in the good old days of Jimmy Breslin and Mike Royko knocking back a few before heading into the newsroom, I stuck with club soda. Nevertheless, Rich always resented me for using that opening. I guess he saw it as a cheap shot. I thought it was ironic and human.

Unfortunate that he thinks I "set him up." That wasn't my intention, I simply took him to a restaurant, as I do with many of my sources/interview subjects, and I paid the bill. I didn't even realize he'd be so upset with me including the beer anecdote.”

And there you have it. Below is the column Mayo wrote (I couldn’t link to it because the Sentinel hordes their old stories in an archive you have to pay for). Judge for yourself. As for me, I think Mayo wrote a fair column. The juror even said knew he was going to be "shredded" for it -- a lot of people were pissed to see an FBI agent get cleared in the outrageous case -- and that he was prepared for it. But when it happened, he lashed out at the messenger.

It's also pretty interesting that a street racing enthusiast sat on the Farrell jury.

My only criticism is obvious: I don’t think there’s any question that the editorship at the Sun-Sentinel should have done more than just “recuse” Robb from Mayo’s column. They should have disclosed in the column to the readers that Rich was, indeed, Robb’s nephew. Sure it might have made readers see it differently – and that’s precisely why it should have been disclosed.

By the way, Mayo is coming back full-time to the Sentinel next week after some blissful paternity leave. His pain will be our gain.

Here’s the Mayo column, in its entirety:

Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
November 26, 2002 Tuesday Broward Metro Edition
The hardest six weeks of his young life were over, and he wanted a drink.

"A drink drink, or a soda?" I asked.

"A beer," Rich DeBerardinis said.

A few minutes later, he sipped a Budweiser and explained how he and five others reached a verdict that is sure to cause as much controversy as the case that spawned it.
Concluding that David Farrall was legally drunk on the night he crashed Into brothers Maurice Williams, 23, and Craig Chambers, 19, was the easy part.

"That took two minutes," DeBerardinis said.

Concluding Farrall was going the wrong way on Interstate 95 and thuscriminally responsible for two deaths was a leap they just couldn't make based on the evidence. It took three grueling days of deliberations for one holdout to switch, according to DeBerardinis.

"I know some people are going to shred us for this," DeBerardinis said. "But I'm prepared to deal with that. We did everything right, and we took this very seriously. This took a toll on everyone."

He said the six jurors felt a heavy weight from the case. Upon entering the jury room to start deliberations last Thursday, one woman broke down and cried. When DeBerardinis awoke Monday after a mostly sleepless night, he said he threw up from the stress.

He turned 21 during the trial, a full-time student at Broward CommunityCollege who has a full-time job with a medical monitoring company. He was acutely aware he was between the victims' ages, kept imagining his mother in the place of Florence Thompson, the victims' mother, who attended every day.

"I feel so bad for her," DeBerardinis said. "The first thing I wanted to do when it was over was give her a hug. I know she's probably angry with us and I can understand 100 percent. I wish I could have given the family closure and said this man did it, but legally I couldn't.

"We saw this as the prosecution had to prove two separate cases -- that Farrall was drunk and driving, and that he was going the wrong way. Thefirst case was a slam-dunk. But on the second, there was lack of evidence and a mishandling of evidence."

In the end, only Farrall and his attorneys walked out of the courtroom happy. He won't get his FBI career back, but he won't be spending the next three decades in jail. For everyone else, the ending was murky and unsatisfying.

"It's annoying," DeBerardinis said. "So many unanswerable questions. We're all searching for logical explanations, because two people who by all accounts were good people are dead and it doesn't make sense. I wish we could say definitively what happened that night but we can't."

This much is known: At 12:43 a.m. on Nov. 23, 1999, there were reports of a car hurtling southbound in the northbound lanes of I-95. A few minutes later, Farrall's dark green Honda and the brothers' beige Kia collided. Both were supposed to be heading north. Farrall was going home to Coconut Creek after a night of drinking, eating and watching Monday Night Football at the Quarterdeck restaurant in Davie. His blood alcohol level was .14 percent, above the legal threshold.

