The clown

After a day of covering and watching others cover the State Fair Rodeo debacle, we are left pondering whether we have witnessed an internet cautionary tale.  If it is not that, then it is close.  A story that originated with an internet report has exploded, repeated, with various shades of differences in the telling.  As the day draws to a close, we are left with what seems to be one of the hazards of the use of the internet to relay information.  There is no doubt it can spread information.  But there is danger in accepting that information out-of-hand as true.  

We are reminded of the insurance company television commercial.

“Where’d you hear that”


“And you believed it?”

“Yeah.  They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“The internet.”   

We’ve spent a lot of time in the Missourinet newsroom looking at the videos of the Saturday night incident at the Missouri State Fair Rodeo. And listening.  As we have examined the video and listened to the audio, we have become more questioning of what has been relayed to the public, even in our own early accounts.

Early accounts from the internet said, “A clown came into the arena dressed as President Obama.”  An appraisal of a still picture of the “clown” leaves doubt in our mind that that happened, as we will explain later. 

We also said some things in our stories similar to statements in several other stories we have seen today—that a rodeo announcer said “tonight’s the night we’re going to smoke Obama.”  An internet source that we cited said that “a bull got close enough, and the clown jumped up and ran away with the crowd cheering in delight.”   We, like many of our colleagues,were operating on the best information we had at the time.  However, a day of interviews, statements, and examinations of posted videos seems to shed a different light on how we reported an ugly situation.   There is no doubt it was an ugly situation.  

But as lawyers have noted, you can’t un-ring a bell.  You cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube.  

The longest video we have seen runs 2:06.  Two bulls are seen throwing their riders in short order. Neither comes close to a figure with the Obama mask.  Bull riding contests at rodeos are seldom limited to two bulls so there’s a lot we have not seen, particularly the Obama figure running away. But we have our doubts about that.  More on that point later. 

At various times, rodeo announcer Mark Ficken has been described as the clown or has been identified directly or indirectly as the person who was spouting the language that pumped up the crowd and also angered a lot of people.  Even lawyer Albert Watkins, who contacted media earlier today as Ficken’s representative, seemed confused by the circumstances. “The clown, donning an Obama mask, was wearing a microphone while at the time of his unscripted appearance,” he said in his notice. The video and audio clearly indicate the figure in the Obama mask was not wearing a microphone.  But the real clown appears to be, as we note below.

First, let’s consider the figure in the Obama mask.   When we talked with Ficken a little after 7 o’clock this morning, before a lawyer started speaking for him, he referred to the figure with the Obama mask as a “dummy.”  (Our conversation with him offered a different perspective on the limited but widely-circulated information up to that time.)

A look at the closeup pictures shows a figure that appears to be propped up by a broom (if it’s not, that broom is in a very uncomfortable place).  There is no logical reason for a broom in a rodeo arena.  If the figure were, indeed, human, then the figure is carrying the broom in an odd way.   

Next:  The figure in the mask never moves during the event, not even when a real clown goes over and adjusts the clothing.  When a horse and rider go by, it does not turn its head. 

The sleeves of the shirt are stuffed into pants pockets.  The legs appear to have little or no flesh on them.  The entire figure, in fact, appears in the not-very-clear pictures to lack human proportions.   

Although we get only fleeting glimpses of the figure during the videos we have seen, the figure has not moved.   It seems to us that the dummy is not likely to have run from the arena with a bull in close pursuit.

Dummies are often used in rodeo rings, particularly during the bull riding events.  

Early in one of the videos, Ficken introduces the people in the ring.  He introduces only one person as a clown, (“the funny man, the jokester”) the person who is heard a short time later calling Ficken’s attention to a “famous” guest in the ring, “Obama.”  It is at that point, before the real clown is seen manipulating the lips on the mask (during which time the figure does not move), or making all of the comments about how the bull is going to “get” Obama, that Ficken makes his remark that Obama better watch out for the bull.  He is not heard participating in the clown’s routine after that.

Three entities are involved in this incident.  An announcer.  A clown.  A figure that appears to be a dummy in an Obama mask.  The announcer is not the clown. The clown is not the dummy.  The dummy does not have a wireless microphone.  The clown does have one.  The clown is the one making the controversial comments.

This event happened away from the eyes of regular television or newspaper coverage and was first published on a Facebook page, then picked up through  and passed around through more social media,  ultimately making its way into the conventional media, including the Missourinet.

