There were the creative managers at the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel who, in 1993, assigned two reporters who had been diagnosed with repetitive-stress injuries to security-guard duty at the paper’s printing plant; and the humorless USA Today bosses who fired without severance three newsroom employees in 2002 after they scratched “Kilroy was here” in the layer of dust on a sculpture in the executive suite of the company’s new headquarters; and the geniuses at KMJ, a radio station in Fresno, California, home to Rush Limbaugh’s morning show, who canned their weatherman in 1995 after he refused to improve his rainy forecast for the day of the annual KMJ-sponsored picnic in honor of the conservative commentator (cosmic justice was rendered, however, when it poured on Rush’s barbecue); and the hapless folks at The Detroit News, who in 1976 rushed to print with a story of “a one in a million biological occurrence”: Siamese twin toads, found in the backyard of a local resident, which turned out to be just two ordinary toads “hell-bent on making more toads.”

Finally, what is arguably the strangest Dart bestowed to date: in 2001, the Logan, Utah, Herald Journal published an editorial headlined, “You Just Never Know,” in which the editors revealed “a situation that we think needs to see the light of day, even if only partially.” It involved “a well-paid public employee” who regularly visits “a reclusive woman in a central Logan apartment,” from “beyond the walls” of which “can be heard hours of loud slapping sounds and blood-curdling screams” that can only be interpreted “as some warped, sadomasochistic ritual.” The journalistic rationale? Not gossip or prurient interest, the editors assured their readers, but rather: “At least now you know our community is not immune to such things, and that they don’t always involve people you would immediately suspect of such behavior.”

Here’s hoping journalism won’t top that one in the next fifty years.

 

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Brent Cunningham is CJR’s managing editor.