Thursday, January 17, 2008

They refused to fire me ...

... so I had to quit:

From: Robert Stacy McCain
To: Tom McDevitt
Cc: Wes Pruden, Fran Coombs, David Eldridge
Date: 01/16/2008 08:53 AM


You may recall that I attempted to quit The Washington Times in August 2007, and was persuaded not to do so by Wes Pruden and Fran Coombs. Well, Wes and Fran are leaving now, so I suppose now is as good a time as any for me to go.

My last work day in the office will be Wednesday, Jan. 23, though cleaning out my desk may take a few days longer.

In December, I signed a contract to produce a 70,000-word book by May 1, and have done a good bit of research, but have only had time to write 4,000 words so far. The business of producing the "Culture, Et Cetera" page five days a week, together with blogging and other duties at the paper, is really incompatible with the kind of work this book needs, including a two-week trip to [Very Dangerous Foreign Country] next month. (I've got a doctor's appointment today to get my first round of vaccinations for the trip.)

In 1997, my wife and I knelt together in our home in Georgia, and prayed that I would be hired by The Washington Times. Every time I've become dissatisfied with this job, my conscience has chastened me for my sinful ingratitude, knowing that I was complaining about an answered prayer.

When we loaded our belongings into a U-Haul truck and rolled north up I-81 in November 1997, we brought with us an 8-year-old girl, Kennedy, and twin 5-year-old boys, Bob and Jim. Kennedy's now a college sophomore doing a year abroad in Argentina, and the boys are 15. Meanwhile, we've added Jefferson, now 9, Emerson, now 7, and Reagan, now 5. So we've doubled our blessings and undoubtedly contributed to our nation's health care crisis, while also warming the globe for Al Gore. (Though I'm still not sure which of John Edwards' "Two Americas" we're part of, I know I don't want Hillary's village anywhere near my kids.)

Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned in the past 10 years is that the institution of The Washington Times is greater than any individual employee. Magical things happen when you pick up that phone, make a call and say, "I'm from The Washington Times." I've met TV stars, intellectuals, and political leaders. Publicists send me free books by famous authors and practically beg me to interview their clients. This kind of VIP treatment can create the impression that it's all about you. But it's not you, it's really the power and prestige of that name -- The Washington Times, America's Newspaper -- that opens all those doors for you.

As you might expect, then, it is with great sadness and reluctance that I have decided to resign from a job for which I prayed, at a paper I love so much. Or, at least I think I'm resigning. In my typical careless way, I haven't actually bothered to check the company's personnel policies. I've got three weeks vacation coming to me, and a huge pile of accumulated sick leave, and it might be more to my advantage to get fired instead of quitting.

Maybe David, Fran and Wes can decide between them who gets the pleasure and honor of finally firing me. Or perhaps you'll want to leave that task to John Solomon, so he starts his tenure as an instant hero to the SPLC, Media Matters and a thousand left-wing bloggers by ending my dreadful reign of terror. (Hey, I mean, if you believe that kind of stuff ….)

Whatever The Washington Times becomes without me, history indicates I'll never become more than I have been at The Washington Times. Let's face it: People routinely leave this place thinking they're going on to bigger and better things, and then promptly disappear. I swear last week I saw Bill Sammon's picture on a milk carton.

So that's me -- another loser wandering off the floodlit stage of The Washington Times, and into the darkened wings of journalistic obscurity. If you ever want an encore, just give me a call.


Robert Stacy McCain

P.S.: I promise not to kick any doors or shout any profanities on my way out.

P.P.S: David, how about posting this e-mail on our Web site, so FishbowlDC links to us and at least we get some extra traffic out of it?

* * * * *

Well, David didn't do what I suggested -- another brilliant McCain brainstorm rejected! -- so I guess my personal blog is now scooping my employer. (Is it still too late to get fired?)

Over the years, there have been all kinds of wild rumors about me, my bosses, and The Washington Times. Now it can be revealed that one of those rumors was true:

Indeed, I must finally confess, I am The Karaoke King of DC.

(Notice, however, that Patrick Gavin mistakenly describes me as "a karaoke king," rather than "The Karaoke King." A correction is long overdue, Patrick.)

To prevent the spread of still more gossip and slander, then, let me try to explain the actual facts behind my decision to resign.

Opportunities and omens

First of all, as stated, I am under contract to produce a 70,000-word book by May 1. It involves traveling to a Very Dangerous Foreign Country (no, not Canada) and as anyone who's ever written a non-fiction book will attest, that final deadline crunch is always a soul-consuming nightmare.

