behind the news

‘Lost and found’ follow-up

Our writer responds to his critics
December 21, 2012

Editors’ note: It has come to our attention that Marcy, the subject of Bruce Porter’s article, “Lost and found,” in the November/December issue, was unhappy about having her saga retold in CJR, and claims that it repeated a number of factual errors from Porter’s original Newsweek piece on Marcy in 1967. She declined to submit a list of her specific complaints for publication, but we have made certain revisions to the story and asked Porter to respond.

I’m sadder than your audience might presume that Marcy is upset over the CJR piece, and that she views a story about her success in life after such a traumatic early experience as anything less than a testimonial to her strength of character and perseverance.

The vehemence of her complaint does come as a surprise, considering the long hours of pleasurable conversation Dan Loewenthal and I had with her in 2011, when we first met her and she agreed to cooperate in a film about her life story. During that first meeting, she expressed unhappiness with the original Newsweek piece, as well as the Flint Journal’s resurrecting, at my instigation, the story once again. However, once we got past that, she still agreed to participate in the documentary as long as she would be compensated for her effort.

Marcy received $500 to begin cooperating with the documentary, and she signed a standard release giving us the right to use her in the film and her the right to approve the final version. There was no provision in the agreement to withhold her name or that of her family members. Indeed, during that first meeting, she provided Dan with the name and address of her son in California. A few weeks later, Dan went out there to talk to him about participating in the film, obtained a release from him, and then returned to LA that June to film him talking about his life growing up with his mother.

After the first meeting with Marcy in January 2011, and after a lot of phone conversations, Dan and a producer and co-producer returned to Flint in May 2011. They spent several days filming Marcy’s account of her life, and she also provided them with some 50 family photographs to use in the documentary.

I viewed the story I wrote for CJR as encompassed by the agreement to do the documentary, and as a way to possibly drum up publicity to get some funding.

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Concerning the question of factual errors: I don’t have a copy of the old City Directory of Flint, but if Marcy says there are two n’s in Bachman, her maiden name, I apologize for the mistake. In any case, everything that appears in the old Newsweek story comes from the notes of my conversation with Marcy, which miraculously survived for 45 years. There were actually two of us taking notes that day, me and Paul Zimmerman, Newsweek’s film critic, now deceased, who went along to help me write everything down as accurately as possible. When she pointed out in our 2011 talk that she was 19 in 1967 and not 17, and that she didn’t even know what the drug STP was, I included that in the CJR story.

Finally, to the matter of my less than commendable attempt to shield Marcy from further publicity by misleading the Flint Journal the week after we found her: What I should have done when the Journal reporter called to ask if we had found Marcy was confide in the reporter that yes, we had, and that she was living back in Flint, and then try to explain why another story wasn’t such a good idea at that moment.

Unfortunately, I did not do that. Having witnessed Marcy’s unhappiness over the fact the Journal had given everyone in Flint the link to her 1967 radio interview (which, by the way, has been out there on the Web since the 1990s, and is the subject of two rock songs by a Swedish techno group), I endeavored, without directly lying, to lead the reporter to believe she had not returned to Flint, and was still married and living in Hawaii.

The paper, of course, published a story saying just that, and Marcy was understandably outraged. The paper then published another story about how it had been deceived, by a journalism professor no less. I apologized, but the damage was done.

This episode will always stay with me as an incomprehensible lapse in judgment, albeit one with good intentions. To my mind, though, it had nothing to do with the story I wrote for CJR, which ended when our search for Marcy ended on her doorstep in Flint. And the editors at CJR knew nothing about it.

Again, I wish to apologize to Marcy for anything we’ve done to make her upset. I hope she will reconsider her recent decision to pull out of the documentary; not only would the film tell the story of a brave and remarkable woman, but also provide insight into 1960s America, an important era that is slowly fading from public view.

Bruce Porter is the author of Blow. He is working on a book for St. Martin’s Press about a woman who was kidnapped by guerillas in Colombia while working as an undercover operative for the DEA.