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June 09, 1991|Charles Solomon

IF NO NEWS, SEND RUMORS: Anecdotes of American Journalism by Stephen Bates (Henry Holt: $11.95, illustrated). The title of this collection is taken from the famous telegram Wilbur F. Storey of the Chicago Times sent to a correspondent during the Civil War, and many of these tales are outrageously funny. After learning that important work on the atom bomb had been done at a nearby facility, an editor at the Nashville Tennessean dispatched a staff photographer to get two pictures, "one of a whole atom, and one after it was split." The Washington Post insisted that Samuel Tilden had won the 1876 presidential election--and referred to Rutherford B. Hayes as the "acting" or "bogus" President for the next four years. On a more sobering note, Bates reports the virtual blackout of a 1985 OSHA report that the oils in newspaper ink are potentially carcinogenic and that ink barrels should bear printed warnings. Alternately amusing and disturbing, "Rumors" offers a welcome antidote to the contemporary fascination with the superficial glamour of media hype.

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