Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore = Reefer Madness

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 4:00 AM

From the London Daily Mirror: "They've both recently split with their boyfriends, so what could be better than going on a joint holiday together.

"But considering Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore are two of the world's highest-paid actresses, you'd think they could afford a "roll-up" each instead of having to share.

"Chilling out on a beach in Hawaii, the Charlie's Angels pair celebrated Drew's 32nd birthday with friends and appeared to be enjoying a cannabis joint.

"Laughing and giggling, the girls didn't seem very upset over their recent breakups -- Cam from singer Justin Timberlake, and Drew from Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti. You could say they were having a high old time."

A "cannabis joint"? A "high old time"? Who wrote this -- Walter Winchell?

McEachran Pins Morris

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 4:00 AM

From the Commercial Appeal Website: "I had my wife write me a note documenting her efforts to try resolve this issue and to whom she had talked. With that, I pinned a note to Herman Morris saying, ‘Could you please look into this?’ " McEachran said. "I felt like as a citizen I had that right. And this was not, obviously, my trying to use any clout to get this resolved."

The paragraph above is from an article about former CA editor Angus McEachran and his interactions with MLGW regarding his utility bill.

The notoriously crusty McEachran says he didn't ask for any favors, and we believe him. We just wonder how long it was before Morris got the nerve to unpin the note from his suit.

Read it quick, before they correct the typos.

UPDATE: It's now been changed to "penned." Whew. Got it.

Herman Morris' High Tech Press Event

Posted on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Earlier Wednesday local media were sent an email (the final one in a countdown series that began last week) titled "Bring Our City Back." The body of the email read: "Bring Our City Back ... with a return of integrity, dignity and ability. ... Don’t forget today’s important videocast announcement for the better future of Memphis — online today at 2pm. Visit www.bringourcityback.com to see the countdown to a new era. Pass this on to other concerned Memphians."

The email sent visitors to a countdown clock, which at 2 p.m. broadcast Herman Morris' announcment that he would be running for mayor.

The "Bring Back Our City" site now links to the campaign site of Morris, the currently beleaguered former MLGW head.

Interestingly, Morris is shown repeatedly turning over a sign with the letters "H" and "M," — or is it "H" and "W"? — which read one way is for Herman Morris, and read the other stands for Willie Herenton, the incumbent mayor and Morris' major opponent in the upcoming race.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Toyota Chooses Tupelo for Plant

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2007 at 4:00 AM

From the North Mississippi Daily Journal: Two years ago, when the Wellspring Project got its megasite designation, supporters billed it as the "center of the automotive universe."

That moniker couldn't be more fitting today.

Japanese automaker Toyota will announce this morning that it is building an $829 million manufacturing plant on the 1,700-acre site, which is adjacent to U.S. Highway 78 near the Blue Springs interchange 10 miles west of Tupelo.

Gov. Haley Barbour has scheduled a "major economic development" announcement at Tupelo High School this morning. He'll be joined by Sen. Trent Lott, Rep. Roger Wicker, state and local officials and Toyota representatives.

And a Toyota vehicle - likely the SUV that will be built here - will be unveiled during the announcement.

While it was a Japanese newspaper that initially broke the news on Monday, other sources close to the matter confirmed that the automaker will be selecting the site, which has been developed and promoted by the PUL Alliance, comprising Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties.

Read the rest of the Daily Journal story.

Frank Sinatra and Justin Timberlake -- Two of a Kind?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2007 at 4:00 AM

In what seems at first glance to be a HUGE stretch, St. Petersburg Times music writer Sean Daly makes a case that Memphis homeboy JT and Frank Sinatra are a lot alike. A sample: "It all starts with those peepers, of course, sometimes flirty, sometimes intense, but always aware, of the cameras, of the crowds, of the cool. Frank Sinatra and Justin Timberlake, Ol' Blue Eyes and New Blue Eyes, singin' joes with the world on a ring-a-ding string.

"Then there's this: Frank and JT both started in cheeky boy bands the Hoboken Four, 'N Sync and silly variety shows (Major Bowes, The Mickey Mouse Club). Sooner, rather than later, these scrawny, winter-born white boys from humble origins went solo, relying on African-American maestros - Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Pharrell, Timbaland - to inject crossover soul into their sound.

