Romantic stories get to me. They always have. And that trait sometimes puts a journalist in an awkward position with others in this particular profession.
Reporters and editors are not just paid to document history or be the eyes and ears of the public, we’re literally trained from the beginning of our careers to be skeptical, even cynical, of nearly everything. To make that point, most of us are told early in our schooling about the mythologized motto from City News Bureau of Chicago: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
The quote emphasizing not to trust anyone – even your Mom – was always attributed to Edward Eulenberg, an editor at the bureau and at the Chicago Daily News. He died in 1998 in Seattle. Eulenberg also said he never said the famous words attributed to him. He instead said, “If your mother tells you she loves you, kick her smartly in the shins and make her prove it.”
Either way, you get the point.
That explains why when I first hear a story that sounds so fantastic, it only takes a few seconds for me to wonder if it’s actually true. This is exactly the reason why the romantic ideals and visions that warm my heart are often in direct conflict with the journalistic values in my head.
A perfect example is when someone I both trust and admire recently told me the story of how Bing Crosby wrote the Christmas classic “Silver Bells” after hearing the Salvation Army bell ringers in downtown Spokane. It’s not true. But that doesn’t make it any less of a great story, just one that’s not based in reality.
This all leads to my favorite Christmas story tied to newspapers. I’m a sucker for the romanticism of both the holidays and local journalism … cynicism be damned.
It’s a story about legendary Bay Area newspaper editor Al Reck, who was the city editor at the Oakland Tribune many generations ago. It supposedly took place in the 1950s. And whether this view is right or wrong, a 1950s newsroom always seems very romantic to me, which is probably why my favorite newspaper movie in the world is from that era.
Making the story even better is that the version I first heard was told by another newspaper legend, longtime Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez. It’s been retold many times now and even been published at least a couple of times by the Los Angeles Times since Martinez first wrote it for the newspaper for a Christmas edition in the mid-1980s.
Lots of journalists have doubted at least parts of Martinez’s story about his former editor – mostly the dates and time frames, yet for the most part, it checks out. Mostly.
But instead of me telling it, I’d rather let the original storyteller spin the tale. You can read his original column below.
And for the record, I did ask others if my Mom loved me. My Dad confirms that she does. My aunts agree. My brother said it was likely.
Please have a very Merry Christmas.
Editor’s note: This column previously ran in the 2019 Christmas edition of The Spokesman- Review.