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With the Golden Ox closing on Saturday, Patty and I have been wanting to go down there, for old times’ sake, to see the old haunt one last time.

So, last night was the night. We decided to meet at the bar at 6:30 and maybe have dinner there. Visions of a charbroiled steak cooked over curling flames danced in my head.

But already I jump ahead. In the back of my mind, I also looked forward to once again seeing Kemper Arena — a venue that had quietly and unnoticeably receded into my past.

When I was a young reporter — and a single young man — in the early 1970s, Kemper Arena had been a significant part of my life. As an up-and-coming political reporter, I wrote several stories about the negotiations and maneuvering to get Kemper Arena constructed. And once it was up, I began attending events there, including basketball and hockey games, American Royal events and, of course, concerts. The best concert I ever saw — Paul McCartney & Wings — took place there on a hot August night in 1976.

oxI loved and hated Kemper Arena. I used to park in Lot A, which is on the west side of the arena, beneath the viaduct that peels off Cesar Chavez avenue and swings down, down, down into the lowest point of the arena grounds. Lot A is a relatively narrow hodgepodge, with pockets of parking here and there, broken up by the big concrete piers that support the curving viaduct above. As I recall, the lot was never properly paved. It was a mishmash of rocky patches, potholes and mud pools. And it was always wet down there.

But the arena, blue on the inside and with gently sloping banks of seats, offered good sight lines and was relatively comfortable. I attended many Kansas City Kings and Kansas City Scouts games there, and even though the teams were mostly bad, it was the NBA and the NHL — right there, right then — in Kansas City. For this native of Louisville, Kentucky, which had no major league franchises, it was big.

So, last night as I coursed down that viaduct and passed Lot A, I thought about the good times I had had at the arena. I did some quick calculations and figured that I had attended well over 100 events at the arena, maybe 200, maybe more than that.

200px-KansasCityScoutsAnd the structure itself. Oh, my! I had forgotten how impressive and distinctive it is, with those big, white, erector-set trusses that support the arena from above and at both ends. Circling the arena on the way to the Golden Ox, I kept peering at it from different angles. When I got to the Golden Ox parking lot, north of the arena, I got out of the car and stared at the arena for a while and thought, “No, this arena cannot be razed; it is too important a structure, with too much Kansas City history inside.”

**

The first thing I noticed at the gently curving bar of the Golden Ox was a man wearing a large, tan cowboy hat. It was like Groundhog Day for me; I cannot recall a time I have been there that I didn’t see at least one cowboy hat at the bar.

It wasn’t completely like Groundhog Day, however, because there were only about 20 people in the bar area, instead of scores of people. Also, there were no loud conversations or raucous laughter, no clouds of smoke, no guys eyeing and edging in on women seated at the bar.

A bartender — I think her name was Connie — was pouring very stiff drinks. Patty’s eyes widened as the lady held the bottle of Scotch up…and held it…as the last of the golden contents passed from the bottle into the glass that ended up in front of her.

We could see, through the bar area and off to our left, that people were seated at several tables in the dining room. It didn’t look particularly busy, and it appeared to me that we would be able to go over and get a table whenever we wanted.

Pretty soon, Patty suggested that I go arrange for a table. By this time it was a few minutes after 7. When I circled around to the reception station, I found it unmanned. One man — another prospective diner — was in front of me, and it appeared, from the bored and slightly agitated look on his face, that he might have been waiting for a few minutes already. I joined in the wait.

Two or three minutes went by. Nothing. Five minutes went by, nothing. Meanwhile, I was assessing the situation in the dining room, and it looked like people were actually eating at only one table. Always a bad sign. I looked over at the charbroiled grilling area, where, in the past, the flames danced and the steaks sizzled continuously. But now there were no steaks (that I could see), no flames, no sizzle. A lone employee — a cook, I presume, although he bore no identifying characteristics — ambled back and forth in the cooking area, but to no apparent end.

