That said, Mary Sanchez’s Monday column, “No Racial Agenda To ‘Slave’ Rollout” sure looks like a correction for a bogus letter that slipped through the Star’s editorial safety net late last week.
In it letter writer Denise Claiborne of Overland Park calls out local movie exhibitors AMC and Dickinson for racism for not screening Brad Pitt‘s movie “12 Years a Slave” in the company’s Johnson Country theaters .
“Olathe AMC 30 and AMC 20 Town Center informed me that depending on the reviews the movie gets, they will consider it,” Claiborne writes. “The Palazzo will not be showing it at all. I can’t believe in this day and age we are still acting like this but we are. This is not the first time.”
Claiborne goes on to allege that when “The Butler” was shown earlier this year, security was posted in the lobby of “one theater” where a lot of “elderly blacks” had come to watch the movie.
“How many all-white cast movies have these theaters shown with awful reviews or that went to video after a few months?” Claiborne asks. “They’d rather their prejudice make them miss out on huge profits that ’12 Years a Slave’ could bring. We are going to use social media to let everyone know Johnson County is showing its true colors.”
Hold it right there…
Just as the newspaper would never allow one of its reporters or columnists to call anybody out for racism without having done significant reporting and contacting the parties being maligned for confirmation, denial and/or comment, neither would it allow a reader in the letters section to do so without similar fact checking and confirmation from the aggrieved parties.
Which explains why Dickinson (and probably AMC) were outraged when they were blindsided and called out for racism last week by Claiborne’s letter in the Star.
Worse yet, Claiborne was dead wrong on her (unchecked) facts.
Because, as film industry veteran Jack Poessiger noted in his review, the film opened locally on only three screens. It’s a common practice for specialty films, like 2012 blockbuster “The Silver Linings Playbook.”
That movie also opened here as a very limited engagement and was then “platformed out” to more theaters in the subsequent weeks prior to going wide across the city.
As for 12 Years a Slave, “It opens at the Palazzo, AMC Town Center and at least six other theaters this weekend,” Poessiger says. “And the following week it will be just about everywhere.”
Here’s where things went awry.
Had the Star done its standard, expected due diligence and called AMC and Dickinson to verify Claiborne’s misstatements, the letter never probably would have run or would have been corrected to explain the strategy of it starting out as a limited engagement.
“They’re supposed to confirm letters like that, but they don’t do that anymore,” says one Star staffer.
Prior to the layoffs the past five years, it was the letters editor’s job to both verify the identity of the letter writer and verify the facts and/or allegations to make sure embarrassing things like this didn’t happen.
Back to who’s job is it to oversee the Letters section, editorial columnist Lewis Diuguid.
Once the you-know-what hit the fan at AMC and Dickinson, somebody at the newspaper, it appears, decided to lay the mistake off on columnist Sanchez rather than just write a correction.
And who’s bright idea was that?
I asked readers rep Derek Donovan via email to answer that question and…perhaps not surprisingly, I’m still awaiting his unlikely response.
Which brings us to Sanchez dodging the truth-in-journalism bullet in her column.
She did it by tap dancing around and obfuscating the real reason for her column; Diuguid’s letters section screw up.
Here’s how Sanchez went about it:
“As rumors go, the one about some nebulous movie executive stopping Johnson County theaters from running the film “12 Years a Slave” is pretty lame,” she wrote. “ ‘Johnson County is showing its true colors,’ accused one misinformed letter-writer in The Star last week. X + Y = racism.”
Huh? “Nebulous movie executive” – there’s no nebulous executive mentioned in Claiborne’s letter.
“This flimsy theory is easily disproved with a bit of schooling about the film industry, topped with a dash of common sense,” Sanchez added.
Because that same “easily disproved,” flimsy theory could have and should have been just as easily disproved by the Star’s letters editor were he to have used that same “dash of common sense” by checking with AMC and Dickinson before publishing Caiborne’s error-riddled letter and starting the “rumor” in the first place.
Poessiger’s take on Dickinson and AMC’s displeasure with getting branded as racists?
“I would have been pissed to, because Dickinson and AMC have no say in where the movie is going to play when they platform it like that” Poessiger says. “The exhibitor doesn’t pick the theaters, the distributor does.”
“They never should have run that letter without checking with AMC and Dickinson,” adds former Star editor Jim Fitzpatrick. “It sounds like an ill-informed letter that somebody sat down and wrote and made sweeping statements in that were not true, and the letters section should be held to a higher standard than that.”
And Sanchez coverup column?
“Here’s the gist of it,” Fitzpatrick says. “She’s blaming the letter writer when she should be blaming the letters editor and the Star’s system. They should have vetted that letter and the writer but they didn’t do that. They just let it fly and I think that’s because the letter echoed Lewis Diuguid’s over-the-top, extreme racial sensitivity.
“Let’s take it a step farther, Julie Rehm was a professional and she was assigned to be the letters editor and she took her job seriously,” Fitzpatrick continues. “But then she got laid off and they saddled the job with Lewis Diuguid who fancies himself as an outstanding columnist, and now he’s stuck with a job he thinks is beneath him. The whole thing is ridiculous.
“The letter did not get the attention it should have and so a can of worms was released and then a columnist had to come along and mop it up without making the newspaper look bad. It’s not Sanchez’ job to criticize the letters editor but we all understand who’s responsibility it was. So here’s Sanchez mopping up after the ace columnist’s total screwup.”
The bottom line:
“They’ve got to get the letters section under a professional who takes the job seriously,” Fitzpatrick says. “It’s just a throwaway now and that’s a valuable section of the paper.”
Back to you Derek.