"And don't forget: They both famously hooked up with femmes fatales -Ava Gardner, Britney Spears - and used well-publicized breakups (whether they were the dumper or the dumpee) to make their best music: 'In the Wee Small Hours,' 'Cry Me a River.'"

We have to respectfully disagree, though they both have/had a fondness for cute little fedoras. Read more if you dare.

Elvis Presley Guitar on eBay

1956 Silvertone is available for $1,000

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Fans of Elvis Presley might want to check out an eBay auction that ends in a couple of days. The seller claims to have an old guitar that was once owned by the King of Rock-and-Roll.

It is a vintage acoustic Silvertone, and the seller claims (somewhat vaguely), "This type of guitar was used by Elvis Presley during the early years of his career." Note that he says "this TYPE" of guitar, and not this EXACT guitar. And we’re really not convinced that Elvis played that many Silvertones.

But what's really interesting is what the seller says next: "I received this guitar from Elvis in 1956 when I was twelve." We tried to contact the seller to get more information about this unusual gift, but have so far received no response.

The whole thing sounds a bit iffy, and paying the "Buy It Now" price of $1,000 may be risky, but hey, the seller offers the high bidder a "noterized affadavid", so what more could you need? Take a look at the guitar here.

Whoops! Special Attention at MLGW Preceded Lee, Included CA Editor

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2007 at 4:00 AM

A former editor at the The Commercial Appeal and scores of other influential and prominent people in Memphis were flagged for special attention by former MLGW CEO Herman Morris in 2002.

E-mails and other documents released by MLGW on Tuesday, the day MLGW head Joseph Lee was testifying before a federal grand jury, cast a new light on the story which has been breaking piecemeal over the last week.

Ironically, the trigger for the special attention e-mail from Morris was a personal note from the wife of a former editor at the Commercial Appeal, which has been leading the charge against Lee and ran a headline on the front page Tuesday which said, "CEO Lee stopped utility cutoff of nonpaying Ford."

That is only part of the story. In fact, dozens of documents from 2001, 2002, and 2003 show that MLGW was continuously coping with Edmund Ford's overdue bills and granting him numerous extensions while Morris was CEO. Ford is a City Council member and formerly chaired the committee that oversees MLGW.

Mayor Willie Herenton appointed Lee to succeed Morris in 2004. Morris is considering a possible mayoral race against Herenton this year.

In the 2002 e-mail, Morris worries that a billing matter involving an unnamed "editor of the CA could set editorial policy toward MLGW for years and must be handled with touch." Morris urges vice president Curtis Dillihunt and Mark Heuberger, who was then manager of corporate communications, "make sure we handle this matter with sensitivity."

Then Morris suggests that MLGW develop a list of customers "that require my special awareness, attention or staff intervention when they have problems." He says that "customers who can call me or the mayor at home should be on the list," which he says should include all city council members, county commission members, state legislators, television news directors, and several prominent businessmen.

No member of the Memphis Flyer or parent company Contemporary Media made the cut.

There is no documentation to show that anyone other than Ford got preferential treatment. In Ford's case, MLGW released several cutoff notices going back to 2001. In some cases the service was "booted" off but in most cases, according to handwritten notations, Ford either made a partial payment or promised to make one and the service was not cut off.

Ford is under federal indictment for allegedly taking bribes from lobbyist Joe Cooper.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Former WMC News Director Heads to Syracuse

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2007 at 4:00 AM

After eight years, former WMC-TV Channel 5 news director Peggy Phillip is leaving Memphis, the 44th ranked TV market, to be the news director of WSTM-NBC3 and WSTQ-CW6, the Barrington Broadcasting Group duopoly in Syracuse, NY, the 79th ranked market. She starts next week.

“It’s a small market. In fact, I’m happy about it,” she told Richard Thompson of Mediaverse-Memphis.blogspot.com, adding that “it’s never been about market size.”

Indeed, she's worked in Tulsa, the 62nd market, as well as Chicago (#3), Boston (#7) and Miami (#16). “The bigger the market size, the more egos there are to get in the way,” said Phillip, who just turned 50 and is looking for a greater sense of purpose.

Read the whole story at Mediaverse.

Bar Owner Says He Paid for Justin Timberlake; JT's Attorney Denies It

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Associated Press: Justin Timberlake will or will not make an appearance at a venue west of Chicago, depending on who's talking.

