My trip to Capitol Hill yesterday was extraordinarily fruitful. People who don't want to deal with reporters can dodge an e-mail or a phone call, but they get their salaries from the American taxpayer. They claim to be "public servants," so they don't have much choice in the matter when a citizen-journalist walks in the front door and says, "Serve me."
Yesterday, because of screwed-up D.C. traffic -- the Beltway was a parking lot and the side streets were gridlocked by freaking tourists who don't know how to drive -- I missed my 1 p.m. appointment with an important source. Even as I pulled into the parking garage at my destination, the source called me at 1:20 to explain that it was too late to wait any longer.
Grrrrrr. OK, fine, I had lunch with a friend of mine who just happened to be in town. And then I headed out to Capitol Hill.
Rejection and Revenge
My first visit was to an office where Smith at the desk smiled when he saw me walk in the door. He went into the next room to announce my arrival and, without saying a word, I walked right in behind him. I saw the initial look of horror on the source's face when Smith said I was back, but then the source saw me behind Smith and smiled: "Oh, hi, Stacy!"
Nothing beats shoe leather. What I wanted from this source was to confirm the name and office location of the guy who hadn't responded to my e-mail the day before. (Hint to public servants: When I send you an e-mail saying "call me at [my personal cell phone number] at your earliest opportunity," you should RSVP ASAP.)
So I got the information and added a little extra hassle for good measure. This particular source is also a friend. If your friendly sources object to journalistic harassment, what kind of friends are they?
Understand that I was completely stressed out at this point. If these public servants would return my phone calls and e-mails, I wouldn't have to drive 150 miles round-trip and walk all over Capitol Hill like this. After three hours of sleep and four cups of coffee, I'd driven like a maniac through Northwest D.C. -- River Road to Wisconsin Avenue to Porter Street to Rock Creek Parkway and then into tourist-infested gridlock hell -- only to find myself pleading on the phone to my source: "Please, I'm almost there, I'll be there in two minutes, if this g--d----d busload of f---ing tourists would just get out of my f---ing way."
And being told "no." Like a salesman doing cold calls or a teenage boy asking for a date, a reporter must learn to cope with rejection. But it hurts every time.
Like I'm Chopped Liver
When I was a pimply teenage boy and got rejected, I'd find myself thinking, "Would she say this to Andy Gibb?" (Back in the day, his poster adorned the wall of every college girl's dorm-room.) Arrogant? Maybe. But I didn't care how famous Andy Gibb was. He ain't got nothing on me.
OK, so now I'm an award-winning journalist, a published author and the founder of the online posse whom Jimmie Bise dubbed "The Million-Hit Squad." Just because I'm not famous doesn't make me chopped liver. So when a potential source blows me off, my reaction is, "Would she do this to George Stephanopoulos?" (Who also ain't got nothing on me.)
Trust me, I understand people are busy. My inbox is overflowing, I seldom have a chance to check my voicemail, my desk is a mess, and if it weren't for abundant assistance from Smitty and my sexy wife -- both of them answers to prayer, whom I seldom thank as often as I should -- I'd be even more of a hopeless mess than I already am.
So if I miss your phone call or don't reply to your e-mail, please don't take it personally. Maybe I didn't see your e-mail, and maybe (as is the case at this very moment) my cell phone is dead and I left the charger in the car that my wife is driving today.
Given my notorious disorganization and many other shortcomings, I try to be forgiving, to have empathy like Sonia Sotomayor, and to remember that other people have their own problems. Still, on the other hand . . .
Who's zooming who? The salaries of congressional staffers are a matter of public record. You're getting paid good money to deal with the media, and you can't play favorites, as if The American Spectator was less deserving of your attention than Politico or The Hill. You're making a heckuva lot more than I am, sweetheart, and the taxpayer is footing the bill, see?
Furthermore, I'm working longer hours than you are. The taxpayers don't give me a computer loaded with whatever software I want, and I don't have a free T1 connection. Nor do the taxpayers give me a Blackberry and a parking pass. I've got no interns or assistants to boss around. Therefore, when I'm hustling for every dime, burning the midnight oil and dodging bill collectors, my empathy for a 26-year-old public servant . . . well. it is not infinite.
But I digress. I'll finish this saga of Friday on the Hill, but Byron York's got an Instalanche and Powerline is also non-linking me, and so I guess I need to get this post online now before I'm the last blogger on the Memeorandum thread.
To quote the eminent political philosopher Rodney Dangerfield, it ain't easy bein' me. Please hit the tip jar.
Who's The Man?
At 4 p.m., I walked into the office of the man I was looking for. I made a joke to the guy at the front desk as he went to fetch my source. A minute later, I was sitting on a leather sofa in a large office behind closed doors.
Explanation. Conversation. Interrogation. Quote of the Day. I repeated the word to my source, just to make sure I could use it. When your source is talking off the record, you put the pen down, let him talk -- just two guys talking. If he says something you want to use, then you ask if you can use it as "background" (anonymously) and, if necessary, negotiate what can and cannot be used.
But you never burn a source. If you start hot-dogging, divulging stuff that your source doesn't want to be published, just so you can claim to have it first, you'll get a bad reputation and people won't help you.
The source had something in another room I wanted to see, so he went to get it and I talked to the guy at the front desk again. "Hey, your guy there -- he's The Man." Which led to a bit of joking ("No, you're The Man!") and off I went, across Capitol Hill, looking to find the source I'd missed at lunch.
Well, as I often remind readers, there are no accidents. All those tourist S.O.B.s I'd cussed into the fiery pit of hell while desperately trying to make it to lunch? "Angels unaware." Being 20 minutes late for that appointment set up an amazing sequence of events that Lynn Vincent would call "providential," but which Michelle Malkin once called "coinky-dinks." (Coded message to Michelle: Ixnay on that ordway.)
The Man is in charge. Never doubt it.
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! I'd meant to finish this account of my Friday on Capitol Hill. However, today the citizen-journalist must take his sons -- Jefferson, 10, and Emerson, 8 -- to a Monster Truck Jam at Hagerstown Speedway.
So you'll be left wondering who was behind that umarked door I opened by mistake Friday afternoon. However, I beg you to pay attention to this:
Any Senator, officer, or employee of the Senate who shall disclose the secret or confidential business or proceedings of the Senate, including the business and proceedings of the committees, subcommittees, and offices of the Senate, shall be liable, if a Senator, to suffer expulsion from the body; and if an officer or employee, to dismissal from the service of the Senate, and to punishment for contempt.For the record, the only thing the deputy press secretary could tell me was that she plays catcher on Joe Lieberman's staff softball team. But that was another door.
Please hit the tip jar. I'm wearing out a lot of shoe leather doing it this way, and my boys will want some sno-cones at the Monster Truck Jam.