Lois Lane and Liberty Belle: 1948: Women of Journalism, Chapter 1: Deadly Seminar

by Dan Swanson

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From the memoirs of Lily DeLuna:

“One lesson that young reporters often don’t learn right away — one very important lesson that some never learn at all — is how much power a reporter really has. Power for good, certainly, which is probably why most of you are here — you want to make a positive difference in the world. Still, the reporter’s power, like any other kind of power, can be misused. You have the ability to help innumerable people by good and accurate reporting. But it is even easier to cause damage and hurt people if you are careless and sloppy.”

Lois Lane was on a roll. “Next slide, please!” The next slide showed a familiar headline, Dewey Defeats Truman, published in the November 3rd, 1948, morning edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune. A few people snickered knowingly. “This only happened a few weeks ago, as you all know, but it is already the single most famous reporting error to date! You have probably never thought of the damage this headline caused, but at the minimum there were people who lost their jobs. And just think how Dewey and his supporters must have felt.”

The veteran Daily Star reported sounded sad. She would later explain that one of her journalism school classmates had been a copy editor at the Tribunal. He was a good man who had been fired over this story, a scapegoat for the editors and publisher who should have taken responsibility for the error. She hoped that Clark Kent’s recommendation, along with her own, might convince George Taylor to give the man a job at the Daily Star in Metropolis.

“But I’m talking more about the smaller, more personal injuries poor reporting can cause,” she continued. “A story naming the wrong person as a suspect in a crime, an article on embezzlement that names the wrong bookkeeper — these can seriously damage someone’s reputation, and it is almost impossible to fully restore a damaged reputation. You could put someone out of a job, cause a person’s family and friends to view that person with suspicion, and make someone into a laughingstock. In some cases, your story can even betray your own friends…” Her voice faded off as if she had something on her mind. She quickly shook her head.

It was her last slide, and she quickly wrapped up her presentation. Professor Flanner (who insisted we call her Janice) took the microphone. “There will be a fifteen-minute break, and then we’ll slit up for the panel session. Group one will meet in Jewel Auditorium with myself, Lois, and Libby as the panel, while group two will meet in Kresge, with a panel of Julia, Shauna, and Anna.”

Janice Flanner was teaching a special, one-semester-only elective course called Women of Journalism at Opal City University this fall, and she had arranged a special end-of-semester seminar with Lois Lane, Libby Lawrence, Julia Bridgeman, Shauna Alexander, and Anna Landers, just before the beginning of Christmas break.

After having graduated earlier this year with a major in journalism, I was lucky to be able to sign on for this course while working a few days a week as an intern at the Opal City Register. Even though I didn’t need any extra credits as a graduate, I didn’t want to miss this course, which was the first of its kind, or this special seminar. We were awed at all the famous women our instructor knew as casual friends. To meet the most famous people in your own field was a wonderful thrill for all of us.

In the panel sessions, we got to ask questions of the panelists. Everyone had a single scripted question that Janice had approved in advance, and once all the scripted questions were out of the way, we were on our own. Ours was a pretty lively session, but I was glad when it was over, as that meant it was time for the cocktail reception, and a chance to talk to these famed members of our chosen profession in person.

With all the famous women in the room, you can imagine how stunned I was when Lois Lane and Libby Lawrence came up to me and wanted to talk about baseball. I didn’t think any of the students at Opal City University knew I had played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1943 through 1947. My advisor knew, but I had asked her to keep it quiet. But Libby was a big baseball fan, and she had recognized me. Who would have thunk it — a famous, glamorous reporter recognizing a mere college student?

The three of us got on well, so we snagged some drinks and some of those little sandwiches and a corner table, and we talked a lot. We were bothered for a while, as most of my classmates dropped by to ask for autographs, but eventually they left us alone. As I got to know these two a little better, my questions got a little bolder (maybe helped along by a cocktail… or two).

“Lois, what was bothering you earlier when you were talking about reporters maybe hurting their friends?”

“I guess I didn’t hide that very well, did I?” She didn’t even try to dodge the question. No wonder this woman was famous.

“Once, during the war, I wrote a scathing story about cowardly men who were avoiding military service by pretending to have disabilities,” Lois began. “There was a reporter who worked for the Daily Star with an obscure condition that almost nobody had ever heard of it called a heart murmur. He was a big, strong guy, but the military doctors down-checked him. After people read my story, his friends — including me; what a friend, huh? — started to shun him. Finally, ashamed, he enlisted, and found some way to sneak around that part of the physical. He had a stroke during boot camp. I might as well have just shot him. I hope I learned a lesson from that one!”

