By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Get a grip
Buzz hates being one of those guys -- commonly known as "losers" or "dateless" -- who laboriously explain jokes. Unfortunately, some people -- commonly known as "clueless" or "Judge Darlene Whitten" -- did not get, or did not appreciate, the joke behind the news story "Stop the madness," which appeared in last week's Dallas Observer. The story by staff writer Rose Farley purported to be about a 6-year-old Denton County girl who was hauled before Whitten in handcuffs and leg irons for writing a report about the children's book Where the Wild Things Are. Whitten ordered the girl jailed, Farley wrote.
Here's a clue for our cerebrally challenged readers who thought the story was real: It wasn't. It was a joke. We made it up. Not even Judge Whitten, we hope, would throw a 6-year-old girl in the slammer for writing a book report. Not yet, anyway.
Why did we publish a spoof in a space normally reserved for straight-up news stories? The answer is that while 6-year-old girls are safe so far from the clutches of Denton County justice, 13-year-old boys aren't. In late October, Whitten ordered Ponder High School seventh-grader Christopher Beamon confined to the county juvenile detention facility because he wrote a Halloween horror story about sniffing Freon and shooting classmates and a teacher. He was hauled out of school and spent five days in kiddie jail.
The reaction at the Observer was that this was an outrageous, idiotic abuse of power. OK, we didn't express it quite that that way. "Whoa, dude, that's fucked up," is closer to what was said. Luckily for us, we work for a newspaper that lets us ridicule the ridiculous. Farley, grinning like a rottweiler about to bite a baby, drew the writer's sharpest weapon, satire, and set out to make a few points.
Whitten and Denton County District Attorney Bruce Isaacks didn't much like that. We made up "quotes" from both of them, along with several others. Silly quotes. Obviously fictitious quotes. We even made up an organization, God-Fearing Opponents of Freedom (GOOF), that made it clear that the story was just that, a goof.
Isaacks is threatening to sue. Whitten is too, unless we apologize, remove the Observer from all of its 2,000-plus racks, and hold a news conference retracting the story. Not a chance. We'll keep laughing. Go pick on someone your own size -- a 12-year-old, say.
Isaacks' and Whitten's chief complaint is that some people might believe "Stop the madness" because we intended to fool our readers. We didn't. A few people apparently were fooled, but if our satire was too close to reality, then the problem is with reality. If some people find it believable that a juvenile court judge would jail a 6-year-old girl for writing about a children's picture book, it's because that same judge jailed a 13-year-old boy.
Now, Buzz hates children as much as the next person, as long as that next person is W.C. Fields. But even we draw the line at jailing kids for doing their homework -- chiefly because it costs too much money to house the little chowhounds at state expense. But beyond that, we wonder: Have adults so lost their grip on how they're supposed to discipline, instruct, and manage their children that we need the criminal justice system to intervene? Couldn't someone just have given Beamon a good beating? No?
ó Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams