After catching flak from the entire military-industrial complex for its groundbreaking story on Operation Tailwind - and then cravenly caving in with a groveling mea culpa (whatever happened to "We stand by our story"?) - CNN's flagship newsmagazine show, NewsStand, has apparently decided on a change in strategy.
For the last two months, the show has had a team of producers on the ground here in Hollywood quietly putting together what we were told is a major story. Advance word is that they are planning to blow the lid off . . . (drum roll) . . . the Hollywood Walk of Fame!
Now, anyone out here with a pulse has known for some time that Hollywood's hokum-stuffed "Mayor" Johnny Grant and his Walk of Fame are a colossal joke. The walk is filled with Grant cronies of dubious talent, while legit stars are not represented. One reason: You have to put up on the order of $10,000 to get a star, money that goes into the nebulous sinkhole that is the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. And the stars themselves are in terrible disrepair. Patt "the Hat" Morrison of the L.A. Times wrote a very funny column laying out many of the particulars a few months ago. It's old news.
But at the newly self-neutered CNN, this is apparently really heavy stuff, worthy of a national expose. The ostensibly newsworthy peg CNN is hanging their story on appears to be state Attorney General Dan Lungren's run for governor. Lungren, you see, brokered an unusually friendly settlement a few years back that let Grant's Chamber of Commerce keep control of the Walk (and the licensing rights that flow therefrom) after it had been revealed that the Chamber "mismanaged" copious amounts of dough. And Lungren and Republican Grant are old pals. Stop the presses!
Garcetti: Out of It
Just how outrageous do things have to get at the MTA before District Attorney Gil Garcetti pays attention?
Take the case of Rudy Regalado, a former MTA assistant buyer who steered scores of contracts and change orders to a vendor who, according to government witnesses, was kicking back thousands of dollars under the table.
Last week the State Fair Political Practices Commission levied a $226,000 fine against Regalado for 113 counts of violating the state conflict-of-interest laws - the 10th highest penalty in the commission's history. But Gil Garcetti passed on the case. According to a source in the D.A.'s Office, his prosecutors considered this sort of crime too petty for felony prosecution, and by the time they got around to it, the one-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors had passed.
Remember, this is the same D.A. who prosecuted a man on a three-strikes charge for stealing a slice of pizza, who as a matter of routine seeks the longest prison terms possible against all sorts of petty criminals. And who, the last time we looked, has prosecuted exactly zero government officials for the sort of rampant malfeasance that sank a billion-dollar-a-year agency like the MTA.
There is a lesson here, folks. If you want to steal, steal from local government. Better yet, get an elected official to help you raid the public trough and you are practically guaranteed immunity from prosecution. And if you happen to be an elected official yourself - well, what are you waiting for?
Since the media caught wind of the story a few months ago, Garcetti's office has - surprise! - reopened Regala do's case for review.
Heidi: Freak Out
Heidi Fleiss has been called just about every name in the book: whore, pimp, slut. But snitch? Our gal Heidi - who kept her black book closed and her lips sealed after she got popped - a rat?
That's what E! television alleged in a cheesy, two-hour docudrama - complete with a hokey "re-enactment" of Heidi wearing a wire to help the LAPD bust drug dealers - that has aired four times since July. Problem is, the show aired inside the women's Federal Correctional Institution near Pleasanton, where Heidi is finishing up a 37-month sentence for tax evasion - and where a snitch jacket could be dangerous to your health.
Last month, Heidi spoke to a close friend who tells OffBeat that ever since the show aired, the former Hollywood madam has been harassed, threatened and generally pushed around by some tough chicks on her cell block. Heidi has requested transfer to another, more isolated unit, but so far prison authorities haven't fulfilled her request. "She's afraid for her life!" Heidi's friend says.
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E!, meanwhile, should be afraid for its wallet. Heidi has hired Century City attorney David Wood - past clients include Mickey Rourke - to explore the possibility of a defamation suit against the network. Only in Heidi's line of work would assisting a law-enforcement agency be considered harmful to one's reputation.
A spokeswoman for E! defended the accuracy of the network's program.
You can't imagine how excited we were to read in the L.A. Times Expanded Coverage Weekend Sports section last Friday that that big game - Ohio State vs. Penn State - would be broadcast on Channel 7 at 9 a.m. Calls were made, schedules changed, chow lined up - a huge testosterone-charged get-together with the fellas to watch the big game. Now imagine the bitter, angry scene when we popped on the tube and found . . . cartoons! Freaking kids' shows, and the game nowhere to be found on the dial. Saturday's paper - like we were really ready to believe the Times at this point - said Pay-Per-View - but they didn't have it either. What gives?