About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Victim Carrie Prejean


America and the world get to know some individuals by virtue of their status as victims. Celebrity bestowed by "victimhood" can happen in a variety of ways.

Some victims enter our public consciousness due to the hurtful acts of others; other victimhood is self-inflicted. Some people become well known victims out of carlessness, accident, or circumstances. Others are victims of war, terrorism, racism, or political correctness.

Whatever the case, most celebrity victims are unintentional celebrities, and many no doubt would have preferred their privacy to the celebrity into which they were suddenly thrust. Ah, but the media love a good, bankrollable victim...

Never mind that beauty pageants, like modeling shows, are among the very silliest events that we Americans are expected to watch. Beautiful girls, many of them surgically enhanced, strut and wriggle their way to minor celebrity, and the saddest part of pageants is the question and answer portion, which usually involves a great deal of simpering.

Nevertheless,at the Miss USA pageant in 2009, Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean, became the victim of political correctness run amuck.

Contest judge Perez Hilton asked Prejean if all U.S. states should legalize same-sex marriage. She waffled prettily at first, but finally said that to her, marriage was an institution for a man and a woman.

Perez is gay. Prejean is an evangelical Christian. And never the twain did mix.

Hilton called her a dumb bitch online and indicated that her answer had cost her the Miss USA title.

Soon thereafter, topless photos of Prejean surfaced on the Internet. Her reaction was that the shots were taken back when she was young and foolish. Still, the racy photos did not seem to square well with her conservative old-time religion.

The Great Comb-over, Donald Trump, owner of both pageants, ruled that Prejean would remain first runner-up for Miss USA and that she could retain her Miss California crown. Trump noted that President Barack Obama had expressed pretty much the same opinion on same-sex marriage as did Prejean.

In protest to Trump's handling of the matter, pageant director Shanna Moakler, resigned. She had been Miss USA 1995. My my.

Victim Peter Arnett

Veteran journalist Peter Arnett was cut loose by both NBC and National Geographic in 2003 for daring to criticize the bungled U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was one of several journalists fired around that same time for opposing the Bush occupation of that nation.

Arnett, a New Zealand-American Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting in Vietnam, was not the kind of journalist favored by the George W. Bush administration. Arnett actually spent significant time in the places from which he reported, and he had not had his teeth pulled by being "embedded" with the military as a precondition to being allowed to cover war news.

Bush was not the first president to dislike the independence of Arnett's reporting. President Lyndon Johnson had wanted to get Arnett fired or moved for not pushing the party line during Vietnam, but the owners of America's media at that time had not yet become so craven.

The excuses for firing Arnett in March 2003 were that he had arranged a 15-minute interview with Iraqi state television and that he had criticized the way war policy was being implemented by U.S. forces. Arnett easily and rapidly found work with anti-war media in Britain.

At the Wall Street Journal, correspondent Farnaz Fassihi was taken off the Iraq beat for having called President Bush's rosy assessment of U.S. progress in the war a disaster.

In Grants Pass, Oregon, columnist Dan Guthrie was canned by the Daily Courier for harshly criticizing President Bush's initial response to the 9/11 attacks, saying that the president had bolted under pressure.

In Texas, the Texas City Sun fired columnist Tom Gutting for writing that when George W. Bush was elected, everyone recognized that he was not our brightest president and that he had hidden out instead of leading boldly immediately after 9/11.

It is especially noteworthy that opinion columnists at American newspapers were fired for having expressed their honest opinions.

Being so ready to flee from controversy and dodge dissent was just another nail in the coffin of old-style American journalism.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Victim Nick Berg

Nicholas "Nick" Berg was the first Westerner captured and beheaded by Islamic militants during the Iraq War. His captors videotaped the horrific act and put it on the Internet for all to see.

Berg, an engineer who was Jewish, owned his own company that worked on communication antennas. He went to Iraq in 2003 hoping to get contracts for antenna repair work. In April of 2004, he disappeared. The video showing his beheading at the hands of five masked militants was aired in May 2004.

Berg, whose friends remember him as a brilliant, cheerful and adventurous man, appears to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Victim Juanita Broaddrick

Nursing home administrator Juanita Broaddrick waited 21 years to accuse Bill Clinton of rape. Her reason for not doing so sooner, she said, was that she did not think anyone would believe her over the word of Clinton, at that time a candidate for Governor of Arkansas.

At the time of the alleged rape, 1978, she was working as a volunteer in Clinton's campaign. She maintains that Clinton phoned her in her hotel room, asked to meet in that room rather than downstairs-- to avoid reporters, and once inside the room, forced himself on her.

She also claims that Clinton later tried to apologize to her, but that she told him to go to hell. She came forward with these charges after Clinton's celebrated Monica Lewinsky affair.

Along with Lewinsky, Broaddrick was hardly alone in the string of women who have complained about Bill Clinton's womanizing ways. Others include Elizabeth Ward Gracen, a former Miss America;Kathleen Willey; Paula Jones; Dolly Kyle Browning; Jennifer Flowers; Sally Perdue; Christy Zercher; Eileen Wellstone; and Sandra Allen James.

If all or most of their charges are true, then Bill Clinton has been one busy boy, and Hillary has had to overlook a great deal to maintain her own political aspirations.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Victim James Byrd

A victim of a racial hate crime if there ever was one was Jasper, TX, resident James Byrd Jr., who was chained to a pick-up truck and dragged around three miles.

In 1998, three sadistic Bubbas beat the 49-year-old Byrd, who was black, apparently slit his throat, and used a logging chain to drag his body over a rural road as an example of white power, or something such. According to testimony, Byrd had been walking home from a party, caught a ride with the three men, then got into a fight with one of them. The three left Byrd's mutilated body in front of a black church.

In response to this brutal killing, Texas passed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act to increase penalties for such murders.

