G. Gordon Stella

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.

Infamous

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.

Uh Huh

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.

– – –

Liddy retired from his radio show in 2012, at age 81.

13 Comments on “G. Gordon Stella

  1. The Liddy story is funny. Kind of weird is the fact that “Randy Cunningham” was a Viet Nam Navy Phantom Jet Ace who went on to politics and was elected to California’s 44th, 50th, and 51st Districts in the House of Representatives. After almost 15 years as a rep. he was forced to resign as part of a plea agreement on tax evasion, bribery, mail fraud, & wire fraud charges.

    Maybe Liddy could relate to him. He seemed to go by “Randall” professionally, but he was “Randy” or “Duke” to his friends. Here’s his Wikipedia entry. He is still in prison. -rc

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  2. 4 /12 years in prison wasn’t nearly enough for the criminal G. Gordon Liddy, who continued his vile practices when he got out. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._Gordon_Liddy#White_House_years for the foul details.

    That section relates what he did to get sentenced to prison, not what he did after he got out. As far as I can see he wasn’t doing anything particularly vile after prison (related in the next section). I presume you’re not speaking of his reversion to Catholicism. -rc

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  3. It was the *BOGUS* Stella Awards that brought me to the “This Is True” website a couple of years ago. I Googled “Stella Awards” after receiving the same email from the same person two years in a row (she must have had a short memory!) and I was sure I had been sent the same email from different people several times in the preceding several years. After perusing the website for a while, I was convinced of its value, and signed up for the free newsletter. I upgraded to Premium about a year ago, but still keep my free subscription so I can forward it to my friends when they send me the BOGUS Awards. I hate to see my (otherwise intelligent) friends beguiled by false urban legends.

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  4. Since I know there is a well-deserved place in hell reserved for G. Gordon Liddy I hope you didn’t give him a Get of Hell Free card.

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  5. People not knowing the difference between real and fake lawsuits does not surprise me. I have had very intense conversations with people who just insist that these bogus stories are true, and they don’t want to hear about the truth behind the original Stella case. Even when I direct them to This is True they come back with “Yeah, well who is HE (Randy) to say what’s really true?”

    Sigh.

    They would rather trust an anonymously written, indiscriminately forwarded email than someone who is willing to back up their statements with citations. It makes me embarrassed to call them family.

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  6. “You know lawyers are expensive.” That was a great moment…did you catch the double meaning there as you said it?

    You mean, did I know that he was himself a lawyer, and that he had had huge needs for lawyers in his past? You bet. 🙂 If you meant something else, let me know and I’ll update this. -rc

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  7. I’m a big fan of this is true and the stella awards. I just read this post, and remembered that my drivers ed instructor handed out the bogus stella awards during my class last year. Does anybody do research anymore?

    Some do, and I respect them for it. But it is astounding how few bother — astounding because of how absurdly easy it is these days. -rc

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  8. I have spent most of my career overseas, far from home. My family and I have corresponded frequently, particularly my mother and I. From the moment email essentially replaced letter writing, she has very often sent me stories she considers interesting, including those ubiquitous urges to “forward this to everyone in the world and all who have come and gone” messages.

    Several years ago, I made it a habit to try to verify these “stories” by visiting sites such as Snopes (and of course, http://www.stellaawards.com), among others. Frustratingly, even after explaining this to her and giving her the reference for it (carefully and with as much tact as I can muster), Mom still sends me these annoying messages. People seem to WANT to believe the worst, and will not attempt to verify. Odd when one considers there is more than enough real stupidity and downright badness in the world.

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  9. While I generally disagree with Liddy’s politics, I don’t see the point of attacking him here. If he can tour with Timothy Leary, and if he can be friendly with Al Franken (and defended him from being shouted down, we should just accept him for who his is – it’s not as if he’s pretending to be someone he’s not – and have a little fun.

    I presume you’re speaking of the comments by “Jim, Santa Barbara” and “Tim, Fresno”. I knew Liddy toured with Leary, but didn’t know he was friends with Franken. Still, obviously I knew who Liddy was when the call came in, and I indeed approached it the way you suggested. I am surprised by the anger some still hold for him. -rc

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  10. Randy, you’re right about it being absurdly easy to do research nowadays. I was thinking about it just yesterday, how vastly different it is now compared to before the mid-90’s, and it’s improving almost noticeably every day. Now I know why people live longer nowadays; they want to see what tomorrow brings. 🙂

    One big problem, though, is that many people are poor at discrimination and critical thinking, and thus can’t tell the difference between the real thing and the fakes which typically have glaring flaws. And then there are the, well, airheads (substitute with politically-correct term) who could care less if it’s real or not. And, it’s very easy to find crap on the Internet.

    I’ve very pointedly (after “politely” and “pointedly” failed) told a couple of people that they were sending drivel, and not to send any more drivel, and I suspect that they are merely excluding me from the list now.

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  11. FWIW, the recording of your interview is also available as a podcast via iTunes. Since I’m much more likely to listen to an MP3 that I can add to my library with just a click and sync to my iPod with a second click, I thought others might appreciate knowing about this link, too.

    Especially if the other one goes away [which it did]. Thanks! -rc

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  12. What do G. Gordon Liddy and (former) Governor Elliot Spitzer have in common? High-priced hookers and politicians! That the politicians in question are all Democrats is parenthetical this time, but hard to not mention.

    Y’see the Watergate break-in was not about reading campaign strategy reports from the DNC’s file cabinets, as most assume.** Yes, it was during an election cycle, so people can choose to believe that if they wish.

    Liddy’s “Plumbers” went into the Watergate to bug one particular phone. The phone was in a smallish office with one desk and a door that closed. The phone was said to be for use by visiting Democrat big-wigs to place reservations with the pimps and madams of high priced out-call services. Had the expected fruit of that tap been leaked to the Washington Post there would also have been a Pulitzer in this event, but a decidedly different antagonist.

    Who would suspect the 1972 Democrats of such a thing? Why the (now) saintly John Dean, for one. Quite soon after the initial arrests, “John” er, that is: John, married one of those (alleged) madams.

    Y’see, as his new wife, Maureen Biner-Dean was not allowed to testify against him. She did however look quite smashing sitting behind him in a short skirt when he was a witness at the Watergate hearings.

    **See “Silent Coup” 1992. Called one of “the most boring conspiracy books ever written” by the Washington Post; GGL will tell you he finds the reasoning in that book, compelling.

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  13. Unfortunately, the MP3 is no longer available at the link you posted (imagine that — only 4 years later!) and it doesn’t seem to exist in iTunes anymore either. I don’t suppose you still have a copy that you can post somewhere?

    No, sorry. I assume it’s long gone now. -rc

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