Throughout the day we have seen references in regular media and social media to Ficken being the clown or Ficken making the statements that angered many people and rallied others. It appears to our eyes and ears that neither is the case. Watkins refers to it as “internet piling on.” 

So after a day of reporting, reiterating, and reacting, we wonder if the internet might have distributed a lot of information that too many people have taken as truth and too many people keep repeating–on the internet.   

This story is likely to take some time to play out.  But what the internet continues to circulate and that some of us in the mainstream media pass along raises some questions about some of the interpretations of the material we have seen and heard and taken a closer look at.  .

“The Truth is Out There,” was a motto of a television show years ago.  The search for that truth sometimes involves stumbling down a brambled path with uncertain and sometimes misleading markings. 

And that seems to be a pretty good summation as the sun goes down on this day.   







Before there was Pat Summerall—-

The death of sports announcer Pat Summerall a few days ago has brought many tributes to his style, the soft authoritative nature of his voice, and hsi long career away from the playing field and in the broadcast booth. But before there was Pat Summerall there was Ray Scott.

Ray Scott had one of those clear, naturally dramatic voices that carried with it the drama of the game unfolding on the field below. The drama wasn’t forced. No one ever accused Ray Scott ove over-acting in his descriptions of football games—we remember him most for his Green Bay Packer broadcasts although he broadcast a lot of other sports in his time.

Scott never needed to talk all the time in the booth. He didn’t like to talk the obvious when the viewer could see it. In short, he didn’t do radio on TV. Viewers could see a runner or a receiver dashing across the 50, 40, 30, 20, 10,5, TOUCHDOWNNNNNNNNN!

We saw one of his most famous calls. It might have been in the second AFL-NFL Championship Game (it wasn’t yet known as the Super Bowl) when the Packers’ quarterback, Bart Starr, threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Boyd Dowler. We could see it and we didn’t need anything more than the five words the electric voice of Ray Scott told us: “Starr…..Dowler…..Touchdown, Green Bay.” It was television, not radio. He told us only what we needed to know and because he didn’t clutter up his play-by-play with descriptions of the obvious, the play remains crisp in memory.

Ray Scott died in 1998, in his late 80s. His career in the broadcast booth is unknown to a generation or two of sports fans and contemporary announcers. He was in his 20s when he called his first game, on local radio.

You have to be getting up in years to remember the fourth network in the early days of television–DuMont, which did the first coast-to-coast telecast of the NFL Championship Game in 1951. The play-by-play announcer was Ray Scott.

His big break came in 1956 when he was hired to work the ABC telecast of the Sugar Bowl and was paired with the legendary Bill Stern, an institution in sports broadcasting for a couple of decades. The game matched Pitt and Georgia Tech and Scott was the regular radio broadcaster for the Pittsburgh games. Stern was the top sports announcer for ABC then. But Stern, who had lost a leg in a car crash several years earlier had become addicted to painkillers, including morphine. Stern was so badly affected by the drugs that he was taken off the air shortly after the broadcast began and Scott did almost the entire game, a performance that attracted the attention of CBS. The network hired him in 1956 to do the Packer games. Scott broadcast almost all of the games in the Lombardi era. As the Packer’s announcer, he broaddcast the first half of the famous NFL championship game that was dubbed the “Ice Bowl.” The announcer for the second half was the Cowboys’ announcer—Jack Buck. Frank Gifford did the analysis.

Scott became the lead CBS football announcer in 1968. His partner in the booth was Paul Christman, the great University of Missouri All-American, a pairing that was highly-praised for the two years they were together. Christman died at the age of 51 in the spring of 1970. His replacement was Pat Summerall. When Scott and CBS agreed to part ways in ’74, Summerall began the play-by-play career for which he is so fondly remembered today. But before Pat Summerall became the dominating announcer he is remembered as being, he studied for four years beside Ray Scott.

Scott later was the play-by-play announcer for the Kansas City Chiefs for a couple of years in the mid-70s. His later career took him to several other pro football teams.

He was on the first broadcast team of the Minnesota Twins after they moved from Washington in 1961. When a new Washington Senators team was created, Ray Scott broadcast their games. And he did some games for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Scott broadcast four Super Bowls and seven NFL championship games while with CBS. He broadcast every major bowl game except the Cotton Bowl. He was the lead announce for six Masters golf tournaments and two British Opens. When the LPGA hit TV, Ray Scott was in the booth.

