OPINION: More on the journalistic temperament

May 4—My recent foray into the past tendency of journalists to engage in shouting matches and even physical blows brought in a few stories from former colleagues.

I say "past," because these days, that sort of behavior isn't tolerated. An increasingly litigious society, plus a trend of media companies to gentrify their newsrooms, have culminated in a kinder, gentler atmosphere. That doesn't mean there aren't arguments; it just means no one gets hurt. And it doesn't mean we like one another any more than we used to, or that we're singing "Kumbaya" around the water cooler. In fact, I've always assumed that when I leave the room, someone's uttering the "b-word"; the best I can hope for is the critic doesn't move to the next letter of the alphabet.

We journalists are a temperamental, energetic, reactive, proactive and suspicious bunch. Most of us are veterans of death threats from unhappy criminals whose names have appeared in print under our bylines. Although people know we serve a purpose, they often despise us — especially these days, with certain unscrupulous yet widely idolized individuals bellowing "fake news" every time we expose a flaw or wrongdoing. So before we became civilized in recent years, we often took out our frustrations on one another. I used to hear stories about antics of former editors: Jim Bone put his fist through a swinging door into the now-pressless press room, and Lynn Howard was famous for breaking pencils to vent her wrath.

Former TDP sports editor John Hoover is well-known across the state, and he's considered by many to be a mild-mannered, even-tempered fellow, but he's had his moments. When we were between sports editors, "Hoov" — by then employed at the Tulsa World — came to Tahlequah in the wee hours to fill in for us on layout. On one fateful morning, he strolled into the newsroom, opened the paper to the sports pages, and suddenly, his eyes began to bulge and his face turned redder than his hair. He let out a wordless scream of rage, then slammed the paper onto the floor and began to jump up and down on it. After about 20 seconds of stomping and yelling, he picked up the mangled paper, ripped it to shreds, and sent pieces of it flying all over the newsroom. Finally, still whooping in fury and close to hyperventilation, he barreled over to the newsroom door, and punched a hole in it.

After he calmed down, Hoov explained the source of his ire. He had two photos on the page, one horizontal and one vertical. In those days, we had to cut out the shapes of the photos in what we called "ruby lift" — pieces of translucent red film, which were put on layout sheets and replaced in the camera room by actual images. On this occasion, the guys in the press room had swapped the vertical photo with the horizontal one, so in the paper, what readers saw were wide black strips on both sides of the horizontal space, and on the top and bottom of the vertical one.

I've already described the occasionally volatile nature of Eddie Glenn, who started out at TDP as a photographer and left as one of its most celebrated writers. He was one of the folks who got into shouting matches with a certain ad manager we had many years ago. One evening, Eddie called me at home to describe an encounter he had with this guy in a hallway at around 5:30 p.m. The ad exec had left work at around 5, but had returned to the office for some reason. He made a demand of Eddie, which did not achieve the desired result, and he wound up shouting at Eddie and calling him a "peon." A little later, the ad manager called the then-owner of the paper, and demanded that Eddie be sacked. The owner had been asleep, but he called the publisher — Brad Sugg, who was also asleep — and related the story, opining that the ad exec had consumed several intoxicating beverages, and that his presence at the office in that condition wasn't advisable. Obviously Eddie did not get fired, while the other guy eventually did depart — but not before mixing it up with everyone else, including me. Several times. In fact, I remember hollering "I hate you!" at him one evening.

I've earlier described Robin Brown, who himself was involved in a number of near-scuffles. Robin reminded me a few years back of an in-your-face encounter with that ad guy, who poked a finger into Robin's chest. The ad dude had several disagreements with Brad, too. There's a sliding glass window between the newsroom and what was at that time the publisher's office, and one evening, I watched those two go at it to a point that almost reached physical violence. The window was closed, but I could hear their screams — and of course, see Brad's hair crackling with static electricity, as it always did when he got mad. At one point, the ad guy stood up, jabbed his middle finger in Brad's face, and screeched, "F- — you!" Brad came right over his desk, produced his own "bird," and bellowed the rejoinder, "Hey, f- — YOU, man!" The ad dude volleyed back, "No, f- — YOU!" Brad retorted in kind, and that profane tennis match went on for 30 seconds before Brad won the set by ordering the other fellow to leave the office "before I do something I regret, man!"

The maddest I got at an employee was with a guy we'll call "Lanny" who was doing page layout years ago. I walked up behind him, saw he had a boldface triple-deck headline on a shallow four-column story, and said, "You can't do that," explaining his design crime. I came back a half-hour later, and he hadn't done anything except change the typeface from bold to regular, apparently thinking this made the gaffe less noticeable. I repeated that he couldn't have a three-deck head on a four-column story. I returned to check on his progress in another half hour, and saw he hadn't fixed the problem; he had simply moved the "package" — the story and headline — to the bottom of the page, assuming I wouldn't notice. His assumption was false. I don't remember exactly what I said, but Betty (Smith) Ridge assures me that I inquired, "Are you stupid or something?"

That's certainly not acceptable behavior for a manager. Nor was it acceptable when I dealt with a reporter from our weekly competitor decades ago. The guy, who was small in stature, called me and was giving me a hard time about something, when I eventually blew a fuse over his abuse. According to then-reporter Bob Gibbins, I called the diminutive dude a "pint-sized piece of sht" before I hung up on him. Nobody's perfect.

Editor's note: Portions of this column were published in 2018.