Give me a drunk newsman over one with B.O.

Writer's Roost

By Willis Webb— Over the years, my profession has had a general reputation as one that produced some recalcitrants who were inclined, as the saying goes, to “crawl into the bottle.”

I have to admit, there seems to have been a propensity among journalists to have a friendly drink or two or three.

But, I don’t believe I ever had as much problem with a drunk as I did one with, gasp, Body Odor (B.O.).

Three memorable drunk journalists with whom I was associated include a reporter-news editor, a copy editor and, ahem, a publisher. We’ll get to the guy with B.O. last so we don’t have our nostrils burning too long.

An East Texas weekly I went to publish had a reporter-news editor on staff that had a reputation as a boozer and he looked the part. He actually was a pretty good reporter and writer.

Anyway, Dan had a habit of keeping a bottle of booze in his car. Several times a day, he’d slip out to the car and take a nip or two or three. I’d also been warned that the local district attorney had gotten his hooks into Dan when the reporter was picked up for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). He told Dan he’d hold onto the DWI as long as Dan didn’t get busted again and that he was to write stories favorable to the prosecutor’s office.

Shortly after I took over publishing that paper, I caught Dan taking dictation at his desk from the D.A., who was standing there dictating a story on a criminal court case he’d just tried. Dan decided to take early retirement rather than be fired.

Shortly after that stint at the East Texas weekly paper, I was hired as the editor of a semi-weekly that, under new ownership, was going to convert to daily. I was given the task of planning the conversion.

I did so and hired the budgeted staff, including a copy editor. The man I hired for that post had just retired from the advertising business in Houston as a copywriter. He was gifted, bright, sophisticated and a recovering alcoholic. Bart explained the difference between reformed and recovering. “There’s no such thing as a reformed drunk,” he said, bitingly. “Being an alcoholic is a sickness, not a crime.” Bart didn’t want to retire, he just wanted out of the Houston rat race.

He also possessed one of the driest wits I’ve ever encountered. He did a splendid job and was never tempted to take a drink plus he kept the newsroom loose and in stitches while he sliced up their writing and handed it back smilingly as he said, “You can do better.”

And, young women just loved that old white-haired rapscallion.

The tippling publisher was the saddest story of all.

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