Oct. 15, 2013 — The murder of a Susanville man receives national coverage at 9 p.m. this Friday when Dateline NBC airs a two-hour special on the Wallin-Reed murder trial. Northeastern California news on the national stage — I can sympathize with the families whose stories will be blasted across the airwaves.
When my uncle, Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, died in 2002 and two of his three children announced the Hall of Famer’s remains would be cryogenically preserved, that harsh, national spotlight landed right on me, and I am eternally grateful for the advice I received from Dave Moller, then the newspaper’s managing editor, who reminded me I could always decline to comment on what I felt was essentially a private, family matter.
Within days of my uncle’s death, his oldest daughter, Bobby-Jo, filed a lawsuit to have Ted’s remains cremated and scattered over the deep water of the Florida Keys as he requested in his will, and the family’s struggle over my uncle’s remains became a national media storm that swirled, it seemed, at the corner of my desk.
My phone lit up like a burning Christmas tree with calls — mostly reporters from the Boston, New York and Florida newspapers and book authors — seeking comment. Frankly, I felt completely intimidated and terrorized because the national media can be pretty aggressive, and they were very good at trying to drag a comment out of me by asking all sorts of leading and hypothetical questions. They don’t like taking no for an answer, and they were trying to start a nasty, family feud between my cousins and me.
Through it all I steadfastly stuck to my mantra — no comment, it’s a family matter, we’ll work it out. To their credit, most of the writers quoted me accurately or didn’t quote me at all, and eventually media inquires stopped.
Of course, I had to endure all the Tedsicle jokes from the late night talk show hosts, but those quickly wore out, too.
In 2009, Larry Johnson, a former executive with Alcor, the company that preserves my uncle’s remains, wrote a controversial book, “Frozen,” and the swarm of media requests for comment commenced again.
I still refused.
Then Fox Sports got into the act, and they even shared baseball playoff predictions they said they had obtained from Ted’s frozen head — complete with a graphic of an open freezer door with Ted’s head sitting next to cartons of ice cream and a wrapped frozen roast. Hey, the spineless folks at Fox Sports didn’t even have the courage or the decency to respond to my emails requesting information about that hateful segment.
“Ted Williams’ frozen noggin is back in the headlines, but a little freezer burn can’t prevent his playoff picks. And that’s way cool,” they wrote.
No, it isn’t, and I’m still ticked off about that one. I hope no one who works for that network ever has the misfortune of meeting me.
Then a year or so ago, I got a call from a Canadian television network regarding a series they were producing, called “The Will,” that focused on the controversy surrounding the estates of famous people, including my uncle. I again declined to comment.
The network sent me an advance copy of the Ted Williams episode. While they got the story mostly right, they created and dramatized events that just never happened. I had to laugh out loud when I realized I was being portrayed as a short, fat, bald guy!
So I really cringed when I read comments made by Dateline’s Keith Morrison included in today’s newspaper.
“It’s a very rich story in that it presents two sides of a kind of a stand-your-ground idea,” Morrison said. “We’re dealing with an important issue of whether or not we can really defend ourselves with a weapon.”
I’m sure Friday night will be a very difficult one for all the families on all sides of this tragic incident as their stories become sensational fodder by some faraway folks who never again have to look them in the eye or set foot in our community.
Thankfully, the glare of the national media spotlight will fade.
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