My enthusiasm for that steak that I had envisioned earlier was starting to wane. I was now anticipating poor service, a lengthy wait and, very likely, a disappointing steak.

I walked back to the bar area, told Patty that a host was nowhere to be found and gave her a one-word assessment of the dining room environment: moribund. A veteran of many restaurant “boltings,” I suggested that we consider eating someplace else. She suggested that we wait a few minutes and make another run at getting a table.

After about five minutes, I went back over to the reception area and there he was — the previously m.i.a. host, wearing black pants and a black shirt with the Golden Ox logo.

“Table for two?” I said, hopefully.

He looked at me and said, “Oh, I just seated my last table for the night. Sorry.”

By “seating” his last table, it was clear that what he meant was not that the place was full — hardly — just that he wasn’t going to seat anyone else for dinner.

I looked at my phone. It was 7:16.

“OK,” I said and retreated to the bar.

I repeated the host’s quote to Patty, who, after a few seconds’ thought, said, “OK, then, let’s go eat at Voltaire.”

Minutes later, we put on our coats, walked across the street and entered Voltaire, where the hostess met us with a smile and a gesture to an open table. Along the left-bank row of table, people were chatting and laughing. At the near end of the bar, the bartender was providing background music by playing records — vinyl LP’s, plucked from a multi-level cabinet — on an open-top turntable.

“It smells a lot better in here,” Patty said.

Just like that, we had left the past and hurtled into the present.

It’s Friday Favorites at jimmycsays. We gathered the staff together, went over some of the New York Times and Kansas City Star stories that stood out this week, and then we voted on awards in various categories.

I’ll have you (few) cynics out there know that we have an equal number of conservatives and liberals on the staff. (I’m not at liberty to reveal their names or how many there are, but trust me, it’s a pitch-perfect, ideological balance.)

To quote the late, great Jackie Gleason…”And away we go!”

Courage and Valor (1):

FEINSTEIN-articleLarge

Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency

Sen. Dianne Feinstein chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She plowed through many obstacles, including opposition from Secretary of State John Kerry, before succeeding in getting the committee’s detainee-torture report released. “My words give me no pleasure,” she said, beginning her Senate speech detailing the high(low)lights (rectal feeding???) of the report…The lady is 81 years old. Talk about personal strength…

 

Courage and Valor (2):

Sen. John McCain, who fought in the Vietnam War and was tortured when held hostage in North Vietnam. McCain staunchly supported releasing the report, and in so doing effectively neutralized the whining and hair-pulling opposition of some of his Republican colleagues. On the Senate floor, he argued that the U.S. shouldn’t resort to torture not just because they’re ineffective and potentially dangerous but because they undermine the nation’s values and beliefs. “I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.” If McCain had stayed true to his maverick self in 2008, he might have been elected president.

Counter Puncher of the Week

Sen. Majority Leader (soon to be Minority Leader) Harry Reid. In an interview with the New York Times, Reid indicated he was itching to go to the mat with the Republican majority that will take over Jan. 6. “They want to eviscerate Clean Air, Clean Water, E.P.A…Is there enough they can do to help Wall Street? I don’t think so. Big banks? I don’t think so. That’s where the new battle is going to be.” I can hardly wait. Uh-huh, yeah.

Scariest Boss (1)

Cho Hyun-ah, director (formerly) of in-flight service for Korean Air Lines. She blew a gasket when a flight attendant served her macadamia nuts without first asking her…and in an unopened package instead of on a plate. She summoned the chief flight attendant and grilled him on proper procedure, but he flunked. Cho ordered the plane, which was headed to the runway, to return to the gate, and then ordered the chief flight attendant off. The ensuing uproar on social and traditional media prompted Cho to resign as in-flight service director. However, Cho also happens to be the daughter of the chairman of the privately owned airline, and she kept her other job as a vice president. Bloggers ridiculed Cho for “going nuts over nuts.”

