How Reddit Stole a Colorado Journalist’s Wizard of Oz Thunder

Friday was another bittersweet day for Rick Polito. Actor George Takei posted a screen grab on Facebook of the Boulder, Co. freelance journalist’s hilarious bygone Wizard of Oz gag synopsis. However, because Takei sourced a Reddit user’s errant crop job, tens of thousands of people initially liked and shared an item that attributes the summary to the wrong guy: the late Lee Winfrey. (To Takei’s credit, this morning he added “Credit: Rick Polito.”)

Jay Leno first quoted Polito’s 1998 synopsis on The Tonight Show, a decade ago. When the talk show host revisited the same material for a “Headlines” segment in late October, a Reddit user launched the synopsis on its merry viral way. With Polito’s name as the source author cut out. (It was visible on Leno, although somewhat cryptically, the attribution reads: ‘Inquirer Television Writer Lee Winfrey and Rick Polito of Universal Press Syndicate contributed to this report.’)

“Part of what bothers me is that both times, Leno presented this as a mistake in the newspaper, when obviously it’s a joke that I wrote,” Polito tells FishbowlLA via telephone. “My Marin Independent Journal TV column was syndicated at the time to the Philadelphia Inquirer and other newspapers.”

Jim Romenesko was the first to point out the viral mistake. “Romenesko did his homework,” Polito explains. “He called me up on that Friday [October 26] and then FishbowlLA picked up on it, as did Gawker, BuzzFeed, Entertainment Weekly and some other places.”

Polito has been campaigning these past few weeks for people to email The Tonight Show on his behalf. He would ideally like to land an appearance on the program, though he points the finger squarely at Reddit for the fudged authorship. Polito has also contacted former Leno joke writer Jimmy Brogan to plead his Tonight Show case.

The Oz gag synopsis is one of many written over the years by Polito. Here are a few more samples he shared with us:

Interview with a Vampire: Tom Cruise is a soulless recluse who lurks in the darkness and sucks the life from all who come near him. He’s also in this movie about a vampire. (1994)

Grosse Pointe Blank: A professional killer attends his high school reunion. Unfortunately, you can’t hire him to attend yours. (1997)

The Untouchables: A federal agent in Chicago hampers the work of an enterprising American job creator. (1987)

Polito is also the creator of the Smartphone bedtime storytelling App Shake-N-Tell.

Previously on Fishbowl:
Internet Catches Up to TV Critic’s Cheeky Wizard of Oz synopsis