The weekly New York Press - a handout that is best used to line birdcages - has finally found a way to attract attention:
Publish a tasteless cover story that ostensibly plays 84-year-old Pope John Paul's current medical ordeal for laughs.
The story - by Press contributing editor Matt Taibbi - is headlined: "The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope."
But I didn't find it funny - just shockingly offensive.
A typical entry is No. 47: "Upon death, Pope's face frozen in sickening smile, eyes wide open and teeth exposed, like a baboon."
I wondered about the reasoning behind publishing such a nauseating piece, but New York Press editor in chief Jeff Koyen chose not to return my phone calls yesterday.
Lowdown's spot check of New Yorkers suggested that I'm not the only one who doesn't get Koyen and Taibbi's sense of humor:
Sen. Chuck Schumer: "This is the most disgusting thing I've seen in 30 years of public life."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: "Pope John Paul is one of the world's strongest forces for peace and understanding at a time when discord and rancor threaten every nation. It is outrageously offensive to make light of his physical suffering, which he has borne with such strength, dignity and grace."
A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg: "As disgusting as this is, it's sadly par for the course for this publication."
Rep. Anthony Weiner: "All I can tell you is that this is outrageous and the New York Press is way overpriced. Everyone has a right to free speech, but I hope New Yorkers exercise their right to take as many of these rags as they can and put them in the trash."
Former Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer: "It's juvenile and not funny. For a lot of New Yorkers, the Pope embodies beliefs that are important to us, and we all wish him a speedy recovery."
Anti-Defamation League President Abraham Foxman: "It crosses the line of decency. This is a man who has devoted his life to love and compassion and reconciliation. To treat him in such gross manner is so ugly."
Polish-American Congress official Frank Milewski: "I would say it's hate speech - a most extreme example of hate speech."
They're lounging for the jugular
Never mind those rival rappers and their posses spraying each other with bullets.
It looks like pistols at dawn - or, more likely, hurled cocktail glasses at dusk - for textile heir Cody Franchetti and social moth Fabian Basabe.
When Lowdown phoned this week to discuss the casting call for "Survival of the Richest," the WB's reality show for wealthy layabouts, Franchetti couldn't resist giving Basabe a stiff slap.
"I'm certainly not going to be on the same show, let alone in the same room as Fabian," the 29-year-old Franchetti sniffed.
"I know him through having read about him. I think we are not the same genre."
The 26-year-old Basabe retorted: "I'm hurt that he would comment on me without knowing me. That's not very courteous for someone who prides himself on being a gentleman.
"Obviously we are from different genres, because I would never speak badly about people I don't know."
If their feud escalates to a duel, I'll offer my services as a second.
GOOD CAREER MOVE? Who was that guy in the olive-drab hooded parka hanging around the stage during Jennifer Lopez's "Today" show concert yesterday morning? You know, that guy who, between songs, kept handing J.Lo the microphone, making sure she was in position and otherwise doing stagehand duties. Hardly anyone recognized him, but a Lowdown spy says it was none other than Lopez's hubby, Marc Anthony. Hey, didn't he used to be somebody?
BAWLING BROKAW: That was former NBC News alpha male Tom Brokaw letting out his inner softie after Wednesday night's Museum of Modern Art screening of "A Filmmaker's Journey," George Stevens Jr.'s touching tribute to his late father, the famed Hollywood director. "I wept the first time I saw it," Brokaw said, toasting the younger Stevens at Il Gattopardo during a dinner attended by directors Stanley Donen and, briefly, Peter Bogdanovich. "But this time, I wept even more."
RISKING A FAT LIP? Does jazz musician and actor Harry Connick Jr. need sensitivity training? Lowdown ran into him at Wednesday's premiere of Showtime's "Fat Actress" and asked what he would do if his wife, ex-Victoria's Secret model Jill Goodacre, packed on the pounds. "She did get fat - three times [during pregnancies]!" he told us. "So I went on tour. I'm not about to deal with that." And what does he think she'd do if Connick picked up some junk in his own trunk? "I am fat," he answered. "Look at me! I'm 50 pounds heavier than when we first met. I used to be 165, now I'm 215."
YUKS FOR BUCKS: Some of the leading lights of laughter - including Adam Sandler, Conan O'Brien, Tina Fey and Robert Smigel (aka Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) - are turning out for Monday's "Comedy Love Call," a benefit performance at the Beacon Theatre for autism education and research.
With Hudson Morgan
Originally published on March 3, 2005