IF YOU HATE CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, YOU'LL LOVE THIS: KOLD-TV, Channel 13, was all soft and sympathetic in its coverage of the tragic premature birth and loss of a Tucson couple's quintuplets. You'd think they really gave a damn--especially since the father of the quints, Mark Epstein, is a KOLD news photographer.

Skinny But what the creatures that pass for station management did before the quints died was nothing short of ruthless, and put the young couple under enormous stress.

Two weeks ago, KOLD held a mandatory meeting for its employees on a Sunday--ignoring the sheer inconvenience, and the fact that almost no licensed daycare facilities are open then. Apparently they chose that day so they could get everybody together without pay. Do these people need a union, or what?

Epstein's wife was hospitalized at the time so that the quintuplets could be closely monitored. With his other three kids in tow, and a doctor's letter explaining that his wife was unable to watch over the kids, Epstein dutifully attended the stupid meeting.

And guess what? Station management subsequently suspended him for two days--as punishment for bringing his kids!

His wife soon lost the quintuplets, a story which KOLD news covered with its usual sticky-sweet fake sympathy. Our spies tells us the news director pressed the suspended Epstein for video footage, which he adamantly refused to provide.

And that all-important mandatory meeting? Anchor Bud Foster wasn't there. Sources tell us he was doing something far more important--playing golf. But no suspension for good old Bud for blowing off the meeting. We're told another KOLD employee was in California, with the blessing of the news director, so she could shop at an exclusive M.A.C. makeup store. Yes, it's vital we have the latest frosty-look makeup for our anchor chicks--no suspension for her, either.

And the subject of that all-important meeting? Among other things, what KOLD can do to boost its sorry-ass news ratings. Here's a helpful hint for KOLD brass: In lieu of grubbing for video of premature, dying babies, why don't you simply drop dead yourselves?

MEANWHILE, OVER AT TUCSON'S OTHER SORRY-ASS TV NEWS OPERATION: Folks dumb enough to watch the fake news airing Sunday on KGUN-TV, Channel 9, were treated to an astonishing display of journalistic incompetence--that is, if they were expecting balanced reporting from this federally licensed company occupying our public airwaves.

After a brief kiss-off report on the county bond election, KGUN's weekend anchor du jour smiled a little too warmly into the camera and cheerfully advised viewers with questions about the bond proposals to call the Tucson Chamber of Commerce. The board of the developer-dominated Chamber, of course, had already come out strongly against the open-space bond proposal on last Tuesday's ballot.

So why would KGUN, which owns and operates the much-ballyhooed 9-LINE, one of the most sophisticated phone information systems in town, advise viewers to call the self-serving Chamber, instead of putting up a full and complete report of its own on the 9-Line?

Could it be because KGUN General Manager Karen Lee Rice, a relatively recent Oregon émigré and one-time political hack, is also this year's titular head of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce? Of course not.

And where was KGUN's news director during the sloppy thinking that led up to this little disgrace? Oh, sorry--Rice fired him earlier in the week. And the station's longtime assignments editor, who might have argued against this abuse of public trust? Dismissed a week or two before the news director, we're told.

Is it just us, or has the already poor quality of local TV here taken a real nose-dive of late?

CRASH WARNING: PUT YOUR HEAD BETWEEN YOUR LEGS AND KISS THAT TV-LIKE ORIFICE GOOD-BYE: Personally, we think there's been a real nose-dive in the quality of local TV--news and otherwise. Some recent examples:

First we saw an enterprising reporter from KOLD-TV, Channel 13 (Motto: "Sure, we're KOLD-hearted bastards--but we're good-looking, KOLD-hearted bastards!"), wandering around Benson, interviewing people who had met big celebrity Danny Glover, who was in southern Arizona filming a movie. The on-the-scene correspondent actually asked a store clerk what items Glover had bought, because, after all, he's a celebrity, so even his shopping list is newsworthy.

We also enjoyed KOLD's special feature on organized crime--which ran, just co-incidentally, while its network movie that night was The Last Don.

The network boosting was even worse at KGUN-TV, Channel 9, which treated viewers to an exciting interview with actor Michael Caine, who happened to be starring as Captain Nemo in the boring and overhyped 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea miniseries. Caine shared his thoughts about the state of the world's oceans--surely very newsworthy, even if Caine isn't an ocean scientist or anything. (After all, he plays one on TV!)

KGUN also recently once again blew off its regular programming, replacing Sunday Journal with another infomercial, this one all about the exciting world of manufactured housing. Guess their Sunday viewers are mostly trailer dwellers who could care less about public affairs. And we bet those viewers--at least the ones who don't believe in Satan--especially enjoyed KGUN's Sunday afternoon infomercial, starring gorgeous babes lying about in sexy, silky lounge wear while bravely dealing with the menace of unwanted facial and pubic hairs. We have a question: Do anchor people have pubic hair?

And finally, we have KVOA-TV, Channel 4's quasi-infomercial broadcast last Saturday night--several minutes devoted to pimping for Civano, the new southeast side "solar" development the Tucson City Council is subsidizing because it sounds soooo politically correct.

Forget the merits of Civano for a moment, and note how badly local news has degenerated. What's next--coverage for the latest discount mall? Interviews with happy shoppers who just bought new undies?

News, ads and political-spin campaigns are blending together into some new form of information, but it still smells like bullshit to us. Is this really how we should allow these broadcasting companies to profit from the public airwaves?

