In his Saturday, June 22, column, Rocky Mountain News editor/publisher/ president John Temple pronounced, "The front page is our newspaper's face" -- an unfortunately timed metaphor, given that just two days later, a News cover photo of a fire victim appeared to put a testicle right in readers' faces.
The shot, taken on June 23 by News staffer Barry Gutierrez, featured Durango-area resident Fred Finlay, who was shown sitting near structures scorched in a subdivision called Tween Lakes -- not 'Tween Legs, sorry to say. Finlay was wearing only hiking boots, socks and cutoff shorts in the photo, and he was holding a pussycat identified in the cutline as "Twitchy." (This item practically writes itself, doesn't it?) Beneath Twitchy, meanwhile, was what appeared to be a healthy gonad hiding in plain sight, apparently putting the lie to the banner description of the image: "In The Ashes, Down But Not Out."
Jocks at two Denver radio stations, Alice and the Fox, certainly believed one of Finlay's private parts was out, turning the snafu into a particularly nutty morning-show gag on Monday. Contacted that day, however, Janet Reeves, director of photography at the News, proclaimed these routines literally much ado about nothing. "It's a shadow from his finger and the cuff of his shorts," she explained. "It's not a part of him hanging out."
According to Reeves, this particular shot, like all front-page photographs, was blown up beyond its published dimensions and examined closely on jumbo monitors before being approved for prime-time placement -- and when members of her staff eyeballed it under these conditions, they could clearly see the play of the light across the inside of Finlay's thigh. What they hadn't counted on, she said, was how those nuances would become less obvious once the photo's size was reduced.
"We received a lot of calls about it," Reeves noted. "So we talked to the photographer, who was kind of stunned. He said, 'I sure don't remember that' -- and when we blew it up, we could tell there hadn't been anything to see. Since then, we've been telling as many callers as we can that it's just a shadow. A lot of people don't believe us, but it's true.
"If we had it to do over again, we would have lightened that area or darkened it," she added. "It's too bad what happened, because otherwise it was a very strong photograph of someone who'd just lost his home. When I first heard about it, my first concern was about this guy. I hope he doesn't have to take a lot of ridicule over it."
On the contrary, he no doubt inspired some jealousy among News readers, because despite his personal tragedy, Finlay -- or at least part of Finlay -- was hanging in there pretty well.
On Tuesday, the News ran a carefully worded page-two note about the photograph, which "left the false impression with some readers that it showed something that clearly didn't belong in a family newspaper, a man's testicle," wrote Temple. "The misleading effect was created by a shadow. The portrait of Fred Finlay at his burned home did not reveal anything private about Mr. Finlay. The News regrets the impression it left with some readers and any embarrassment it may have caused Mr. Finlay."
Mr. Finlay's only embarrassment, however, seems to be that his balls were only partially contained -- like the Missionary Ridge fire that burned his home. Shortly after the New's testicle-denial hit the streets, intrepid Fox producer Kathy Lee exposed the coverup on Lewis & Floorwax's Tuesday-morning show. Lee had driven to Durango and, in an impressive piece of investigative work, found Finlay, who confirmed that it was indeed his right testicle displayed on the News's eye-opening cover. As proof, Finlay posed for a second picture -- this time displaying his left testicle, an act the hysterical Lee recounted over the air -- and took calls from listeners volunteering to help him rebuild.
It takes balls -- and as the Rocky Mountain News proved (and subsequently denied), Finlay has 'em.
Fanny-ing the flames: In this parched state, a derogatory comment made about an unsightly toilet was deemed an arson threat by Lakewood officials.
Steve Holben insists he doesn't really plan to chain himself to the new, $30,000 latrines perched atop Mount Carbon, nor will he burn them down. Yet Holben -- a 57-year-old homebuilder and cyclist who says he "never protested anything in my life" -- his wife and a handful of nature lovers, including noted photographer John Fielder, are still hoping to move the two-holer, which they claim destroys a 360-degree view. "This is outrageous," says Holben.
The Holbens and their supporters believe that the rest station, perched on the west side of Lakewood's new Homestead at Fox Hollow Golf Course (which is slated to open Saturday), could be transported about 75 feet to an unobtrusive ridge, a move that would cost about $5,000 but result in endless scenic returns. Golfers could still use the facilities, while nature lovers would continue to revel in an unmarred vista.
And Holben appears willing to fight for that view, according to Lakewood councilman Mike Stevens, who got his first call about the unsightly toilet from Holben last month. Stevens, who was unaware of any problem at the course, visited the potty site along with Kathy Hodgson, Lakewood's director of community resources. "There are views from there," she acknowledges. "But you have to balance that with the practicality of the amenities. There weren't a lot of other options." The toilets' location was chosen so that those recreating "won't use something that's not as appropriate, such as a tree," she adds.
But when he called Holben to tell him that he respectfully disagreed on the outhouse issue, Stevens recalls, Holben suggested guerrilla action. If the latrines weren't moved, he said, someone might burn them down. And in this season of rampant wildfires, even the hint of arson is not taken lightly. "I kind of went off on him for putting his personal agenda ahead of other concerns," Stevens says. And he didn't stop there: Stevens asked a Lakewood police investigator to talk with Holben and ascertain whether he was a potential eco-terrorist. "How do I know he's not a nut?" Stevens ask. "With the kind of fire danger we have, the rhetoric he was spouting concerned me."
Although no formal investigation came of the encounter, Holben says he felt that he was watched.
And Stevens continues to feel burned by the Holbens' tactics. The couple is "trying to bully us with the media," he says, noting that Maggie Holben, a public-relations professional, has mounted a campaign that includes a Web site (www.savemountcarbon.com) to rally support. And that campaign has met with some success. Both Fielder and the Sierra Club have joined the cause, with Fielder lending this statement: "Colorado views are almost as important as Colorado landscapes. They keep Earth-caring people sane and motivated, and convert Nature-disconnected folks from the dark side. Lakewood leadership: Find a better place for the Mt. Carbon toilets."
For Fielder, the controversy is much more than just a bunch of, well, crap.
"Just as Colorado is its land, air and water, it is also its views," says the man who headed up the smart-growth initiative in 2000. "This sort of thing is becoming a pretty big deal. And it is an issue we should be paying more attention to now, before the next building boom."
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The Holbens have taken their complaint to Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, whose staff sent a letter of "congressional inquiry" on June 18 to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking how an outhouse wound up blighting federal land. According to Campbell spokeswoman Brandy Dalton, the Corps has thirty business days to respond.
In the meantime, visitors can now use the cans atop Mountain Carbon -- while Holben and the rest pray for relief.
Town without pity: KNRC Radio, which debuted June 24 at 1510 AM, bills itself as "Where Denver Talks." Which would have been more impressive if the syndicated host in the evening, Lionel, upon hearing a canned reference to Denver, hadn't blurted out, "How about those fires!"