Victim Max Cleland

Former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee from Vietnam, has been the victim of Republican smears that were lower than a snake's underbelly.

Joseph Maxell Cleland had run the Veterans Administration during the Jimmy Carter presidency, had been Georgia's Secretary of State and had represented that state in the U.S. Senate from 1996 until losing re-election to his Republican opponent in 2002.

Cleland ran afoul of the great Republican smear machine by criticizing some of the policies of President George W. Bush, especially the draconian and controversial Homeland Security bill.

Politicians will be politicians, of course, but the worst low blows against Cleland came during the time he supported presidential hopeful John Kerry. Cleland's patriotism was harshly questioned by the chickenhawk politicos of the Far Right, most of whom had never found it quite convenient to serve their country in uniform. These spokesmen were somehow able to turn Kerry's combat service into a negative andvia their gutter campaigning, make Cleland, recipient of the Silver Star and Bronze Star, sound like an enemy sympathizer. It was revolting enough to gag a moose.

Victim Jill Carroll

Reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped by the mujahideen in Baghdad in January 2006 but was finally released unhurt. She was the 31st foreign journalist kidnapped during the Iraq War.

Carroll was working for the Christian Science Monitor nwspaper when she and her driver and interpreter were stopped by gunmen. The interpreter was shot to death, the driver escaped, and Carroll was taken hostage. A brief videotape was later released on Al-Jazeera. Her kidnappers wanted to trade her release for that of all female prisoners held by the U.S. in Iraq. Two additional video segments showing Carroll were eventually aired.

Five Iraqi women were released from U.S. custody, which apparently satisfied Carroll's kidnappers, who called themselves the Brigades of Vengeance. Carroll was dropped off near the offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Al Ameriya and reported that she had been humanely treated during her three-month captivity.

Victim Reginald Denny

Truck driver Reginald Oliver Denny became a victim of racial anger and payback in 1992 when he was pulled from his truck cab and badly beaten during the Los Angeles riots, which had been prompted by the acquittal of four white LAPD policemen in the earlier beating of a black man.

Denny was driving an 18-wheeler full of sand when he stopped at a South LA intersection and was accosted, kicked, hit with a hammer and a piece of concrete, spat upon, pelted with beer bottles, and robbed.

Finally, four African-American men who lived nearby came to his rescue. Denny suffered a seizure and had a fractured skull.

The entire assault was caught on videotape by the crew of a news helicopter. Denny's assailants were brought to trial but were acquitted on most charges.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Victim Jesse Dirkhising

A victim of two sadistic nitwits and also possibly of political correctness was 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising, who died by torture and suffocation in 1999.

The boy, who was gay, had been working at the hair salon owned by Davis Carpenter, 38. Carpenter and his partner, Joshua Brown, 22, had made Dirkhising their sex toy. The boy's parents unwisely had allowed him to spend weekends with the couple.

In September 1999, the two men bound, drugged and gagged the boy, then tied him to a mattress and sodomized him repeatedly. Due to the way he was tied to the mattress, Dirkhising slowly suffocated.

The two older men indicated that they had not meant to kill the boy, but were merely playing a game. Each received a life sentence.

Conservatives complained that because the assailants were gay, this grisly case got less media play than did the earlier beating death of young gay man Matthew Shepard.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Victim Lynndie England

Twenty-year-old Lynndie England of West Virginia took the heat for higher-ups for the horrendous treatment of prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. In 2004, photos began to appear in U.S. media showing England pointing at naked prisoners' genitals ad holding one, dog-like, on a leash.

On one hand, she appeared to be enjoying what she was doing very well. On the other, she was clearly following orders from people higher up the chain of command.

America had always prided itself as a modest, decent nation that accorded its war prisoners humane treatment. The Neocons of the George W. Bush administration, on the other hand, took the low road. It seems very likely that the orders to torture and humiliate came from the CIA, perhaps even from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense chief Donald Rumsfeld.

As so often happens, however, England and six of her fellow guards took the blame and punishment while the higher-ups comfortably lay low, applauded by the Far Right.

England came to Iraq as a member of a reservist MP unit. She had already been married and divorced once, and before arriving in Iraq, fell for a fellow soldier 10 years her senior. England had his child, but he later married another member of their Abu Ghraib guard unit with whom he had been two-timing England.

The unfortunate England was tried in 2005 and sentenced to three years in military prison. After serving 521 days, she was paroled in March 2007 and was given a dishonorable discharge.

The moral of her story is that if you are going to be a skunk, be sure to be a high-ranking skunk. Then you really can be all that you can be.

Victim Vince Foster

Vince Foster of Arkansas, who committed suicide at age 48 in 1993, appears to have been a victim of political pressure at the highest level.

Foster had grown up in Hope, AR, with Bill Clinton and also had helped hire Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. He was a prototypical Southern gentleman and had the reputation of being a superb corporate lawyer. Foster and Hillary had become close friends, but despite his success and good connections, Foster is said to have suffered depression.

When Bill Clinton became president, Foster went to Washington with him as Deputy White House Counsel. Almost immediately Foster came under fire from the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets due to his connections to the always controversial Clintons.

Foster was found shot to death in Fort Marcy Park outside Washington on July 20, 1993. The cause of death was ruled suicide by self-inflicted gunshot through the mouth into the brain.

An unexplained puncture wound was also found in his neck, which prompted a near epidemic of rumors. Some conspiracy theorists thought he and Hillary had been lovers. Others said he was murdered because he knew too much about the Clintons' various misadventures. A torn-up letter of resignation was found, but it shed no light on the circumstances of his death.

It is unlikely that anything more will be discovered about Foster's sad demise.

Victim Kitty Genovese

The nation reacted with shock and disgust at the circumstances that surrounded the 1964 murder of Catherine "Kitty" Genovese in the Queens section of New York City.