Scariest Boss (2)

Michael S. Jeffries, longtime c.e.o. of Abercrombie & Fitch. At age 70, he retired in the wake of the hip clothier’s dimming fortunes. Jeffries once said that Abercrombie was exclusionary and sought to attract only “the cool kids.” An NYT story said that employees traveling on the company’s Gulfstream jet had to greet Jeffries with “no problem” in response to any requests “and their uniform was dictated down to the boxer briefs.” I’m guessing my full-cut Dillard’s boxers would be a problem.

Judgment Call of the Week

Roadrunner 12.10_1

(Just from his picture, it looks to me like this dog has spunk.)

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. The Star reported Wednesday that Baker filed felony animal-abuse and animal-neglect charges against a Northeast area woman in the shocking case of a Tibetan spaniel named Roadrunner. As a result of the alleged abuse, which defendant Kimberly Anderson denies, Roadrunner had to have his eyes surgically removed and a plate inserted to repair a broken pelvis. Authorities had issued Anderson a municipal citation, which would have carried a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Now, with the filing of superseding state charges, she’s facing the possibility of more than a year in prison. A KC animal shelter employee told me recently that Roadrunner is doing well in foster care and, amazingly to me, showing no signs of psychological trauma. An animal shelter employee is planning to adopt the little guy.

Local Reporter of the Week

The Star’s Laura Bauer, who has relentlessly pursued the back story in the drowning of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson of Iowa. Brandon was bounced off Missouri Highway Trooper Anthony Piercy’s patrol boat in the Lake of the Ozarks and drowned after Piercy arrested Brandon for boating while intoxicated. Bauer had an investigative piece in Sunday’s paper that clearly showed what a debacle the Highway Patrol-Water Patrol merger has been and how ridiculously little training some highway officers received before being assigned to water duty.

Bauer has done such a tremendous job overall that I think her stories could be in play for a 2014 Poo-Litzer Prize. Nevertheless, this award comes with a caveat. In Sunday’s story, Bauer lamely granted anonymity to two retired Water Patrol officers who were critical of the merger. She let them off the hook on the old “fear of repercussions” claim. Huh? What repercussions? Their public-employee pensions are as good as gold, and nobody with the state has any authority over them. That would be like somebody interviewing me for a critical story on The Star and I requested anonymity for fear of repercussions. Hah! Come and get me!

 

You can’t blame Sherry Ellingson for not wanting to return to Missouri after a dozen years of spending summers at the Lake of the Ozarks.

After all, the Missouri Highway Patrol killed her son, 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson, who, by all rights, should be completing the first semester of his junior year at Arizona State University.

“I don’t know that I can ever set foot there again,” Sherry Ellingson said. “I know the (civil) trial is going to happen there, and the depositions will happen there. I don’t know that I’m going to be able to do that. I can’t help, at this point, feeling disgusted.”

Yesterday, for the first time since Brandon drowned after being bounced from a Missouri Highway Patrol officer’s fast-moving boat in rough water, I spoke with Sherry – a mother who has lost her only son and whose life is forever changed.

We spoke for an hour by phone – I from my home in Kansas City, she from Scottsdale, Arizona, where she has been living since January.

Since Brandon’s drowning on May 31, I had wondered how Sherry and her husband Craig Ellingson had been holding up; what the family circumstances were; and if they had other children.

One thing I learned from our conversation is that Sherry and Craig (he has handled most dealings with reporters and law enforcement officials), have been separated since last spring – before Brandon’s drowning — and are getting divorced. Sherry resides in Arizona, as I said, while Craig has remained at their home in Clive, Iowa, just outside Des Moines. The couple has made their livelihood by owning and managing about 1,000 apartment units in the Des Moines area.

Another thing I learned is that the Ellingsons have a 22-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who is a senior at the University of Iowa, majoring in communications. She will graduate in May. One of the things that touched me deepest in our conversation was one sentence Sherry uttered about Jennifer and Brandon:

“They were the best of friends. She is really struggling with becoming an only child overnight.”

