Archive for June, 2011

It’s a truism in journalism that the most interesting stories don’t always end up on Page 1.

Take, for example, a story on page A23 of the Sunday New York Times. An irresistible story, accompanied by two captivating photos, was ensconced five pages from the back of the section.

Titled “A Gangster’s Gal Was Loyal to the End Of Life on the Lam,” it was about Catherine Greig, the 60-year-old girlfriend of notorious Boston gangster James (Whitey) Bulger, who was arrested along with Greig outside their Santa Monica, Calif., apartment last week.

Bulger, 81, and Greig had been on the run for 16 years, having left Boston after an FBI agent with whom Bulger had been cooperating tipped Bulger off to the fact that he was about to be arrested.

The FBI finally got Bulger, who is charged with 19 murders, among other crimes, following a tip that came in after the FBI ran TV ads in several large markets, asking people to be on the lookout for Greig.

Catherine Greig, in happier times, before she went on the lam with James (Whitey) Bulger

From photos, it appears that Greig was a good-looking woman at one time, with platinum hair and pleasing features. She was proud of her appearance, too.

“She had her teeth cleaned once a month and frequented hair salons, even on the run,” wrote Katharine Q. Seely, one of The Times’ top-tier reporters. “…She also underwent numerous plastic surgeries, including breast implants, a nose job and a face lift, according to the FBI.”

She and Bulger, who were going by the names of Carol and Charlie Gasko in California, paid for everything in cash; more than $800,000 in cash was found in their apartment.

Seelye described Greig as “a supporting character in the long-running Bulger crime drama, overshadowed by her larger-than-life companion and always dutifully subordinate.”

Indicative of the twisted roots to their relationship, Bulger was carrying on with Greig back in Boston while he was living with another woman, named Theresa Stanley. Furthermore, Greig had previously been married to a Boston firefighter who had two brothers who were members of a rival gang to Bulger’s. Bulger or his henchmen killed both men.

As Seelye put it, “It was a sign, perhaps, that if she could overlook his (Bulger’s) possible involvement in the deaths of her two brothers-in-law, she could overlook a lot more.”

Makes you gulp, doesn’t it?

When the tipping point came in 1995 — after the FBI agent informed Bulger he was about to be arrested — he unceremoniously dumped Theresa Stanley, dropping her off in a parking lot and saying, “I’ll call you.”

Well, as Van Morrison says in his great song “Domino,” “If you don’t hear from me, that just means I didn’t call.” And that was the end of that.

Bulger then picked up Greig “and they disappeared into rural America,” Seelye wrote, leaving behind Grieg’s beloved poodles, whom she had pampered and  kept well groomed.

All along, Bulger had Greig firmly under his thumb, and for some reason — money? fear? perverted loyalty? — she put up with it.

Bulger and Greig, before they were arrested last week in Santa Monica

A man who knew the couple in Louisiana, where they stayed for a while, told The Boston Globe that Bulger believed that “women should be seen and not heard.”

“He (the man who knew them) added that Mr. Bulger had boasted that all he had to do was clap his hands and Ms. Greig would jump,” Seelye wrote.

When they were arrested last week, Greig’s hair had gone white…but still well coiffed.

Greig is now charged with harboring a fugitive and faces five years in prison. With Bulger undoubtedly headed to prison for good, the most interesting tentacle of this story to follow after the trials and sentencings will be this:

Who Greig team up with next?

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The leader of  “Team Gray” got a touching and powerful send-off yesterday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church.

Several hundred people packed the church (standing room only) at 118th and Holmes to pay their last respects to Kevin Gray, 51-year-old president of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission, who died of cancer last week.

Part of the crowd that attended Kevin Gray's funeral

Besides the huge crowd, a testament to Gray’s influence and popularity was the presence on the altar of six priests, led by St. Thomas More pastor Rev. Don Farnan, who was a good friend of Gray.

It’s not often that you see the chief celebrant at a funeral choke up and have his voice crack, but it happened yesterday. The first time it happened, Farnan had to stop speaking for several seconds, which triggered a flood of tears from the people in the pews.

Just four weeks ago, Farnan, one of the most popular priests in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, presided at the funeral of another well-known Kansas Citian, former City Councilman Bob Lewellen.

Lewellen was a close friend and mentor of Gray’s, and in the last week of Lewellen’s life, he and Gray rode around town looking at some of their favorite spots — some of them sports related — and sharing memories.

