Straight to TV Hell

"Who brought the loofa?"

Maybe there's some truth to that "fair and balanced" slogan after all. Last week, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) held its national convention in Miami Beach, and the 600 or so attendees owed their fun in the sun partially to Fox News, which donated $10,000 to the event as one of its sponsors.

This came as a surprise to Tailpipe, since the network that brings you the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, those rebar-chewin', ultrahetero vaqueros who like to portray themselves as engaged in a constant struggle to keep their testosterone under control, isn't exactly known for its affinity for rainbows. It was also a surprise to a group called Americans for Truth, which bills itself as "the only national organization devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda."

Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth, acted swiftly in response to Fox's alarming gayness. He sent a strongly worded letter to Roger Ailes, president of Fox, demanding that Fox immediately deposit an additional $10,000 into the coffers of a "pro-family organization." This, LaBarbera wrote, would balance out Fox's alarming attitudes toward gays — especially if Fox decided to give money to AFT. By doing so, Fox would prove that it is "committed to living up to its credo and not taking sides in the Culture War."

"A lot of conservatives — we really like Fox," LaBarbera explains. "I think they are more fair than a lot of networks. But this was a case where really they're giving to an activist group."

So far, Fox hasn't responded, and the folks in its media department hadn't even heard of LaBarbera's letter.

For its part, though, NLGJA takes umbrage at being labeled an "activist" group.

"We do not get ourselves involved in activist or advocacy issues," says Tom Avila, deputy executive director of NLGJA.

LaBarbera says he's referring to a letter to NLGJA's membership written by the organization's president, Eric Hegedus, saying that "homophobic" interviewees (without referring specifically to LaBarbera) should not be quoted in articles about gays and lesbians, just as white supremacists shouldn't be regularly quoted in articles about immigration.

"He's basically saying that I am the moral equivalent of the KKK," says LaBarbera, a former Washington Times reporter who occasionally attends leather extravaganzas to do "research" and likes to drink at gay bars to spot gay trends. "It's just outrageous."

Hegedus' letter, LaBarbera says, proves that the NLGJA is in the business of spinning the news.

"This is not a pure journalists organization," he says. "They're very clear about spinning the news. If you oppose gay rights, then you are a bigot."

Tailpipe wants to make sure he's got this straight: Fox is corrupting its conservative principles by pandering to gay activists. But the network can clean it up by donating a sum of cash to LaBarbera? Maybe the 'Pipe can assuage LaBarbera's outrage by setting him up with a couple of cosmopolitans at Georgie's Alibi. You know, just for research purposes.

Meanwhile, though, it turns out LaBarbera is right about one thing: The conspiracy goes deeper than even he ever imagined.

"This is not a new relationship," Avila says of Fox News' support of the NLGJA conference. "They've been supporting us since 1998."

Peasant Food

So the fairway grass at Hollywood's Orangebrook Golf & Country Club is a little thin, the course is strewn with puddles, and the clubhouse offers pedestrian luncheon fare (no caviar or smoked salmon).

These shortcomings are a source of consternation to the course owners, the City of Hollywood — most of all to Mayor Mara Giulianti, who tends to treat all city property as her own. The course should be making more money and the restaurant ought to attract more discerning, cosmopolitan tastes, she suggested, not unlike those future residents whom the mayor envisions as occupying all of those new downtown condos in the pipeline.

The Hollywood City Commission invited course management firms to submit plans for improving Orangebrook's performance. At a recent commission meeting, Guidant Management Group, which manages, among others, Jacaranda Golf Club in Plantation, was pitted against JCD Sports Group, a Delray Beach-based firm that became interim manager of the course in February.

Guidant's presentation was impressive. Managing partner Paul Scott suggested making modest improvements to one of the two 18-hole Orangebrook courses, keeping it affordable and unpretentious. The other 18 holes, though, would get a more extreme makeover, such that Orangebrook could become a destination for high-end South Florida golfers. As an incentive (Scott apparently didn't know this was such a loaded word in Hollywood), he suggested a profit-sharing agreement between his firm and the city. But the upshot was: "It takes money to make money." The city, Scott said, would need to increase its spending on Orangebrook dramatically if it were ever to realize serious change.  

Money? Most of the commissioners fidgeted uncomfortably. Giulianti, though, was starry-eyed. After the Guidant presentation, her expression said, "You had me at hello."