The brothers were heading to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton from Lauderhill after a night of church choir practice. They were sober. DeBerardinis said the jury discounted Farrall's testimony that he wasn't impaired and didn't believe him about the amount he drank.

"He sounded like a guy in denial," DeBerardinis said.

He also found it curious that Farrall didn't have any family on hand at the trial to support him. Still, they couldn't take the leap to DUI manslaughter.

"It's like [defense attorney Bruce] Udolf said: If you're drunk and sitting at a red light and somebody hits you, that doesn't mean it's your fault," DeBerardinis said. "We heard a theory that Farrall was more likely to have been going the wrong way, but it wasn't proved beyond reasonable doubt. There was just no way I could send somebody to jail for maybe the rest of his life based on 'more likely.'"

DeBerardinis had the harshest criticism for the Florida Highway Patrol,which initially blamed the brothers and then Farrall for the crash. He said the jury wasn't satisfied by the investigative and accident reconstruction methods.

"It reinforces the old knock against them -- unless it involves a radar gun, don't expect FHP to solve it," DeBerardinis said. "There's just no excuse for some of the sloppy work they did."

He said the stalemate in the jury room came to an end just after lunch On Monday, when the holdout juror, Manny Lugo, decided "there might be some doubt here."

"There was an eerie silence," DeBerardinis said. "Then we realized it was over."

He felt especially bad about the confusing manner in which the verdict was read. There were six counts against Farrall, and when the clerk started ticking off "guilty" to each many in the courtroom -- including Thompson -- didn't hear the part that said "to a lesser charge."

Believing her sons were exonerated, she began to cry and mouthed, "Thank you, Jesus."

"At first it sounded good," Thompson said later.

DeBerardinis said he was "shocked" the jury didn't include any blacks, but said the jury did not talk about the racially sensitive nature of the case until the verdict was reached.

"Somebody mentioned the Rodney King case," he said. "It's an easy thing to say and throw out there, that it was an all-white jury, but it didn't have anything to do with the outcome." As untidy and ambiguous as it feels, the outcome was the only oneDeBerardinis could support. "

There's a little anger, because he might have done this and killed two people," DeBerardinis said. "But we'll never know for sure."


In a story running today about John Lennon's "art" -- not music in this case, but drawings -- being shown this weekend in Delray Beach, Sun-Sentinel writer Ivette M. Yee describes the Walrus's work as "quick sketches" and explained: "With music being his meal ticket, Lennon indulged in art during his free time, but didn't fool around with it."

Ah yes, the quick strokes, the simplicity ... wait a minute. This is doodling, people. Doodling. Can somebody stop Yoko, no stranger to dubious art, from marketing the great man like he was some kind of Rembrandt?


The story of the day is Scott Wyman's piece on the controversy around knocking down Sistrunk Boulevard to one lane. This is a huge issue and John Rodstrom is totally right on this one. Sistrunk can be improved without jamming up downtown like a stuck cork.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Don't Give up on Beauty and The Geek

For the second day in a row, the Sentinel has a ridiculously overplayed front-page story. This time it's Tom Jicha's article about a merger between UBN and WB. It basically dominates the front page. Toward the top of Jicha's little masterpiece, we South Floridians get this this chunk of can't-miss news:

"UPN series such as Veronica Mars, America's Next Top Model, Girlfriends and the new comedy Everybody Hates Chris are strong candidates to make the cut. WWE Smackdown, UPN's two-hour wrestling show on Friday, is also expected to be part of the combined lineup.Probable WB holdovers include Gilmore Girls, Smallville, the new sci-fi series Supernatural and the comedy Reba. Borderline candidates include Everwood, One Tree Hill, the reality series Beauty and the Geek and the first-year series Related."

Rest easy, people, the Gilmore Girls will be saved.

How can that not be our Story of the Day?

Housing Frenzy
Speaking of ridiculously overplayed stories, when the Sentinel ran that huge headline on the front page yesterday, “More of us can’t afford home prices,” it sounded like deja vu.