But back to yesterday…

The service had just the right combination of eulogies, prayerful supplications and great music, including the responsorial psalm “Shepherd Me, Oh God” and the David Haas classic “You Are Mine.”

The eulogists — Farnan, widow Katy Gray and long-time friend John Mulvihill — painted a portrait of a man who could juggle dozens of balls, who was never content to rest on past achievements and who, all the while, found ample time for family and friends.

Katy Gray, receiving condolences from a well-wisher after her husband's funeral

Katy, Kevin’s wife of 23 years, delivered an uplifting eulogy, surrounded by family members who seemed to comprise a convoy of courage.

“The outpouring of love for Kevin has been overwhelming,” Katy said. “As I look out at you today, I’m proud to say that each of you are a part of  Team Gray.” (That’s the handle that Gray gave his family, which includes four surviving daughters.)

In a light moment, Katy noted that Kevin had always said, “Everything is always black and white with you.”

“Funny,” Katy added, “that I ended up with the name Gray.”

Mulvihill, a classmate of Gray’s at Rockhurst High School, said:

“He was upbeat, honest and fun…He was the most successful politician never elected to office..The man was all about faith, family and community.”

Mulvihill went on to say that while Gray was “a man in a hurry,” he also was “a realistic guy who knew some things were going to get complicated.”

Gray’s approach to difficult and complicated challenges, Mulvihill said, was unfailingly pragmatic.

“He would say, ‘Figure it out,’ ” Mulvihill said. ‘Figure it out.’ ”

Kevin M. Gray, 1959 to 2011

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In the last four days, the picture has grown dimmer for Bishop Robert Finn, and the evidence of wrongdoing at the highest levels of local Catholic hierarchy has grown stronger.

And all because of two articles in The Kansas City Star.

The first was a thoroughly researched and beautifully written profile of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who stands charged with three felony counts of possessing child pornography. It ran on Page 1 on Saturday.

The second was an “As I See It, ” Op-Ed piece by Pat O’Neill a respected marketing consultant in Kansas City. It ran on Page A-11 on Monday. O’Neill, a practicing Catholic, called for the resignations of Finn and Vicar General Robert Murphy, and he challenged prosecutors to bring charges against the two.

The profile and the opinion piece served as a one-two punch that took a lot of  steam out Bishop Finn’s time-killing initiative two weeks ago, when he appointed former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate the diocese’s handling of sex-crimes cases, including the Ratigan case.



First, let’s look at the profile, which bore the by-lines of federal courts reporter Mark Morris and Northland reporter Glenn E. Rice. Rice has been on the Ratigan-Finn story from the start; this story represented Morris’ first work on the story.

Two of the main points that Morris and Rice established were, first, that Ratigan is — like Finn — a crusading, pro-life cleric, and, second, that Ratigan and Finn have spent time together.

The fact that they have more than a passing relationship could well indicate that after lewd photos of young girls were found in Ratigan’s laptop computer, Finn was loath to turn in a priest whom he knew quite well and who shared his pro-life stance. That’s been my conviction ever since Mike Rice, a former KC Star reporter, wrote a comment on this blog May 20, saying that he knew of people who had stopped attending Mass at Ratigan’s Northland parish because of his conservative ideology.

Regarding the Finn-Ratigan relationship, Morris and Rice dug up records revealing that in January 2007, Finn joined Ratigan and 40 high school students from St. Joseph for a bus ride to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life rally.

One of the most fascinating glimpses of Ratigan’s pro-life zeal was that he had his Harley-Davidson motorcycle decorated with themes that celebrated life.

“The gas tank bore the image of an angel bringing a baby down from heaven,” the story said, “while another spot carried a cross emblazoned with a ribbon reading, ‘Pro-Bikers for Life.’ ”

The entire story is a great read, but it contains, in particular, two killer paragraphs.

One is about Ratigan’s propensity to gamble. (He played the Missouri Lottery, for example.)

“In December 2010,” the story said, “whether he realized it or not, Ratigan placed one of the lowest percentage bets of his life when he handed his laptop computer to a repair person. Would the technician notice the allegedly lewd photos of girls under the age of 12? And if so, would he mention the photos to anyone?”

Wisely, the reporters let the questions hang in the air because everyone knows the answers.

The second memorable paragraph spelled out what happened after church officials seized Ratigan’s computer.

