In early June of 1893, President Grover Cleveland discovered that he had cancer of the mouth. He decided to have the tumor removed, but he was afraid that news of the operation—in which he had a 15 percent of dying—would panic Wall Street, which was already having troubles and so this operation would be done secretly. On June 30, he boarded the yacht Oneida, which was anchored in New York harbor. There, six physicians operated on him, removing the tumor, five teeth, and much of his upper left jawbone and left palate. The operation was successful, and by mid-July he began using a vulcanized rubber prosthetic that enabled him to speak in his normal voice. Elisha Jay Edwards, a reporter for The Philadelphia Press, heard rumors about the operation, and he was able to verify it by locating the anesthesiologist. On August 29, The Philadelphia Presspublished a major scoop titled “The President a Very Sick Man.” Unfortunately, although the article was true, the Cleveland administration denied that an operation had taken place, and soon Mr. Edwards was vilified and accused of having made up the story. His career as a reporter was nearly ruined. For 15 years, he could barely find work, but in 1909, he became a columnist for a new, struggling newspaper: The Wall Street Journal. Even then, the Grover Cleveland article he had written tainted his reputation. Finally, in 1917, one of the doctors who had performed the operation, W.W. Keen, who had always regretted how Mr. Edwards had been falsely accused of having made up the story about President Cleveland, wrote a confession that The Saturday Evening Post published. In it, he told the facts about the operation with the purpose, he wrote, of being able to “vindicate Mr. Edwards’ character as a truthful correspondent.” Mr. Edwards received many congratulatory letters and telegrams about the restoring of his reputation, and he wrote a thank-you letter to Mr. Keen.
At one time, Chicago journalists would pretend to be police officers or other officials, either in person or on the telephone, in order to get information from crime scenes. Frequently, they would pretend to be Sgt. Francis (Jiggs) Donohue, the chief officer for the coroner’s office. Chicago Herald-Examiner reporter Harry Romanoff once telephoned a barroom where a murder had occurred. On the phone, he said, “This is Sgt. Donohue of the coroner’s office.” The person who had answered the phone said, “That’s funny. So is this.” Sgt. Donohue had arrived at the murder scene faster than Mr. Romanoff had expected. Once, Buddy McHugh of the Chicago American arrived very quickly on a murder scene (a house), identified himself as Sgt. Donohue, and told the person at the house, “If some newspaper guy shows up posing as me, give him the bum’s rush.” Soon after Mr. McHugh had left, the real Sgt. Donohue showed up, but the householder said, “Go peddle your papers. I’m wise to you. Sgt. Donohue’s been here.”
Sassy, a magazine for North American teenage girls, published some important articles. The writers once spent a day looking through reader correspondence. In particular, they were looking for letters in which the writer wrote about being a victim of incest. Each time they found a letter from a victim of incest, they rang a bell. Unfortunately, the bell rang more often than anyone expected. The article that appeared in Sassy was titled “Real Stories About Incest.” It told the stories of three girls who were victims of incest. Running the story took courage on the part of Sassy, as many advertisers were boycotting it because it had run some articles about sex that the religious right disliked. Shortly after the article ran, Citicorp Venture Capital, which controlled 60 percent of Sassy, asked Sandra Yates, the founder of Sassy, to resign. Ms. Yates says, “It remains the most painful episode of my working career.”
Muhammad Ali may be the best boxer who ever lived—he is certainly the greatest boxing celebrity who ever lived. At one point in his career, he had an acute hernia condition and needed an operation. At Boston City Hospital, his surgeon said, “It was such a marvelously developed stomach—I hated to slice it up.” By the way, Mr. Ali knew how to get publicity. He wanted to be in Life magazine, so when he learned that Life photographer Flip Schulke was an expert in taking underwater photographs, he told him that he trained underwater. This was a lie—Mr. Ali could not even swim—but two pages of photos of Mr. Ali “training” underwater appeared in the September 8, 1961, issue of Life.
Not all interviewers are as prepared as they think they are. James Marshall, who wrote and illustrated a series of children’s books about two characters named George and Martha, once was interviewed by a woman on a radio show in Chicago. Before the interview, he asked her, “Do you need any information about myself?” She replied, “No. I’ve done my homework.” Unfortunately, her first question to him on the air was, “What’s it like writing about the First Family?” Mr. Marshall replied, “Well, it’s not that George and Martha.” She then asked, “Who are they, then?” Mr. Marshall replied, “Well … they’re hippos.” As you may expect, the interviewer was completely unprepared to interview him, and Mr. Marshall had to take over the interview.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra flutist Donald Peck was mightily unimpressed by opera singer Maria Callas. Once, the CSO was supposed to record with her. A rehearsal was scheduled, but Ms. Callas did not show up. The CSO waited for her because they were being paid for the time of the rehearsal, and when the rehearsal time was over they stood up to leave. At that exact time, Ms. Callas walked into the rehearsal space. Her agent made sure that the press knew that the CSO had risen out of respect to Ms. Callas, but Mr. Peck writes, “What a manipulation of the truth!”
Mort Sahl got his satiric comedy act from newspapers. The head of Fox Cable News, Roger Ailes, once saw him read a newspaper, then perform his act six hours later with 40 minutes of new satiric observations that he had created from his reading of the newspaper.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved