All hail ‘The Accidental Onion’


Donald Cyphers, like J.D. Salinger, has always been an intensely private man and has never allowed anyone to take photographs in the inner sanctum of the Montana News Association. But back when he was publishing a news sheet called the Lockwood Crier, a visitor surreptitiously made this drawing of Mr. Cyphers at work. It remains a precious artificact of an important era of American journalism.

A few months back, I wrote an article—an appreciation, really—about the Montana News Association. The editors of Noise & Color, an entertainment and culture magazine in Billings, commissioned the piece because they knew I was obsessed with the Montana News Association.

Hell, the whole universe knows because the MNA itself reported the fact.*

But I never published the story on Last Best News. I was wary of doing so because I wanted to keep my private and professional lives separate. In my private life, which is to say on my private Facebook page, it has long been a hobby of mine—OK, an obsession—to cull specimens of journalistic brilliance from the MNA website and share them with my friends.

Having done so again recently, I was reminded of this piece, which I then exhumed from the archives. After reading it with fresh eyes, I realized it simply had to be made available to a wider audience.

There is too much excellent material in it to remain buried. Not my own humble prose, God knows, for what is my writing in the face of the monumental journalism committed by the Montana News Association? It’s like graffiti in the margins of the Ten Commandments, that’s what.

So here, at long last, is my tribute to the Montana News Association. I hope you will agree it was worth the wait.


WHEN THE editors of Noise & Color asked me to write about the Montana News Association, I jumped at the chance to share my knowledge. I am not one to brag, but I’m pretty sure I have destroyed more brain cells reading headlines and stories over at the MNA website than anyone in the world.

What is the Montana News Association you ask? Well, it is a news website, allegedly, an information colossus based right here in Billings, Mont. It is the braindeadchild of a man whose name is Donald Cyphers, allegedly.

Donald Cyphers erupted onto the Billings-area media scene something like 15 or 20 years ago (who has time for research?), when he began publishing something called the Lockwood Crier. This was a news sheet published, or run off on a copy machine, once or twice a week.

Later, he began publishing an actual newspaper, or something that looked, from a considerable distance, like an actual newspaper. Up close, the super-pixelated photos and mostly nonsensical articles made one wonder what it really was. But no matter, because soon after that Donald Cyphers jumped to the Internet, where the Montana News Association has been ever since.

I still haven’t really told you what the MNA is, but that is only because even after all my long study I’m still not sure myself. At first glance, you might think it is just another right-wing organ dedicated to the destruction of liberalism, the end of abortion and a return to the good old days when courthouses proudly displayed the Ten Commandments, communists lived in other countries and presidents came in traditional hues.

Here are just a few recent MNA headlines that might foster that impression:




But all these headlines were on top of stories or opinion columns cranked out by deranged commentators and rabidly reactionary “news” services. Though good for an occasional laugh, these stories would not have been enough to make me a regular visitor to the MNA website.

No, what draws me in again and again are the local stories written by the man himself, editor-in-chief and investigative reporter (to use his own descriptors) Donald Cyphers.

These stories, I boldly declare, are like nothing else produced in the whole history of American journalism, from the days of Benjamin Franklin right down to the present year, allegedly, of 2015. They are an indescribable amalgam of random facts, scattergun punctuation, haphazard capitalization, confounding sentence fragments, repetitive redundancy, English-as-a-third-language syntax and the most hilarious overuse, misuse and downright abuse of the words “alleged” and “allegedly” that you will ever see anywhere.

I have come to think of the MNA as The Accidental Onion.

I was going to reprint my favorite story from the Montana News Association, but then I realized this would be like having 300 children and being forced to declare which of those children was your favorite. You couldn’t do it! Allegedly!

So let me just throw out some examples of Cyphers’ best work, with some explanation where necessary. I won’t give dates or details on stories, however, because that simply isn’t important. These beautiful examples stand alone and indeed seem to exist in another, better universe.

Also, there is simply no substitute for going to the site and feasting your own personal peepers on Donald Cyphers’ inimitable wordsmithery.

Let’s start with this fine example: “The alleged suspect, was identified as 18-year-old Alex Hulteng of Billings. The vehicle that he was allegedly driving, was discovered to be stolen and was used to drive through the front of the tobacco store to gain entry allegedly.”

Or how about this: “Cynthia Kay Adams is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Currently the allegations that have been leveled against her, can only be considered alleged, until Adams has been convicted in a court of law.”

Another huge attraction for me is the persistent use of the needless detail. Consider: “Larry Dean Cochrane also goes by the name of allegedly, Larry E. Cochrane and lives at 303 south 35th street and is 52 years old. Mr. Cochrane’s astrological sign is a Pisces.”

It’s even better when the details are hilariously vague, confusing and completely useless: “Billings Police Office Seth Foster is described as a short hair, clean cut, light brown hair, between 25 to maybe early 30’s about 5 feet 10 inches and weight about 190 -120 lbs according to MNA news sources.”

Yes, that is verbatim: the “office” is “a short hair” whose weight is somewhere between 190 and 120 pounds. As they say, you can’t make this shit up.

Most amusing of all is when Cyphers pretends that what he is doing is groundbreaking, as when he announced: “Instead of the Liberal Media slant, this is the real story behind Riley James Jacobsen and why he robbed the Zip Trip on Grand Ave on March 30, 2013.”

So, what were some of the “facts” the Liberal Media were afraid to print? Well, there’s this: “According to Riley James Jacobsen, had just been involved in a fight with his girlfriend. Riley Jacobsen was not thinking clearly and was frustration and because of that, made some wrong choices.”

And this: “This was what caused Riley James Jacobsen to allegedly rob at gun point the Grand Ave Zip Trip. Riley James Jacobsen basically blacked out regarding his memory during the next several hours regarding his actions. Jacobsen decided to steal his friend’s/roommates shot gun.”

Not to mention this: “According to a Billings Police department Montana News source, Riley James Jacobsen allegedly admitted his crime only after Billings Police Officer Doll’s interrogation method caused Riley James Jacobsen to break down and cry.”

Another dandy was this double bonus, a fantastic headline … which was then contradicted by the first sentence of the story:

“The victim, is currently listed in critical condition in the ICU.”

But there is a lighter side to Donald Cyphers. Sometimes he gets sentimental and quite lyrical, as in this caption that accompanied his photograph of a duck family out for a stroll: “Walking within the Cross walk lines as best as a Duck can do, the mother Duck and her Ducklings, cross Lewis Ave even on a green light.”

I could go on and on until the cows and the Ducks and her Ducklings come home, but I think this is probably enough, don’t you? What, you want more? You shouldn’t tempt me. But all right, just this one perfect headline:


If I enjoyed the Accidental Onion any more than I do it would be criminal, though not in the sense of being convicted in a court of law. Allegedly.

*Editor’s note: Readers may be puzzled by the MNA article linked to above. Why, they will ask, does it appear to have been written by someone who seems to know his or her way around a complete sentence? The answer is that for a couple of glorious years, Mr. Cyphers employed a writer who, though a bit off kilter mentally, could sling invective with the best of them. Even now, my eyes fill with tears of gratitude to have been allowed to play a part, however tangentially, in the history of the Montana News Association.

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