FIRST QUARTER January, February, March: “Nipplegate,” Dynamite and Gay Legislation. By Shane Johnson
Dictator, mass murderer and vapid novelist Saddam Hussein was plucked from a spider hole in the waning days of 2003, an obvious sign that evildoing would have no place in the new year. And so it was that City Weekly reared into 2004 with the newfound fervor of an Iraqi insurgent bearing down on Satan’s occupying forces.
It was a blessing in disguise when the feds evicted the paper from its ramshackle home of a dozen years at 60 W. 400 South, making way for the quaint stretch of urban blight that’s remained since we packed up a year ago. Having settled into posh new digs overlooking the hive of activity that is Main Street—a stone’s throw from media big dogs KUTV 2 and The Salt Lake Tribune—nigh was the time for the yappy alt-weekly to charge into the thick of the fray. With freshly stoked resolve we would rekindle the good fight, and vanquish any straggling evildoers.
Thought lost to the ouzo-soaked nights of retirement, former Publisher John Saltas reemerged the fearless leader of that charge in January. “Private Eye,” as Saltas’ new corner of the paper was dubbed, is a throwback to the underground-newsletter-cum-scandal-sheet he began churning out of a Midvale basement 20 years ago.
Alas, the twin towers of nostalgia and Main Street cred were no match for this year’s rash of misbehaving politicians, miscreant pop stars, misguided legislation, misogynistic misnomers and misanthropic political rancor.
The first quarter got the year off to an especially tawdry start. With one Super Bowl slip of the nip, recording hoochie Janet Jackson caused an instant stir within the crotchety-as-ever Moral Majority, not to mention in the crotches of countless adolescent sports fans. Knee-jerk outrage toward the “areola seen ’round the world” incited beefed-up FCC decency patrols, tape-delayed broadcasts of live awards shows, a voice of reason in Howard Stern and the castration of network television, which has tended toward self-censoring programs that have not yet, but could, offend.
Only weeks later, a nomadic Christian would ensure City Weekly’s own “Nipplegate” comeuppance. Rather than simply put the paper down when he came across TV critic Bill Frost’s adept usage of the acronym For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, said Christian ratted the paper out to that bastion of morality, Wal-Mart. Hence, no more “f—ks” in the paper which, rest assured, continues to be racked for convenience at a union-busting discount retailer near you.
University of Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus was another to come under fire in early 2004 for a foul disposition. Chief among the allegations was that the hard-driving coach had so viciously demeaned former player Lance Allred for his hearing impairment that the young man fled the program and had to seek counseling. With his health and reputation failing, the 370-pound Majerus was unable to shoulder the added weight of mounting criticism, so he quit before the season ended.
In March, the LDS Church took a somewhat indecent stab at hastening the return of decency. Its ongoing effort to shutter the Crazy Goat Saloon, Daniel Darger’s downtown den of iniquity, reached the height of desperation when the church co-opted the unwitting, java-peddling Summit Ministries into its crusade. The loosely knit Protestant congregation ran Main Street Coffee six days a week, and held Bible study there on the seventh. That was enough for the church to demand that Darger’s sexually oriented business license be revoked, because it breached the city’s 1,000-foot buffer zone between strip clubs and places of worship. Morally, the brethren had jumped into bed with the lesser of two evils—after all, caffeinated beverages do defy the Word of Wisdom—thinking they could outfox the snake. Legally speaking, the church apparently underestimated Darger, who argued that Main Street Coffee had never been licensed as a house of worship, and so could only be rightly considered a retail establishment for the purposes of his license. Undaunted, Darger threatened that if the church did somehow prevail, “you will likely soon be hearing about the Holy Church of the Crazy Goat.” In the end, the coffeehouse folded, and the church went back to the drawing board.
In a rare bright note for free expression, photographer Don Farmer’s depiction of gay LDS missionaries in a March exhibit at Salt Lake Community College endured despite a torrent of pressure from aggrieved Latter-day Saint students. Well, kind of. It endured in the sense that school officials didn’t cave in to pressure, instead moving the exhibit to a less conspicuous locale to accommodate those who would be offended. But Farmer’s attempt at sparking dialogue about faith and sexuality was rather stifled when someone saw fit to abscond with half of the collection—mind you, only those pieces including “LDS symbols such as the Book of Mormon, garments and name tags identifying men as missionaries for the church,” according to a Deseret Morning News article.
