BillMcGaughey.com

Bill McGaughey, the newspaper columinist

 

In the spring of 2013, Bill McGaughey was asked to be a columnist with a new newspaper in St. Paul. It was called the St. Paul Globe. This had an interesting historical connection because the railroad tycoon, James J. Hill, had once owned a newspaper with the same name.

Unfortunately, for business reasons, the revived St. Paul Globe folded after a single issue on May 1st. Bill’s first article ran in that issue. It is republished here. There are also two articles, historically less substantial, which Bill had submitted for future publication. They are also presented here.

"Taking the long view"

Article #1

The late owner of the St. Paul Globe and his business associate, J. P. Morgan

by William McGaughey

It will be a pleasure to share my sometimes unorthodox views on many subjects with readers of the St. Paul Globe. This revives a newspaper founded in 1878 by Harlan P. Hall which was purchased in 1896 by the empire builder, James J. Hill. He owned and operated this paper until its demise in April 1905.

Since the St. Paul Globe has a strong capitalistic pedigree, I think it appropriate to write in this column about the career of Hill and his close associate, J. P. Morgan, the titan of Wall Street a century ago. These men were both revered and reviled in their time. Even today, their careers evoke controversy.

James Jerome Hill was a Canadian with one eye, long hair, and a gift of gab. In 1876, he had lived in St. Paul for 20 years. Of Scotch-Irish ancestry, Hill was then agent for the line of side-wheel boats that carried cargo up and down the Mississippi river and also represented Norman Kittson, who operated a steamboat line on the Red river from Breckenridge to Winnipeg.

Connecting these two two rivers was the St. Paul and Pacific railroad, which was unprofitable and had gone into receivership. Its service was poor. Hill used to talk with people about how the railroad might be improved. It was owned by a group of Dutch bondholders who had no interest in throwing good money after bad.

Breckenridge’s main customer was the Hudson Bay Company. Its agent in Winnipeg, Donald A. Smith, was a friend of George Stephen, Governor of the Bank of Montreal, where the Hudson Bay Company banked. Smith talked with Stephen about the under-performing railroad in Minnesota. When Stephen came to Chicago to participate in a lawsuit, he had a few extra days on his hands. He and his vice president, Richard Angus, decided to come up to St. Paul to look at the railroad. Hill arranged for a special train to take his new banking friends along the route to the Red river. The two visitors were impressed by the great expanse of farm land served by this railroad and soon shared Hill’s enthusiasm for its potential under new management.

When George Stephen went to Amsterdam in the next year, he arranged obtained an option from the Dutch bondholders to buy their interest in the railroad for thirty cents on the dollar. He later made a deal with banker John S. Kennedy to buy out the mortgage holders in New York. Hill’s job was to secure a franchise from the Minnesota Legislature. After a tough fight, he succeeded in the spring of 1877. Now six men - Hill, Stephen, Smith, Angus, Kittson, and Kennedy - owned the railroad. Hill was appointed general manager.

One of the reasons that the old railroad was unprofitable was that the territory served by the St. Paul and Pacific railroad had been afflicted by a plague of grasshoppers. Hundreds of farmers had simply abandoned their properties. With the railroad under new management, this situation miraculously improved. The grasshoppers went away and the wheat crop grew in abundance. The railroad kept pace with demand by purchasing dilapidated coaches in New York.

Soon Hill and his five partners, mostly of Scottish ancestry, were rich. Having put up $283,000 in cash to buy the railroad, they became multi-millionaires over night. They issued $16 million worth of bonds for expansion and paid out $15 million in dividends. In 1879, the property was incorporated as the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba railroad. In 1893, it was known as the Great Northern system. Hill’s enterprise now had a capitalization of $143 million and 4,300 miles of track, extending all the way to the Pacific ocean.

