I’ve been featured in newspaper articles just twice in my life, 30 years apart. I’m not talking about the thousands of times my byline preceded articles, photos, columns or editorials, or news releases where my name and contact info came after “For more information.” I’m talking about a newspaper reporter interviewing me and writing an article.
The first article was in 1987. Do the names Senator Gary Hart and Donna Rice ring a bell? If they do, congratulations! Consider yourself politically astute. For those who never heard of them (or were born after 1987), Gary Hart was a front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination until he dropped out in May 1987 over allegations of an extramarital affair with Donna Rice, a beauty pageant winner/actress/campaign aide.
I won’t go into the details of the allegations; no one cares anymore. At the time of the salacious political scandal that dominated the media, I was editor of the Charles City (Iowa) Press, a Monday-Friday weekly. Our office always had a TV on monitoring the local and national news. We learned that Hart was scheduled to hold a press conference to talk about his campaign. To localize the story, I had talked to the county leadership of the GOP and Democratic parties prior to the news conference about what to expect.
And so we watched the news conference while staring down a looming press deadline. It became apparent that Hart would drop out of the race. A news staff member changed the TV channel as I summed up Hart’s comments, plugged in the appropriate quotes, finished the article to meet the deadline, and the presses literally rolled.
The only problem was, we turned the channel too soon as Sen. Hart did not pull out of the campaign, which I learned after the papers had been printed and delivered to the post office. I wanted the floor of the newspaper office to open up and swallow me with the tonnage of the offset press on top of me. Worse yet, my error—the most basic of journalism mistakes—made state news.
The Des Moines Register’s Chuck Offenburger, who wrote the wildly popular “Iowa Boy” column back then, weighed in on my faux pas. But it wasn’t a cutting article written about the public goof of the stupid editor of a small town newspaper, it was a column written to comfort an embarrassed young professional. I didn’t keep the column and I have no recollection of what he said. I just remember the headline helped sooth my self-inflicted wound of humiliation: “Ah, hang in there, Jan Butler.”
I don’t remember the fall-out in the office or with readers (psychological block?), but I did not lose my job. In fact, my article turned out to be a prediction as a few days later Hart, overwhelmed by the scandal, did withdraw from the race.
This is the first time I’ve ever talked about my journalistic gaffe of 1987. I barely said anything to my family and best friends when it happened, and they knew enough not to ask. It’s been in the recesses of my mind for 30 years.
Until Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, the day the second article was published. But this one wasn’t about a humiliated journalist published in a statewide daily newspaper. My novel was featured in a weekly community paper to which I sent out my own news release. I didn’t really like being on the other side of a reporter’s assignment, but it’s all part of the marketing dance. And the article turned out pretty good.
I wonder if Chuck Offenburger would be interested to know what happened to that defeated journalist? Probably not.