The KC Strip is the sirloin of Kansas City media, a critical cut of surmisin' steak that each week weighs in on the issues of the day, dictating its column to Pitch managing editor Tony Ortega.

Red Flags 

We tried to warn you were being big Dixies.

The Strip wonders: Is it really possible for a Pitch writer to convince the people of Kansas City:

* That its new downtown arena will be redesigned as a memorial to Confederate war dead, complete with a Confederacy Hall of Fame and a new façade in the style of a Southern plantation?

* That Confederate heritage groups plan to re-enact the deaths of six rebel soldiers killed at the hands of angry Kansas City prostitutes?

* That "Clem Bradshaw," the man behind these confederate groups, had at one time convinced the governments of Puerto Rico and Guam to allow live-ammunition Civil War re-enactments?

* That a University of Kansas "professor" who authenticated the histories of the dead soldiers for the Pitch was known for a book on the zits and blackheads of rebel troops?

* That Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes would be fighting the redesign of the arena by insisting that it reflect the city's illustrious sex-trade past?

The surprising answer, judging by the reaction to last week's satirical cover story "Rebel Hell," is that it is possible to convince at least some of your friends and neighbors of the verity of these fantastical facts.

Of course, we have to admit that not everything in the piece by "Cesar Oman" was impossibly far-fetched: The dull new arena design the city recently unveiled already resembles a contraceptive sponge, which only reinforces that the still tenant-less arena is a prophylactic public-works project.

And Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, the one who capitulated to Confederate heritage groups and allowed the flying of the Confederate battle flag over state land on June 5, really is turning out to be a bigger dumbass than we expected.

But is that any reason for the Pitch to get those points across by inventing a 3,500-word fabrication?

Sure. Why the hell not?

For those readers who were shocked, shocked, that a managing editor who each week channels the political musings of a steak patty would make up a cover story out of whole cloth, we can only offer this suggestion:

Buy a six pack of beer. Open one up. Sit down and stretch out your legs. Take a long, cool sip.

And chill.

This meaty sirloin is hearing from plenty of Pitch readers who did exactly what we expected them to. After reading a few paragraphs or a few pages into "Rebel Hell," they noticed that something wasn't right. Maybe it was the name of that book KU professor Fletcher Gray was known for: Rebel, Rebel, Your Face Is a Mess: Hygiene in the Armies of the West, 1861-65. Or maybe it was the startling notion that in only a two-month period, the remains of six Confederate soldiers would be discovered under the old UMB Bank branch, exhumed, studied and identified -- without a word to the public. Or maybe it was the over-the-top Clem Bradshaw, who declared that six whoremongering soldiers were "brave boys" who deserved to have an arena dedicated to them. Whatever it was that made readers skeptical, it sent them checking out the validity of the story.

Heidi Schallberg, operator of the smart blog "Me, My Life + Infrastructure," found soon after our paper hit the streets last Wednesday that it took almost no time at all to Google our cover story to shreds. Fletcher Gray? Didn't exist. Neither did Clem Bradshaw or his group, "Friends of the Confederacy." And for good measure, Schallberg even exhumed Cesar Oman's older "brother," Antoine, who is memorialized at the debunking site for penning a 2002 spoof about a supposed NBC reality TV show featuring vulnerable teens trying to escape raving sexual predators. Antoine's parody of bad television was published in a Los Angeles newspaper and briefly roped in several media organizations, including the Drudge Report. And if Schallberg had kept looking, she might have discovered that a third Oman brother, Rubén, created concern in Phoenix in 2003 over the fate of five fictional desert tortoise babies.

Soon after Schallberg debunked "Rebel Hell," other bloggers linked to her site, and the jig was up before most copies of the Pitch had even left their racks. Reality had set in at City Hall as well, but not before a frantic morning when, we hear, a Kansas City Star reporter hounded City Manager Wayne Cauthen for information about the nonexistent Confederate remains.

By late Thursday morning, word of the parody's true nature had spread far and wide, and the Star phoned us up as it prepared to do a story on the hoax. Poor, put-upon Cauthen, meanwhile, did Mayor Kay's dirty work and put out a press release slapping us around. Baby Blunt, meanwhile, chose to play the bully. He not only issued a press release condemning the Pitch for its fake story but also called for an advertiser boycott of the newspaper.

How pro-business of him.

Mayor Kay displayed more savvy, playing off the prank like a good sport on a Friday-morning radio show. And this impertinent porterhouse received phone calls from plenty of others who showed a healthy sense of humor after initially being taken in.

Our favorite good-natured victim was James "Spike" Speicher, a retired Army colonel who, in an e-mail, made it plain that he didn't like how much credit "Clem Bradshaw" was getting. In the parody, Bradshaw is supposed to be a nationally known leader among Confederate-heritage promoters, a man who would have the clout to force Blunt and Barnes to turn the new sports arena into some sort of rebel shrine.

Speicher told us this was a repugnant idea -- a proper burial in a cemetery was a more appropriate solution for the rebel soldiers -- and who was this Bradshaw guy, anyway? "He has done our cause a major disservice ... I have been involved in Confederate history/heritage for almost 50 years and I have never even heard of the 'Friends of the Confederacy.'"

Spike then detailed his own impressive list of accomplishments as a defender of Confederate cemeteries and told us about a startling real-life parallel to our fabricated tale: In 1993, Speicher helped lead an effort that, over several years, exhumed dozens of Confederate remains from under a South Carolina football stadium that had been built on a cemetery in 1948.

"Now, I must ask, what are Mr. Bradshaw's credentials?" Speicher asked, throwing down his challenge.

This cheeky chuck roast rang him up to let him in on the joke, and Speicher, to his credit, sounded tickled when he realized we'd made the whole thing up.

But what really intrigued us was the way Speicher answered the telephone.


Uh, Spike, just what is it that you do? "I'm a supervisory intelligence analyst. I supervise 13 intelligence analysts in the Kansas City area."

So there. If you're still feeling punked by "Rebel Hell," just keep in mind that a guy whose job it is to sift through complex intelligence information and sort truth from conjecture fell just as hard for our made-up tale.

Of course, some folks reacted to "Rebel Hell" like their morning suppositories had turned sideways and got stuck. We don't suppose it occurred to KMBZ 980's daybreak news duo, Noel Heckerson and Ellen Schenk, how they sounded Friday morning, sucking up to Barnes as they discussed the parody in grave tones and asking the mayor if the Pitch spoof might actually hold up arena construction.

"Heavens, no," Barnes said, laughing, and we laughed with her. That afternoon, we strolled over to the sweltering arena groundbreaking ceremony to watch the mayor's dog-and-pony show. While we observed the hoopla over the quarter-billion-dollar project -- which, at the moment, has plans only to host tractor pulls and arena football -- one of the city's more prominent business leaders wandered over to us.

"So where are those bodies supposed to be?" he said with a laugh. "You really stirred things up downtown yesterday."

Unsure whether this was just a friendly greeting to get us to let our guard down before he hauled off and decked us, this porterhouse shrugged and said it was just having a bit of fun.

"Hey, the Pitch is just about the only organization in this city that can have any fun," he said, and we realized that this all-business-looking bigwig really did get it.

And for just a moment, we wondered whether the most uptight metropolis in this great nation might have some potential for letting loose.

Could be. But only, we figure, if we all just keep close to our hearts the immortal words of rebel Capt. Joshua Phipps, who gave his men that eternal nugget of wisdom:

Don't vex the whores of Kansas. -- as told to Tony Ortega


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