There was another railroad, the Northern Pacific, which competed with the Great Northern system in the northwestern states. Consisting of 54 small companies, it cost half again as much to operate as the Great Northern. The Northern Pacific went into receivership in the panic of 1893. Its security holders looked to New York financier, J. P. Morgan, for help in representing their interests. Morgan’s lieutenant, George F. Baker, president of the First National Bank of New York, had become involved in the Great Northern system through John Kennedy. Morgan decided that he could best serve his clients by merging the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern.

It took two years to arrange this, but in May 1895 an agreement was reached at Morgan’s home in London that the Northern Pacific would be reorganized by issuing $200 million in bonds and $100 million in stock. The Great Northern would guarantee payment of principal and interest on the bonds and, in return, receive half of the new company’s stock.

There was just one problem: The Minnesota legislature had passed a law forbidding the consolidation of parallel and competing railroad lines. The U.S. Supreme Court in March 1896 ruled that Morgan’s proposed combination of the two railroads was illegal. Morgan and Hill then put their two heads together and came up with a plan to beat the court ruling.

Here we run into a little-known aspect of J. P. Morgan’s personality. Besides being the nation’s foremost financier, Morgan was also a fanatical Episcopalian. He was a stalwart of St. George’s Episcopalian church in New York City and a person who regularly attended church conventions where he discussed theological issues with fellow church members. In this case, he was planning to attend the triennial convention of the Episcopalian church to be held in Minneapolis in the fall of 1895.

Between sessions of the church convention, Morgan had numerous visits with James J. Hill. They devised a plan to dissolve both companies and create a new one whose shareholders would be the same as for the old companies. There was a scheme for subscribing to these shares, retiring the preferred stock, and creating a group of five trustees, headed by Morgan, to vote the shares. The Supreme Court could not forbid such combinations by individual shareholders.

James J. Hill now became the head of a railroad that monopolized traffic between Minneapolis and St. Paul and the Pacific northwest. He and Morgan next set their eyes upon gaining a connection to Chicago. Morgan was a director of the New York Central railroad which carried cargo and passengers between Chicago and the east coast. If he could gain a connection between Chicago and St. Paul, there would be a way to extend its reach to the Pacific coast via Hill’s railroad. Morgan proposed buying the St. Paul railroad. Hill thought the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad would be a better deal for his railroad because it had tracks through the Mississippi river valley into Iowa, Colorado, and South Dakota. Morgan deferred to Hill’s judgment on this matter.

So James J. Hill, with Morgan’s backing, began to negotiate purchasing the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad. Unbeknownst to him at the time, another party was also interested in buying this railroad, the Union Pacific railroad headed by E.H. Harriman. When Harriman heard that Hill and Morgan had gained control of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, he asked for an interest in the purchase, which would have meant that the Union Pacific would have access to Chicago as well. In effect, Harriman and Hill would have divided railroad traffic west of the Mississippi river much as the New York Central and the Pennsylvania railroad divided traffic east of the Mississippi river. However, Hill flatly refused Harriman’s request.

Hill came to New York City in mid April, 1901, to announce that his company now owned 96 percent of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy stock. First he met with Harriman and his banker, Jacob Schiff of Kuhn, Loeb & Company. When Hill again refused to give Harriman an interest in the purchase, Harriman hissed: “Very well, this is a hostile act, and you must take the consequences.” Hill merely waved his hand and left the meeting.

Harriman was a man of immense intelligence, determination, and guts. Thwarted by Hill, he and his allies proceeded to buy $155 million worth of Northern Pacific stock. Since Northern Pacific owned half of the Burlington railroad’s stock, control of it would have given Harriman the access to Chicago that he wanted.

The price of Northern Pacific stock began to rise. Hill and Morgan assumed that the market was approving its purchase of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. Actually, the price rise reflected Harriman’s purchases of stock. Hill had a premonition of danger. He caught a fast train to New York from Seattle and, on May 3, 1901, walked into Jacob Schiff’s office to demand an explanation. Schiff coolly informed him that, because Hill had refused Harriman’s request, the Union Pacific was buying a controlling interest in Hill’s railroad.

