Used to be that getting in touch with flacks was as easy as picking up the phone. Within seconds of placing a call to a company's media-relations department, a polished pitchman would be spinning your ear off. But that was before erstwhile Post-Dispatch gossip scribe and Unreal idol Jerry Berger brought a shroud of secrecy to the profession.
Once a ubiquitous hobnobber, Berger has been a virtual "no-sightem" since leaving the Post in March. (For more on Berger's departure, see the March 10 and April 7 installments of this column.)
What has become of the Sultan of Schmooze? Inquiring Unreal wanted to know.
Mystery solved: Reliable sources tell Unreal that Berger's gone back to his PR roots. (Before signing on with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1978, the columnist flacked for the Muny, as well as for a few motion-picture companies in Hollywood.) One frequently mentioned client: our town's Ted Koplar, who presides over Koplar Communications International, a conglomerate of media and real estate enterprises.
Unreal promptly got Koplar's company on the blower, a gambit that yielded tantalizingly ambiguous results:
Unreal: Jerry Berger, please.
Receptionist: Ummm, I don't know if he's here.
Cindy Kerber, director of media relations for Koplar, confirms that Berger has been seen around the office with increasing frequency in recent weeks, but she declines to say what exactly he's up to.
"Jerry is a good friend of the Koplar family," Kerber hedges. "Beyond that, I don't know what his relationship is with the company."
Koplar did not return Unreal's calls seeking further comment. Nor, for that matter, did Berger, even though we promised piña coladas and chicken wings if he'd dish the dirt on his new life.
Jerry baby, the offer still stands!
Who's Reppin' Who?
On the cover of Flipside NewsZine's July issue, against a red, white and blue backdrop, snarling (or is that a confident smile?) Third Congressional District candidate Russ Carnahan stares out past the headline "Who's Reppin' You?"
Readers who turn to page nineteen of the local monthly lifestyle mag-cum-political journal are treated to a hardball Q&A with Rumblin' Russ ("What will be your plan of action?"), who as Unreal goes to press is facing off against a passel of Democratic rivals in a primary election for Dick Gephardt's soon-to-be vacated Congressional seat. Turn past the "Russ on the Issues" point-by-point, and you'll find a half-page ad for the candidate, situated directly above a half-page large-print Flipside editorial endorsement -- of Carnahan.
It's been a while since Unreal dozed through our last media-ethics class, so we called Charles Davis at the University of Missouri's Graduate School of Journalism. "It looks like the Russ Carnahan memorial edition," quips Davis, who doesn't read Flipside but does teach journalism ethics. "We'd like to have a wall between editorial and marketing."
What's really wrong with this picture, says the professor, isn't so much the interview, the ad or the editorial. It's their placement, which gives the appearance that Carnahan got a package deal for the whole kit and caboodle.
Carnahan isn't the only swinger at Flipside's political love fest. Though his photo didn't make the cover, supporters of Jerryl T. Christmas, candidate for St. Louis Circuit Attorney, ponied up for a quarter-page ad in the same issue. Flipside subjects Christmas to a Carnahan-worthy battery of questions, which take up the remainder of the page, surrounding his ad: "Since I've never been arrested, how can you help me?" asks Flipside staff writer Tiffany Bryant. "There's really nothing that I can do for you personally," Christmas responds.
Maybe next time around he'll opt for the half-page treatment.
The folks at Flipside say they don't sell coverage. The Russ Carnahan for Congress Committee hadn't yet expensed their ad, so Unreal isn't sure how much it cost them.
The Congressional hopeful probably got his money's worth, though. "It sort of cheapens the candidate's message," Mizzou's Davis muses. "Then again, I'm sure Carnahan might say, 'Did we reach the population we wanted? You bet we did.'"
Lest you think the strong acid's worn off, Unreal will have you know that Bill Kranz and his Celestial Theatre, an avant-garde troupe of spacey performers who deck themselves out in Day-Glo costumes, are still going strong. So strong that the troupe is soliciting volunteers and financiers to construct a state-of-the-art Cosmological Flight Machine to replace their trusty yet dated Moonrocket.
Unreal caught up with Kranz recently to discuss this and at least one other very important topic.
Unreal: What prompted the need to upgrade from a mere Moonrocket to a full-on Cosmological Flight Machine?
Bill Kranz: We have a new script that has some nonfiction associated with it concerning the potential for the sun to go nova. That requires us to be able to fly throughout the solar system.
Why did you not vie for the X Prize, like Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen?
Actually, I'm trying to raise anywhere from $500 to $50 billion. Fifty billion would be a real spaceship, so we might be in the running for it, who knows?
If an alien were to receive the benefits of an Ivy League education and major league baseball franchise ownership, would that alien eventually become a better president than George W. Bush?
I think if it was an alien, he could probably do without the Ivy League aspect. I think they've gone far beyond that.
Are aliens capable of kicking booze and cocaine habits and discovering Jesus, or do they worship a more celestial supreme being?