Sharky's Billiards owner Joe Piagentini says a promoter assured him that Timberlake had been paid $25,000 to make an autograph-signing appearance at the bar after a March 13 concert at Rosemont in the Chicago suburbs.

One of Timberlake's Los Angeles-based lawyers, Gary Stiffelman, issued a statement saying it's not going to happen.

Stiffelman said he hasn't discussed a Timberlake visit to Sharky's with anyone -- and he's never heard of Piagentini.

Piagentini told the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald that the appearance is still a "go." He said he has not sold any tickets, although they've been advertised on some Web sites for $100 a pop.

Hmmmm. Sharky's Billiards. A guy named Piagentini. Chicago. Sounds to us like JT might be sleeping with fishes soon. Or signing autographs with a few broken digits.

Black Snake Moan Helps Ricci With Self-Image

Posted on Mon, Feb 26, 2007 at 4:00 AM

In a recent interview, actress Christina Ricci said that after having to walk around in her underwear on the set of Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan, she is now more comfortable walking around in her underwear while at home.

According to the article, Ricci — who's has plenty of experience playing sexually adventurous women, to put it nicely — is a prude.

From the story: "I'm a prude and I do not like walking around naked and I was in my bathroom about two months after the movie finished and I was brushing my teeth and I was in my underwear and I looked down and was like, 'Oh, God, put something on.'

"Then I just stopped and thought, 'Oh my god, I was half naked for two months and my a*s was on camera.' "I called my sister and I was like, 'Is it OK to wear nothing around the house? I'm freaking out.'"

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The MLGW "List": Gale Jones Carson Says It Was Created Prior to Joseph Lee's Appointment as CEO

Says Herenton and others didn't know they were on it.

Posted By on Sun, Feb 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Some members of the media received this e-mail from Mayor Herenton's former spokesperson (Now an MLGW spokesperson), Gale Jones Carson today:

"I learned of this list last week. After investigation, I learned that council members, and others, did not know that this list existed and that they were on it. This list is years old, done prior to Joseph Lee's appointment in 2004. On the list are people who are responsible for contacting elected officials and others on the list regarding the possibility of their services being disconnected. How and why certain people were selected to be on this list, none of the new people at MLGW know.

"A few examples of how old the list is: Ken Cole was responsible for contacting several people -- he's been deceased several years now. Pat Van der Schaaf is on the list and she has been off of the Council since 2003. Frierson Graves was the responsbile party for himself -- he was the attorney for MLGW years ago.

"P.S. Mayor Herenton did not know this list existed either and he certainly didn't know that he was on it."

Birmingham Hires Elkington/Performa to Create Downtown Entertainment District

Posted By on Sun, Feb 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Where have we heard this before?

"Performa CEO John Elkington thinks Birmingham's district could outdo Louisville's Fourth Street Live! and Memphis' Beale Street, perhaps attracting as many as 6 million visitors a year.

"He said he reached that estimate by tallying the 2.5 million people who already attend events at the BJCC annually plus outside tourists and area residents who, Elkington says, will be attracted by the well-known restaurants and retailers Performa plans to court.

"In addition, Performa plans to capitalize on the attention Birmingham has received as home of two American Idol winners and a runner-up, plus court participation from famous entertainers born in the metro area, said Cato Walker, a Performa executive who handles development of its districts outside Memphis."

The folks in Birmingham might want to chat with the folks in Jackson, MS, Shreveport, and Cincinnati before getting too excited about the "next Beale Street." They would tell you these things seldom develop as smoothly as advertised, and the original is pretty hard to duplicate. But hope springs eternal, as does Performa, apparently.

Read the rest of the Birmingham News article.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"Waltz" Prosecutor DiScenza Defends Press, Grand Jurors, and Feds

Posted By on Sat, Feb 24, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Tim DiScenza, the federal government's trial attorney in the Tennessee Waltz cases in Memphis, stuck up for the fairness of the press and prosecutors Friday in response to a scathing critique by an author who's writing a book about the Duke lacrosse scandal.

While the comments of DiScenza and state prosecutor Amy Weirich were general in nature, they contrasted starkly with the views of guest speaker Stuart Taylor Jr., the headliner at the Rhodes Institute on the Profession of Law. About 100 people, most of them lawyers fulfilling a continuing education requirement, attended the event.

