Despite the fact that he hasn't published a column since May 26, the KC Star said today via phone that their oversized noisemaker, Jason Whitlock, is still currently on staff. He's just on extended vacation. But, still, something's amiss.
Many media wonks thought that the lack of a Whitlock byline in the paper plus his contribution to The Big Lead napalming the newspaper industry indicated that his days with the Star were numbered. It's a reasonable assumption, I guess, considering how quiet Whitlock's been about his hometown paper on his cantankerous Twitter feed and the fact that there's no indication on the KCStar's website that Captain Oozing Pumpkin is taking an extended furlough. (Update: Yes, they do. Here.)
One thing that is noteworthy about his break is that he's rattled and annoyed at some of the local muckraking going on over at a bottomfeeder site called KC Confidential.com, which published a mock obit for Whitlock's career at The Star today . The site, a collection of current and former KC journalists, have been turning the screws extra hard to Whitlock the last couple weeks. Most likely these are the shadowy figures he's referencing in one of his recent Tweets:
Let's backtrack: A couple weeks ago, a wild story popped up on KC Confidential written by a man named Greg Hall, a former sports columnist for the Star, who attempted to torpedo Whitlock's Big Lead column about "Myth" Albom because, according to Hall, Jason Whitlock used to pay him to write his columns:
I find it ironic that Jason chooses to blast the very industry that has hidden his secret all these years. Jason paid me in a $200 personal check to write the Texas column. BTW, none of this is news to those in the know at The Star.
Here's where it gets odd: I emailed Jason about this post. A pretty innocent email, in terms of some of our previous interactions, and he did not respond. Instead his lawyer, Kirk May, did.
My firm represents Jason Whitlock and I am writing in response to your July 21, 2010 email to Mr. Whitlock. I am writing to inform you that Mr. Hall's claims are untrue and defamatory. On behalf of Mr. Whitlock, we demand that you and your organization not publish and distribute Mr. Hall's claims. If you and your organization do publish and distribute Mr. Hall's claims, then Mr. Whitlock will take appropriate legal action.
If you are aware of any information that you believe supports Mr. Hall's claims, then please share that with me.
There is nothing about Greg Hall's pretty inflammatory post that can verified. After conversing with Hall via email several times, he had no evidence to support his claims — no personal check, no copies of the original columns he punched-up, just his invisible hand to an imaginary bible in cyberspace. Plus, some of Hall's peers and former co-workers and editors I spoke with stated that Hall was the least trustworthy source of this information — a guy who's had a vendetta for years against Jason and tried to shop this Whitlock-is-a-phony story to other outlets to no avail. It was published at the The Platte County Landmark where it was then cease-and-desisted by The Kansas City Star's lawyers soon after it went up. Speaking of which, The KCStar's lawyer, Tim McNamara, also emailed me (without prior contact from me) with a strongly-worded warning about moving forward with the story about Hall's post:
Dear Mr. Daulerio—
I represent The Kansas City Star. Your e-mail directed to Mr. Jason Whitlock earlier today has been brought to my attention along with the defamatory statements of Mr. Greg Hall. Please be advised that Mr. Hall's statements are false and defamatory. Moreover, Mr. Hall has a long history of acting with actual malice toward Mr. Whitlock such that you should know that his statements are not credible. On behalf of The Star, we hereby demand that you and Deadspin.com and those acting in concert with you cease and desist from publishing any such statements by Mr. Hall regarding Mr. Whitlock and/or The Star. We hope that no further legal action will be necessary to protect the interests of Mr. Whitlock and The Star. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you.
I had a couple questions. First, why on earth was there so much email legal melodrama about my pretty simple inquiry over someone else's blog post. Second — does Jason still work at the KCStar?
Mr. Daulerio—I am an attorney for The KC Star and management at The Star and Mr. Whitlock contacted me about this situation so it certainly indicates to me that Mr. Whitlock works there. Jason's personal attorney, Kirk May, contacted you before I did simply because I was out of the office when Star management and Jason first tried to reach me. I have no additional information regarding Mr. Whitlock's employment so if you have any further questions I respectfully suggest you take them up with the Star's editorial management and/or Mr. Whitlock. Thank you.
I contacted Jason again today, to get his answer about the state of his employment with his hometown paper. He (or his attorney) did not respond. But, again, according to the KC Star's sports editor, he is still employed as part of the paper. He's not on contract — he's on staff, they said. I emailed Jason the day after looking into Hall's piece and told him I was moving away from the story because the claims lacked credibility and I wasn't about to light him up based on the claims of a possibly deluded individual. However, I do find it a little surprising that Hall's story is still published on that site, since according to the flurry of attorney emails I received two weeks ago seemed to indicate that even the mere thought of writing about it would be perilous to Deadspin. Fine, but, why?