Our annual roundup of the year's strangest news and most dubious accomplishments

A friend of ours always used to say, "We tease because we love." While that always seemed like a convenient excuse for him to continue peppering us with verbal jabs, we get it. Good-natured ribbing is a part of life, and when done in the right spirit, it helps us all laugh a bit at the more ridiculous aspects of the world.

Hence, our third annual Cluck-ups. The idea was hatched years ago by an Indy staff that had stockpiled bits of silly, surreal or otherwise bizarre news throughout the year—and wanted to do anything but the typical year-end retrospective. The name derives from the never-ending chicken debates that defined the Missoula City Council in 2007, which just happened to be the same year we brought these awards to print. We've kept both the format and the name intact because, for better or worse, we have no shortage of people—including us (see sidebar)—who have laid an egg this year.

Wikipedia FAIL

House Minority Leader Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, opened the 61st Montana Legislature with a speech in which he attributed a series of quotes to Abraham Lincoln, such as, "You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong." Unfortunately for Sales, Lincoln never said the quotes. William John Henry Boetcker authored "The Ten Cannots" 41 years after Lincoln's death. Sales said he found the list on the Internet and apologized for not doing better research.

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Sorry to eat and ride

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus proudly represented Montana at the January inauguration of President Barack Obama by dressing—and acting—like a cowboy. As the Washington Post reported, "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., dressed in rodeo gear, paid his respects to Obama as soon as the guests started eating, bowing out early so he could get ready for his appearance in the inaugural parade in which he'll be riding a horse with a Montana float."

Music with a message

The Montana Meth Project launched a Presidents' Day rally at the Capitol that included a lively pop soundtrack, including the Black Eyed Peas' 2004 radio hit, "Let's Get it Started." The single originally appeared on the group's 2003 album, Elephunk, as a drug anthem titled, "Let's Get Retarded."

Imagine how many Mutt Mitts this would buy

Motor vehicle offices across the state closed for two days in June to repair the new Montana Enhanced Registration and Licensing Information Network, otherwise known as MERLIN. The state spent $28.5 million and four years developing the software.

Crying fowl

Flathead Lake resident Holly Wurl protested the "loud, unabated noise from roosters" in a court filing over her neighbor's chicken coop. The official complaint included Wurl's exhaustive, three-month rooster crow log, in which she detailed precisely when and how many times her neighbor's roosters cock-a-doodle-dooed. For example, Wurl claimed that on July 4, 2008, the roosters crowed 38 times between 4:35 a.m. and 4:41 a.m., and 33 times between 4:47 and 4:58 a.m. And then about 100 more times throughout the day.

High refers to more than just our elevation

A January Forbes report on the country's failed drug war singled out "America's Drug Capitals," including New Orleans, Baltimore, San Francisco...and Missoula. According to a survey by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, 13.8 percent of households polled in Montana's Region 5—Flathead, Lake, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Ravalli and Sanders counties—reported using illicit drugs in a prior 30-day period. Twelve percent in our region reported using marijuana in the prior 30-day period. Both placed our region at the top of the list.

It's gettin' hot in here

Noted social networking fan Rep. Denny Rehberg took to his Twitter account before President Obama's first address to Congress, letting all his tweeps know: "On the floor of the house of reps. Waiting to hear Barack. Place is on fire."

A different kind of heat

After he was involved in a late-night Flathead Lake boat crash that injured all five passengers, Rehberg waited seven hours before calling his wife, Jan, to let her know he had been hospitalized at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. "He is in a little bit of trouble," Jan said during a press conference.

I am hard, but I am fair

Actor R. Lee Ermey, better known as hardass Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick's classic Full Metal Jacket (and the character who spoke the line above), recovered a bag of un-deposited cash and checks while filming a History Channel show in Missoula. Ermey found the bag—with deposit slips for $3,700 and $2,800, and approximately $8,000 in cash—on a blacktop near Fort Missoula and returned it to the Wells Fargo on Russell Street.

