Virtual Front Page, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

Let’s see what we have today…

  1. Global Stocks Soar as Central Banks Act (WSJ) — This is basically two big stories — the central banks around the world (the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank) getting together to act, and the markets’ reaction to it.
  2. Britain shuts embassy in Tehran (The Guardian) — Not only that, but the Beeb reports, UK to expel all Iranian diplomats
  3. A Defiant Cain Pledges to Stay in the Race (NYT) — He reassessed, and this is what he came up with.
  4. ‘Hopeful’ Clinton in Burma visit (BBC) — From our good news department, dawn appears to be breaking in a dark corner of the world.
  5. Billy Graham Hospitalized in Asheville (Charlotte Observer) — The evangelist possibly has pneumonia.
  6. Rita Jenrette: No sex on Capitol steps (WashPost) — First they say there’s no Santa Claus, now this. But here’s the rich part: Rita is now remarried to an Italian aristo, and is called the Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. No, really.

14 thoughts on “Virtual Front Page, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

  1. Steven Davis

    As far as the stock market goes… tick, tick, tick. This is no different than paying off one credit card with another one and unable to actually pay off either.

  2. Steven Davis

    I just saw Clinton on the nightly news, holy cow time hasn’t been kind to her. It looks like she didn’t even bother to wash her hair this week before the big trip.

  3. Karen McLeod

    Re: Rita. That happened so long ago she probably can’t remember it. (The bruises have surely had time to heal by now)

  4. Cindi Scoppe

    So John Jenrette is refusing to provide a straight answer about a congressional sex scandal. Again. Some things never change. If Reliable Source had a decent editor, he’d make him/her march back in there and say, “Mr. Jenrette, that’s just not good enough.”

  5. Brad

    Yes, he would, Cindi. And she’d go do it, too.

    Folks, this is an inside joke that I’ll go ahead and share, and let Cindi correct me if I get details wrong.

    Back in late summer of 1988, after Dan Quayle had been named as Bush’s surprise choice for running mate, John Jenrette hinted that he had hosted Quayle (and others) on a carousing visit to MB, with drinking and womanizing and carrying on. And golf.

    So we tried to run it down. Poor Lee Bandy was on his vacation at Garden City with his family, but he didn’t see his family much because I had him working on this.

    Lee was mainly working local politicos, I think, as he knew them all.

    I sent Cindi there for more of a street-level investigation… she spent days going to nightclubs and such trying to find bartender or bouncers who had worked there at the time and might have seen Quayle. There was a certain woman whose name we obtained, but who would only speak through her lawyer, and didn’t give us much to go on.

    Every fruitless night, Cindi would say, “May I come home now?” And I’d say no, and give her ideas for things she hadn’t tried yet.

    Finally, she ran down Jenrette himself at his office (I forget what he was doing then), and quizzed him about his allegations, and he essentially stonewalled her. And I seem to recall he was a bit dismissive of Cindi, who was all of 23 or 24 then — run along, little gal, that sort of thing.

    So when she called to report the failure of that part of her mission (in those days you had to go to a pay phone for that), I told her she was a professional, and she was not to let anyone treat her like that. I told her to go back and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she was sick of the runaround and wasn’t going to take it anymore.

    She said she doubted she could get back in to see him.

    I said, You march in there, and you walk past anyone who might offer objections, and you throw his door open and say, “Mr. Jenrette, that’s not good enough!” And don’t let him off the hook. I may have advised her to stamp her foot when she said it, but memory dims.

    So she did. She probably wouldn’t have, except she was so frustrated and wanted to go home, and was genuinely ticked off at the guy — almost as much as she was probably ticked off at me.

    I wish I could have seen his face.

    Anyway, he started talking, and gave her some leads.

    None of it panned out as being any sort of verifiable scandal that attached to Quayle. But Cindi did some good work in making sure that no stones were left unturned.

