CHAPEL HILL -- In a move that has sent the upper circles of journalism reeling, Neil Offen, editor of the Chapel Hill Herald, has rejected an April's Fool's column submitted by the Herald's leading regular Thursday columnist, Gary D. Gaddy.
Originally, the column was deep sixed by Offen without comment or explanation. But, when pressed by Gaddy, Offen first said he did it because it wasn't "April Foolish" enough. Later, during a press conference he held to try to explain his decision, Offen claimed the rejection came about because, even though the column was submitted on April 1st, it would confuse readers since it wouldn't appear in print until April 3rd.
Said Offen, "While we have a well-educated, well-read and generally sophisticated readership, they tend to be as literal as they are liberal. If you want to make an April Fool's joke, our readers expect it to be on April Fool's Day, just like they expect the full-color comics to run on Sunday."
"Please consider that these are people who called the UNC chancellor's office in a tizzy, asking Dr. Moeser whether 'UNC [really was] to hire a Republican.' These are the same people who tried to make reservations at the new Hooters restaurant in Carrboro, too," said Offen.
When questions began, Offen excused himself, slipped out a back door and was whisked away in a waiting limo.
Even after Offen laid low, "unavailable for comment," for several days, the controversy failed to die down. Offen then agreed to appear on WCHL’s Morning Show, where genial host Ron Stutts asked him to elucidate his decision-making process. Offen again changed course, saying that he felt that derision has its place in commentary but not when he (Offen) was the object.
As Offen continued, speaking in what sounded to be some sort of Yankee accent, he said that the primary reason he became an editor was so "he could be the critic not the object of critique," then adding, "If I wanted to be laughed at, I'd be a minister like Mitch Simpson."
The ever-sympathetic Stutts agreed. "Gaddy tried to do one of those audio 'Commentator's Columns' making fun of me, but I squashed that like a June bug. If I wanted to be made fun of, I'd run for president of the United States, that's what that office is for, I think," said Stutts, holding up a piñata that looked like Dick Cheney's head.
Then, in a first for local talk radio, former UNC coach Dean Smith, current coach Roy Williams and current Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came on the air simultaneously to discuss "being made fun of." Williams and Krzyzewski agreed that it was acceptable for the other to be derided but didn't think that they themselves should be.
Smith, taking the high ground, said that he didn't think anyone should be made fun of, not even Coach Bobby Knight.
Reminded by Offen that Knight often made fun of journalists, Smith said, "Yeah, but that's because you guys ask stupid and ignorant questions." Then Smith scrunched up his face into a weird expression and asked, "How's that for a game face, twerp?"
Stutts, who had just renegotiated the contract to air the "Stephanie Miller Show," then poked Smith in the chest and made a crude noise, when Williams jumped on him, as Krzyzewski jumped on Offen. Stutts then pulled the plug on the show.
Outside the WCHL studios, a spontaneous demonstration broke out when a rumor circulated that Gaddy might be inside. Carrboro mayor Mark Chilton was seen carrying a sign saying, "Keep the U.S. out of Carrboro." A perfectly coiffed John Edwards was there, also carrying a sign, which read, "Keep your hands off my hair. Go Heels!" A rowdy contingent of Hollow Rock Racquet and Swim Club members, lead by Tom Bordeaux, chanted for Gaddy’s head.
The Chapel Hill police were called in after fisticuffs broke out between Mark Acuff, the pastor of Teaching and Community at Chapel Hill Bible Church, and Dr. H. Mitchell Simpson, Ph.D., the senior pastor of University Baptist. Bystanders said the fight started as an argument over whether Gary D. Gaddy was related to the Reverend C. Welton Gaddy, host of the NPR program "State of Belief," which (Gary) Gaddy has said should have the motto: "All the liberal theology fit to air."
Bystanders said that Acuff won handily -- being knocked out when he turned the other cheek.
The commotion was brought under control when the Chapel Hill Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Unit Officer, Jim Huegerich, made several really bad puns, dispersing the crowd.
Gaddy’s agent, publicist and personal attorney, Ms. S. G. Herring, J.D., said that Gaddy was well on his way to recovering from the rejection, and is now resting comfortably at his Orange County estate.
Gary D. Gaddy makes fun of himself, as well as others, on a regular basis.
A version of this article was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday April 3, 2008.
Copyright 2008 Gary D. Gaddy