the musician still most commonly called Prince, whom C.J. gleefully refers to as “Symbolina.” Yet, despite her seemingly incessant sniping at “The Paisley One,” C.J. kept to herself the tips she received last fall about the health problems of his newborn son, letting the National Enquirer break the story. Asked why, she says simply, “I have boundaries.”
, who in recent years has garnered almost as much media attention as some of her own celebrity targets, is routinely described as “A Mouth”– sassy, irreverent and fearless. And, in fact, within two minutes of listening to her–or even her answering machine–that is exactly the impression given. But one senses there is more to this bold, funny woman, and that she guards her more complex sides well. “I will say things other people will not, but …” she hesitates. “Here it is again: I do have boundaries.”
While her job of the last eight years may be perfectly suited to her personality, it’s not exactly what she set out to do. A native of Oklahoma City, who moved with her family throughout the South as a child, C.J. majored in photography and journalism at Bennett College, a black women’s school in Greensboro, North Carolina. She then received a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where she earned a master’s in journalism. After stints covering the courts for papers in Flint and Grand Rapids, Michigan, she was recruited to cover the same beat for the Star Tribune in 1984. For the first time, she did not do well.
In typical flip C.J. style, she recalls, “I had a personality clash with an editor who I didn’t know had a personality, and was banished to the suburban beat.” She may be laughing now, but in a rare serious flash, she concedes that it was a painful, jarring time in her career. C.J. stuck it out, though, and was invited back into the fold in 1989 to start a new column with her colleague Eric Eskola.
The column hit a nerve, and Eskola bailed out after four months. “He was a white guy,” C.J. observes. “He’d never ruffled a feather in his life. I come from a race of people who can be hated on sight because of the color of their skin. I do not worry about what people think of me.”
It’s a good thing, because C.J.’s TIPS line is frequently jammed with hateful, racist phone messages. She shrugs them off. “I grew up in the South, so I’ve heard all the really creative racial slurs there are,” she quips.
With a salary hovering somewhere around $70,000 (needless to say, she won’t specify), C.J., who is single and has no children, says she is “doing better than 90% of the women in Minnesota.” However, she adds, “I think I should make as much as the high-profile white men at this paper, and I don’t.” Perhaps, but she gets’ at least as much attention (she’s been featured in USA Today and the New York Times magazine, in addition to a