I had an interesting experience on Wednesday: I got a phone call from the producer of G. Gordon Liddy’s radio show, asking if I could be on their show — in five minutes.
I was just sitting at my desk, so I said sure. He asked me to pull up my Stella Awards archives so I could talk about pretty much any story during the half-hour segment. No problem, I said.
If the name rings a bell, G. Gordon Liddy was a key figure in the Watergate affair, when the dirty tricks “plumbers” from the Nixon White House broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters office during Nixon’s 1972 re-election bid. The DNC’s HQ was housed in the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC.
Liddy planned the break-in and spent time in prison for his role. Liddy was a former attorney and prosecutor, as well as a bureau supervisor for the FBI, before his stint as a White House aide.
Liddy, who has had a radio show for several years, wanted to talk about silly lawsuits, he said, and the producer had found the recently issued 2007 awards on the Stella web site. I wanted to ensure he wasn’t talking about the urban legend version, which is the same every year and has been going around like wildfire (again!), so I asked him to check the “bogus” page.
Ah, that’s what got the topic started in the first place, he said — a listener had apparently sent them the same old urban legend that’s been going around for over a decade. “Good for you for checking them out first,” I congratulated. “You wouldn’t believe how many radio shows and newspaper columnists have run with the urban legend version without checking them out.”
He laughed with false indignance: “G. Gordon Liddy would never broadcast false information!” he said, adding he’d call back in a few minutes while I brought up my archives.
You’re On the Air
Sure enough, a few minutes the phone rings again, and I’m on the air with Liddy …who introduced me as “Randy Cunningham”. I got a good laugh out of that — so much for accuracy! We talked about a few cases, and he asked me how I got going with the Stella Awards.
I told the story of it being a spin-off from This is True: readers kept sending me the urban legend stories, which (because they don’t change from year to year) always culminate in the one about “Mr. Grazinski” who buys a Winnebago motor home and, on the way home, decides to go into the back to make a cup of coffee. (Gee: I didn’t know motor homes came equipped with food!)
The hapless Grazinski, the story goes, turns on the cruise control and walks into the back. The “Winnie” of course crashes and is totally destroyed. The unrestrained passenger not only survives without a scratch but, the story goes, he sues and wins $1.75 million — and a brand-new motor home.
Funny story, but it’s — well, obviously! — fake. Winnebago Industries is so sick and tired of getting questions about it that for many years, they linked to the Stella Awards site from their contact page. If the point is that there’s an issue with frivolous lawsuits in this country (I told Liddy), then why do the “awards” illustrate the issue with fake cases?
So after This is True readers sent me about 100 copies of the urban legend version of the Stellas, in 2002 I finally decided enough was enough: I knew there were enough real cases of frivolous lawsuits to illustrate the problem, and I created the True Stella Awards to publish them. The idea: to put out recent and true cases, not old made-up ones, to give people real talking points. And in fact, I managed to fill an entire book with the stories.
Liddy was fascinated, and agreed whole-heartedly. By then it was time for a commercial break. The producer popped on the phone to ask how things were going, and I asked him if he could tell Liddy my correct name (“Cunningham” is a common error, and it does get tiresome). He said sure, and then we were back on the air. The producer had brought up a story on the thisistrue.com archives, which Liddy proceeded to read with great glee, and then another one, and seemed to find my little weird-but-true news stories even more interesting than the Stella Awards, so we finished up talking about that, with him busting into laughter.
“You ought to sign up, folks,” he concluded. “It’s really amusing, and it’s all true!” And he signed off the segment by “correcting” my name: “Katz-und-haam, from the original German.” I realized I had been had by the producer, who fed Liddy a bogus pronunciation. I wondered why — I was completely puzzled until a reader gave me the punch line a few minutes later.
And You’re Clear
“I heard you on the Liddy show,” wrote Charles in Alabama shortly after I got off the air. “I was about to call in to tell them they were reading the fake Stella Awards until you popped on the air with him and told the real story. Good to hear someone got it right by calling you!”
And it all fell into place: I downloaded a copy of the show and listened to the half-hour segment before I was on, and found Liddy’s previous guest was from the American Tort Reform Association. Liddy indeed read the same, old, fake urban legend Stellas on the air, and the “expert” from ATRA didn’t even seem to know that the cases were fake! Astounding.
So Liddy’s producer, Ferdinand, had gotten revenge for my revealing on the air that Liddy was reading fake cases by getting Liddy to mispronounce my name. That’s OK, though: I got the last laugh. And the whole time, I don’t think Liddy (who’s now 77 years old) even noticed.
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Liddy retired from his radio show in 2012, at age 81.