While the movie Napoleon Dynamite was by no means vulgar, its title character makes liberal use of the Utah equivalents “Gosh!” and “Dang!” thanks to writer, director and BYU film school grad Jared Hess. The charm of Napoleon—making it a guilty pleasure at the über-highbrow Sundance Film Festival, and a slow-to-rise box office smash—is that the infantile dialogue has to be spot on for a disaffected dweeb from sleepy Preston, Idaho. “You know, there’s like a butt-load of gangs at this school. This one gang kept wanting me to join because I’m pretty good with a bo staff.”
Exit the slumming contingent of glamorous festivalgoers. Enter from far stage right the dog-ugly face of the Utah Legislature. Some have asked: ‘How much damage can they possibly do in 45 short days?’ Well ...
Granted, no harm no foul on the measure to protect fast-food conglomerates from the slovenly porkers who would eventually sue them for what? Making animals so tasty? And in a belated gesture of common sense and decency, the Legislature repealed its 2003 brain fart allowing doctors to refuse care to patients unwilling to sign away their inalienable right to sue. (There is a difference between suing because you’re a slob, and suing because your doc lopped off the wrong breast.) Unfortunately, HMOs (read IHC) haven’t been as diligent getting the word out as they were last year when “sign this or die” mailers blanketed the state.
For the eighth year in a row, meaningful hate crimes legislation was beaten unrecognizable, tied to a split-rail fence and left for the buzzards. The whispered sticking point for Republicans this year was that any bill including sexual orientation as a protected class would be dead on arrival. But those rascally contrarians didn’t bat an eye when vaunting the whole of the heterosexual population into a class all its own. Furthermore, by putting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would preserve marriage between “a man and a woman,” rather than “one man and one woman,” our citizen legislators demonstrated that even polygamists have more clout in these parts than gays and lesbians.
Gays would have been the most castigated group of the session, but for Provo Rep. Stephen Clark—yeah, he’s a Republican. Debating exceptions to a bill that would make it a crime to use state funds to pay for abortions, Clark unveiled his theory on the “varying degrees of rape.” No doubt victims of “violent rape” should qualify for state-funded abortions, but he wondered if that should hold for “the woman who goes out and gets drunk, passes out and gets raped.” The bill passed with all varieties of rape excepted, and Clark won re-election in a landslide—running unopposed, no less.
Taking the prize in ghoulish women’s rights was Melissa Ann Rowland, the pregnant-with-twins drug addict who gave new meaning to “depraved indifference to human life.” Not only did Rowland test positive for a litany of illicit drugs while carrying her unborn brood but, citing scarring concerns, she allegedly refused a Caesarean section that doctors said was imperative to her children’s survival. One lived; the other didn’t. Prosecutors filed and later dropped first-degree murder charges, because ... well, it was a complicated case.
Call me a waffler, but perhaps the abortion solution lies somewhere between Clark and Rowland.
In rapid-fire wrap-up form, the Legislature also:
Passed a resolution supporting President Bush’s efforts to safeguard the homeland from WMDs. Ripped the rug out from the University of Utah’s insolent campus gun ban. Walked away from the table in righteous indignation when the subject of limiting lobbyist swag was broached. Put an end to the shame of executions by firing squad, and insisted that future state-sponsored killings not interfere with Monday night—Mormon nomenclature for Family Home Evening.
Wow! Thank goodness it was an election year, for all would make sense again come November.
SECOND QUARTER April, May, June: Guzzlegate, Big Boxes and Kicking Ash. By Jamie Gadette
2004’s second quarter was a study in subjective morality. Despite evidence to the contrary, President Bush spoke of progress in Iraq and promised the war-torn nation would be sovereign by June. “America’s armed forces are performing brilliantly, with all the skill and honor we expect of them,” he said in an April 13 press conference. “For the first time, the civilized world has provided a concerted response to the ideology of terror—a series of powerful, effective blows.”