“The next day, Ratigan, the son of a man who suffered from profound depression, retreated to his garage, fired up the pro-life Harley and waited for death.”

We all know how that episode came out, too.


O’Neill’s column carries a tremendous wallop in no small measure because he is well known in Catholic circles and even served for a time as communications consultant to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.


In his piece, O’Neill showed that he, too, can turn a phrase. Consider this:

“When Bishop Finn arrived here in 2005, he was one of a new wave of American bishops charged with turning the tide of public opinion away from the abuse scandals and back to core conservative Catholic values and respect for the church and its priestly vocations. Instead, Bishop Finn is up to his collar in a flood of renewed scrutiny and anger.”

O’Neill went on to point out that despite hundreds of reports of priest sexual abuse over the last two decades, “only a handful of pedophile priests and no complicit church supervisors have been subjected to civil punishment, i.e., jail time.”

The column concluded with a flourish:

“The time has come for us to harness our collective anger and embarrassment and use that energy to change the way our church and our dioceses operate, once and for all.

“After all these years, it is starkly obvious to me that there will be no change for the better in the Kansas City diocese until men like Bishop Robert Finn and his Vicar General Robert Murphy are forced to resign, and criminals in collars are subject to secular trial and incarceration.”

In the p.r. battle that is being waged between Bishop Finn and his supporters on one hand and his critics on the other, the advantage has once again shifted to the critics, partly because of a great news story and a damn good p.r. man.

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Three short items today…

The Kansas City Star and writer Judy Thomas, in particular, wrung their hands today about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ failure to significantly change their head-in-sand policies on child sex abuse.

Meeting in Bellevue, Wash., Thursday, the American bishops voted 187-5 to essentially stick with the policy that they adopted in 2002.

“We are dismayed that the new policy is almost identical to the current policy, despite horrifying recent evidence in Kansas City and Philadelphia that the church’s current policies are dangerously lenient and full of loopholes,” Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, was quoted as saying.

It was the lead story in the paper and ran under a one-inch headline that said “Bishops Resist Changes.”

All who are surprised please raise your hands.

Anyone who has any idea of how the Catholic Church operates — and that’s the vast majority of people — knows that the church’s turnaround time on major issues is usually a century or two, not a month or so.

The bishops’ assembly was probably set two years ago, and their position on the sex abuse policy was probably determined months ago.

Rigali -- another pomp and circumstance bishop

The Philadelphia scandal — where Bishop Justin Rigali allowed 37 accused priests to continue working around children in Catholic parishes — took place earlier this year.

I predict it’s going to take decades for the church to come around to the idea that the correct action in priest-accusation cases is to call the police immediately — not mull it over, meet with and warn the priests and try to persuade them to get on the right path.

The Star’s headline and story smacked of hyperventilation.

Maybe it was just a vehicle to run a big photo of the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan, the local priest who got his kicks by taking “up-skirt” photos of elementary-school girls.

Ratigan, who is in jail, was photographed in Clay County Circuit Court, where he made a brief appearance Thursday. Nothing happened in his case Thursday; the fact that he appeared was, correctly, worth only a paragraph in today’s story.

The story probably deserved front-page play, but certainly not top of the page with a four-column photo.


Here’s a funny correction from Wednesday’s New York Times…

Leona and Trouble

“An article on Friday about the death of Leona Helmsley’s dog, Trouble, misstated the reason that Trouble’s inheritance from Ms. Helmsley’s estate was reduced to $2 million from $12 million, the amount specified in the will. A judge determined that the greater amount exceeded that necessary to care for the dog, not that Ms. Helmsley was of unsound mind when she made the will.”

I guess the issue of the late Ms. Helmsley’s state of mind is still up in the air, eh?


Then, the Thursday Times carried an item that is one of the most dreaded events in newsrooms: the correction to a correction.

“A correction in this space on Tuesday misstated the size of the (Irish Fianna Fail) party’s Dublin delegation…there were 18 members, not 47.”


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Two of my blogging compatriots, Hearne Christopher (kcconfidential.com) and Tony Botello (tonyskc.com) seem to be obsessed with what they refer to as “hotties.”

Their idea of hotties is young women with eye-catching qualities of one sort or another — sometimes beauty but more often physical endowments, such as curves or protuberances — that rivet the eye.