Schiff informed Hill that evening that Union Pacific now controlled 370,000 shares of Northern Pacific common stock and 420,000 shares of its preferred stock, giving Harriman a majority of the company’s stock. Significantly, however, he lacked a majority of the common shares. Harriman knew that the Hill-controlled board of directors could retire the preferred stock at will, leaving the common shareholders in control of the company.

J.P. Morgan was in France at the time enjoying the company of a female friend. Furious at Harriman’s raid, he ordered his associates to buy 150,000 shares of Northern Pacific common stock. Harriman had given similar orders although Schiff cancelled them when the shares became too high priced. Northern Pacific rose to $1,000 per share. Morgan and Hill retained control of its common stock while Harriman had a majority of total capitalization. But before the question of corporate control could be resolved, the bidding war between these two parties caused a panic on Wall Street.

What had happened was that on May 7th and 8th, 1901, speculators began to short-sell Northern Pacific stock recognizing that the price was unrealistically high. They confidently expected the price to fall. However, both the Harriman and Hill/Morgan camps retained their shares because to do otherwise would have meant giving up control of the company.

When European investors recognized what was happening, they refused further loans to buy American stocks. Now the short sellers had to redeem their shares of Northern Pacific. They could only do so by selling shares of other stocks. Those shares plummeted. “(A) good part of Wall Street was for a couple of hours technically insolvent,” wrote financial historian Alexander Noyes.

Both the Harriman and Hill/Morgan camps were ashamed of their role in this affair. To ease the pressure on investors, both offered to sell shares of Northern Pacific at a considerably reduced price. Both made public statements minimizing their involvement in the speculative frenzy. At the end, the Northern Pacific board was put in the hands of J.P. Morgan. Morgan appointed both Hill and Harriman to the board. James J. Hill remained the operating chief.

Hill and Morgan had another trick up their sleeve. They had formed a giant holding company called Northern Securities Company to control the Northern Pacific, Great Northern, and Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy railroads. It had a capitalization of $400 million - large enough to prevent anyone from purchasing the company as Harriman had tried to do.

Three months later, Philander Knox, attorney general in Theodore Roosevelt’s cabinet, announced that the U.S. Justice Department would file a suit under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act demanding that that the Northern Securities Company be broken up for anti-trust violations. The U.S Supreme Court had rejected a similar suit in 1895, but President Roosevelt felt that public opinion would support such an action at this time.

The government was worried that a financing mechanism such as that in the Northern Securities Company would make it easy for monopolies to be created in almost any industry. Monopolies gained additional revenues by stifling competition. James J. Hill attempted to allay those fears by publishing a signed letter in the St. Paul Globe (predecessor to the newspaper you are now reading). He wrote:

“ Several of the gentlemen who have long bee interested in the Great Northern Railway and its predecessor, the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Company, and who have always been among its largest shareholders, but not the holders of a majority of its stock, whose ages are from seventy top eighty-six years, have desired to combine their individual holdings in corporate form, and in that way secure permanent protection for their interests and a continuation of the policy and management which had done so much for the development of the Northwest and the enhancement of their own property in the Northwest and elsewhere. Out of this desire has grown the Northern Securities Company.

“ It became necessary (in order to prevent the Northern Pacific from passing under the control of the Union Pacific interests and with it the joint control of the Burlington) to pay off the seventy-five millions of Northern Pacific preferred. The enormous amount of cash required for this purpose, from a comparatively small number of men, made it necessary for them to act together in a large and permanent manner through the medium of a corporation; and the Northern Securities Company afforded them the means of accomplishing this object without the necessity of crating a separate company to finance the transaction for the Northern Pacific.

“ The Northern Securities Company is organized to deal in high-class securities; to hold the same for the benefit of its shareholders, and to advance the interests of the corporations whose securities it owns. Its powers do not include the operation of railways, banking, or mining, or the buying and selling of securities or properties of others on commission; it is purely an investment company; and the object of its creation was simply to enable those who hold its stock to continue their respective interests in association together; to prevent such interests from being scattered by death or otherwise, and to provide against such attacks as had been made upon the Northern Pacific by a rival and competing interest.”

