Once upon a time, in a far distant land – Nebraska – a fresh-out-of-college reporter was asked to cover a circus parade through downtown Omaha.
Being rather full of himself, he felt there were news stories far more important than watching elephants and clowns stroll through the city. He should be covering them. He wasn’t. Let’s call him ‘me.’
It was a dark time in the education of a young reporter. Working with editors who found my writing less than perfect, they often send copy back for rewrite.
Once, for instance, I’d been assigned to ‘cover’ a cat in a tree that the fire department would not come rescue. I went out, interviewed the family, including a crying seven-year-old girl. The kitty, they believed, would surely die of starvation 25 feet off the ground.
Borrowed a ladder, climbed the thing and found myself still short. With my feet on the top rung, stood and reached for the cat, snared her and descended. I would write that ‘two feet of high air’ had been between us at the end. Our city editor insisted there was no difference between air on the ground and air amongst the tree branches.
I invited him to go stand on that ladder. I was assigned to the rewrite desk, taking dictation, for a week.
So the circus parade assignment was another waste of immense talents. My attitude was less-than-company-policy-perfect. I waited on the parade route, and watched 3-year-old Jeff Tierney waiting. He stood on his father’s foot. He threw a pebble. He picked and ate a small weed.
Upon my return to the newsroom, I produced what I still believe is single dumbest lead to any story ever to appear in American print. My excuse: Never thought it would run. It was written to remind editors just how foolish an assignment it was.
Hey, I was 21.
Here’s the lead paragraph: “The circus will draw on the impatience of youth just as surely as a mongoose will suck a duck egg.”
Then, the second graph: “Proof of that old parable lives in Jeff Tierney, age 3.”
Waited at my desk for an editor to throw it back. No one did. Assumed they’d simply rewritten the thing, went about my life. Next morning, there it was on the front page of the Omaha World-Herald. Questioned by the managing editor, it seemed no one could recall having edited it.
I am willing to entertain arguments from anyone who has believes they have published a more foolish lead. I do not expect to be matched. Oh, and I have a clip as proof that story ran.
Fortunately for all of us, I mostly grew up.