Dead critters honored as 2015 newsmakers

When I was teaching journalism, I’d tell my students that the best stories were about sex, death or animals.

“Combine any two, or all three, and you have a winner.”

Well, my former employer, the Canadian Press, has done its best in a top-10 of Canadian animal stories for 2015.

Cecil the Lion did not make the list because he was not Canadian, though a creative writer could cite the beast once devoured a dozen Tim Hortons doughnuts fed to him by a dentist from Winnipeg.

As we know, nationality is an important factor in news judgment. Who can forget the headline: Canadian survives Indian Ocean tsunami that kills 227,898.

Sometimes, just visiting can do it: James Earl Ray, who once stayed in Toronto, dies at the age of 70.

Ascribing citizenship to critters is accordingly consistent with standard editorial practices.

Thus, courtesy of CP, “here are this year’s Canadian animal newsmakers:”

  1.    “A brutal battle began late last year among the baboons at the Toronto Zoo that led to severe injuries and the temporary closure of the exhibit. The violence continued for months as two female baboons fought for the throne left vacant by the death of the dominant female, Betty.”

The combatants, Molly and Putsie, eventually declared a truce and raised the ISIS flag together.

  1. “Beth-Ann Colebourne, the ‘crazy cat lady whisperer,’ rose to Internet fame after she uploaded a video to YouTube that showed her kitty-calling a lynx in March. She noticed the wild cat outside her nail salon in Terrace Bay, Ont., and followed it as it prowled around the strip mall. Highlights of her chat with the cat include: ‘What’s up buddy, what are you doing?’ ‘Hey, lynx!’ and ‘Kitty, kitty, kitty.’”

The lynx replied, “Cat videos on the Internet are for intellectual pygmies” and “strip malls are bourgeois” before departing.

  1. A death-defying raccoon climbed 58 storeys up a crane ladder in downtown Toronto in April. Once perched high above the city, the crane operator, Rob MacFarlane, snapped the image that went viral online.”

Both MacFarlane and the raccoon succumbed to the virus.

  1. “A peacock flew the coop from a downtown Toronto zoo in May, escaping capture for days before finally returning home after a week on the lam.”

The peacock was spotted trying to mate with a mannequin at a Bloor Street haute couture shop.

  1. “A deer wormed its way into the hearts of Vancouverites during the summer as it became friendly with people and cruised the streets looking for food and affection … In September the Downtown Deer died after being hit by two cars. The city mourned.”

Hundreds filled Christ Church Cathedral for the funeral service, while tens of thousands gathered at English Bay where the deer’s ashes were scattered amid the roaches on the beach.

  1. “Another dead Canadian animal caught the country’s attention in 2015, this one a member of Toronto’s massive raccoon brigade. The body of the fallen masked critter, cause of death unknown, lay on a downtown sidewalk in July for almost 12 hours, prompting three co-workers to set up a makeshift shrine with a card placed beside the belly-up beast that read: ‘Hang in there.’ Another co-worker laid a rose beside Conrad, as he was soon dubbed.”

Mr. Black was not amused.

  1. “The public reacted with outrage in the summer after police shot and killed a black bear found in a backyard in Newmarket, Ont. York Regional police said they had no choice when the black bear came down from a tree, so they fired away — all of it was captured by a circling news chopper.”

A birder correctly identified the whirlybird as a turkey vulture.

  1. A panda gave birth to two cubs in mid-October at the Toronto Zoo. The zoo set up a neonatal unit borrowed from a hospital to help the cubs survive, swapping them between the mother’s teat and the incubator every hour in the early days to help with their survival.”

TV news reports issued a warning concerning adult content and smudged the offending teats.

  1. A Nicaraguan dog had snout-saving surgery in Ottawa … Tyson, a beagle mix from a farm in the jungles in Nicaragua, suffered a severe gash after a machete accident left a gaping slash in his snout.”

The dog was granted permanent resident status after passing a government-certified machete safety course.

  1. A police officer repeatedly ran over a dog with his cruiser in Collingwood, Ont., in the fall after receiving a call about a coyote in the area. The disturbing scene was captured on video and shows the officer backing his car down the street to take a longer run at the dog. The dog still wasn’t dead, so the officer got out of his cruiser and shot and killed it.”

