Blunders and grace

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Congratulations to doglover11 for winning a copy of my book Blue Ridge Reunion in the Great Blunders Contest! How embarrassing that must have been: a kind bank teller admired for giving doggy treats to customers with pets. But that furry friend in the car on the third drive-in lane turned out to be the driver’s wife. Ouch!  If doglover11 will email me at with his or her address I will send out a signed copy of my book, which, by the way, will be featured tonight during a meeting of The Carolina Club in Chapel Hill.

One of my major on-air blunders was about a major league baseball player and I felt absolutely horrible about it. We had a call from CBS that Hall of Fame pitcher and Tar Heel native Jim "Catfish" Hunter had died. That was in the summer of 1999. We knew that Hunter was seriously ill with Lou Gehrig's disease. Our assignment team quickly checked several sources and felt good about going with the story during a morning cut-in report during the eight o'clock hour. I was the anchor who read the report. Jeff Gravley was listening at home when I announced it. He took the news to a local civic club that morning. Trouble was, Catfish Hunter was not dead. A family friend called me in the newsroom and said: "He seemed to be doing better last night.” Somehow, CBS had a bad source and the report of Hunter’s death was premature. He would pass away within the next month. How do you retract something like that? Well, my policy has always been to own up to your mistakes and try to show as much sensitivity as possible. That was a rough day. I will never forget it.

When I was in radio news in Houston I did some voice-over work on the side. I became friends with the owner of a production company. He started talking about his family. He seemed to speak with pride about his artistic son. I went on and on about how wonderful it must be to have an artistic son. I even quoted my grandmother who always spoke glowingly of my dad’s artistic talents. My comments were followed by a long and deafening silence. My friend said: “You’ve got it wrong, Bill. I said ‘autistic’ and not ‘artistic.’ My son is autistic.” I wanted to climb into a cave and never come out.

Tomorrow I will tell you the story of a new friend who is both autistic and artistic. It is a wonderful story with international flair. In the meantime, how do you handle apologies when you make a serious social blunder? How do you gracefully retreat and smooth ruffled feathers? Please share your thoughts.

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