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.   







Harris Tweet

No, that’s not a misprint. We don’t intend to talk about sports coats. Today we report on the dangers of what some think is injudicious use of Twitter. It is not often that a twitter, a tweet, a twit–whatever–triggers a response like the one that lit a fire under Senator Kevin Engler of Farmington late last night.

The senate had been locked in discussion about a revising the workers’ compensation law. Engler objects to a big chunk of the bill. As he repeatedly outlined his opposition, Engler repeatedly told of one of his clients back home who had worked in a popcorn factory and who claimed she had come down with a crippling lung ailment because of her exposure to a chemical used to make microwave popcorn taste buttery. She had received workers’ compensation for the two years before her damage suit went to trial.

She won $300,000 in a damage judgment against the company. Her lawyer got a third and then the company, says Engler, sued the woman to recover the workers’ comp payments it had made to her before the trial.


While Engler was telling and re-telling that story to other senators a political consultant named James Harris made what Engler took to be disparaging remarks. Engler has run across Harris before and so has Senator Brian Nieves of Franklin County. Neither was particularly impressed by the Harris Twits.

Long ago we kind of adopted the idea that, “If you can’t say it to my face, you haven’t earned the right to say it behind my back.” That seems to work most of the time. It’s an unwritten Missourinet twitpolicy.

In the old days people were admonished to “Mind your tongue.” In today’s world maybe it should be “Mind your fingers. All of them.”

The Goat Days of August

Mexico Missouri, once the saddle horse capital of America, a place where Presidents and Prime Ministers came to meet with horse trainer Tom Bass, a town that once called itself the “Fire Brick Capital of the World,” the place where Miss Missouri is crowned every June, the home of Mexico Military Academy, hometown of former governors Charles H. Hardin (who led a successful statewide day of prayer for elimination of a plague of grasshoppers) and Christopher Bond (now our senior Senator), the home of Sam Locke who invented the Warm Morning Stove and of William H. Hudson, who became the President of Corning Glass Company, has become nationally if not internationally famous because of a goat.

The wandering goat that nobody can seem to catch is the biggest thing in Mexico since sliced bread.

Oh, wait, Chillicothe is where sliced bread was invented.

Well, anyway, it’s hard to think of a time when Mexico, Missouri got the media attention that the goat has given it. The goat now has a Facebook page of its own, has people suggesting it host “Saturday Night Live”—-but that would require capturing it which would end all of the publicity. The goat has a t-shirt that will benefit the humane society.

This goat is a star!! And if Mexicoans, Mexicoites, the Audrainish–whatever they call themselves–are smart they’ll let the goat “escape” capture for several more days or weeks. The stealth goat. The ghost goat. The Goat Phantom.

Eventually, of course, they’ll have to call in Goatbusters to solve the problem. And when that happens, Mexico will go back to being all of those other things that most people probably don’t know that it is.

Heck, if the stealth goat continues to roam at large, outsmarting potential captors, it could earn statue status on the courthouse lawn. Maybe the Mexico Bulldogs will change their names to the Mexico you-know-whats. Maybe the city can commemorate these events in the future with the annual Mexico Goat Festival held the weekend before Labor Day or something, with the goat as an honored guest every year for as long as he or she lives. Maybe churches could raise money for poor children at Christmas by bidding for the right to have the Mexico Goat in their outdoor manger scenes.

And when the last bleat is issued, perhaps he or she will be stuffed and accorded an honored place in the Audrain County Historical Society Museum. After all, it’s been a long time since a goat did so much for so few for so long. Move over saddle horses. There’s a new heritage in the making.

C’mon. Admit it. You wish your town had the stealth goat instead of Mexico.

But the brief fame of the Mexico Goat has some ways to go to equal the story of Bubbles the Hippo and the Hippo hype surrounding her more than thirty years ago. After all, the goat doesn’t even have a first name yet–a smooth move that focuses attention on “Mexico” instead of “Bubbles,” which had no geographic value.

Bubbles weighed two tons when she got away from a wild animal park in 1978 in Irvine, California. Bubbles didn’t amble around as the Mexico goat has done. She found a pond and settled in, becoming a star in place for almost three weeks. Captors finally used tranquilizer darts after 19 days to get her but she fell in an unnatural position and suffocated. Her bones are on display at the Los Angeles County History Museum.

Bubbles became a much bigger commercial enterprise than the Mexico Goat has become. You can still get a blue Bubbles the Hippo bubble bath dispenser. While Bubbles was hot the Gund stuffed animal company produced a stuffed hippo in her name. There was even a yellow Bubbles the Hippo candy jar. produced.

But Bubbles had 19 days to make her mark. The Mexico Goat has had less than a week.

The story of a goat on the loose in a mid-Missouri city has captured the eye of a large segment of a general public that otherwise would be battered by gruesome political talk, grim economic forecasts, and grim stories of war.

The Missourinet, with help from affiliate KXEO in Mexico, is dedicated to keeping Missourians up to date on the latest sightings and, we hope, the latest dramatic escapes.

The world needs more Mexico Goats.