Here’s Johnny! - No time for Time
I learned long ago that if you make a mistake on a story, it’s best to do so before it’s printed or posted.
That’s what happened when I began to work on a piece (see front page) about Versailles native Yolanda Costner and fellow state employee Cassaundra Cooper.
As noted in the start of that article, I worked with both women from 2005 to 2007, when I was communications director for then-state House Speaker Jody Richards. I didn’t know Costner well, but I saw Cooper every day at work, and we became good friends. However, until I saw Cooper’s face on the cover of Time magazine last week, I never discussed the lawsuit they filed against a state lawmaker and others for sexual assault and a hostile workplace.
When I saw a post on Cooper’s Facebook page with a picture of the cover of Time portraying “silence breakers” like Ashley Judd and Cooper as the magazine’s “person of the year,” I knew I had a good story.
Before our weekly Sun meeting on Friday, I tried to get in touch with Cooper, but we kept missing each other.
However, I was pretty sure she would talk to me (and when she eventually did, she suggested I also speak to Costner, a Versailles native).
The Sun meeting happened to be the setting for the introduction of new editor Frank Goad. I explained that I needed to keep an eye on my phone because a former coworker and friend was on the cover of Time, and I planned to interview her. Everyone seemed quite excited about the story, especially me – I mean, how often do you get to interview a Time cover subject?
Sure enough, after several false alarms, Cooper texted me about 30 minutes into the meeting. I left with the blessing of our new editor and all else.
I called her on the way back to my office and began by congratulating her on being a Time cover girl. (Or is that cover person? Or cover woman? Whatever, she wasn’t offended.)
Cooper has a great laugh, which I enjoy even when it’s at my expense.
When she stopped laughing, she said, “That’s not me.”
Well, I guess she would know.
Turns out, the woman I thought was Cooper was actually Adama Iwu, who’d begun a movement to crack down on inappropriate behavior in California state government. What I’d seen was a Facebook post by a friend of Cooper’s who thought Iwu looked a lot like her, which, especially on the Time cover, she does. Cooper hadn’t responded to the post, so I went into the Sun meeting believing that Cooper, whose story made national news in 2013 and 2014, was indeed one of Time’s silence breakers.
After Cooper broke the news, there was indeed a moment of silence – an embarrassed silence on my end.
I apologized for my mistake, but told her I still thought there was an interesting story about her reaction to the many recent claims of women about sexual misconduct by powerful men.
She forgave me, though not before trying to make me squirm by suggesting that maybe I just thought all black women look alike.
“I knew you would go there,” I replied.
She was joking, I promise, and truth be told, had the shoes been switched, I’d have done the same thing. Friends and coworkers can do that, even in today’s hyper-charged political environments.
After the interview, we reflected on the many laughs we’d had back in the day, and incidents that seemed sort of funny at the time, but less so years later, when the bad behavior escalated.
When I was working there, a state legislator who’d made his interest in Cooper quite evident once walked into her office while she was out. He took a handful of jellybeans from a jar on her desk, then turned to a couple of men (I can’t remember whether I was there or heard about it later) and said, “Tell Cassaundra I tasted her flavors.”
Another time he walked up behind her as she was looking out a window and, when asked what he was doing, replied, while staring at her, “I’m just admiring the scenery.” It wasn’t right then and it’s not right now, be the offender a state representative, U.S. senator or the president.
As for me, I’m still without a Time cover subject interview, and Cooper has yet to spend any of her settlement money on food, drink or gifts for me. However, she and Costner gave great interviews about their experiences and the way current events have affected them, and I hope you enjoy their story – and this story behind that story.
Speaking of which, if you make the cover of Time, please contact me at 873-4131, ext. 13. I’ll be waiting.