Looking back at housing headlines in both the Sentinel and the Herald during the past year, it became terribly evident why. Some highlights from the research:

For the first few months of the year, all the stories were about prices “soaring,” “surging,” and “leaping.” Then all the sudden, on April 20, the Herald reports: “South Florida housing starts plunge.”

But that was only crap. Six days later, the Sentinel reported, “Home prices take another leap.” Five days after that, the same newspaper confirmed, “Housing stays hot.”

So that's good? Or is it bad? Later that month, on May 26, the Sentinel began hand-wringing: “The median price for resales is putting housing out of reach.”

That seems bad.

The next day, the Herald weighed in: “Housing prices raise concerns.”

Not to worry, though, on June 2, the Sentinel assured those with raised concerns that “Market May Be Peaking.”

Thank goodness, at least for those whose concerns had been raised. Oops. Sorry. That was crap, too. Four days later, the same Sentinel reported: “Dream out of reach, low-income people are left out as prices soar.”

But would the bubble burst? On June 22, the Herald seemed to think so. “Miami’s housing ‘bubble’ biggest in nation.”

Scratch that as crap. Six days later, the same Herald reported: “Bubble discounted by officials.”
The day after that, on June 29, both newspaper went back to crisis-mode. "Floridians’ incomes not keeping up with prices of homes,” said the Sentinel.

“Gap is between home prices, incomes,” the Herald told us.

I'd been wondering where that gap was.

Through August, there were numerous headlines about home prices “rising,” “sizzling,” and “soaring anew” from both newspapers. Headline writers really love the word sizzle, by the way. It’s an onomatopoeia, you know. Finally, on September 27, the Herald gave us the good – or bad? – news: “Home prices show sign of leveling.”

So ease your head. Nothing was going to burst. It would just level.

But that was, of course, crap. Five days later, the Sentinel told us: “$1 million doesn’t go far; with home prices soaring ….”

Hold on. Two days later the Sentinel came around, informing its readers, “Single-family home prices drop.”

So now it’s established. Both the Sentinel and the Herald have told us it's cooled off. Then came October 18. “Cheap homes vanish; a crisis looms,” the Herald blared.

Oh God, this isn't a boom, it's a crisis. But wait. On another page of the same newspaper on the same day, there is this headline: “Housing frenzy continues to boom.”

You see, one man's boom is another man's crisis, meaning it all depends on who's writing the headline.

Three weeks later, on November 13, the lagging Sentinel came around … again. "Affordable housing need is now urgent … crisis looming."

At least it was only looming. The next day, however, the Herald made it official: "Governments set to discuss laws to address housing crisis."

The crisis was here. On November 20, the Herald came out with: “Ouch! Cost squeeze tightens; rapidly rising prices are pinching South Florida consumers.” The next day, there was a story in the Sentinel about how “blended families” – I don’t know what they are, either – are finding the dream of owning a house “not easy to achieve.”

Which leads seamlessly to yesterday's giant headline on the Sentinel's front page -- “More of us can’t afford home prices.”

See, it all makes sense after all.

Posted just today on the Herald's website, no crap: "Home prices fall in Miami-Dade and Broward."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Does this amuse you?

Let's see, Joe Pesci comes to South Florida for a getaway. Joe Pesci orders a wheatgrass drink at Jamba Juice in Boca Raton on Sunday. A Broward Community College student spots Pesci, runs to a nearby Circuit City, buys a camera, returns to Jamba, and takes a shot of Pesci. Pesci then takes a shot at the student, punching him in the face. The college student then turns the camera on himself to document the evidence (a fat lip) and goes to the police.

Was it really Pesci? We're not sure, but it sure seems likely, according to the Sun-Sentinel article by Leon Fooksman (that's a great name). People heard things. And saw things. Pesci made himself known to the good people at Jamba before the incident. And the Palm Beach Post's Stephanie Slater reported that Pesci was also recently spotted dining at Gotham City in Delray Beach.

