Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson has a well-founded reputation for factual sloppiness. This More Messages blog spotlights a July 11 Johnson offering with five separate botches and includes links to previous Message columns about several even more memorable trips he took to the inaccuracy minefield. As a result, the gaffe at the center of the September 29 Johnson effort headlined "As Man Freed From Gitmo, Lawyer Thinks of Other 700" is hardly surprising. But it again raises a key question: Given that Johnson has demonstrated his proclivity for embarrassing stumbles over a series of years, why is the Rocky still putting up with them?
The Gitmo column focuses on John Holland, a local civil-rights attorney who recently won freedom for Mohamed Al Amin, who had been held for six years without charge at Guantanamo. Johnson interviewed Holland, the father of Westword staff writer Adam Cayton-Holland, allowing him to expound at length on the most recent case, as well as on his determination to "separate the terrorist wheat from the innocent chaff in the true light of the legal system."
So what's the problem? Johnson wrote about how Holland had traveled to Mozambique to meet with Amin's family and government officials in an effort to gain the man's release. He also noted that Amin had been turned over to Mozambique authorities on September 26. But the country was actually Mauritania, which is located across the African continent from Mozambique. (Mauritania is in the northwest; Mozambique is in the southeast.) Moreover, the Rocky published a September 28 article about Holland by reporter Sue Lindsey that accurately identified the country as Mauritania.
Is Johnson incapable of distinguishing between countries in Africa that start with the letter "M"? Does he have the same problem telling the difference between, say, Minnesota and Montana? Hard to tell. Still, 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.
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In one Message piece 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. -- Michael Roberts