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Posted by The Dean of Cincinnati
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In this week’s Porkopolis column, CityBeat’s news editor, Greg Flannery, comes to the defense of Bill Sloat—giving credibility to Sloat’s dubious claims of being a spat-upon Vietnam veteran. Sloat’s story emerged as the nation buzzed over a similar tale by professional victim Josh Sparling—who says he got spat upon at the recent anti-war protest in Washington D.C. (Read our original coverage here.) Our story was picked up nationally by popular and well respected blogs like Hullabaloo (which you can read about here). Our story was based on facts and the research of experts, and Sloat never presented anything to defend himself. Nevertheless, Greg Flannery has seen fit to come to his defense, which can only lead to two logical conclusions: either Flannery has become the first journalist to verify one of these spat-upon veteran stories, or he owes The Cincinnati Beacon a formal and printed apology in next week’s CityBeat.
As Nate Livingston has correctly noted, Greg Flannery misses the entire point of the Sloat controversy—perhaps because he still feels a connection with Sloat over an old apology. Here is the entire selection from Porkopolis. Notice Flannery’s fixation on Sloat’s apology, totally unrelated to the current issue:
It’s no secret that Bill Sloat is one of the best journalists in Cincinnati, where he ran a one-man bureau for The Cleveland Plain Dealer until he accepted a buyout late last year. Sloat now finds himself on the receiving end of a vicious attack by the Cincinnati Beacon, a local blog that suggests he fabricated a story about being spat on while a soldier during the Vietnam War. The Beacon’s “evidence”: Sloat apparently remembered the wrong year that a porn movie was distributed. It’s more of the Beacon’s usual style of turning minor circumstances into major conspiracy theories. That contrasts nicely with Sloat’s new blog, The Daily Bellwether (thebellwetherdaily.blogspot.com), which treats news as serious business.
Sloat recently had a revealing article about Bush’s 2002 speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center in which he all but declared war on Iraq. During the speech, an estimated 5,000 people waged a spirited protest outside. Participants later complained that the national media ignored them. In a post two weeks ago, Sloat said they were correct and apologized for the news blackout.
“As a reporter, I was locked inside the hall and couldn’t witness events outside,” Sloat wrote. “I tried like heck to let people know by cell phone but it all fell through the cracks. At most there was a line or two about the protest and how the audience leaving the speech got snarled in traffic because the parking lot exits were blocked. Nothing much that disclosed the extent of a huge anti-war event, or that it had unfolded in SW Ohio, an area that was supposed to be a hotbed of pro-Bush, anti-Iraq sensibilities. ... It was a great failure—for me and the profession I worked within.”
It looks like Greg Flannery is giving Bill Sloat a pass because of a five year old apology. (If Flannery values apologies so much, he will not hesitate to give one to The Cincinnati Beacon, as our analysis of the Sloat situation is not nearly so “conspiratorial” and unprofessional as Flannery claims.)
Firstly, the issue is not that Sloat “remembered the wrong year that a porn movie was distributed.” Sloat claims to have a vivid memory of being spat upon while wearing his uniform in New Orleans, 1970. He claims the incident happened after he and some friends walked out of a porno theatre—where they had just viewed The Devil in Miss Jones—when a lone woman spat upon them. The most immediate problem with this story: The Devil in Miss Jones did not exist in 1970, so he can’t have a “vivid” memory of walking out of a porn theatre after seeing that film in 1970.
But when did “porn theatres” even come into existence? Check out this summary from Wikipedia (about the film Deep Throat):
On June 5, 1972, the movie received a glowing review by Al Goldstein in his Screw magazine. Only two full-length (and lesser known) heterosexual hardcore porn movies had been released previously in the U.S.: Mona in 1970 and School Girl in 1971. Together with the gay-themed Boys in the Sand, released in December, 1971, and Behind the Green Door which was also released in 1972 and widely shown in mainstream theatres, Deep Throat started a brief period of ‘porno chic’ when it was considered cool in some circles to go see porn movies, even in mixed company. Several mainstream celebrities were seen watching Deep Throat, including Truman Capote, Jack Nicholson and Johnny Carson. The phenomenon was described and the movie reviewed in an influential 5 page article in The New York Times.
