Naples Daily News, Sheriff Feel The Wrath Of 'Rush' Fans

By Phil Lewis, Naples Daily News, January 18, 2004

A bloody tussle during a New Year's Eve celebration at one of Naples' two Ritz-Carlton hotels and the reaction that followed has left us with this thought: Hell hath no fury like an irate Rush fan.

(Editor's note: I'm talking about Rush as in Canadian rock band; not Rush as in Limbaugh.) Alex Zivojinovich, 50, the lead guitarist of the band, owns a winter home in Pelican Bay and he was seeing in the new year with friends and family at the nearby Ritz.

He ended up in the Collier County jail with a broken nose and four felony charges including assault on a law enforcement officer. He's scheduled to enter a plea at the local courthouse on Jan. 26 at which time a trial date will be set.

It appears a trial will be necessary because Zivojinovich says he was unfairly arrested and the sheriff disagrees. Also arrested that night were Zivojinovich's 33-year-old son, Justin, and Justin's 30-year-old wife, Michelle.

Zivojinovich is known to rock fans around the world as Alex Lifeson. Rush, a band that released its first album in 1974, peaked in the 1980s but still has legions of loyal fans. More than a few jumped to Zivojinovich's defense after the arrest was picked up by national and international publications, including People magazine.

The Collier County Sheriff's Office received enough angry and disturbing e-mails that Sheriff Don Hunter issued an unusual press release that began: "Some of Alex Zivojinovich's fans have spoken out on his behalf, and in doing so, have attacked this agency, the individual deputies, and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, as well as the community in which we live and serve." He indicated that his deputies are being accused of abuse by people who weren't at the Ritz that night. In fact, many of them weren't even in Florida, much less Naples.

Tina Osceola, the sheriff's public information officer, said the e-mails are no fun to read.

"We're getting a lot of Rush fans being completely foul (in the messages)," she told our reporters. She said the Naples city police department also is receiving angry e-mails, even though the agency had nothing to do with the fight or the arrest because the Ritz is several miles outside the city limits.

A spokesperson for the Ritz said the hotel is also catching it from Rush fans.

"There is a definite misunderstanding that we were the ones pressing charges," the hotel spokesperson said.

And, you can add the Daily News to the list.

John Henderson, the reporter handling the police beat New Year's Day, was roundly criticized via e-mail for taking the address of Zivojinovich's North Naples condominium from booking sheets and including it in the arrest story.

"You scumsucking pig," was the opening of one e-mail received by Henderson.

"How dare you give out a rock star's address to the public. I hope you get punished for your stupidity you (expletive)." It was signed "An Irate Rush Fan." A more measured complaint followed: "I would like to comment on the sheer lack of taste and absence of journalistic integrity on the part of John Henderson. In his article 'Alex Lifeson of Rush Arrested in New Year's Eve Fracas,' Henderson revealed the celebrity musician's home address in Naples.

"Doesn't he have any common sense about privacy violations? Did he forget what happened to John Lennon? I think the editor of Naples (Daily) News is equally as suspect for letting this be published, and I sincerely hope that Mr. Lifeson's lawyers teach you all a lesson you'll remember." We're certain Mr. Lifeson's lawyers have more pressing duties. In Florida, the name, age and address of people arrested are a matter of public record, meaning the law requires such information to be available to anyone who requests it.

One Rush fan pointed out to us that just because the information is public record doesn't mean the newspaper has to print it.

That's true, but it's been this newspaper's policy for at least 25 years to use people's ages and local addresses when they are arrested, whether the alleged crime is shoplifiting, DUI or murder. We do this because it is a matter of public record and to help distinguish one Bob Jones from another.

True there was little danger of readers confusing Alex Zivojinovich, the rock star, with some other Alex Zivojinovich in Naples, but consider this: Over the years, hundreds of people have called to ask the newspaper to leave out a name, age or address prior to an arrest story being published. We've been told publication would cost them jobs, marriages, friendships, business deals and, yes, their safety. To each, we've said sorry, but we make no exceptions; we treat everyone the same whether they are rich, poor, famous or not so famous.

That, we would argue, is journalistic integrity.

Phil Lewis is editor of the Daily News