The government was not satisfied. On March 10, 1902, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit in the U.S. Circuit Court for Minnesota alleging that the consolidation of two competing railways would create “a monopoly of the interstate and foreign commerce” and create a mechanism for absorbing all the nation’s railroads in a single corporate entity. The lower court ruled in the government’s favor in April 1903. An appeal then went to the U.S. Supreme Court which, on March 14, 1904, again ruled in favor of the government. Four justices voted for the government, and four against, with the ninth justice abstaining but voting to dissolve the holding company. Public opinion was favorable: “Teddy” Roosevelt had licked the big Wall Street interests.

Morgan, now embittered toward Roosevelt, was forced to distribute the Northern Securities stock pro rata, giving the owner of each share $39.24 in Northern Pacific stock and $30.17 in Great Northern. E.H. Harriman felt that he had been cheated. However, as time went on, his shares rose to the point in the following year’s stock-market boom that he netted a $58 million profit on his investment. He then went on a buying binge of railroad properties that gave him presence in all parts of the country.

J.P. Morgan was widely vilified for his “monopolistic” ambitions; President Roosevelt was widely admired. Comeuppance for the latter came in September 1907. Drifting toward old age and retirement, Morgan was suddenly called to service of his beloved nation. The stock market had begun to crumble early in the year. Then came the “March panic” followed by a summer when the City of New York could find no buyers for its bonds and when Westinghouse Electric failed. The trust companies, required only to hold 5 percent of deposits in reserve, were no longer trusted. People started to withdraw and keep cash. Someone tried to corner the market in United Copper stock. This scheme was smashed when one of the insiders secretly sold out. Many of the leading banks had made loans using questionable securities. The National Bank of Commerce refused to clear checks for the Knickerbocker Trust Company.

In this dire environment, only one man could save the economy, and that was J.P. Morgan. People begged him to help. Morgan shook his head sadly and said: “I can’t go on being everybody’s goat. I have got to stop somewhere.” With that remark, panic spread on Wall Street. The Secretary of Treasury hurried to New York pledging the government’s help if the private financial interests could unite behind a single leader. So they turned again to Morgan and he agreed to help.

For a few tense days, J.P. Morgan sat in his Wall Street office issuing orders as messengers came and went. The Secretary of Treasury, sitting in an office behind Washington’s statue, immediately transferred funds at Morgan’s command. Morgan strong armed his banking friends to release money. In a matter of minutes, he had created a pool of $25 million to be loaned at 10 percent interest. Wall Street cheered. He helped form a committee to help the weaker trust companies. He raised $30 million for the city of New York to pay its school teachers.

Morgan worked through the night on these various projects but also found time during the financial crisis to visit Roosevelt hospital where the wife of the former rector of St. George’s church lay ill. He found time to preside over a long meeting at the Metropolitan Museum. Morgan became an overnight hero; but public acclaim for such persons lasted only a short time.

By all accounts, J.P. Morgan did not care about his public image or reputation. He seldom answered any personal attack. He simply went about his business, whether it was the business of high finance, church politics, art collecting, or pleasing beautiful women. Judging from his ownership of the St. Paul Globe, Hill did endeavor to influence public opinion. Certainly, many others did as well. But the reputations of Wall Street bankers and captains of industry have seldom been good.

I would have to conclude that, in contrast with their counterparts of today, James J. Hill and J.P. Morgan did more good than ill. They were creative persons whose enterprise helped bring prosperity to Americans even if they themselves also prospered. They did not milk government contracts and they were not “too big to fail”.

It may or may not be significant that the Federal Reserve System was established a year after J. P. Morgan’s death. No single person could have filled his shoes. We then had separation between the government and the financial industry so that, however many scoundrels operated in the uppermost regions of finance or government, the system endured.

 

Article #2

The Zombie Apocalypse

Although I am usually a defender of free speech, this column will be devoted to criticizing someone else’s speech on cable television. My focus will be upon the History Channel, now called “History”, and its companion channel H2.

