Professor Eden Speaks

You, too, can learn the joys of manipulating the press.

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Bad Boy Bill Modä, 1871 West 25th Street 9 p.m. Saturday, October 25, $15, 216-781-3805
Originality is not among David Eden's blessings. The Free Times' editor has a habit of taking cheap shots at people in power, often bestowing a bad nickname in the process -- like a discount Chris Berman. County Prosecutor Bill Mason? He's the "Parma political hack." Mayor Campbell is "Queen Jane." Eden's distaste for Alex Machaskee is so intense that the Plain Dealer publisher has earned two names, the ever-imaginative "lame duck" as well as "the snake."

Of course, Eden and his staff rarely do any actual reporting on these guys. Rarer still would be the sight of Eden calling his foes for their views.

So it was none too surprising when Eden took a swipe at PD columnist Regina Brett. His ammo was weak: Brett is married to Bruce Henness. And Henness does public relations for Forest City, the biggest developer in town. Implication: There's something nefarious going on here.

Brett, of course, rarely weighs in on development or politics, preferring heart-rending tales of Clevelanders in crisis. But one of her harshest columns to date excoriated her husband's boss, Forest City's Sam Miller, for defending the Catholic church during its pedophilia crisis. Hubby's lapdog, she ain't.

Eden, however, isn't prone to letting such small matters of logic muzzle his yap. Brett's marriage offered a convenient opportunity to call out another frequent target, PD editor Doug Clifton. "Maybe an appearance of a conflict of interest, Mr. Clifton, if not more? Cleveland is a small town, isn't it?"

He's got one thing right: Cleveland is a small town.

So small, in fact, that people know David Eden also spent a decade in the world of spam e-mail and public relations. And it just so happens that Eden worked for a certain big-time developer named -- dare we say it -- Forest City. In fact, Eden's job was to help the company manipulate the press.

In a 1994 document that he prepared, Eden refers to himself as "the professor," offering cunning advice for the executive under scrutiny. The text has the cerebral firepower of a ransom note -- "If you talk, be sure to talk in short sentences." But as a service to you, dear reader, Punch graciously offers these excerpts, in case you're ever in need of remedial PR advice:

· Whatever you do, don't make small talk with reporters, Eden writes. "Avoid speculation, or what may seem to be just idle chit-chat. You can be burned!" Creating the suspicion that he's being paid by the word, Eden later repeats: "Watch yourself. A reporter may just chit-chat with you for some time, and then use your seemingly casual comment for a quote when you least suspect it." Hmmm, that sounds suspiciously like The Nose.

· "It is also important never to be backed into a 'no comment' situation," notes The Professor. "When you say "No comment" . . . you lose! Instead, say something like, 'We're looking into that situation right now and will get back to you as soon as we can.'" There's irony here: Whenever the poor flacks at City Hall can't answer David Eden's question right now, they get a thorough drubbing in his paper. But The Professor has a different take: "Call this media babble -- or giving a non-answer that will suffice as an answer until you have the answer." Gotcha.

· Finally, "Don't believe because you have a 'nice relationship' with a reporter that he or she is your 'friend,'" Eden writes. "A reporter's job is to act like a friend so you will talk freely and give good quotes and information." In other words, if David Eden starts acting like your pal, run!

The Professor wouldn't discuss his words of wisdom. His only response to Punch's interview request was a terse e-mail saying that "I did not criticize Bruce or Regina." (He also said that he loved our hogging story.) But his central theme is to distrust journalists -- they secretly want to hurt you. Sage advice, and definitely worth considering the next time a Free Times reporter calls.

Where's Al?
Alan Channing, CEO of St. Vincent Hospital since 1998, has left the building. Where and when, we can't say. But when Punch called St. Vincent last week, a secretary announced that "Mr. Channing no longer works here."

Board chairman Thomas V. Chema didn't have time for an interview, but provided a written statement. "Alan Channing resigned due to differences of views he had with the board of directors. He was offered another position with the organization which he has since declined."

Channing, you may remember, is the guy who signed off an a $750,000-a-year contract for Derrick McElroy, a promising young surgeon from Dallas ("Silencing Dr. Kirby," July 2). McElroy moved to Cleveland, only to see his life made a living hell. His lawsuit -- and conversations he surreptiously recorded -- detail how hospital administrators tried to renege on the contract almost as soon as he arrived.

