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THE SOURCE OF GOOD REPORTING

One day last week a fellow member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars said: "You are so busy dropping names all the time, you never mention your bad days in New York City. But you must have had them."

First of all, I don't like to share my troubles, Secondly, and maybe it's firstly, when I say, "How are you?" it's just a greeting, not an excuse to show X-rays of what is bothering the other person.

Anyway, I sure had some disappointments in Manhattan, and one of them comes to mind when I hear the media being blamed for everything but Hurricane Georges. Indeed, there is only one occupation that scores lower in public esteem.

Now, I don't believe that the flap about a writer like Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe is front-page material except in both Boston newspapers. Barnicle's chief crime seems to be quoting a comedian's book without giving said comedian the credit.

Now a person in the first row is asking, "Are you saying that because you give credit to the comics you quote?" No, it's because I don't care to put words into wrong mouths. And it's always easy to blame other people for their opinions even if you agree with them.

Anyway, it was late 1957, and I had just become editor in chief of Cavalier magazine, later described by Time magazine as a "corpuscular magazine with a large barracks-room circulation."

When I became editor, it had little circulation and was owned by Fawcett Publications, whose pride was True -- the Man's Magazine. Indeed, I had been passed over for the Cavalier job twice and was the first Fawcett employee to move up to the head office.

Because I was well aware of the dominance of True, which paid better and had an associate editor reading the slush pile, the unsolicited stories, I had a message for my colleagues. It was: "Don't compete. Originate. And don't reject stories outright. Scribble a personal note on the letter."

That scribbling seemed to pay off when a wanna-be author wrote, "I am so impressed by you guys, I'm going to tell you about two Marines killed by our own men in Guadalcanal after a drumhead court-martial."

Now we had a big one, because records show only Pvt. Edward Slovick was killed for desertion in the winter of 1945. We asked Richard Tregaskis, author of "Guadalcanal Diary," to follow up on the story, and he rejected us.

Then we contacted William Bradford Huie, who had written the Slovick story. He agreed and contacted the source, whom he interviewed in our building. The source impressed Huie and gave him the name of another witness.

Now Huie needed a third source and contacted a third Marine in Mississippi. That worthy said the other two had never been on Guadalcanal and had made up a master war story. When confronted, the star witness shrugged and said something to the effect that he was just helping a buddy sell a story.

I will never forget the day in the office of Ralph Daigh, the editorial director, when he said that he felt sorry for the first man's wife. I was sitting there thinking, "He has never met the woman, and here he is feeling sorry for her."

The magazine did well without the bombshell. Among other things, we sent the late Huie, by now my fast friend, into the mountains to lead the campaign to pay off Sgt. Alvin C. York's back taxes. We found the Aussie coast watcher who saved the crew of PT-109 and brought him to the White House.

But when I hear of attacks on the media, I think of Daigh and the third source.

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