There were more than a few folks in the Valley who felt Iris Long had it coming to her. After all, Raymond Cooper garnered 381 votes in the recent mayoral election, and a good number of those voters placed the blame for Cooper’s defeat squarely on the shoulders of Long, editor of Lennox Valley Hometown News.
There was no need to deny the obvious. Seeing the first issue of Raymond’s Valley Patriot was upsetting to Iris. She saw the masthead at the top of Page 1 as a direct assault on her character.
"The Valley Patriot" was in type big enough to fill the width of the 12 x 21 inch newspaper. Underneath, in smaller type, were words that cut Iris to the core, "The only source of honest news in Lennox Valley."
"How could he write that?" Iris asked herself over and again.
It simply wasn’t true. Long was a seasoned journalist. Other than columns on the opinion page and the musings of Maxine Miller, her stories were checked and rechecked. Each story required multiple sources before appearing in the newspaper.
Iris thought long and hard about her response in Hometown News, which came out one day after The Valley Patriot. It seemed as if almost every word in every story in Cooper’s rag was pure fiction, the mutterings of a madman.
She had to be careful, though. If she wrote too harshly, Cooper’s loyalists would see that as further proof Hometown News was a biased arm of the "elite media," as Raymond often called it.
Ignoring Raymond’s indictments was also dangerous. No response would be seen by many as an admission of guilt.
Instead, Iris chose to take the high road. Those who knew her well weren’t surprised. Iris valued her integrity as much as anyone in the Valley.
"This morning," she began, "I read with great interest Raymond Cooper’s latest venture, The Valley Patriot."
So far, so good.
She continued, "Hometown News welcomes any legitimate journalistic endeavor to our town, and it is our hope The Valley Patriot will meet the requirements of journalistic integrity the citizens of our community have come to expect."
Reading over Cooper’s rag, a full two-thirds of the pages, not counting ads, were dedicated to two topics: Mayor Bland conspiring with Iris Long to fix the mayoral election and the disappearance of A.J. Fryerson.
Raymond went on for 1,830 words about Fryerson. While not sharing any details, he led readers to believe he was close to solving the missing person case. There were a few leads yet to be investigated. He insinuated Chief Dibble was keeping information from the public. As a "responsible journalist," he was hard at work bringing the truth to light.
Cooper included a full page, brought to the readers by Farley Puckett’s True Value Hardware Store, with a recap of the weekend bowling match between Lennox Valley and Pleasant Hill. Raymond considered it a pure stroke of genius to place a line of text in large type across the top of each page, giving credit to the page’s sponsor.
The obituaries were "Brought to you in loving memory of the dear departed by Massengale’s Mortuary," the funeral home located in the county seat of Springfield.
Another page was reserved for "Raymond’s Renderings," sponsored by "Phil Moore’s Tractors and Equipment, located midway between the Valley and Springfield."
Iris could have instantly made Cooper seem foolish by sharing information from the last letter she received from A.J. Fryerson before his disappearance.
She knew, however, while offering momentary satisfaction, it was best to keep the letter to herself. In Lennox Valley, things could get quickly out of hand if not handled with kid gloves.
There was also the matter of filling the space reserved for "Rumor Has It." Iris was tempted to create her own rumors about Raymond Cooper, but her better judgment wouldn’t allow such a breach.
She looked over The Valley Patriot one last time before finishing up her paper. One headline, while funny, seemed to sum up Cooper’s efforts at "quality journalism."
On page 7, just above the classified section, was the headline, "Death is Nation’s Top Killer." Other examples of lax reasoning dotted the paper.
Iris, borrowing a favorite phrase from Jessie at the Hoffbrau, muttered, "Good Lord."
Watch for "Lennox Valley: The Book" coming in Spring 2017. Visit lennoxvalley.com to learn more about the good folks.