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The jury in the von David case heard from witnesses who testified about 12 rebuilt wrecks that Blue Springs Ford had sold to unsuspecting buyers. Brown says he wanted to call more witnesses, but the judge set a limit.
Brown's opening statement in the von David case went for an hour and four minutes. "I've never talked that long in my life," he tells me.
Were the Star's readers apprised of Brown's scandalous tales? No. But there was room for mention of the Ford Motor Co.'s presentation of the President's Award — two years running!
The Star story annoyed Brown. He says he had spoken to Heaster and provided the reporter with background material. Brown calls the resulting story a "god-awful whitewash" and notes that Blue Springs Ford ran a half-page advertisement in the same issue of the paper.
Brown tells me he talked to Heaster about the story after it was published. Brown says Heaster told him that sections of the story he filed were missing from the published version. Brown says Heaster read him the passages, which included a reference to previous settlements and judgments against Blue Springs Ford.
Last week, I left a voice mail for Keith Chrostowski, the editor of the business section, and sent an e-mail to Heaster. Steve Rosen, an assistant editor, responded on behalf of both. Rosen edited the story. He also spoke with Brown after its publication.
"The one thing to point out we were just trying to get a daily story in on deadline," Rosen tells me. "As far as doing anything more exhaustive on the history of Blue Springs Ford, there just wasn't time to do that."
Rosen says the story was balanced. "As you know, rulings like this often have a tendency to be appealed, and the damages are often cut way back, and we'll write about that as well, when there is another ruling."
I get that — and I'll remember to watch for when the Star covers the ruling on any appeal.
As for Brown's whitewash claim, Rosen says: "We could have chosen not to run the story at all."
That's true, too. At the same time, the Star's coverage of Blue Springs Ford reminded me of another strangely vague story involving an industry that tends to buy a lot of advertising.
In 2006, the Star published a front-page story about the questionable workmanship in relatively new and expensive homes. In its initial paragraphs, the story described a subdivision in Johnson County where 58 of the 111 homes had wood rot or similar problems. The 2,000-word piece was oddly coy in places. The builder of the 111 homes went unnamed, as did the subdivision.
Paul Wenske, the former Star reporter who wrote the story, told me at the time that in the version he originally filed, he named the builder ("Developer Phobia," December 20, 2006). But an editor decided to remove a passage in which the builder, Tom French, and the residents of the Willowbrook subdivision in Overland Park traded blame.
The story's editor, Bob Lynn, told me that the "back and forth" between French and his buyers was not germane. It was a silly comment for him to make. "Back and forth" pretty much forms the basis of daily newspaper writing. A more likely explanation, in my view, was that Star editors wanted to soften the story's blow because homebuilders buy a lot of ads. (The housing bubble has since burst, but the "Sunday Homes" section endures.)