It would be good for young people wanting to become sportscasters (and, we must note, sports broadcasters are a dime a dozen–you can hear them all over your radio dial on Fall Friday evenings) to think of Ray Scott. If those great sportscaster wanna-bes ever do television, they might remember the man who did not feel it was necessary to tell viewers what they were seeing. One newspaper article I came across in helping recall Scott remembered the simplicity and the clarity of another of Scott’s calls in a Packers-Giants game:

“Starr barking signals . . . Hornung and Taylor set behind Starr . . . (pause for play to start) . . . Taylor . . . six yards to the Giants’ 23 . . . tackled by Sam Huff . . . brings up second and 4 . . ”

He knew that saying too much during a television broadcast robbed the game of its natural excitement. He knew how to do television on television, not radio on television. We don’t know how he would fare in these days when there might be a game on the field but there’s a show in the broadcast booth. But we do know that we don’t recall any of the television football play calls from this era of almost constant booth-talk. But indelibly etched in our memory is the day Ray Scott said everything I needed to hear and not one word more when he said only,

“Starr…..Dowler…..Touchdown, Green Bay.”




A Rime of the Ancient Reporter

2013-02-21_14-24-07_285Parking in the Lot on a Snowy Morning
by Bob Frost Priddy

Whose lot is this I think I know.
The owners are in another part of town, though.
They did not see me parking here
Too early for the lot to fill up with snow.

My little car must think it queer
To park without a carport near
Upon the lot near frozen street
In this, the short month of the year.

My little car is white, you know,
It blends into the blowing snow.
Later I’ll borrow a broom to take
Away the product of lightning, wind and downy flake.

The parking lot is slick, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And newscasts to do before I sleep,
Upon the cot in the closet I keep.

This is Winter Storm Q.
Who the heck decided to start naming winter storms?  And why in the name of Heaven did they think winter storms NEED names?

As fans of James Bond movies know, “Q” was the guy who came up with all of the Bond gimmicks.  And that’s what we’re dealing with today.   A gimmick.

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an editorial yesterday noting that the United Nations World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland determines the names for tropical storms and hurricanes.  There are specific criteria for determining that a storm needs a name.  It does not give winter storms names.

This winter storm-naming business is a gimmick dreamed up by The Weather Channel.  The Inquirer says the Weather Channel is pretty vague about the criteria it uses to name these things.  It refers to the channel’s explanation as “comically vague.”  The channel announced its gimmick last fall. The Inquirer notes the channel originally wanted to call storms names like Gandolf, Khan, Rocky, and Yogi (as in the cartoon bear, not the Missouri-native catcher). The newspaper says the National Weather Service quickly “warned its meteorologists not to dignify the network’s first winter storm designation ‘Athena’ with a mention.”  The Inquirer calls this Weather Channel naming  business “a depressing attempt to disguise empty hype as empirical analysis.”  And the editorial concludes, “How long can it be before this pseudoscientific system mutates to encompass even more unremarkable weather patterns?  We might as well brace ourselves for Heat Wave LeBron or Stiff Breeze Bieber.”

Maybe they need to hire Bob Frost Priddy as their Snowet Laureate.

Frankly, we believe Missourians can call storms like this a lot of names—and probably are.  Our own Mary Farucci came in this morning to announce she had bashed in her car’s tail light on her mail box.  We are too much of a gentleman to ask her what she called this storm when that happened. And we hope that she is too much of a lady to tell us.

We’ve been startled by lightning and thunder mixed with the snow here at the Learfield Mother Ship, the headquarters of the Missourinet and the Brownfield Network. The news staffs are making sure all of our programs keep going out no matter how deep the snow becomes.  We have the cot in the closet.  Brownfield’s ace market reporter, John Perkins, has an inflatable mattress. The engineers have turned on heaters on our satellite dishes to make sure ice and/or snow buildup does not interrupt our services, incoming or outgoing.

The legislature showed admirable foresight in sending people home a day early yesterday.  That’s good because it means we don’t have to go to the capitol today.  Heck, we don’t have to go anywhere today.  Thank God for pizza and sandwich delivery folks who are willing to risk life and fenders to deliver a six dollar sandwich on days like this.

Others are pushing snow off our roads and throwing tons of salt that we’ll have to get rid of in a car wash next week on the pavement.  We don’t lift a toast to them often enough for what they do in times like these.

Most of Missouri is going to be dealing with this winter storm in various ways.  Some have referred to it as the worst winter storm to hit Missouri in two years.  But it’s hard to think this will be anything like Snowmageddon of 2011.

And just about everybody we’ve talked with agrees that it’s good that it’s February.  It’s hard to get too discouraged on snowy days when you realize that baseball is being played somewhere today.