News Hits

Mar 8, 2000 at 12:00 am

News lapse

The story of a Detroit News employee charged with fondling two teenage boys has been hot copy since the man’s arrest in late February. What makes it such a sensational piece are police claims that the man, 55-year-old James Thompson of Southfield, has admitted having relations with hundreds of boys over the last 35 years. According to a Detroit Free Press story, Thompson has been a subject of police scrutiny since the late ‘70s. He was reportedly arrested once, for indecent exposure, and questioned at least four times, most recently in 1998 after a 17-year-old said Thompson was stalking him at swim meets.

Given that, it’s not surprising that the News appears to be downplaying the fact that Thompson wrote a column that some former staff members say attracted teenage boys like a magnet.

Thompson, who was fired last week after a 20-year career at the News, mostly worked as an assistant who compiled statistics for the sports department. But he also wrote a column about professional wrestling, using the pseudonym M.L. Curly.

While the News reported that it has fully cooperated with the police (who last week downloaded hundreds of files from Thompson’s office computer), its official position, as expressed by News deputy managing editor Nolan Finley, is that investigators have found no specific links between Thompson’s job and any sexual encounters.

Moreover, News publisher and editor Mark Silverman was quoted in his paper last week saying, "Thompson’s job primarily involved compiling sports statistics for publication. His job did not take him out of the newsroom. Basically, he was a clerk."

It was left up to the Free Press to quote Farmington Hills Police Chief William Dwyer’s observation that, "I think to a certain degree, his job gave him an opportunity to meet young boys."

What hasn’t been reported anywhere are the accounts of former News sports department staffers who say there was open concern expressed about Thompson and his column.

Mike McBride, fired after he went out on strike at the News in 1995, told Metro Times that Thompson’s column was frequently a matter of discussion in the sports department.

"I worked with Jim Thompson for almost 20 years up until the strike," says McBride, who now works in corporate communications. "When I’d fill in for Jim on his nights off, he did get a lot of calls from young boys. It was not unusual to get a half-dozen calls a night (from boys) looking for M.L. Curly."

The pseudonym itself was an inside joke stemming from Thompson’s "fanatic" attraction to the Three Stooges – Moe, Larry and Curly.

McBride also disputes Silverman’s contention that the job did not take Thompson out of the office, saying that he would be called to fill in for Thompson whenever there was a professional wrestling match taking place in the Detroit area. "It’s like saying someone covered the Tigers without going to any baseball games," is the way he put it.

"My concern in retrospect," continues McBride, "is that many of us questioned what was going on, questioned why he was allowed to continue writing his column ..."

Deputy managing editor Finley, after checking with sports editor Phil Laciura, told MT that no complaints were ever raised about Thompson’s column and that there was no reason to believe it was used as a way to meet boys. However, two other former sports department staffers – both of whom went out as strikers and have not returned – echoed McBride’s claim.

"We kept getting all these phone calls at the office from teenagers," says one. "Members of our staff ... told a few supervisors that they should take this column away from him if they had any reservations about his character. The response was basically laughter, even when some of us with children sort of said they wouldn’t think it was funny if one of their kids were on the other end of the phone line."

Said another former staff member, "We all knew this was a weird dude. His supervisors should have known, too. And if they didn’t, they were pretty fucking stupid."

Big John's loss

Last week we printed Jim Dulzo’s piece about the EPA’s attempt to stop Midwestern companies, including several in the Detroit area, from fouling the East Coast’s air. The Engler administration, not surprisingly, is siding with the polluters.

Just after the story appeared, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided in favor of the EPA. Upon learning of the ruling, environmentalist Alex Sagady posted this observation on the Enviro-Mich listserve that he runs: "John Engler and MDEQ Director Russ Harding thus lose a round in their battle on behalf of dirty old power plants in Michigan and other Midwest states. Too bad (Attorney General) Jennifer Granholm has to have them as their clients."