An udderly silly moooooove

The Western Montana Fair embraced a new slogan this year: "I herd it through the bovine."

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Maybe she should write more about bungee cords

University of Montana assistant law professor Kristen Juras protested the student newspaper's publication of a weekly sex column by senior Bess Davis. Juras claimed Davis wasn't qualified to dispense sex advice and that her "Bess Sex Column" portrayed "a hook-up culture that has unhealthy physical, psychological and emotional effects on students." Juras, who also serves as faculty advisor to the Christian Legal Society, unsuccessfully pleaded for the column to be removed.

What exactly did he expect for $60?

John Erbele, the former pastor at Missoula's South Hills Evangelical Church (SHEC), allegedly paid $60 to a hooker in St. Paul, Minn., who turned out to be an undercover cop. Erbele was one of 16 "johns" arrested during the sting.

Applying to work for Big Brother

Bozeman City Manager Chris Kukulski and three other department heads were disciplined for requiring potential city employees to divulge their usernames and passwords for personal e-mail and social network accounts, like Twitter and Facebook. The policy had started in the city police department in 2007 and extended to all applicants in summer 2008 before finally being dropped in July.

Couldn't they have at least promoted a better destination?

The Missoula Chamber of Commerce, an organization seemingly responsible for promoting Missoula businesses, promoted a "Fabulous Nosey Parker's Ladies Get-A-Way for savvy shoppers"—in Spokane. The holiday season e-blast promised shoppers a "posh stay at Holiday Inn Express Spokane," "classy limousine service with your personal guide," "festive champagne and chocolates in route" and much more for just $137 per person.

At least he won one national title

After Bobby Hauck, head coach of the University of Montana football team, refused to answer questions from student reporters because of a story he didn't like, national media picked up on the standoff. Sports Illustrated wrote about Hauck's "sorry strategy" at least three times, popular sports blog Deadspin called the coach "a gaping vagina of the highest order" and ESPN columnist Pat Forde named Hauck his "Bum of the Year."

Upon further review

New York Times sportswriter Pete Thamel also jumped into the Hauck brouhaha, tweeting that Hauck "reinvents amateur hour for [college football] coaches. May he never get a real coaching job." Just last week, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas hired Hauck as its new head coach.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

The University of Montana football team wasn't the only Griz group to place second in a prestigious national competition this year. The cheerleading squad came up short against the University of Hawaii in the Jan. 2 airing of "RAH! Paula Abdul's Cheerleading Bowl" on MTV. UM beat out the University of Arizona, University of Arkansas and Miami University (Ohio) to reach the final.

More than just a "football factory"

A September New York Times article on low graduation rates at public universities specifically mentioned the University of Montana as a "failure factory."

There when you need it most, mostly

The American Automobile Association (AAA) ceased placing motorists stranded at home on its response list last winter after 10 days of mostly subzero temperatures and heavy snowfall overwhelmed the Mountain West region.

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Better than the Bernie Madoff Financial Center

Harold Gilkey, namesake of the University of Montana's new Gilkey Center for Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Executive Education, stepped down from his position as chairman of Spokane's Sterling Savings Bank in October, shortly after the bank received a cease-and-desist order from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The order cited a number of unsafe or unsound banking practices, including a large number of poor-quality loans and inadequate capital.

The Cosby method

Montana State University ecologist Al Zale offered up solutions for dealing with an infestation of invasive lake trout in Yellowstone Lake, including one unconventional idea: smothering the trout eggs with Jell-O. Zale believes unflavored gelatin would be an affordable way to deprive the lake trout eggs of the oxygen they draw out of the water.

The Mulder defense

A Whitefish man facing charges for illegal possession of firearms and a bomb told U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in January that he's the victim of a far-reaching government conspiracy. Specifically, he believed operatives implanted nutrition-stealing canisters in his gastrointestinal tract while detained by Seattle authorities in 1993 and 2000. Canisters or not, Molloy ruled the man was competent to stand trial.

