First some background.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a LAT reporter about a particularly egregious story in the paper and how the Times, as usual, refused to correct any of the factual errors. The reporter agreed and sympathized with me, and then he/she added - "at least it's not as bad as the Wyatt Earp piece. "
My guard immediately went up. The very casual way this was imparted meant this reporter thought I already knew about this piece. So, clearly, this was a fiction I needed to protect. I thus tried to equally casually broach the subject, but the reporter, suddenly realizing I did not know anything - immediately shut up.
Later, I talked with another reporter (somewhat connected with the LAT magazine) and casually mentioned the LAT magazine was going to run the Wyatt Earp piece, and that reporter said - "You mean they' re actually going to finally run that?" Any effort to get further information was immediately shut down when that reporter also quickly figured out I knew nothing more about the story.
(hey, Dean - not only are your guys/gals smart - but they're also loyal!)
So what is a poor cowboy to do in a situation like this? Get out a trusty six shooter and dispense some frontier justice? Ride my horse into the lobby of the Times and demand satisfaction? No. In situation like this, there is only one correct course of action.
Two minutes later I found a blogger already complaining of being misquoted - even before the story even had run!
First, I'll let the blogger (publisher of True West Magazine, Bob Boze Bell) speak for himself:
October 28, 2005 The Los Angeles Times’ Sunday Magazine is doing an upcoming feature on Wyatt Earp and a fact checker from the paper named Meryl called me to go over my quotes (Leo Banks of Tucson wrote the piece some time ago and they’re finally getting set to run it on November 13th). The newest twist on fact checking is they won’t tell you the actual quotes. Evidently, people often try to soften or change what they said to protect themselves.
I understand the problem because we have sent articles to people mentioned in our mag, mostly to check for historical accuracy, and they invariably bridle at certain things and try to retract them, it’s only human. So Meryl's job is quite tricky. She said things like, "Did you say something about Wyatt Earp and a jerk?"
And I said, "Well, that depends on the context." I often tell the story of my grandmother in Kingman claiming “Wyatt Earp was the biggest jerk to ever walk the West." But that's her saying it, not me. And Meryl would say, “Well, that’s kind of what you’re quoted as saying,” and I would say, “read me the quote,” and she’d say, “I can’t.” And I’d say, “Then why are we talking?”
OK - he finds out he's been misquoted and he then tells the 'fact' checker that he has been misquoted. He then asks to have his quotes read back to him since it has now been established that the writer has lied about what he had told him and he wants to know how else he might have been misquoted.
But the LA Times fact checker refused to do so. Now Bell admits there are reasons why a fact checker might not read quotes back to interview subjects since they might want to have some second thoughts - but once the writer has been established as a liar - I think a little extra due diligence might be in order. But not at the LA Times, of course.
Cut to last Sunday, the article is published and here is the quote:
True West's Bell, who says there's nothing in Old West history to match Earp mania, finds the hero worship fascinating. He describes Earp as a jerk. "But he was a brave jerk," says Bell.
OK - now let's see what Bell has to say about that:
... I was somewhat irked when I saw the actual quote in the Times that precipitated the irate Email to me.
Here’s the actual quote:“True West's Bell describes Earp as a jerk. ‘But he was a brave jerk, says Bell.’ As someone once said about Wyatt, all the bullet holes were in the front, I'll give him that much."
I have never described Earp as a jerk. I have always maintained that this is my grandmother's take on him. She is the one who claimed Wyatt Earp was a jerk. And...
I am more bugged with the LA Times and their policy of not reading the quote to me prior to publication. True, a fact checker did call me and asked me if I thought Wyatt Earp was a jerk, and my memory of the conversation is, I said, "No, I didn't say that. My grandmother did. Give me the context," and Little Miss Fact Checker declined (see archives of two weeks ago), and after three or four exchanges like this I finally said, "Well, I guess I just have to trust Leo to quote me correctly."
In Leo’s defense, I seem to remember him hammering me about the details of the "jerk" comment.
Actually, here’s Leo take on it:"in my notes i do indeed have you saying that about your grandmother ... but it sounded to me as if you agreed, with modifications ... i know your view of earp contains measures of admiration and revulsion ...
Now here we have person quoted saying he had never said Wyatt Earp was a jerk - which the LA Times knew before they published this article. Then we have the writer of the article admitting that he knew Bell was quoting his grandmother. Want to talk about... smoking gun?
The really odd thing is that after Banks admits he lied, he tries to weasel out of it by saying that with his special mind reading powers (OK - so I made up that part of it) he thought Bell thought Earp was a jerk and thus thought it was OK to falsify not only that quote, but also the first part of the second quote. And this is after Bell states that Banks had hammered him about the exact details of that quote. The really odd thing is that Bell is too polite and too much a gentleman - and they know each other - to take public offense about his friend lying about what he had said.
I mention that because in my next post on this subject I will go into the bizarre world of Earp 'scholars' and how Mr Bell's feeling this kind of lying is quite minor does, actually, make some sense in a field where entire books have been written based on non-existent or fictitious diaries, interviews and documents.
And I will also go into more detail on how Mr. Leo Banks has hoodwinked the LA Times into printing what is, at least in part, a work of fiction.