Beyond ‘Deep Throat’

Reporters find themselves in odd situations

Eric Zorn, columnist, Chicago Tribune

I covered a nudist convention for the Tribune in a health club. Going with the “When in Rome . . .” philosophy, I disrobed upon entry and began reporting. The publicist found me and said the organizers had a few minutes to talk to me. They, however, had been manning the front desk outside the club and were fully clothed. So we went into an office, me totally naked, them fully clothed, and had a 10-minute chat on nudism. A reporter for the local alternative weekly, who was wearing clothes, saw me and decided that a mainstream newspaper reporter wasn’t going to out-gonzo him. So he disrobed as well.

Gary Robbins, reporter, U-T San Diego

I was working for the now-defunct Hollywood Sun-Tattler in Florida in the mid-1980s when I had lunch with singer Tiny Tim, who was having marital problems. Over lunch, he became more and more morose, with tears welling in his eyes. I thought he was going to fall apart completely. But then, some older ladies at another table asked him to sing in the middle of the restaurant, and he did. It was like he’d taken a miracle drug. His tears were gone, he was happy, and after he finished singing, walked arm-in-arm out of the restaurant with the women.

Josh Meyer, director for education and outreach for the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative of Northwestern University

In the middle of the craziest part of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, I was in a Boys Market in South Central LA, interviewing people for the Los Angeles Times as they looted the place. I’d stick a tape recorder in their faces while they filled trash bags with food, cigarettes, and electronics. One guy was dragging out something especially bulky, so I dodged all the sprinklers that were going off (the building was on fire) and asked him what he was doing. Without hesitation he said, “I’m dragging the safe out. Help me out here.” He didn’t realize I was a reporter. I declined, and he went on his way.

Jane Glenn Haas, founder, WomanSage

I was interviewing a famous Ringling Bros. animal trainer for The Courier News in Elgin, IL, before that day’s circus show. He used to make an arena entrance standing on the back of an elephant holding a tiger by the collar. We were talking near some cages as elephants paraded by, and the line of pachyderms kept getting closer and closer to me. The trainer noticed my predicament, and quickly opened up a cage door and pulled me into a cage full of tigers so the elephants wouldn’t crush me against the wall. He told the tigers to “stay,” and they did. Yep, I wet myself.

Monica Eng, reporter, Chicago Tribune

I was finishing a project for the Tribune on sustainable hunting, using chainsaws, knives, and hedge trimmers to chop up deer carcasses hanging in a meat locker. At one point, I had to twist a head off in my hands until it came loose. I needed to take a USDA press call about new school-food guidelines—right in the middle of my carcass chopping. Not wanting to waste time, I simply plugged my headphones into my BlackBerry and called into the press conference while the skinning and dismemberment continued. As I was asking the deputy secretary of agriculture why the new guidelines did not limit sugar levels in the meals, I was holding a couple of deer forelegs in my hands, waving them to make my point more forcefully.

Elysse James, reporter, Orange County Register

I covered a police-dog funeral for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. One woman in attendance was telling me how important the animals are. Then, she grabbed my hair and held it up like pigtails, and said I looked just like her little dog at home. She patted my head and said, “You’re a good little reporter; yes you are.” I didn’t know what to do, so I said, “Thank you,” and walked away.

Jeff Overley, reporter, Law360

In college, I was trying to profile a professor who dressed every day like Genghis Khan. He initially consented, then pulled out because he believed I was in cahoots with the fbi, then once again consented. The interview ended with a long conversation in his office, where he explained his politics and interests while swigging Pinot Grigio straight from the bottle.

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Marla Jo Fisher is a staff writer, blogger, and columnist for the Orange County Register.