Unbelievable

Press reporter David Cole interviewed for Japanese television

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David Cole, a Coeur d'Alene Press reporter, waits for Tak Nomura, center, and Michihiro Hanamura to prepare their video camera for an interview Thursday for a Japanese television show. Cole was interviewed for a story he wrote in 2007 while at the Lewiston Tribune about a man who stole a wallet.

COEUR d'ALENE - Fifteen minutes of fame is 15 minutes of fame. So what if it comes from 5,500 miles away?

David Cole, Coeur d'Alene Press reporter, will make an appearance on prime time national television.

That nation, though, is Japan.

"Nobody I know will see this," said Cole, 35, six-plus year newspaper reporter, who was interviewed for an upcoming segment on the Japanese television show "Unbelievable" last week. "Other than maybe we'll post it on my wife's Facebook page."

Across the Pacific, that's another story.

The hour-long show is one of the country's most popular programs, drawing around 15 million viewers each episode and now in its 13th season.

Its focus, as its name suggests, is true stories that are, well, hard to believe.

Cole, who has covered everything from politics, local government, environment, cops and courts, social services, business and all around general assignment reporting, has covered his share of wacky, brow-raising pieces.

But the one that fascinated a Japanese television producer enough to fly interview team Michihiro Hanamura and Tak Nomura of New York-based Broadway Caprice Corp. to document Cole's tale happened right before Christmas 2007 in Lewiston.

It started when Cole, a cops and courts reporter for the Lewiston Tribune covering nearby Asotin County, Wash., came upon a report by the local police department about a wallet theft at a nearby convenience store. Jami Johnson, 19 at the time, had left her wallet on the counter of the convenience store with $600 cash in it she was planning to use for her Christmas shopping.

A Grinch tale for sure, and in this case the surveillance camera snapped a clear picture of the heavyset perpetrator who took it from the counter, wearing a blue-and-black-checkered jacket, and dark-colored, hooded sweatshirt.

Later that day, randomly, a Tribune photographer snapped a picture of Michael Millhouse, of Millhouse Signs in Lewiston, painting Christmas greetings onto the windows of a downtown Lewiston business.

It wasn't until later, around midnight, when the paper's designers were laying out the front page, that they noticed the same heavyset man wearing the same blue-and-black-checkered jacket, and dark-colored, hooded sweatshirt appearing twice on the page.

Once, in a surveillance photo as an unidentified suspect, and the other, inches above, as a festive window painter.

"I thought it was hilarious," Cole told the interview team.

Cole found out just like every other reader, by looking at his paper the next morning. "It looked so funny because we're trying to be serious newsmen, and write a serious story and be a newspaper, which is all business. We're not out making funny stories up. And this ended up being really funny."

Unbelievable, but understandable from a newspaper point of view.

Often, reporters and photographers are too focused on their own assignments to know what everyone else in the newsroom is doing. And when the editors decide where things will run in the paper, they usually have short story descriptions with black and white photos to look at.

It's not until the page designers see the final product right before print that it finally comes together.

Someone in the pressroom called police, who arrested Millhouse before the paper hit porches. But when it did, readers overwhelmed the newspaper's phone system calling to say they had solved the crime.

The New York Times and Good Morning America even checked up to see what was going on.

"Everyone wanted to be the one that cracked the case," said Cole, who wrote a follow-up story the next day explaining the bizarre event. "Everybody wanted to be the person who connected the dots."

Johnson got her wallet back, too.

Though he doesn't expect his airtime to reach too many American viewers, Cole said he was happy the TV show thought the story unbelievable enough to track him down years later, as a reporter in a different town, to have him recount it.

The segment is expected to air later this month or in early May.

"I think it's cool they found the story so interesting they'd come hunt me down," Cole said. "Unbelievable is definitely in the eye of the beholder."

The Dec. 13, 2007, front page of The Lewiston Tribune shows Michael Millhouse in two separate images - one of him painting a window and another from a surveillance video stealing a wallet.

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