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Article posted: 2/21/2013 5:00 AM

Random thoughts on deadlines, fiction and fraud

By Jim Slusher

Meditations of a journalistic kind:

Ours is a business of constant online deadlines throughout the day with that one overriding capital-D Deadline of the daily press start ever looming. So journalists know a lot about setting, keeping and missing deadlines. The writer Douglas Adams loved "the whooshing sound they make as they fly by," a statement demonstrating that, writer or no, Adams was no journalist. The only print or broadcast journalists I've ever known who didn't greatly appreciate, respect and, to a degree, fear deadlines were the stuff of light fiction -- the movie "Fletch" comes to mind, in which the main character's repeated flouting of his deadline is forgiven when through a small fraud, he thwarts a murder attempt. Ha. Ha. Phew! Isn't life, uh, convenient? No, of course it isn't, which is why as a journalist in general and an editorial writer specifically, I can't just wave off that "whooshing sound" as another political crisis approaches its deadline. Of course, I'm talking now about the March 1 "sequester," yet another in a long line of federal kicks of the "tax hike/spending cut" can. I wonder, would Daily Herald subscribers accept it if we told them we were sorry but we couldn't agree on the stories for today's paper, so we absolutely-cross-our-hearts-hope-to-die-look-the-devil-in-the-eye promise to bring them one tomorrow? And, yes, matters of federal spending are so much more critical than the publication of a little old family newspaper.

Then, too, the Illinois legislature has turned this brinkmanship into high art itself, routinely fashioning budgets of hundreds of pages in just a matter of days prior to the May 31 deadline after five months of delay and dawdle.

Nor is such behavior limited to elected officials. It's hard to escape the coincidence of the March 1 deadline that Transportation and Projects Writer Marni Pyke described in her "In Transit" column on Monday. According to a court agreement, negotiations are to begin by that date between O'Hare International Airport officials and United and American airlines regarding the O'Hare improvements project, but as Pyke reported, little if anything seems to be happening to get those talks under way. This, for a nearly $7 billion project, mind you. Perhaps an internship at a little old family newspaper should be a required prerequisite for this type of work.

If you have email, you must have seen this sort of thing before, but check out this note from one Dr. Lulu Adams (no relation, I presume, to the dearly departed Douglas): "This is to officially inform you that your fund has been duly approved and gazette for you via ATM Visa Card after due reconciliation with the Audit Report of the year ended. Your Personal Identification Number is 0920. The ATM Visa Card is Valued at $15.5M, Respond immediately ..."

Wow. A $15.5 million Visa card. But was it I, the human being known as Jim Slusher, whose fund was "duly approved" for this lucky largesse? No, it was the Daily Herald's email account for receiving letters to the editor -- fencepost@dailyherald.com, obviously a nonentity insofar as its ability to apply for, acquire or use a Visa card.

Such frauds are not new to the Fence Post address. Some days, it seems like the emailbox receives more such scams or wild solicitations than it does legitimate letters -- and that's a lot of scams and wild solicitations. I am always amused to consider who after all these years could still be duped by them. Surely the receipt of one in an account that doesn't belong to a human being must confirm to any lingering doubter that these are hoaxes.

By the way, we do love getting email at fencepost@dailyherald.com from regular folks who just have something they want to say to the world, but, please, real regular folks, whose identifies can be confirmed with a telephone number and hometown.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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