Years ago, I used to enjoy programs on the History Channel. History is an interesting subject. It does not have to be distorted to make it more interesting. Straight history is exciting enough. Documentaries on World War II, even if overdone, are worth watching for the first time or two. There could be documentaries on many other kinds of historical topics if the program directors of cable-television shows would look for them.

Now, it seems, viewers do not even get this. Having been away from full-scale cable for several years, I was surprised to see what type of programming was now considered appropriate for channels devoted history. There were shows on pawn stars, UFOs, monsters, and backwoods operators of stills. It would seem that hillbillies were now considered the prime consumers of history. Yes, Nostradamus is worth paying attention to, but how much of him can a person stand? And, if viewers become tired of his writings, there are the New World Mayan prophecies. After December 21st of last year, these have at least temporarily gone out of fashion.

Last night’s (May 2, 2013) program was about how people can protect themselves from zombie attacks. Zombies are a staple of the entertainment culture. There are persons involved in African or voodoo rituals who are believed actually to assume this role as ones who have returned from the dead.

Zombies in a strict sense are revived corpses. Their existence, even in one instance, is suspect from the perspective of modern science. But this H2 program was trying to alert viewers to the possibility of a “zombie apocalypse” - our whole civilization collapsing as wave after wave of zombies came after us and our loved ones.

The “experts” on this program were advising viewers on what to do when confronting a zombie. One effective defense is to hit the creature on the head with a crowbar. Another way is to push his head back and pull his legs so he falls to the ground. Then you either run away or thrust a knife into the zombie’s prostrate body. Another expert was displaying a range of automatic weapons that could be used against zombies. Assault rifles are best but pistols will work in some cases. I was thinking: If zombies are already dead, what good will it do to kill them again? Won’t they simply return to life?

One zombie expert on the show had “M.D.” after his name. Another had some sort of connection with the Center for Disease Control. Law-enforcement officials were also tied to this threat. It was obvious that the people who developed this program wanted us to believe that the zombie threat was real.

Therefore, we were urged to prepare for the coming zombie attack. Either you could barricade yourself inside your home with an ample supply of food, water, and battery-powered electrical equipment or, alternatively, head for the hills with much the same equipment. The protected ones of zombiedom are survivalists, persons who know how to survive at a basic level. It helps not to do this alone but in groups of likeminded persons.

A group called the “Zombie Squad” (ZS) in St. Louis collectively prepares for the zombie “apocalypse”. Because its operation is in the area of emergency preparedness, it reportedly cooperates with local law-enforcement agencies in carrying out certain exercises.

From the perspective of someone who believes that zombies are fictitious characters, I must nevertheless confront the fact that many people in our community believe they are real. More disturbing still, a supposedly reputable media outlet such as the History Channel, or whatever its current manifestation is called, can pass off the zombie apocalypse as a prospective historical event.

Granted that everything in the media is gravitating toward entertainment, aren’t there limits to the way commercial products can be labeled? Presumably for the sake of ratings among an increasingly hillbilly clientele for cable-television shows, the media moguls at the History Channel have opted for a dumbed-down version of history that conveys instant excitement rather than real historical narratives.

Our friends at Wikipedia tell us: “ History, formerly known as The History Channel, is a US-based international satellite and cable TV channel owned by A&E Television Networks. It originally broadcast documentary programs and historical fiction series. However since 2008, it has mostly broadcast a variety of scripted "reality" television series and other nonhistory-related content.”

Who decided to make this switch in 2008 from real history to reality-based entertainment under its guise? I assume that executives at A&E Television Networks had something to do with the switch. A&E is owned half by the Hearst Corporation and half by the Walt Disney Company.

Hearst is a news organization with a history of shaping (rather than reporting) events such as the Spanish-American war. Disney produces entertainment shows for children. Maybe their respective corporate backgrounds give ample warning that what they call “history” will be a doctored, sensationalized version of such rather than an adult product.

