Off Limits

Missing in action: During Off Limits' annual Best of Denver hiatus, the usual suspects were up to their worst. The biggest news that wasn't fit to print: this photo of Denver Post columnist Chuck Green, scheduled to run alongside tales of his macho motorcycle alternative to Ride the Rockies. But after Green wiped out only 45 minutes into his adventure, the photo--already running on the Post's Web site--was scrapped, along with his hog and the rest of the series.

Also doing serious back-pedaling was Post business columnist Don Knox. On June 6, Knox congratulated himself for writing "what almost no one else will...defending the hard-to-defend--namely, Charlie Lyons." Knox wrote that the (now former) CEO of Ascent Entertainment Group--which owns the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche and the Pepsi Center, complete with its Post-sponsored "Press Box"--didn't deserve the criticism he'd received for cutting himself a sweet deal in selling the company to Bill and Nancy Laurie: "The question is whether he cut a sweet deal for Ascent shareholders. The answer, unequivocally, is yes...It's generous, and you absolutely can defend it."

Until Tuesday, that is, when the once-fawning Knox joined the rest of the media now piling on Lyons, forced to resign after Ascent shareholders sued to stop the deal. His June 29 column was a mock letter from Lyons to US West honcho Sol Trujillo, who'd arranged his own sweet deal in the proposed sale of the Baby Bell to Global Crossing. "Either you do right for you or you do right for your shareholders," Knox/Lyons advised.

In the Rocky Mountain News last Sunday, historian Frances Melrose went to great lengths to clarify the spelling of famous cannibal Alfred Packer's first name. It's Alfred-rhymes-with-fed, which is what Packer was after he gobbled some snowbound companions. But only two days later, the News devoted its "Millennium Moment" to Packer--in which his first name was spelled "Alferd." Adding insult to injury was a copy editor's note inadvertently left in the story, confirming that "Alferd" was correct.

In his June 26 News story about problems with Ocean Journey's overloaded phone system, Gary Gerhardt reported that US West officials had advised the aquarium to upgrade its system--but the article didn't mention that the phone company had donated the system and fifteen years' worth of service in exchange for naming rights to what is officially US West Presents: Colorado's Ocean Journey. But then, the story also didn't disclose that the News is another major Ocean Journey backer.

Don't pee in the water: Even before it opened, Ocean Journey was so flooded with people wanting to donate their time that prospective volunteers must now get on a waiting list, where they'll languish at least another six months. With more than 700 volunteers already signed up (all of whom agreed to twenty hours of training and a background check, as well as a year-long commitment to work at least four hours a week), Ocean Journey has run out of its standard-issue green volunteer shirts.

But even as the aquarium's public-relations machine is assuring visitors that Ocean Journey treats its residents humanely, some volunteers are claiming that they're being treated worse than animals. "They don't allow us to go the bathroom or get a drink of water unless a supervisor approves," says one volunteer, who asked that her name not be used. "They make us stand for our entire four-hour shift without even one ten-minute break."

Those green shirts aren't the only way to identify volunteers, says this disgruntled worker. At the end of every shift, they can also be recognized by their hunched backs, stiff necks, sore feet and full bladders. "I got chewed out just the other day for going to the bathroom," she says. "We really love the fish and really love our jobs, but we're not being treated like people. We've been complaining for two weeks, and they won't do anything about it."

"That's incorrect," responds George Lindstrom, Ocean Journey's human resources manager. "Anyone can take a bathroom break whenever they need one. If something like that comes up or something comes up that is of an urgency nature, there is a hand signal the volunteers can use to alert a supervisor."

But the signals--designed to look like a shark or an otter, depending on the position of the fingers and thumb--are hard to deliver when "you only see your supervisor once during a four-hour shift," the volunteer says. If nothing changes by the week of July 19, she adds, dozens of volunteers will stage a sick-out.

Lindstrom says he spent part of Tuesday unsuccessfully trying to track down the problem. "I won't tell you we don't screw up," he says, "but she should say something to her supervisor first. We've only been open two weeks. If we made a mistake, we will fix it."

