Arnold Miller died last week.
Don’t know him?
In a way you do. He was my managing editor when I worked at The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria in the 1980s.
He was the best newsman I’ve ever known. What I learned from him in those 10 years informs all my work at The Gazette.
That’s how you know him.
What I found most amazing about Arnold was how he made doing the right thing look so easy and natural that his reporters and editors came to think maybe they could, too.
Like the time he taught me the difference between the newsroom and the courtroom.
It happened in 1980, while preparing to kick off a five-day series about drug-dealing doctors at a local clinic.
The paper had sent in a half-dozen reporters posing as patients. They came away with hundreds of dollars worth of powerful drugs for little more than the asking — and the money, of course.
Writing it up presented problems. The first-person accounts of the reporters’ visits were straightforward enough — just tell the readers what we’d seen and heard. The front page stories — the assignment I drew — were different. That’s where we had to explain what it all meant.
How far should we go in drawing conclusions? After all, the clinic doctors were licensed by the government to hand out drugs. They had never been charged — let alone convicted — of any crime. The betting in the newsroom wasn’t whether we would be sued, but for how much. The consensus was $2 million to $3 million.
I wrote the front page stories with all that in mind and was confident of passing muster by The Chronicle’s attorney.
There wouldn’t be much time for revision. The lawyer came in to vet the stories on a Sunday, the day before the series was to start. (The deadline had been pushed up a week because we’d heard a Cleveland television station had paid the clinic a visit.)
I was alone in the newsroom while Arnold and Mickey Neikirk, the veteran investigative reporter heading up the project, huddled with the lawyer in the publisher’s front office.
After an hour or so, Arnold came out and dropped the first story on my desk. It looked like somebody had bled blue on it — half the copy had been struck out by the lawyer’s pen.
I hadn’t a clue what to do. Arnold asked if I had any other versions.
Yes, I said, but they were all harder hitting. What I submitted was the most conservative.
Arnold asked to see the other drafts. I pulled one up on the screen. He asked for a hard copy and took the printout into his cubicle.
I heard his manual Royal clatter for about 15 minutes or so. Through the glass partition, I watched as he used a steel ruler to cleanly cut the draft, then paste in what he had typed. A few minutes more went by as he pencil-edited the new version.
He dropped it on my desk.
The beginning was largely unchanged:
They come from all parts of Ohio and from as far away as Michigan and Pennsylvania.
In the course of the week they number in the thousands.
Doctors Clinic, a rambling two-story frame house at Butternut Ridge Road and Route 57, less than a mile from the Elyria city limits in Eaton Township.
But the next five sentences were pure Arnold:
THE BIG LURE?
A free-wheeling operation that rakes in — by conservative estimates — $20,000 a day for narcotics and other federally controlled drugs and patient fees.
A seven-days-a-week, around-the-clock schedule that on some days so jams the parking lot that clients’ cars spill over onto the highway.
Open drug trafficking by patients selling just-prescribed powerful drugs to other patients within the very walls of the clinic and just a few feet away from clinic officials.
All of this — and more — has been uncovered by The Chronicle-Telegram in an intensive seven-week undercover investigation.
“Arnold, this won’t work,” I said.
“It’s true, isn’t it,” he said.
“Yes, but…,” I blubbered.
“Then run it,” he said, and walked away.
Sitting alone in a bar that night I tried to make sense of what Arnold had done.
Nobody would have criticized him if he had gone with the watered-down, safer version. Hell, most people would say he had no choice.
Arnold showed me different.
David Knox is managing editor of The Gazette. You can reach him at