Back in the (Rolling) Stone Age (AKA the Sixties), the late lamented publication Editor & Publisher reported that a study had produced the fact that reporters, who are “on deadline” every day, had a more stress producing job than a jet test pilot and that may explain why newsies have the reputation for having some very enlightening conversation at a nearby gin mill, after they clock out from work.
In those days, when there was such a concept called journalistic ethics, some of the participants may have prefaced their information with the admonition: “this is off the record but . . .,” which explains why there are some things from the Sixties which this columnist still feels honor bound to disregard when it comes time to pound out a new effort.
For instance, when Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey was running for President, he complained to his staff that folks perceived him as being short. After hemming and hawing, his staff found the courage to explain why that was. He was told that it was so because he had a big head. The staffer explained that if you park the Goodyear blimp on top of the Washington Monument, that would make it look short.
Sometimes journalists, after several hearty libations, may kid around and test their coworkers’ limits of credibility. When a fellow who would later become Time magazine’s White House correspondent told this columnist about the strange fans that are part of the Hollywood scene, he believed it when he was told that there was one person who had a collection of genuine authentic stars’ fescues. When we got the chance to try and validate that story with a contact at Playboy magazine who knew the fellow in question, the reaction was: “that sounds like something Doug would say.” He had never heard our mutual acquaintance utter that outrageous bit of (supposed) Hollywood lore. He added that Doug always did love putting people’s credulity to the test.
One sports writer, in the waning days of the Sixties, told a story, in a Carson City Nevada watering hole, about an argument he and another writer had, in his cub reporter days, about the legendary horse “Man of War.” The disagreement was deadlocked. The bar tender turned around and settle the dispute by giving them the answer in a very definitive and authoritative voice. Since the barkeep had actually been that famous horse’s trainer, he not only ended the bickering, he became a source for some freelance work that earned handsome monetary remunerations.
One sports editor in Pennsylvania, solemnly admonished a rookie reporter that if he were ever to work on the sports desk (sometimes sarcastically referred to as “the Toy Department”) as a reporter, he must never (as in NEVER) say that something can’t happen.
Common sense would dictate that the writer must say “very unlikely” or “a long shot possibility” but that infallible predictions were an invitation to a humiliating journalistic lesson.
After having that journalistic commandment engraved into his memory by rote, this columnist, while working at a truck company headquartered in New York City, noticed that many, many sports reporters and commentators were assuring their audiences that Joe Namath and his team could no way, no how, ever even hope to defeat the future Hall of Famer, Johnny Unitas and his (almost) invincible Baltimore Colts team.
With the “never say never” dictum in mind, an attempt to make an illegal off track wager backing the much maligned quarterback was unsuccessful. Bookies didn’t have Yellow Pages ads, so we watched the chance to cash in on the old sports editor’s advice go by without any bet being placed.
The day after Superbowl III was broadcast; the guy at the next desk over called in sick. Rumor had it that he had been a bookie who didn’t lay off bets since the outcome was a sure thing. He never came back to the office. We can never think of that curious bit of office lore without thinking of the line in a Jerry Reed song that wondered about a guy who went into the swamp and never came out.
Dang! A modest $10 wager would have produced a lucrative January bonus, but alas it was not meant to be.
A recent column by Carl Hiaasen brought these memories alive again because it seconded the assertion made in Foreign Policy magazine that Obama’s surge was futile effort.
It seems that all the commentary and stories about the fact that no one has ever successfully conducted and invasion of Afghanistan make us wonder do the casinos in Vegas let folks bet on wars? If so, perhaps, just for old times’ sake, it’s time to see if the sports editor’s wisdom also applies to politics. Who knows? Maybe Obama can make the surge seem more like the Jets’ victory moment than a bit of Vietnam déjà vu?
Since everyone seems to be discouraging any opinions in President Obama’s favor, how can folks object if a columnist just wants to make a wager backing the President of the United States?
It could be that all the pundits who are strenuously insisting that it’s never been done before, just haven’t had contact with a sports editor who would have advised them to never say: “never, can’t, won’t, or impossible” in a column that is speculating about a future turn of events.
At two a.m., the bartender at Hurley’s bar in Rockefeller Center, used to say: “It’s closing time! You don’t necessarily have to go home, but you do have to get out!”
Now, the disk jockey will play Frank Sinatra’s “Quarter to Three” and we will get out of here. Have the kind of week that sounds like it came straight out of a Bukowski novel.