Where is the earthworm?

No one should have gotten fired for this – because it is HILARIOUS! I couldn’t find the original but there were excerpts of this article here and there. You can find this story in an earth worm website. Happy April Fools Day and beware what you believe!

A Long, Tall Texas Tale

5/1/1993

American Journalism Review

By Yleana Martinez

The Morning Times of Laredo, Texas published a story in March 1993 about a 300-lb, 79-foot earthworm that had townspeople rushing to the storage location to see the body. Unfortunately, the story was a hoax which cost the job of the reporter under whose byline the story appeared and caused the editor who approved the story to leave as well. The reporter, Carol Huang, is now working as a freelancer, but regrets not having worked harder to keep her job.

There were no aliens involved, just a dead 79-foot earthworm, but something of a “War of the Worlds’ concern still gripped the border town of Laredo, Texas, in early March after the Morning Times reported the worm’s appearance.

The 200-word story said that frustrated commuters called police that morning after being unable to drive around the 300-pound worm, described by one motorist as “a grey, fat, rubbery thing.” A Laredo State University entomologist, Dr. Luis Leacky, pointed out a sticky trail of mucus along Interstate 35 and surmised that the mutant had emerged from the polluted Rio Grande. U.S. Border Patrol agents, assisted by Laredo police officers wearing rubber gloves, used two cranes and an 18-wheeler to remove the carcass, according to the paper.

That day, Bill Green, publisher of the Hearst-owned Morning Times, dismissed the reporter who wrote the tale. The editor who allowed it to see print also left the paper, although he won’t say why. (The publisher would only say the two “no longer work here.”) The next morning, Green signed a front page apology to readers on both sides of the border–as well as the Border Patrol, the Laredo Police department and Laredo State University, home of the fictitious Dr. Leacky.

Reporter Carol Huang, 27, says she dashed the story off as a joke after being put on hold during a phone interview. It wasn’t the first time she had composed fake stories on her computer to amuse herself, she says. This time, however, she shared it with a newsroom colleague.

When it appeared a few days later on page 3A of the Morning Times under the headline, “Agents recover huge carcass’ and her byline, Huang says she was stunned. “I knew right away I was in trouble.”

Tom Sanchez, the news editor who signed off on the story and who now hosts a daily talk show on a local radio station, says it was printed “by accident” but wouldn’t comment further or explain who had written the headline or placed Huang’s name on the piece. Says Green, “I know this much: He had the story for 24 hours. He did not consult with the writer or another editor. It is inexplicable.”

What caused many of the city’s 130,000 residents to run to their cars was Huang’s final paragraph. “Because federal environmental guidelines do not outline the proper disposal method for large, earthworm carcasses,” she wrote, “authorities have left the creature in the Target store parking lot until Monday, when zoologists and EPA officials are expected to arrive from Washington.”

Local law officers say they received hundreds of calls. A Texas A&M University scientist notified the Morning Times he was ready rush to the scene with a van loaded with technical equipment. At the parking lot, located across the street from Border Patrol offices, curiosity seekers arrived in droves. Says Alfonso Moreno, a Border Patrol spokesman, “There was a lot of commotion, cars going in and out of there, looking for the worm.”

Jose Esqueda, the KGNS-TV chief photographer who drove to the lot in a station car to film traffic for a story on the hoax, soon found 15 cars following him. He says puzzled drivers would catch his eye and shrug, as if to say, “Where is it?” When Esqueda returned a few hours later, he found a batch of curious firefighters circling their truck ahead of what he describes as “a little worm” of tailgaters.

One Target employee says that people knocked on the store’s windows even before it had opened “asking if we had [the worm] in the building.” Huang, now freelancing and having second thoughts about whether she fought hard enough to keep her job, says the hubbub taught her a hard lesson about the power of the press. “I realized, definitely,” she says, “that people read the newspaper and believe what they read.”

Martinez, a Laredo native whose first journalism job was as a Morning Times proofreader in 1976, is a freelance writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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About Que Fregados

Que Fregados is a quirky look at little things that strike us funny in Laredo and the unique Latino culture. Suggestions and comments are welcome. You can also email to quefregados@gmail.com.
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5 Responses to Where is the earthworm?

  1. emgee says:

    LOL!!!

  2. MaryHelen says:

    LOL! My husband still “celebrates” the anniversary of that earthworm hoax. It’s a great story; unfortunately, someone had to pay the price. :o/

    Great topic for April Fool’s Day!

  3. Alfonso says:

    Yes, it is something that will never be forgotten. Definately the highlight of my public affair days.

  4. JMichael says:

    What the story above leaves out it that Carol forwarded the story to an editor not mentioned, just to share the joke. He was the one that sent it to the “publish” queue, that put it in Sanchez’s hands. He wasn’t fired, but left the paper shortly thereafter for various jobs in the Laredo broadcast media. He’s currently working in broadcast media in San Antonio.

    I started working at LMT just a few months after the notorious Earthworm Incident.

    JMS

  5. Pingback: Siren alert – el Tragón is loose | Que Fregados

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