Weeks later, the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal effectively blew efforts to boost America’s image among Iraqis. Somehow photos of Pfc. Lynndie R. England giving the thumbs up in front of a degraded detainee didn’t support claims that our country was a fortress of democracy.
Neither did images of naked prisoners piled in pyramids, wallowing in their own excrement, or simulating sex acts for members of the 372nd Military Police Company. President Bush immediately condemned the abuses and pledged to issue offending soldiers a harsh slap on the wrist. Certainly those responsible for dehumanizing Iraqis deserved more severe punishment than a maximum one-year prison sentence. However, considering whispers of alleged abuse broke in a November 2003 AP story, a lack of immediate action was no surprise. So much for the sanctity of life
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accepted the blame and issued a public apology for the abuses. “It was inconsistent with the values of our nation, it was inconsistent with the teachings of the military to the men and women of the armed forces, and it was certainly fundamentally un-American,” he said. Good stuff. Seven months later, widespread ire dissipated as our nation prepared for the one-year anniversary of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl nipple. Somehow a naked breast spread more outrage than the abuse of naked prisoners.
Back home, Salt Lake County officials committed abuse of power, albeit in a slightly less heinous fashion. Guzzlegate—in all its lame-title glory—kicked off with County Auditor Craig Sorensen resigning two weeks after records of questionable gas purchases surfaced in the media.
“There’s no excuse for what I did,” he said. However, Sorensen’s confession of wrongdoing—which prompted similar admissions from House Majority leader Greg Curtis and Chief Financial Officer Randy Allen—earned him praise and sympathy from County Mayor Nancy Workman. “I feel deeply for Craig and his family...there is no doubt [he’s] doing the right thing under these circumstances,” she said. It’s important to do the right thing, especially when kids are involved.
Workman apparently adopted that exact logic while using Health Department funds to create a “ghost” position at the South Valley Boys and Girls Club. She admitted her decision to hire an assistant for her daughter Aisza was a bureaucratic—not criminal—mistake. Still, scandals involving Workman and other county officials led to sweeping ethics reforms aimed at regaining public trust.
Meanwhile, other folks were more concerned with public salvation. During the 174th LDS General Conference, speakers warned that Satan was “working overtime to denounce human souls” and moving women to stray from their “God-given roles” as mothers and wives. Satan was also apparently scheduled to speak at a Women’s Business Center luncheon, but canceled at the last minute citing “one hell of a year.”
Speaking of beasts, big-box retailers courted Centerville, South Jordan, Clearfield and Sandy, ignoring residents’ heated opposition toward another concrete jungle. Sandy was particularly turned off by The Boyer Co.’s latest mixed-use plan. Modeled after The Gateway, the so-called “walkable community” would include a Super Wal-Mart, along with other homogenized shops, restaurants and apartments. However, Boyer’s vision didn’t jibe with concerns about increased traffic and decreased revenue for local businesses. Sandy City Council members later caved, removing zoning restrictions to allow for the sale of sweatshop products.
Some residents felt silenced by the decision, but at least their breasts weren’t erased from Titanic. Thanks to Salt Lake’s ClearPlay DVD player, audiences achieved the option of vetoing gratuitous sex, violence or language from their favorite films. The $79 slice of technological heaven joined the ranks of Trilogy Studios, Video II and Family Shield, companies making new clean-version movies or editing original content to suit moral standards. Not surprisingly, Hollywood producers, directors and studios filed suit against ClearPlay citing censorship of art. No word yet on whether Titanic classifies as such.
Hillcrest High student Cody McCook was suspended from school for refusing to censor his “Queers Kick Ash” T-shirt. The 17-year-old donned “unsuitable attire” to promote the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center’s (GLBTCC) anti-tobacco campaign. However, administrators and teachers were offended by the shirt’s slogan and demanded its removal. Weeks later, the Health Department opted not to renew the center’s grant—nearly $200,000 in funds—to “prevent the anti-tobacco health message from being overshadowed by unrelated advocacy activity.”
