Jack Germond and the Old Days
Jack Germond and the old days--the class politics of political journalism.
Very sad to hear of Germond's passing. I met him once, at Harvard, at the Kennedy School. We were on some sort of panel together. It was not long after I'd reviewed (favorably, fortunately) his book in the Sunday Times. He told me he was grateful for the review, which was nice. I remember some expression of contempt for George H.W. Bush along the lines of, "Two biggest decisions of his life, he gave us Dan Quayle and Clarence Thomas. Think about that."
It must have been great fun to be one of those guys. Newspapers and wire services were minting money in those days, and no one gave a shit about budgets. If Germond or Jules Witcover or whomever wanted to get on a plane and go size up some House race in New Mexico, off he went on one of the sleek 707s that had entered service. Expenses? Whatever. Don't worry about it.
There's a lot to be said for today's media over yesterday's. We have a lot more voices of all different kinds, and that's good. I love the interactions with readers, especially on Twitter, even with the people egging me toward auto-proctology. The rise of people like Nate Silver has opened up new ways to talk and think about politics that moves the center of gravity away from the day to day horse race, which is good. Germond, by the way, was always completely unapologetic about the horse race. This is what people want to know, he said; who's ahead. But he always did say, and said to me that day, that "there's smart horse race and dumb horse race," and he was right about that. I would imagine that dumb horse race wasn't so different in 2012 (Romney's going to carry Minnesota--G.F. Will) from what it was in Germond's day.
On balance I think readers are much better served today by this multitude of voices. But Germond and his contemporaries were a better high priesthood than the priesthood we have now. This was before high-pundit journalists became members of the 1 percent. They were working- and middle-class men, and their views on politics reflected that. Today of course, most really prominent journalists share the class interests of the politicians and lobbyists they cover. This change is part of the reason that policies that steal from the middle and the bottom to finance the rich, which should be laughed out of town in two seconds, get a serious hearing in today's Washington. So in that way, Germond's generation was superior to ours.
Besides, it sure would have been more fun to be the equivalent of me 40 years ago. Rereading that review I linked to above, I opened it with a vignette that is still clear as a bell in my mind's eye. Loads of reporters were in Utica, New York following Hillary around in 1999. The day's events ended, people retreated to their hotel rooms to file their copy, and then evening came. I shot down to the hotel bar figuring I'd find 10 or 12 companions for a night of revels.
And what did I see? Poor old Bruce Morton, then with CNN, but a Germond contemporary more or less as a CBS News reporter, sitting at the bar all by his solitary self nursing a martini. So this is what it's come to, I thought. Where the hell are my coevals? Probably at the damn gym. Anyway I sat down with Bruce and encouraged him to regale me with a few New Hampshire-in-the-old days stories.
Jack seemed a very nice man and was a real pioneer at what he did. Grant him respect.