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web posted October 23, 2000

The Contender controversy continues

Gary Oldman doesn't play a villain in The Contender — at least not according to the actor's manager, Douglas Urbanski. And, even though Oldman went on the record in Premiere magazine as siding with his character in the political drama, don't call the Brit actor a conservative, insists Urbanski.

Nearly every reviewer in the country has jumped to the conclusion that Oldman's character, Sen. Shelly Runyon, is yet another rogue in the actor's crowded gallery of villains.

"We did not set out to make a movie about a nasty, villainous Republican," Urbanski explains to Mr. Showbiz. Urbanski co-produced the film and makes no secret of the fact that his own political leanings are diametrically opposed to those of the "left-leaning billionaires," as he refers to DreamWorks heads Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The feud between the two sides is well sketched out in the November Premiere interview, with Oldman and Urbanski seeing Runyon as the film's "dark, tragic hero." Director Rod Lurie, in contrast, insists — as most audiences will likely agree — that the hero of the piece is vice-presidential designate Laine Hanson (Joan Allen).

That characterization is in keeping with what director Lurie has said about Oldman, who is The Contender's highest-billed star and the film's executive producer. In the same interview in which Oldman claimed that the final cut of The Contender was influenced by studio democrats, Lurie said that those remarks were due to the actor's complete immersion in the film — something the film-critic-turned-filmmaker likened to "Stockholm syndrome," in which hostages start to identify with their captors.

"Rod Lurie has diarrhea of the mouth," Urbanski says of the "Stockholm" remark. "It was an idiotic comment that he's since apologized for," the producer told Mr. Showbiz.

Lurie's rep, Tony Angelotti, refused to comment on Urbanski's response. Angelotti did say that (contrary to the Premiere article) the shoot was an easy one and that Oldman and Urbanski's subsequent displeasure was "a mystery to all of us."

"I belong to the 'I want my movie to succeed' party," quips Urbanski, who's voting for George W. Bush come Election Day.

While Urbanski says he and Lurie are still great friends, the manager-producer admitted to Premiere that Oldman and Lurie's falling out seems to be permanent.

U.S. military: Budgets, morale, inventory dipping, says retired general

Retired Air Force Gen. Chuck Horner knows all about military readiness: He commanded the United States and Allied air coalition in the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq and served his country for more than four decades.

A former fighter pilot, Horner wore his wings on his chest, his pride in his heart.

Horner during Desert Storm
Horner during Desert Storm

He's flown jets through enemy territory, seen ballistic missiles soar by. "I've been shot at by ballistic missiles," he said recently, a smile in his voice, "and I happen to believe they exist."

And, like many who practice war, he doesn't glorify it: He's seen too many friends die, observed the horrors of armed conflict.

"The problem with war is, war is about killing people," Horner, 64, said. "And so you better have some idealistic basis for what you do. I'm very anti-war, by the way."

But war and combat readiness were on his mind on a recent day. The former general, who retired from the Air Force in 1994, burst out onto the porch of his waterfront home in Florida's panhandle -- moving, almost, with the deftness of the F-16s he once flew -- and said the military has seen better days. "I've seen the trends and they're not good," he said.

Horner is not happy about the current state of military readiness, and blames the current administration for not devising a cohesive national security policy. Not having such a policy has affected the combat readiness of U.S. forces, he said.

"We … have to have a president who has the will to conform to that policy or change that policy -- but he ought to let the American people know why he's doing it and what he's doing," Horner said.

"If we knew what our national security policy was, then from that we could define a national security strategy and from that we could define a force structure to meet that strategy and fund it," he said. "We did that in the Cold War."

Like many in the military, Horner said he was pleased to see Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush debating national security issues in front of the nation during the presidential debates.

"I was afraid it wasn't going to be debated, because neither candidate would gain anything from it, and they ran the risk of losing things," Horner said. "To me, the big issue is the lack of national security strategy to replace the Cold War strategy. … (W)ithout that, how are we going to organize, train and equip our forces so they have some coherence?"

The United States has the most powerful military in the world, said Horner, but that's no guarantee that the country is invincible.

"We were the most powerful when we fought in Vietnam," he said. "It didn't do us any good, did it?"

Other factors have impeded military readiness, he said. Among them: budgetary constraints, slipping morale among officers and enlistees, and an aging inventory of fighting machinery.

"It (military readiness) is quite low. I've seen it this way in the late '50s and the late '70s," he said. "So this is not a new phenomenon."

What is new, he said, is a growing leadership vacuum.

"(W)e've been in decline in retention. … What it does is leave gaps in needed leadership -- you know, captains, experienced people that are out there leading flights."

