Anybody who’s ever had to deal with the public on a daily basis can tell you that some people can be very hard to handle. Whether you’re working behind the counter in a retail store, as a service technician, a nurse, a school teacher, a first responder, or anybody else, believe me, they all have stories to tell. People in the newspaper business are no different.
Though my career was spent publishing small town newspapers on the Pacific Northwest coast and in Arizona, we were not immune to dealing with all kinds of difficult people and saw some things that were just unbelievable. Small towns have more than their share of wackadoodles, jerks, and idiots, too, and they probably stick out more than they do in the big cities.
More than once I received phone calls at home in the middle of the night from a wife or mother upset because the police had arrested somebody for DUI or some other such foolishness, and they wanted me to expose those dastardly officers. Most expected me to get out of bed and go right down to the jail that moment and threaten the police with bad press if they didn’t release whoever it was. I always told them that if the police arrested them I was sure they had good cause and they would get their day in court, and I would be happy to cover it. I promised that if the police were found to be wrong or had acted unjustly, I would make it front page news. I also promised that if their loved one was found guilty, I would put that on the front page, too. For some reason, they didn’t appreciate that and hung up, but usually not before calling me some very interesting names.
Because I had a good relationship with the police, I saw a lot of things that made me shake my head and be glad I had chosen another line of work for most of my career. I once went to an accident scene where two young men were racing on a public street, and one lost control of his car and slammed into a school bus that was stopped with its flashers on, picking up children. Fortunately nobody was injured, but the offending driver demanded the police cite the school bus driver for stopping on a public roadway, claiming that if he had continued driving instead of stopping there, he would not have been hit. He was much more concerned about damage to his car than he was with the fact that he had slammed into the back of a busload of children.
I was doing a ride-along with the police once when the officer responded to a domestic disturbance call. A shirtless young man covered in tattoos and reeking of alcohol had destroyed the interior of his mother’s house and was in the front yard screaming obscenities at the neighbors. Three police cars responded, and he cursed at the cops and told them that he would take them all on, he wasn’t afraid of anybody. After telling him several times to calm down and resorting to pepper spray, which he ignored, he attacked one of the officers and it took all three of them using their nightsticks to put him down and subdue him. His mother came out of the house with a bloody nose and demanded they let him up and stop picking on her child, and then told me to be sure that I wrote a story about how three grown men had attacked her “little boy.” I did write a story about it and put it on the front page.
Another time, I happened upon a scene where a woman had collapsed in the parking lot of a business. She was unresponsive and an EMT was doing chest compressions on her. As he was working hard to save her life, her husband arrived on the scene, grabbed the poor first responder and punched him in the mouth for “feeling his wife up” like that. The EMT’s partner said they were trying to save her and told him to back off, but he kept pushing both of them away when they tried to help the woman, calling them perverts. It took two police officers to drag him off and handcuff him and put him in the back of the police car before they could get the woman loaded into an ambulance and transported to a hospital. Fortunately she survived her heart attack, no thanks to her overprotective husband.
These were only a handful of the crazy things I saw over the years. There was also the man who took a shortcut across a frozen lake and lost a brand new pickup truck when it fell through the ice. People on shore managed to rescue him, and I had a front page story about the brave rescuers, including a photo of him thanking them for saving his life. A week later he filed a police report saying the truck had been stolen because he wanted to collect the insurance money on it. Or the slender woman who walked into a grocery store and walked out looking eleven months pregnant because she had stuffed two frozen turkeys under her shirt and then claimed she had no idea how they got there. And let’s not forget the doting mother who charged onto the football field and attacked the young lady who was being crowned homecoming queen because she thought her daughter deserved the title instead.
Several times when I reported on these stories, the people involved threatened to sue me for slander. First, I would explain to them that slander is verbally disparaging someone’s reputation, but writing about it is libel. Then I would explain to them that the legal defense against slander and libel is the truth, and everything I wrote was well documented. Then I would tell them that my attorney would be happy to file a countersuit against them for $1,000,000 for the mental anguish I would suffer from being charged in a nuisance lawsuit, the possible physical damage to my heart from the stress, and the loss of time and revenue I would suffer, along with court costs that they would be responsible for when they lost. I think in over 20 years, only two people actually did file a lawsuit against me, and neither of them ever made it to court. Such is the life of a small town newspaper publisher.
And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us. Here’s one way to protect your vehicles from thieves and carjackers!
Thought For The Day – You’re never too old to learn something stupid.