Wednesday, March 1, 2023

RIP Charlie Appleton: a great newspaperman, an even better man


(478 words)

Charlie Appleton, the extraordinary newsman, would have frowned at all the adulatory words being used to mourn the passing of Charlie Appleton, the ordinary family man. 

And just the sight of the word “adulatory” in a scrappy newspaper would have set him off.

He came from the man-bites-dog school of news gathering, but then raised the bar by becoming a de facto dean of the man-bites-dog-then-marries-the-bitch school of journalism.

He had a genius for finding the best, most compelling stories with just a phone and a rolodex of sources he’d painstakingly groomed to trust him implicitly. 

He was the first person to offer his friendship when in 1985 I started working at the Nashville Banner. We became very good friends.

If it sounds like I’m bragging, let me clarify.

Charlie was like Arnold Palmer. I used to brag I was friends with Palmer until it dawned on me that Palmer was friends with everyone.

It was the same with Charlie, the only reporter I knew that had his own catch phrase.

“… and in a bizarre twist …” 

He’d be talking in confidential tones before saying a courteous goodbye.Then he’d set the phone down and turn to the editor and share the facts of what at first would seem to be a routine crime story until, “… and in a bizarre twist …”

That’s when everyone in the newsroomleaned in to learn the bizarre twist. 

I remember one time the bizarre twist was a mother marrying her son — I remember it being in one of Tennessee’s less cosmopolitan zip codes. Strange, but true.

It’s always noteworthy when a senior newsperson dies to see his or her juniors compete to see who can compose the most reverential eulogy.

I’ve already read many fine tributes to this great man by so many dear old friends that I don’t feel compelled to add.

I will, instead, offer another sentiment that comes first to my mind when I think of  dear old Charlie.


See, Charlie is solely responsible for getting me the job with National Enquirer, the notorious tabloid that brought me in to chase the amazing tales I go back to time and time again when I know people are counting on me to be interesting.

I remember interviewing at The Enquirer’s Lantana, Florida, offices prepared for a day-long grilling over my resourcefulness, my tenacity, my ethics …

Kidding! They cared not about ethics — as long as you didn’t have any. I’d fit right in.

For me, there’d be no interview.

“Oh, the job is yours, if you want it,” she said. “Charlie Appleton vouched for you and that’s all we need to hear.”

So I’m thankful that Charlie recognized in me a kindred spirit for telling stories.

And coincidentally, for being a decent human being who will be loved and missed by one and all.

In a bizarre twist that’s what I aspire to one day  become as well.

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