Schlessinger, Shea, Sheesh!

Learning from the master baiter

Photo by Jeanne Rice"Better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

—A wise man

"Just shut the hell up."

—A wiser man

It's been a tough couple of weeks for Chatty Cathys. Irvine Mayor Christina Shea, whose mouth has been clocked at a wind-aided 116 mph, has accused just about everyone of selling out her daughter—and, by extension, herself—after Irvine cops busted Shea Minor last month for possession of methamphetamine. Shea said without offering proof that Irvine City Councilman and former Mayor Larry Agran leaked the story to the press, something Agran vehemently denied.

Shea was in no position to press the point after a series of voice-mail messages were made public in which she said Agran would "meet my wrath" and "suffer the consequence." In the same messages, she also accused the Irvine Police Department of setting her daughter up and then lying about the arrest.

She had left the messages for council colleague Dave Christensen, who turned the tapes over to the district attorney's office. Shea apologized for what she said about the police—and then called Christensen "a traitor."

Shea's week was a classic example of turning a strength into a liability. She has always been adept in turning a rather low-key political office into a high-profile platform by the force of her personality. She has loudly trumpeted the possibility of the National Football League coming to Irvine, announced the formation of a committee to turn Irvine into Orange County's most romantic city, and recently appeared in one of Tim Conway's Dorf videos.

But in this case, Shea would have been better served by keeping her yap shut and tending to her daughter, all the while waiting for the inevitable call from The Orange County Register, and just maybe NBC's Dateline, eager to tell the tale of a mother's love saving her child. Instead, she chose the rash road of speaking before thinking and accusing without cause.

It made you wonder who was giving Shea advice—or at least who she had chosen as her role model.

An answer perhaps—and a soul mate almost certainly—appeared, sort of, in Santa Ana around the same time. There, at the Superior Court, lawyers for Laura Schlessinger, radio's answer to female circumcision, were filing a $1 million slander suit against Thomas Moore, owner of Irvine-based surfwear chain Beach Access. On July 26, Schlessinger went on her nationally syndicated radio show and told listeners that she'd found a Hustler magazine hidden inside a skate magazine in Moore's South Coast Plaza store. Moore says that was a lie. She said she took the skate magazine, which is published by Hustler's Larry Flynt, to the store manager and asked if he was aware it was published by Flynt (he was) and that it was pornographic (he wasn't because it's not).

While Schlessinger was still rehashing her battle with Moore on the air, the phone started ringing at Beach Access. Schlessinger's flying-monkey listeners—living proof that no one ever went broke making women feel shitty about themselves—called in by the hundreds. As bad publicity mounted and sales fell, Moore attempted to save his business by not only denying Schlessinger's charges—Beach Access is a spic, span and vanilla operation; you're likely to find more offensive materials in a Wal-Mart—but also demanding an on-air apology from her.

Caught in an apparent lie and flummoxed to find herself up against someone who wouldn't gladly take his beating, Schlessinger responded in court. Her suit was met with something less than horror by Moore's attorney, who wondered aloud how an Orange County jury would react to a local small businessman being set upon by a millionaire radio personality who, Moore says, lied about him to a national audience. Add to that the fact that Schlessinger has all the personal warmth of a staph infection—ever catch that crocodile smile of hers?—and visions of William Jennings Bryan getting his creationist clock cleaned by Clarence Darrow dance in your head.

Now, chances are that Schlessinger and Shea do not communicate as such, what with their busy schedules and Schlessinger loathing all of mankind. But the fact remains that Schlessinger seems an inspiration for Shea. Their lives share more than a few similarities. Each is once divorced; each has politics that don't so much lean to the Right as have permanent residences and vacation homes there. Each claims religious tradition (Schlessinger Judeo-Christian, Shea Christian-Judeo) as the source of her very public anti-gay stances. (Schlessinger also speaks out against librarians, who she believes are trying to infect children with Internet porn—you know, naked pictures of women, like the pictures of Schlessinger that are among the Internet's most popular, though one suspects it's in a Diane Arbus kind of way.) Each claims to be persecuted by guys named Larry (Agran, Flynt), and each claims the family-values mantle, yet Shea prefers not to talk about her father's CIA activities, and Schlessinger doesn't talk about—or, reportedly, even to—her mother.

Of course, all this is prologue. What's important for Shea is the future, which includes city elections in 2000. It appears that now would be a good time to break the cycle and start acting reasonably. It's not too late. If she were simply to apologize to all concerned in a public setting—explain that the enormous pressure and fear she's been living under made her do some silly things and that whatever she said should be considered as a momma bear jealously protecting her cub—all would no doubt be forgiven and forgotten. Who wouldn't understand? Who wouldn't empathize? Kids—you know how they can be.

We suspect she won't do that. We expect she'll play this thing out to a very messy end. As for Schlessinger—who should go away, far, far away, and begin the six-month barium high-colonic necessary to neutralize that bug up her ass—we know she won't stop. It's not in her nature or her contract. Misery not only loves company, but it also gets great ratings.

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