Police said the alleged coyote reached for a weapon.

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My ticket to the Vietnam War

Here I go again, one story, one memory, tripping into another. Yesterday, it was about Kate Webb, the UPI Phnom Penh bureau chief captured in Cambodia, then dead, then alive.

Today, it’s my own Vietnam War story.

Again, it’s the early ’70s. Again, I’m a young reporter/editor at UPI-New York.

***

My weekend assignments were often covering anti-war marches. There seemed to be one every Saturday in New York in those days.

Police would cordon off the parade route and I would walk along, inside the barricades, on the edge of the line of protesters.

I’d look for signs of trouble – hope for it, really – get the official crowd count from the cops, call in my story.

It became pretty routine. A typical lead:

NEW YORK (UPI) – Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters marched Saturday through the streets of midtown Manhattan, calling for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Southeast Asia.

I played these stories straight, though I sympathized with the marchers. That war was pretty personal for all Americans.

I had close friends shipped to Vietnam. A kid from my high school on Long Island had been killed at Kent State.

On my first newspaper job, in Livermore, California, I’d done “pickups” — gone to the homes of kids killed in the war to pick up a photo for the paper.

Then, covering the anti-war movement in New York, I’d formed relationships with its leaders, including Cora Weiss and Dave Dellinger.

They’d phone me when they were up to something. One call from Dellinger in the late summer of 1972 was exceptional.

He confided that he and Weiss were planning a trip to Hanoi, to bring back some American PoWs.

“Would you like to come along?” he asked.

“I’d love to,” I said. “I’ll have to check with my bosses, though.”

“Well,” he said, “let me know.”

Before hanging up, I asked: “Are any other reporters going?”

“Not that I know of.”

I called my editor, Tommy Zumbo, a tough-talking, hard-drinking fireplug who had whipped me into shape as a reporter over the previous two years.

Journalism boot camp with Zumbo included him crumpling up my copy, throwing it in my direction and shouting for all to hear: “This is shit, do it over.”

Zumbo’s response to my invitation to Hanoi was: “Talk to you tomorrow.”

There was a lot of talk. Zumbo talked to me. Zumbo talked to the editor-in-chief, H.L. “Steve” Stevenson. I talked to Stevenson.

I quickly got the message: They wanted the story, but didn’t think I was up to the job.

“Can we pick who goes?” Stevenson asked.

“That’s not up to me,” I replied.

“How much will it cost?”

“I have no idea.”

“I’ll let you know,” Stevenson said.

I called Dellinger. I didn’t ask whether UPI could send someone else.

“When are you leaving?”

“Soon,” he said.

A couple of days later, Dellinger called me at the office. “We’re leaving tonight, from JFK. I made a reservation in your name.”

I told Zumbo. He went into a meeting. When he came out, he said: “Go home, get you passport and pack a bag. But don’t leave for the airport before you call me to get the go-ahead.”

I rolled down my sleeves, stubbed out a cigarette and put on my jacket.

“How much is this going to cost?” he asked.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“Well, give me the flight number and we’ll find out.”

He shouted across the newsroom as I left: “Don’t forget to call before you go to the airport.”

I jumped on the subway and rode home to Queens. Excited. Nervous.

I’d avoided going to Vietnam as a soldier, fortunate to get a deferment because of a childhood illness that resulted in the removal of a non-essential organ. The army, thankfully, shunned the spleenless.

But I envied the war correspondents, soaked up their tales of wild nights in Saigon, the heart-of-darkness capital of sex, drugs and rocket attacks.

After quickly packing a bag, I phoned Zumbo.

“It’s no go,” he said.

“Why?” I asked, though I really wasn’t surprised.

“Too expensive.” He was kind enough not to add that UPI didn’t trust me to handle the story.

I unpacked, put my passport back in my sock drawer and poured a scotch.

Two days later, Peter Arnett of AP, who had already won a Pulitzer for his reporting from Vietnam, sent his first dispatch from Hanoi, where he was the only reporter traveling with Weiss, Dellinger and the rest of the American delegation.