Fooksman's piece is, without a doubt, the Story of the Day, especially after he got from the student that he's still a huge fan of Pesci, even though the great actor (underrated comedy-wise, I think -- you seen Easy Money lately?) went all Raging Bull on his ass. "I may have gotten him on a bad day," the student said.

It's sort of disapppointing, though. Whatever happened to stabbing a guy to death with a ballpoint pen? Or putting a poor sap's head in a vice until his eyes pop out? Hell, Pesci once beat a man to death for telling to go get his shine box. He's slipping. He's definitely slipping.

Open the Door for Dorismar

This is Dorismar. She's a former Playboy Playmate and, according to this morning's Miami Herald, a "sexpot ... blessed with copious curves and a seemingly boundless capacity to promote them." The problem: She was deported back to Argentina for overstaying her visa. The solution: She's vying to get back in as an "alien of extraordinary ability." One can only imagine. Here's the point though: Reporter Casey Woods' story about Dorismar is the kind of article you get occasionally in the Herald and the Post but almost never in the Sentinel. A story that, in the broad scheme of things has little importance, is a bit obscene, might tick off a religious conservative or two, but is damn fun to read. Woods virtually wallows in Dorismar and he's got himself a real good read to show for it.

On a Sad Note

It's not all fun and games. I direct you now to to this story by Carlos Frias in the Palm Beach Post that ran Sunday. It's about former star MLB pitcher Jeff Reardon, who went off the deep end and robbed a jewelry store in Palm Beach Gardens last month. That's normally something I'd have some fun with -- it's total Pulp after all -- but it's too weird. It's a bad day when you can't make fun of a rich jock gone off the deep end, but damn, damn, damn, it's sad, man. Sad and weird.

And the no-shit headline of the week (from the top of the front page of today's Sun-Sentinel): "More of us can't afford home prices."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

What Goes Around ...

Wonder why so little of the back story of the homeless beatings has appeared in the Sun-Sentinel or Miami Herald? Wonder why we know so little on the teens who turned in the three suspects? Or why we know next to nothing about what really happened the night three homeless men were beaten, one of them to death?
Well, a clue comes from the website, southfloridaracing.com, where friends of the suspects were on-line on January 12 and named Tom Daugherty and "Brian" as the culprits. This a day before Daugherty and Brian Hooks were arrested by police.
Two days after the posts appeared, Sun-Sentinel reporter Brian Haas sent one of the knowledgeable youths on southfloridaracing.com -- a 19-year-old boy from Plantation who uses the name "WannabeSS" -- an e-mail soliticing information. To wit:
"Hello. My name is Brian Haas and I am a writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper. I'm interested in speaking to you about the beating of the three homeless men. I'm particularly interested in talking to you about Mr. Daugherty and any other people you're hearing were involved in this. Please call me as soon as you can to discuss this if you're interested. It's Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and I'll be here until about 8 p.m. Thank you. Brian Haas South Florida Sun-Sentinel."
Well, WannabeSS didn't cotton to that at all. He posted the Haas letter on the website at precisely 8 p.m. that day, commenting, "What a fucking loser ..."
The next post came from "BewstAdd1ct," who added this satirical quote to Haas's request: "I'm interested in fucking you over in print."
WannabeSS returned, "Yea, his name is sunsentinalreporter or something ... i think you should ban him."
Later, a poster going by "Classic Chrome" wrote, "Never trust the media. Never ever ever. It is not their job to help ANYONE but themselves. They wouldn't even display Amber Alerts if it didn't boost their ratings."
When WannabeSS learned Haas had quoted the web site in the Sentinel, he wrote, "he should have quoted me saying 'fuck off' ... "
A lot of the underlying rancor comes from years of newspaper coverage of the young drag racers, who believe they've been unfairly portrayed as a menace to society, or lumped in with a few members of their ranks who are. The racers have long believed reporters are nothing more than parrots for cops.
"You know, I wish these bullshit piece of shit reporters would actually do something to HELP us instead of exploit us. Fuck you, Mr. Reporter," wrote "Jason."
Some of the kids were less cordial, making lewd comments about what they'd like to do to Mr. Haas, but I won't dignify them here. But even kin of the press turned on the media. A boy who said he was the nephew of Rick Robb, an editor at the Palm Beach Post, wrote: "Actually my Uncle (Rick Robb) used to work for the sun-sentinal, now he works for the palm beach post. And a warning to any who might give up interviews, I know [Sun-Sentinel metro columnist] Mike Mayo in particular will set you up for stuff in his story. He did it to me for an opening to his story a couple years ago."
On Saturday, the Sentinel published a story about southfloridaracing.com that left out their own prominent role in the posts and ignored some of the more interesting clues to the crime contained within the site. Instead it focused on the predictable "more and more police are using the Internet to solve crimes" angle. Later that day, Classic Chrome wrote, "The media is a speakerphone for law enforcement, but of course this is not news."
Now all of this comes from a subset of teens who are especially bitter (and familiar) with mainstream media coverage, but you think maybe the sentiments are representative of the way a lot of young America looks at the press? Right or wrong, the perception is helping to keep the real story from being told, leading to headlines like "Attacks on homeless: baffling," which appeared in the Herald yesterday. We'll call that our story of the day.
Stay tuned.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Tom Gallagher Loves Boobies