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Jennifer and Brandon Ellingson in a photo taken in May 2013

Regarding her own struggles, Sherry said that a very difficult milestone passed last Sunday, when Brandon would have turned 21. The Ellingsons marked the occasion by arranging three simultaneous “celebrations of Brandon’s life” – in Des Moines, in Scottsdale and at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Sherry organized the one in Arizona; some of the Ellingsons’ closest friends organized the one in Des Moines; and a group of lake activists who have banded together in support of the Ellingsons organized the third one. Sherry said she has only met one of the lake supporters but that she is in contact with them daily on Facebook.

With the birthday milestone behind her, Sherry now must deal with Christmas and New Year’s. “The holidays, no question, are going to be tough,” she said.

**

Last Friday, the Ellingsons filed a civil suit in federal court, naming as defendants the Highway Patrol, patrol leaders and, of course, State Trooper Anthony Piercy, who was driving the boat the afternoon of Saturday, May 31. The Ellingsons’ suit contends, in part, that Piercy was negligent and violated Brandon’s constitutional rights.

Earlier, after a coroner’s inquest – a relatively informal proceeding — a jury ruled that Brandon’s death was accidental. In addition, a special prosecutor reviewed the case and decided not to bring criminal charges against Piercy,, who was 43 as of September.

On the latter front, however, there has been a new development. In a telephone conversation Tuesday afternoon, Amanda Grellner, the special prosecutor, said that she was once again reviewing the evidence based on new information she has received. She said a witness whom she had interviewed earlier has come forward with “more thorough” information.

Grellner did not say what the new information was but that it had prompted her to review the case in its entirety. “I want to make sure I go through every single piece of evidence,” she said.

Asked whether it was possible that she would seek to reopen the case, she replied, “It’s possible, but I cannot make any promises.” That decision, she said, would be up to the prosecutor and Circuit Court judge who appointed her months ago.

That sounds promising. The coroner’s inquest, held in early September, was a certifiable whitewash: Among other things, there was no testimony about how fast Piercy was driving the boat – up to 40 miles an hour or more, according to records – when Brandon was ejected. Also, it did not come out that while his hands were cuffed behind his back, Brandon was half-standing and half-sitting on a high bench-seat with little or nothing to hold onto; he was at the mercy of Piercy, boat speed and the waves.

Anthony Piercy (1)

Trooper Anthony Piercy, left, after Brandon Ellingson drowned May 31 while in Piercy’s custody

Piercy’s initial story was that Brandon jumped into the water. After that was exposed as balderdash, he changed his story to say he didn’t know how Brandon ended up in the water; just that he looked to his right and saw Brandon’s legs and feet going into the water.

The trooper has acknowledged that he improperly placed a life jacket over Brandon’s head and shoulders without fastening it under his arms, as it was designed to be worn. Once Brandon was in the water, the life jacket quickly slid off and floated away. Piercy said he first made several attempts to rescue Brandon without going into the water himself. He didn’t jump in right away, he said, because he didn’t know how to use the personal inflation equipment attached to his belt. When he did go in, he couldn’t hold onto Brandon, and Brandon went under for the last time.

Sherry says GPS records and witness accounts indicate that Brandon was struggling in the water for at least four and a half minutes. She said Piercy could have taken any number of steps to rescue Brandon, including grabbing a conventional life jacket – several were on the boat — before going into the water.

“He never tried to really save Brandon,” Sherry said.

**

Sherry and Craig owned a house at the Lake of the Ozarks. That’s where Brandon and seven buddies were starting to head back to after an afternoon of drinking beer and playing sand volleyball at a lake establishment called Coconuts Caribbean Beach Bar & Grill in Gravois Mills.

