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Rocky columnist Bill Johnson's Error Jackpot

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Errors aren't exactly alien to Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson -- yet he outdid himself with "Woman's Flag Upside Down, As Are Neighbors' Responses," a piece that ran on July 11.

The column revolves around Beth Hammer, a 64-year-old Wheat Ridge resident who's in dutch with her home-owner's association because of her insistence upon flying an American flag upside down as a protest against the war in Iraq. The subject's a good one that's already in the midst of going national, and Johnson does his best to wring the obvious irony from it. Unfortunately, though, he didn't get some of his facts straight, as is spelled out by a mammoth correction that appeared in the July 12 edition and is now attached to the column online.

Here's the botch recap:


This column should have said that Beth Hammer of Wheat Ridge did not hang up a flag in her Cambridge Park development until March 19. Also, the column should have noted that the knocks on the door and the threats she received for flying the American flag upside down occurred at her previous residence in Lakewood; that there was only one incidence of stealing from her Cambridge Park patio; and that the police paid her only one visit there based on an anonymous phone call. Finally, the column should have said Hammer intends to continue to fly the flag with the union down until she is forced by a ruling, a fine or on advice from her attorney to do otherwise.

For those of you scoring at home, that's five screw-ups in a single, 879-word offering. Then again, no close observer of Johnson's work should be dumbfounded by such a showing. After all, he's been down this road before, as the Message has documented. In December 1999, he 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.

Such a parade of gaffes would have threatened Johnson's continued employment at many newspapers, yet Rocky editor John Temple has long defended the scribe, and that's not going to change. After all, Johnson was recently named the nation's best columnist at a daily paper with a circulation of over 100,000 by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists based on his coverage of a Fort Carson combat squadron's return home. An article touting the contest, in which Tina Griego, Johnson's fellow Rocky columnist, placed second, can be found here.

This plaudit guarantees that Johnson isn't going anywhere, no matter how many quintuple-mistake columns he pens. Talk about job security. -- Michael Roberts

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