Yesterday, Orange County Register subscribers opened up their newspaper and saw something unfamiliar: a black man. Kidding!
(No, not really, given the county's embarrassingly low African-American community.)
Actually, who they saw was Bill Johnson, a former columnist for the Reg during the 1990s who made a name for himself in Denver as an award-winning columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post and is now back at Grand Avenue, ready to give voice to the voiceless. That's the spin, at least, that the regime of owner Aaron Kushner is pushing out to its readers.
But even a cursory Google search finds that Johnson's time in Denver was usually under a cloud of controversy involving factual errors and outright fabrications--including one notorious column that involved Johnson's previous days at the Register that's either an outright lie, or an embarrassing display of ignorance of the county he's now supposed to cover three times a week.
Here a paragraph summarizing some of Johnson's fuckups, as long chronicled by our sister paper in Denver, Westword, in a story criticizing Johnson for a column that had five errors in it:
In December 1999, [Johnson] published a column based on a letter from a dead cop who turned out to be a fictional Internet creation. In July 2005, he published a column mentioning an anti-abortion protester who'd supposedly threatened his life over a two-year period when he lived in Southern California; the following September, in a followup piece, he conceded that he couldn't prove he'd written about this incident, as he'd claimed in print. And in January 2006, he wrote a column in which he said he'd witnessed a wacky incident prior to a Denver Broncos-Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game when he actually saw it on TV -- something the Rocky acknowledged in a correction the following month.
About that abortion column: Johnson claimed in a 2005 piece that an anti-abortion protestor who had threatened to kill him after he wrote about her while working as a Register columnist was in Denver and spooked him out.
"The woman from Fullerton Road in Southern California is here this week," Johnson wrote then. "At least I am almost certain it is her. I used to pass her every morning on my way to work, a woman who stood on a street corner outside an abortion clinic virtually in the shadows of Disneyland holding high these same pictures of aborted fetuses."
Of course, any Orange County resident who read that paragraph immediately knows what a crock of shit it is. Fullerton Road is not in Orange County, there are no abortion clinics off of Fullerton Road, and even if there were, Fullerton Road--whose closest point to Orange County is when it's in La Habra Heights--is about as "virtually in the shadows of Disneyland" as San Clemente.
When pressed on this discrepancy by Westword writer Michael Roberts (the Moxley of Denver), Johnson admitted that he couldn't find a copy of the column that supposedly set off this woman (nor does it show up on the Lexis-Nexis database that keeps such records) but insisted the woman existed, telling Roberts that he believed "if you go by that Fullerton abortion clinic, that woman is still standing outside every morning."
Of course, any Orange County resident who read that sentence immediately knows what a crock of shit it is. There are no abortion clinics in Fullerton, a fact Johnson eventually admitted to Roberts. Johnson had to issue a mea culpa over the whole mess but wasn't disciplined by the Rocky Mountain News, which no longer exists.
Interestingly, Johnson devoted his first Register column to something that no longer exists in Orange County: the old-school Disneyland sign. He finally found the shadows!
Johnson eventually left the News for the Post after the former folded, but left the Post under mysterious circumstances last year. "Bill was looking to do something else and I think he felt he had run his course as a columnist," the Post's editor told Roberts. "I respect his decision to walk away."
Code for: we wanted his ass outtta there.
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And now Johnson pops up in OC, suddenly refreshed, suddenly wanting to get back on the columnist course? Um, yeah...so we'll leave you with the words of Roberts on Johnson:
The Rocky continues to provide Johnson with a prime slot in its pages, and he regularly rewards the tabloid with mistake after mistake after mistake. In one [column] about Johnson blunders, I wondered if the columnist keeps getting away with such mediocrity because he has nude photos of Rocky executives. At this point, though, I suspect that his superiors have simply tuned out his sad pattern of factual offenses. If that's the case, readers are being punished, while Johnson continues to get off scot-free.
Have fun, Reg readers! And Bill: we'll be watching...