In other GLBT news, Massachusetts made history as the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Conservatives, certain such sanctions spread faster than leprosy, directed defensive measures toward Amendment 3. Camps on both sides of the gay marriage debate geared up for a brutal campaign season. Scott McCoy began work on Don’t Amend’s makeshift headquarters, anticipating the arrival of proactive volunteers, while Gayle Ruzicka and her Eagle Forum supporters researched synonyms for “traditional,” “family,” and “values.”
Meanwhile, 50,000 people gathered at Coachella Music Festival in Indio, Calif., to celebrate the Pixies’ holy (re)union. The two-day extravaganza brimmed with near-naked bodies suffering 112-degree heat on shadeless polo grounds. Hearts lifted upon hearing Radiohead, The Cure, Air, Beck, Belle & Sebastion, Kraftwerk, Bright Eyes, Le Tigre, The Black Keys, !!!, The Rapture, and several other acts that heralded the dawn of a new festival era. It was no wonder Coachella trumped Lollapalooza, which was later canceled due to mediocre ticket sales.
In West Jordan, Utah, the family of U.S Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun entertained a more disturbing reality. Footage of their 24-year-old son indicated he was taken hostage by kidnappers threatening to behead him unless Iraqis were released from U.S.-controlled prisons. Local media camped outside the family’s home, salivating over potential sound bites. Speculation that the young Marine voluntarily escaped prompted a five-month investigation into his June disappearance. Hassoun was later charged with desertion, but recent news that he worked for a U.S. military undercover intelligence operation may cast doubt on such a charge. Apparently you can’t always go home again.
THIRD QUARTER July, August, September: Workman-like Excuses, With Moore to Come. By Ted McDonough
Shocked Utahns woke up July 1 to news that former Jazzman Karl Malone was calling it a day after 19 years in the NBA, then remembered it was Malone and decided to hold the eulogy until The Mailman’s next pronouncement. Really calling it a day was The Salt Lake Tribune, which announced it would pack up its Main Street offices and hightail it to The Gateway mall. The mall announced it would host the Utah State Championship Dutch Oven Cook-Off.
As July wore on it became clear Utah’s values were America’s values. Fox News personality Sean Hannity headlined Provo’s July 4 Freedom Festival, broadcast live to Iraq. The flags kept waving when Vice President Dick Cheney stopped in Utah for a GOP fund-raiser, and Utah Valley State College hosted first a “One Nation Under God” rally, and, later, a gathering of American and Canadian smut fighters. All of which apparently caused Utah Valley State College student body leaders to think: “Hey, this would be a good place to invite Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael Moore.”
It wasn’t difficult to see where this train was headed. University of Utah leaders got the hint and apologized to a student made to recite dirty words during drama class, settling her lawsuit. The only one seemingly not with the program was Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who, with a national meeting of state legislators in town, announced a new state slogan to replace the tired motto of “A Pretty, Great State.” A “wacko, repressed place” was more apt given certain state laws, said Anderson, pledging to fight for “seven freedoms,” including adoption for gay couples, happy hour and the “freedom to dance” after 2 a.m. Many welcomed the old Rocky back, but the City Council greeted the development with a chorus of ‘boos.’
Embattled Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman broke her silence about the investigation of her hiring of employees to work under her daughter at the South Valley Boys and Girls Club, declaring: “It’s just helping the kids. So it’s great.” The GOP rallied to her defense with a press conference of heavy hitters who compared the investigation of Workman to McCarthyism. Former congresswoman Enid Greene said Workman’s alleged misdeeds were like “jaywalking.”
In mid-July, Salt Lake City resident Mark Hacking reported his pregnant wife, Lori, had never returned from a jog. Days of searches of City Creek Canyon followed, but revelations about Hacking’s lies to his family quickly had many questioning his story. The model husband had neither graduated from college nor been accepted to medical school as he said. Hacking ended the month in a mental hospital after being picked up outside a motel without pants. Cadaver dogs were brought in to search the Salt Lake County landfill for Lori’s remains, and Hacking was arrested.
Utah made its mark on national television with Provo’s Richard Mack dropping the Utah governor’s race for a fake presidential bid on the Showtime reality series “American Candidate.” Murray software engineer Ken Jennings closed in on $1 million in Jeopardy! winnings; and national tabloids reported Mary-Kate Olsen was rehabbing from a reported eating disorder in Orem.