Aging aircraft and the lack of spare parts, he added, also has taken a toll. "What happens is that you get in a spiral," he said. "The other thing is, you're not developing anything (new), because you're using your research and development funds (for maintenance); so you're eating your seed core."

What does an old warrior think is needed to keep military personnel?

He suggested the military keep its fighters honed and happy. Without training, "people feel they've lost their combat edge," he said. "They don't feel that sense of esprit.

"Pride is what keeps a military guy going. It's not money."

Hillary Clinton gave false testimony about White House firings: prosecutor

Independent Counsel Robert Ray concluded Hillary Rodham Clinton gave "factually false" testimony when she denied having a role in the White House travel office firings. His final report on October 18 gave ammunition to her Senate rival three weeks before Election Day.

Ray said he decided not to prosecute Clinton because he could not prove she intended to deceive or even knew that her contacts with White House aides had instigated the May 1993 firings.

But he wrote that the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that Clinton, during eight separate conversations with senior presidential aides and advisers, helped prompt the firings of seven White House travel office workers.

The dismissals spurred one of the earliest controversies of her husband's presidency.

The office workers who were fired served at the pleasure of the president and could have been terminated without any reason. But a White House lawyer who worked for then-deputy White House counsel Vince Foster had contacted the FBI to pass along rumours of financial improprieties before the workers were fired.

Republicans accused the White House of using the FBI to justify the firings.

"Mrs. Clinton ... played a role in the decision to fire the employees and ... thus, her statement to the contrary under oath to this office is factually false," Ray concluded in a report that divulged testimony she gave to prosecutors.

Ray wrote that she made "factually inaccurate" statements to criminal investigators and Congress about the matter.

Locked in a tight race for a Senate seat from New York, Clinton dismissed the findings during a campaign stop in Syracuse, N.Y. "Most New Yorkers and Americans have made up their minds about this," she said.

Asked if she was concerned about the report's release so close to the election, she added: "That's something I have no control over."

Her lawyer, David Kendall, immediately assailed the prosecutor's conclusions as "highly unfair and misleading."

"The suggestion that Mrs. Clinton's testimony was 'factually inaccurate' as to her role in this matter is contradicted by the final report itself, which recognizes she may not have even been aware of any influence she may have had on the firing decision," Kendall wrote in reply to the report.

Representative Rick Lazio, Clinton's Republican opponent in the Senate race, seized on the report to raise new questions about credibility.

"We believe that character counts in public service and ... we believe that integrity needs to be restored in our public servants," Lazio said.

Ray's predecessor, Kenneth Starr, zeroed in on the travel office in January 1996 when a memo by former White House administration chief David Watkins surfaced stating that Clinton had been behind the firings.

"We ... knew that there would be hell to pay if ... we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the first lady's wishes," Watkins wrote in the memo.

Five months earlier, Clinton testified to Starr's investigators during a deposition at the White House that she had had no part in the purge.

Portions of her testimony were released on October 18 for the first time.

"Who ultimately made the decision, to the extent that you know, to fire the employees from the travel office?" Starr's investigators asked on July 22, 1995.

"Well, the best I know is David Watkins and (then-White House chief of staff) Mack McLarty, I assume, based on what I have learned since and read in the newspapers," Clinton answered.

"Did you have any role in it?" Starr's investigators asked her.

"No, I did not," she replied.

"Did you have any input with either Mr. McLarty or Mr. Watkins as to that decision?"

"I don't believe I did, no," the first lady said.

Ray submitted his final report in June to the three-judge panel that oversees his investigation. The panel released the report after giving parties named in it time to review it and respond.

The White House had already conducted an internal review and issued a public apology, saying the firings had been mishandled. It recommended that five of the seven ex-employees be given new government jobs and reprimanded four presidential aides. The former head of the office was prosecuted and acquitted of financial wrongdoing.

The White House also noted that the report did substantiate financial irregularities inside the travel office, which arranges travel for reporters covering the president on trips.

"The report recognizes that Mrs. Clinton was rightfully concerned about the financial improprieties in the travel office, and it begrudgingly acknowledges that she did not intend to influence the firing decision," White House press secretary Jake Siewert said.

Ad agency goofs campaign billboard

A mistake at an ad agency led to a billboard on a Charlotte interstate highway that proclaims "Gore 2000" and shows a picture of George W. Bush.

Billboard

Ad agency executive David Oakley said October 21 the mistake would be fixed October 23, but he wouldn't say which presidential candidate the billboard will represent.

"I can't say," Oakley said. "We've been instructed not to say."

Until the mixup is corrected, both presidential candidates will get equal time on the billboard on I-485 in front of thousands of motorists in North Carolina's largest city.

Oakley said the mistake was discovered October 20, too late to get a crew to change the ad.

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