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Be wary when news media asks for tips

Columnist brings new meaning to 'shooting the bull'


You've heard them yourself: TV news anchors pleading with viewers: "Call us with your news tips!"

Years ago, I did just that. Here's what happened…

At that time we lived in a remote, wooded area a few miles from Portland. One day someone knocked. A woman I knew vaguely - only because the backs of our rural properties joined - asked, "Have you seen my bull? He must've jumped the fence."

"No," I told her. "But if I do, I'll let you know."

Several days later, I recognized her at the market. "Did you find your bull?" "Yes!" she snapped and then continued to tell me he'd gotten into someone's field "a half-mile away."

However, that property owner - instead of herding the bull back home - had corralled it in his own yard, taken his rifle, shot the animal and then invited friends and neighbors to help butcher - and eat - it.

After all, hearing that high-caliber gunshot could've caused questions/investigations, so sharing the meat apparently became their "hush money."

Granted, the woman was unattractive, dressed dowdily and smelled of manure. Even so, I was skeptical anyone would actually kill a wayward animal, especially when all knew the woman's livelihood depended on her herd's stud bull.

So I warily asked, "How do you know that's what happened?" She said one of the meat's recipients called and confessed to clear her conscience, and in the process, named the other six miscreants.

(I thought it significant the confessor had received only the liver, no plump roasts or choice steaks.)

At that time, I wrote a weekly column for the now-defunct Oregon Journal - former sister paper of The Oregonian - so I phoned my editor there.

"Here's a story for your news department and the culprits' names/phone numbers," I said, adding, "Have a reporter write it - I don't want it known it's come from me."

Now, as military strategists know, the element of surprise is an enemy's downfall. The reporter and several colleagues made simultaneous calls to the perpetrators.

Startled, the conspirators, realizing their deeds were known, blurted details, implicating each other.

The next day, the paper's headline blazed, "NEIGHBORS SHOOT THE BULL."

The accompanying account covered half the front page, spilling onto inside ones. Other papers throughout the U.S. - even some in Europe - picked up the account, and local talk- show hosts told bull jokes for days.

No, my byline wasn't on the story. (My editor put it on a bonus check instead.)

Now, in case you, too, are wondering if Portland's TV stations will reward you when you send them tips, before writing this piece, I phoned each to find out.

What I learned is enough to leave you with three thoughts:

1) Don't expect pay for tips to local media - they want you to be good for nothing.

2) Don't expect friends to keep your confidences - especially if you reward them with liver (and they're not liver-lovers).

3) And, finally, for heaven's sake - don't expect good to come if you go shooting the bull with your neighbors!

© Copyright 2014 by Isabel Torrey, a King City resident and columnist.