August opened with news that several BYU football players were being investigated for allegedly gang raping a 17-year-old girl. Fawning fans lined up for a signed copy of the newly released tell-all by Mitt Romney, the man who single-handedly saved our city’s 2002 Olympic Winter Games and has no interest in a 2008 presidential run. Puerto Rican Carlos Arroyo embarrassed the USA’s nightmare team on the Olympic basketball court in Athens.
On the political stage, the State Capitol closed for a four-year, $200 million renovation, Nancy Workman was questioned by a panel of prosecutors, and organizers of Outdoor Retailers announced the city’s biggest trade show would remain in Salt Lake City for the price of a $500 million Salt Palace expansion. All Utah attorney general candidates came out against a proposed state constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he had checked with LDS authorities to make sure the announcement was OK, causing confusion among some voters who thought church leaders had already given instructions on how to vote in an official pro-amendment church pronouncement.
After the fallout from his “freedom to dance” performance, Mayor Anderson decided to become a uniter, not a divider, and announced “Salt Lake Reads Together,” an initiative that quickly devolved into a divisive mess as city council members objected to dirty words found in one of the selected books.
More shoes dropped in the Workman saga. Former county auditor Craig Sorensen pleaded guilty to a reduced charge for filling his personal car with $8,600 of gas on the county credit card. Prosecutors announced no charges would be filed against former Workman legal counsel and state legislator Greg Curtis for double-dipping on car allowances.
The month ended on a high note, with Forbes Magazine picking Utah as the best place in the nation to die.
A report by investigators that “Nancy Workman lied” launched September as a panel of prosecutors announced they had found sufficient evidence to charge the sitting county mayor. Workman kept false books and deceived county officials in hiring bookkeepers to work under her daughter, the report alleged: “There is no evidence that either [employee] ever performed any work for Salt Lake County.” A week later, Utahns would be treated to Workman’s official police mug shot, as she was charged with two felony counts and placed on leave.
Half of Utah went crazy for the pre-season 20th-ranked University of Utah football team. Mayor Anderson again tried his hand at uniting, declaring “Utah Day” and giving city employees the afternoon off to attend a rally before the opener against Texas A& . The idea was quickly lambasted, and city employees instead watched Utah Day from inside their cubicles.
Following a six-week hiatus, a new season of Jeopardy! began and Ken Jennings was still there. Student body leaders at Utah Valley State College announced they were spending the school’s entire lecture budget to bring filmmaker Michael Moore to campus, setting off a firestorm of protest. Rallying for “balance,” Sean Hannity was invited back.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City residents, chaffing to dance, demonstrated their own brand of tolerance by lambasting City Weekly film critic Scott Renshaw—who dared suggest Moore might possibly not be the Second Coming—one telling him to “stuff his pie hole.”
September’s end found Workman at a GOP forum, apologizing for the “hullabaloo,” but vowing to continue her re-election bid. “It looks like it’s not working, but it is,” Workman said, slightly modifying her election slogan.
FOURTH QUARTER October, November, December: Red Christmas. By Bill Frost
On Oct. 5, KALL 700 AM booted Utah radio institution Tom Barberi off the air after 33 years of morning servitude, then went on to thank him with recorded “tribute” loops that made it sound like he’d voluntarily retired and/or dropped dead. KALL also switched formats from news talk to “Hot Ticket” sports talk—considering that Salt Lake City’s three other sports stations are floundering at the bottom of the Arbitron ratings, this was either a bold or idiotic move. Let’s go with idiotic. As for Barberi’s replacement, former pro golfer Jon Wright ... well, at least he has something to fall back on.
Conservative radio yakker and Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity spoke at Orem’s Utah Valley State College on Oct. 12 in a preemptive strike against Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael Moore’s apocalyptic appearance scheduled eight days later—because who knows how many Utah County residents Moore would have converted to loony liberalism without Hannity’s divine intervention? When Moore himself finally arrived in Orem, he quipped, “I know everyone says Utah is a Red State, so why bother? We’re bothering because when you’re in Utah, you believe in miracles.” Well, at least he has something to fall back on.