I told colleagues that UPI had screwed up in not allowing me to go. But I knew my bosses were probably right.

In my first year or so at UPI, Zumbo often told me: “Don’t expect any plum assignments before you can cover a two-alarm fire in The Bronx.”

By the summer of ’72, I felt competent to cover a two-alarm fire.

But I figured I’d get my ass kicked going head-to-head with Peter Arnett.

Too bad I never got to find out.

The reporter who died twice

Note: In my last piece, I wrote about Mellissa Fung, the Canadian TV reporter kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2008. It got me thinking about another colleague who was captured during another war in another time.

***

On April 7, 1971, the news hit home on the UPI wire – Kate Webb was missing.

Webb, a New Zealander, was 28, the UPI bureau chief in Phnom Penh, a much admired war correspondent in Southeast Asia.

“She was short, thin to the point of frailty, and she never talked above a whisper,” Perry Deane Young wrote in his 1975 book Two of the Missing: A Reminiscence of Some Friends in the War.

“But I was to learn that she – like me – was never more happy than when she was standing in filthy men’s fatigues, drinking beer and talking dirty with the fellows.”

Webb had been among a group of six journalists captured in Cambodia, the wild west of the Vietnam War, where reporters and photographers were fair game for the Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong.

The previous year, 25 had been captured in Cambodia and never seen again. They included the two celebrated in Young’s book: Sean Flynn, son of Errol, on assignment for Time magazine, and Dana Stone, of CBS, a couple of easy riders who hopped on motorcycles, headed down Highway One, and vanished.

I was a young reporter/editor at UPI-New York when Kate disappeared. The word in the newsroom was that she and the five others – a Japanese and four Cambodians – were probably dead.

The one hope was that they’d been taken by North Vietnamese soldiers, who treated most journalists as prisoners of war.

But all was lost when Cambodian soldiers found a woman’s body — and cremated the remains — in the area where Kate was last seen.

Her family in Australia held a memorial service. Her obituary was published in the New York Times and elsewhere.

Her colleagues in New York planned a wake.

***

Catherine Merrial Webb was born in Christchurch and moved to Australia with her family when she was a child.

She was in her late teens when her parents were killed in a car crash. She went on to university, and took a job on a Sydney newspaper.

In 1967, with a couple of hundred bucks in her pocket, she flew into Saigon and soon got on with UPI.

There were more than a few women reporters covering the war, though they remained a curiosity to the troops. “If you don’t make a thing out of being a female, if you don’t demand special privileges and don’t ask where you plug in your hairdryer, you have no problems,” she once said.

Reporters in Vietnam routinely left the safety of Saigon and followed the soldiers into battle. Kate experienced her share of action – rocket and mortar fire, bullets flying, a crash landing in a chopper.

More than 60 journalists were killed covering that awful war.

***

Twenty-three days after she was captured, Kate and the others walked out of the jungle, freed by the Vietnamese soldiers who held them prisoner.

Shouts of “she’s alive, she’s alive” echoed through the UPI newsroom in New York.

Suffering from malaria, Kate nonetheless flew to New York to attend her wake.

It had been planned as an informal affair, an open house at a local dive near the UPI office on East 42nd Street.

But some mucky muck changed the venue to a private dining room in the chichi Sign of the Dove. Invitation only. (I was not on the list.)

Kate, unimpressed, gleefully joined a food fight that trashed the joint.

She stayed stateside for a while, wrote a book, before returning to Asia, to more war zones and other dangerous places.

She left UPI in 1985, hired on with AFP, covered the Soviets fighting the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.

In Kabul, a crazed Afghan attacked her in the lobby of a hotel, dragged her by her hair to his room and punched her in the face.

“That rattled me, really spooked me. It took a while to stop looking over my shoulder. There’s something very humiliating about having your head bashed.”

Still, she went on to cover the first Gulf War and other skirmishes.

Kate Webb quit the business in 2001, saying she was “too old to keep up with front-line reporting, and that was the only kind I liked.”

