Let’s take it from the top, good, bad and ugly…
As reported first last week on KC Confidential, deceased Fox 4 meteorologist Don Harman suffered from depression. And he took his own life.
But like many sudden, dramatic news events, Harman’s death was shrouded in secrecy and rumors abounded as to why and how he killed himself. Was there a note? Concerned, interested viewers and fans wanted to know more.
In the good, old days at the Kansas City Star, the newspaper could sit on breaking news stories too complex for television news to scoop them on. Pretty much anything besides murder, fires and petty consumer fraud.
And that’s exactly what the Star‘s Aaron Barnhart did in Harman’s case. Barnhart didn’t slide across home plate with a War & Peace version of what had happened until nearly 10 p.m. after the stadium had emptied.
That’s still how the Star prefers to play the game when they can get away with it.
Get the details hashed out – checked and rechecked – then spit out a buttoned down narrative, taking every precaution not to offend or incite…anyone. They call it news reporting and it is, but it’s reporting at a snail’s pace which is not the pace today’s world tends to operate at.
But Barnhart’s lengthy Star story was still missing the answers to two questions everybody wanted to know. He was late but OK with the depression angle, but the questions of how and was there a note went unanswered.
Now let’s look how stories like this often play on the national stage.
Say Anna Nicole Smith or Michael Jackson checks out – Joplin gets shmushed by a tornado or something – instantly CNN and other news outlets are pounding on the story, detail by detail. Nevermind that the first wave – or two or three – of news is to whatever extent inaccurate and maybe misleading. They’re on it – no 10 to 12 hour news lags allowed.
The stories are corrected revised and re-reported as they unfold – no harm, no foul. Viewers see the sausage as it’s being made.
Bear in mind, we’re talking about huge news organizations with hundreds of ready, willing and able staffers.
Not just me.
When Don Harman died last week, the news came to me from a source in Manhattan, Kansas. My first response was to confirm it so I placed some calls, checked on Facebook and dug into the Star library for past Harman columns to offer readers a taste of better times.
Harman’s suicide was all over Facebook and a source close to him confirmed his suicide to me as well. Fellow weather wonk Gary Lezak then said a few kind words and spoke briefly of Harman’s battle with depression.
Case closed, right? Not in the public’s mind.
Before I could quilt together a fun, breezy flashback on Harman, a high level news media source emailed: "Hearing rumors in law enforcement circles that Harman was talked to last week by police about a cold case murder of a woman in the city from where he came to KC."
I was flying low at that point. It was late at night, so there was no checking with police then and I was facing aday of closed meetings starting the next morning. So I decided to share what I was hearing with readers – plus more reporting.
My headline teased that a "shocker" could be in the works. However I started the story off with a long reminder that Harman had serious depression issues, a discussion of depression, then touched on other possible causes as to eliminate them. Harman lived in a normal neighborhood – nothing fancy – was well paid – six-figures, according to TV news sources. And his show had good ratings so he appeared to have job security.
Only then did I write…
"I’m not going to go into it here, but the talk in law enforcement is that Harman was spoken to by police very recently about the possible reopening a cold case crime in another city," I then added vaguely. "If true, count on the news breaking fairly fast. I’ll be looking into it later today and try and report back as to whether there’s any truth to that rumor."
Later that night I was contacted by a named source, not an anonymous person – with ties to the Harman household..
"That weather guy hung himself in my friend’s old house," he told me. "In South KC, Woodbridge. From what I know the kid was at home."
Meanwhile another commenter weighed in on the story I’d just posted about the cold case crime I’d alluded to, saying it may have been about missing Mason City, Iowa anchor Jodi Huisentruit.
Wanting to share what information I had with readers before going into the all-day meeting, my headline the next morning asked; "Was Don Harman Involved in Missing Iowa Anchor Jodi Huisentruit?"
That was the question I hoped to answer.
I referenced the Huisentruit mention from the comments section and reported I’d confirmed that Harman worked at the station at the time she disappeared. Immediately I added, "To be fair, while that may be true, it certainly doesn’t mean that Harman was a suspect in that case."
Then I laid out the Huisentruit story, with no mention whatsoever of Harman.
Let’s review; I reported police sources were saying Harman had been interviewed, that it may have nothing to do with him, then I told the Huisentruit story.That’s it.
How much thinner could I have written it? Not very. This was a window into how the news evolving and I wanted to carefully share it with readers. I will take the hit on the hanging part though – the rumor was out there – but it should have been attributed to the source or just skipped. Still it was part of the news process.
Since then sources close to the family have told me that Harmon asphyxiated himself (with a bag but no helium) and that he left both a note and a video. The latter seemingly indicating some level of premeditation.
I’ve also been told Harman’s family can’t get the house listed for sale fast enough and want to get out of KC.
Hey, so that’s the way news evolves sometimes and this story was a whirlwind tale.
Had any of you been working behind the scenes at the Star or a local news station, chances are you’d have been privy to much of this. You’d have experienced and learned pretty much what I experienced and learned as it all unfolded. Remember when the Star‘s Joyce Smith asked her Facebook friends to tell her what they knew about the owner of Starker’s suicide? Remember when Bottomline Communications declared Star foodie Lauren Chapin dead while she was still very much alive and in the hospital?
By the time the Mason City police investigator Frank Stearns finally returned my calls several days after the fact, he’d been besieged by other KC reporters wanting to follow up on my story a possible Husientruit connection. It’s not like they where about to leave that stone unturned.
Instead of shielding you from that news process, I shared it and took readers along for the ride. For better and for worse. And, as you can now see, finally brought the story full circle. Almost.
There is one more twist coming later tomorrow.