Thought I’d end a week of moral high-ground preaching with a little humble pie.
If Gerry Mulligan is reading and sees the photo, he’s shaking his head because he knows what’s coming.
I once made a bad error in the Chronicle. Ridiculously bad. Much worse than giving the wrong location for the local government summit (9 a.m. Friday, Lecanto Government Building).
So bad that now, 30-plus years later, it’s STILL the first thing I think whenever I make a mistake in print.
“Well,” I say to myself, “at least it wasn’t as bad as THAT.”
It’s so embarrassing, I’m going to make excuses before even revealing the mistake.
It was early in my Chronicle career. I didn’t know all the players. One of the people I interviewed worked at the Chronicle at the time, so I thought he was trustworthy. It was Sunday. I’m just a cub reporter. The sun was in my eyes.
Here are the four main ingredients of this story:
— A dead snake.
— OK, maybe not a snake.
It was a Sunday in probably 1989 or ‘90. We either got a call or someone left me a note that one of our employees and his friends had baked nachos the night before and found a snake in the Doritos.
Well, that’s all a perky reporter like me needs, so off I sped to their home in Citronelle to get the scoop.
I arrived and the group there showed me. They had made baked cheese Dorito nachos the night before, and when they started digging in someone saw what looked like a dead snake staring back at her.
They showed me said snake. It looked snakey to me, a little tongue slithering out where it had obviously made its demise in the oven.
I returned to the Chronicle with a cute story about the Dorito-fried snake.
Now. Before you jump all over me for lacking any sense of checking out such a tale with the Frito-Lay people, I will remind you again that it was Sunday and this was years before Al Gore invented the internet, so there was really nowhere to check.
Plus, the Citronelle folks weren’t complaining. No one was getting sued. No weird video going viral. Just a fun story about a Dorito-fried snake.
I wrote the story for Monday’s paper and then went to enjoy my next two days off.
On Tuesday, there was another story. This one actually had a photo of a Frito-Lay spokesman holding a Dorito-fried string.
String, not snake. I had been fooled by a piece of garment.
The spokesman admitted there shouldn’t have been string in the Doritos either, but no one can really say if the string/snake was in the bag or ended up on the oven rack some other way.
Mulligan, then the Chronicle editor, was livid. He demanded to know how such a dumb thing happened.
We never got to the bottom of it, other than me just missing the boat there, but boy that was fodder for years. I really thought I’d take that story to my journalism grave, but Thursday’s boo-boo about the meeting location spurred me to fess up.
I do not like making mistakes and I probably beat myself up more than anyone about them. And now that it’s, you know, just ME, the error potential is even higher because I don’t have layers of editors reading what’s written before it’s published. So I try to be very careful, and I make sure someone reads it before it’s posted.
So, yeah, I’m going to have the occasional error. That’s human nature and I’ll do my best to limit the mistakes.
But if you find a critter in your cheese nachos, don’t call me.
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