OFF LIMITS

Who better to write about the problems of "issues involving children" than the Denver Post? Considering the drastic action city editor Mark Harden recently had to take, the paper's November 26 front-page treatise on "the faltering family" makes sense--Harden has his own juvenile-delinquency woes. Only five days earlier, he wrote his staff: "I can't believe I'm writing a note like this, not being a fifth-grade teacher, but here goes: I'd like the rubber-band wars to stop. And the throwing of pencils, paper wads and fruit." Harden told his corps of professional journalists, "I've had complaints about this from your colleagues. I think it's reasonable to expect that you can sit at your desk and not be bombarded with flying objects."

Insiders say the objects have included a tomato and a soy-sauce packet that smacked into a fire-alarm. Not that the staffers are wasting their time: The tomato-tossing sparked discussion among Post wordsmiths about whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables. Clearly, sentencing the offenders to a time-out wouldn't work--after all, who would write headlines like last Sunday's "Problems defy easy solutions"? So Harden warned, "I am prepared to take further action if this doesn't stop. Like, maybe move some people."

An idle threat? Maybe. But listen up, Post people. Your big boss, owner W. Dean "Dinky" Singleton, doesn't horse around. Late this past summer, the Dink bought the venerable Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (The mogul, who recently shut the Houston Post and moved his bunker to Denver, owns 79 papers coast to coast.) Earlier this month, according to documents obtained by the Boston Globe, the hammer came down: He wants to begin random tests for drugs and mental competency and slash sick time. In addition, Singleton, who has profited handsomely from the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech, wants to fire workers who bad-mouth the company--on or off company property.

The Globe's Alex Beam already had pointed out some doublespeak in the first Eagle published under the Dink dynasty. That September 8 issue of the Eagle reported that 24 employees lost their jobs in the takeover and that others suffered "salary cutbacks that in some cases approached 35 to 40 percent." In an interview alongside that story, however, Singleton was quoted as saying, "There were no `layoffs'" and "There were no `pay cuts.'" He later insisted to the Globe, "We didn't lay off anybody. The Eagle Publishing Company went out of business, and we hired our own staff. If you report it any differently, you're editorializing." How about his own paper's report of layoffs and "salary cutbacks?" "Our policy," said Singleton, "is for the newsroom to have complete free rein of covering the news, even if it's about us."

Uh-huh.

Talking trash: The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released the results of its eyestraining study of television talk shows, noting that TV now averages sixteen "ambush disclosures" per hour. Jerry Springer's revelations--at an average of one every twenty minutes--tended to focus on sexual-orientation surprises. "My show in particular is about outrageous people and outrageous acts," he told the Associated Press. "And unlike a show like 60 Minutes, the people on talk shows want to be surprised."

But the people who produce talk shows do not. Which is why they won't be pleased to learn that a titillating tale on Springer's recent "Get Out of My Life" show, involving a woman who wanted her boyfriend to get lost because she was having an affair with--gasp!--a woman, was concocted by two strippers from Denver's Mile High Saloon who wanted a free trip...and took Springer for a ride in the process.

 
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