At a time in history when South Florida's mainstream media have devoted unprecedented resources to brainless babies and crackhouse testimonials, it's comforting to know that at least one member of the fourth estate is determined to keep the grounds free of garbage.
The Lantana-based Weekly World News scored another journalistic coup two weeks ago, publishing a front-page expose about the tragic downside of plastic surgery. A timely annotation to the recent brouhaha over silicone breast implants, the piece chronicles the case of Miami model Carol Sue Barker, whose face "dripped off like candle wax" during a recent Caribbean vacation.
Correspondent Rick Tracy reported that Barker spent $20,000 to buy a new nose, chin, and cheeks before heading off to the Virgin Islands. After a two-hour snooze on the beach, however, the comely blonde woke up with a kisser the consistency of runny eggs. "My face felt oily," she told the News. "I thought it was suntan lotion. Then I realized it was the melting plastic."
A local doctor examined Barker (his professional opinion: "She looked like something out of a horror movie"), then bandaged her for the flight home to Miami. She is now considering suing the plastic surgeon for turning her into "a plastic monster. I will never forgive him," the droop-jowled model told Rick Tracy. "He should have warned me about this."
The News piece, which hit finer newsstands the week of May 25, has sent model-cluttered Miami into a tizzy. "I guess we've been lucky," says an obviously relieved Barbara Cominsky, vice president of Michele Pommier Models in Coral Gables. "Nobody's told us anything about melting. We've never had any problems. Not even with the breast-implant stuff."
Peggy Bremner, head of the women's division of Irene Marie Models, doesn't sound so sure. "I don't think we have any models whose parts have melted," she murmurs. "I mean, not that I can recall."
The response from plastic surgeons has been one of sheer panic, barely veiled beneath dismissive contempt. "Faces melting? We haven't heard anything about that," snaps Gordon Merrick, administrator of the Los Angeles-based American Board of Plastic Surgeons. "Chin implants are made of silicone and nose surgery doesn't require implants at all, so I don't see how anything could melt. The melting temperature of silicone is, like, a couple of thousand degrees.
"Are you sure this thing's for real?" asks Merrick, indignation swelling like a collagen-injected pout.
"That story and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves belong in the same literary guild," sniffs Miami Beach facelifter Dr. Lawrence Robbins. "A woman's cosmetic surgery wouldn't melt. Not unless you poured gasoline on her face and lit it. And even then it wouldn't melt. It would burn."
Dr. Harold Deutsch assumes a more cautious posture. "Statistically, it's probably impossible. But the longer you live, the more you realize anything can be," muses the Miami reconstructive surgeon. "I don't comment on a disease process without having full case information, but in the eyes of the person looking in the mirror, she could see herself melting away."
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Sal Ivone, the News's managing editor, credits the scoop to his far-reaching and innovative network of free-lancers. "The people who call us are going to be people at the, uh, extremes of the news business," he explains. Indeed, New Times's own efforts to track down Barker, whose pre-melt mug reportedly fetched her a minimum of $2500 per week, proved fruitless. None of Miami's major modeling agencies have ever heard of her. Always sensitive to the privacy of its sources, the News refuses to turn over Barker's phone number. "She's a real a mess," Ivone points out. "You can see why she doesn't want any more publicity."
For the News, Barker's Dorian Gray-esque ordeal is only the latest in a series of hard-hitting reports about the health risks of cosmetic surgery. "Over eleven years we've published 50 or 60 stories on that subject," Ivone boasts. "Again, those are going to be at the extremes. A few years back we ran a piece on how supersonic jets were making women's breast implants explode. In Germany, I think it was. And we just did a story on the woman who removed her own implants. But then, who didn't do that one?"
Ivone says he decided to grant Barker's plight the coveted cover spot "based on the graphics. That is one sensational photograph," he proclaims, adding that the News is even considering a rare follow-up to its exclusive. "Heck, if we get enough calls, we'll go with a trend story."
Still, the News-man stops short of predicting a Pulitzer. "I don't know that we'll enter it into any contests. I mean, it's not one of our most unusual stories. We've got one coming up on the Batboy. He lives in a cave. He screams. He's got pointy ears and little, pointy teeth, and he hears like radar. I don't know that a woman's plastic surgery melting stacks up against that.