The Kind of Questions an Editor Never Thinks to Ask

As editor of the Washingtonian I mostly kept my office door open, happy to have anyone stop by to ask a question rather than write something for the in-box—it made things move faster for everyone. Two memorable questions asked at the open door:

Did you ask Ann if she could type?

The question was asked by the magazine’s managing editor, Margaret, about Ann, a new staff writer who was young and very attractive and had turned in her first story and it was written in longhand. This was back in the pre-computer days when stories came in written by typewriters on paper and no, I had not asked Ann if she could type when I had interviewed her.

It ended well with Ann learning to type and writing some good stories for us before heading off for a long career with the Wall Street Journal.

Did you know that Harry once said he had been abducted by space aliens and taken to Alpha Centauri?

The question was asked by Ken, the magazine’s senior editor who worked with our law firm to vet any stories that could cause legal problems. The law firm had notified Ken that Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins who we had often written about in ways that irritated him, had sued the magazine for publishing a story quoting his one-time chauffeur, Harry, as saying all kinds of unflattering things about him.

Again, it was the pre-digital days when it was harder to check on the background of people. It turned out that Harry had once told a weekly newspaper in Virginia he had been abducted by space aliens and our fact-checkers didn’t find it before we published the driving Mr. Cooke story.

This question did not have as happy an ending as can she type. Cooke’s lawsuit caused our publisher to ask, in a very loud voice, “How can we defend someone who believes in little green men?” The suit was settled for not much money and an apology but the legal bills were a painful lesson in the need for good fact-checking.

Comments

  1. Paige Gold says:

    That same Ann told me that during her job interview, you mused, “I just had a baby and her name is Ann.” She said that for her first few months at Washingtonian, she wondered if her name had gotten her the job!

  2. I’ve been close to a lot of Anns—grandmother, mother-in-law, daughter—and it’s hard not to like people with that name.

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