When an Editor’s Best Friend Is a Dog

By Jack Limpert

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 7.07.00 AMIn my years at The Washingtonian, we published a lot of what I thought were solid, important stories, but the one that got us the most world-wide attention was a dog story.

One morning, before going to work, I was walking Lindy, our golden retriever.  I stopped to talk with a neighbor who was walking her springer spaniel. When I said something nice about her dog, she began to talk about the virtues of springer spaniels and she mentioned that her dog was a lot better looking than Millie, the President’s dog. I’m not sure she called Millie ugly but she didn’t think the President’s dog was a good representative of the breed.

When I got to the office, our art director showed me her idea for that July’s Best & Worst cover—it was mostly type with the cover art a picture of a gold crown. The editor’s brain began bouncing around: Best and worst, a generic gold crown, dull, boring. How about Millie as Washington’s worst dog? No, the art director said, the gold crown would be classier. No, the editor said, we’re putting Millie on the cover and we’re calling her Washington’s ugliest dog.

About ten days later, the July issue hit the newsstands and the press coverage began:

President Doggedly Defends Millie
June 29, 1989
By David Lauter
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — You can criticize his arms control plans, oppose his flag burning amendment or even argue in favor of higher taxes, but don’t mess with the President’s dog.

“I know you guys don’t write the editorials, but our dog was named ugliest dog in Washington by the Washingtonian magazine,” President Bush told three reporters from The Times at the end of an Oval Office interview Wednesday, referring to Millie, the family’s springer spaniel. “I’d like some defense on the West Coast. Imagine picking on a guy’s dog.”

A few minutes later, the telephone rang at the offices of Washingtonian, the capital’s slick city magazine.

“I’d like to know who did the ‘Best and Worst’ ” article, the caller asked, referring to the piece in which Millie was labeled as ugly. “I’d like to know how you picked the ugliest dog,” the caller continued. Receptionist Felicia Stovall said that the editor who had prepared the piece was tied up and asked the caller’s name. “President George Bush,” the caller responded.
So in my 40 years at the magazine, our most talked-about story came from listening to a neighbor talk about springer spaniels. The President was asked about the Washingtonian cover  at a televised news conference, and Millie and the magazine got big play all over the world. How many words inside the magazine? About 100.

The lesson is that you just never know where a really good story will come from. Keep your eyes open and listen to what people are talking about and you never know.

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