Newsmakers -


Obama gets caught in “Skeetgate” and HMV learns the power of social media


Pete Souza/White House

Shorn for love

America isn’t the only place where young pop stars have to apologize for having a sex life. Minami Minegishi, a 20-year-old member of the Japanese musical group AKB48, shaved her head in penance after a gossip magazine showed her leaving the apartment of a backup dancer from another band. It wasn’t the romance with a rival group that caused the scandal, but the fact that, as Minegishi said in an apologetic YouTube video, she did not “behave as a good role model” and follow the band’s rules about sexual behaviour—namely, it’s off-limits to girls. The tearful apology didn’t help her cause—management demoted the star to a trainee team.

Skeet truthers

When U.S. President Barack Obama told the New Republic that “up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” he probably never dreamed he’d set off a full-fledged new conspiracy theory, now dubbed “Skeetgate.” Many conservatives accused Obama of lying about his gun fandom; one Republican representative demanded to know “if he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of it?” The outcry grew so great that the White House released a photo of Obama shooting skeet at Camp David, which simply resulted in accusations that it was photoshopped, plus mockery of the “mom jeans” he was wearing in the picture.

Got live if you want it

After Barack Obama’s January inauguration, pop star Beyoncé Knowles was the subject of much derision after being accused of lip-synching The Star-Spangled Banner for the occasion. Many questioned her ability to headline the Super Bowl halftime show, the most viewed live performance event on American TV. But this week, Beyoncé proved the skeptics wrong. At the Super Bowl press conference, the 31-year-old sang a live rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner for reporters, before admitting she had sung over a recorded track at the inauguration, but only because she felt the occasion demanded perfection. She delivered the same degree of perfection during the Super Bowl, dancing hard, hitting every note, and reuniting with old bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child.

Sperm mix-up

Norman Barwin is every artificial insemination patient’s worst nightmare: a man who doesn’t check the labels on the sperm samples. The 71-year-old Ottawa fertility doctor was found guilty by a panel of his peers for professional misconduct: at least three of his patients claimed they had babies whose fathers turned out not to be the sperm donors he promised them. For one Ottawa mom who was supposed to have been impregnated with her husband’s sperm (he’d preserved it before undergoing cancer treatment), that meant telling her son that his dad was, in fact, someone else. “You wonder,” says the young man, now 25, “ ‘Where am I from and who do I look like?’ I’ll never know.”

A Broadway whistleblower?

We’ve heard of corporate whistleblowers, but Marc Thibodeau may be the first alleged whistleblower in the world of theatre publicity. The producers of Rebecca, the disastrous musical whose Broadway opening was scuttled last October when one of its investors turned out not to exist, have sued their ex-publicist for sending an anonymous email to one of their actual living investors. The email, sent under the pseudonym Sarah Finklestein, warned an investor that the production was about to collapse and that he should withdraw his money before it was too late. If only all publicists could be so honest about their shows.

Iceland’s Blaer switch project

A 15-year-old Icelandic girl has successfully overturned a government decision that denied her the right to legally use her own name. Authorities had long rejected Blaer Bjarkardottir’s given name—which means “gentle breeze”—because it was too “masculine sounding” and not on the list of 1,853 approved handles for women. And for years, official documents and communications had referred to her as “girl.” It’s not clear whether the government intends to appeal the Reykjavik District Court ruling to the country’s Supreme Court, but the teen is claiming victory. “I’m very happy,” she told reporters. “Finally, I’ll have the name Blaer in my passport.”

Live-tweeting their own firing

The official HMV Twitter account went way off message last week when a staff member used it to live tweet the mass firing of employees. “There are over 60 of us being fired at once! Mass execution of loyal employees who love the brand,” read one of the @hmvtweets marked with the hashtag #hmvXFactorFiring. They were deleted from the account— after a manager reportedly asked, “How do I shut down Twitter?”— but not before being viewed, and shared, by thousands of users. HMV confirmed 190 people had, indeed, been fired as the British arm of the company restructures. Former HMV social media planner Poppy Rose Cleere, 21, said she’d long tried to teach HMV staff about the power of social media, but they “never seemed to grasp its importance.” Message received, apparently—loud and clear.

Britain’s new recipe for succession

Ottawa has introduced legislation to signal its support for amended rules of royal succession, following through on an agreement forged between British Prime Minister David Cameron and the leaders of 15 Commonwealth nations. The changes, which will hopefully become law before the birth of Will and Kate’s first child this summer, will update ancient traditions with an eye to equality. Now it will be the eldest born who gets a place in the line to the throne, regardless of sex. And the monarch and his or her heirs will no longer be prohibited from marrying a Catholic. (Although followers of Rome will still be excluded from becoming sovereign.) Heritage Minister James Moore called the reforms “simple but principled changes.” But Canada being Canada, there remains a debate about the process. Some legal scholars argue that all provincial legislatures must give their assent too.

Flaherty puts rumours to rest

Ottawa runs on gossip, but sometimes it’s nice to have the facts too. For months now, there has been speculation about the health and political future of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Last week, he finally addressed it directly, admitting he has developed a rare skin disease, bullous pemphigoid. It’s not life-threatening, but it is painful, and side effects from the steroids he’s taking to treat it have caused marked changes in his appearance and behaviour. The minister says he filled Prime Minister Stephen Harper in on his health problems months ago, and intends to stay on the job. He says he wants to stick around until the federal budget is balanced, hopefully in 2015.

Cookie heist

The Germans have a word for everything, even the guy who stole the gigantic gold cookie from a Hanover biscuit factory. The thief, who carried off the cookie and is holding it for ransom, has been dubbed das Krümelmonster, German for “cookie monster,” though Sesame Street has denied any connection between this thief and their furry blue cookie lover. But there are reasons to be suspicious: the anonymous Krümelmonster has declared he won’t give the cookie back until the cookie company gives cookies “to all the children in Bult hospital,” in Hanover. A cookie monster who loves kids? Keep denying it, Sesame Street. The cookie was returned this week after the cookie company’s CEO promised to donate 52,000 packages of cookies to local social facilities.

Art imitating life

Are you tired of reading about Lena Dunham? Well, tough luck, because the Girls creator-star has already signed to do another series for HBO. Dunham and Girls showrunner Jenni Konner will write and produce the pilot All Dressed Up and Everywhere To Go—an adaptation of a new memoir by Betty Halbreich, a New York personal shopper for the likes of Meryl Streep, and a HBO fashion consultant. Who better than Dunham to write the story of a privileged New Yorker with a lot of friends at HBO? Speaking of semi-autobiographical TV shows, Michael J. Fox was spotted in New York last week filming the pilot episode of NBC’s The Henrys. In it, he’ll play a newscaster forced to take time off to deal with a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Burkas for babies

Saudi Sheikh Abdullah Daoud sparked outrage this week when comments he made last year surfaced online, in which he suggested sexual assault against children could be curbed if female newborns wore a full-face veil. Baby burkas would stop incidents of sexual exploitation of infants, said the preacher, as reported last week by Al Arabiya news. Even in conservative Saudi Arabia the suggestion was derided as extreme, with clerics are urging Muslims to ignore it.

Remember me?

Fidel Castro made a surprise stop at a Havana polling station this week. The former Cuban president moved slowly, and hunched over as he cast his ballot for parliament. Castro, 86, resigned in 2008, and is rarely seen in public.