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January 19, 2014

Locals disagree with Vanity Fair portrayal

DUNCAN — Vanity Fair magazine has published a rather bleak picture of Duncan in its latest issue, which features a lengthy story about the slaying last year of Christopher Lane, the Australian who came to Oklahoma to play college baseball.

The article, written by Buzz Bissinger, best known for his book “Friday Night Lights,”  has lots of people talking, mostly because of its dismal portrait of Duncan.


“Duncan, Oklahoma, takes pride in its homespun image and churchgoing values — though, like many American towns, its soul has been swallowed by chain stores and fast-food restaurants.

 “The old Rock Island tracks literally divide the haves and have-nots, in an increasingly unbridgeable split.”

The article contains details about events the purportedly led up to the slaying of  Christopher Lane, including the driveby killing of a donkey, and provides an unblinking portrayal of the three young murder suspects, who have been charged with capital murder.

 Lane, 22, came to the United States because of his love for baseball and then fell in love with a young woman from Duncan. He was killed while jogging just after returning from Australia with his girlfriend.

Despite the vivid writing, District Attorney Jason Hicks said the article angered him.

“I read part of it,” he said. “I got so mad, I didn’t finish it. It’s completely unfair to the people in this community.”

Duncan Mayor Gene Brown has not yet read the article but heard the buzz surrounding its, which spread through town faster than the flu.

“They need to know about the positive things in our community,” the mayor said. “There’s more positives than negatives. The crime rate is low. Sure, we have things happen, but Duncan is a special place. People work together and accomplish things.”

Bissinger, it should be noted, reported that the mayor is an African-American in a city in which whites predominate, but an underlying theme of the story suggests the Australian’s death is partially due to racial disharmony in the city.

Said Lauren Ellis, executive director of United Way of Stephens County:

“It’s a media piece, for entertainment, and it does sensationalize. It’s not the Duncan I grew up in nor the one I choose to live in as an adult.”

Ellis conceded, though, that, “A portion of it is reality in our community.”

The three murder suspects, all teenagers,  remain in custody. Lawyers and others involved in the pending trials are under a court order not to talk about the case.

 Besides the words he wrote, Bissinger poured more gasoline on the Duncan bonfire  by the words in spoke in an interview that accompanied his story. In the interview he described the town as “kind of soulless.”

Duncan, Bissinger said, is “the kind of place where people are desperate for some type of connection.”

“It was depressing, what can I say? It was depressing, but it wasn’t unique.”

 The writer, however, did make a new friend during his reporting expedition.

He had nothing but kind words for Robert Yates, a Duncan barber who showed him around town on a three-hour drive and provided background about Duncan and the crime that drew media from around the world.

“We went to a high school football game together” Bissinger said of his new friend.  “Just because I really liked him.”


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