Working girl Genovese, 28, was returning home to her apartment building at 3 a.m. from her job as manager of a bar. She parked about 100 feet from the building and was assaulted and stabbed before she could get to the door. She screamed, windows opened, and lights went on.

The assailant fled, then returned when the lights went back out, stabbing her again. This grisly process was repeated for a third and final time, but this time he stabbed her to death and raped her.

Such awful things happen with dingdong regularity, sad to say, but what made the Genovese murder stand out was that of the 40 people who heard her cries for help, no one bothered to call police even though the poor girl kept screaming.

When police came and questioned neighbors, the general reaction was that they just didn't want to get involved. This craven combination of fear and apathy came to be known as the Genovese Syndrome.

Afer six days, authorities arrested 29-year-old married father of two Winston Moseley, who admitted to the crime, plus two earlier murders of young women.

Americans and others reflected on what they themselves would have done had they been there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Victim Marla Hanson

Beautiful 24-year-old model Marla Hanson was attacked and slashed by two thugs wielding single-edge razor blades in June 1986.

She had spurned the advances of her New York City landlord, who hired the two men to attack her and teach her a lesson. The "lesson" required 150 stitches in her face.

The two attackers and the landlord were convicted and put away on assault charges, but Hanson's second trauma came at the hands of opposing counsel who pictured her as a man-hungry slut. Also, she was depicted as racist, inasmuch as the two slashers were black. She reported that this attack in court seemed even worse than the slashing.

Hanson recovered, remained beautiful, but suffered severe depression. She has since spoken on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

After the attacks, she returned to college and earned a degree in film and television studies. She married, now has a family, and has become a screenwriter.

Victim Nicholas Heath

No, this is not the Nicholas Heath who was England's Lord Chancellor in the 1500s and was for a time a victim of his own politics, but third-grader Nicholas Heath of King William County, VA.

Young Mr. Heath was suspended from school in 2004 and threatened with having to attend disciplinary classes for a year after a butter knife was found in his lunch along with his peanut and butter sandwich. The offending butter knife was mistakenly left there by his mom.

School officials were enforcing a new zero-tolerance policy as regards dangerous weapons, but most onlookers thought the school administrators were using no more judgment than a goat in coming down so hard on a small boy who clearly meant no harm.

Officials soon bowed to pressure and rescinded young Nicholas' suspension. No lasting harm was done, except perhaps to the reputation of school officials everywhere.

Victim Natalee Holloway

Pretty, blonde 18-year-old Natalee Holloway was on a senior trip in 2005 with around 100 members of her graduating high school class. The merry group spent a week partying on the island of Aruba in the Caribbean.

When time came to return home, Holloway was missing. She had last been seen on the night before leaving a nightspot with three young men.

The three told police they took Holloway to a beach, then back to her hotel, but security cameras at the hotel entrance showed no record of her return.

Soon the FBI joined island police, and an extensive and highly publicized search began for the 5'4", 110-pound girl. Her family offered a reward, yet no trace of her has ever turned up.

Authorities arrested and questioned the three partiers, a Dutch student and two boys from Surinam. The young Dutch man, Joran van der Sloot, made a number of statements about what happened, which he later retracted. Other potential suspects, such as hotel security men, also were questioned.

Unable to locate Holloway, police could not build a solid case against any of the suspects. When Hurricane Katrina struck, the media switched focus. At that time, when the world wasn't watching, all three of the party boys were sent home, and the media frenzy attached to the missing girl's case fizzled out. No trace of Holloway has been found.

Disgustingly, a few people have tried to use the girl's disappearance as a way of making a quick buck. Others have complained--with some justification--that the only missing girls the media and public seem to care much about are white, blonde and good looking.

Victim David Howard

The name David Howard was on the minds of many Americans in 1999 when this government worker fell victim to people's bad vocabularies, or perhaps to his own good vocabulary.

Howard was director of constituent services in the administration of Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams. Howard was discussing a tight budget with several members of his staff when he used the word "niggardly."

The word means stingy or miserly and has nothing whatever to do with race, but one of the staffers apparently was unfamiliar with the word and took it as a racial slur.

After a complaint was filed against Howard, the mayor appeared unclear as to what should be done. Williams probably knew the actual meaning of the word, and that Howard had not used it as a racial disparagement, but he waffled badly.

Howard resigned, despite the fact that he had none absolutely nothing wrong. Howard is white, the mayor and the complaining staffer, black.

Enter PC complexity. Howard is gay, and the gay community rallied to his defense, causing the mayor to offer Howard his job back. Howard indicated that he would like to return to work, but in a different position.

The Howard affair was truly one of the oddest incidents in the convoluted history of political correctness, one in which good intentions rubbed up against the failure of the U.S. educational system to turn out people with more than basic vocabularies.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Victim Richard Jewell

Richard A. Jewell was working as a security guard at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when he discovered the pipe bomb that shortly thereafter exploded, killing one and injuring 111. Police eventually settled on Jewell as the most likely suspect.

The news and entertainment media jumped the gun,and some more or less appeared to convict him without trial. Their theory was that Jewell had "discovered" the bomb after having planted it himself--in a bid for publicity.

Actually, he had done the right things when he noticed a strange green knapsack. He hustled people away from the scene and summoned backup. News accounts first pictured him as a hero, then turned on him, although he was never arrested or charged.

Further police investigation cleared Jewell, but by then his reputation had been destroyed. Tom Brokaw had been especially outspoken about his guilt on the NBC national news, the Atlanta Journal & Constitution was pretty rough on him, and the late-night comedy shows labeled him the Una-Bubba.