Her second obit in the Times was published on May 15, 2007. She died of cancer, at her home in Australia, at the age of 64.

News bosses clam up to protect their own

I caught up with my old CBC News colleague Mellissa Fung the other day.

She was on a Global show called 16×9 – whatever that means – reporting the story of her return to the place in Afghanistan where she was kidnapped seven years ago.

It was a solid 25-minute piece, but what really hit me was I’m still steamed about the news blackout that accompanied her captivity.

I worked with Fung at CBC News for a few years. We weren’t pals. But I liked her sly sense of humor.

Her abduction in the fall of 2008 set off two alarms for me: concern for her well-being, and distrust the CBC would handle the situation properly.

I soon learned we would not be reporting the news. Why? It was just one of those CBC edicts from on high, not to be questioned.

I assumed we would be scooped on our own story, that someone in the press corps in Afghanistan would notice Fung was missing.

Days passed. Then weeks. Nothing.

It never occurred to me that major news organizations in Canada, the United States and Britain would collude to sit on the story until Fung was freed – or killed.

At the time, I was also teaching journalism at Humber College in Toronto. On the QT, I enlisted one of my best students, Justin Robertson, to get on the phone.

“Call John Cruickshank and tell him you know Mellissa Fung is being held hostage in Afghanistan,” I instructed him. “See what he says.”

Cruickshank was then head of CBC News. A Canadian, he’d been publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times for four years before he arrived at the network in September 2007.

(He kept his newspaper title, declaring himself publisher of CBC News – and left after 14 months to become publisher of the Toronto Star.)

In any case, Justin couldn’t get Cruickshank on the phone to talk about Mellissa Fung. Nor would anyone else at CBC go on the record.

I told Justin to drop it until something broke. If the timing was right, he could pick it up again as his contribution to a student magazine on the media. The angle: Why did the CBC not report the news?

When Fung, then 35, was freed 28 days after she was taken, Cruickshank told a news conference: “In the interest of Mellissa’s safety and that of other working journalists in the region, on the advice of security experts, we made the decision to ask media colleagues not to publish news of her abduction.”

The compliant included AP, CP, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, the Star, Globe and Mail, BBC, CNN and CTV, Cruickshank told Justin.

In his magazine article, Justin quoted editorial bosses at all of the Canadian co-conspirators:

  • “We agreed not to print what we knew, what everybody knew, only if everyone else agreed to the blackout.” – Star
  • “No news story is worth someone’s life.” – Canadian Press
  • “Out of great concern for her safety, we respected (the CBC’s) request.” – CTV News
  • “If a given piece of information is newsworthy, in the public interest, it’s publish and be damned. On the other hand, there are no absolutes.” – Globe and Mail

One thing particularly bugged me about all these noble proclamations from all these self-important news organizations.

A couple of months earlier, they had quickly and routinely reported the abduction of Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout in East Africa.

She was a young freelance TV reporter from Alberta, trying to make her bones in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, where she was a hostage for 15 months. (Her family reportedly paid a ransom for her release.)

But the powerful news organizations that manage the news to protect their own did not offer the same shield to Amanda Lindhout.

If blackouts are imposed to keep people safe, make it blackouts for all – for the executive kidnapped in South America; the aid worker taken in Africa; the sweetheart of Sigma Chi held hostage at a mountain cabin in Idaho.

Two days after Fung was released, New York Times reporter David Rohde was taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

At the request of the Times, more than 40 news outlets clammed up for the seven months before Rohde escaped.

When NBC correspondent Richard Engel and his crew were held hostage in Syria in 2012, the media lid was on again – for the five days until they were freed.

This is the big-media playbook.

It’s time to erase the line about reporting the news without fear or favor.

Media abet pistol packin’ pol

Donald Trump is not the only political aspirant whose outrageous behavior and insidious statements are milking free publicity from the news media.

Take the case of Michele Fiore, a gun-nut Nevada legislator running for Congress, who has tweaked the media’s freak reflex three times in recent weeks.

First, the Republican assemblywoman from Las Vegas got good play with the release of her “2016 Walk the Talk Second Amendment Calendar.”