    In those days, I was a bit like Walter Burns, the Cary Grant character in “His Girl Friday,” who would stop at nothing in cajoling, maneuvering and manipulating reporters to go the extra mile. I was sometimes rather shameless (such as robbing Lee of his vacation). If I was on the scent of a hot story — and this sort of thing was very hot at the time (remember, it was the year of Gary Hart and “Monkey Business” — I was very single-minded. And expected reporters to be, too:

    “Come HOME? You don’t want to come home… Whaddya mean, you don’t have any clothes or other items with you? Go to the drug store and get yourself a toothbrush; the paper will spring for it.” I think I urged her to buy clothes, too. Her husband ended up making a trip to take her some stuff down there. I don’t think I was at the top of his list of favorite people that day, either.

    Call it ambulance-chasing sensationalism if you like, but we were enterprising in those days. You don’t see that so much now. That’s why I was impressed that someone had the presence of mind (and courage with the expense account) to send Gina to Atlanta on the chance that Sanford was there. Just like the old days…

  6. `Kathryn Fenner

    Way too funny–poor Cindi scouring the strip clubs of MB for political dirt. Good training, I guess, for the political beat.

    She deserves a lot more credit for all she does for our state!!!She done you proud, DBW!

  7. Brad

    Yeah, the added irony is that Cindi doesn’t drink, and would have no motive to go to ANY bar, particularly these bars. Her idea of a good, relaxing evening is one reading a new study on comprehensive tax reform. If they had a bar for workaholics, she’d be a regular…

    Other reporters would be more at home. They’d go in, get a beer, and chew the fat to see where the conversation led. I imagine Cindi approached it more from a “bad cop” perspective:

    “All right, dirtball, give me what I want so I can get out of this smelly dump and take a shower…”

    Which is another way to be effective, sometimes.

  8. Brad

    We complemented each other well in editorial board interviews, and it was somewhat like the good cop, bad cop. I’d take the laid-back, holistic approach expressed by Douglas Adams in “The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul,” describing what his hero Dirk Gently would do whenever he was lost:

    “My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it’s going and follow it. I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often end up somewhere that I needed to be.”

    I was very interested to see where the conversation might go, what sorts of interesting digressions it might take. And that’s where I tended to get columns, columns that illuminated something about news events that other journalists wouldn’t bother with.

    Cindi went into interviews with a list of questions (questions she spent a lot of research and thought drafting), and demand that the subject give her what she came in for. I always wanted to see what would come up that I could never have imagined, and then chase it.

    I tried her patience. A lot. But I enjoyed myself. And I exaggerate a bit in describing my eccentricity — I knew how to tell when something unusual would shed an important light that no one had thought to investigate before.

    But I was also happy to spend a few minutes on something that just interested the subject, and relaxed him or her. I’d see this light of surprise, and even delight sometimes, in the person’s eyes — they expected to be grilled; they didn’t expect to have a fun conversation — and I would know that the more serious parts of the interview would go better for it. The good cop role.

  9. `Kathryn Fenner

    Hey, Cindi isn’t a workaholic–she could quit any time–really, she could…she’s just a social worker. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    It’s too bad Beer Fridge Warthen wasn’t over in Myrtle Beach schmoozing the barflies. We might have meandered our way into the truth!

  10. Cindi Scoppe

    Brad, your memory is essentially right. I think the Jenrette visit was near the beginning of my week from hell — maybe the very beginning. As I recall, the essential information I got from him was the woman’s name — which allowed me to find her.

    And Kathryn: Brad is leaving out an essential part of the story about how we approached endorsement interviews. His approach was fine when all he had to do was decide whom he wanted to endorse. He didn’t actually have to write the endorsements — the essential components of which were the reasons for the decisions: what made this candidate better suited for the job than that one. That’s what my list of questions was designed to produce.

  11. Brad

    Yes, in those circumstances — say, an endorsement interview for a legislative seat — for me it was about reaching my tipping point, and anything might get me there. For Cindi, it was about coming up with point-by-point justifications. So I was happy to see what interesting things may come up; Cindi was task-oriented.

    I approached things as a columnist, Cindi as an editorial writer. Column writing is more about the intangibles, and the road less taken. Editorials are about the economical delineation of an argument. Columns are “here’s an interesting thought I had,” editorials are the official position of the newspaper, and largely devoid of personality.

