By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Those mourners at Graceland sure looked dumb for crying over Elvis Presley's death. Elvis lived! Weekly World News had pictures to prove it. For 28 years now, WWN has set us straight on issues of national importance. While other media outlets obsessed over Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, WWN caught Hillary canoodling with a space alien. The paper was the first to confirm that Dick Cheney is a robot, and, perhaps most famously, it broke the warm-hearted story of a certain pointy-eared youngster being found in a cave.
When WWN's parent company, American Media Inc., announced last month that it was folding the Boca Raton-based paper, Tailpipe was sad. The only bright side was that former employees were now free to tell how they got all those exclusives. Maybe now we'll even learn why columnist Ed Anger was always "madder than a porcupine in a thorn bush" and the true story of how the publication became "The World's Only Reliable Newspaper."
Malcolm Balfour worked at the National Enquirer when the Weekly World News was launched in 1979. Back then, both tabloids printed a mix of true and made-up stories. Balfour remembers writing about a bridge collapse in Tampa. "I had to get psychics to say they had predicted it, of course. But the Weekly World News did an excellent job covering that story — much better than the Enquirer." Without WWN on the scene, though, can we ever expect the true story of the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis?
The tabloid thrived — or at least survived — until the rise of slick celebrity magazines and the explosion of the Internet. Jon Wilkins, who worked in various positions at AMI from 1993 until quitting this spring, says AMI's hiring of expensive, high-profile editors didn't help — they only kept changing their minds about whether to become more newsy or all-out wacky.
"They were slowly destroying the newspaper," Wilkins says. "It's sad, because it's such a recognizable brand."
Ultimately, only three people will be laid off, according to a company spokesperson. Wilkins will be fine — he's moving into music producing, and his band, the Postmarks, just played Lollapalooza. As his last title was "art director," we had to ask: Did they ever airbrush Bat Boy to make him look more buff than he is in real life?
"He goes up and down in weight," Wilkins explains. "When he was in Iraq" — chasing terrorists, natch — "he put on a couple of pounds."
How did WWN get those photos of Hillary Clinton with her alien lover, P'lod?
"Money. Lots of money. They really like Hubba Bubba bubblegum — apparently it's currency where he's from."
How about the pictures of "a scientist" and his fabulous discoveries — like the time he found cats on Mars? Was that just a WWN staffer in costume?
"If you see people in a photo, the story must be real!"
"I can't say! It's not worth divulging!"
Wilkins is actually a tad misty-eyed. Although the paper operated like a real newsroom, "there used to be this amazing party atmosphere," he says. "It would be fun — you'd laugh all day long." In recent years, though, "the stories were just lame." The current headline on the website reads "The Most Irresistible Woman on Earth — to Mosquitoes." Clearly, the creative juices are drying up.
Sadly, many back issues are no longer available; they are still in storage following the anthrax attack at the AMI building in Boca Raton in 2001, a source says. The final edition of the Weekly World News should hit stands on August 27 — and after that, supermarket checkout lines will never be the same.
You run a county agency and your budget's getting squeezed. You have to do more with less or your neck goes on the block. Who you gonna call?
For a decade or so now, the last resort of beleaguered public administrators with security issues has been: Bring in Wackenhut. It's the ultimate rent-a-cop firm, a huge national company that has scored $1.3 billion in federal contracts just since 2004.
When officials of the Broward County Parks and Recreation Department were looking around for demonstrable cost-cutting, the reaction was almost knee-jerk. They hired Wackenhut to replace their seasoned corps of park rangers. For the past three years, whenever there was a job opening for a ranger, the county slotted in one of those beefy Wackenhutters. Now, just a dozen real rangers remain, down from 38 in 1999 — and they have until September 30 to find other employment.
Tailpipe, for one, laments the change. The rangers, who staff the county's campgrounds 'round the clock are more than just security guards. Most have decades of outdoor experience. They're those friendly, knowledgeable, on-site staffers who mediate the sometimes-bumpy relationship between nature and newbie urban campers.
Want to know something about the furry critter that hangs around the campsite looking for scraps of food, or those little plants flowering in a shady spot? Need reassurance about panther attacks? Talk to somebody like Christopher Brennan or Ray Truman. Brennan, 27, the youngest of the 12 remaining true rangers, is a longtime amateur herpetologist and a natural with kids; Truman, with 15 years of dealing with vandals and petty criminals, is a sharp-eyed campsite watchdog.
The Wackenhutters? Sure, they come cheap, at about $9 an hour. "But you get what you pay for," says the Rev. Terry Danger, one member of the County Parks Advisory Board who's critical of park privatization.
With low pay comes rapid turnover and a lesser commitment to the job, Danger and others say. "How many of those Wackenhut guards even know what the animals are?" Danger asks.
The rangers all have tales about their Wackenhut colleagues showing up with a couple of weenies and a Big Gulp and disappearing for an eight-hour shift into the guard shack while the rangers patrol. But parks Director Bob Harbin says there have been problems with some real rangers as well. "We've seen misjudgment or errors from both types of employees," he says. Harbin adds that the switch to Wackenhut will eventually save the county $180,000 a year and that the rangers are not being laid off; they're being offered other county jobs.
This evokes bitter laughter from the rangers. Fred Caldwell, who took the county job 17 years ago "because they told me I'd have a career," says he's applied for a number of other county jobs. "They offered me a job climbing into sewage treatment plants, scraping out the filters. How does that apply to my years as a ranger?" Because he turned the job down, Caldwell adds, he won't qualify for unemployment insurance when his time is up in September.
Maybe it's time for drastic measures to save county bucks (though, according to the rangers, that $180,000 figure doesn't add up). But county park users deceive themselves if they think substituting a uniformed stiff for Caldwell, Brennan, or Truman adds up to the same thing.
Bijan Jamkhu says his coworkers at Nova Southeastern University paid little attention to his national origin until a few years ago. The tech-savvy Iranian worked as a systems administrator at the private university in Davie for 21 years, often putting in extra hours without claiming overtime. Throughout his tenure, he was responsible for the care and upkeep of sensitive data and files.
It wasn't long before Jamkhu's coworkers began giving him the cold shoulder, he says. Supervisors Ginny McLain and Greg Horne stopped replying to his hallway greetings, he alleges, and they failed to invite Jamkhu to staff meetings.
Then, on the evening of May 17, 2006, Jamkhu says, he misplaced his keys. He was walking between the Nova gym, where he had been exercising, and his campus office. He began retracing his steps, peering below hedges and anything else that might have been concealing the keys. There was an uprooted plant, he says, so he lifted it up in hope of seeing metal glimmering beneath.
Suddenly, a Davie police officer confronted Jamkhu and accused him of pulling the plant out of the ground.
Jamkhu thought nothing of the accusation until he was called into McLain's office nine days later. She placed him on administrative leave, he says, because of the plant incident. She never asked for his version of events. On June 1, he was fired.
He filed an appeal with the school. The Nova grievance committee recommended that Jamkhu be placed elsewhere at the university. But Jamkhu says McLain nixed that idea, stating that "under the heightened security alert in the country, it is not advisable to keep him around."
Last month, Jamkhu filed an employment discrimination complaint in the Florida Southern District Court. He's seeking a formal written apology, job restoration, and compensation for emotional suffering and lost wages.
Should Tailpipe worry about the state of the American university?