The Secret Society of Journalists Known as the Order of the Occult Hand


A running joke, a conspiracy, a challenge,
a raspberry to authority and (at least formerly) an exclusive club, the members of the Order
of the Occult Hand are those journalists who have successfully snuck the meaningless phrase
“occult hand” past their editors and into published newspaper articles. How did this all start? According to two of
its founding fathers, Joseph Flanders and R.C. Smith, in the fall of 1965, a group of
Charlotte News reporters, while purportedly enjoying a few alcoholic beverages, began
to critique a recent piece written by their colleague, the aforementioned Joseph Flanders.
Into a “complicated story of evil-doing,” Flanders had placed the phrase “It was as
if an occult hand had reached down from above and moved the players like pawns upon some
giant chessboard.” One of the contingent supposedly teased, “Now
that is what I call prose.” From that point on “The Order of the Occult
Hand” was formed and Flanders’ colleagues became committed to secreting the phrase into
their work. According to founding father R.C. Smith, “virtually all succeeded.” And
as they moved on to other papers, word spread, and the Order grew. In 1967, Victor McElheny, a reporter with
the rival, Charlotte Observer, who was apparently aware of the Order, if not a member, moved
to Boston where the phrase became so popular that eventually it was banned from The Boston
Herald. One of the Order’s early evangelists was
Jay Sharbutt, who had picked up the “occult hand” while in Boston and joined the Order
in 1978 (when he put it in an article published by the Associated Press). Not long after,
he moved to The Los Angeles Times, and in 1983 Sharbutt told several Times reporters
about it. These Los Angeles Times reporters were among
the most successful with getting the phrase into their publication, putting it into stories
in 1983, 1985, 1989 and 1994, as well as eight times between 1996 and 1998. In 1999, it was
even placed into a story of President Clinton’s impeachment. The “occult hand” has also appeared in
The New York Times, The Boston Globe (9 times between 1987 and 2000) and The Washington
Times (4 times between 1996 and 1998). At least four of its manifestations in The
Boston Globe came from M.R. “Monty” Montgomery. As a master of the Order, Monty seamlessly
placed the phrase with sentences like “If a president of Harvard ever intervenes in
something like a promotion or a course outline, it is well disguised, the work of an occult
hand.” So how do we know about this “secret”
society today? Information about the Order had been published at various times over the
years, including by former president of the American Journalism Review and dean of the
University of Maryland’s journalism school, Reese Cleghorn (who had learned of the Order
while working in Boston in the 1970s). Cleghorn wrote two columns about it, and as a result,
he received letters from Joseph Flanders and R.C. Smith detailing the Order’s origins
(as relayed above). In more recent years, the Order has become
less popular, although the “occult hand” continues to pop-up occasionally, including
in weather coverage (Mark Lane of the Daytona Beach News-Journal 2006), entertainment editorials
(Don Kaplan of the New York Daily News 2013), political stories (Chase Purdy in The Roanoke
Times 2013), and even student sports reporting (Michael Cheiken for the University of Chicago’s
Chicago Maroon 2014). On the other hand, many former Order members
have moved on to other challenges. Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Greenberg, Order member
six times over, wrote in 2006 that because of the exposé on the topic and “the lazy
types who threw the magic phrase into their copy so artlessly [that it] . . . gave the
whole conspiracy away,” he was giving up on the “occult hand,” in lieu of a new
phrase. With the criteria that it had to be “bad
enough to be spotted by the cognoscenti but likely to get past the casual copyreader,”
Greenberg and other Order members considered (and presumably rejected) phrases such as
“like a soft, warm weird breeze blowing aimlessly through the palms,” and “hanging
over the scene like a shroud.” They eventually settled on a phrase currently
unknown to the public, and as of 2006, there were supposedly 11 “certified members”
into the new secret Order.

47 thoughts on “The Secret Society of Journalists Known as the Order of the Occult Hand

  1. Gravity Falls, anyone? Anyone? No, just me? Oh. slinks off to that corner where disgraced adult cartoon lovers hide and make fan edits

  2. excellent video and information. i keep laughing. i think that this were a old form of trolling before world wide web.

  3. The spectre of Donald Trump as President hung over the scene like a shroud at the Republican National Committee meeting.

  4. Hmm. Maybe there is no new phrase – they're just telling us there is one so we'll look for it.

  5. Fascinating! Journalists obviously get bored, too. There's probably one for the people who double type words in two different lines (the/the, for example). If not, there should be. πŸ™‚

  6. Secret societies just for fun…Sounds like an adult level complication of a kid's game. I approve πŸ™‚

  7. How do we now about it? They tipped their "occult hand". The new phrase became : " a vast right wing conspiracy" taken from a non-journalist…
    Update: The new order/phrase…The Order of Fake News. The new phase…Russia collusion.

  8. So, is Simon Whistler now a member of the Occult Hand?

    Since I'm a journalist, (photojournalist) am I a member too?

  9. "Russian Conspiracy" has to he it, given nothing based in reality seems to he linked to this artificial scandal made up by the left.

  10. So "occult hand" is the Wilhelm Scream of newspapers. And like the Wilhelm, it evolved from inside joke to annoying distraction.

  11. An early proto-meme. Back when people put more effort into their memeage than just liking and sharing a hastily cobbled-together picture with a misspelled caption.

  12. Journalist no longer exist!! There is no real reporting anymore! ! Look very closely at the green screen background in ever news segment!

  13. Considerimg that the only people that read mainstream newspapers anymore are other journalists, inside jokes like these have become rather sad.

  14. I think this beats "Have More Sex", as snuck into The Patriot in Ft. Stewart, Ga. a few decades ago, as it's far more artful.

  15. I really like your channel, however, why do you always have that music loop softly in the background? The drum tracks are especially distracting because they interfere with the consonants in your comments like 't' and 's'. You are definitely interesting enough so why do you think that back ground track (loop) is even necessary? I am a musician so even if you want something playing in the back ground, maybe it can be a nice piece of baroque music? just a suggestion. Anyway, I will keep watching because your topics are great…

  16. So you're left scrounging for weird published phrasing, using said gathered phrasing over and over again just hoping you get it right, try after try…that's the only way to figure it out? Unless a connection leaks it, as was the original phrase. Maybe some whiz kid could make an algorithm, otherwise, I'm left disappointed I can't join a redundant secret society just for shits and giggles.

  17. oh, you should do the one occult that is part of the Asian toaist practices in china. I forget there dang name you might have already made one.

  18. After watching this I had to search my newspaper's archives for the phrase. No hits… yet πŸ˜‰

  19. Now that you know all about the Order of the Occult Hand check out this video and find out about The Aloha Shirt and the Interesting Origin of Casual Friday:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHMm5NCWJLg

  20. Do you think you would get extra credit from journalist professors if you snuck it in to assignments and they didn't notice? The extra credit is achieved by informing them afterwards.

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