For example, on Tuesday, when The Star announced the hiring of Mi-Ai Parrish, a 40-year-old publisher in the McClatchy system, Hearne breathlessly gushed in the second paragraph of his story, “Blessed mother of god, they hired a hottie!”

Tony also weighed in with a “hottie” headline, and, on those two sites, at least, her appearance and youth took precedence over her credentials. (For a closer look at Parrish and her credentials, see my last post.)

Now, I’m completely in agreement with Hearne and Tony that beautiful young (and youngish) women are appealing to the eye, but my idea of a hottie is a bit more expansive than theirs. Probably, it’s because I’m 65 and look at women through a slightly different (more mature?) lens than those two “young” guys.

(For the record, Hearne will only admit to being “north of 50,” and I would guess that Tony is in his 30s.)

Anyway, as I have aged, I have come to appreciate the beauty of “older” women, which brings me to this…Christine Lagarde, the 55-year-old French finance minister and leading candidate for International Monetary Fund director, is one of the most striking women I have ever seen…At least from photos, that is, and I’ve seen a lot of photos of her.

As a teenager, Lagarde was a member of the French national synchronised swimming team. Wikipedia says that she is divorced and the mother of two adult sons. Since 2006, Wikipedia says, her partner has been an entrepreneur from Marseille named Xavier Giocanti.

She is a vegetarian and teetotaler, and her hobbies are yoga, scuba diving, swimming and gardening.

Take a look for yourself…

With Xavier


Here is a picture of Kansas Citian Susan Stanton, who is referenced in the comments below

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Talk about continuing the youth movement at The Kansas City Star.


The woman who will become the new publisher later this month is 40.

She succeeds Mark Zieman, who was 47 when he was named publisher three years ago.

And…Mike Fannin, the editor, is only 44.


The new publisher of the McClatchy-owned paper is Mi-Ai, Parrish, who has been publisher of the company-owned Idaho Statesman since July 2006.

Parrish, whose first name is pronounced MEE-uh, had been deputy managing editor for features and visuals at the Minneapolis Star Tribune before being tapped for the Idaho post.

I sure hope that Parrish works out, and I wish her the very best. But putting a 40-year-old person with five years of publishing experience — especially small-market experience — looks like a rather big roll of the dice to me.

On the plus side, reporter Mark Davis reports in a story on The Star’s website that Parrish led the Statesman’s effort to “transform and diversify business operations, introduce new print and digital products, grow digital traffic and revenue while improving the core newspaper and enhancing its reputation for quality journalism.”

This year, for example, the Statesman rolled out a new product called Business Insider, a weekly business-to-business magazine. And in 2008, the Statesman was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the breaking news category for its coverage of events triggered by the men’s room arrest of former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig in Minneapolis.

But look at some statistics.

The Star has an average Monday-Friday circulation of 210,000 and a Sunday circulation of about 300,000. By comparison, the Statesman, in Boise, has an average weekday circulation of about 50,000 and Sunday circulation of about 73,000. (Sunday circulation has been up slightly the last two years, while daily circulation has declined each of the last four years.)

So, The Star is about four times larger than the Statesman. That’s quite a jump.

Parrish also will be tested right off the bat with her choices for top managers. Among other things, she’ll have to decide whether to keep vice presidents such as Editor Mike Fannin and advertising executive Tim Doty in place.

On the digital side, her youth should work to her advantage because that appears to be where the future lies for newspapers. But her youth could work against her on the personnel side, unless she gets some very good advisers.

On that front, my recommendation would be that, in the newsroom, she turn to long-time managing editor Steve Shirk, a tried and true leader at The Star for more than 35 years.

Steve’s an old guy — about 60. He’s got the wisdom and the temperament to help a new publisher make a safe jump from a small pond into the churning waters of the Lake of the Ozarks.

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The lemmings are on the loose.

I was wondering how long it would take for the knee-jerk defenders of the Catholic hierarchy to rise in defense of Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

At first — after the shocking news of the diocese’s five-month-or-more cover-up of Father Shawn Ratigan’s child-porn propensities — the lemmings were quiet, for the most part. They were so taken aback at the gravity of the diocese’s action (or inaction) that they really didn’t know what to say or how to respond.

But now, after several weeks of the diocese coming under heavy bombardment from every direction, they’ve circled the wagons and launched a counterattack:

Call it the “good and holy man” defense.