I'm starting to love the Republican gubernatorial race. Yesterday, Tom Gallagher was spouting about how much he loved Jesus, clearly trying to enamor himself with Florida's Christian Right. In this morning's Herald story on Gallagher's campaigning, reporter Mary Ellen Klas writes, "Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer, focused on the value of family and the importance of staying the course on education policy, and repeatedly mentioned assets he has that Crist doesn't: a wife, a son and a brief military career."
That's Gallagher's code for, "I LIKE WOMEN!!!" You see, there have been rumblings for years that Crist is, well, you know. Last year at the beginning of the campaign, a radio talk show host in Tampa asked him, point-blank, "Are you a homo?" He answered: ``No, man. No. I love women. I mean, they're wonderful." I know what you're thinking -- that's a pretty gay-sounding response. A lot of political insiders don't buy it and Gallagher's camp is playing up Crist's confirmed bachelor status on the campaign trial. Klas writes that Clearwater Christian Club president Matt Scobell "summed up Gallagher's political strategy" with this line: "Tom is a family man, the oldest of eight children and not a lawyer."
Gallagher said, ''Of all these jobs, the one I care most about is Dad. When you have a child, your life changes. You just don't know it unless you have your own.''
Translation: "I'm a normal, complete man while Crist's gayness makes him a stunted freak."
And Gallagher also called Crist "a nice guy ... probably one of the nicest guys around."
Translation: "He's so nice he might even do you a favor in one of the bathrooms at the park."
This is going to get more interesting as time goes on.

The story of the day was a no-brainer. It's the Sentinel story on one of the homeless beating victims. Turns out Raymond Perez, who was the third man battered last week during a night of the old ultra-violence by a few wayward teens, had disappeared from his family 14 years ago. The family tracked him down when they saw a story about the beatings up in Long Island in Newsday. It's a damn interesting story, and reporter Bill Hirschman does a good job of telling it, but it seems to have come through a stroke of good fortune. The family happened to contact the Sentinel instead of the Herald, which has been spanking the Sentinel on coverage of the beatings. Just goes to show that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Pulp Gets a Plug

For those of you who have come in after hearing of the site on the great Tabloid Baby, tune in tomorrow for a full dose of The Daily Pulp. There will be a lot less of this autobiographical navel-gazing and a lot more news and criticism from South Florida.
While I'm at it, I'd like to note the breadth of Burt Kearns' post about this site and Florida Pulp Nonfiction, which is coming out in March. In a quick take on the Sunshine State, he got in Deep Throat, Baghad Boy and Lobster Boy. He mentioned the Eden Roc Hotel, the Sheraton Clipper, and the Mai Kai. He touched on Elmore Leonard, Edna Buchanan, and, most wonderfully, the great Charles Willeford. Throw in Roxie Pulitzer, William Kennedy Smith, Jose Lambiet, and the Count de la Moussaye, and you've got the fabric of South Florida covered. Wonderful stuff from one truly brilliant fellow.

