There's no question that CP Smith, A1 editor of the Orange County Register, was caught on camera picking his nose behind a TV set in the newsroom. Also no dispute that KOCE's news director complained and threatened the Register with reprisals, after being told it wasn't the first time Smith had been disruptive. But the Register's top editor, Ken Brusic, says in a note to the staff that it got blown out of proportion — starting here at LA Observed — and was an accident, rather than any kind of protest. Brusic calls it a case of "drive-by journalism" by LAO and others and says Smith is embarrassed and angry by the attention, and that his buyout is unrelated.
Everyone loves a good story. Especially the ones where an ordinary guy takes on an uncaring bureaucracy, thumbs his nose and walks away laughing.
That's the kind of story we thought we had this week with CP Smith. On his way out the door after 35 years of putting up with management's incessant and stupid demands, he picks his nose in full view of a KOCE camera during a news interview as a way of showing his contempt for the Register's broadcast partnership.
That's the way many saw it. A KOCE manager wrote a note of complaint and outrage along with a screen grab and sent it to the Register's management. He also copied the reporter being interviewed.
The reporter, thinking CP's goofy gesture was funny, sent the note and the blurry image to some of his colleagues.
From there, it made its way to LAObserved, the local journalism blog. Someone there published the photo under the title "Giving the finger," added his own interpretation of the protest, made a crack about the Register's layoffs and identified CP Smith as the person in the photo.
Wait, it gets better.
Then Romenesko, the national journalism gossip blog at Poynter.org, picks up the item from LAObserved, adds its own spin by saying CP is "making his final days at the Orange County Register as memorable as possible." Then links back to the LAObserved blog, which by now has identified Smith's wife as a deputy editor of the L.A. Times.
Great story, right? One problem. It's not true.
Nobody, as this story was rippling through a vast community of journalists as it spread its way throughout the country, bothered to check the facts. Or ask CP Smith -- off for the day at Disneyland with relatives -- his version of the story.
The reporter being interviewed for the TV program never saw CP's actions. The technician who answered KOCE's angry call and provided some details to the KOCE manager later told me he didn't think CP was acting deliberately.
CP is often loud, the technician told me. And he's often in the vicinity when the TV camera is recording.
CP is loud. It's part of who he is. And, as A1 editor, he's often in the area on the other side of the plastic TV set backdrop because that's
where the chief Nation/World editor sits, and they regularly collaborate on how the paper is coming together in the early evening the same time a lot of the TV interviewing is under way.
On his side of the backdrop, CP didn't notice the TV technician try to wave at him against the glare of the lights on the plastic. And yes, he did absent-mindedly stick his finger in his nose, just like all of us have done at one time.
Most of us don't get caught doing it on TV. And most of us don't have the photo flashed around the workplace and then out into the world of blogs or get accused of doing it spitefully.
And most of us don't end a distinguished 35-year newspaper career as the victim of drive-by journalism.
I talked to CP last night at his home where he was riding out mixed emotions. He said he was embarrassed by what had been captured on TV, even though he didn't remember doing it. And he was frustrated and angry.
CP will be back working this weekend, honoring a commitment to cover a news shift for a colleague. He'll be in the office Tuesday, putting out the front page of the paper the way he always does. He is leaving the paper. But he will work until Sept. 4, when he completes 35 years with the Register. He will leave with his dignity intact, and my thanks and I hope yours -- for his service and dedication to our readers, our community and our paper.
I see a lesson in all of this. This sad mistake happened to one of our own. Somehow in this fast-moving post-it-now and move-on world, some
people forgot to check the facts. They didn't ask the person involved for his side of the story. And someone was hurt. Let's make sure we do our job and get it right.
Despite Brusic's interpretation, I played it mostly straight in the only report I've posted: Guy picks nose on camera, TV station complains, he turns out to be a senior editor. Here it is again.