Picture1209141526_1

Sherry and Jennifer, in October

The Ellingsons’ house was about 12 miles from the bar, at the end of the Gravois arm. When Brandon and Jennifer were growing up, Sherry and the children spent about two and a half months at the lake each summer. Craig, a private pilot, worked in Iowa during the week and then flew down to the lake to spend weekends with the family.

They loved their time at the lake and made friends in the area. “I was proud to be a lake owner; I brought people down there all summer long,” Sherry said.

But no more. Within weeks of Brandon’s drowning, Sherry and Craig put the house up for sale. The closing took place two or three months ago.

That part of the Ellingsons’ life is over.

**

One of Sherry’s focuses these days is to keep increasing the number of people who have signed an online petition asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review the case for possible violations of federal law. About 131,000 people have signed the petition.

Sherry has not been in contact with anyone at the Department of Justice, however, and said she was not sure what the criteria would be for the department to get involved or what leverage Washington might have with regard to the Highway Patrol, which she believes is fraught with corruption and incompetence.

On the state front, a special committee of the House of Representatives recently held a series of public hearings, with an eye toward fixing or undoing the 2011 merger of the Highway Patrol and the Water Patrol. (Piercy was one of the highway officers who ended up on part-time water duty.)

The hearings, which The Star’s Laura Bauer wrote about at length in Sunday’s paper, helped reveal what a debacle the merger was and how little training some highway officers received before being assigned to water duty. For example, a retired Highway Patrol captain who spent 31 years with the Water Patrol said the patrol considered a highway trooper ready to work the water if he had a personal boat and spent time on a lake.

**

By the end of the Tuesday’s interview, it was clear to me that Sherry — along with Craig and other people who have involved themselves in the case — is going to make something happen, push state officials to make some changes, as a result of her son’s death.

I observed at one point that while she was doing a lot to call attention to the case and trying desperately to get justice for Brandon, it must frustrate her that she could not make anything specific happen through force of will.

She acknowledged that was the case but quickly put a positive twist on my observation, saying:

“However, I have to say more has happened than I thought possible, with the group of people who have come together and who are just as outraged as we are.”

**

On behalf of my readers — and thousands of other people who have been following this case — I want to say…Rage on, Sherry, rage on and carry on. And may Christmas and New Year’s bring some happiness and a measure of soul salving to you, Craig and Jennifer.

Over the years, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has deftly juggled her political stances in a way that she has maintained the solid backing of her liberal base while throwing enough bones to Missouri’s rural and conservative voters to get elected — and re-elected — to the most coveted political position below the presidency.

In 2006, for example, she successfully portrayed herself as a “pro-gun” candidate, a position that went a long way toward helping her defeat incumbent Republican Sen. JimTalent.

(More recently, in her second and probably last term as a senator, McCaskill has voted for expanded background checks for people making purchases on the Internet and at gun shows, and for stiffer penalties for “straw purchases,” when individuals buy guns for those who are barred from purchasing them.)

mccaskillShe has walked the political tightrope in admirable fashion, and I’m a fan of hers. Indications are that she will run for governor in 2016, and I hope she does so and wins. She would be a tenfold improvement over Jay Nixon, and I think even most Republicans would come to share that opinion.

But McCaskill has a problem. Since she has been in office, Missouri has gone from a swing state to solid red. As a result, McCaskill will find it more difficult than ever to walk the tightrope and gather enough Republican support to prevail.

Which brings me to this: She’s already honing her Wallenda act with a controversial position she has taken in regard to clamping down on sexual assault in the military.

Unarguably, McCaskill has exhibited strong leadership in that reform movement, as evidenced by the fact that her bill to force changes in the military’s sexual-assault policies passed 97-0 in March. The measure, which is now awaiting action in the House, would establish new rules for how victims and defendants should be treated.

**

If you haven’t been following this closely, however, it was not the slam-dunk that it appeared to be. A few days earlier, a competing bill, sponsored by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a fellow Democrat, was defeated on a close 55-45 vote.