Robert Mitchum is a God

I'm kind of delaying the daily media commentary that I plan to begin. Too busy with other stuff. Short observation: Herald is kicking the Sentinel's ass on the homeless beating story. Quote of the day, from a high school kid who knows the assailants, including Tom Daugherty, the bushy haired kid who did most of the beating: "Tom was fairly new to beating up bums."

So I watched "Out of the Past" last night, a great film noir from 1947 starring a 30-year-old Robert Mitchum. After seeing this and The Night of the Hunter recently, he's becoming one of my favorite actors of all time. He's got this strong male presence, but underneath it is this raw emotion and pure child-like reaction to things on the screen. Out of the Past also had Jane Greer, who played the most deliciously amoral femme fatale ever, and more cigarettes per frame than any movie I've ever seen. I went back and determined that Mitchum smoked 17 cigarettes in the picture, and I didn't count any of them twice. Caught one cut-to when the cigarette grew a bit in his hand, though. He must have lit up a couple hundred smokes doing that movie.

And yes, people, this is what I do at midnight, meticulously research Robert Mitchum's smoking habits in a 60-year-old flick.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

My Fox Debacle

Okay, I was on Fox News Live this afternoon with Bill Hemmer, that pretty little vapid fellow who used to be so cozy with Soledad O'Brien on CNN.

It had to do with a column I'd written about "Baghdad Boy" Farris Hassan, the 16-year-old who went to Iraq over the holidays. I opined that his father, Dr. Redha Hassan, should be charged with child endangerment for orchestrating his 16-year-old son's trip to Iraq and looked into his checkered background that included an arrest in 1985 for conspiracy to produce thousands of false Iraqi passports and military identification cards. One of his co-defendants was a pro-Khomeini activist named Schubbers. I talked to the informant in the case, who was Dr. Hassan's next-door-neighbor at the time, and he told me the FBI's investigation into Hassan went international and wound up spoiling a plot to kill Rajiv Ghandi, then prime minister of India. I mentioned offhand about rumors in the neighborhood that the father had a terrorist background and was sending little Farris to join al Qaeda. But I wrote that off as unrealistic and said he was actually more like an Ahmad Chalabi Jr.-type. I pointed out how Farris' writings sounded like they were written in Dick Cheney's office, etc etc. And I ended it saying that Farris would fit right in at the CIA.

Yesterday I told the producer, a guy named Jason Robinson, that I didn't think Farris was a wannabe terrorist, especially since his family had gotten so filthy rich in America.

So this morning, I'm sitting in this little studio in west Broward waiting for Hemmer to ask me some questions when I see the promo: "Sinister Trip?" on the television sitting beside the camera. And I'm thinking that I'm going to start this thing off with a disclaimer -- "No, Bill, I'm not saying this was sinister, just that there are a lot of unanswered questions about it."

Hemmer starts the questioning and I get going. I'm slow out of the gate, but every time I start to get to something interesting the beauty-marked host in the New York studio interrupts me. I can't get into rhythm, but I stay patient, answering his disconnected questions. At the end he says he's confused. I try to tell him that this is complicated, just like everything in the Middle East that the media is always glossing over. It's over and I go home.

It wasn't really a debacle. And it wasn't any good either. It was just average bad Fox television.
And to think I may have missed a chance to get on Keith Olbermann for that mess (Countdown was interested and called me a couple of times, but didn't put me on). Olbermann, I suspect, would get some of the subtler stuff and possibly have a good time with this thing.

But the truth is that I can't put it all on Hemmer or even Fox. TV is not my medium. I'm a writer, not a talker. But that doesn't change the fact that Fox sucks. Here's my vow to all you Pulpers out there (all three of you): I will never, ever go on Fox again. Unless, of course, it's bald publicity for a book, etc etc.

Who am I kidding?