I read someplace that everyone at one time or another has his or her 15 minutes of fame. I don’t know if that is true or not but I did have a moment in the national spotlight once and of all the good things that I have ever done which could have brought that famous 15 minutes into my life, I earned mine for just having fun.
I was publishing a paper in Carrollton, Georgia, in April 1995. During that time, the O.J. trial and the facts and non-facts of it occupied almost every minute of every newscast and every newsbreak that was produced every day.
It got to the point that people actually became addicted to watching the trial and the all-night explanations of it.
I know for a fact that people were addicted, because even Ms. Molly, who is normally very level-headed, would have a glaze over her eyes when I would come home from a hard day of publishing.
Her eyes and mind were glazed from watching the trial and commentary continuously; this trance lasted into the night as we had to watch the recap of the trial every evening.
During this period of our life, we went nowhere and we did nothing.
It got so bad that I actually increased my consumption of toddy’s so as to escape the torture.
For some of you who know me, you might find that hard to believe, so I am sure you know how bad things really were.
I would complain about this addiction to my associates at the paper. It got to the point that not one of them would have lunch with me.
They started making excuses not to be with me. I actually had one of my managers have 10 of his grandmothers die over a month’s period. It seems he had to go to so many funerals at lunch time that his job performance slipped and I had to fire him.
One thing I have found out in life is that during the darkest times, light does shine through. This was proven one night as two of my loyal managers and I were sitting around drinking Kool Aid and eating cookies, and a brilliant idea was hatched.
We decided to announce that the Times-Georgian, a much-beloved (at least in our minds) 10,000 circulation daily newspaper was not going to run any more stories about the O.J. trial until there was a verdict. In short, we were going to go cold turkey on O.J.
It didn’t matter that we hadn’t run any stories anyway, except a few wire blurbs to fill space on a slow day.
But we were going to show our community that we had principles.
So the very next morning, proudly displayed on the upper left hand corner of the paper was a picture of O.J. Simpson with a big black X across his face.
Actually, it was supposed to be a big red X, not a big black X.
The folks in the community loved it. It gave them a laugh.
The following day, we received a call from the Atlanta bureau of the Associated Press. The very first question asked was, “Why did you put a black X across O.J. Simpson’s face?”
To refresh your memory, O.J. is a black man. At that moment, I thought my whole career was slipping down the drain.
I didn’t want to be known as that racist publisher from a little town in Georgia.
After an hour, I convinced the lady that the press crew had made a terrible mistake. It was supposed to be a red X and I surely was going to replace all of them for making such a dastardly mistake.
She then went on to ask other reporter-type questions. She hung up and I didn’t really think anything more about it until the next day, when all hell broke loose.
The wire story hit newspapers across the country. We started getting calls from talk shows across the nation, so many I had to unplug my recorder and leave the house.
I started to get excited; they apparently thought we had done something special.
I was ready to celebrate having my 15 minutes of fame. I imagined how smart I would sound as I talked to Rush and Sean and the like. I was wondering how fat I would look sitting next to Oprah until Ms. Molly who strangely enough chose that time to come out of her stupor, reminded me that I couldn’t talk to any of them because as we had said that the coverage of this case was “pure buffoonery” and a “farce,” she was sure I didn’t want to be a buffoon.
So I never did talk to the radio people. ABC Evening News sent reporter Rebecca Chase to cover the now-famous newspaper publisher who had the “courage not to cover O.J. anymore.”
The Rebecca Chase piece made the evening news. It even made Peter Jennings smile.
Of course I followed my principles and didn’t talk to Rebecca, either. She and her crew followed me to my Rotary meeting, they filmed me as Rebecca praised my honesty and courage and talked to my fellow Rotarians, who praised me and told Rebecca things like the country needs more of such censorship.
Gulp; almost another career breaker. The whole world saw me at the Rotary club eating my BBQ lunch and with a big red blotch of sauce on my proper white shirt.
Eventually, we received more than 500 letters from all over the world thanking us for having the courage to not cover this story any more. We ran each one and we tried not to laugh as we did.
“Editor and Publisher,” the trade magazine of our industry, wrote a story and editorial praising my editorial courage. I tried not to laugh again.
I had old friends call me. I also had at least five bill collectors tell me how proud they were of me and that they were glad they found me.
The lesson learned from this is that people of good common sense do get tired of how they’re spoon-fed and bombarded by the mainstream media with stories like this.
They get tired because they see this type of crime in their own neighborhoods on an everyday basis and nobody seems to care.
I asked Rebecca why she felt talking to me was important; she said I was a hero to all of her compatriots because they were sick and tired of covering the trial.
The truth is I really didn’t get a chance to celebrate my 15 minutes of the proverbial fame. If I get that opportunity again and if Rush or Sean calls me, this time I’m ready, and if Oprah or Dr. Phil want me, I have lost some weight, I have a little tan, and I am ready to share my fine humor with them.
I am ending this story now so I can practice my voice lessons and my breath exercises so I can hold my gut in for at least 75 seconds if I ever get called on to celebrate my 15 minutes of fame again.
I hope you too get the same chance someday.
T. Pat Cavanaugh is the publisher of The News. You can reach him at 770-787-6397 or email@example.com