TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Publicity experts believe that Bass' space story is a bit fishy

Experienced publicists can usually sniff out a phony PR ploy. You feel it in your media-savvy bones. Something just isn't right. It sounds phony.

Experienced publicists can usually sniff out a phony PR ploy. You feel it in your media-savvy bones. Something just isn't right. It sounds phony.

Orchestrated. Like something I might have come up with myself.

A couple of items recently crossed my publicity-stunt radar. First was this wannabe spaceman, Lance Bass, the boy singer from the boy-singer band. You know the guy - he was supposed to pony up $20 million to hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft, thereby becoming the first "major label" boy singer in space. He'd been vigorously training with Russian cosmonauts in flight drills and procedures, as well as harmonizing with the undersecretary of the Ruskie space program (who mistakenly thought Lance was the one dating Britney Spears.) Then suddenly, the warbler was booted out of the simulator faster than a booster rocket carrying helium-filled parade floats.

The money didn't come through, the Russians claim, while Bass' publicists countered with excuses about insurance snags. Yeah, whatever. I think the singer and the space program were using each other for a little cheap publicity. Get a room, will ya?

Owing to the fact that my occupation as a Hollywood publicist ranks higher in silliness and triviality than any gig besides telephone psychic and fashion designer, I often tell women I'm a "freelance astronaut" to hide my embarrassment. And I resent someone who already has a job that impresses girls encroaching on my space cowboy turf. So I'm blowing the whistle on this crooning astro-fraud.

The second item that reeks of Denmarkian fishiness is the allegation raised by a Vanity Fair writer, who says he was threatened for writing about an alleged link between action star Steven Seagal and an organized crime figure. The story claims the relationship led to extortion, an arrest, and the retaliatory threat of a sequel to On Sacred Ground.

Now, I'm not saying for sure that the reporter wasn't intimidated by some gold-chain wearing, toupee-wearing thugs, but I'm always dubious when this type of allegation is disclosed just days before the magazine hits the newsstands. C'mon, did the publication sit on this info until it was timely, or were the alleged mobsters savvy enough to withhold their threats until they could receive maximum press? If the latter is the case, Bush should hire the unlawful media geniuses to orchestrate his PR campaign against Hussein. It'll probably cost a lot less than what we're paying Charlotte Beers, who's nowhere near clever enough to think of using dead fish to stay "on message."

By the way, I myself was threatened over this column by a certain boy singer, who somehow slipped one of his group's CDs into my Springsteen collection. I get the message. But I don't scare that easily. In fact, I've been humming a couple of the tunes.

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