Banned from Blockbuster

Did politics get AP booted from the video chain?

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A Night With Dame Edna Palace Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue Through February 29, 216-241-6000
It's easy to understand why someone wouldn't appreciate a picture of four naked, aging punkers. But when Blockbuster yanked the latest issue of Cleveland-based music magazine Alternative Press, it likely wasn't for aesthetic reasons.

AP's April cover parodies a May 2003 cover of Entertainment Weekly, which depicted the then-embattled Dixie Chicks nude, with words like "traitors," "proud Americans," "boycott," and "Dixie Sluts" scrawled across their gleaming torsos. AP's cover features punk band NOFX nude and similarly tattooed with phrases like "NOFX Sluts," "free beer," "oi cott," and "Fight Bush not war." It's the last phrase -- and NOFX's Fat Mike's vocal distaste for the Bush administration -- that got AP booted from Blockbuster, believes publisher Mike Shea. After all, video stores aren't exactly skittish about skin.

Blockbuster PR guy Randy Hargrove says it's all just a mix-up. "What happened is, that magazine was accidentally shipped to some of our stores. We've never carried it. That's why it was taken out, because it's not a magazine that we carry. So [the nudity and message] is not why we pulled it."

Bullshit, says Shea, who notes that Blockbuster routinely carries his mag, and faxed Scene the sales reports to prove it. His records show the mag normally circulates to 136 stores, but was yanked after reaching only 76. "It's a tough call," he says. "They can sit there and decide what they'll carry and not carry, but yet they'll carry Guns & Ammo and wrestling magazines."

The Wong choice

Attorney Margaret Wong knows a thing or two about diversity. It's how she learned it that makes Punch wonder what the Ohio State Bar Association was smoking when it chose Wong to speak at its upcoming convention.

She'll be featured at a session called "Developing Negotiation Skills in a Diverse Environment." But as Scene reported in "The Mouth That Pours" [December 17, 2003], the successful immigration attorney has been sued three times by former employees for discrimination.

In former paralegal Kathleen Ehrbar's race- and age-discrimination suit, witnesses offered these assessments of their boss. "On numerous occasions, she had indicated that Caucasians are not smart and they are slow; Asians are fast, Asians are smart." And: "Margaret Wong said to me, 'Will you see these clients for me? I don't want to see them; they're Jewish.'"

Wong's comments apparently did not stop at ethnicity. She also compared a blind paralegal unfavorably to a dog.

Wong has denied making the statements. Two of the suits have been settled for a total of $95,000, according to court records.

The OSBA did not respond to interview requests. Too bad. Punch was hoping they could hook us up with whatever it is they're smoking. Remember, kids: Lawyers always have the best dope.

Missing Animal

Joe Eszterhas, the screenwriter who brought us Basic Instinct and Showgirls, was once a reporter for The Plain Dealer. So now that the Bainbridge resident has written a tell-all book, Hollywood Animal, it's only natural that The PD feature him in gushing profiles.

But the book and the newspaper conveniently skip over some interesting local history. As Michael Doyle points out in Slate, a piece that Eszterhas wrote as a freelancer for The Plain Dealer was so egregiously untrue that it changed the law regarding the media and invasion of privacy.

After an Ohio River bridge collapsed in 1967, killing 44 people, Eszterhas set out to humanize the tragedy. He movingly described the family of Melvin Cantrell. Eszterhas wrote that Cantrell's wife Margaret "wears the same mask of non-expression she wore at the funeral," that she remembered her husband "singing along with a Flatt and Scruggs song," and that a furnace with no coal filled the living room.

Only problem: None of it was true. Eszterhas talked to the Cantrell children, but Margaret wasn't home at the time. She never heard her husband sing in her life. And the furnace with no coal was actually a stove. Eszterhas even got Cantrell's manner of death wrong; he claimed the man had plunged into the river when his car actually fell on dry land.

The family sued, and the case ultimately wound up with the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the story contained "significant misrepresentations" and concluded that Eszterhas "must have known that a number of the statements in the feature story were untrue." The decision is now routinely cited in cases involving the media and invasion of privacy.

But instead of dredging up this sordid story, Plain Dealer reporter Michael Heaton contented himself with hard-hitting questions like: "The quick take on you is that women hate you for leaving your wife, men admire you because you had sex with Sharon Stone" and "Nothing in your life is ever writ small. Why is everything with you so epic?" Just the way Eszterhas would have done it.

Ambassador of cool

Jerry Springer had harsh words for a Kent State crowd last week: "You guys make fun of Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi," he said, "but more 18-to-34-year-olds leave the state of Ohio than they do any other state in the union."

Springer, who's on a tour of college campuses, attributes the exodus to Ohio's dwindling cool. "Look at Cleveland," he noted. "A few years ago it was actually cool to live in Cleveland. But now look at it . . . You go down Euclid Avenue, and it's like, 'My God, when were we at war?'"

Have no fear: Springer has a plan. Sporting a new Trump-like 'do, he revealed that he was thinking of running for governor. The audience responded with resounding silence.

"Now I know you guys think of me as just a talk-show host," Springer said, "but anyone who knows me knows that my real passion is for politics."

The only problem is that the next governor's race isn't until 2006. So what will he do in the meantime to upgrade Ohio's cool factor? "I'm going to make sure that no one from this state ever appears on my stupid talk show again."

He ain't Hoffa

Three weeks ago, Punch brought you the tale of Allan Spates, former president of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Local 5-1250, who allegedly stole $30,000 from his union before fleeing town in January with his wife and five children.

If his modest theft is evidence that union leaders can't steal the way they used to, his pathetic flight speaks further of their diminishing disappearance skills. Spates managed to make it only as far as Flomaton, a town of 1,588 souls that straddles the Alabama-Florida border. He was renting a house in someone else's name when Deputy U.S. Marshal David Siler tracked him down, just a few weeks after he started his life on the lam.

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