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Chaos Theory

Peterson, Swallow, Kennedy and the Beatles


  • Rocky Mountain News

One of the best reasons to run a newspaper is that you, on occasion, get to rewrite history to your own liking. Not that we do that; it’s just an option. But I will today.

Actually, it’s not a rewrite of history, just a course correction. As you all mostly know, the grimy John Swallow has stepped down as Utah attorney general. What we hope you know is that City Weekly reporter Eric Peterson had a great deal to do with the fall of the snake John Swallow.

It was he who first opened what became the big can of Swallow worms when he reported in May 2012 that Swallow had dubious relationships with persons in Internet-marketing businesses that were making huge donations to the Attorney General’s Office. Those companies were allegedly paying the AG in hopes of getting the Utah Division of Consumer Protection off their backs.

In that story, this little nugget appeared:

In the taped conversation provided to City Weekly, Christner [Aaron Christner, a telemarketing-business owner] introduces himself to Swallow by inquiring about a Swallow fundraiser breakfast meeting the coming week and telling him about his company’s legal troubles with Consumer Protection. Not only does Swallow tell Christner that, if elected, he would try to take over consumer investigations from the agency, but that he can also arrange a private meeting with Christner, himself and [Utah Attorney General Mark] Shurtleff to possibly help resolve Christner’s legal issues by influencing the assistant attorneys general assigned to prosecute cases on behalf of Consumer Protection.

Peterson’s May story predated Swallow’s election as Utah AG by almost six months. It also predated the subsequent stories about that little demon Swallow that began appearing in Utah’s two daily papers, and Eric never let go of it, either.

I sincerely commend those media persons who dogged the slimy Swallow and helped expose his true nature, particularly Robert Gehrke at The Salt Lake Tribune. Yet to remind those who back-slap about this and who deny him credit: Eric had it first, found many of the more salacious angles and bit just as hard. It’s not couth to leave his work out of the Swallow story dialogue.

Well, it is, actually, if you think you can get pregnant without having sex. A great news story has been delivered. Eric is the father. He begat the chaos. ’Nuff said.

You might have noticed that we didn’t print a single word about the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in the last issue of City Weekly. The day just came and went, though I did ask the guys to put up a little blogpost about my own memories, which was posted Nov. 22. And that was that. Fifty years later, and I am among only three City Weekly employees who remember where we were—exactly, to the colors and to where the sun was, exactly—on Nov. 22, 1963, when we heard the president had been shot.

No one else here (besides John Paul Brophy and Andy Sutcliffe) knows what it feels like to have your country’s guts ripped inside out, nor to watch a nation cry a billion tears. Nor to worry about what would come next—a world war? Another shooting (which would come just 48 hours later, when Jack Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV)? To forsake hope? To watch young dreams die young and hard? Combine all the high-profile shootings of the past decades and all the national disasters, and you come right near to what the impact was of that fateful November 50 years ago.

It seems like we should have memorialized that in some way in last week’s issue. At the same time, it seems like it wouldn’t have mattered very much. Nevermind that none of us who remember that day has ever been quite the same—that was just the largest of our generation’s losses. We were soon to lose brothers and sisters in Vietnam, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Marines in Beirut, the war on drugs, our two tallest buildings and 3,000 souls on 9/11, and on and on. We’ve been numb for 50 years.

And nevermind that those of you who were not here on that day are alive on this one now precisely because Kennedy died. Yeah, the butterfly effect, chaos theory. Your mothers and fathers would not have met. Certainly, among your mothers (or grandmothers, even), some 50,000 of them might have found different husbands, in those men who were killed in the Vietnam War, which may not have been fought, had Kennedy lived. Conversely, some of your fathers and grandfathers might have died in a greater war if Kennedy lived. Everything changed on that day. Me. You. Everything.

And the music, too.

Among the nuances lost to history is that our country was in a very bad mood for months after the assassination. America wanted something to feel good about. Then came The Ed Sullivan Show of Feb. 9, 1964, and 74 million Americans were introduced to the Beatles.

I watched, actually in fear because I thought the British Invasion of the Beatles was … the Beetles. I watched in my grandmother’s living room, higher on a Bingham Canyon hillside than our own home (she had better CBS reception than we did).

We heard them perform five happy songs: “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

America was ready for that bit of happiness, of being carefree. Beatlemania was born. It took three bullets in 1963 to ignite it, and one in 1980 to kill it. Chaos theory defined.

Twitter: @JohnSaltas

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