When JCD Sports representatives took the podium, though, the mayor lost that glow. CEO Sharon Painter concluded her own presentation on a contrite note: "We know we have a long way to go to give you a product of which you can be proud."

Giulianti again threw that loaded word into the discussion. "What is your incentive?"

No limousine luncheons or valet service or silver-plated golf carts. "Our incentive is to stay there a long time and collect our management fee and be part of this city," Painter said.

But Giulianti wanted to talk about food. Guidant's proposed menu, she said, was far more sophisticated and contemporary than was currently available at the restaurant.

Activist Howard Sher, who says he golfs at Orangebrook every week, stood up and said it had improved significantly since JCD Sports took over. He wanted to know how many commissioners have eaten at Orangebrook within the past month.

"The point is, we wouldn't," Giulianti said dryly. Ouch.

The city could keep things as they are, the mayor said, or it could have a country club "where we won't be humiliated." While visiting other cities, Giulianti's fellow mayors have shown off fine restaurants and gleaming golf courses. If only there were such a place where she could take visiting dignitaries. "I don't even want to invite people to Hollywood because I get embarrassed," she said.

In the end, JCD won the contract, with only the disheartened Giulianti voting against the firm. Tailpipe was about to offer her half of his meatball sandwich, but the look on her face said the 'Pipe had her only at goodbye.

Rolling With Rocky

The smart money was on Rocky until a kid in pigtails spilled the beans.

"Those kids are renting hamsters!" she said to her mother.

This was a couple of Saturdays ago at the Second Annual Hamster Derby in the Oakland Park Petco. Tailpipe happens to know that large amounts of cash were hanging in the balance in the gambling pipeline. There were bookies out there sweating bullets.

You see, children had been invited to bring their furry little rodent pets to compete on an eight-foot-long and four-lane-wide plastic chute with elevated sides. You know the drill. Hamsters in plastic racing spheres. It was very much a mixed bag out on the track. Some hamsters shot forward; others ran in the wrong direction entirely. Some were either confused or else, in passive resistance to the day's activities, lay down and gnawed on their own limbs.

But Rocky, a puffy, tan-and-white racing machine with a skinny face, had this heroic far-seeing look. "He runs all the time," said Rocky's owner, a shy little girl with missing front teeth. "All the time!"

But what about those rented ringers, straight from the Petco hamster cribs?

Not to worry, Rocky fans. In the end, the little sparkplug pulled ahead, easily beating out Cookie, Henry, and Fluffy. Rocky's owner beamed a prideful jack-o'-lantern smile.

As the gambling world settled back into the serenity of knowing the oddsmakers are always right, parents packed up the rodents and children. "Teddy Bear's new name is Loser!" said one disgruntled hamster owner.

"Well," her mother said, "let's get Loser out to the car."

Revenge of the Sturgeon

It must suck to be a sturgeon. People catch, smoke, and eat you. They steal your eggs and call 'em caviar. In Florida, you're so overfished and abused that Florida terms you a "species of special concern."

But this year, the fish whacks back.

"A sturgeon hit a 9-year-old and knocked her unconscious," reports Maj. Bruce Hamlin of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. "An adult had his arm broken, and a guy was knocked off his Jet Ski and could have drowned." Overall the wily creatures have recently injured eight people on the Suwannee River in North Florida, Hamlin adds, "and all of these have been pretty serious injuries that could have resulted in death."

Nine-year-old Cheyenne Russ was knocked off a boat and bloodied in August so badly that she needed three layers of self-dissolving stitches. The cut "missed her jugular vein by a fraction of an inch," according to an article in the High Springs Herald. "It was a big fish; he made me fall in the water" was all the little girl could say.

Old folks, it seems, really ought to stay home.  

Sturgeon can grow up to eight feet in length and weigh about 200 pounds. Unlike snapper or mahi-mahi, they have an exterior bone structure that Hamlin calls "armor plated." When they hit you, it hurts.

The "strikes," as Hamlin calls them, were particularly dangerous because until recently people zoomed (way) down (upon) the Suwannee at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour. The gulf sturgeon, which spawns upstream, jumps up to five feet high.

In past years, there have always been just one or two such strikes a year. The problem was made worse this year by low water conditions. "It limits where you can travel, so your odds of getting it are greater," Hamlin explains.

A week and a half ago, the state spent $1,400 to post signs on the river warning boaters to slow down.

Slow down, knucklehead, or get whacked by a 200-pound fish built like a tank.

— As told to Edmund Newton

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