When my daughter Brooks opened The Kansas City Star this morning, she yelled, “No, no!”
Startled, I said, “What?” wondering what on the front page could have prompted such a visceral reaction.
She pointed and gestured angrily at the A1 centerpiece — a story about the maternal grandmother of 7-year-old Adrian Jones of KCK, who was abused to death by his father and stepmother before his body was fed to pigs. “Why is this in the paper?” Brooks demanded. “This shouldn’t be here!”
She then ordered me to take the paper out of the room and keep it out of her sight. When Patty arrived in the kitchen a little later, Brooks told her about the story, and Patty said she wanted nothing to do with it, either.
I don’t know if drama that intense unfolded in many other Kansas City area kitchens over that story today, but I would bet The Star is going to be fielding some strong objections today and tomorrow. Some people will object, like Brooks, to running the story at all. They will say everybody is familiar with the case and that revisiting it from the perspective of the grandmother, an Emporia woman named Judy Conway, is simply sensationalizing it.
Other readers will protest its placement on the front page, along with a large photo of Conway sitting on her bed and a smaller photo, from Christmas Eve 2012, of a smiling Adrian, when he was four years old. Readers in that group will basically say that while they think the Sunday story has news value, it shouldn’t have been featured so prominently because of its repulsive nature.
I will be interested to see if The Star does a story or column about reader reaction.
…At first, I held off reading the story, but a couple of hours later I decided to take a look at it and make my own assessment of its propriety, especially for an A1 centerpiece.
The cut line (caption) reads: “Judy Conway forced herself to view photos and videos of the abuse and torture of her 7-year-old grandson, Adrian Jones.” The cut line continues with a quote from Conway…
For some reason, and I don’t understand it myself, but I wanted to take on all the pain that he felt.
…That quote was an epiphany for me. Immediately, intuitively, I understood why the author of the story, veteran reporter Laura Bauer, had gone after the story and why her editors had deemed it worth A1 and gave it more than 100 column inches of text.
Just from reading that quote — brilliantly placed by either Toyoshiba or Bauer or the editors — I understood how that caring grandmother feels. In her own retrospective, selfless way, she wanted to hold that little boy’s hand, pull him close and attempt to show him, belatedly, that someone in this world cared about him deeply and grieved his loss.
The story reads fast and smooth, the way you want a 100-plus-inch story to read. And Bauer writes with restraint and a gentle touch. She takes the reader through Adrian’s removal from the custody of his mother — Conway’s daughter — and being turned over, along with several sisters, to the father, Michael Jones and his new wife, Heather Jones. She recounts how the abuse was recorded on security cameras in the Joneses’ home in northwest KCK and how Conway was frustrated in her attempts to visit the children and find out what was going on in the Joneses’ home. The last time Conway saw Adrian and the girls was on Christmas Eve 2012, after Michael Jones called her unexpectedly and told her she could come for a visit. That day, Adrian appeared to be happy and healthy.
Now, Conway has nightmares in which she sees Adrian, as well as Michael and Heather Jones. Bauer describes a recurring Conway nightmare like this:
Adrian’s Nana could tell her grandson was hurting. She reached out and scooped him up in a blanket, holding him against her chest as he wrapped his legs and arms around her body.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Nana,” Adrian tells her. “What took you so long?”
In her dreams, she holds him tighter, his head buried against her. In her other hand, she grips a gun and stares at Adrian’s father and stepmother kneeling in front of her.
When she wakes from dreams like these, Conway’s heart beats so fast she can feel it in her ears. She can see her grandson’s face. Almost feel little Adrian.
It isn’t until the second to last paragraph that Bauer introduces the seminal quote — the one about wanting to take on Adrian’s pain — and puts it in full context.
The rest of the quote goes like this: “I wanted to be a part of that (pain). I want him to know that even though I wasn’t there, I loved him and he didn’t leave this word feeling unloved, which is what they (the Joneses) wanted him to feel like. He was loved, and nobody can take that away from him.”
…Powerful stuff. Great story. I wish Brooks and Patty could read it, but I understand. Some stories I can’t read, either.
Note: Along with the plaudits comes a cudgel. Two photos apparently taken by Conway at her Christmas Eve 2012 visit with Adrian were erroneously attributed to Toyoshiba, the Star photographer. Tag lines beneath the 2012 photos bear Toyoshiba’s name and email address. As soon as I saw that, I was perplexed, wondering why Toyoshiba would have been at the Jones home in 2012, well before the serious abuse began and long before the Jones case became a public matter.
I sent an email to Toyoshiba, asking if, indeed, she took the 2012 photos. She wrote back, saying: “That was clearly a copy desk error! Thanks, and yes, I saw that. No one bothered to question it and follow through to ask!”
Most readers won’t even be aware of the glitch, but anyone with experience in the news business will, like me, scratch their heads over those photo credits. It’s a very embarrassing error for The Star, and I trust we will see a correction tomorrow…Whoever made the error apparently wasn’t familiar with the Adrian Jones story, didn’t read Bauer’s story, or doesn’t understand some of the basic elements of journalism. There’s just no excuse for it.