In my over thirty years as a journalist I have covered my share of crazy stories. It never ceases to amaze me, however, the reaction of some people to those stories.
Just last week I wrote about a Farwell man who was charged for attempted murder after he shot at a truck and its passengers who were “turfing” his yard. I don’t know if it was the alleged shooter, or a friend, but the day the paper came out I got a threatening phone call telling me to write a retraction or harm was going to be done to me.
Now it’s hard to run a retraction when the story you told came directly from the state police and other news reports. It’s possible that they are wrong, but the anonymous caller provided no information to the contrary. I have been wrong before, and will be wrong in the future, but I need information in order to correct my misdeeds.
Threats are a way of life in the news business. This is the fourth threat I’ve received this year- each from an anonymous caller telling me I will be the recipient of bodily harm and a lawsuit. I shrug them off- been there, done that, many times in the past.
I recall one threat that was actually followed through. I was a young journalist- mid 20’s, when I owned a weekly newspaper in Clarkston, Michigan. My reporter was covering Pine Knob’s (the ski hill) attempt to build a massive hotel on the side of the ski hill. The idea was to ski down the side of the hotel.
The town was severely divided as to whether this was a good idea or not. It actually came up for public vote and was soundly defeated. But before that, my bulldog reporter had written many stories on why it shouldn’t be built.
Needless to say, I had received many phone calls, asking me to reign in my reporter. Later the calls demanded that I fire her, or they would make sure I would be run out of town. Late in the game I was invited to what was then called The Pine Knob Mansion. It was a huge, Victorian type structure that was a bar and restaurant back then. I was to see the Locricchio boys- Tony and Joe. Joe, was the actual owner of Pine Knob, thanks to his Mafia connections. Tony was his lawyer and brother.
It was my first time at the Mansion. I was summoned up a long stairwell where Joe’s offices were. Halfway up I was met by Joe and his Colt 45. He nestled the revolver up against my neck, and said, “You get Carol Balzarini (that was the reporter’s name) off of our case, or else. I took it else meant I would be visited by Mr. Colt 45.
Well being young and stupid, I didn’t heed Joe’s advice. Nor did I report the incident the police. I allowed Carol to keep on writing. A few months later Joe responded, not with a Colt 45, but with a libel lawsuit. I was being sued for $300,000,000.
Wow, did that start me shaking in my boots. I would lose everything if I lost this lawsuit. But, then it occurred to me, I had nothing. No home, a leased car, a business that I owed more on than it was worth- why should I care.
Lawyers usually depose defendants first, in a lawsuit situation. At the time, I had not hired a lawyer and was going to handle the deposition myself. I insisted they come and depose me at my newspaper office. This was key to me because I would feel much more comfortable in my office than some hi-rise in Troy.
The night before the big grilling I left my dog at the office- a Bouvier de Flanders. That big ole dog was famous for pooping big piles of turds in the reception area. The dog didn’t disappoint. When I came in first thing, their were seven or eight big turd mounds. Yes, I had to clean it up, but the stench would not go away for hours.
At the appointed time- 10 a.m., the plaintiffs rolled in – two limousines, and one Mercedes. They walked into my humble office- heck, I had rented it to gypsies the year before- that’s how nasty it was, in their $2000 Gucci suits. There were six of them and one of me. It was hilarious. Needless to say I had thrown them off their game, and the deposition was quick and easy. None of the suits wanted to stick around with that smell in a filthy office to interview me.
Eventually the lawsuit was dismissed at Pre-Trial. The judge felt there was no basis to their arguments and simply said “no way,” after about one half hour of arguments.
I will never forget the 45 upside my head. I will never forget the deposition. Anymore, threats are taken with a “grain of salt.” If we get facts wrong, we are more than willing to correct them, but don’t threaten physical damage or a lawsuit. You see I’ve been there, and am no longer afraid.