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Don’t mess with James Fogarty: a journalism fable

BLOG Post by Larry Larue / The Tacoma WA News Tribune on May 9, 2013

Once upon a time, in the early years of journalism, there lived a fierce creature named James Fogarty.

An Irishman who could break into a song or a rage in an instant, Fogarty was a fine police and court reporter for the Omaha World Herald. He was so good, in fact, that a local radio reporter stole from him, literally.

Fogarty would file a story from the police station, typing up an original and carbon copy. Yes, Virginia, this was in the era before electricity – 1972 – when we had to use manual typewriters. Fogarty would bring the original in, file his carbon copy in a desk drawer in the police media room.

What he suspected was that each day the radio reporter would wander in, open that drawer and, using Fogarty’s story, put an almost identical piece on the air. And it would run before Fogarty’s story.

This, Fogarty proclaimed loudly, would not stand.

One morning he wrote a colorful piece of fiction, saying a well-known municipal court judge had been struck with gout while on the bench and, while being carted from the court by paramedics, had cried out ‘Justice will prevail!’ or some such nonsense. Then Fogarty put the carbon copy in his desk drawer and retired to his car, turned on the radio station in question, and waited for the reporter’s first segment of the day.

When it came, he was breathless on-air, implying he was reporting live from municipal court. He added detail to Fogarty’s story – the judge’s agony at the bench, his refusal to give up the gavel – and then that idiotic quote Fogarty had made up.

It turned out, of course, to be the reporter’s last on-air moment. James Fogarty had his revenge, and journalism weeded out a pretender.

Fogarty was larger-than-life in those days, the most creative curser God ever allowed on earth and a good, true friend.

One Sunday, both of us on duty with nothing in Omaha happening, I challenged Fogarty. We each grabbed a large gum-rubber eraser and, at 25 feet, had one shot at making it stay in one of the newsroom’s pigeon-hole mail slots. There were dozens of them along one wall, but in my experience – I had worked many Sundays that year – the eraser would bounce out.

Mine did that day, caroming halfway across the empty newsroom. Fogarty pretended to study the mail slots, did an elaborate windup and threw his eraser. It landed in a slot and stayed.  We walked the 25 feet to the wall and I reached into the slot to retrieve his eraser – and froze.

The slot was labeled ‘James Fogarty.’ I believe he broke into song.