Law and order

Jonathan Lee Riches, dubbed the most litigious man in the world, hit Missoula courts for the first time when Riches v. The Twilight Zone, et al reached Molloy's courtroom. The suit accused a lineup of classic television personalities of brainwashing and mind control. "These defendants created me, and as a kid growing up in front of my t.v. spending hr's upon hr's [sic] watching the defendants tricked my mind into believing I live a fantasy life," read Riches' injunction.

Talk about dropped signals

Montana's AirTEL customers woke up on Saturday, Feb. 21, with zero bars of service on their cellular phones after the company abruptly pulled out of the state. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock filed a complaint against the company in June to secure refunds for customers who prepaid for that service.

Fighting to protect the innocent—and hoofed

A Philipsburg resident purposefully got himself ticketed for violating the town's horse ordinance in hopes of receiving a court trial, claiming a city law that prevents hoofed animals in town is unfair. "I don't think it's right," said Buster Butler, "because I've been around horses all my life." Butler refused to offer the names of the ticketed horses because he didn't want to incriminate them.

In sickness and in health —or, maybe, in jail

Frenchtown resident Jordan Iddings made headlines for a November bachelor party that, according to police, involved Iddings sexually assaulting a woman (he allegedly groped her, then punched her in the face after she slapped him) and head-butting a Missoula police officer. Iddings pleaded not guilty to the charges and a trial is set for April 19. According to public records, he and his fiancée still married on Dec. 19.

Making a forest out of a twig

Cosmetic giant Mary Kay Inc. claimed in a May press release that it had "completed the total reforestation of the Bitterroot National Forest." The company's Compact Recycling Program did supply 200,000 trees to the Bitterroot, but it hardly reforested the entire 1.6 million acre region. "I might not have worded [the press release] that way," said Nan Christianson, public affairs officer for the forest.

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Lost connection

In an effort to "permit high standards of living and a wide sharing of life's amenities," Yellowstone National Park finalized its wireless communications plan in April, outlining where it can expand service for cell phones and Internet access inside the park.

Maybe they watched online from Yellowstone

Exactly zero people attended a live satellite feed of Michael Jackson's star-studded memorial service at Missoula's Carmike 10. The cinema chain offered seats free of charge to the first 185 in attendance.

Is "small-town charm" a euphemism?

The Tiger Woods affair(s) veered toward Missoula when Kalika Moquin, a marketing manager for a Las Vegas nightclub and former Garden City resident, popped up as an alleged mistress. An anonymous friend of Moquin told E! News, "They've been friends for three years. I think he was attracted to her small-town charm."

Going where no rock has gone before

NASA started collecting ground rock this summer from the Stillwater Mine in Nye, Mont., because it includes a key ingredient that mimics the makeup of the moon's south pole. Once melted, the synthetic space dirt will help NASA as it prepares to establish a permanent base on the moon by 2024.

Don't hate the playa, hate the game

Footloose Montana, an organization working to eliminate trapping on public lands, blames part of the trapping issue on hip-hop culture. "The pelts a trapper does sell are probably adorning a fur coat worn by a rapper wannabe in some urban center far from Montana's high mountains," reads the group's website. "Hip hop culture, which embraces fur garments as status symbols, is driving fur prices higher and encouraging trappers to deploy more traps than ever on Montana's public lands."

Local is as local does

The Missoula Sustainable Business Council's "Think Local, Buy Local" campaign, which aims to preserve "the unique character of our community" and maintain "the special history and culture of Missoula," listed the Patagonia Outlet in Dillon (a national outdoor clothing and gear company) and ValPak of Missoula (a local branch of the national direct marketing firm) within the campaign. The council later removed both businesses from its "Buy Local" effort.