The major difference between the Gillibrand and McCaskill bills is that Gillibrand’s would remove from the chain of military command the decision on what charges to bring and which cases to prosecute. Instead, under Gillibrand’s bill, those decisions would be placed in the hands of independent prosecutors.

One of McCaskill’s arguments for letting military commanders continue to make those calls is that prosecutors are more interested in victories than in simply bringing cases. Thus, she says, independent prosecutors would be less inclined than commanders to file charges in cases where the evidence is equivocal.

Now, if you ask me, Gillibrand’s position makes far more sense than McCaskill’s. Having independent prosecutors make decisions on whether to bring sexual-assault charges seems far preferable than keeping commanders in charge — commanders who, in many cases, might oversee both the victim and the accuser. A strong indicator of the desirability of Gillibrand’s approach is the fact that 10 Republican senators joined 35 Democratic senators in voting for Gillibrand’s bill. Obviously, that’s no small feat in Washington’s stand-off political environment.

Among the 10 Republicans who voted for Gillibrand’s bill were three of the most high-profile members of the upper chamber: Minority Leader (now Majority-Leader-elects) Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul, also of Kentucky.

In a Nov. 30, New York Times Magazine story, Cruz was quoted as saying, “(W)hat they’re doing (the military) hasn’t been working, and we need to take more serious steps.”

To McCaskill’s concern, I’m sure, this issue does not appear to be firmly settled. A week ago today, Gillibrand and several other senators who favor her position (including Cruz and Paul), held a news conference and said they would push for another vote on the issue. That could happen if amendments are allowed to the National Defense Authorization Act, which outlines Defense Department spending priorities.

But that is a long shot, mainly because two men who oppose opening the door to amendments are Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan and Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona. In a recent New York Times story, Levin said he worried that allowing amendments would open a “Pandora’s box” of other requests.

In any event, interesting lines have been drawn, and the battle isn’t over. If the issue is resurrected, McCaskill could come under a harsher, hotter light for her position. It could get to the point that some, or many members, of her liberal base might decide that McCaskill, while talking a good game, is actually afraid to stand up to the Pentagon.

In reality, though — at least in my view — timidity is not the issue; it’s politics. She’s just projecting how the issue will play in outstate Missouri…where it pays to be with the generals.

A couple of quotes:

The worst enemy is one whose doctrines are founded in hate and are thus beyond debate. Tobsha Learner, in her historical fiction novel The Witch of Cologne.

There is no passion more spectral or fantastical than hate. Lord Byron, in his play The Two Foscari.

Twice this year, the Kansas City area has been in the national spotlight because of horrific hate crimes.

F. Glenn Miller Jr., one of the nut cases who visited us with his particular brand of hate — anti-Semitism — came from Aurora, Missouri, southwest of Springfield.

The other, Ahmed H. Aden, was living among us.

Miller, as you know, shot and killed three people, including a 14-year-old boy, outside Jewish facilities in Overland Park in April. Recently, he told The Star’s Judy Thomas, “I wanted to made damned sure I killed some Jews or attacked the Jews before I died.” He was so blinded in his hatred that he didn’t even bother to identify Jewish people as particular targets and ended up killing three Gentiles.

abdisimad

Abdisamad

Aden, a demented Christian Somali, killed a 15-year-old Somali Muslim named Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein…Killed him by running him down in his SUV last Thursday outside a mosque on Admiral Boulevard. He claimed he mistook Abdisamad for someone who had threatened him previously, but I’m not buying that for a minute. For one thing, why would a 15-year-old boy be threatening a 34-year-old man? No, Aden was after Muslims, that’s all.

**

According to the FBI’s 2012 Uniform Crime Reports, most hate crime was motivated by race, accounting for 48 percent of all such reports. However, race fell significantly as a percentage of hate crimes, while sexual orientation rose.

