In the s, as Atlanta and its boosters jostled with other cities for attention, staffs of the rival Journal and Constitution hustled for scoops. Nelson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into the state-run mental hospital in Milledgeville, worked at the Constitution for twelve years, specializing in uncovering Local Sluts Pinewood FL and abuses of power. He then spent thirty-six years with the Los Angeles Timesfirst as Atlanta bureau chief covering the civil rights movement and later as Washington bureau head reporting on the Watergate scandal and its aftermath.
Nelson, who died of pancreatic cancer at his Bethesda, Maryland, home inhad been working on a memoir.
This excerpt is from the book Scoop: The Evolution of a Southern Reporterwhich was completed under the direction of his wife, journalist Barbara Matusow, working with the University Press of Mississippi; it will be published this month. In this selection, Nelson recalls learning on the job in the newsroom of the Atlanta Constitution.
I flew to Atlanta to discuss the offer with [managing editor] Bill Fields, and told him I was willing to work long hours, but that I also wanted to go to college. He said he understood but expressed doubts that my going to college would work well for the Constitution. Stories about penny-pinching at the Journal and Constitution in those days were legion, and Fields in particular was known as a tightwad.
A wiry, balding ex-Marine who had no use for small talk and seldom smiled, he saw eye to eye with the publisher, Jack Tarver, who was so tightfisted we used to joke that he sat in his office squeezing nickels until they turned into dimes. In spite of its penurious ways, the Constitution was an invigorating place to work in those days. We competed fiercely for scoops with the Atlanta Journalthe afternoon paper, even though both papers had the same owner: former Ohio governor James M.
I was obsessed with beating him. The Constitution staff of about thirty reporters and editors was close-knit and populated by an assortment of colorful characters, some of them brilliant.
One of my favorites was Celestine Sibley, a big-boned, warm-hearted country girl who wrote like a dream, even though her personal life was full of tragedy. She was the original sob sister. Then there was Eddie Barker, another great storyteller and phrasemaker who liked a nip or two. The biggest laugh we ever had made the paper look a little silly. I was still a junior reporter working nights when three guys walked into the newsroom carrying a two-foot hairless creature.
They told us they had been driving around rural Cobb County when they saw what looked like a spaceship in the road and three small space aliens walking around. Two of the creatures hopped back Local Sluts Pinewood FL their craft and zoomed away, but the men claimed they accidentally ran over the third. This was inwhen the UFO craze was at its zenith, so the story was picked up all over the world, causing phones in the newsroom to ring nonstop. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took a more skeptical view and interrogated the men—two barbers and a butcher—at length.
They finally broke down and confessed to what ever after would be known as the Great Monkey Hoax. One barber had bet the others he could get his picture in the paper. So they got hold of a monkey which he shaved and chloroformed. The butcher then killed it before lopping off its tail. It made for quite a correction the following day.
Atlanta itself was exciting in those days—a bustling city expanding outwards in all directions, far more cosmopolitan than Georgia as a whole. The city fathers had begun courting Northern investment as early as the twenties, promoting Atlanta as a business-friendly center of manufacturing, transportation, and banking.
Although segregation was rigidly enforced until the sixties, the town had a reputation for racial moderation, which helped attract businesses and out-of-town conventions.
The rest of Georgia, still heavily agrarian, regarded Atlanta as an outpost of Gomorrah. Jimmy Carter once said that when he was growing up in Plains, making a trip to Atlanta was like going to Moscow or Beijing.
But Atlanta was proud of its reputation as the capital of the New South, and boosterism was the order of the day. An exception was Ralph McGill, already a towering figure in American journalism and a man whose moral force was equaled only by the eloquence of his writing. His column, which ran on the front of the paper seven days a week, frequently on the theme of racial justice, was must-reading, even for those who hated him.
A few years later, when Eugene Patterson, another brilliant writer and commanding presence, ed the editorial staff, publisher Jack Tarver likened the duo—accurately, to my way of thinking—to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
The paper, distributed statewide, wielded enormous clout in Georgia, especially in the realm of politics. I used to see politicians of all stripes—the mayor, city aldermen, state legislators—drop by the editorial offices just to chat. Everyone—radio, TV, the candidates—came to our newsroom because we had the most complete information, including at least one reliable person ased to almost every county. Their job was to give us the returns before they could be altered and an election stolen—a not uncommon event in Georgia.
