Reporters get all manner of bizarre tips from the public. Such a tip led to last week’s story on a crucifix some said showed a large penis on Jesus. The story has since gone international, having been picked up by blogs and news sites worldwide. It has received tens of thousands of hits on NewsOK.
And it all started with a phone call. That’s somewhat remarkable considering all the dead ends we typically run into when we get calls from the public that seem as outrageous as this call about Jesus’s genitals.
Many of the strangest calls I’ve taken as a reporter came years ago when I worked the Saturday police beat. Something about Saturdays just seemed to ignite strangeness in people.
One of my regular Saturday callers often phoned asking what I could do to stop a group of men (whom she called “beefcakes”) from stealing a bird feeder from her back yard garden. Supposedly, this theft was occurring hourly. Another regular caller was convinced that a local funeral home had kidnapped her family, tapped her phones, stolen her identity and then sold that identity to the National Security Agency, which was trying to repossess her home and have her “locked up” for “knowing too much” (I later traced her phone number to a public housing unit, but that’s neither here nor there).
And then there’s The Growler, who earned his nickname because of the unmistakable growl in his voice. The Growler did not restrict his calls to Saturdays. For a couple years, it seemed he called at least one reporter a day with some sort of complaint or conspiracy theory. The Growler would always call sometime between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., meaning he’d never actually speak to the reporter because they weren’t at work yet. Instead, The Growler left long, meandering messages that were often cut off by our voicemail system because they lasted too long. No matter; the Growler would simply redial and finish ranting. Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to start my day with three or four voicemails from The Growler. He was usually hacked off about something he’d just read in the paper that a government official had done or said. For whatever reason, The Growler hasn’t called in years. I do miss him, even though I’ve never actually spoken to the man.
My colleagues have all encountered countless daffy tipsters like these. My point is we get a lot of crazies calling up here. Just the nature of the business. So when I got a call last week from a woman claiming there was a large, erect penis on Jesus on a crucifix in a local Catholic church, you’ll understand why I didn’t take it seriously at first. Then other folks started calling, and a picture of the piece in question appeared in my e-mail. We knew then we had a story.
Just proves that sometimes picking up the phone is all it takes to find a story. Never know who – or what – awaits on the other end of the line.
If you’re not crazy and have a tip, call me at (405) 475-3481.
Good Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where I’m wondering what to watch on TV now that the Olympics no longer dominate the prime-time slots.
Here’s a look at what you might have missed from our Watchdog team over the weekend:
–Reporter Sonya Colberg took a look at a proposed law to tighten up the educational requirements for drug and alcohol counselors in Oklahoma. It’s a complicated issue, because on one side you’ve got counselors with great life experience who might leave the profession if they have to get master’s degrees. On the other side is the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ effort to increase the professionalization of the counselors in Oklahoma.
–Randy Ellis explored one lawmaker’s efforts to revamp the state’s foster care system. Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, is looking to Florida as a possible model to privatize Oklahoma’s foster care.
–It’s Oscar week, so I had story explaining how film producers are using the state’s film rebate and a separate tax credit to recoup up to 49 percent of their qualified movie making expenditures in Oklahoma. With the state budget crunch, the tax credit part of that incentive package might hit the cutting room floor.
–Finally, Ellis had interviews with both of the people involved in a dispute in Lindsay involving the mayor.
–Tulsa had some problems with concrete falling off an Interstate 44 bridge last week. The Tulsa World‘s Data Editor Gavin Off asked the state Transportation Department for a database of damage claims against the state. What he found is that it’s fairly easy to file a claim, but a lot harder to actually get the money.
–The Associated Press had a comprehensive story on the latest efforts by state lawmakers to expand exemptions to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, closing off public access to things like public employees’ dates of birth, information from the state’s Film Office and autopsy reports.
–Detroit is losing thousands of people in the wake of the recession, but its new mayor isn’t losing hope. He’s pursuing a new strategy of “smaller is better,” a rarity among mayors who typically tout grand projects. The Wall Street Journal has more on the story:
Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Bing, a Democrat first elected last year to finish the term of disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, hasn’t touted big development plans or talked of a “renaissance.” Instead, he is trying to prepare residents for a new reality: that Detroit—like the auto industry that propelled it for a century—will have to get smaller before it gets bigger again.
–Oklahoma has its own long-running lawsuit over poultry waste. Today, the Washington Post delved into the larger issues surrounding industrial farming and the most basic of byproducts. Oklahoma gets a mention:
Despite its impact, manure has not been as strictly regulated as more familiar pollution problems, like human sewage, acid rain or industrial waste. The Obama administration has made moves to change that but already has found itself facing off with farm interests, entangled in the contentious politics of poop.
In recent months, Oklahoma has battled poultry companies from Arkansas in court, blaming their birds’ waste for slimy and deadened rivers downstream. In Florida, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed first-of-their-kind limits on pollutants found in manure.
–Finally, The New York Times had its own pollution story in Sunday’s paper. This one looked at the difficulty of establishing jurisdiction in pollution cases involving the Clean Water Act.
I, for one, am keenly interested in the state of the newspaper industry, given that it is how I have chosen to make my living.
As such, I wince every time I read about job cuts at major newspapers.
I’m not sure how others react to such news, but the New York Times reports on a surprising group troubled by such cuts — death penalty opponents.
It seems they’re concerned the lack of investigative reporters at newspapers around the country will make it harder to unearth evidence that exonerates wrongly accused prisoners.
Read more here.