Each month has a different photo of Fiore – she’s what hardboiled old newshounds used to describe in print as a “buxom blonde” – with a different firearm.

For a minimum “donation” of $25, fetishists get pinups of Fiore in provocative outfits, posing in all her buxomness and big-haired blondness, with everything from handguns to WMDs.

“No one does what I do,” she was quoted in the Las Vegas Sun in its story about the calendar.

This week, the Fiore PR blitz went global – twice – starting when the 45-year-old pistol-packin’ mama of two daughters and four grandkids posted a Christmas photo of her family packing heat.

It made the front page of the Irish Examiner and was splashed elsewhere overseas. The Brits were predictably cheeky in their take on this illustration of American exceptionalism.

“Before he attempts to descend the Fiore family’s chimney on Christmas morning, Father Christmas would be wise to phone ahead,” wrote Patrick Barkham, the natural history writer for the Guardian. “For if Michele Fiore’s Christmas card is a guide, Santa’s nocturnal delivery to their home will be his last.”

On this side of the Atlantic, where some in the media consider natural history open to interpretation, Fox News ceded four minutes of airtime to Fiore’s Christmas message: “I think getting firearms as a present and giving firearms as presents is a great present.”

As for her grandson sporting a .22-calibre semiautomatic pistol: “If you look at that picture real close, you’ll see his finger is not on the trigger – that five-year-old grandson of mine has total trigger control.”

Maybe the kid will be recruited to help Fox fight against the war on Christmas.

Fiore completed her triple-play of media madness when an outburst on her Vegas radio show – she has a weekly hour-long spot with the theme “walk the talk” – went viral:

“I am not OK with Syrian refugees. I’m not OK with terrorists. I’m OK with putting them down, blacking them out, just put a piece of brass in their nocular (sic) cavity and end their miserable life. I’m good with that.”

The quote was replayed and printed everywhere, translated into Russian, Spanish, German and other languages, including English – with nocular corrected to ocular. (What the hell does “blacking them out” mean?)

An editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal suggested she was jeopardizing her political career with such statements, while conceding “she won’t need a single campaign donation to build her name recognition.”

Mission accomplished?

The 45-year-old loose-lipped publicity hustler, an elected politician for only three years, has quickly filled her scrapbook with national press clippings and network videos.

She was on MSNBC and Fox last year, standing with the gun-toting loons defending renegade Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy against the federal government.

This year, she has been quoted in:

  • The New York Times, championing her bill to allow concealed-carry-permit holders to bring their guns on college campuses, elementary and secondary schools, and daycare facilities. “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”
  • The Washington Post, on her support for Nevada’s “right to try” bill, allowing alternatives to federally approved treatments for people with terminal illnesses. The Post reprised a statement from her radio program in which she says: “If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a pic line into your body and we’re flushing with, say, saltwater, sodium carbonate, through that line and flushing out the fungus.”

Fiore ran an in-home healthcare service until it was shut down recently. The state said it revoked her license.

She says she folded the business due to “the never-ending barrage of government red tape and regulations,” which may include a big unpaid tax bill from the IRS.

No matter. This complicated financial stuff gets far less attention than posing with guns or threatening to bust a cap in the eye of an Arab.

Fiore told her hometown Review-Journal she really didn’t mean she planned to shoot Syrian refugees – just terrorists – though she doesn’t want any of them in her state.

Then again, she added: “If I say something I own it and I go for it – I double down, I don’t back down.”

Positively Trumpian.

Geraldo and me: The early years

I confess a soft spot for Geraldo Rivera.

I knew him when he was an earnest young journalist, long before he became a pop culture buffoon.

But, in recent days, I’ve seen signs of a righteous Geraldo, pissing on the gun-nut dogma of his Fox News masters.

Right after the bloodbath in San Bernardino, he tweeted:

  • “The 2nd amendment is stupid.”
  • “The NRA is full of shit.”

And he’s kept it up in the days since:

  • “Whether Islamist-racist-anti-abortionist or just anti-civilization – next mass killer’ll come bearing arms, ’cause in USA, gun store never closes.”