    This is more than a right brain-vs.-left brain thing. Cindi, and Warren, and other associates such as Nina Brook and John Monk, came up as reporters. I came up as an editor. They were about setting out facts; I was about making judgments about those facts. So, as Cindi or whoever asked questions that elicited factual answers, I combed through them as they passed across the table, looking for anything that might contribute to that judgment. And then I would pursue that thing, pick it apart.

    In most interviews, beyond inviting our guest to start talking, I tended not to ask any questions until 10, 15, even 20 or 30 minutes in. I wanted the subject to go where he would, express himself as he liked, and see what questions that suggested to me. Then I would dig in.

    Here’s another saying from a popular novel that I tend to use to describe this process. From Frank Herbert’s Dune: “Be prepared to appreciate what you meet.”

  12. Brad

    My point is that the two processes complement each other. If the only process used were “answer these 5 prepared questions,” you might miss gold that was hiding just a couple of steps off that path. If you just employed my “let’s see where we can go with this” method, you might miss obvious points that should have been asked about.

  13. Brad

    Oh, in reference to Kathryn’s comment about the “buy a beer” approach…

    The human connection is something that isn’t taught in J-school. Or isn’t USUALLY taught in J-school. I took a reporting class at Memphis State that was taught by the managing editor at The Commercial Appeal. His method of “teaching” was to sit back in his chair and tell anecdotes from his reporting days.

    Once, he started reminiscing about how he covered the Emmett Till story. We’re talking a “Mississippi Burning” sort of situation in which a big-city reporter would be treated with extreme suspicion by the small-town folks. He described going into a little store on the side of the road at the edge of town, the old-timey kind with one gas pump and an Orange Crush sign painted on the side of the ramshackle structure. He wanted to pick up local scuttlebutt, find some leads. He described going in, the screen door slamming behind him and the couple of folks in there turning and giving him the “You’re not from around here, and what the f___ do you want?” glare.

    And he asked the class, what do you do next? And all the kids gave prim little J-school answers such as “Ask them what they thought about Till’s murder,” and with each one he’d smirk and say “nope.” (He was a smug S.O.B.; I worked for him as a copy boy at the paper, and that was always his manner — do no work beyond glancing through proofs, and be smugly amused at those hustling around him.)

    I knew the answer right away, but I was at the back of the room and one of the last called on. The rest of the class was perplexed, and I fidgeted, in irritation at him for the game he was playing, as I waited for him to get to me. When he did, I said: “Buy an Orange Crush.”

    Absolutely. Become a customer. Buy a cold drink, ask the clerk to open it for you, wipe your brow and talk about how hot it was, and everybody would agree, and you’d talk about how hot it had been in Memphis, and ask if it had been that hot down here, and they’d say yes, and then, if you were lucky, they would turn to local news beyond the weather before you had finished your drink.

    And it worked, in his case. He won the confidence of the folks in the store enough to get some important leads to follow.

    This kind of thing is so simple, and obvious, arising from the most basic understanding of human relations. A salesman would have done it automatically. But post-Watergate journalists didn’t think in terms of connecting with sources, tending to believe they’d be tainted by such relations.

    It’s like… years later, I had a very dedicated, aggressive reporter covering the cops in Jackson, Tenn. He was a no-nonsense, just-the-facts kind of guy. Before long, no one at the police department wanted to talk to him, and the chief instituted procedures that would limit his access to information.

    I got another guy who was just as good a reporter, but had a good-ol’-boy manner about him, to replace the first reporter on that beat. Before long, relations thawed, and we started finding out what was really going on on that beat. Then he was asked to play on the police softball team. Post-Watergate morality dictated that I forbid him to do that, but I didn’t. I wanted to open the information conduit wider, not shut it down. It worked.

    The key, ethically speaking, is to know who you are and what you’re there for, and worry less about appearances than about getting your job done. People who worry about appearances — and in the news game, “ethics” discussions are mostly about appearances (which is why I have little patience with most discussions of journalism “ethics”) — erect barriers that keep them from knowing what’s really going on. And if they don’t know what’s going on, they can’t serve their readers.

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