Hate crimes motivated by religion stayed about the same, but between 1995 and 2012, the percentage of such crimes aimed at Jews dropped significantly, while the percentage aimed at Muslims rose significantly.

Take a look at these tables:

140415-hate-crimes-by-religion1-2301_8f2eb71bfa345ac0669fad850cfd4b8d.nbcnews-ux-680-520

140415-hate-crimes-by-religion2-2300_8f2eb71bfa345ac0669fad850cfd4b8d.nbcnews-ux-680-520

The shift is not surprising, considering the upheaval in the Middle East the last 20 years or so. But when you get away from the statistics and see living, breathing mad men like Miller and Aden do the things they did and think about them (and probably others like them) being among you, it is shocking and frightening.

There are a ton of goof balls out there, not to mention those who dedicate themselves to crime as a way of life, and any of us could become victims. Just because most of us don’t look like young Abdisamad, we should not feel safe. If a Caucasian youth had been standing next to Abdisamad, he might have been run down, too.

The hate that Lord Byron and Tobsha Lerner wrote about is reckless and unfocused, and it’s not limited to Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Just look at Glenn Miller’s victims, 53-year-old Terri LaManno, 69-year-old William Lewis Corporon and 14-year-old Reat Corporon. Hate does not discriminate among locale, age, gender, nationality or religion; when cut loose, it destroys whatever is in its path.

Rolling Stone magazine is now dealing with the worst sort of journalistic backwash that a news organization can possibly experience.

Just this afternoon it has had to essentially retract what it portrayed as a shocking, inside story on an alleged 2012 sexual assault in a fraternity house on the University of Virginia campus. The story, titled “A Rape on Campus,” was written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, a contributing editor.

In her Nov. 12 article, Erdely foolishly relied on the first-person account of a woman named “Jackie,” who claims seven men raped her one night at a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.

rsHer editors decided to publish the story, despite two prominent sticking points: Jackie would only allow her nickname to be used, and Erdely made no attempt to interview any of the alleged attackers. 

The story roiled the university, which put a halt to all Greek system activities for the remainder of the semester. For its part, the fraternity voluntarily surrendered its Fraternal Organization Agreement with the university, thereby suspending all chapter activities.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Sure enough, Jackie’s credibility has been cast into serious doubt, to the point that Rolling Stone — after initially defending her credibility — today acknowledged that there appeared to be “discrepancies” between Jackie’s account and facts that have been uncovered since the article appeared.

Will Dana, Rolling Stone’s managing editor, said in a statement that in the face of the new information, “we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”

Now isn’t that a fine kettle of fish? And doesn’t it do wonders for the already-long-embattled image of “the press?”

Journalistic history has several prominent cases that show the pitfalls of placing full trust in single, unnamed sources, and yet the Rolling Stone plunged ahead. And now it’s paying the price.

UVA-master675

Phi Kappa Psi house

Today, the U-Va. fraternity chapter where Jackie said the attack occurred in September 2012 denied that such an assault took place in its house and also asserted that it did not host a “a date function or social event” during the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012, the night of the alleged assault.

In addition, the name of one alleged attacker that Jackie provided to close friends for the first time this week turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity. Contacted by the Washington Post, the man said that while he was familiar with Jackie’s name, he had never met her or taken her on a date.

The fraternity issued a statement today, saying: “Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper.” The fraternity is working with police to try to determine what, if anything, happened.  

**

One of the most troubling aspects of Erdely’s story is that her editors went along with her decision not to attempt to contact or interview any of the alleged assailants, whom she didn’t name in the story. Earlier this week, The New York Times published a story examining the problematic nature of the Rolling Stone article. Regarding Erdely’s failure to talk to the alleged assailants, The Times said, in a classic understatement: “News organizations, seeking to be fair, usually seek comment from those suspected of criminal conduct.”

The Times story also said that Jonah Goldberg, a Los Angeles Times columnist, had compared the case to rape accusations in 2006 against three Duke University lacrosse players who were subsequently cleared. Goldberg speculated that the Virginia story might be a hoax.