McElroy also backed the claims of lung surgeon Thomas Kirby, who argued that University Hospitals was needlessly killing patients through lack of care and skill. (St. Vincent is affiliated with UH.) Both doctors sued after they were let go. Kirby's suit is still on hold, pending the hospital's internal review. McElroy quietly settled his suit sometime in the last month, according to court files.

In his statement, Chema insisted that "there is absolutely no connection or relationship" between Channing's departure and the McElroy suit.

Programming change
Actors Summit's production of The Glass Menagerie runs through November 9. The play might be good. It might also suck. Unfortunately, we can't tell you which, because the theater has issued an embargo on Scene critics at its shows.

It appears that artistic director Neil Thackaberry isn't fond of our lovable theater critic, Christine Howey, who's known to praise and pillory with equal enthusiasm. "She attacks with a viciousness that's beyond the pale," says Thackaberry. "After some of her reviews, I've actually had people call me up to apologize."

Howey's score sheet from last season included a pick and two pans of Actors Summit shows. The highlights:

· Picnic: "There are so many small delights . . . It's worth packing a hamper for the trip to Hudson."

· The All Night Strut: "It has never been produced with so little talent or charm as this current effort displays."

· Suds (directed by Thackaberry's wife and starring his daughter): "The problem . . . is the relentless omnipresence of the Thackaberry family."

Okay, so Punch holds the belief that any insult not involving your mother's anatomy meets the standards of polite society. But these are sensitive theater guys. They have feelings.

"I have no interest in subjecting our actors to the kind of vitriol that seems to be her stock in trade," Thackaberry says. "We're not going to provide the hammer."

Parole Board wisdom
The Ohio Parole Board is notoriously stingy in dispensing freedom to inmates. So on those rare occasions when it actually does, its lack of practice is evident.

Consider the cases of Trumbull County Correctional inmates Darius Baker and Michael Swiger. Both were sent to prison for manslaughter in 1989. Both were eligible for parole this fall and had hearings on the same day. Baker killed a man. Swiger's brother killed a man, but Swiger helped hide the body ("Brother's Keeper," September 10).

Baker was sent to the hole several times for brawling with other inmates, most recently in July. Swiger was a model convict. Yet the board decided that Swiger would have to wait 14 months till his release. Baker was granted immediate parole.

Mere days before he was to walk out of Trumbull a free man, Baker choked another inmate with a belt, earning himself another trip to the hole and leaving the Parole Board to reconsider the quality of its judgment.

God's midnight wrath
Nothing seems to freak out the faithful like homos. So as Cleveland Heights activists canvass the city in support of a same-sex couples registry, the freaked come out at night.

Someone has been leafleting the town during the wee hours, warning of a grand apocalypse should the November 4 referendum pass. Homosexuality is passed on through "rape" and "seduction," one anonymous flier notes -- "young boys with low self esteem being seduced into this act and then lifestyle." The flier also attributes floods in Ohio and cricket infestations out west to God's wrath over acceptance of gays.

The document is signed only "Mission for Cleveland Heights." But its cheery tone and bold claims reminded Punch of the Cleveland Heights Families First Initiative. The group's website,, also contains no names. Yet on the eighth day God created Google, and thus Punch was able to trace the site to one Tracie Moore.

While speechifying against the registry at an August City Council meeting, Moore described herself as a "scientist." But Punch could find no evidence of a scientist named Tracie Moore. Punch did find Moore's phone number, yet our thirst for learning went unquenched, when she never called back.

Too bad. If she happened to be out on a midnight leafleting campaign, Punch was hoping to invite her in for some brewskies and reruns of Queer Eye.

Better living through leaving
Drew Carey and Halle Berry are living proof that good things happen to Clevelanders who drop out and skip town. Now Ann Donahue provides further evidence.

As the co-writer of CBS's highly rated C.S.I. and C.S.I. Miami series, the former Clevelander was recently rewarded with a contract that could pay as much as $20 million -- the most ever paid to a female TV-drama writer.

It's a sweet purse for Donahue, who grew up here and in Cincinnati, but fled Ohio for L.A. She began as a legal assistant at a TV studio and eventually notched writing credits that included China Beach, 21 Jump Street, and Murder One. C.S.I., which she writes with Carol Mendelsohn, is TV's top-rated show; C.S.I. Miami is No. 7.

Her secrets to success? Ditching Cleveland and keeping mum about her career aspirations. "When you're in Ohio," she told The New York Times last week, "you don't really tell people you want to be a writer." Words to live by -- preferably in a beach house on the coast.

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