On Feb. 12, Woody Paige, a columnist with the Denver Post, decided to do to the Mormons what he had been doing for years to every other region and religion in the country. Simply put, Paige trashed Utah in general and Salt Lake City in particular, charging that they had "royally screwed up the Olympics," and turned the Olympic Games into "a massive Mormon marketing scheme." For the most part, the object of Paige's ire was the usual Olympic price gouging. Along the way, Paige managed to cite young Mormon women who "act like they're straight out of The Stepford Wives," thrusting religious pamphlets into the hands of innocent out-of-towners.
He also proposed that his own home state of Colorado could attract tourists repelled by Utah by using the following for a brochure: "Visit beautiful Colorado. We won't force you to take a religious brochure at every street corner, make you eat lime Jell-O at every meal, coerce you into joining a private club to enjoy a drink or buying a bottle from a state-owned liquor store, ask you to worship a salamander and a sea gull, marry three of your mother's cousins, consider you inferior if youre not a white, a man, or heterosexual ... and wear weird underwear under your parkas and ski pants."
In other words, typical Woody Paige. Prior to the 1998 Super Bowl between Denver and Green Bay, Paige wrote, "All To Know About State of Scansin," was that "The cows have a higher per capita I.Q. than the people." Of Atlanta, Paige wrote prior to the 1999 Falcons-Broncos Super Bowl, "William Sherman did Atlanta a favor in 1864." In fact, about the only place Paige hasn't trashed is New Jersey. In an article about the New Jersey Devils last June, he wrote: "The Devils are the only team in sports that represent a sludgy, slimy, stagnant swamp and a turnpike toilet stop." I say that's not a criticism because here, we put that on the license plates.
In short, what Paige did to Utah was what he's done to every other square foot of real estate that has been unlucky enough to host a sporting event that attracted his attention. In truth, a lot of people around the country have stopped being angered by Paige's jibes and learned to laugh along with him. A few have even decided that Paige's shtick has gotten a bit predictable and stopped noticing him altogether.
But not in Utah. Apparently, our brethren (and, presumably, our sisterthren) in Utah bombarded the Denver Post and its Web site with complaints. A Mormon Church spokesman publicly denounced Paige's column as "really nasty, an offensive piece to Utahans," which I'd say was a fairly accurate summation.
The only thing particularly noteworthy or exceptional about this Paige column was the reaction of his hometown paper. Denver Post editor Glen Guzzo, a supporter of Paige in the past even under threats of lawsuits, called the Feb. 12 column "inappropriate," which, however vague, seems to be an indication of lack of support. Two days later, Paige wrote that "Sincerely, I've enjoyed my stay as a bystander. Utah can be proud of its Olympian effort so far." He also added, "I am not writing this column under duress or threat. It's my choice and responsibility."
Personally, I think Paige's apology would have had more credibility if it had been sent on videotape by Osama bin Laden with three or four guys with turbans, beards and Kalashnikovs standing in back of him. Insult my intelligence any way you like, but don't try to tell me that an apology written by Woody Paige two days after he said the same thing about Utahans that he said about all other Americans wasn't made under pressure.
To add insult to insincerity, two days later Post editor Guzzo, who must be campaigning for the Wussie of the Year award, attacked his own columnist by saying, "The Post does not defend this column. It does not represent anything the Post stands for." Then, Guzzo had the gall to have the piece yanked from the paper's online archives; it exists now only in Denver public libraries and the memories of those who remember it.
Did anyone, I wonder, at the Denver Post have the guts to point out to Guzzo that given the kind of stuff it had been printing by Paige for years -- and, presumably, making a great deal of money on -- the column represented precisely the right to irreverent, free speech that the Post stands for?
There is, I think, a larger issue here than even the Post's gutless decision to abandon its own writer. If jibes like Woody Paige's are to be suppressed and eradicated from the public record, what of the more serious criticisms a writer might have of corruption and bribery concerning a potential Olympic city and the powerful group of religious leaders and businessmen who run it?
And will Paige apologize to badgers everywhere? We are waiting.
Utahans seem to be handling it better than the Post. One Salt Lake City radio station had an entire U-Haul full of lime Jell-O delivered to the Denver Post's offices. Now that's funny.