12/09/05 - politicians and journalists

In today's excerpt - legendary journalist Meg Greenfield comments on the tenuous relationships between politicians and journalists in Washington, DC:

"There is [a]... kind of amiability that develops between professional journalists and people they cover that is a function of the need for civility among people who live together professionally in the small enclave of political Washington and, no matter how sharp their conflict today, are going to have to do business with again tomorrow. ... A conflict does not end their dealings with each other. It would be unnatural for everyone to go personally icy and aggrieved on everyone else on the basis of their disagreements ... it would be unnatural if a certain saving companionability did not develop among them as well. They thus maintain a veneer of politeness even when they are likely feeling anything but friendly.

"Such an old and practised hand as Lyndon Johnson apparently didn't always understand this. Beschloss cites a tape of LBJ talking in private that perfectly sums up the way the thing so often works: 'The New York Times called up down here and said they wanted us to please come by and meet their editorial board ... I spent two and a half hours and we had a wonderful meeting. Then the next morning they showed their independence by saying I was a son of a bitch.'

"Encountering people at social occasions the night after we may have blasted them on the Post's morning editorial page, I adopted the personal policy of being the first to go over to them and start a conversation that gives the aggrieved one a fair chance to total me. I suspect I am usually wearing what Stephen Potter, the author of The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship, called 'the V-shaped smile' (there is no tighter, more unconvincing smile). Usually the person responds with a V-shaped smile of his own and a few strained jocularities which aren't very convincing either, and I respond in phony kind. The exception is if the spouse is standing right there; then you can get loudly denounced to hell and back, and that has happened too. I still cringe when I recall my first such public dressing-down in the 1960's by the enraged and voluble wife of a postmaster general. It stopped conversation throughout the room."


Meg Greenfield




Public Affairs


Copyright 2001 by Meg Greefield


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