Here are three examples:

Daniel G. Obermeier of Olathe, in a June 10 letter to the editor of The Star:

“Bishop Robert Finn made one mistake…Bishop Finn has lived and taught the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith. For this he should definitely not resign.”

Mark S. Robertson of Independence, in a June 11 letter to the editor:

“I have met Bishop Finn, but don’t know him personally It is quite obvious, though, that he is a good and holy man, and I think he has been a great bishop. He has launched many strong Catholic initiatives, and there are now over 25 seminarians, according to the Catholic Key 2011 diocesan directory.”

Kelly Roper of Platte City, in a June 12 letter to the editor:

“Bishop Finn is a true example of Christ in accepting the cross now being presented to him. He continues to talk to groups of people who are hurting, enduring persecution with the hope of correcting wrongs and bringing healing to his flock.”

As you know, Finn unleashed his own counter punch last Thursday, when he appointed former U.S. attorney Todd Graves to investigate the diocese’s handling of sex-crimes cases, including that of Ratigan, who is in the Clay County Jail on three felony counts of possessing child pornography.

“These are initial steps,” Finn said, regarding the appointment of Graves. “Other actions are forthcoming.”

So, Finn has decided to fight back, and unlike the sexting case of Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, there’s no Nancy Pelosi or other higher-up to say to him:

“Robert, you’re embarrassing us. It’s time to get out from under the harsh spotlight.”

Finn may be a good and holy man, but he’s also shown his true stripes. He has done that by working, from Day One, to establish a set of priorities that puts the church hierarchy and Pope John Paul II’s vision of a very conservative church at the top of the list, with the laity — especially the welfare of children — at the bottom.

Bishops everywhere are trying to stack the deck with conservative priests, and I have heard enough to convince me that Ratigan is of that ilk. The conservative priests are going to get more rope than the liberals, it’s as simple as that.

If you look at this episode, then, within the context of the overall direction of the Catholic Church — and not as “one mistake” — it’s clear that it’s the product of a wayward philosophy, a philosophy that starts at the top.

I remember when my wife Patty and I had decided to join a Disciples of Christ Church in Olathe, and we were talking to the senior pastor, Rev. Holly McKissick, about our decision to leave the Catholic Church.

Something that Holly said that day stuck with me because it went right to the heart of our concerns.

“The Catholic Church has made a lot of good contributions over the centuries,” she said, “but there’s something wrong when one person at the top has all the answers and nobody else has any.”

The Catholic Church is strictly a vertical operation. Finn and the 5,000 other bishops are accountable to no one except the Pope. And Pope Benedict XVI, I feel sure, believes that Finn and almost every other conservative bishop is doing a fine job.

To me, the people who are putting up “the good and holy man” defense are, for the most part, moving in lockstep with church philosophy. To them, I think, the children who are victims of priestly perversion are collateral damage as the church plows ahead into the iceberg of conservatism.

I know that that’s a harsh opinion, but I just don’t see any other explanation for what happened in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. It’s a scandal, not “a mistake.”

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Bishop Finn must be in agony right now.

Here’s a man who arrived in Kansas City from St. Louis six years ago, riding the crest of a big conservative wave that Pope John Paul II had set in motion in an attempt to wash liberalism out of church hierarchy.

Attaining the rank of bishop at 52 years old, he must have had visions of rising in the ranks, becoming at least a cardinal and — who knows what he saw in his dreams? — maybe the first American pope.

And now? His career is in tatters. Everywhere he turns — even to the editorial page of The Kansas City Star — he sees and hears calls for him to resign as a result of the latest priest-impropriety cover-up.

One of his priests, Shawn Ratigan, is in jail — six months after he should have been because of Finn’s foot dragging — and another, Michael Tierney, was suspended last week after a retrospective, hurry-up review found “credible reports alleging sexual misconduct with minors.”

Finn has been scrambling around, doing his mea culpas, hoping to hang on amid a situation that seems to be building to a crescendo. I was astounded, for example, to open the paper Saturday and read the editorial calling for Finn to resign.

Historically — probably because the editorial board sees its mission as primarily secular in nature — The Star has steered clear of religious matters on the opinion front. For the paper to plunge head deep into the controversy is a strong signal of the degree of the problem.

“…there was a disturbing pattern in his diocese,” the editorial states. “As of now, 18 current and former priests have been accused of abuse. Given those numbers, Finn can reasonably be held to a higher degree of diligence than he exhibited. And it’s understandable that some parishioners perceive a cavalier manner in which he loitered with allegations.”

