Naked City

"Austin Inside"-r Out

Austin American-Statesman gossip columnist and music reporter Michael Corcoran has had his "Austin Inside/Out" column put on hiatus by the paper's management. In an editor's note on Tuesday, the daily wrote that "While the column has been an entertaining and unique feature ... our goal is to make sure it ... meets our standards of accuracy, fairness and tone. In recent weeks, some items in the column failed to meet those standards."

Statesman managing editor Kathy Warbelow would not comment on what those specific items were, saying only that "I think the note in the paper is a pretty clear explanation. This was a difficult decision. Michael is an extraordinarily talented writer and reporter with a unique voice. We value him and his talent and originality, but there were some cases where some items caused some problems, and we're giving the column a break."

Warbelow also would not specify the length or the terms of the hiatus. As for what changes might be made in the column to meet the "standards of accuracy, fairness and tone," she said, "I think you'll have to see that when the column returns." The column has been running every Tuesday and Saturday in the daily's Life & Arts section.

Corcoran, who began his journalism career as a music columnist for The Austin Chronicle more than 15 years ago, would not comment other than to say he considered the suspension "an internal matter at the Statesman."

One event that apparently set off the Statesman management was a blurb in Corcoran's coverage of the South by Southwest music conference on March 17. Reporting on a Texas Monthly photo shoot in which nearly 130 Austin musicians were gathered around Town Lake's Stevie Ray Vaughan statue, Corcoran wrote, "Just as at a high school cafeteria, the group chose to segregate itself, with most of the African-American and Hispanic musicians clumped in one area. When Tex Mo's assistant art director Kathy Marcus pointed to that direction and said 'There are too many coloreds over there,' meaning to say 'colors' in reference to the brightness of clothing, the group burst out laughing at her faux pas."

Marcus and Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy were none too pleased with that. Levy sent the Statesman a scathing note and Marcus fired off an e-mail complaint to Corcoran, which was followed by a meeting between Marcus, Levy, and Statesman brass.

"I sent a note to [Statesman assistant managing editor] Melissa Segrest," Levy said, "saying that once again Corcoran is being unfair to somebody. It's nothing new; he has a reputation for inaccuracy and mean-spiritedness.

"Three years ago I wouldn't have bothered to write, but the Statesman is working hard to improve. ... He's tarnishing their image, and I think they knew that."

"A lot of it had to do with the tone of the story," Marcus said of her gripe. "It told half the story. I felt like if he had called me I could have put it in better context."

Marcus said she couldn't remember exactly what she said at the photo shoot, but added, "It's funny, because Corcoran was there. He asked somebody [else] what was said, and he must have misheard them. He could have asked me. ... I was slightly embarrassed [by what I said], but not that bad. He took it out of context and made it sound racist."

Marcus said the part about the musicians segregating themselves by race was "not true" and that that part of the story "set it up to sound racist."

However, Chronicle reporter Andy Langer was at the event and described Corcoran's account of the event as "absolutely accurate."

Another factor in the suspension might have been another SXSW report from Corcoran which claimed that venerable South Austin Tex-Mex restaurant Matt's El Rancho had towed the cars of people attending a nearby SXSW event. On Saturday, "Austin Inside/Out" ran an apology: "I had incomplete information and should have checked it out better."

Despite the first-person style, Levy said he had heard the apology wasn't actually written by Corcoran. Warbelow confirmed this: "It was written by some editors here."

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Michael Corcoran, Austin American-Statesman, Mike Levy, Texas Monthly, Kathy Warbelow, South by Southwest, Kathy Marcus, Melissa Segrest, Andy Langer, Matt's El Rancho, Taco Express

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