Cherry-picking the "local" brand

Safeway stores in Missoula started liberally promoting "locally grown produce" throughout its produce aisles, despite only carrying melons from Dixon and cherries from the Flathead. The cherries, however, are sent to Washington state to meet the chain's stringent packaging requirements before being shipped back to Montana.

If at first you don't succeed, sue

Three members of Missoula's City Council sued the city they represent after not getting their way in a debate over revised zoning laws. A Helena judge rejected the arguments brought by Dick Haines, Lyn Hellegaard and Renee Mitchell that the city failed to adequately notify the public of the process, finding the city "is thoroughly complying" with its legal requirements.

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Letting the inmates run the asylum

Officials in Hardin, Mont., signed a contract with Michael Hilton in September to have his American Police Force operate the city's $27 million jail facility, which had never been used before. After purchasing a fleet of Mercedes SUVs brandished with "Hardin Police Force" logos—there is no official Hardin Police Force—media reports revealed that Hilton had an extensive criminal history. Specifically, the Associated Press reported he spent several years in a California prison for grand theft, and had at least three civil judgments against him for fraudulent investments.

We're clucked!

Needless to say, the Indy's not above making the occasional mistake. In putting together this year's collection of cluck-ups, we realized it was only fair to list our own dubious achievements of the year.

Boosting the freelance budget

The launch of our new website included the usual glitches—and one that longtime readers may have found a little ironic. Former arts editor, current film critic and notoriously prolific wordsmith Andy Smetanka shared a byline on thousands of archived stories along with the correct author.

Betsy who?

Similarly, thousands of stories were also listed under the byline "Betsy Kepes." A seasonal worker for the Forest Service in Kooskia, Idaho, Kepes wrote one "Writers on the Range" essay that appeared in the Independent in July.

Lost in translation

In June, we got flak for removing an online comment from "Ass-rammer for Jesus" because, the commenter thought, someone objected to the use of the word "queer" in the post and not the username.

Howling mad

A group called Missoula Skeptics went absolutely batty after we profiled pet psychic Keek Mensing in a February issue, calling the story unscientific and uncritical for not thoroughly debunking her alleged skill. Fair enough, but we regret not hearing a whimper from the group when we previewed an art exhibit featuring photographs by a dog and wrote a Spotlight about an elephant who paints.

Brought to you by talented editers

A story remained on the front page of our website for six days with the byline "By contributers."

Racial profiling

During back-to-back issues in mid-February, we put old, white, male bureaucrats on the cover of the paper. They were two of our slowest moving issues of the year. By contrast, our two most popular issues featured medical marijuana and Huey Lewis.

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Flush to judgment

Numerous readers believed a recent cover image of meditating staff writer Matthew Frank—pictured alongside the items he used for an herbal cleanse—should have more prominently displayed the enema bag.

Drinks on us

In an advertisement for Sportsman's Bar that boasted "the biggest collection of boozers, cynics, hillbillies, malcontents, miscreants, mountain men, perverts, rednecks, shodders, trailer trash, transients, some great cleavage, horrid manginas and everyone's favorite bum" we incorrectly listed the address of the Alberton establishment as the home of a local law enforcement official.

Close, but yet so far

An "etc." column meant to tout a new website called failed to do so after we sent readers to a nonexistent site at Similarly, a news story on a property in Huson that violated the Clean Water Act included a photo of an adjacent piece of land.

If only we'd listened to our own advice

We were criticized for taking what was perceived as a cheap shot at Lee Enterprises—owners of the Missoulian—when we listed its stock options in our 2008 budget gift guide. In listing the 50 shares at an approximate value of $25, we wrote that it made a good gift because we had "every confidence that the value of your gift will go nowhere but up." Sure enough, it did. Those same 50 stocks would be worth approximately $190 today.

Swing and a miss

In the aftermath of the Tiger Woods scandal, we received a photo from an anonymous source showing Missoula native and alleged Tiger mistress Kalika Moquin canoodling with Dennis Haskins, better known as Mr. Belding on "Saved by the Bell." We held off from reporting the "story."

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