This year the Courier Journal is celebrating its 150th anniversary, with its first edition published Nov. 8, 1868. Read about our history here.
By Andrew Wolfson, Louisville Courier-Journal
Some of the best stories in the 150 years of the Courier Journal never made it into the paper, for the simple reason that they were about the paper and its staff. Some of them management would just as soon forget.
There was the Neighborhoods reporter who was arrested in the newsroom for promoting prostitution, for example. And the police reporter who was told to make sure he got a photo as he left for an assignment, then stole a framed portrait of his subject.
Then there were the two copy editors who got caught having sex in a restroom. And another copy editor who would take news releases from the U.S. attorney’s office off the fax machine, edit them, and send them back, presumably to be re-issued.
As the Courier Journal celebrates its sesquicentennial, here are some stories about saints and sinners who brought you the news — and some of our most infamous mistakes.
Some of the staffers we can even mention by name.
There was photographer Barbara Montgomery, who on her very first day, crashed into Editor and Publisher Barry Bingham Jr.’s car in the employee parking lot. She said he told her to forget about it.
And famously frugal Washington bureau chief Mike Brown, who refused to pay the National Press Club building $100 of the CJ’s money to haul away a couch, so he brought in an ax, chopped it into pieces and made the landlord haul it away, bag by bag, free of charge.
And Frankfort correspondent Ed Ryan, who, when he was denied reimbursement by the company for a pair of dress shoes destroyed when covering a mine disaster, saved his expenses for months and then submitted claims for hundreds of dollars with a note scrawled on the top that said, “Find the shoes.”
And Neighborhoods reporter Bill Pike, who once wrote to NBA Commissioner David Stern proposing a team based in Johnson City, Tennessee, that would consist solely of players named Johnson and be named “The Johnson City Johnsons,” to which Stern replied: “Dear Mr. Pike. Thank you for your interest. Every day I get dozens of suggestions. Yours is undoubtedly one of the worst.”
And of course there was legendary city editor Bill Cox, who in response to Executive Editor Paul Janensch’s insistence to “do right by” the Kentucky State Fair, rented a buffalo, rode it into the newsroom and into Janensch’s office, where it left a calling card on his oriental rug.
Along with the newsroom characters, there were some classic mistakes, some of which were caught while others made their way into the paper.
In one celebrated incident in the 1950s, Executive Editor Jimmy Pope came flying out of his office just before the paper went to press, waving a proof of the women’s page with a headline that said, “Debutantes rest between balls.” The headline was fixed.
Then there was the headline in the summer of 1969 that was supposed to say, ‘Viet tells why twin defected.” But a wise guy in the composing room changed it to “Viet tells why twin defecated.” News executives hit the roof and fired the typesetter on the spot. But when his union co-workers threatened to walk off the job that very night, he was hired back. Only some subscribers got the foul headline.
In what may be the most hysterical correction ever, on Oct. 2, 1992, the Louisville Times said: “Because of a reporting error, a column in Saturday’s Scene incorrectly said Bambi’s mother died in a forest fire. She was shot.”
One error was so funny that even Janensch wrote he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry about it. On May 7, 1985, an item was supposed to appear in “Hoosier Notebook” about a charity benefit to include the sale of “baby Afghans,” the knitted blankets. A copy editor changed it to “Afghan puppies,” the dogs with long hair and drooping ears. The error was duly corrected.
In another mistake, a reporter covering Elvis impersonators at the state fair in 2003 reported that one was wearing an ugly wig. His wife called the next day to say it was his real hair. The Courier Journal corrected the error.
In another embarrassment that amused reporters at the Louisville Times but which editors at the competing Courier Journal didn’t find so funny, on Aug. 29, 1982, a prankster duped the morning paper into running a wedding announcement for “Elisabeth Anne Chandler,” of Scarsdale, New York, and “Dr. Neil Phillip Curtiss,” also of Scarsdale and a graduate of the U of L School of Medicine. There was one problem: The bride, groom and wedding attendants also listed were not real people. They were characters on “Days of Our Lives,” as more than one sharp reader noticed.
The Courier published another bogus story on July 4, 2000, about a Louisville lawyer who claimed he had been invited to the Hague to prosecute a Serbian war criminal. Everything about the attorney’s story was fabricated, including the name of the defendant, prompting a spokesman for the new Republic of Serbia to say there had been enough real war criminals during the conflicts in the Balkans without having to make one up.
Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adwolfson. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/andreww