The same day Hannity visited the state, Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman dropped out of her re-election bid with a sick note (“Dear Voters: Nancy doesn’t feel well today. Please excuse her from the prosecution, er, election”). Naturally, independent candidate Merrill Cook flipped out, but not just because he’s Merrill Cook: Workman’s vacating of the Republican candidacy left the door blatantly open for write-in shack-master Ellis Ivory, who indeed got the R nod later in the month, much to the surprise of absolutely no one—except maybe the state judge who had Ivory removed from the ballot for about the span of a lunch break. Silly judge.
Ivory also had The Salt Lake Tribune behind him: In the weeks before Election Day, Utah’s In-Denver Voice gave him its endorsement. Actually, The Trib endorsed anybody and everybody with an R behind their name, including presidential dark horse George W. Bush, who likely would have lost Utah without those precious column inches. Liberal readers were confused, pissed and left with only one place to turn: City Weekly’s first-ever Political Issue, a comprehensive electoral guide featuring cover-boy ... Jon Huntsman Jr. chugging milk at Burt’s Tiki Lounge? Hey, his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Scott Matheson Jr., never responded to our invite.
Then came Election Day, Nov. 2, otherwise known as NASCAR Presents the JesusLand Super-Mandate Tuesday Smackdown®, wherein the rest of the nation got a little taste of livin’ in Utah—no dinner, no movie, just bend over the Red table with a “Yee-haw!” and a “Relax, you know you want it.” Locally, with a handful of exceptions (including Democrats Peter Carroon and Jim Matheson winning over Ivory and John “Sucks to Be” Swallow for S.L. County Mayor and 2nd District Congressman, respectively), things went predictably conservative, including the inevitable-as-Conference approval of the Amendment 3 ban on gay marriage—which didn’t fare well nationally, either. After years of wondering if Utah was moving toward the mainstream, it looked like the mainstream may be moving toward Utah. Yow!
Later in that first week of November, country star Toby Keith produced a special surprise at his Delta Center concert—no, not listenable songs or shirtsleeves, but a harp rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by famed Utah abductee Elizabeth Smart. While passable (somewhere between Jimi Hendrix and Roseanne), Smart’s performance reportedly moved Keith to encourage her to pursue a career in music. Or, she could make boatloads of money off jingoistic boneheaded flag-waving that’s set to half-assed redneck honky-tonk. Either way, Toby Keith has connections.
On Saturday, Nov. 20, hours before the football game had even begun, The Salt Lake Tribune’s Website was reporting that the University of Utah had trounced Brigham Young University, and even had exclusive post-game “quotes” from U players about their glorious victory (which did eventually become reality—the victory, not the quotes). The Trib pulled the story off the site quickly, saying it was written ahead of time and accidentally uploaded. Following that same predictable-outcomes logic, it’s probably safe to assume that the paper’s post-Election Day issue was put to bed in September.
Starting off December on a sad TV note, record-breaking Jeopardy! champ and Murray son Ken Jennings finally had a brain cramp (“I’m sorry, the correct question is, ‘What are girls like?’”) and was eliminated from the show having won $2.52 million in a 74-game streak—just as Pleasant Grove sisters Lena and Kristy Jensen were from CBS’ The Amazing Race one night before. LoveSac CEO Shawn Nelson, however, continued to kick it worldwide with Richard Branson on Fox’s Rebel Billionaire, and the cast of next year’s third season of NBC’s The Apprentice was announced—lo and behold, another Utahn, Salt Lake City realtor Audrey Evans. Cool, but is it too much to hope to land a local on Fox’s upcoming Who’s Your Daddy?
Away from reality TV and somewhere adjacent to actual reality, former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who split the state last year to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, was chosen by President Dubya to become the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, proving once and for all that the position doesn’t require an actual human. After accomplishing absolutely zilch-nada at the EPA, Leavitt hopes to hit the ground running at his new job by trying to maybe appear more lifelike.
Going the keep-it-inhuman route, West Jordan Republican Rep. Peggy Wallace