I would hope that the latter would hold truer than the former.
Let's shift gears a bit and talk about Dionne Warwick. Do you feel as though her role in "That's What Friends Are For" was more essential than that of Gladys Knight?
I hope her central role would have more to do with taking a ride on my new spaceship as compared to her partners in music.
Burt Bacharach is hip again. Shouldn't he take some initiative and throw Warwick a bone, perhaps by including her as his supporting act on a French Polynesian lounge tour?
Yeah, he should throw her the whole hindquarter. I'm drinking Mountain Dew right now, so that might have something to do with it.
If all else fails, is it safe to assume the Celestial Theatre will create a character called "Dionne Warwick," thus cementing the tall drink of soul's lunar legacy?
Yeah, I'll drink to that.
Dionne Warwick will play the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago on October 23 as part of the somber "Loungepalooza" festival commemorating the 96th anniversary of the Cubs' last world title.
Dammit Bill, I was perfectly happy to let you make up the questions as well as the answers. Now I sit here broken-hearted with a "Bill Me!"-less issue of the RFT. So here goes:
1) Will your seemingly liberal sexual views allow you to ensure that students get much-needed sex-ed classes?
2) Why should I listen to you instead of Dan Savage?
Ever since the St. Louis Post-Dispatch erroneously called my column a "sex advice" column rather than a "dating and relationships" column (it's the Post, not the Times, and not the Washington Post, either -- it's no accident that this Pulitzer paper hasn't won a Pulitzer for news in more than 50 years, and although most papers have a "corrections" column for things they got wrong, the Post is the only paper in the country that has a column for things they got right the previous day...), I've been getting letters from women who want me to help them find their G-spot. Thank you, Post-Dispatch.
In answer to your questions:
1) Yes. Sort of. Not really. Under our new superintendent, anything is possible. And I resemble that remark about "liberal sexual views." I'm very conservative in my personal life. I have never cheated on someone (though God knows sometimes I've tried). And if I was going to cheat, I would tell her, and then it wouldn't be cheating. And if I didn't tell her, I'm sure I would have a good reason. Like sparing her feelings. Or my huevos.
2) Six reasons I prefer my column to the other one:
Is Savage related to the Savage Center family where the Blues play, and did they pay for naming rights to his column?
One of his columns goes a long, long way.
He's supposed to be funny; I am funny.
I've actually had sex.
I don't get $50 when his column appears.
Address matters of love and lust to St. Louis school board member Bill Haas at firstname.lastname@example.org, or stamp and send to Bill Me! c/o Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130. You can also call 314-754-6411 and leave a voicemail -- but only if you promise to speak in a sultry bedroom voice.
Contrary to Bart Simpson's philosophy regarding the game "Rock, Paper, Scissors" -- "Good ol' rock...nothing beats rock!" -- apparently paper does beat it, and pretty easily, as Unreal discovered at the Black Thorn Pub in south city on a recent Wednesday night. We were humiliated in the tournament despite all of our pre-game warm-ups, scouting reports and meditation.
For the past few months, reps from the local Schlafly brewery have been traveling to bars throughout the area sponsoring "Rock, Paper, Scissors" tournaments, and the drinkers seem to love it. Drunks and teetotalers alike can play, and neither seems to have an edge. Nor does either gender have a physical advantage, so the hotshot guys and the hottie girls can compete against each other.
"It works because everyone thinks they're an expert," explains Ben Bruker, brewery representative and referee for the Thorn tourney. He says the dudes talk the talk more than the ladies. "The guys always say, 'I'm really good at this,' but what's amazing is that the women always seem to win."
Finalist Tina (who left the bar before we could get her last name) was the heavy favorite because she was so impressive in her early rounds. After embarrassing Unreal in the best-two-out-of-three preliminaries, Tina breezed through the next round with ease. She was well-rested going into the best-of-five final against Ida McCall, who had struggled in early rounds but managed to eke out wins. But her arm did seem tired.
The two eyed each other, shook hands, and then went at it. Rock-rock. Scissors-scissors. The opponents were locked into each others' psyches. Out of nowhere, Ida pulled out a paper, which covered Tina's rock. The crowd roared. Tina stormed back with a solid scissors, which shredded Ida's paper. Ouch. Series tied. A rock-rock throw calmed the pub, and the tension built. Bruker urged them on, and Tina slammed a rock on her opponent's scissors to storm into the lead 2-1. Ida, however, responded with her own rock to Tina's scissors, tying the match. The crowd went mad. 2-2!
Bruker separated the two, who were surprisingly calm despite the overwhelming pressure. They stepped back in, pumped their fists twice, and then let loose: Tina, out of nowhere, went with paper! What a maneuver! Ida, however, dropped the scissor-bomb, and Tina stepped back, a look of shock on her face. The victorious Ida smiled and walked away.
Approached later, Ida McCall kept her game face. When asked whether she was using any strategy, the first-time tournament player was evasive. "No," the champion replied, torturing us with her silence.