Tribune Columnist Ol' Clark Suspended After Writing Fake News About Cops

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Dashcam video didn't match a columnist's description of a traffic stop. - VIA BOONE COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT
  • via Boone County Sheriff Department
  • Dashcam video didn't match a columnist's description of a traffic stop.

If you're going to write a column bashing local cops over a minor traffic ticket while melodramatically suggesting your life was danger, even when a dashcam video exists to proves otherwise — maybe just don't? A longtime columnist for the Columbia Tribune recently learned that lesson, and although we're just as sick of the term as anyone, this really is a very dumb case of fake news run amok.

On Thursday, Columbia Tribune managing editor Charles Westmoreland announced that he'd placed columnist Bill Clark — also known as Ol' Clark, a writer whose byline first appeared in the paper in 1961 — on indefinite suspension.

Clark's offense? A June 30 column entitled, "Ol’ Clark has run-in with the law."

In the column, Clark describes how he was pulled over by two Boone County sheriff's deputies for failing to signal a right turn at a stop sign on June 20. And while no one should be expected to welcome ticky-tacky traffic tickets — they're the worst! — the columnist's narrative jumps the shark almost immediately.

"I'm lucky I didn’t get shot," Clark huffs. "Sirens wailed and when I stopped, two officers were out of the sheriff’s vehicle. When I reached over to turn off the radio and then take my wallet out of my pocket to produce the driver’s license and insurance card, I realized my hands were not at the top of my steering wheel. Danger lurked and official arrogance was to follow."

Clark's annoyance apparently stemmed from the fact that his car was alone at the intersection when he made the turn — who, he questioned, was he endangering? Still, though he wasn't happy about it, he ultimately relented and accepted the ticket.

But instead of just ending the column there, Ol' Clark then clumsily tries to link the incident to a grander lesson about police discrimination. He writes:

"I’ve just come to appreciate even more the words of those minorities when they speak of harassment and police arrogance. I had a good dose of arrogance on this evening and, in my rear view mirror, the image of the second officer out of the car, his hands ready in case I made the wrong move. My life seemed to be in danger."

Clark's column quickly found its way to the desk of Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey — and Carey, in turn, pulled up the dashcam footage of the actual traffic stop. And what he saw didn't fit with with column's narrative.

On Wednesday, Carey posted a strongly worded refutation to Clark's column: "The law has a run-in with Ol' Clark."

Even though the columnist wrote he was lucky he wasn't shot, the sheriff wrote, the traffic stop was in every way routine.

"There is never a weapon drawn, the deputies don't take a position of cover, there are no loud verbal commands, no panic or anything else for that matter by the deputies," Carey writes. "Would you agree this is sensationalism at its best? I say yes!"

Carey also took Clark to task for attempting to connect a mundane traffic stop to the harassment minorities face from law enforcement. It was Clark, not the deputies, who was argumentative and arrogant, writes Carey:

"How was he in the shoes of minorities as an elderly white male? Was he saying minorities don't follow traffic laws or was he saying they are argumentative when stopped by law enforcement? I don't know, but Ol' Clark was guilty of both. If he believes this is how minorities are treated, then minorities can be assured from this video that they will be treated professionally by Boone County deputies."

Carey also posted the 11-minute video of the traffic stop to Facebook, where it's since racked up more than 500,000 views and 1,500 shares. The story was also picked up by several law enforcement blogs, and Clark's original column was inundated with hundreds of angry comments.

This being 2017, the Tribune also started fielding calls demanding Clark be fired. (He's apparently been a regular weekly columnist since 2004.)

In his Wednesday announcement, the Tribune's managing editor wrote that the video showed glaring inconsistencies with the column.

"I cannot defend Clark’s column or the facts as he presented them," Westmoreland wrote. "In the video I saw two professional deputies performing their job by the book, and a somewhat confused and irritated motorist, unaware of what he had done to draw the attention of local law enforcement. It certainly wasn’t worth writing a scathing column about, and the Tribune should not have published it. For that I apologize to the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and readers who feel they were misled by Clark’s column."

Westmoreland wrote that he confronted Clark about the inconsistencies. The veteran columnist apparently admitted that "he’d made a mistake in taking out his frustrations in his column, and for blowing certain aspects out of proportion," but at the same time Ol' Clark stood by the piece.

"He’s not apologetic for how he felt at the time or the way he perceived certain things," Westmoreland writes. However, Clark apparently intends to write an apology column that will run in the paper's Saturday print edition.

Westmoreland concluded his announcement by noting that while he couldn't unpublish Clark's column, "I will rebuke it."

"I personally don’t believe Clark was threatened by the deputies in any way," Westmoreland writes, "but I wasn’t inside his head and can’t say he didn’t feel threatened. I saw a deputy standing behind the car with his hands on his hips. Clark saw a deputy in his rearview mirror with his right hand next to his firearm. Perspectives differ from one person to the next. The dash cam video (and those of us who watched it) clearly had the better view."

As for Ol' Clark's view, we'll just have to wait for his Saturday apology column. Considering the indefinite nature of his suspension, he'd better make it a good one.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com



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