On Friday, he engaged in a spat with a crazed judge on the Fox News morning show. She only wanted to talk about terrorist Muslims, suspect Syrian refugees and leftists bent on torching the sacred Second Amendment. Rivera wanted to talk about guns.

“I’m not right or left – I want to keep my kids safe,” the exasperated 72-year-old, gray-haired guest concluded on Fox & Friends.

What most people don’t know is that Rivera was once an activist lawyer for a ’60s militant group, or that his look-at-me media persona is the creation of the Dr. Frankenstein of local TV news.

Al Primo, as the new news director at WABC-TV in New York in 1968, was the evil genius behind the birth of Eyewitness News, the prototype for the ubiquitous “happy talk” combo of news, weather and sports.

Primo was looking for a Puerto Rican to join his cast of reporters constructed to mirror the predominant ethnic cultures of the city.

(The Italian-American contributor, Rose Ann Scamardella, was the inspiration for the Gilda Radner character, Roseanne Roseannadanna, on Saturday Night Live.)

Primo saw clips of Rivera as the lawyer/spokesman for the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican version of the Black Panthers, and had his man: Gerald Rivera, known as Gerry, the son of a Jewish waitress – he was bar mitzvahed – and a Puerto Rican dishwasher.

Primo changed Gerry’s name to Geraldo to emphasize his Latino side and sent his recruit to Columbia for a crash course in journalism.

Rivera and I were both in our first year as reporters in New York – I was with UPI – when we first met at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx in July 1970.

He had the edge on the story since it was his former clients, the Young Lords, who had seized control of the hospital, promising to provide better care than the decrepit facility was offering.

In many ways it was an easy story to cover – the occupiers were congenial hosts, giving reporters a tour of the facility and handing out copies of their plan to improve health services to the mainly Hispanic community.

Neither the city, which ran the hospital, nor the cops outside, seemed overly concerned with the occupation or in any hurry to end it.

After several hours at the scene, I called in my story.

When Geraldo finished his standup and his crew started to pack up, I asked the cameraman for a ride back to Midtown Manhattan.

“Is the kid coming back with us?” he asked the soundman.

“Nah, he’s staying here with his people.”

Geraldo’s crew mocked him all the way to Midtown.

“This kid will never make it,” said the cameraman. “You see how many takes it took to do his standup?”

“Geez,” said the soundman. “Where do they get these kids?”

Rivera proved them wrong, especially with his report in early 1972 on the Willowbrook State School for the mentally retarded on Staten Island, where more than 5,000 boys and young men lived in squalor and endured physical and sexual abuse.

The story was still hot on April 1, when staff staged a wildcat strike, leaving the residents unattended. The state put out an urgent call for volunteers.

I was among about 700 who showed up the next day, Easter Sunday. I decided the best way to cover the story was to join a crew of four young volunteers working on a laundry truck.

I wrote a personal account of my day for UPI – about sorting shit-covered linens; the wretched dimly lighted barracks where one boy put his head on my shoulder and called me “mother.”

Geraldo, who won a Peabody for his Willowbrook piece, had used the power of television to shine a light on this dreadful place, to send us all there on Easter Sunday.

The next time I saw him was on August 9, 1972. For more than a month, I had been covering the trial of Bill Phillips, an NYPD detective charged with killing a pimp and a prostitute.

Just before 11 p.m. on that Wednesday, I returned to the downtown Manhattan courtroom to await the verdict.

TV reporters never seen during a trial showed up, including Geraldo, who had brought a date – his child bride, Edith Vonnegut, Kurt’s daughter.

By this time, he was already a minor celebrity in the city, on his way to becoming a one-name TV star, sacrificing nearly every bit of his journalistic credibility along the way.

But, then again, no working-stiff journalist could tweet: “The NRA is full of shit.”

Time for the media to go gonzo on GOP

The U.S. news media must take a new tack in covering Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican slugs.

Confronting liars with their lies obviously is not working.

The latest slime trail from Trump is that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City celebrated on 9/11.

He’s been asked repeatedly to substantiate this assertion and the interviews always go something like this:

Q: How can you say this happened when there is no evidence to support it?

