Star Tribune offends internet with race allusion in Obama headline

Local daily gets the headline blues

It was supposed to be a harmless little story about pancakes.

Last Thursday, Star Tribune reporter Mark Brunswick rushed from the state capitol to the Copper Dome restaurant in St. Paul to catch presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama as he ordered a three-dollar pancake breakfast to go.

For a story about little more than flour, Brunswick's piece wasn't that bad. Too bad the headline—"Guess who's coming for breakfast: Obama in St. Paul"—ruined it all.

The title was a play on the 1967 award-winning film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a story about a white woman bringing her black fiancé home, says Doug Tice, the political editor at the Strib who wrote the headline, which appeared online.

"It was an allusion, as I saw it, to the presidential candidate, a powerful symbol to a continuing change in race relations in this country," says Tice.

But it seems the public just wasn't ready to be reminded that Obama is, indeed, black. In no time at all, the entire internet had unleashed its fury. Brunswick got e-mails about the piece saying it was demeaning and wrong. The headline was later changed and appeared online and in print as the blander: "Obama in St. Paul: Silk stockings and buttermilk pancakes."

"I don't understand the reaction, really...but [the headline] seemed to be the distraction and that was not the intention," Tice says. "We decided rather than debate it, we'd change it so people didn't take it the wrong way." —Beth Walton

Revenge, served cold

In the spring of 2003, a recently laid-off telecom engineer named James Krutchen started telling anyone who would listen that his former employer, Onvoy Inc., a small St. Louis Park-based phone company, was helping MCI carry out a massive fraud against AT&T.

Krutchen claimed that MCI rerouted its customers' long-distance calls through Onvoy's pipeline, tricking AT&T into handling the calls and paying the requisite access fees.

Soon thereafter, the Justice Department launched an investigation and the U.S. General Services Administration barred MCI from bidding on federal contracts. AT&T sued both MCI and Onvoy for fraud and racketeering, eventually settling on secret terms.

When Onvoy managers realized that Krutchen was the man responsible for the calamity befalling them, they convened a press conference. They accused Krutchen of being a glory-seeking chronic underperformer, and declared themselves the victims of "corporate terrorism."

Fast forward to late 2007: In a brutal twist of fate, a venture capital firm buys both Onvoy and Krutchen's new employer, leaving Krutchen to work under the very people whose careers he'd nearly destroyed four years earlier.

Two months later, Krutchen visited the Twin Cities on vacation. While in town, he stopped by to visit the Onvoy headquarters. A couple hours later, he says, came a phone call from his boss: The excursion to his old worksite constituted insubordination, so he was fired.

In June, Krutchen sued his employer, now named the Zayo Group, for breach of contract, defamation, and violating whistleblower laws.

"It took them a while," says Krutchen's lawyer, John Thompson, "but they got their payback."

The Zayo Group has yet to file an answer to the complaint, and General Counsel Christopher Yost, reached by phone, declined to comment on pending litigation. Jonathan Kaminsky

Smells like spruce up spirit

With the Republican National Convention a mere two weeks away, local officials are urging us to get our shit together with the "Spruce Up MSP" campaign.

"The eyes of the nation and the world will soon be upon us and it is time for all of us to do our part to prepare to host this historic event," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman robotically intoned via a press release.

On Saturday, local residents who have nothing else to do will take part in Spruce Up Volunteer Day, which will entail polishing windows, sweeping streets, cleaning parks, and hiding the homeless under giant yellow ribbons. The Minnesotan who shows the most "spruce up spirit" will win tickets to three of the Republican Party's bitchin' parties. Matt Snyders

5 Tips for Showing Your Spruce Up Spirit

• Remove “Fuck Bush” graffiti from sidewalk

• Cover foreclosure signs with American flags

• Remind children not to snicker at Cheney's first name

• Replace park pigeons with bald eagles

• Remove Gore 2000 sign from lawn

 
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