Dubious achievement awards 2004 - August 

Freep sleep: The Detroit Free Press gets caught behaving like the sleeping student who raises a hand to answer a question, only to realize that the class figured it out while he was dozin’. Some bright Freep mind writes an editorial reiterating the claim of Bush-Cheney national chairman Mark Racicot that presidential candidate John Kerry’s plan to raise fuel efficiency standards would cost Michigan 105,000 jobs. By that point the myth had already been thoroughly debunked by the good folks at the Michigan Land Use Institute. But, hey, why let something like the facts get in the way of a thoughtful and well-considered opinion piece?

Bad ink, good ink: The article “Detroit, Death City,” by Manchester, England, native Frank Owens, appears in the September edition of Playboy (which hits newsstands in August). Owens, married to a Detroit woman whose brother was a drug-dealing ex-con who was murdered last year, understandably carries a chip on his own shoulder. It shows in the way his story highlights the city’s negatives, like broken sidewalks and stray animals. Fortunately, his tale is balanced by Laura Barton and Amy Fleming’s account “Detroit Spinners,” which ran the month before in London’s Guardian newspaper. These ladies looked toward the sky instead of the sidewalk. They sniff trees in the Cultural Center and spend time discovering Detroit’s rich music scene. Get the message? Keep your head up, Frank. Up. Just be ready to duck when the bullets start to fly.

Van Zandt disses garage, sort of: How’s this for biting the hand that feeds you? Famed E Street Band guitarist and Sopranos co-star Steven Van Zandt is quoted in one of the dailies defining garage rock as white kids who try to play black rhythm and blues and fail, gloriously. Hey, Detroit rockers, doesn’t that make you wanna grab a Doobie award and slap the Springsteen out of Van Zandt, who also hosts a syndicated — you guessed it — garage rock show? We can see it now. The White Stripes and the Von Bondies reunite as a show of solidarity and, backed by the entire garage community, kick Van Zandt’s ass from here to Paycheck’s Lounge.

Babes in Butch-land: August sucked for Melvin “Butch” Hollowell in a few ways. First, the prominent Detroit attorney and former head of the Michigan Democratic Party gets caught with a prostitute outside a doughnut shop near his Palmer Woods neighborhood. Then the Detroit Free Press runs the news as a front-page story for days, blatantly overplaying its impartiality. Hollowell’s wife, Desiree Cooper, is a Freep columnist (and former Metro Times editor). Finally, the hooker, Michelle C. Sherman, blows away Hollowell’s alibi that he was helping her. She tells Detroit police that he gave her 60 bucks and drove his car to a dead-end street. To help her. Hollowell continues to maintain his innocence and vows to fight the charges, guaranteeing more embarrassing headlines for months to come.

Callin’ ’em out: The Grand Canyon-like division between battling factions on the Detroit City Council grows even wider as the Call ’Em Out Coalition, an activist group supported by councilwomen JoAnn Watson and Sharon McPhail, launches a recall campaign against councilwomen Sheila Cockrel and Kay Everett, accusing them of failing to serve Detroiters’ best interests. Why? Because Cockrel and Everett supported Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s layoff of more than 100 city workers. Everett, who died on Thanksgiving Day while under indictment for extortion and bribery, responded to the recall effort with one of her last infamous quotes. Call ’Em Out, she said, “can kiss my rootie-tootie.” The Doobies, needless to say, are truly going to miss Kay.

Radio daze: Detroit Public Schools officials bypass the feather-ruffling of community activists and go straight to pluckin’. They do so by deciding to shift management responsibility for its megawatt-power radio station, 90.9 WDTR-FM, to an outside company. The move prompts a punchless, quiet protest outside the West Side station facilities. The financially strapped school system just needs the jack, and the station, which has revenue-generating potential, isn’t producing any. So officials slap a price tag on that baby, change the call letters to WRCJ, for “radio classics and jazz,” and banish listener favorites such as O.C. Robert’s Saturday reggae show, Theresa Hill’s afternoon drive program and a Sunday night commentary show for local issues. Here’s the lesson, kids: It’s the bottom line that counts.

Summer’s dark shroud: August caps a long, brutal summer for Detroit. Violent crime in the city had already risen sharply — more than 800 shootings occurred in the first six months of 2004. And four people are shot or killed in four separate incidents on one particularly grim day this month. Ironically, this is the same day that law enforcement authorities announce new efforts to thwart violent crime. The four incidents — the 2 a.m. robbery and murder of a 16-year-old boy on the East Side, a 2:40 p.m. discovery of a bullet-riddled body behind a house in northwest Detroit, the 4:15 p.m. shooting of a 21-year-old East Side man, and the 4:30 p.m. shooting of a maintenance man, allegedly by a 70-year-old resident of the Park View Place apartments — almost seem to dare the city to succeed in its effort.

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