In April 2005, Eric Rudolph confessed to having planted the bomb. Brokaw's remarks cost NBC a $500,000 settlement, and the New York Post settled for an undisclosed amount. The Atlanta newspaper refused to settle and never had to pay damages inasmuch as Jewell died of natural causes in August 2007, before Jewell's defamation suit came to trial.

Victim Rodney King

Rodney King's was the face that launched a few thousand fires and storefront break-ins in Los Angeles in March 1991.

King, a very large African-American man with a fairly extensive criminal history, was pulled over by police following a high-speed chase. He fled because he feared loss of his driver's license because driving drunk might violattte his parole from a previous conviction (for robbery).

King at first refused to get out of the car, then resisted being handcuffed. He was getting the better of the four LAPD officers, so he was twice Tasered. When even that did not stop him, he was hit repeatedly with nightsticks, punched and kicked while on the ground.

A nearby resident videotaped the beating, which lasted roughly a minute and a half. To put it mildly, the officers beat King like a drum.

The four officers were tried for using excessive force; all escaped conviction. The black community of LA went wild, rioting for several days.

More than 50 people died in the riots, more than 2,000 were hurt, more than 3,000 businesses were damaged, and thousands of fires were set. Finally, a combination of Army troops, Marines and National Guard forces restored order. Later, the officers who did the beating were brought to civil trial. There, two were acquitted and two sentenced to 30 months.

King got a $3.8 million settlement and started his own record label. His other "record," of breaking the law,continued to grow, compounded by drinking troubles. In 2007, he was shot and injured during the theft of his bicycle.

Victim George Kaminski

A different variety of victim is George Kaminski, prison inmate, a victim of circumstance.

Being in prison was that circumstance. Kaminski, serving a long sentence for kidnapping, had managed to collect 72,927 four-leaf clovers--all on prison grounds, setting an apparent world record.

His record was shattered in 2005 by retired Alaska machine operator Ed Martin. Martin had the freedom of the open road for the collecting of these lucky clovers and had amassed a reported 80,000.

Poor Kaminski, but Guinness record or not, 72,927 clovers aren't bad for a fellow residing in the joint. At least he made columnist Chuck Shepherd's "News of the Weird."

Victim Polly Klaas

Twelve-year-old Polly Hannah Klaas of Petaluma, CA, was taken from her home by a man wielding a knife in October 1993.

At the time of the kidnapping, Klaas was hosting a slumber party. The kidnapper tied the other girls up, then took Klaas with him.

An enormous search ensued, and all of America waited for news. Actress Winona Ryder, also from Petaluma, put up a $200,000 reward.

Clueless police officers helped Richard Allen Davis pull his car from the mud near the site of the kidnapping but did not think to call in his license plate. It is believed that Davis then panicked and killed the girl. He buried her in a shallow grave, to which he later led police after he had been arrested.

Klaas' father set up the Polly Klaas Foundation in his daughter's memory. Its purposes are to prevent child kidnapping, help locate missing children and lobby for improved legislation to protect children. The political activities became the job of a second foundation, the KlaasKids Foundation.

Victim Leon Klinghoffer

Retired appliance manufacturer Leon Klinghoffer, 69, was the victim of Palestinian terrorists in 1985, when he was shot and dumped overboard from an Italian cruise ship.

The Klinghoffers were celebrating a wedding anniversary aboard the Achille Lauro. Four armed Palestinians came aboard. They singled out the wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer, apparently because he was Jewish, shot him in the head and chest and forced two ship employees to dump him overboard into the Mediterranean.

After a tense two-day period of negotiations, the terrorists agreed to leave the ship if given safe passage on an Egyptian jet. President Ronald Reagan ordered the U.S. military to intercept the plane and force it to land. Navy fighter jets did so, and the plane landed in Sicily. The four men were arrested by Italian authorities.

The leader of the four, Abu Abbas, worked out a deal and was allowed to go free.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Victim Mary Jo Kopechne

America's most famous drowning victim was 28-year-old political worker Mary Jo Kopechne, who died in 1969 when a car driven by Ted Kennedy went off a bridge on Chappiquiddick Island.

Kopechne, known as a quiet, serious young woman, had been a secretary to Florida Sen. George Smathers and then for New York Sen. Robert Kennedy. After RFK's murder, she took a job with a Washington political consulting firm.

In July 1969, she was one of several young women who attended the Edgartown Regatta off Martha's Vineyard. After the sailboat race, a nightime party was held on the beach at Chappaquiddick Island. Ted Kennedy and the other men at the party all were married; all the girls who attended were single.

Prior to midnight, Kennedy and Kopechne left the party together; Kennedy indicated that he was going to drive her to catch the last ferry back to Edgartown on the mainland.

For reasons never properly explained, Kennedy took a wrong turn, headed in the opposite direction from the ferry landing, and drove off the side of a small, narrow bridge and into the water.

He go out of the car; she did not. Kennedy reported that he dived to try to save Kopechne but was unsuccessful.

Instead of immediately going for help, he returned to the party and then returned to his Edgartown hotel, swimming there from the island. He did not report what happened until the following morning.

Kennedy was charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Being a member of America's "Royal Family," he got only a suspended sentence and had his driver's license revoked for a year--no great burden, inasmuch as his driver usually drove him everywhere anyway.

Many theories circulated as to what happened that night, and thus ended the youngest Kennedy brother's chances of ever becoming president.

Since that time, Kennedy has settled into a more dignified personal life and has done a fine job in the U.S. Senate. The person who lost the most, of course, was Mary Jo Kopechne.

Victim Wen Ho Lee

Taiwanese-American weapons-design scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was employee at Los Alamos National Laboratory, as indicted for espionage in 1999 and spent nine months in solitary confinement.

Government counterintelligence officials maintained that Lee had given the plans for a nuclear bomb warhead to China. He denied having done so but plead guilty to mishandling sensitive information.