Alternatively, this type of show may reflect the post-911 security hysteria which Americans have either willingly embraced or had forced upon them. Corporate America has evidently gone along with this approach. Our national leadership, both political and economic, is so bad that the citizenry cannot be allowed to see a straightforward version of history or be allowed to think clearly about such things but must instead be directed into a world of fantasy and escapism that poses no threat to the ruling elites.

Zombies are “safe” from that perspective. If Americans mobilize against the nonexistent zombie apocalypse, they will not be mobilizing against the real persons or institutions in our society that are betraying their trust. It takes less courage to fight an imaginary threat.

 

Article #3

The Joys of Lying

I used to be proud of telling the truth. As a political candidate, truth was my special thing. However, those values have become compromised. Worse yet, I have recently discovered a certain joy in fabricating statements - lying, if you will. Since I do not intend to run for public office again, this column will now be used to make a confession.

I have felt certain pressures to lie as a landlord in Minneapolis. Here is the situation: There is a particular tenant whom I wish to evict - because of criminal behavior, failure to pay rent, whatever. It’s safer and easier to get the tenant to move voluntarily than to obtain an unlawful detainer (UD) and then have the sheriff forceably remove the person from my apartment unit. The tenant is more likely to go peacefully if another landlord is willing to rent to him or her.

So I get a telephone call from a landlord or a screening agent. Did Ms. X rent from me? Yes. How was she as a tenant? Did she always pay her rent on time? Yes. Were there any lease violations? No. Did she keep her apartment looking neat? Of course. Would I rent to her again? Yes, I would.

By this time, I was becoming ashamed of myself. But I was also no fool in giving honest answers if I wanted this tenant to move. This was not me as a person dishing out all those lies; it was me in a certain occupational role that is not especially respected in our community. After twenty years of doing this sort of thing, my nose like Pinocchio’s must have grown quite long.

I have recently gone through a difficult divorce. I used to think that lying in court was forbidden. But then my wife, or her attorney, decided to go after my non-marital property by claiming that she had spent thousands of hours doing maintenance work in my rental properties. In truth, she had hardly set foot in any of them. The judge saw through her claims but, instead of calling them “lies”, he said only that she had a weak case.

What about me? I criticized the judge in my post-trial motions for failing to provide a fair trial. Among other things, I said that the judge had given me much less time to present my case than the other side. “ Before addressing his specific concerns,” wrote the judge in the opening paragraph of his response, “I need to discuss my serious concerns regarding Respondent’s veracity.” This he said despite hard evidence in the record to the contrary. Let’s call a spade a spade. This judge was accusing me of lying. But, if I was an inveterate liar, would I be honest enough to acknowledge that fact? (a little philosophy here)

At this point, I went over to the other side. I found that lying can actually be fun. Oddly enough, this happened during a broadcast of the local news on WCCO-TV. Here was the situation:

Frank Vascellaro and Amelia Santaniello are the regular news anchors on this station, channel 4. Married in 1999, they are a picture-perfect television couple. Both are handsome and deliver the news in a crisp yet friendly style.

Frank came to WCCO from KARE-TV in 2006. When interviewed, he said he was “extremely excited’ about the move. “What he’s not quite sure about,” the report added, “is whether his wife will turn out to be a perfect co-worker or how they will deal with those not-so-perfect days that all married couples have ... ‘That really is the troubling question,’ Vascellaro said. ‘This will be interesting ... There are days when husbands and wives are arguing about things, and you’re happy to get away from your spouse for a while. But for better or worse, we’re stuck in this thing together.’”

Imagine my surprise when, one day in the first week of March 2013, I turned on Channel 4 news and saw a report on the Birkebeiner cross-country-ski tournament in Hayward, Wisconsin. There were Amelia Santaniello and WCCO’s weather man, Chris Shaffer, reporting from the scene. Boy, they looked chummy together. Why wasn’t Frank there? The reason why is that Frank was back home in the Twin Cities anchoring the evening news by himself. He really looked forelorn. What was going on here?

