It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and I had time off from my job as an AP (Associated Press) reporter, so I took a walk with my wife. As we strolled in the shopping mall I was interested to see at the animal store snakes of all kinds — rattlesnakes, cobras — whatever kind you could think of. Many of them were very dangerous of course. This group called itself the Society for the Protection of Normal Snakes. I said to myself, "Well, that's interesting. When I get back I'll do a story on that."
Later on I returned with my camera. I took pictures of snakes and got the story of how the society collected them and why they did this. They were a stand-up group for the rights of snakes to have a life like everybody else. I took the names of the snakes, and I asked questions about them. The attendants were very forthcoming. They told me how they got started and why they thought it was worthwhile.
So I wrote a story about how interesting it was to see people who were so dedicated to taking care of snakes — the kind of life I wanted to avoid altogether. Working at the AP, it was simple to press a button and send a story anywhere, even overseas. So I did that and thought nothing about it. But the story found its way onto the wire, and it landed I had no idea where or who used it.
Lo and behold, among the national papers that did use it was the Washington Post, headed by none other than Ben Bradlee. Well, Ben Bradlee knew that my name, Schlangen, was the German word for "snakes" and that my nickname, Les, was the French word for "the." He mused — an article about snakes written by a guy named The Snakes!
Bradlee called the management at AP. He said, "The story is all right, but I don't want to be taken in by a phony writer. Anybody who knows a little language knows the name means The Snakes." I could see the AP Bureau Head scratching his head and thinking, "I don't know what the heck is going on here, but yes we have a Les Schlangen." He said, "Ben, I want you to know that there is a real Les Schlangen here, and he has been a reporter for a number of years, and he's a valid reporter. You can call him if you want."
I never heard from Ben Bradlee, of course. But, I think it just shows how a little knowledge can get you in trouble.