Lee was released in 2000, brought a civil suit against the government and settled for $1.6 million. His reputation was destroyed, making impossible for him to continue working in his field. Lee is now retired.

Victim Chandra Levy

An attractive 24-year-old intern in the nation's capital went missing in April 2001. Foul play was suspected from the start.

Levy, who was interning with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, was about to return home to California for her university graduation. A highly publicized search took place, and the case became mega-publicized when it was discovered that she had been having an affair with California Congressman Gary Condit, a married man and a grandfather.

Rumors flew, but Condit was not linked to her disappearance. In May 2002, her remains were found in Washington's Rock Creek Park. The case remains unsolved, and public expectations of politicians' morality was such that people more or less yawned over the Congressman's "Clintonesque" intern policy. Possibly we should expect better of our elected representatives.

Victim Stella Liebeck

A noted victim of the self-inflicted variety was Stella Liebeck, who in 1992 spilled a hot cup of coffee in her own lap at a McDonald's drive-through window.

Mrs. Liebeck, 79, of Albuquerque, was seated on the passenger side of her Ford. The spill occurred when she was trying to remove the lid. She was badly scalded and had to spend eight days in the hospital and had skin grafts.

Then began an interchange between Liebeck and McDonald's. She sued for $20,000; the company offered $800. Her lawyers argued that the coffee had been too hot (Never mind that darn few people want coffee that is merely warm). Never mind, as well, that accidents happen and that we should shoulder the responsibility for those we bring on ourselves.

In the end, a jury decided that the company should bear 80% of the blame and found for Mrs. Liebeck in the wonderfully excessive amount of $2,900,000. The award was reduced by a judge to $640,000. Both sides appealed, and eventually an out-of-court settlement was reached.

Liebeck died in 2004 at age 91.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Victim Viola Liuzzo

Civil rights activist, housewife and mother of five Viola Liuzzo gave her life for her beliefs in 1965 on a lonely Deep South highway.

Liuzzo, 39, heard the appeals made by Martin Luther King for people of good will to rally for the cause of racial integration, and she told her family that she wanted to do her part.

One of her jobs was to help transport protesters and workers between Montgomery and Selma, Alabama. On March 25, 1965, she and her 19-year-old co-worker Leroy Moton had dropped off their passengers and were returning for another load when they were seen by a car peopled by four members of the Ku Klux Klan. A high-speed chase ensued.

Finally, the KKK car pulled alongside Liuzzo's vehicle, and Klansman Collie Leroy Wilkins hit Luizzo with two bullets to the head, killing her instantly. Moton grabbed the wheel, stepped on the brakes and brought the car to rest in a ditch. He played dead and got away with it.

One of the passengers in the KKK car, Gary Thomas Rowe, turned out to be an FBI informant. Another KKK passenger soon died of a heart attack. Wilkins and Eugene Thomas were tried for murder but were acquitted.

Mrs. Luizzo's murder horrified most Americans, and her sacrifice helped prepare the way for passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Victim Jessica Lynch

Army Private Jessica Lynch,19,taken captive during the early period of the U.S. war in Iraq, was both a victim of war and of the Bush administration PR machine.

The attractive, blonde West Virginian was in a March 2003 convoy that took a wrong turn, was separated from its larger unit outside Nasiriya and came under enemy fire. Nine of her fellow troops were killed and Lynch was badly wounded when her vehicle crashed. She was captured and taken to an Iraqi hospital, where she was attended by Iraqi doctors and nurses.

One of her doctors tried to arrange to transport her back to U.S. forces, but the vehicle in which she was riding was fired on by U.S. troops and had to turn back.

Knowing this, the military orchestrated a a "dramatic rescue" in which Special Forces broke into the hospital and removed her from the hospital where no one was armed.

The Army attempted to portray Pvt. Lynch as a sort of "Rambette." Reports indicated that she had been shot, stabbed and beaten, but that she had gone down fighting, firing until her ammo ran out. The purpose of this puffery was to fan public anger against Iraq so as to garner support for the coming occupation of that country.

Later, when she had partially recovered, Lynch herself criticized the administration for using her in this way. She indicated that her gun had jammed and that she had never fired a single shot. When captured, she said, she was on her knees praying, not fighting.

But the Army pressed on with its heroic portrayal of Lynch, paying scant attention to the members of her unit who actually did fight, presenting her the Bronze Star and giving her preferential treatment in her discharge and disability pension.

The U.S. public seemed determined that she should be an iconic hero one way or the other, and the news media, embedded, cowed and gauche, went right along with the charade, turning Lynch into bankrollable tabloid-style copy.

Lynch has continued to be honest about what actually happened, but is a living example of what should be PR's motto: "I seem, therefore I am."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Victim Christa McAuliffe

Slated to be the first teacher, and the first civilian in space, Crista McAuliffe was one of seven crew members of the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff in January 1986.

According to NASA, the explosion was caused by leaks in two solid rocket boosters, which caused the liquid fuel tank to catch fire. Faulty O-rings were said to be the culprit.

McAuliffe was chosen from 11,000 applicants for this mission. She was a social studies teacher in Concord, New Hampshire, and, cheerful and photogenic, had become popular with the media that covered the launch.

All aboard the Challenger under the command of astronaut Dick Scobee were killed instantly in the explosion. Since that time, roughly 40 schools have been named for McAuliffe.

Victim Randal McCloy

Randal McCloy of Simpson, WVA, was the victim of a coal mine explosion in January 2006, but he also was the sole survivor out of the 13 miners who were trapped two miles down.

No one quite knows how McCloy, 26, survived the Sago Mine tragedy. He was unconscious and in critical condition when rescuers reached him. Although he had no broken bones, he was cold and in shock and remained in a coma for roughly two weeks.