Taylor is legal affairs columnist for the National Journal and a contributing editor for Newsweek. His topic was "The Duke Lacrosse Case and What It Says About Our Criminal Justice Process, Academics, and News Media."

What it says, he suggested, is mostly bad: Durham N.C. prosecutor Mike Nifong made an "outrageous rush to judgment," most of the media botched the story because of their political correctness and general shadiness, and Duke professors and administrators were spineless and all too eager to join Nifong’s side.

The point of this column is not to comment on the Duke lacrosse scandal. All that most of us in Memphis know is what we read in the papers and see on television. What was interesting to Memphians was the role reversal at Rhodes, with Taylor, a New York Times reporter from 1980-1988, bashing the Times and the press in general and DiScenza, a career prosecutor, saying, basically, that it isn’t that simple.

"Nobody has been more attacked by people who are politically correct and race-obsessed than I have," said DiScenza. All of the Memphis and Shelby County politicians indicted so far in Tennessee Waltz and Main Street Sweeper are black Democrats.

DiScenza said that based on what he has heard, Nifong "violated every prohibition we have about disclosure of evidence" and would probably have been fired by now if he were a federal prosecutor. But he said the rules for state prosecutors in North Carolina may be different than the federal rules. And he praised the role of journalists and noted that the print news business has aggressively been policing its own on such charges as plagiarism.

He and Weirich also took issue with Taylor's claim that prosecutors are political creatures and blind to the other side and that grand jurors are mere rubberstamps for prosecutors.

"Just wanting to win a case is not the prevailing view in this office," said Weirich, who has been with the DA's office since 1991. She said the office has a responsibility to see that cases are "tried cleanly or disposed of fairly."

DiScenza said that when a case goes to a federal grand jury – one of which was recently led by crusty former Commercial Appeal editor Angus McEachran, a demonstrably independent-minded sort – the prosecutor must have personal certainty of the defendant’s guilt and "believe that a conviction is what justice demands."

The Rhodes panel would have been even more pointed had the focus been on Memphis instead of an alleged rape case 1000 miles away in North Carolina. DiScenza’s higher-up is U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, a former Republican Party activist, and Weirich's is District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, an elected official who formerly served on the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission and ran for mayor of Memphis and has been publicly accused of ducking some cases. Unfortunately, neither attended, nor were there any practicing journalists on the panel (other than Taylor) to defend the Fourth Estate.

For someone supposedly outraged by outrageous conduct, Taylor said a few outrageous things himself. He said that a DNA evidence kit "is so sensitive it will pick up my DNA from 20 yards away" yet it did not find anything from the accused Duke lacrosse players. And he said the lacrosse players, who were at an off-campus party with a stripper, were "bonding" and "they maybe had a beer." The lacrosse scandal, he said, is "the most egregious case of prosecutorial misconduct to unfold in real time in the history of the United States."

He later clarified that he was exaggerating about the DNA kit.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Rest of the Story on the RDC

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Better late than never.

Following up on its strong series of stories about sweet deals in city government and at MLGW, The Commercial Appeal finally turned its attention Thursday to city government’s kissing cousin, the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) and its staff of three former city division directors.

As The Flyer has been reporting for four years, the RDC, or “retired directors club” as some city council members call the quasi-government nonprofit, enjoys an enviable package of salaries and benefits for managing a small slice of the city – the riverfront parks – as opposed to an entire city division. RDC President Benny Lendermon, formerly city public works director, earns over $260,000 a year in salary, pension, and other benefits. The other two retired directors on the RDC staff are Danny Lemmons, formerly of general services, and John Conroy, former city engineer.

“The area’s biggest megaphone,” as CA columnist Wendi Thomas called her employer in her column Thursday, skated over or confused some key RDC issues in addition to doing some good work.

There was no mention of Friends for Our Riverfront, another nonprofit that operates on a shoestring budget and has fought the RDC to a standstill on the public promenade and done at least as much to promote user-friendly amenities along the river and parks in general. Two weeks ago the RDC and Friends, along with other groups, each brought well-known speakers to Memphis on different days to plug “green” issues. Virginia McLean, head of the Friends volunteers, has no ties to city government and gets no subsidy as the RDC does.

