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School for Scandal

July 19, 1998|Irene Lacher

Warning: Telling the truth is not for amateurs. Don't try this at home.

That's why we're out & about at Lunaria in Century City, pondering reality over one of our favorite nouns--lunch. It's a tough job, so we've called for help from professionals, two members of the much-touted Media-Spindustrial Complex.

The spin doctors are in: Michael Sitrick, CEO of one of L.A.'s biggest public relations firms specializing in emergency spin, and his cohort Allan Mayer, founding editor of the defunct Buzz magazine.

Sitrick and Mayer waste no time in getting to the heart of the spin cycle. The first thing they do is show up, which immediately turns the power of the press to their advantage by enabling them to hawk their new book, "Spin: How to Turn the Power of the Press to Your Advantage" (Regnery).

Despite this stunning move, we are skeptical. How does the polished Sitrick expect to spin us when he writes something silly like this: "Getting along with journalists doesn't necessarily mean being their friend . . . or even laughing at their jokes."

Vile. Misleading. Untrue. We insist that you laugh at our jokes.

Later, Sitrick explains that he woos reporters with something even tastier. He leaks juicy stories--that happen to benefit his clients, natch--to the best journalists he can find.

"The purpose of the story is to influence other journalists and future coverage," Sitrick says. "And you can only do that by having someone other journalists respect.

"Like you."

Is that the room spinning or just our head turning? Oh, yes. And did we mention that you should buy Sitrick's book?

Not that we're nudging you, but you can always wait until the press lands at your door to grill you about the Baby Sitter's Allegations and then cough up up to $400 an hour for Sitrick or one of his reformed journalist / spinmeisters. And you thought talk was cheap.

Sitrick and Mayer bridle at the idea that spin is something naughty, a euphemism for lying or shading the truth. That, says Mayer, is bad spin.

"If you're innocent, why hire a lawyer?" he asks. "Unfortunately, the facts don't speak for themselves. You have to lay out your case."

Troubled stars who have hired Sitrick and Co. to represent them in the court of public opinion include Kelsey Grammer, Toni Braxton, Kim Basinger and Christian Slater (although the bulk of the company's business is spin for businesses).

But today, we are dreaming wistfully of the tabloid-headlining crises that went unspun, the O.J.s, the Clintons. We are spinning them in our minds because there's nothing Sitrick likes better than the adrenaline rush of a good spin.

Consider, for a moment, the Marv Alpert spin that could have been. With a little help, the sportscaster (who got a new job this week) might have emerged from allegations about his exotic sex life smelling like more of a rose than a skunk. "The problem with Marv Alpert was not his roughhousing women," Sitrick says. "The problem was the allegation that he was running around in women's undergarments.

"Take a look at how the public has reacted to athletes who have been accused of spousal abuse and other wrongdoing. They sort of shrug their shoulders. Sports fans--I'm going to get slammed for this--but sports fans aren't exactly your PBS clientele. They don't want their heroes to be viewed as anything but manly men."

The doctor's prescription? Don't speak for yourself, or Silent Spin.

"He goes on Barbara Walters and she says, 'What about this transvestite phase?' And he says, 'That was an experimental phase in my life.' The right answer should have been, 'It's not something I'm going to discuss.' "

Foiled again.


Truly Out and About: Before there were Ellen and Anne, there was Ian. And the recent opening of Outfest '98--the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival--was Sir Ian McKellen's night, judging from the standing ovation that added a je ne sais quoi to his Outfest Achievement Award for being a gay actor extraordinaire.

It was original gay icon night at the festival, where Outfesters suffered for beauty in zillion-degree temperatures at the extremely fab but not extremely air-conditioned Orpheum Theatre downtown.

Before a screening of P.J. Castellaneta's "Relax . . . It's Just Sex," McKellen was lauded by another hero of the gay community--the writer Armistead Maupin, who had just surfed his own triumphant run of "More Tales of the City" on Showtime, after PBS caused controversy by rejecting the series.

You could draw a straight line between Maupin's battle with public television and McKellen's debut on PBS 27 years ago in "Edward II," considered the first gay play in Western history.

The broadcast was "by all accounts the first time anyone in America saw a same-sex kiss on broadcast television," Maupin said. "PBS has been squeamish about that ever since."

Not that McKellen has made a career out of playing homosexuals in the decade since he came out of the closet--against his agent's advice.

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