CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Herald Columnist Admits Some Big Puf Stories Fabricated; Hopes Mainstream Reporting Gains Him Book and Movie Contracts


By Jack Cawthon

I just knew that if I lived long enough, kept the faith, and remained in step with that different drummer that I hear most loudly on nights with a full moon, that the world of journalism would rotate on its axis of evil over in my direction.

For some reason, the world of wordiness is all a twitter with the revelation that a New York Times reporter fabricated stories and, worst of all, didn't even visit Palestine, West Virginia, for a first-hand report. I believe he should be forgiven for that small remiss, as he no doubt thought it a foreign assignment to the Mid-East with all the dangers such involved.

So, what is wrong with making up stories to enliven the readership? Heck, I've been doing it for years, and although I know it may shock the more trusting among you who have relied on me for the truth, honesty, and perpetuation of the American Way, I must confess that many of the stories filed from Big Puf have-oh, the humanities-been written far from that hallowed, and hallooed, spot. Some of my best reports, if you will allow me to judge my worthiness, have originated in a little-known hang-out in Preston County, whose location will not be divulged so as to avoid a maddened rush of tourism.

As the noted philosopher, the late Roger Miller, once lamented, "Dang me, dang me, they ort to take a rope and hang me," I studied journalism, what time it didn't study me. I learned that a "straight" news story should never be biased and include base ingredients of who, what, when, where and how. (For some time I misinterpreted the latter, and thought it was "howl," which I intermingled for the delight of those readers who insisted on reading by the light of the moon.)

Not only did the Times end up with pi on its face, with its modest "All the news that's fit to print," which in my own days of page make-up I incorporated with some condensation to "All the news that fits," but the New Republic followed suit.

As both publications are the hotbeds of liberals ( I have known conservatives who have traded overnight their ideals to be so bedded) there must be something about liberalism that is catching, often resulting in "caught in the act."

I have found that most liberals don't live in a real world anyway, so what is the harm in reporting unreality? Ergo, I have again painted myself into a corner. If I have been doing the same thing myself, then, horrors, does that, please say it ain't so, make me a gasp, choke, snort, one also? (This self-analysis is good for me, of course, going along with the regular therapy.)

Take Big Puf, please. The folks down there love my reporting and think I'm a celebrity, which they interpret as leading a pure life like a priest or Michael Jackson. Fortunately, most of them can't read and those who do wouldn't be caught dead reading this stuff, except for Arley Cleeter, a grad school dropout. Arley has often insisted that I write a book, but knowing Arley's dependence on the written word for winter fuel, I somewhat doubt his motives.

Of course, ethics may be involved. I say, say what? I cannot forget the brilliant lawyer I once worked with in a field far from judicial, who in his frequent visits to the bars over a Tri-County area would bemoan that they never defined "justice" in law school. As a result of this omission, I am certain, he spent endless hours at the bar searching for it, often observing a raw form dispensed with a baseball bat by a non-elected judge on the unruly and besotted.

Every profession has it self-important "ethics." From the advertisements on TV I rate the number one of the legal profession as "If you don't get paid, we don't get paid." Or is it vice-versa? And I have heard the medical profession leans to "If in doubt, cut it out." So, that leaves journalism with what I personally admire: "Will it sell in Peoria?" President Nixon rather liked this one, at least until John Dean sold him out in Peoria and the rest of the country.

You may have the feeling that I am a bit cynical and that I follow no pattern in what you consider basic honesty in reporting. Aw, c'mon, trust me! (That one sold pretty well in Peoria.)

But there is one little, itsy, bitsy, item that has bothered me always about reporters who swear they write "straight" news stories with no bias whatsoever. Let's call it the human factor. Can one perform any interpretation with the human brain that is free of personal feeling? I have heard that sociopaths can, which implies that they should make the world's best journalists, and no doubt do.

Perhaps the worst case is TV news where body language enters into the delivery and complements the written word. Watch the crinkle in Peter Jennings' nose when he mentions President Bush, or hear the homilies of Dan Rather on election night when the bad guys, aka conservatives, are winning. I won't even bother with Brokaw, who always sounds like a guy who has frothed one too many.

Folks, we live in a world where the worst news possible is reality. I say the more we avoid it, the happier we are. Stick with me and you can be one happy bunch of puppies!

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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