A few of you are gonna be all over this one…
Because it harks back to my biggest journalistic faux pas. Everyone makes errors, don’t kid yourself – every writer, reporter, editor. It’s not exclusive to just me or the Scribe.
But before we delve into my greatest, all-time writing blunder, I want to let you in on a secret. While errors of any sort are big time frowned upon at the Kansas City Star, the journalists who make them are not above trying to get away with them without publishing a correction…if they possibly can.
To illustrate this point I’m going to share a couple of big ones that went uncorrected by Star staffers. Uncorrected because, while the journalists who committed them knew they had made then, they finagled a way to avoid correcting them and thus getting in trouble with their superiors at the Star.
By the way, every Star reporter reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about and can probably recall the time or times they dodged the correction bullet.
Understand that when the Readers Rep comes calling with a complaint, if the reporters can bullshit his way out of publishing an error he or she will do just that – 100 percent of the time. Obviously that doesn’t include spelling errors and the like.
Now let’s take a look at my biggest gaffe, shall we?
I was reminded of it yesterday on a flight to L.A. as I read a Kevin Collison story in the Star about a developer named Wayne Reeder planning a redevelopment project in the West Bottoms.
Eight years earlier I first met Reeder in the lounge of the Fairmont hotel (now the Intercontinental) overlooking the Plaza.
I was there to interview Connie Vitale on her return to KC after several years away. Vitale had co-founded and built the Kansas City Film Society, headed a prominent local talent and fashion agency and run a Westport institution called Love Records.
Reeder was pounding cocktails alongside a real estate hottie who was working with him on his downtown condo project at the time called The View.
He beckoned me to their table nearby and we chatted briefly about his project. Reeder suggested I write about it, but short of him having any news, I told him I needed something interesting and/or quirky to do even a short item.
Reeder had just what I needed and proceeded to tell me that former Chiefs star Buck Buchanan’s company was doing the landscaping at The View.
The Buck Buchanan? The very one, he said.
Trouble is, what Reeder should have said was that Buck Buchan, a local landscaper, was doing the honors.
Because the real Buck Buchanan was six-feet under at the time.
Granted, I should have been more careful but I trusted Reeder and Buck Buchanan’s death wasn’t exactly a historic moment for all to remember. So I wrote two short sentences, added a brief quote from Reeder and tacked it onto the end of my Sunday column.
It was innocuous, a throw away item to say the least.
But as luck would have it, the Star’s page designer had a ton of extra space that day and ran a giant mug shot of Big Buck to go with the column.
I could say the rest is history, but that would be letting myself and practically everyone else at 18th and Grand off too easy.
My voicemail and email that Sunday were flooded with complaints and corrections from every single Tom, Dick and Harry who could recall that Buchanan had died. Something in the neighborhood of 100 or more, which trust me, is a lot.
I’m guessing that the Readers Rep and newsroom editor got earfuls too and the newspaper ran a massive – not just correction – but apology for the mistake. You know, sorry, but we forgot Buck checked out.
To say it was an embarrassing error would be an understatement.
Probably the lamest voicemail I got that day – two of ‘em actually – came from Star society editor Laura Rollins Hockaday.
Boy oh boy, Hockaday laid down a scalding criticism, acting as though I’d made the mistake on purpose. And without regard for Buchanan’s widow Georgia who was certain to be devastated by my mean spirited thoughtlessness.
How dare I be so callous as to write something that hurtful?
A better question would have been, how clued out was Hockaday to think I purposely made an embarrassing error like that.
She’d been in the journalism game long enough to know that NOBODY wants to eat an embarrassing error. Yet it took Hockaday back-to-back voicemails to get it off her chest and accuse me of being an insensitive cad.
Like she’d never made an embarrassing error.
I have to tell you, to this day I have a hard time thinking of Hockaday as being anything else besides stoopid for laying those ridiculous voicemails on me.
On the other hand, Hockaday had a bit of a hard on for me after I scooped her years earlier on a front page story about the Jewel Ball anointing its first black debutantes (including KC mayor Emanuel Cleaver’s daughter Marissa).
It was a story that I turned in eight years earlier for a column lead when then editor Art Brisbane took a gander at it and upgraded it to the front page. I then had to put in an extra two or three hours that night starting around 5 p.m. to convert it into a full-blown news story.
Hockaday complained bitterly to my editor in FYI afterwards, saying that I’d screwed her by scooping her on the story because she’d known about it for some time and had planned on reporting it herself…a couple of months later.
That’s how lazy beat writers at the Star could be (and probably still are at times).
Worse yet, Hockaday argued that she’d had a major hand in hand selecting the worthy African American women for the Jewel Ball.
Here’s what was obviously bogus about Hockaday’s complaint; journalists are supposed to report the news, not orchestrate it.
Not like that anyway.
Hockaday boasted that she’d all but picked out the two black debs and was mad that she didn’t get the scoop. I remember discussing it with Brisbane afterwards, who, as I recall, rolled his eyes in acknowledgment of Hockaday’s journalistic infraction.
But hey, it was just the lowly society section and Hockaday was, you know, venerable.
But back to Buck…
While there’s no doubt I screwed up by not catching Reeder’s cocktail soaked mistake, I wasn’t the only one at 18th and Grand who didn’t catch it.
Staring with my FYI editor, the FYI copy desk, Star editor Mark Zieman and the entire sports department and newsroom who had three days of access to the Sunday arts section which was printed and distributed in the newsroom in advance for all to read.
Nobody caught it from Wednesday to Saturday.
As for other uncorrected errors at the Star, there are quite many I’ve noticed over the years and then watched as the reporter’s stood silently by hoping nobody turned them in to the readers rep.
Take the Mike Hendricks error two years ago (before he was demoted from columnist to reporter) in which he put words into Westport businessman Bill Nigro’s mouth. Words Nigro said were flatly incorrect that Hendricks paraphrased and then refused to correct the misstep.
One of the Mack Daddys of all uncorrected Star reporting errors went down 10 years ago.
That’s when Star movie scribe Robert W. Butler wrote about the movie “Matrix Reloaded” beginning “a special run on the big, big screen of the Sprint IMAX Theatre at the Kansas City Zoo.”
Here’s where Butler messed up…big time:
“One caveat: Since the platter that serves the IMAX projector can hold only two hours of film, ‘Matrix Reloaded’ will lose nearly 30 minutes from its initial commercial release,” he wrote.
Butler was informed of his error the next day – that the Matrix would indeed have the entire 30 minutes Butler said would be missing.
But instead of turning himself in and eating a nasty correction, Butler sweated it out for a week and slipped it into the following Sunday’s column.
With no acknowledgement of his error.
Here’s how he handled it:
“First the good news,” Butler began. “When ‘Matrix Reloaded’ begins its big-screen IMAX engagement at the Kansas City Zoo on Friday, it won’t be in an abridged version.”
Now what’s here’s what’s bogus about Butler’s correction dodge:
Not only did he report incorrectly that the movie would be a half hour short, he unfurled a tongue-in-cheek laundry list of all the scenes the producers could cut that wouldn’t be missed by moviegoers.
They were as follows:
“The bump-and-grind Zion rave.
“Any scene in which Laurence Fishburne bares his midsection. (That’ll get rid of his public address moments.)
“Any scene in which the elders of Zion sit around talking interminably.
“All that stuff about who’s sleeping with whom who used to sleep with someone else. Yawn.
“The final credits, which were so long you could step out for a haircut and they’d still be running when you got back.”
In other words, it wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill error, it was an error that Butler blew up into a full-blown comedy routine making fun of the movie.
To this day Butler’s error – which would have ranked as a serious one – remains uncorrected.