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The Great Prank of 1972: Finally, the story behind shocking Nixon headline that diverted tons of unread newspapers to landfills and launched a ‘Media Icon’

Daily Breeze Nixon Page
Very few readers of the South Bay Daily Breeze — or anyone else — ever saw this controversial copy of the street edition’s Page 3 on that first Monday morning of 1972. Most printed versions were dumped in a landfill to keep its headline and presidential insult from public view. With special thanks to Lee Chemel for Photoshop repairs

By William C. Rempel

            My garage archives have no index, no card catalogues and few clues to the contents of boxes and cabinets. When searching for any specific artifact from a long career in the news business, I’m much more likely to find something I’m NOT looking for. That’s how I discovered this missing page from journalism history — the infamous and the banned Page 3 of the South Bay Daily Breeze street edition of Monday, January 3, 1972.

            This rare specimen documents one of the most subversive and delicious pranks ever pulled against a Southern California news organization. It had survived not only a long-ago management campaign to destroy every single copy, but it had endured decades of poor ventilation, cross-country moves, remodeling projects, kids and cats and life spanning nearly a half-century.

Yet, there it was on a recent pandemic afternoon – a rolled-up, yellowing, tattered and brittle relic. For me it was like dredging up the ghost of New Year’s past. Forty-nine years ago today… I was there:

            The Daily Breeze in Torrance was my first newspaper home after college. It served the Los Angeles County beach communities and their neighbors south of LAX but was, in those days, part of the San Diego-based Copley chain. The company operated more than a dozen local papers scattered from the West Coast to Illinois under the private ownership of James S. Copley, a wealthy Republican and political conservative of unabashed rightwing pedigree.

Nixon Backers

            Copley and his papers had favored Richard Nixon and, before him, Barry Goldwater for president. His top operations executive was a “retired” Marine Corps lieutenant general known as Brute – as in Victor H. “Brute” Krulak. President Lyndon Johnson had fired Krulak after the general complained about timid White House policies toward the Vietnam War.

            As Main Stream Media newsrooms go, Daily Breeze journalists were hardly a band of revolutionaries or social progressives. Most of us were white, male and draft age college grads angling to avoid Vietnam and land a better job at the Los Angeles Times.

            Enter Mike Kenyon, a desk guy who worked the Dracula shift. It meant starting in the middle of the night and putting together a street edition intended to fill newsstands at coffee shops and diners in time for the early lunch crowds. He joined the Daily Breeze after his previous employer closed – the dearly departed and bankrupt Hollywood Citizen News.

            Mike worked while most of the reporting staff slept, but he became a popular figure in the newsroom. He ran the office sports betting pool – football, basketball and baseball, whatever the season. The ante was low, befitting entry-level scribes, and his vital services as a statistician and bookie were provided free.

            He was also older than most of us 20-something rookies and seemingly wiser and more worldly. He was also odd, a bit of a hermit who was rumored to sometimes bunk in the paper’s back shop among the rolls of newsprint.

Dan Rather v. Nixon?

            Mike started that first workday of the New Year 1972 as usual – at 4 a.m. and alone in an empty newsroom. He sifted through wire service photos of President Nixon from a weekend interview with CBS News correspondent Dan Rather. The president had talked about Vietnam but mostly deflected Rather’s questions about whether he would seek reelection. It wasn’t particularly contentious. It was still months before the Watergate burglary that would bring scandal to the Nixon White House.

            But one of Mike Kenyon’s last acts as a Daily Breeze editor was to craft a taunting headline that wrapped around those photos in 40-something-point type:  “Okay, What About Today? NOW would you buy a used car from him?”

            It was a shocking moment for a lot of impressionable young journalists, an act so seditious, so incendiary, so unthinkable. Mike Kenyon – the hermit, the bookie, the staff oddity – was transformed from quirky colleague to full-fledged folk hero, a newsroom legend in his own time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

            The Daily Breeze backshop was already well into printing, folding and bundling the daily run of a few thousand street editions by the time most of us straggled in to our desks. The bosses must have arrived late, too, because no one noticed Page 3 – at least, not until well after the delivery trucks set off to all corners of the newsstand service area.

            Once someone in the publisher’s suite finally opened that paper, however, shock and horror seized the moment. Delivery trucks were re-dispatched in a race to retrieve and discard every single copy from every single newsstand from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to LAX. The desperate mission was solely intended to keep Page 3 away from as many eyeballs as possible.

The Cover-Up

            To that end, tons of recovered newspapers were delivered that day to dump sites and landfills. Mike was fired before noon and then escorted out of the building unseen to avoid any risk that some on the staff might dare to applaud his audacity.

            A few days later a small group of us going to lunch encountered Mike departing a shoe store at the Del Amo shopping mall. We gathered around him like fans mobbing a starlet. He had just purchased a pair of sneakers that he carried in a box under one arm.

            “What now?” I asked him.

            He shrugged. He was leaving the next day, he said – hitchhiking up the coast. The new shoes were taking him to Seattle where he had entered a chess tournament. But the rookie me missed his chance to ask the most important question: Why did Mike do it? Was his Nixon gambit mischief or attempted professional suicide?

            I always regretted not asking that question before he hitchhiked out of our lives. But recently – after finding the long-forgotten Page 3 – I turned to the Internet for clues to whatever happened to Michael Kenyon. The answer was in an obituary calling him a “Seattle media icon.”

Going Home

            Back in the 1970s, we didn’t know that our eccentric colleague had been born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. He was going home. It was immediately clear to me that Mike’s last page had been a premeditated act with considerable mischief aforethought. He wrote the Nixon headline in lieu of a standard resignation letter. Okay, so it was mischievous AND suicidal.

            But his career had continued and thrived post-Daily Breeze. As it turned out, he was later re-hired (and re-fired) several times by the Seattle-Post Intelligencer and by various other media outlets in the Northwest.

Mostly, Mike covered sports. On the radio he was a leading sports commentator, noted for his controversial opinions. He also became an expert on golf, horse racing, rodeos, croquet, and professional wrestling. For his literary contributions, he was elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2010.

            At his death in April 2017 he left at least five ex-wives. One of his obits summed up the formally named J (no period) Michael Kenyon’s local celebrity calling him “a media icon.” It concluded: “He was lovable and despicable, all in one. He was talented and self-destructive. He was (Seattle’s) own Hunter S. Thompson, the sports edition.”

“J Michael Kenyon: sportsman about town” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Mike Kenyon, sports reporter