The CA story quoted Lendermon and city council members Scott McCormick and Tom Marshall who touted the efficiencies and accomplishments of the RDC and pooh-poohed the gibes about the “retired directors club.” Strange then, that the city council, chaired by Marshall, is making such a fuss about former mayoral aide Gail Jones Carson over at MLGW and her $126,000 salary and her pension.

McCormick is quoted saying the RDC does a better job of managing the parks than the Memphis Park Commission did. What the story did not say, however, is that such a comparison is difficult if not unfair. The parks division, as it is now called, is responsible for roughly 180 parks spread over some 300 square miles of Memphis. The RDC gets to concentrate on 10 parks along two miles of the riverfront.

McCormick told the Flyer this week he is satisfied that the RDC really is doing the job for less and baselined its budget against pre-RDC years. “They said they would operate and maintain the parks for $2 million in 2001,” he said. “They have operated the parks for five years for the same amount. Where in government does somebody maintain the same costs for five years? I thought that was outstanding.”

John Malmo, former chairman of the board of the old Memphis Park Commission, told the Flyer last year that he thinks such comparisons play fast and loose with the facts. Isolating the cost of running riverfront parks from the rest of the city is like trying to isolate the cost of running one room of your house or raising one of your children. Obviously, there are a lot of shared costs and overhead.

The CA story says there are new cobblestones on the riverfront. If so, they’re not the huge ones that many Memphians remember. The broad area at the end of Union Avenue and west of Riverside Drive where the tour boats dock is a patchwork of loose gravel and small cobblestones, with a few massive chain links that are a reminder of the city’s cotton and riverboat days. But “the cobblestones” are in no condition to qualify as a tourist attraction, and, after six RDC years, there are no markers calling attention to them or explaining their significance. To call this an accomplishment of the RDC is a stretch.

With plans to enclose the harbor scrapped two years ago, the RDC’s current big project is Beale Street Landing, a $27 million park and boat landing at the foot of Beale Street and Tom Lee Park. Friends for Our Riverfront and others have argued that modest user-friendly improvements could be made at the park for a fraction of that price.

The CA puts no heat on the RDC board, which includes a host of downtown and Memphis luminaries. Once again, Friends for Our Riverfront does the heavy lifting when it comes to accountability by attending RDC meetings and circulating their notes and minutes via their website.

The quality of the RDC’s work on Mud Island and along the riverfront speaks for itself. The parks, bluff, and Riverside Drive, in the opinion of this 25-year downtown worker and fan, have never looked better. There may indeed be big efficiencies at the RDC versus the public sector. In that case, the agency would be best served by embracing complete financial transparency, explaining its magic formula without fear or favor, joining forces with Friends for Our Riverfront when practical, and expanding its expertise and thrifty business model to other parts of Memphis on a scale commensurate with those salaries.

By John Branston

Elvis: Still King of eBay

The rights to Elvis' last recorded song sell for $30,000.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Search for Elvis Presley items on eBay, and you will turn up hundreds — no thousands — of souvenirs, photos, albums, magazine articles, 45s, LPs, CDs, and just about anything and everything someone could slap a TCB logo on.

But occasionally, something very rare and unusual turns up, and that’s just what happened recently when someone decided to sell the rights to Elvis’ last recorded song.

In 1973, the King of Rock and Roll teamed up with songwriter Paul Terry King to produce and record two songs. One of these, “If I’d Only Bought Her Roses,” was sold last year to Robert X. Sillerman, the current owner of Elvis Presley Enterprises for an undisclosed price.

But the other song, “Just Like Rolling Up the Hill,” has remained a secret until now, when Hill — not in the best of health — decided to sell the rights on eBay. What this means, according to eBay, is that the new owner can “produce, sing, or release it yourself.” It was promoted on eBay as “Elvis’ Last Recorded Song.”

Sounds like a risky venture, but hey it worked for Elvis, so it might work for the highest bidder, an unidentified (or in eBay’s terms, “private”) buyer who ended up paying $31,101 for the rights. The winner receives “copyright and all associated publication and performance rights, etc.”

Learn more about this unusual auction. — Michael Finger

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Looking Back at the Flyer’s $50,000 Giveaway

To celebrate the Flyer’s 25th year, we’ll be using this space each week to look back on stories from past issues.

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