The Star calls him cavalier. Others have characterized him as “self-important.”

Relatively few Catholics have risen to Finn’s defense. So obvious are Finn’s shortcomings that even most of the knee-jerk defenders of Catholic hierarchy have been silenced.

And listen to what a couple of committed Catholics have had to say about Finn.

Richard E. Smith, Altamont, Mo., letter to the editor, June 3:

“I have always been a Catholic. I will always be a Catholic. I don’t really know how to be anything but a Catholic. I firmly believe in the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith. Bishop Finn, you are hurting my church. Please resign.”

Ken Hansen, Smithville, letter to the editor, June 4:

“…the bishop was dishonest with his flock. He says he didn’t bother to look at any pictures, interview Father Ratigan directly or read a warning letter from the principal at St. Patrick School. If protection is truly a top priority, Bishop Finn should have been totally involved. He gave this whole thing about as much priority as a bid on a new furnace.”

Bishop Finn will probably not be fired, partly because of the church’s goofy managerial system.

The pope appoints all 5,065 bishops (as of the beginning of this year), and only the pope can remove a bishop…Now, whoever heard of a manager having 5,000 direct reports? How could one person possibly keep tabs on 5,000 employees?

I wonder if Pope Benedict XVI is even aware of the problem in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.

Here’s another strange fact, from a website called catholic-pages.com.

“All bishops are also required to submit a quinquennial report to the pope (i.e, every five years) reporting on their diocese and any problems that may have arisen in their diocese or difficulties the faithful are facing. At about the time that this quinquennial report is required, the bishops of the region make their visit ad limina Apostolorum where they travel to Rome to pray before the Tomb of St Peter and to meet individually with the Holy Father to ensure he is kept aware of the state of the Church throughout the world.”

With 5,000 bishops, that means the pope would have to meet with an average of 1,000 bishops a year, or about three bishops a day just to catch up with what’s going on in the far corners of the world… like America.

Unfortunately, Finn has been here six years, and if he had his quinquennial meeting with the Holy Father, it would have taken place last year.


Now, you might be wondering what kind of activity or heresy is likely to get a bishop in deep water. I did a Google search for bishops getting fired, and the most recent case I found was that of an Australian bishop, William Morris, whom Pope Benedict dismissed early last month because he had argued that the Catholic Church should consider ordaining married men and women because of a shortage of priests.

The Morris flap had gone on for five years, and his diocese is in an uproar as a result of Benedict’s decision.

You see, then, what the church’s idea of a grave problem is.

As for Finn and the possibility of resignation…probably won’t happen. Without a clear threat to his job status from Rome, I suspect he’ll keep apologizing, keep meeting with angry Catholics (as he did Friday night at St. Thomas More) and try to ride out the crescendo.

Of course, as I’ve said before, that route will clearly cost the diocese members and money. It’s been gratifying to me — a former Catholic who left because the church was looking backward instead of ahead — to see the reaction to Finn’s attempted cover-up.

He now regrets it. He’s miserable, and people of good sense are fuming. It’s a bad combination, and it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen.

Here’s the worst case scenario, again from catholic-pages.com:

“All bishops, (except the pope, Bishop of Rome) are required by Canon Law to tender their resignation if sickness or other grave reasons make them incapable of carrying on their role, or when they reach the age of 75.”

Hate to say it, but it’s possible we could have Finn another 17 years.

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As I said yesterday, I’m observing the upcoming fifth anniversary of my retirement from The Star by looking back at a few of my favorite stories from the early years of my career in Kansas City.

On Sunday, June 14, 1970, just nine months after I started at 18th and Grand, I had the opportunity to interview Janis Joplin, who was then near the peak of her powers. Turns out she was also addicted to heroin, which probably accounted for her high state of agitation on June 14 — and many other days, undoubtedly.

She had been through a couple of bands, including the famous Big Brother and the Holding Company, and for the tour she had put a new one together called Full Tilt Boogie Band.

Janis...on June 14, 1970, Kansas City, Kan.

I was a huge Janis fan, and that summer’s tour included stops in Cincinnati and my hometown of Louisville, Ky., as well as Kansas City. In a couple of cities before hitting the Midwest, Janis had invited audiences to gather in front of the stage and dance. That led to at least a couple of shows being stopped temporarily.