In an interview for The Times’ story earlier this week, Erdely said she stood by her reporting and added, “I am convinced that it could not have been done any other way, or any better.”

The magazine’s statement today said:

“We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”

This afternoon, a New York Times reporter got an interview with Dana, the managing editor.

“I don’t know what happened that night,” Dana told The Times. “I don’t know who is telling the truth and who is not.”

And that, he added, is a position that an editor should never be in after a story is published.

It is gratifying to see that the cacophony emanating from the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson has exploded into a unified chorus of voices demanding that police receive better training, particularly in de-escalation techniques.

Thankfully, the shooting of Brown, the “chokehold” killing of Eric Garner, and other police killings of unarmed black people seem certain to bring about widespread change.

Here are some of the stories flaring around the nation Thursday that pointed to an upheaval of the status quo:

The New York Times

“One day after a grand jury declined to indict a New York police officer in the death of Eric Garner…Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday announced the start of a significant retraining of the nation’s largest police force.”

Among other things, the three-day program will train the city’s 22,000 officers on street tactics and presenting a “nonjudgmental” posture.

Police commissioner William Bratton first announced the program after Garner was killed on July 17. Yesterday, the program got the mayor’s full support. “People need to know,” said de Blasio, whose wife is African-American, “that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives.”

In addition to the retraining, about 60 New York City police officers will today be outfitted with body cameras as part of a pilot program.

The Associated Press

The U.S. Justice Department and Cleveland reached an agreement Thursday to overhaul the city’s police department after federal investigators concluded that officers use excessive and unnecessary force far too often and have endangered the public and their fellow officers with their recklessness.”

In a study, the Justice Department found “a systemic pattern of reckless and inappropriate use of force by officers.” The report also said officers frequently violated people’s civil rights “because of faulty tactics, inadequate training and a lack of supervision and accountability.”

The federal investigation was prompted partly by the November 2012 deaths of two unarmed people who were fatally wounded when police officers culminated a high-speed chase by firing 137 shots into their car.

Then, last week, Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice outside a Cleveland recreation center…Shot him within two seconds of pulling up next to him. Loehmann said he thought Tamir was holding a firearm, when he actually had an “airsoft” gun that fires nonlethal plastic pellets.

But Loehmann shouldn’t have been on the force in the first place. When he was with a suburban Cleveland police department, he had received a terrible job-performance rating partly because of his “dismal” performance in weapons training. He resigned in 2012 after that department had taken the first steps toward terminating him. Eight months ago he caught on with the Cleveland force, which failed to review the officer’s personnel file from the suburban department.

Reuters

“(Reuters) – A white former police chief in Eutawville, South Carolina, has been indicted on a murder charge in the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed black man he was trying to arrest, according to records released on Thursday.”

The former chief, 38-year-old Richard Combs, fatally shot 54-year-old Eutawville resident Bernard Bailey in the town hall parking lot in May 2011 after they argued and scuffled over a traffic ticket Bailey’s daughter had received. Last year, Combs was indicted on a misconduct in office charge, related to the shooting, but the local prosecutor’s office subsequently pushed for a grand jury indictment on the murder charge.

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Better training isn’t all that’s needed, of course. Officers like Loehmann, who are sorely lacking in temperament and skill, must be identified and fired. In an Op-Ed piece posted on The New York Times website Thursday, Eric L. Adams, a retired New York City police captain and now a local elected official, expressed it like this:

“There is reluctance on the part of police leadership, which has long believed in the nightstick and quick-trigger-finger justice, to effectively deal with officers who have documented and substantiated records of abuse. These individuals need to be removed from the force. That is an essential component of the larger response we must have to address this history of abuse.”

We know for sure a lot more Darren Wilsons and Timothy Loehmann are out there patrolling the streets in cities across America. Let’s hope many of them are rooted out in the coming year.

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