AND SPEAKING OF PIMP JOBS: We've been watching the local media aid the Pima County Board of Supervisors in choosing the late John Even's successor. Not a pretty sight--they went far beyond editorial endorsement. The Tucson Citizen's lede metro story on Saturday was all about Even's widow, Brenda, filing for the vacancy. A couple of TV stations slobbered over this non-event, too.

What irritates us isn't Mrs. Even's qualifications--she'd vote about the same as the rest of the cementheads, namely exactly the way legendary land speculator Don Diamond and the rest of the Growth Lobby demands. Nope, what bothers us is the bush-league manner in which the media have handled this from day one.

Classifying as a "precedent" the 1973 appointment of Carmen Cajero to fill the District 10 legislative seat vacated by the death of her husband Nejo is just plain misleading. There have been a ton of appointments made since then, and none went to a widow, wife, uncle or cousin. When Sister Claire Dunn was killed, leaving her state house seat vacant, nobody asked for another nun. Furthermore, Mrs. Cajero was the widely popular choice of the Democratic Party at the time. In the case of Even's successor, however, the GOP, apparently concerned they might offend one of the candidates, has been strangely absent from these proceedings.

Now we know why nobody cares about local political parties any more, folks--because they refuse to take a position on anything.

Secondly, reporters who should know better--like Joe Burchell and Hipolito Corella at The Arizona Daily Star--couldn't even deliver a basic bio of those seeking the office. Check the morgue, guys.

But the most disgusting part of this story is the gutless manner in which the Democrat majority has handled their opportunity to change the makeup of this board. We expect Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, a business politician, not to be concerned about where the next supe stands on the issues. But for Board Chairman Raul Grijalva and Supervisor Sharon Bronson to ignore the issues at stake while continually mumbling about "process" and the "precedent" of appointing widows is enough to make their supporters puke.

Excuse us, Raul, but we believe Brenda Even is diametrically opposed to just about everything you supposedly stood for when you were a member of the TUSD School Board, where she now sits. Her record on that board flies in the faces of your most loyal constituency, TUSD teachers. Do you plan to reward her behavior by supporting her appointment? Hey, you don't really have any power as board chairman, do you?

So what will Mikey Boyd make you do to keep up the alliance, Raul? We know whomever he supports will have the approval of Diamond and the Growth Lobby, so in supplying the second vote you'd be selling out the rest of your constituents.

And, Sharon, are you so into lining up with Dan that you can't come up with a candidate who'd be hard for Raul to turn down? How about a restrained-growth environmentalist? And how about doing something other than whining and kissing Brenda's butt?

CON GAME: Rumors persist that El Con shopping center will soon be sold, leveled and converted to a high-end resort hotel.

We're amused about that possibility because, 35 years ago, before El Con could be built, the gung-ho growthers of the time tore down a beautiful old upscale hotel to make way for the mall. Skinny sources tell us the resort idea isn't going to fly, but don't expect that seedy shopping center to stay around much longer, either.

Within five years, our sources predict, the midtown site will end up sporting a bazillion cheapo apartment units, or perhaps a bunch of large factory-outlet stores. We hope they're wrong.

PERHAPS HE'D DO BETTER EXHIBITING A SHRUNKEN HEAD OR SOMETHING: Rick Fisher, a Tucson-based adventurer, travel guide and indigenous-culture entrepreneur, has seen his share of bad press in the running world. Having acquired a reputation for poor sportsmanship after shoving spectators and shouting at officials at cross-country races in which he has fielded a team of Tarahumara Indian runners, Fisher comes in for fresh shellacking in the March issue of George magazine. (Our apologies: The Skinny just got around to reading this number of John-John's political glossy.)

Former Outside magazine editor Brad Wetzler reports Fisher's quest to make the Tarahumara team world-famous is taking an ever more self-promotional turn. "Nobody--not Lewis and Clark, and not John Wesley Powell--has maintained a continuous relationship with American native people for as long as I have," he quotes Fisher as saying, going on to remark that the only negative element in these events "is the white guy on the sidelines with all the gripes about exploitation and neglect."

The Tarahumara runners, from the fabled Copper Canyon region of Mexico, have done well in many competitions on this side of the border, but the sporting-gear manufacturers have yet to come knocking with endorsement deals--largely, Wetzler suggest, because Fisher's behavior has been so generally off-putting. And an ABC-TV crew that came to cover the Tarahumara in a recent southern California race packed up and left after spending a few hours in his company, "discussing ways," Wetzler claims, "to spin the coach right out of the story."

We're watching the letters column of George for Fisher's reply.

WILD STING: Hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders have all been accosted recently by state land management goons who've set up roadblocks in places like the Tortolitas to demand a $15 permit fee from citizens wishing to use state lands.

State lands, legally held for "development" and regularly auctioned in large chunks only land speculators can afford, are designed to enrich the state treasury, and for the use of Arizona citizens--a concept that goes all the way back before the Magna Carta.

Some of us thought this one got resolved when Richard the Lionhearted came home from the Crusades and told King John to call off his evil toady, the Sheriff of Nottingham, who'd been keeping the common folk out of Sherwood Forest.

Now we've got J. Fife Deadbeat III's minions running us off the public land like Basil Rathbone in the '38 version of Robin Hood.

NEW NEIGHBORS: The Pima County Republican Club, which got tossed out of its old meeting place, Carlos Murphy's, because somebody left behind a tabloid even more offensive than the Tucson Weekly, has settled into what they hope will be a permanent home--the Viscount Hotel.

The hotel is owned by well-known Democratic activist Joe Cesare. And guess who else meets in these stately quarters? The local Democrats' Nucleus Club.

Who said there's no longer a clear difference between the two major parties? TW

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