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TIME CAPSULE: William J. Coughlin, '44

Praise for a "Congenial Idiot"

Courtesy William Coughlin

The first compliment I ever received about something I had written in a newspaper was from Herbert Hoover.

When I returned to Stanford from the Pacific in 1946 after four years as an Army fighter pilot, the Stanford Daily (for reasons still unclear) decided I should write “Bull Session,” the paper's humor column. I churned out an Art Buchwald sort of column, long before I met Art in Paris or read one of his pieces. It was lively enough that the dean twice threatened to throw me out of school. The first time had to do with an initiative on the California ballot to permit greyhound racing: I suggested they “let the sons of bitches run.” In my subsequent meeting with the dean, he did not take kindly to my suggestion that perhaps he did not realize this was an accurate and proper description in doggy circles. The second time I was summoned was after the dean made the mistake of issuing a questionnaire seeking ideas to improve life on campus. Feeling that my responses in the column did not take his intent seriously enough, he declared, “Listen to me, Coughlin. If you had done this to any other member of this faculty, I would expel you. Under the circumstances I cannot, but don't ever try it again.” Being well aware that after three strikes, you're out, I didn't. But I'm told boys and girls now live in the same dorms.

One day Herbert Hoover's secretary telephoned. The former president, a member of the University's first graduating class in 1895, was at that time living on campus.

“Mr. Hoover asked me to tell you he very much enjoys your column,” she said, then paused for a long moment before adding, “As a matter of fact, he refers to you around here as the Daily's congenial idiot.”

With that ringing presidential endorsement and a recommendation from Professor Chilton R. Bush, head of the Stanford journalism program, I found a job after graduation in the San Francisco bureau of the United Press Association.


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