Media critics of the month: Hundreds of area Kiwanis Club members are still steaming over the lack of media coverage during their 84th international convention, held June 18 to 22 in Denver, when other, smaller confabs--say, the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in May, or Henry Lyons's Baptist gathering in September 1997--made plenty of headlines.

"We have just had 11,000 Kiwanians from all over the world in our town. We filled the Colorado Convention Center and also used Currigan Hall. Our members filled the restaurants," says Reda Walsh, president of the Kiwanis Club of Englewood, reading from an e-mail she sent "in frustration" to Post editorial-page editor Sue O'Brien, which was published in the paper's letters section on June 25. "Here's one that really ticks me: The president of Morton Salt Company was here and presented a check for $1,025,000 to Kiwanis in our joint efforts to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders around the world"--but there was no mention of that in the local news. (Although the Post interviewed spokesman Roger Moore, the piece focused on the former James Bond's opinions of Austin Powers, not his work publicizing the iodine-disorder campaign--much less the Kiwanis convention.)

"It just blew us all away," Walsh says. "Had we known we wouldn't have had any publicity whatsoever, we would have marched into TV channels and newspapers, and we would have phoned them and been on their backs. We kept thinking each day, surely there will be something. Finally, my letter to the Denver Post editorial page was the only thing. I think there were two short paragraphs in the Rocky Mountain News about memorial plaques that were given to Dave Sanders's widow and the husband of the teacher who died in Jonesboro, Arkansas, but they didn't even mention that the convention was in Denver. It was unbelievable."

The Kiwanians might have done well to storm Channel 9 on Wednesday, June 23. The news director obviously was desperate for stories that day, since the station aired Heidi Hemmat's insipid piece on Westword's June 17 "Nuts" cartoon. The story centered on a protest held that afternoon by precisely two people--Ron Aigner and Steve Schweitzberger--at the Columbine Library, where Aigner began shouting that Westword must go ("devil shit," he later called the paper) after he spotted a lone News reporter there on a different assignment. Although Hemmat wasn't in attendance, that didn't stop her from filing a report.

"What happened at Columbine was so horrible, so shocking," Hemmat told her 10 p.m. audience, "that more than two months later, it still makes headlines." But that's only because certain media outlets keep dredging up any excuse to run something, anything, Columbine-related. Hemmat's report, for example, paired dramatic April 20 footage of SWAT teams and Columbine students fleeing the school with an interview with Schweitzberger, comments from Schweitzberger's eleven-year-old daughter, and the opinion of a passerby after the cartoon was thrust in her face.

Hemmat reported that Mike Wartella's cartoon featured a teenage boy waving a sawed-off shotgun and proclaiming "Sell your soul to evil"; Schweitzberger (whose Columbine cross campaign made Kenny Be's Worst-Case Scenario in the same issue) pointed out that "Nuts" contained a picture of a propane-tank bomb like the one that didn't go off in the school cafeteria.

True enough, but any non-hysterical reading of the cartoon also revealed that the boy who supposedly represented Evil was wearing a shirt with a Gap Gothics logo (and any fourth-grader worth her Gummi Bears knows that the Gap doesn't make goth clothing). This was a cartoon, for pity's sake, that showed the Snap, Crackle and Pop characters saying "Kill" "Your" "Mommy!"

Snap, Crackle and Pop characters don't really advise kids to kill their mothers. In fact, Kellogg's Rice Krispies don't actually say "snap, crackle, pop." Instead, the Snap, Crackle and Pop characters were invented to sell cereal to kids--and that was precisely Wartella's point: Kids are victims both of ad campaigns created by adults that attempt to sell them products without any consideration for their well-being and of adults who turn around and blame those same kids for the supposedly "evil" culture they live in.

Granted, Wartella's idea--that violent images and insatiable material desires are "America's Greatest By-Product"--is a sophisticated one. But unlike Channel 9, which assumed viewers were stupid enough to fall for its ridiculous excuse to use that dramatic footage one more time, Westword gives its readers credit for being smart enough to grasp sophisticated ideas.

After watching Channel 9's report, Wartella drew his response. Viewer discretion advised: The cartoon on this page requires a thinking cap.

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