A part of the “What’s Up With Stuff?” series.
They tell me, “Rex, the people love your stories! They’re raw, they’re real, they’re gritty, and they don’t seem like bullshit.”
Tell me something I don’t know.
I can tell you about the time that I stepped in a football-sized bull turd while fighting off three of them and their respective matadors. Don’t know how I managed to piss off man and beast simultaneously, but after a few years in this business you learn that sometimes it’s not you that pissed them off. Sometimes you realize you were just the charge that set them off. I can tell you that story, but I can’t weave any bullshit.
A reader wrote to my editors, my merciless captors, to tell them to stop giving me such a hard time. She wrote, “Give Rex a break! He’s been doing this a long time and he’s the only one there that has any truth.”
I can’t help but tell the truth. As a journalist, you learn somewhere between the fourteenth and fifteenth year that objective reporting is the only way to get to the heart of anything.
It’s like the time I found myself smack dab in the middle of a standoff between two Russians and three Afghans back before the first Gulf War, back when we didn’t mind Saddam having a few statues. This was when the Russians didn’t like us meddling in their affairs. It would shake you to the core to know how a tentative relationship with some Ruskies can become less tentative with each swig of vodka. I could tell you that story, but you might become overwhelmed with the reality of it all.
A teacher back at Ohio University, at the Scripps School of Journalism, told me not to lie to my audience.
He said, “Rex, they can smell a fib before they even pick up your paper. It’ll smell like horse-cockey, and the audience is most scared of having it rub off on them. They’ll follow you to the ends of this world in search of your story. They’ll stand right by you, but they won’t dive head first into shit.”
Back in the eighties, during a three-month stint in a gang whose name I won’t mention here, I found myself doing three months in jail for some bogus charge those coppers were barely able to pin to me. I didn’t turn tricks for extra sweets or anything like that (those inmates should be so lucky), but I did trade one of my molars for a pack of cigarettes. Dark times, those were.
I found myself needing to get out, so I escaped by digging through the wall of my cell into a sewage line. Covered the hole with a poster of Rita Hayworth, sweet Rita, and the warden didn’t figure out until it was too late. Wait. Maybe now I’m just mixing up my stint with the plot of Shawshank Redemption. Either way, I think you see my point.
These interns and “young-gun-shoot-now-ask-questions-later” reporters need to learn, possibly the hard way, that the people who read this stuff aren’t looking to hear tall tales. We all heard the tale of Paul Bunyan in first grade, and if you’re like me, you could get a whiff of something sticky and brown before the teacher opened the picture book. I call that my “Rex Sniff Test”. If you step in it and it won’t come off entirely by rubbing your shoe on some concrete, it’s probably dog shit. The audience doesn’t need to closely examine it, they can smell it coming off the page.