The returns would be projected on the side of the building, drawing a good-sized crowd. He is generally credited with installing Ellis Arnall, a relative moderate, as governor inousting the notorious race-baiter Gene Talmadge. Talmadge, not surprisingly, loathed McGill. One of his flunkies once threatened to kill the editor.
McGill, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his columns on civil rights inhad a great sense of moral outrage, especially at the injustices inflicted on minorities and other disadvantaged people. I was tremendously proud to be associated with him. Outside of the South, his name was magic.
It was often the opposite in the South, where many considered him a traitor to the region. With violence never very far from the surface in those days, his columns provoked vicious reactions from racist whites.
A stocky, rumpled figure with black hair and a gravelly voice, he was adored by people who were close to him. His deputy, Gene Patterson, called him Pappy and thought he was a saint. But to us reporters, he seemed a somewhat distant figure, too wrapped up in national and international issues to be very interested in our work. He did not appear in the newsroom very often. He traveled a lot, and when he was in town he wrote his columns in a large office just down the hall.
At the same time, McGill was intensely loyal to his friends, and he became keenly and personally interested in a couple of investigative stories I worked on when they involved friends of his. I heard that an Atlanta policeman had been shifted off his beat after reporting on the existence of a lottery ring. I started pounding his old beat, asking residents and store owners if they knew anything at all.
Finally a woman pointed me to the auto repair garage next door, owned by a man named Horace Ingram, where she said there was a lot of coming and going but not much in the way of auto repairing. I sat up there for eleven days, just ten feet from the asphalt apron of the garage, watching as two police cars with their s clearly painted on their front doors stopped by Local Sluts Pinewood FL garage nearly every day.
Using binoculars, I could also see Ingram, the lottery operator, handing money to the officers. At one point, I was ed by Tom McRae, the assistant managing editor, who took moving pictures of the transactions which were later used in the trial. That was gratifying, but the stories and photos clearly upset McGill and his close friend, Mayor Hartsfield, both of whom took great pride in the Atlanta police.
Hartsfield was especially upset about the story because he was coming up for reelection. As colorful and profane as he was canny, Hartsfield had a talent for alliteration, especially when it came to cursing. I was only twenty-eight years old and was dealing with a Great Man who was older and who was my superior.
However, he never brought it up with me again. Some of the racketeers were found guilty of bribing the policemen, but the policemen were all acquitted of accepting bribes. That was bad enough in my view, but I also had to contend with some serious harassment from angry police and their supporters. Several times late at night, I would hear a commotion and look out the window to find cops coming towards the house with their flashlights in one hand and their pistols in the other, claiming they had received reports that I had killed my wife.
Other times, fire trucks roared up with sirens screaming.
A few months after ing the Constitution inI got an urgent telephone call that sent me off on a major investigation and one of my most harrowing experiences as a reporter. Brigadier General Richard Mayo, who had succeeded General Armstrong as commander of Camp Stewart, told me that gambling, drinking, and prostitution, under the protection of Liberty County officials, were victimizing soldiers and seriously hampering their training for combat duty in Korea.
Most of the soldiers were young inductees who were lonely and easily led astray. Teenaged barmaids, many from out of town, were luring the trainees into gambling ts and fleecing them of their money. Key Largo Prostitutes She was the original sob sister.
South Carolina Sluts They finally broke down and confessed to what ever after would be known as the Great Monkey Hoax. The Constitution newsroom was election central. South Carolina Prostitutes Everyone—radio, TV, the candidates—came to our newsroom because we had the most complete information, including at least one reliable person ased to almost every county. McGill himself could alter the outcome of an election. Like everyone else, I was in awe of the man.
Choose a Location He did not appear in the newsroom very often. One of those investigations centered on a police-protected lottery ring in Atlanta. Trending News Using binoculars, I could also see Ingram, the lottery operator, handing money to the officers.