A: I saw it on TV.

Q: But no TV footage exists.

A: I saw it. So did a lot of other people.

Q: But the police, the FBI, Jersey City officials, all say it never happened.

A: I saw it. Hundreds of other people say they saw it and agree with me.

Q: But just because your supporters agree with you doesn’t make it true.

A: I saw it. It happened.

In the 10 days or so since Trump first recounted his 9/11 acid trip, tens of thousands of words have been written and spoken debunking the tale.

Why bother?

Trump never says he was wrong about anything or retracts a drop of the bile he routinely regurgitates.

It’s a waste of time to fact-check the guy – or, for that matter, any of the other GOP presidential candidates, members of the Tea Party in Congress, or their apologists on Fox News and elsewhere.

They consider truth debatable.

Politifact can light their pants on fire every day from now to their blessed End Times for all the influence it will have on the Gomers from Alabama to Alaska.

And what was to be gained when New York Magazine published a lengthy analytical piece last week under the headline: Is Donald Trump a fascist?

How many Republican primary voters read New York Magazine? Or know what a fascist is? Or care?

Let’s just round up all them Mexicans and truck ’em back across the border.

How do you get a straight answer from a candidate striving to appeal to voters who believe Obama is a Muslim born in Africa; evolution is simply a theory – Is Trump the missing link? – and climate change is a hoax?

It’s easy to write off these politicians as stupid or nuts. In 2012, it was popular to refer to the GOP presidential candidates as a clown car.

But that doesn’t help the media translate the language of habitual liars. Their words have no meaning.

Maybe it’s best to just poke them with a sharp stick until you get a decipherable reflex.

Bill Maher has the right idea. He got Trump’s goat by saying he was the offspring of an orangutan.

The billionaire sued the comedian for $5 million before dropping the action.

Headline: Trump does not dispute orangutan heritage.

Maher continues to compare the orange-haired politician to the orange-haired ape.

This is the only way to approach Mr. Bluster and his cohorts.

Play their game. Make up stuff.

Q: Mr. Trump, how could you have been watching Muslims celebrate in New Jersey on 9/11 when you were holed up in your Manhattan penthouse, raping your undocumented Mexican housekeeper?

Whatever he says – even, on the off chance, he keeps his trap shut – you got him.

Headline: Trump denies raping illegal Mexican.

Or: Trump mute on rape of illegal Mexican.

Or: Trump threatens reporter over allegation billionaire raped illegal Mexican.

This is where we’re at, folks. A brain surgeon is running for president and he’s as demented as his fellow Republican candidates.

It’s time to go gonzo.

Here are some suggested questions for the next GOP debate, on CNN later this month:

Q: Dr. Carson, how many mirrors did you need when you performed the lobotomy on yourself?

Q: Ms. Fiorina, when you were running HP, when you fired all those workers, why did you start a new division overseas that sold human organs to the highest bidder?

Q: Senator Cruz, since you renounced your Canadian citizenship last year, why do you continue to dress up as Queen Elizabeth every Halloween?

Q: Senator Paul, how do you respond to reports that the first name on your birth certificate is Ayn, not Rand?

Q: Governor Christie, did you hear the one about President Taft getting stuck in the bathtub in the White House?

Q: Governor Bush, once and for all – did Dick Cheney cast a spell on Tallahassee when y’all conspired to fix the results of the 2000 election?

Q: Senator Rubio, studies have shown that long-time residents of Florida are more prone to psychotic episodes than people from other states. Why should this not disqualify both you and Jeb Bush from the presidency?

Q: Governor Kasich, is Cleveland the biggest shithole in the United States? Or is it Akron?

Q; Governor Huckabee, which better serves the American gene pool: hicks getting hitched to their cousins, or same-sex couples getting married?

Q; Senator Santorum, why does a Google search of your name continue to return references to anal sex?

Q: Senator Graham, do you and John McCain plan to hold hands as you march us into war in the Middle East?

Q: Governor Pataki, who are you?

***

Trump would have been gone by Labor Day if the media had taken my advice in July and ignored him unless he made real news.