After many weeks of physical and speech therapy, the young miner was sufficiently recovered to return home to his wife and two small children.

The mine explosion and its one survivor received enormous media coverage.

Victim Jessica McClure

Known to virtually all conscious Americans in October 1987 as "Baby Jessica," Jessica McClure, 18 months old, had fallen down a Midland,TX, well and was stuck in the well pipe for 58 hours while rescuers tried desperately to free her. A new media company at that time, CNN, was on the spot, bringing constant coverage.

Little Jessica had been playing in an aunt's back yard when she ended up wedged in an 8-inch pipe, 22 feet down the well.

Rescuers pumped in air and some heat while working on digging rescue shafts to reach her. In the end she was saved, but had to have some 15 operations.

Her rescue was one of those "the whole world is watching moments." When sufficiently recovered, she was invited to the White House by President George H.W. Bush.

Donations came in from everywhere and were placed in a trust that she can access when she turns 25. The total now is said to be around $1 million.

Meanwhile, Jessica married in 2006 and has a son.

Victim Bubba McClure

The name Bubba (Lynn) McClure was briefly on every American lip in 1976 when this small, unfortunate Marine recruit died during an overly intense exercise at a training camp.

The Lufkin, TX, native had dropped out of school and had been rejected by two other branches of the military before the Marines accepted him.

McClure' death from a blow or blows to the head occurred during a pugil-stick bout. Poles padded on both ends are used to train recruits for bayonet combat.

McClure, who weighed only 115 lbs., was ordered by his drill instructor to take on a succession of much larger boys, the last of whom apparently delivered the crushing blow to the head that killed McClure.

Marine training has to be tough, but clearly the drill instructor had shown a severe lack of judgment. The instructor, Sgt. Harold Bronson, appeared before a Marine tribunal and was acquitted of manslaughter and other charges.

Victim Martha Moxley

On the night before Halloween, 1975, cute 15-year-old Martha Moxley of Greenwich, CT, went out for an evening of pranks. She was found the next morning in her back year, beaten to death.

To be precise, she had been beaten to death with a golf club--a 6 iron.

Years went by--20 of them--before anyone answered for this senseless crime.

Convicted in 2002 was Michael Skakel, age 15 at the time of the killing. Skakel was a troubled overprivileged child and a relation of the Kennedy family. He, like Moxley, lived in the posh gated community of Belle Haven within Greenwich.

The spoiled Skakel, known for having a foul temper, had done poorly in school, possibly due to dyslexia. The precise reason for the murder remains a mystery. Skakel received a 20-year sentence.

During the years prior to his trial, he had been a competitive skiier, had finished college and had married and divorced.

That justice was so long delayed made Moxley a victim of a legal system that, good as it is overall, remains distinctly slanted to the benefit of the wealthy and well connected.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Victim Valerie Plame

In July 2003, beautiful, accomplished CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame was outed publicly and fell victim to the cutthroat dishonesty of the George W. Bush administration.

It appears clear that the Valerie Plame was not the actual target of the administration's wrath. The real target was her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson had been sent to Iraq to access the situation there prior to the ill-considered and botched U.S. invasion of that country. His findings did not mesh with what the administration wanted to hear, and members of the Bush administration at the highest levels released information to a favored columnist, Robert Novak, that revealed Plame as a CIA undercover agent.

The couple brought a civil suit against Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, but the suit was dismissed by a judge.

Regardless of how one feels about the work of the CIA, it must be allowed that to "out" a secret agent for purely political reasons is not good policy. In a frightened and ill-informed America, however, the administration was allowed to get away with this and many other abuses of power.

Victim JonBenet Ramsey

Six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was a celebrity victim mainly because of her unsolved 1996 murder in Boulder, CO, and to a much lesser extent because she was one of those little girls shoved onto stage at a very early age to compete in child beauty pageants. At a time of life when kids should be allowed to be kids, some are tarted up and thrust before the cameras to sink or swim. Third, she became the victim of a truly titanic amount of lurid, tasteless tabloid coverage and speculation.

In December 1996, the Ramseys reported finding a ransom note in their home asking for the odd sum of $118,000 for the child's release. The amount matched a bonus that Mr. Ramsey had recently received. The writer of the note threatened to behead the girl if the Ramsey's went to the police.

Nevertheless, the couple reported the kidnapping, and the child's body soon was found in the family home's basement. She had been garroted to death and also struck on the head.

At first, the parents appeared to be the chief suspects. Then the DNA of an unknown man was found on JonBenet's body, which cleared the parents from suspicion.

As if the case could not get any stranger, in 2006, middle-aged former schoolteacher John Mark Karr, who was being held on child pornography charges, confessed to the Ramsey murder. DNA tests, however, indicated that he was not the killer.

It seems likely that the identity of JonBenet's murderer will never be known.

Victim Vincenzo Ricardo

Elderly loner Vincenzo Ricardo fell through the cracks in our country's ability to care for the elderly and infirm and came to the nation's attention in 2007, when he was found dead and semi-mummified, sitting in front of his television set. He had been there for longer than a year, and the set was still on.

Ricardo was a widower who had come to America from Italy. His house on Long Island was in a fairly secluded spot, and neighbors reported that he liked to keep to himself.

Ricardo's remains were found thanks to a beagle mix, Hazel, who ran off and led her master to the Ricardo house. When police were summoned to check out the house, they discovered Ricardo's corpse seated in his TV chair.

Ricardo, who died of natural causes, had suffered diabetes, impaired vision and psychological difficulties. He had one son, but the two were estranged.

Victim Roxana Saberi

Pretty Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi became a well known victim in February 2009 when she was arrested and jailed in Iran, where she had been working since 2003.

At first, authorities charged her with buying a bottle of wine, an act forbidden by that country's unofficial but very powerful "religion police."

