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July 11, 2006

All the world’s a stage, even in front of LEO

Photo by Ben Schneider: A LEO crew took in Rep. Anne Northup’s street theater outside LEO HQ last Wednesday. Below, the security contract for accompanying a Northup staffer to copy back issues of LEO, at an hour.I can’t speak for my colleagues here at LEO, but, personally, I’m thrilled that U.S. Rep. Anne Northup held a press conference in front of our offices on Fourth Street. It’s not often that we radical left-wing journalistic scumbags get such an up-close and personal look at democracy in action, and who would have ever thought our esteemed Congressperson would have brought it right to our doorstep?This historic event happened the day after the Fourth of July, about the time LEO managing editor Sara Havens and others were just beginning to get over their holiday hangovers. It was such a slow news day that three local TV stations and The Courier-Journal actually dispatched reporters to record it for posterity, and I just can’t understand why the ever-earnest Steve Burgin of WLKY-TV didn’t look real happy about it.Just before the appointed time, some Northup functionaries arrived to set up a table right in front of our door. On the table they put a podium, with a microphone attached, and a big stack — I’d say it was at least as tall as John Yarmuth — of what looked suspiciously like official papers.Upon the arrival of Congresswoman Northup, whose tan indicated that she may have been girding for her campaign against LEO founder Yarmuth by spending some quality time at her palatial home in Naples, Fla., our crack LEO news team went on red-alert status.Photo by Ben Schneider: Billy Reed: “Hello, Anne.” Anne Northup: “What are you doing these days?” BR: “Well, besides writing for LEO …” AN: “You’re writing for them?”(As you fans of the Fox News Channel and our Office of Homeland Security already know, red alert stands for  “Oh, my God, they’re going to blow us to hell!” and is the signal for Vice President Cheney to either go into a bunker, shoot an innocent bystander or get on a plane to Saudi Arabia.)Editorial designer Ben “Buddy” Schneider grabbed a camera and turned into Bill Luster, which is quite a feat considering that Buddy is about a zillion times as big as the diminutive C-J star photographer. Staff writer/music editor Stephen George took notebook in hand, in case Rep. Northup said or did something that was actually newsworthy, such as revealing that she’s a secret fan of the Flaming Lips.Before Rep. Northup began her remarks, I went up to pay my respects. I got to know her family back in the days when I was covering the exploits of her sister, Mary T. Meagher, who was known in the international swimming world as “Madame Butterfly.” I’ve always liked Rep. Northup personally.“What are you doing these days?” she asked, pleasantly.“Well,” I said, “besides writing for LEO …”“You’re writing for them?” she interjected.And so was I again reminded of the power of the press.I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that Rep. Northup apparently hasn’t read LEO for the six-plus months I’ve been here. After all, she apparently has never read the paper at all, which was the point of her being there at our front door on July 5.On the campaign trail, Yarmuth has repeatedly said that he will stand behind every column he has ever written for LEO if Rep. Northup will stand behind every vote she has ever made during her four terms in the House.Taking him at his word, Rep. Northup wants to get those columns and presumably have some of her campaign volunteers go over every one in search of evidence that Yarmuth is a neo-communist liberal pussbag devil who’s every bit as traitorous and unpatriotic as, oh, The New York Times.I don’t know about you, but I can’t image Rep. Northup hating any of her volunteers so much that she would force them to read 15-plus years’ worth of John Yarmuth columns. This is the kind of tactic you might use to torture Iraqi prisoners — something else we Americans apparently know something about — but not to win elections.Photo by Ben Schneider: After the press conference, Rep. Northup answered questions from Voice editor Charles Westmoreland.The only punishment worse than having to read that many years’ worth of anybody’s columns, including my own, would be having to read through the stack of papers on the table next to Northup, which turned out to (purportedly) be all of her Congressional votes.Just looking at the stack was depressing. Going through it all was equally unimaginable, especially considering that — unlike the past issues of LEO — there are no adults-only ads to provide distractions of the come-hither persuasion. When she stepped to the microphone and began reading her prepared remarks, the TV cameras began rolling and the reporters started scribbling. The crowd of onlookers consisted mostly of LEO employees and a handful of curious passers-by.(We get a lot of curious passers-by at LEO, some of whom are broke, homeless, demented, angry, inebriated, wild-eyed, semi-violent or any combination thereof. I suppose I should be grateful that none of them stumbled along during Rep. Northup’s press conference, although I do admit to harboring deliciously evil thoughts about possible confrontations that ended with vomit on the Representative’s shoes. I’m sorry. The devil made me do it.)As she neared the conclusion of her remarks, LEO editor Cary Stemle stepped forward to present Rep. Northup a copy of the current edition of LEO. It was a blatant, transparent and thoroughly admirable attempt to exploit the situation to the newspaper’s advantage.Parrying Stemle’s thrust, our Congressperson declined to accept the paper by saying, “No, I want them all.”Happily for LEO, this was all being recorded by the TV cameras and the C-J reporter. From the paper’s standpoint, it was the kind of exposure money cannot buy. Although our surveys indicate that LEO readership has been soaring in recent months, maybe the publicity will generate even more new readers, not to mention advertisers.(We interrupt this column for a commercial announcement. If you’re a business owner who wants to reach a hip audience of all ages, an audience that’s growing rapidly, you might want to invest some of your advertising budget in LEO. Even now, operators are standing by to take your order. Thank you. We now return to our regular columnizing.)On the whole, I thought it came off rather well. LEO got a big dose of free publicity. The political pundits got something to talk about — namely, the question of whether Rep. Northup’s sneak attack at LEO might indicate that she has far, far too much spare time on her hands. We were all treated to some excellent street theater. And Rep. Northup got away without being exposed to seamy side of life on Fourth Street, including your basic profane screams from drive-by voters.In fact — and, again, I can’t speak for my colleagues — I hope she comes back to take a tour of LEO’s, ah, palatial offices, including our kitchen. (Oh, crap. This is my week on kitchen duty, and I haven’t cleaned up a thing. Wonder what David Hawpe does when it’s his turn for kitchen duty at The C-J?).If she wishes, we also will be happy to show her the office where Yarmuth used to type his columns. His bookshelves seemed filled with more books about golf than about politics, which is sort of embarrassing to some of our long-haired, hippy, bomb-throwing radicals. I mean, when somebody mentions the religious right and the first thing your founder thinks about is Augusta National and “Amen Corner,” it tends to damage your street cred as an alternative newspaper, if you get my drift.The day after the big event, The C-J stripped the story across Page 2 of its Metro section. As I said, it was a slow news day. Unfortunately, The C-J didn’t take advantage of the photo op. However, our man Schneider got some great photos of Stemle talking to Northup (see cover and these pages). Some, praise be, even show the bald spot on the back of his head, which is arguably growing even faster than LEO readership.Not to advise the Northup campaign on tactics (everybody knows we’re nothing but a bunch of wacko Yarmuth suck-ups), but the next time she wants to promote LEO, she might want to consider moving the show down the street to The Palace.After all, its stage is as perfect for theater of the absurd and political grandstanding as it us for an Abbott & Costello Trivia Contest.*     Contact the writer at billyr@leoweekly.com*Sponsored by LEO