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The Capitol Press Corps that was…

Although I admit to being old, I deny being an old fogey. Many things are better now than then. When I first came to the Capitol all communications were "typed" and all duplicates were "carbons". The electric typewriter was an innovation. There were no fax machines. Mass duplication was by "stencil." Phones had dials and email didn't exist.

Women staffers typed. I could count the non-clerical women staff on the fingers of one hand.

Those "good old days" are, thankfully, gone.

But some capitol changes have not been for the better.

The Press Corps here when I arrived was replete with veterans. They had the same

‘look down on politicians' skepticism, bordering on cynicism, that is the boast of today's political journalists.

But they also had an arrogance built upon experience, an attitude that said they had the right to determine what the public "should know." This was important because it meant reporters didn't pander, on the whole, to "gotcha" stories designed to demean or embarrass more than to inform.

Members of the political community were just as likely to be taken aside and warned that their behavior was a mistake as they were to be the "subject" of an expose. If the behavior was seriously flawed, of course, the press corps behaved like the pack of sharks we all know and love.

But if it was a more common violation, exposure was often preceded by a warning.

I remember one veteran reporter taking me aside and telling me (over a drink) that the drinking habits of one of my Members would no longer be excused in the future. "Clean him up or get him out" was the injunction. (The Member died the following week).

Those press corps members were secure in who they were. The "appearance of impropriety" didn't worry them – only impropriety. They had no difficulty socializingwith us politicians – and learned far more about us than is known by the journalists today who fear compromising themselves.

Speaker Willie Brown, on one of the many occasions when he had to chide me for some stupid action, sat me down and told me only to always remember that the "press corps are not your friends". He was right. Those of us in the mix had Justice as our guide. Press Corps Members followed Truth. Sometimes the two walked hand in hand – but often they did not. It made us adversaries, but adversaries that usually respected the perspective of the other.

Such qualities appear to me to be absent from today's community of political journalists.

Too bad.


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