Second, because The Washington Times staff is so small, there is no "backup" person cross-trained to fill in as "Culture, Et Cetera" editor: The page is published 260 days a year, and one person must edit (and sometimes write) the content for all 260 pages. So if I wanted to take three days off, I had to do an extra three pages in advance before I could leave. In effect, this means I haven't had a real vacation since 2003.

Given those realities, imagine trying to carve out, between now and May 1, enough free time to finish a 70,000-word book.

Third, John Solomon has just been named executive editor of The Washington Times. From what David Bossie told me at Monday's premiere of "Hillary: The Movie," Solomon is a great guy and an excellent reporter. (Anyone hated by Media Matters can't be all bad, even if he did commit the otherwise unforgivable sin of working for The Other Paper.)

Naturally, Solomon's first few weeks will be spent familiarizing himself with newsroom personnel at The Washington Times -- during the very period that I would be trying to juggle the "Culture Et Cetera" editor's job with the insanity of a book deadline.

In terms of making a good first impression on the new boss, this scenario had every omen of a career catastrophe.

Another answered prayer, you see.

A crisis and a lesson

The crisis that caused my August 2007 newsroom blowup and attempted resignation was, in the final analysis, the result of my conviction that I was in the wrong job -- right newspaper, just the wrong job. The "Culture Et Cetera" editor's job involves a lot of tasks that I've never been able to enjoy (e.g., putting together what's called an "advanced tout"), and those unwanted duties prevented me from doing the kind of work I'm best at.

Thus came that Tuesday in August when my editing duties had prevented me from completing the feature interview I wanted to write. Somebody was hassling me about something else, and I replied, "OK, how about instead, I resign in disgrace?"

Walked straight to my boss's office, said some choice words, and then stormed out, intending never to return. As far as I was concerned, at that minute, I was unemployed.

They talked me out of it, but I never could shake the conviction that I was in the wrong job.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Being "Culture, Et Cetera" editor can be a very sweet job at times. It's amazing who you can meet and what you can do, when you're the guy in charge of filling up 120 column inches of some of the most valuable news/feature space on the planet, five days a week.

And then there are those times when you've spent an hour fruitlessly searching for a wire story that can be edited down to serve as the 200-word "extra" on the page, and you think to yourself: "This is not what I came to Washington to do."

Yeah, somebody's got to do that stuff, but ... doing it for four years in my mid-40s? When I was a national award-winning columnist before I ever left Georgia? Nope, sorry.

You take the good with the bad, but I've always had a low tolerance for compulsory, anonymous drudgery. Still, I never forgot that I had prayed to be hired by The Washington Times, and if I was stuck doing such thankless tasks, surely God had a purpose. There must be some lesson here.

There was. I figured it out after John Berthoud died. This isn't the place to explain the whole thing, but just ask yourself how a man can spend his career as a leading activist in Washington, D.C., and never make a single enemy.

God said, 'Go'

So then I got the book deal. And then John Solomon was named as Wes's replacement and Fran's resignation was announced.

It was like God said, "Go."

Departing with sorrow and reluctance, then, I hope that I may -- as my resignation e-mail said -- eventually be called back for an encore.

Wednesday afternoon, I met with Fran and David, and we were all surprisingly cheerful, despite the uncertain future that faces each of us now. Like I told Dave, if you can't laugh in the face of danger, you're not a Christian.

Given that the "Culture, Et Cetera" page is planned in advance, there are several feature stories I've committed to write for the page that can't possibly be published before my last work day in the office next Wednesday. Also, my notoriously messy desk will have to be cleaned out.

Therefore, if I correctly understand how my departure will play out, my byline will appear a few more times while my three weeks of unused vacation time is burned off. And who knows? Maybe the new editor will let me do some freelance contributions in the future -- perhaps even some reporting from the Very Dangerous Foreign Country to which I must travel. So maybe I can stave off the fog of journalistic obscurity that has enshrouded others.

(You think I'm kidding? I watched a PBS special recently in which a reporter for Knight-Ridder explained how he had published articles in late 2002 and early 2003 clearly documenting the bogusness of pre-war intelligence on Iraq, yet nobody in Washington paid any attention. Right story, wrong paper. Welcome to the milk carton brigade, Warren Strobel.)

For 10 years, it has been my distinct honor and privilege to work for The Washington Times, which with unnecessary modesty calls itself America's Newspaper. I've spent the past decade telling my kids that their father works for the most important paper in the world -- and that's a neutral, objective fact.

Nothing can compare to the repeated thrill I've had of meeting new people, reaching out to shake their hand and proudly saying, "Hi, I'm Stacy McCain, from The Washington Times."

If I could stay, even in the wrong job, I know I'd never leave.

But God said, "Go."