Unlike Behind the Green Door, Deep Throat’s fame does not primarily root from its explicitness but from the fact that it set some of the main conventions of modern pornography: a synopsis made up of different segments of graphic sex, attached with a minimal plot.
The movie’s title became a pop culture reference, most notably when then-Washington Post managing editor Howard Simons chose “Deep Throat” as the pseudonym for a Watergate informant, many years later revealed to be W. Mark Felt.
So the “porno chic” period did not start until 1972—ushering in a period of pornos being shown in theatres. Prior to that, sex films were usually silent films under twenty minutes, shown at peep shows and in private homes. (Read more about the history of porn here.)
Contrary to Flannery’s characterizations, then, Sloat’s inability to report the facts goes beyond the date of the porn movie’s release. (But don’t dismiss that issue so quickly. If Sloat is “one of the best journalists in Cincinnati,” as Flannery claims, why can’t he get basic facts straight?)
But there’s more.
Don’t forget that Jerry Lembcke, the leading expert on the spat-upon Vietnam Veteran myth (and author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam) has been unable to ever verify a single claim of these stories—not one verification in the three million Vietnam veterans to return to the United States. In fact, Lembcke recently appeared on Air America talking about that very point:
The details here are amazing: not once, in all these millions of homecomings, did anyone ever manage to document a single incident. Not once. Combine that with the fact that the stories didn’t even start circulating until the 1980s, and you have a very interesting set of circumstances indeed.
In the audio clip above, Lembcke notes that even if some spit actually found its way near a veteran, it would be most difficult to know the spitting had anything to do with the war. Take Bill Sloat’s story, for example. Sloat and some friends were in New Orleans watching pornos, when he got spit on “near the shoulder” by a lone woman.
Did they say anything to the woman? Did they make crude remarks? Had they just walked out of a peepshow, pumping full of testosterone, spitting their own lascivious remarks in the direction of this lady?
Who knows? Besides, can we even trust Sloat’s memory, since he can’t remember years, or movie titles, or even the most simple of verifiable facts?
So ultimately, it comes down to this: either Greg Flannery is the first person to verify the story of a Vietnam veteran being spat upon, or he is taking up for his friend (perhaps as “repayment” for a five year old apology). If Flannery is doing something akin to the latter, then he owes us an apology—for his flippant dismissing of our analysis based on historical facts as well as expert research by a scholar like Jerry Lembke.
Therefore, we issue Flannery the following open letter, copied to Jerry Lembke:
Dear Mr. Flannery,
As news editor for CityBeat, you understand the nature of reporting accurate information for your readers. However, in this week’s Porkopolis, you have dismissed our story about Bill Sloat as being “conspiratorial”—despite the body of evidence which substantiates our claims.
I am copying this letter to Jerry Lembcke—author of The Spitting Image, arguably the leading expert on the spat-upon veteran mythologies.
Bill Sloat recently forwarded his own story about being a spat upon veteran, and you have given it credibility (calling our challenge to Sloat “conspiratorial”). Does that mean you have somehow verified the accuracy of Bill Sloat’s story? If so, I’m sure Jerry Lembcke would love to hear from you, as he has never been able to document a single story of this kind.
It is quite noteworthy that the news editor of a major city’s alt-weekly would give credibility to Bill Sloat’s story while calling him “the best journalist in Cincinnati.” Given your professional training, I’m sure you have something to substantiate your claims.
If not, then I think it would be clear that you have insulted our work on the basis of your personal friendship with Bill Sloat—hardly what we should expect from a news editor like yourself. And, if that is the case, given the body of evidence we have presented, you owe us a formal apology in next week’s CityBeat.
Thank you, in advance, for your time and consideration.
The Dean of Cincinnati
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