At every stop after that, security officers and arena officials were wary of disturbances and stood ready to suspend concerts in the interests of public safety.

I took vacation time to attend the concerts in Cincinnati and Louisville. The Cincinnati concert was outdoors, and there were no problems. At Louisville’s Freedom Hall, however, Janis again incited the crowd, and as I recall, people rushed toward the stage. The lights came on quickly, and an announcement was made that if people didn’t get back in their seats, the concert would be over.

When it was time for her Kansas City appearance — Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., actually — I asked the city editor, Donald D. Jones, to let me cover her. He acquiesced, although I think he was dubious about what I would come up with.

Two shows were scheduled that Sunday, one for about 6 p.m. and the other for 8.

I spoke with a publicist or assistant before the first show and told her I’d like to talk with Janis. She said I could ask her for an interview when she arrived.

With that set-up, then, here is the story in its entirety…


“Rock to Magic of Janis Joplin”The Kansas City Times, June 15, 1970

Half an hour before Janis Joplin, rock singer, was due to take the stage last night at Memorial Hall, Kansas City, Kansas, one of 10 security policemen approached another officer and said, “You don’t suppose we’d be lucky enough that she wouldn’t show up, do you?”

Minutes later Janis, wearing violet-tinted glasses and a maxi-length, flowered skirt, burst through a back door of the auditorium, and after reaching her dressing room began stomping on the floor. The woman who haunts security police everywhere was preparing to rock-n-roll in two shows.

Miss Joplin, noted for her shrieking style of singing and her occasional use of obscenities during performances, reappeared with violet and green ostrich feathers dangling from her hair and wearing a black outfit with bells jingling at the bottom of her crocheted pants.

A reporter approached her and asked for an interview. “No, man, no, not now,” she snapped. “I just got off the plane an hour ago. I haven’t even had a drink yet, all the bars are closed.”

She glanced out at 1,200 persons awaiting her appearance for the 6 o”clock show and looked back at the musicians who accompany her.

“This isn’t right,” she whined. “How can you rock-n-roll at 6 o’clock in the afternoon? I mean, man, you don’t even need lights out there, it’s God’s own light.

She was announced. She sprang on the stage, twisted up her face and wailed into the microphone, “Whattya need? Whattya want?” Her fans yelled, clapped their hands to the band’s ear-splitting background rhythm and bobbed up and down in their seats.

Only a few words were intelligible. It didn’t matter, the audience was hers and she was lost in her music. Occasionally she crouched near her guitarist and pleaded for him to “Go, go!”

The show went smoothly — no off-color language and no dancing with members of the audience. She didn’t even invite the crowd to dance, a move which in the past has prompted security police to threaten to stop performances.

At the end she was out of breath and the loose-fitting garment over her shoulders was wet with perspiration.

When the crowd had left the 27-year-old singer sat in the stands sipping bourbon from a pint bottle. She dabbed at her face with a white towel hanging around her neck and said, yes, sometimes she could relax.

“I try to sleep sometimes,” she remarked. “But I usually don’t go to bed and close my eyes and fall asleep — I usually pass out of exhaustion or one thing or another.”

She noted that it was a violation of her contract if she urged an audience to dance, and it only happens, she insisted, when it kind of slips out by mistake. Besides, she added, it is rarely a dangerous situation when her fans take to gyrating on their chairs or in front of the stage.

“Members of the audience never hurt each other,” she said, “and they never hurt the performers, and they don’t damage the auditoriums. The only time there is any danger is when the security force gets uptight.”

Janis said she and her troupe were treated badly in hotels, bars, restaurants and just about everywhere else they go.

“We’re the modern black man,” she said, “and that’s how they treat us. People don’t like our appearance and whatever threat that implies to them.” Asked when she would settle down and become an all-American wife and mother, Janis looked up quickly with sharp blue eyes and said, “I ain’t got no plans. I’m going to keep doing what comes naturally to me.”

Less than four months later, on Oct. 4, 1970, Full Tilt Boogie’s road manager, John Cooke, found Janis’ body in a room at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood Heights, Calif. She had been staying there since August. The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.

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It was five years ago this month (actually, the end of the month) that I retired from The Star.

In honor of that occasion, I’d like to give you excerpts and recollections of a few of my earliest, more memorable stories.

