40 Years of City Weekly—Vol. 15: 1998 to 1999 | City Weekly REWIND | Salt Lake City Weekly

40 Years of City Weekly—Vol. 15: 1998 to 1999 

City Weekly Rewind

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With the unveiling of a sculpted arrowhead clock at the Triad Center in the spring of 1999, a countdown of sorts had begun for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. But a few months before, then-KTVX reporter Chris Vanocur broke the story of bribery and fraud by members of the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee.

The uproar was great among some, but no less vigorous were the damage control and scapegoating. Before long, then-Gov. Mike Leavitt announced a new day had dawned after an ethics panel investigated the affair. But few received scrutiny for their conduct; fewer still faced any consequences.

"To decide to pursue the Olympics is to also decide to pay bribes, in one form or another," wrote David Owen on Feb. 11. "Anyone who didn't know, didn't know because they didn't want to know. It's bad enough when your only defense against corruption is incompetence, but to be sanctimonious about your incompetence is too much."


Heady excitement, sanctimonious incompetence and greedy corruption. These qualities went hand in hand throughout the 1990s and, on the cusp of a new millennium, the vices and foolishness that bedeviled Utah life—and American living generally—were bearing ever stranger fruit.

These were the days of the Clinton impeachment and anti-immigrant hysteria. Utah looked the other way with members of the polygamous Kingston family. Civil rights abuses and low morale brewed under the administration of Salt Lake City Police Chief Ruben Ortega. The environmental impact of the Legacy Highway was shrugged aside.

Jordan School District banned vegan-labeled clothing, looking to strike a blow against gang affiliation, and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services under the Leavitt administration was accused of failing children, typified by the abuse and death of 9-month-old Breanna Loveless.

These were fraught times that no amount of juice bars, Furbys and cable television subscriptions could palliate. And covering it all was City Weekly, marking its crystal anniversary by trading in its old red racks for the black, city-approved ones.

Expanding into TV coverage with the help of Bill Frost, producing an Annual Manual for Utah newcomers and experimenting with services like the City Weekly MovieFone and the online "Net Poll," the paper was adapting to a landscape that was struggling, polarizing and isolating. This year also saw the debut of Christopher Smart's "Smart Bomb" column and Kevin Cantera taking over the sports beat.

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In the voting booth
"Government appears to be consolidating, laying off the public," Katharine Biele observed of Utah politics on Nov. 12. "Democracy has become the dirty word of the decade—the Red Tide of the '90s."

This assessment was characteristic of what was happening in the Beehive State, where the incumbent majority feared any competing political party and when citizens' initiatives were being crippled. For those who bothered to participate in the electoral process, straight-ticket voting was becoming the standby, and many candidates were running completely unopposed.

Elected officials were behaving less like public servants, Biele observed, and more like "benevolent masters."

Dick Carter's Aug. 6 cover story showed how a radical anti-cougar and pro-hunter shift occurred on the Utah Wildlife Board in 1997, issuing hundreds more kill permits and instituting "harvest objective units," whereby hunting season continued until a certain number of cougars had been killed. To halt any effort to reverse the board's actions, as described in Carter's story, Proposition 5 was placed on the ballot to henceforth require any ballot initiative on wildlife and hunting policy to pass by supermajority, with ratification by an increased number of counties. It passed, likely because the voting public had been misled over its purpose.

"I'm not sure that everybody really understood what it was all about," said former Utah first lady Norma Matheson "The ads made it sound like it was all to save wildlife and the environment rather than about the mechanics of the initiative process."

As then-Libertarian Party head Jim Dexter confided to Katharine Biele, such an arrogant and underhanded political climate augured a more "prolonged campaign on the part of state leadership to get rid of all democratic aspects of state government." He wondered why leaders had so little trust in the voters.

"And one wonders," Biele added, "why the voter doesn't care."

In the screening room
Throughout the '90s, Mary Dickson provided popular film reviews for City Weekly as its resident critic. It was during this year that the film section acquired a second writer to the film beat with Greg Beacham.

Dickson and Beacham each contributed reviews for the motion pictures released in this period. The following gives a taste for their approaches:

The Truman Show (Dickson): "This is Kafka for the '90s, where entertainment and reality merge with creepy effect. It's a perfect metaphor of the media age on the threshold of a new millennium."

Jack Frost (Beacham): "This sack of schmaltz is only for people who like Very Special Episodes of anything and who bought 25 copies of The Christmas Box to give to everyone at the office this year."

Shakespeare in Love (Dickson): "... intelligence, poetry, playfulness, irreverence, sex, abundant humor and wit, passion, romance and, best of all, those delicious words, words, words. If audiences don't flock to this one, a pox on all their houses."

The Mummy (Beacham): "Writer/director Stephen Sommers has refurbished the old Boris Karloff classic of the same name with a parade of dizzying special effects and a script that's more intelligent than we have the right to expect."

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In one quote
"Here in our nondescript offices swathed in beauteous fluorescent light, we think of Blurredvision Utah as a Rorschach test. If our ink splotch doesn't look like non-partisan, community partnership working to help you form a long-term vision for Utah's future, then we're a long-term vision for Utah's future helping you to form a non-partisan, community partnership–or something like that." (Ben Fulton, in a sendup of Envision Utah's widely circulated growth survey, dated Feb. 4, 1999)

In the mirror
Appalling violence and hate were an increasing occurrence locally and nationally, from the 1998 slaying of Matthew Shepard near Laramie, Wyoming, to the 1999 shootings at Colorado's Columbine High School and Salt Lake City's LDS Family History Library. In letters, editorials and columns, writers sought to understand the "why" of these crimes and what should be done.

"Crimes of hate may live in shouts of rage, but they are born in silence," observed Chris Tucker on Nov. 5. "We are men and women surrounded by the silence of our own fear." He noted this fearful silence in the whispered jokes, avoided glances and refusal to accept complicity in the cruelties that are routinely directed at those deemed expendable to society.

Bruce Baird paralleled this assessment in the Aug. 20 issue, decrying the trend of people becoming "irrelevant to each other's daily lives and futures," and of losing a shared destiny or ideals. "Only tragedy or triumph now seem to have the power to create any sense of commonality among us," he added. "Otherwise, day in and day out, almost all of us live either oblivious to or unconcerned with anything beyond our own little worlds."

Kristen Riedelbach spoke for many when on May 27, 1999, she concluded, "It doesn't take a genius to see the connections between our increasing disregard for each other and the skyrocketing rates of random violence. If you want to know why our children are killing each other, look in the mirror: Ask yourself how many of your neighbors' names you know. Have you asked any of them how they're doing today?" This extends as well, she noted, to the service industry employee, the unhoused and the stranger within our midst. CW

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About The Author

Wes Long

Wes Long

Wes Long's writing first appeared in City Weekly in 2021 and in 2023, he was named Listings Desk manager. Long majored in history at the University of Utah and enjoys a good book or film, an excursion into nature or the nearest historic district, or simply basking in the company of animals.

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