Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stop press!

With half the 1A hed spent on the guy's name, you can be forgiven for expecting him to be someone you recognize at once (along with the need to distinguish him from seniors or IIIs of the same name). Or maybe a friend of the publisher.
Would it help to know that he's "also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr."? OK, how about that the lede introduces him as "the man charged in the April shooting rampage that left three people dead outside two Jewish facilities in Overland Park."

The online hed -- "Accused Jewish centers gunman F. Glenn Miller Jr. is dying of lung disease, friends say" -- gets two things right that the print version doesn't: It tells you why you've heard of the person, and it avoids making medical determinations that, alas, copy editors shouldn't generally be in the business of making. Attribution is nice (in a case like this, we could go so far as to say it's essential), but it raises new questions of its own: Who are these people, and how do they know what they know?*

“He’s dying now, there’s no doubt,” said Craig Cobb, a neo-Nazi who made national headlines when he starting buying plots in a small North Dakota town in 2011 and later announced plans to turn it into an all-white hamlet.

Thanks, Dr. Cobb! Tell us more:

Cobb said he had talked to Miller regularly on the phone, including the day before the April 13 shootings, and exchanged letters with Miller from jail in Mercer County, N.D., where Cobb had been held after being charged with terrorizing some of the town’s residents last year.

“He told me in January in a letter that he had one foot in the grave and one on a banana peel,” Cobb told The Star last week.

Uh, OK. And?

... Will Williams, a white nationalist from Tennessee who has known Miller for more than two decades, said Miller told him earlier this year that he was extremely ill.

This would be the guy who reports Miller's complaint that the black fella in the infirmary is trying to kill him by cutting his medications? Good thing there's a third source:

... “He told me a few years ago that he wasn’t in very good health anymore and that he didn’t expect to live much longer,” Dan Clevenger said.

Clevenger is a former mayor of Marionville, Mo., who resigned April 21 after city aldermen began impeachment proceedings against him for making anti-Semitic statements in the wake of Miller’s arrest.

“The last time I saw him was about a year ago, and you could just tell that something was wrong,” he said. “He obviously wasn’t well.”

Let's recap a little here. Our 1A story (with no attribution in the hed) is based on reports from three, um, fellow travelers, whose knowledge appears to come from "a letter in January," "earlier this year" and "about a year ago." One of them says Miller had to skip a National Socialist rally in November because of his health. Another says Miller's been filing grievances about the crafty jail doc; the jail says that isn't the case.

I don't mean to suggest that the Star -- or anyone -- slip into the habit of assuming the cops are always right when it comes to allegations of abuse. But there does come a point at which it's fair to ask: Evil colored medical conspiracy or cop who'd rather not have a high-profile inmate die on his watch -- you make the call!

That's a lot of space to spend on a story that boils down to something like: Guy who appeared to be in pretty bad shape in April was in bad shape before that too, friends say. Hard to see a 1A story in that, even with an appropriate headline. And if you don't already know how to respond to a whispered tale about what Those People are up to now, here's another Old Editor saying: The obligation to listen is not an obligation to print.

* Imagine if we asked questions like that about, you know, people who wanted to start land wars in the Fractious Near East.

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