Media World: That infamous Jaycee sports column isn't just stupid, it's wrong

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Poor Jaycee Dugard. First, she gets kidnapped and raped at age 11 by a deranged sex offender, Philip Garrido (pictured), who fathers two daughters by her while she's still a little girl herself. Then some clown at The Orange County Register tries to mine her experience for a column about all the sports milestones she's missed out on for the past 18 years.

Columnist Mark Whicker enraged his readers with "Many odd things have happened in sports the past 18 years," a column that attempted to "educate" Dugard about what she's missed since her 1991 abduction. I won't rehash the details of the column, which have been recounted in horror across the blogosphere, but his clever kicker sums up his poor taste: "Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard."

Whicker's column should never have seen the light of day, not only because it's tasteless, but because its entire stupid premise is factually incorrect. Honestly, any editorial intern with a semester in J-school under his or her belt should have caught Whicker's whopper. So should an editor -- if the paper still employs one.
Dugard, most likely, did not miss 18 years of sports news. Ever since she was discovered late last month, media reports have recounted how she was hidden in plain sight. The San Francisco Chronicle called her the "creative force" behind captor Philip Garrido's specialty-printing business. Customers say she regularly used e-mail to communicate with them about orders. She seemed well-versed in tech terms, and when she was reunited with her family, she said she wanted to see the Sandra Bullock comedy The Proposal, released this year. Her daughters even played Nintendo.

So how can something like the Whicker column get published? Where in the heck were the editors? Aren't there any editors still left in this business -- editors who read their own newspaper?

The answer, of course, is: What editors? Some newspapers treat marquee columnists like Whicker with kid gloves, making editors afraid to raise questions about their work. What's odd, though, is that no one raised questions about a piece that mangled the facts of a huge story for the paper involved: Dugard spent her early years in Orange County, and her family has spoken to the paper's reporters. The management of The Orange County Register screwed up almost as badly as Whicker.

In an interview, OC Register Editor Ken Brusick conceded to DailyFinance that the piece was an embarrassment to the paper. Whicker, who writes 200 columns a year, made a "bad call," he said, adding that the editors involved failed to "rescue" the columnist. When asked whether the editors failed to catch the error in Whicker's premise, Brusick said, "I don't know what was going through their minds."

Like all big-city metro dailies, the ranks of The Orange County Register, whose parent company recently filed for bankruptcy, have been decimated in recent years. Editors who could have stood up to a marquee columnist probably do not work for the paper anymore. More problems like this are bound to occur as newspapers operate with skeleton staffs.

That's the real issue here. Not a tasteless column, but a boneheaded one. Whicker has apologized for tastelessness. Now he and his bosses should apologize for not keeping up on the news.

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