Nowadays, we have our young lady governor calling a reporter a “little girl.” In the olden days, when men were men and so were governors, they were somewhat more polite toward the youthful and female. But if they weren’t careful, they also came across as a bit kinky. I refer you to this column I wrote in 1994:
CARROLL CAMPBELL MUST LEARN HOW TO TAKE THE HEAT
State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, April 10, 1994
Author: BRAD WARTHEN, Editorial Writer
If Carroll Campbell really wants to run for President of the United States, he will have to grow a much tougher hide.
The Governor is regularly mentioned as a top contender by some of the most respected political writers in America, including The Washington Post’s David Broder. But Broder and company are missing something. To use a baseball analogy, the top sportswriters have taken only a cursory look at this rookie. They’ve seen him field, throw and bunt. They’ve yet to determine if he can hit a curve ball. Or as Harry Truman might have asked, can he take the heat?
Mr. Campbell is an extraordinarily thin-skinned man for a politician. The general public doesn’t know this because Campbell manages his public exposure with an artful care reminiscent of the way Richard Nixon was handled in 1968. He stays above the fray.
But when he can’t do that — say, when someone surprises him with a tough question, off-camera — the image can fall apart. Experienced reporters have seen that carefully groomed mask shift, with remarkable speed, into a visage of suspicion and hostility. His eyes flash, and his answers, if he responds, are highly defensive. The motives of questioners are questioned.
This flaw isn’t fatal. People can change and, in fact, over the last couple of years, Mr. Campbell has mellowed. He’s become more statesmanlike and less confrontational. In seven years as governor, he has polished some of his rough edges.
At a luncheon briefing for editorial writers at the Governor’s Mansion in January, I saw the Carroll Campbell that Dave Broder sees. He was open, talkative and articulate, exhibiting an easy command of any topic that came up. In the next day’s editorial on his State of the State speech, I wrote about the “New Carroll Campbell .”
A month later, the Old Carroll Campbell was back.
It started with the effort by former state Rep. Luther Taylor to get his Lost Trust conviction thrown out. One of the tactics his lawyer used was to say the federal investigators had backed off investigating charges that could have implicated Mr. Campbell .
A little background: In 1990, when I was The State’s governmental affairs editor, we looked into these same charges and found an interesting story about how the Legislature gave 21 people an $8.6 million tax break. But we never found any evidence that Mr. Campbell was involved. And neither did the feds, with their far superior investigative powers.
Taylor alleged that the federal agents hadn’t gone far enough. The new U.S. attorney, a Democrat, agreed to investigate. The State’s federal court reporter,Twila Decker , concluded that the only way to check the course of the previous investigation was to gain access to Mr. Campbell ‘s FBI files, and she needed his permission. So she asked.
The Governor went ballistic. He requested a meeting with The State’s publisher and senior editors. This led to an extraordinary session on Feb. 17. Assembled in a conference room at The State were the various members of the editorial board and three people from the newsroom: Managing Editor Paula Ellis, chief political writer Lee Bandy and Ms. Decker . Mr. Campbell had a small entourage. Most of us wondered what the Governor wanted.
Over the next hour or so, we found out — sort of. Mr. Campbell had brought files with him, and between denunciations of those raising these charges anew, he read sporadically from the files. Each time Ms. Decker tried to ask a question, he cut her off, usually with a dismissive “young lady.”
Throughout the session, rhetorical chips fell from his shoulder: “This young lady had given me a deadline. . . . You’re smarter than the court. . . . I will not even be baited. . . . May I finish. . . . Now wait a minute, young lady; you’re mixing apples and oranges. . . . I really don’t care what you have, young lady. . . . You seem to be obsessed with ‘lists.’. . .”
No one in the room thought Mr. Campbell had done anything wrong, and everyone wanted him to have the chance to clear the air. But we were all riveted by his agitation, particularly as it was directed at the reporter. At one point, Editorial Page Editor Tom McLean felt compelled to explain to the Governor that Ms. Decker wasn’t imputing wrongdoing on his part by simply asking questions. It did little good.
At the end, the Governor stormed out, without the usual handshakes around the table — without even eye contact.
Later that afternoon, Consulting Editor Bill Rone, who had missed the meeting, stuck his head into my office to ask what had happened with Mr.Campbell . Bill said he had run into the Governor in the parking lot, and that he had been upset about Twila Decker . He told Bill he had been so mad he had wanted to “spank” her.
Repeatedly during the interview, Mr. Campbell had expressed indignation that he was being questioned by someone who wasn’t “here at the time.” Is that what he will say when the national press corps starts taking him really seriously, and somewhere in Iowa or New Hampshire or Georgia someone in the pack asks him about that capital gains thing in South Carolina? Or the 1978 congressional campaign against Max Heller? Or fighting busing in 1970? Or the Confederate flag?
Mr. Campbell has gotten altogether too accustomed to the relative politeness of the South Carolina press corps. Our group was throwing him softballs — real melons — and he went down swinging. What will he do when he faces major league pitching?
Of course, the late Gov. Campbell didn’t mean anything kinky about it. He just wanted to punish her somehow. Putting Twila in the pillory would probably have satisfied him.
I remember one of the newsroom editors — someone who has not worked there for a long time — saying after he read my column, “Hey, I’d like to spank her, too.” He meant it the other way.