Before the advent of The Star’s electronic library, which got going in the early 1990s, The Star librarians maintained our by-line files in gold, business-sized envelopes. The files were kept in dark green, metal file cases by year — 1969, 1970, etc. — and the stories inside were meticulously folded so that they opened up easily and collapsed almost naturally into their folded form.

At some point — after the files had been put onto microfiche — the decision was made to return the by-line files to the reporters. For a while, I kept almost all of them, but, as time went by, I discarded them. All but one, that is, where I put my favorite early stories.

Those stories, yellowed and dated with a blue-green stamp, reflect the broad range of my early work at the paper, when I was a general assignment reporter and before I moved into political and government reporting.

Come along now, as I relive two of those early stories.


“Riding Horse to Canada”

For some reason, this story isn’t dated. But I’m pretty sure it was from February 1970 or 1971. One night, a guy named Orville L. Fleshman called the metro desk and said he was attempting to break the record for an endurance horseback ride. He called from Greenwood, Mo., where he had stabled his horse for the night. The city editor told me to take the call and write a story.

Back then, we didn’t verify things as carefully as we do now, so I did a telephone interview with Fleshman, who was 32, and essentially wrote what he told me.

Fleshman, a truck driver from Cuba, Mo., said he had ridden 240 miles from his hometown and that his ultimate destination was Calgary, Canada. He was allowing himself five months so he could arrive in time for a rodeo, called the Calgary Stampede, which started in July.

(MapQuest has it as 230 miles from Cuba to Greenwood, so he had his distance figured pretty accurately.)

Fleshman was exceedingly ambitious: He said that the longest horseback ride up to that time had been 809 miles and that his goal was 2,400. Where he got his information about the 809-mile record I have no idea, but I give him credit for making it specific — 809, rather than 800 or 850 — lending it more credibility.

“I’m gettin’ tired of him holding that record,” Fleshman told me. “When I get to Denver, he’ll no longer hold the record, I’ll carry that horse into Denver if I have to.”

Here are a few more quotes from the intrepid traveler:

“I rode through sleet storms and snowstorms, and I don’t know how much worse it could get. I rode 43 miles in a sleet storm near Freeburg, Mo., a week ago last Tuesday. People couldn’t believe I did it, but I did…

“The wind, the way it’s blowing now, will get you so dumbfounded that when you get off your horse you have to stand still for a few minutes just to get your wits about you to even walk or get coffee.

“The wind has blown so much that once I woke up in the morning and my eyes were swollen closed.”

As a young man who had ventured West from Louisville, Ky., I was mighty impressed  — maybe too impressed — with this courageous frontiersman and his story.

He left me with this: “It’ll either be the biggest ride in history, or it’ll be a small funeral. I’ll freeze in the saddle before I back out. There’s been too much publicity.”

Orville, wherever you are now, I hope you made it to Calgary.


“Rock Group Is on the Way Up” — Feb. 28, 1971

By February 1971, I had become a big fan of a local band called the Stoned Circus, headed by a fellow named John Isom. I pitched a story line to the editor of the TV Scene magazine, and she took me up on it. (Why, I don’t know because this had absolutely nothing to do with TV.)

One of my most vivid memories of this story is that the night that a Star photographer was supposed to shoot photos of the band at the old Inferno Show Lounge on Troost, the photographer was too drunk to function. That he was drinking on the job was nothing new at all, but he usually was able to carry on. This time, however, the photo session had to be postponed a day.

The Stoned Circus, 1971. Leader John Isom is at upper right.

The Stoned Circus tilted decidedly toward the Hippie style — long hair, fringed vests — and played hard rock, a relatively new genre at the time.

Isom was — and is — quite a character.

I opened the story with him introducing a song to a nightclub audience like this:

“Here’s one of our own songs. You can buy the record at my house or behind the bar. It’s on the pizza label…If you don’t like it, you can eat it.”

The band played at such places as the Peppermint Barn in Johnson County, Marge’s Disc A-Go-Go in Midtown and the End Zone on the west edge of the Plaza.

Recalling the night the band debuted at the Peppermint Barn, Isom said:  “When I showed up, I was wearing brown corduroy bells and a yellow shirt, and my hair was down in my eyes. It blew some minds is what it did.”

Isom, a Johnson County resident, still has a band. It’s called Johnny I and the Receders. You can check them out here.

John’s long hair is long gone, though, replaced by a thin coating of gray.

(Next: My interview with Janis Joplin in June 1970, four months before she died of a heroin overdose.)

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