With political repression all the rage in Eastern Europe, local despots are naturally anxious to join in. So when a flyer announcing a protest against the bombing in Yugoslavia was circulated two weeks ago, City Hall went right to work. Andrew Cox, an apparatchik from Imperial Mayor Mike White's office, was dispatched to the Peoples Fightback Center to post a warning that the group needed a permit to stand in front of the Terminal Tower--and faced criminal penalties without one. The dogged Cox also tracked down a landlord who provided contact numbers for the group. The next day, the group's treasurer, RTA bus driver Susan Schnur, received a call at home from RTA General Manager Ron Tober. "Susan, I'm calling actually on behalf of LaVonne Sheffield-McClain, the mayor's chief of staff," Tober said. "You need to call LaVonne as soon as you possibly can . . . the mayor's office would like to talk to you about the demonstration." Despite the implied threat of a message from her boss, Schnur ignored the call. "I've been politically active here for about twenty years, and we never needed a permit before," she says. The demonstration came off as planned and attracted about forty people, protesting under the close scrutiny of Cox, who handed the group another written warning. "It was such an overreaction," says Schnur. "Don't they have anything better to do down there?" The same might be asked of Tober, who insists there was no subtext to his call. "The mayor's office didn't know how to get hold of Susan," he says. "As long as she does her job here, she's fine."
Outraged readers aren't the only ones appalled by the tabloidization of The Plain Dealer, which has bannered recent global and national tragedies with screaming headlines like "Bloodbath" and "Bodies, Bodies, Bodies." A petition posted in the PD newsroom and signed by about 75 staffers last week reads: "Today's headline on the tragedy in Colorado is an embarrassment to all serious journalists. Sadly, these tabloid headlines have become a regular feature on our front page. We report on tragedies as part of our obligation to inform our readers. But in doing so, we should not exploit the victims." The headlines are reportedly the work of Jim Fabris, a graphics ghoul hired by departing editor David Hall. Fabris was one of the few employees singled out for meritorious service by Hall in his farewell speech--an opinion not shared by reporters who find heads like "Yellow Coffins of Death" (atop a story about school bus safety) better suited for naming punk rock bands.
The "Bloodbath" in Colorado reduced the death of former Mayor Ralph Perk to a teaser in the bottom corner of 1A--a marked contrast to his immediate predecessor, Carl Stokes, whose death in April 1996 dominated the PD front page and filled nearly three and a half pages inside. Stokes was by any measure a more historically significant figure than Perk. But there was plenty of news the day he died--the Unabomber was captured and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown had gone down in a plane crash. Perk lost out not to history, but a taste for tawdriness. He received a less noticeable slight Sunday at City Hall, where the administration would allow only about half the speakers the Perk family wanted at the rotunda memorial service.
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