Next she was charged with reporting without press credentials, and finally, she was accused of espionage and received an eight-year sentence. As this writing in May 2009, she remains imprisoned near Tehran.

Saberi, born in the USA to an Iranian-American father and a Japanese-American mother, grew up in North Dakota. She holds dual citizenship, in the U.S. and in Iran.

She won the title of Miss North Dakota in 1997, and she holds two master's degrees--one from Northwestern, the other from Cambridge University. She was at work on a third master's degree, in Iranian studies, when arrested.

Saberi came to Iran with Feature Story News, eventually losing her press accreditation. She was reinstated and worked for BBC until her credentials were again taken away, after which she was allowed to work on a book project and freelance for U.S. broadcast media.

In April 2009, she began a hunger strike to protest her innocence. A U.S. group calling itself "Free Roxana" has joined in the hunger strike, as have members of the group Reporters Without Borders in France.The U.S. government is hoping to get her released via diplomatic channels.

Possibly due to President Barack Obama's less militaristic tone with Iran, an Iranian appeals court reduced her sentence to two years, suspended, and rule she could go free provided she did not work in Iran for five years. She was released in May 2009.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Victim Joseph Scarpino

Joseph Scarpino gained a very uncomfortable kind of temporary celebrity in July 2004 when he was badly beaten in an Akron, Ohio, pizza restaurant. The beating was caught on videotape.

Scarpino was standing in line at the counter of DaVinci's Pizza in the wee hours. A woman came into the restaurant and walked to the front of the line. Scarpino said something, she loudly berated him, and the manager asked her to leave.

She left, but returned momentarily with her boyfriend in tow. He was 6'4"" and weighed more than 300 lbs. Asked by the woman to "take care of" this blankety-blank, the boyfriend, Mark Jones, gave Scarpino a furious beating, which resulted in a concussion. The nation watched the undeserved beating over and over on various television programs.

Scarpino was white, his assailant and the woman, black. The attack caused white supremacist groups to lash out with pent-up racist fury. In the end, Jones was convicted of felonious assault in 2005 and received a four-year sentence.

Victim Terri Schiavo

A heavily publicized victim of both bad medical luck and the ongoing battle between the forces of religious conservatism and secularism was Terri Schiavo, who died in Florida in 2005 after having been disconnected from life support.

A sufferer from bulemia, Schiavo had gone into a coma in 1990 due to a potassium inbalance. Two years later, her husband sued her physician for malpractice and won a judgment of a little more than $1 million. Not long thereafter, he and Terri's parents began to disagree over her care.

Told that his wife would never recover, husband Michael asked a court to allow the removal of his wife's feeding tube; her parents opposed doing so. A long, convoluted legal battle followed.

The state of Florida, encouraged by Gov. Jeb Bush, passed what was dubbed Terri's Law, to let the state to order the feeding tube left in place. In 2004, the state's Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision.

More legal action and even more political posturing followed, turning the comatose woman into a political football. In the end, the tube was removed and Terri
Schiavo died soon thereafter.

The Left called her demise an act of mercy; the Right called it medical terrorism and judicial murder. Sadly, her case had become part and parcel of the larger debate over abortion and stem cell research.

A year after Terri's death at age 41, both Michael and her parents published their own book giving their side of this sad, controversial case.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Victim Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan's victimhood lay in the death of her son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, killed in 2004 at age 24 in the Iraq war.

His mother, Cindy, was in that part of the U.S. electorate that opposed our occupation of Iraq, especially after weapons of mass destruction failed to materialize. Like many of the rest of us, Mrs. Sheehan did not like the way our nation invaded another, going not after the people who had actually attacked us on 9/11, but who merely looked sort of like them.

Cindy campaigned to end the occupation and in 2005, went with others to President Geroge W. Bush's ranch near Crawford, TX. The group camped as near the ranch gates as allowed, demanding to meet with Bush in person and accusing the administration of going to war for oil interests and for the benefit of Israel.

Many Americans agreed with her and admired her spunk and tenacity; the right, most of whom have worn a uniform only to costume parties, portrayed her as a leftist looney.

After being urged by some in his own party to meet with Mrs. Sheehan, President Bush finally did so. One of the questions she asked him was that if the Iraq war was so vital to the security of our nation, why were the Bush daughters not serving in it?

Cindy moved to San Francisco and challenged incumbent Dianne Feinstein in the 2008 Senate race. The Sheehan platform included anti-free trade provisions, repeal of the Patriot Act, the legalization of marijuana, scrapping No Child Left Behind and recognizing same-sex marriage. She lost to Feinstein but at that, came in second among seven candidates.

Victim S. R. Sidarth

Better known to the nation as "Macaca," politically active University of Virginia student Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth was in 2006 a victim of a disdainful right-wing slur delivered by George Allen, a former Virginia governor and in 2006 a Virginia senator.

Allen was campaigning for reelection, and Sidarth was assigned by rival candidate Jim Webb's camp to attend and videotape Allen functions.

Appealing to the state's right wing, Allen dismissively pointed to Sidarth, inviting rally attendees to give a welcome "to Macaca here." Most of the crowd hooted appreciatively. Sidarth was embarrassed.

Most Virginians were unfamiliar with the word "Macaca," which reportedly is derogatory racial slang used by French colonists in North Africa for people of color. Actually, Sidarth, an Indian-American, was born in Virginia and, like Allen, had played the all-American sport of football. He wrote sports for his campus newspaper, had been an intern for Sen. Joseph Lieberman and was a competitive chess player.

The fallout from Allen's ill-considered remark was considerable. The senator, a Californian by upbringing, had portrayed himself in such as way as to appeal to Virginia's Bubba and Bubbette crowd and earlier had been criticized for having a Confederate battle flag displayed in his office.

