The cult of Fred W

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Many of you wonder why I sign each of my articles, columns, and blogs as Fred W. Frailey instead of plain old Fred Frailey. The American way, after all, is to avoid affected airs of this sort. Just who does this Frailey guy think he is, sticking that middle initial in-between the first and last names his mother and father gave him, you must be feverishly wondering?

Okay, I admit, not one of you—ever—asked about the “W” between “Fred” and “Frailey.” Based upon 30 years of my using “W” in my pen name, it’s possible that nobody on the face this each earth ever wondered. But now I feel compelled to satisfy the curiosity of yours that never existed.

Try saying to yourself five times, “Peter Piper picked a pick of pickled peppers” or some longer variant of that tongue-twister. Now do “Fred Frailey” again and again. See what I mean? You end up saying “Fred Frothly.” And that is exactly my point. You end up mispronouncing my name and it lacks gravitas. Especially, it lacks gravitas.

My first job out of college was as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. It was the survivor of a merger in the late 1940s between Marshall Field III’s Chicago Sun, founded in 1941 as a counterweight to the ultra-conservative (then) Chicago Tribune, and the tabloid, newstand-driven Chicago Times. I guess you could say it had a split personality. When I showed up in 1966 the Sun-Times still had a few remnants of its upscale Chicago Sun staff, one of whom was its United Nations correspondent, Frederick W. Kuh. Now there was a Chicago Sun name, so distinguished and authoritative. In contrast, try Fred Kuh. Ugh. It was sinking in on me that presentation is half the war of winning reader trust.

At the same time I became aware of another Fred, he being Fred W. Friendly of CBS News. Another FWF! Here was a giant of journalism, a television producer who was a contemporary of Edward R. Murrow's (here we go again, try Ed Murrow), Murrow being the godfather of authoritative television newscasting. Fred W. Friendly was at the forefront all the wars of the 1960s and 1970s to keep network television news honest and relevant. TV journalists worship his name. So do I.

I waffled about what to call myself during my Sun-Times years. But upon going to U.S. News & World Report, I made the big switch. I'm very comfortable with that pen name.

That’s why I’m Fred W. Frailey and not just Fred. But should we ever meet and I introduce myself as anything other than Fred, please knock me to the floor.—Fred (W.) Frailey


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