I called my wife in the other room and asked her to come and take a look at the news. Here were Amelia and Chris galavanting around northern Wisconsin, whooping it up with the race spectators, while poor Frank was stuck at home. There must be something going on behind the scenes. Was Amelia tired of Frank and stuck on Chris instead?

Yes, I decided, there must be trouble in WCCO-land. Frank and Amelia are human beings subject to the regular human foibles, not storybook characters. What if Amelia’s eyes occasionally rove? And who could blame Chris Schaffer, the weather man, for being paid attention to by a gorgeous woman like her? Yes, this was probably a lie; but what a fun lie! Believing it made watching the local news much more interesting.

On or around the night of Frank’s solo anchor, there was a report that a close relative of Twins catcher Joe Mauer had been caught in a police prostitution sting. So I went with another lie. I decided that Frank Vascellaro must have been caught in the same sting. The Minneapolis police had decided to go after high-profile males. They did a sting operation catching Joe Mauer’s relative and perhaps Frank as well. Sitting at home by himself, he was lonely and, indeed, rather resentful that his lovely wife was up in Hayward, Wisconsin, galavanting around with their colleague, the weather man.

It was only natural that, when the offer of promiscuous sex presented itself, Frank Vascellaro might have succumbed. However, WCCO-TV protects its own. It had a gold mine in the picture-perfect couple, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Vascellaro, and would naturally not want that image to be disturbed. So the WCCO brass put on the brass knuckles and put it straight to the Minneapolis police chief: Lay off Vascellaro or we’ll stop reporting your side of the news. If the police have any skeletons in the closet, you can be sure the public will know about all of them if you turn Frank over to the prosecutor. It worked. The news program outed only Joe Mauer’s relative.

Well, Amelia came back from northern Wisconsin. Soon afterwards, she and Frank were seen sitting together in a cosy love seat. Then they went back to the regular anchor desk. Chris was back to delivering weather reports but I looked closely to see if he would occasionally cast a longing glance at Amelia.

One weekend, there was an attractive female delivering the weather report. “Come here,” I shouted to my wife. “Chris has been fired. Someone else has replaced him.” Evidently the WCCO big-wigs relented. Chris Schaffer was back at his old job the following week.

If I were not such a liar, I would not have watched WCCO news so faithfully that month. Maybe it was cabin fever or maybe it was that media-savvy people like me love to read between the lines of television-news reporting. I just had to come back each night to catch the latest episode of the drama involving Amelia, Chris, and Frank. Who was up, and who was down? Who was whose heart throb this particular week?

Recently, Chris and Frank were sent on assignment to cover the fishing opener in Park Rapids, Minnesota, while Amelia stayed home to anchor the news. Since the Minneapolis police don’t do prostitution stings involving high-profile females, there would probably be no significant events that weekend. Or, maybe I was wrong about Amelia in the first place. She really is stuck on Frank and would never stray.

Having tasted the sweet fruits of lying, I have recently concocted a new scheme to whip up truthless excitement. I graduated from a prestigious college out east. In the many years since graduation, I have seldom if ever submitted personal-news items to the class secretary. Either I had nothing to brag about or nothing newsworthy to report. Now, having gone through a painful divorce that involved two arrests for domestic abuse, I felt this might be the time to make a confession of sorts. But I did not feel like complaining or explaining. Lying was more my cup of tea.

Therefore, I sent in a brief report to the class secretary mentioning some of my recent woes. “On the bright side”, the report ended, “I have developed a brisk business in the metal-recycling industry.” This was a lie. Either my old classmates, who include a U.S. Senator, would think of me as a tycoon in the waste-management field or one of those guys who, in his old age, walks through alleys with a bag or shopping cart fishing aluminum cans out of the trash. They would not know which. In truth, it was neither.

The lesson is: Lying can be fun. Try it some time. Some of our society’s more prominent individuals in politics, business, and, I dare say, the law do this regularly.

 

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