Allen lost to Webb in the election by a fairly narrow margin. Sidarth went on to campaign in 2008 for New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in the Democratic presidential primary.

Victim Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten to death by two gay-hating goobers in 1998.

The three men met in a bar, where Shepard apparently assumed that the other two were also gay.

The short, slight 21-year-old left with the two men, who drove him to a remote location outside Laramie, tied him to a Western-style rail fence, and gave him a savage beating. They left him there in frigid temperatures. Shepard died five days later.

Shepard, in a coma, was found there by a cyclist more than half a day later. The two men were arrested, and their girlfriends were charged as accessories after the fact.

The killers were sentenced to two consecutive life terms, without any chance of parole.

Public revulsion to this swinish crime was immense. In 2007, the Matthew Shepard Act addressing hate crimes against gays was introduced and made its way through Congress, only to be vetoed by President George W. Bush.

Another Republican added insult to fatal injury in April 2009, when North Carolina Representative Virginia Foxx, in a fit of reactionary right-wing nonsense, referred to the Shepard murder as a hoax. Oh, brother...

Victim Oliver Sipple

A husky ex-Marine named Oliver "Billy" Sipple saw his personal life go down the drain in the strangest way.

In September 1975 he joined a crowd outside San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel, hoping to get a glimpse of President Gerald Ford, who was there giving a speech.

When the president emerged, Sipple noticed next to him in the crowd a hand holding a gun that was pointed at the president. The would-be assassin, deranged woman Sara Jane Moore, got off a shot, which missed its target, but Sipple's quick intervention very likely saved the president's life.

When such things happen, one expects to see the hero on every talk show, his face on every cover. Yet these things did not happen.

The press very quickly learned that Sipple was gay, and that his family and employer did not know this fact. At first the media sat on the story. Then gay rights activists, including Harvey Milk, wanting to destroy the stereotype of gay men as limp-wristed sissies, wanted his homosexuality made public. Finally the story broke in a column by gossip columnist Herb Caen.

The upshot was that Sipple was fired, and his own father refused ever to speak to him again. (Keep in mind that this was a time when gays were very nearly all still in the closet.)

Sipple, who lived on disability checks from his service in Vietnam, became morbidly obese and despondent. He died alone and broke in 1989.

How sad that someone who did a heroic act that saved the life of a U.S. president would come to such a sorry end.

Victim Elizabert Smart

Salt Lake City school girl Elizabeth Smart, 14, was abducted from her home in June 2002 and held by her deranged captors for nine months until she was recognized and rescued.

Itinerant handyman and street preacher Brian David Mitchell, wild eyed and bearded, and his apparent wife, Wanda Eileen Barzee, grabbed the girl from her home, where Mitchell had done odd jobs. A highly publicized search followed.

Elizabeth was recognized in nearby Sandy, Utah, in March 2003, even though she was wearing a gray wig and veil. Mitchell, who referred to himself as Immanuel David Isaiah, reportedly had regarded Smart as his second wife.

The kidnappers were arrested but eventually were found incompetent to stand trial. Both are still being held in a Utah mental health facility. Elizabeth, at last report was a music student at Brigham Young University, has said publicly that she fears for her safety if the two are ever released. One suspects she is right to worry. The Smart family published a book about Elizabeth's ordeal, and her abduction was also the subject of a made-for-TV movie.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Victim George Allen Smith IV

Honeymooner George Smith, son of a well to do Greenwich, CT, family, died in 2005 while on a cruise from Barcelona, Spain, to Istanbul, Turkey. Whether his going overboard was the result of an accidental fall or murder has never been determined.

Smith and his bride, Jennifer Hagel Smith, had been in the casino of the Royal Caribbean ship Brilliance of the Sea. They had been drinking heavily and reportedly had some kind of argument there.

George staggered back to the couple's stateroom in the company of three fellow passengers, who also were reportedly loud and drunk. Jennifer somehow ended up in another part of the ship, where she was found unconscious and taken sometime later to their balcony room by crew members using a wheel chair. The next day when George failed to appear, blood was found.

The three other passengers were put off the ship for a later disturbance, in which another woman passenger claimed that they had assaulted her.

Much later, Jennifer said that George had mixed alcohol and prescription drugs that night. She made various complaints against the cruise line and reportedly reached a settlement in 2006. Her view is that George's death was accidental. His family's opinion is that he was the victim of foul play.

Victim Joseph Stanton

A victim of both physical pain and embarrassment was Joseph Stanton of Bates Township, Michigan, who in 2005 was shot in the torso--by his cat.

Stanton became a very minor temporary celebrity courtesy of nationwide publicity after his cat jumped onto the kitchen counter while its master was cooking and knocked a loaded gun to the floor. The gun went off, injuring Stanton and causing him to join the ranks of unintentional (very) temporary celebrities.

Stanton's misadventure was one of the many strange stories that found their way into Chuck Shepherd's delightful column "News of the Weird," syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate.

Victim Sharon Tate

One of the best-looking starlets ever to hit Hollywood, Sharon Tate in 1969 became one of the victims of the crazed Charles Manson gang.

Tate first went on stage as a child beauty pageant winner in her native Dallas. After putting her good looks to work as a model, she landed a small part in the movie Barrabas (1962) and that same year began getting small TV roles in Mr. Ed, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Beverly Hillbillies and other shows.

She also began a series of high-profile romances--with French actor Pillippe Forquet, next with Hollywood hair stylist Jay Sebring and, finally, film director Roman Polanski, whom she married in 1968.

Tate's biggest movie roles were in Valley of the Dolls (1967) and The Wrecking Crew (1969). She was being groomed for major stardom, but in August 1969, tragedy struck.

Killed in the same house with Tate were coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Folger's husband Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring and a teen named Steven Parent. Tate was pregnant with Polanski's child at the time, while made the killing all the more terrible.