Libby Lawrence hadn’t heard the story before, either, and we were both too stunned to speak. If wondered if I should express horror? Tell her how stupid she had been? Tell her it wasn’t her fault? From the expression on her face, she had already thought all those things, and none of them were satisfactory. She didn’t wait for us to recover, though; it was obvious she had told this story before, getting the same sort of reaction, and knew she was going to have to carry the conversation herself for a few moments.

“So, whenever I get the chance, I warn youngsters about misusing their power as a reporter. Most of them don’t believe me and have to learn their own lessons the hard way. I hope some of you got the message. Now let’s talk about something else.”

So we swapped yarns. It turned out that they both knew a lot of the heroes and heroines of the All-Star Squadron, and they’d had some pretty exciting adventures. They’d even held a reunion dinner a few weeks back in New York City, on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

I was kind of glum, though, when they didn’t ooh and ahh over my encounter with the Oculist back in 1943. (*) After all, hadn’t I done really well, for a girl? I expected at least a little bit of praise. But, from the moment I started the story, they had both been sure that it would have a successful conclusion. I realized they didn’t go for the that was pretty good, for a girl attitude. They expected to hold their own (and a little bit more, besides) with the guys. And they already expected no less from me. Now I had to hide my pride, as I had only seconds earlier tried to hide my disappointment. They had accepted me.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Files: Lily DeLuna: Times Past, 1943: The Summer of ’43.]

It was unusual for me to talk about the Oculist, but, other than baseball, I didn’t think I had any stories to match theirs. Later on (much later), I realized they would have enjoyed just as much hearing about my work in the shipyards in Cleveland. I had worked on some of the battleships that helped win the war, and as reporters, they each appreciated a good human-interest story. And they both also appreciated how the role of women in everyday life was changing — and how all us Rosie the Riveter types had helped bring about those changes.

Suddenly, there was a change in the ambient noise level. For an instant, it declined, and then women started screaming. From our corner table we could see my fellow students, our guests, and the serving staff falling to the floor. A wave of some kind was sweeping across the room toward us, and there were none left standing when it passed.

The wave would reach Lois first, then me, and finally Libby. I’m pretty fast, and I could have done something before it reached me, but what? I was in a corner with nowhere to go.

Then Libby grabbed my hand. “Don’t move, Lily!” Right. What other choice did I have?

With her other hand, Libby seemed to be reaching for her purse under the table. Then I heard, far away and faintly, but absolutely clearly, the ringing of a big bell. Lois collapsed to the floor, but Libby and I were unaffected by whatever the wave had been. She slid from her chair to the floor, pulling me with her. “I had no idea if that would work — never tried it before!” she said, very softly.

Funny what you notice in times like that. Libby had changed. And yet she hadn’t. Her voice sounded more resonant, more powerful, and even though she was unchanged physically, there was an aura of power around her that I could sense, as if suddenly she was charged and crackling with barely contained energy. And I realized that I felt different as well, as if I had just finished a light workout, and now was prepared for a match — energetic, fluid, powerful, and confident. Not crackling with energy as Libby was, but I felt as if I was suddenly at my physical peak.

“Whatever you did, it sure is nifty!” I whispered back. “So, what did you do?” Then the situation crashed back in on me, and I remembered that we were both hiding under a table in a private dining room filled with women who might be dead. “More to the point, what do we do now?”

Lois had slid down hear the table, so I carefully grabbed her wrist. There was a pulse. Libby must have seen that I was about to tell her so, as she held her finger in front of her lips, motioning me to silence. She pointed out that the women nearest us were breathing — then she mouthed the name the Oculist and raised her shoulders to show it was a question.

Later, both Lois and Libby told me that, once a normal human came into contact with super-beings, either heroes or villains, the laws of probability seemed to just completely fly out the window. Preposterous coincidences, such as talking about a villain you hadn’t seen in five years a thousand miles away, and being attacked by that selfsame villain only seconds later, became commonplace. All I could do at the time was shrug.

Could it really be Biff Redondo? The results sure resembled the effects of his power. But what had saved the two of us? I hadn’t been immune to him before — as far as I could remember, nobody had been immune. If it was Biff, Libby had done something extraordinary.

“Of course, that aura of power surrounding her now is anything but ordinary,” I thought, though I guess I accidentally whispered that aloud, because Libby smiled. She whispered in my ear.

“Thanks! If we live through this, I’ll explain.”

That was a bucket of ice-cold water. It was hard to believe I could die at a school function, but this ever-so-competent woman had just thrown it onto the table so matter-of-factly that I realized she was serious — deadly serious.

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