The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Eight Days in a Mustang Later …

Posted on | January 5, 2012 | 22 Comments

“What I fear will happen is that Perry will spend several months sucking up media oxygen and burning through GOP donor cash, only to collapse early next year. This will have the effect of suffocating other conservative candidates, and thereby lead to … Romney 2012.”
Robert Stacy McCain, Aug. 9, 2011

“Stacy’s not smooth and polished and TV plastic. He’s brash and opinionated and homely as a hickory walking stick. But smooth and polished and plastic got it wrong, and hickory got it right.”
Richard McEnroe, Three Beers Later

DES MOINES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
When I stumbled into the hotel lobby Wednesday morning in search of coffee, I noticed a guy working on a laptop and, figuring him to be another reporter in town to cover the caucuses, struck up a conversation. My opening gambit was to remark how wretchedly merciless it was for Michele Bachmann to call a 10 a.m. press conference the day after the caucuses, when most of the press corps had been up until 2 or 3 a.m. the night before.

“Why couldn’t she have let us sleep in?” I said, and groused about the fact that a 10 a.m. press conference meant that I’d be rushed to check out of the hotel afterwards.

We laughed about being victims of Bachmann’s revenge on the national media and I asked the guy who he worked for. When he said he wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I started ranting about my grudge against my hometown paper (see “Henry Grady Weeps,” Dec. 5) and alluded to my longstanding opinion that the paper’s publisher, Anthony C. Kennedy, should be eviscerated in broad daylight on Marietta Street and his entrails fed to wild dogs.

The conversation continued and it turned out that the guy was Jeremy Redmon. When I checked later, I noticed his story on the Bachmann event contained an error:

Bachmann is the second Republican to quit the race. Businessman Herman Cain of McDonough suspended his campaign last month amid sexual harassment allegations, which he vigorously denied.

Actually, Bachmann is the fourth Republican to quit the 2012 race, preceded not only by Cain, but also by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. But little details like that tend to slip through the cracks in modern journalism, where there are fewer and fewer editors to fact-check stories and most papers end up publishing whatever the hell the reporters turn in.

Quibbles about errors in articles were not what Jeremy and I were talking about in the hotel lobby Wednesday morning. Instead it was discovered that we had both once worked for the same paper. Jeremy was a reporter for the Metro section of the Washington Times for a couple of years during the decade when I was on the national desk there. Jeremy talked fondly of working with one of our Metro editors, Hank Pearson, a legendarily gruff newsman of the Old School. “He’d tell me, ‘Put some balls on that lead,'” Jeremy recalled.

Yeah, Hank was a classic. Died of cancer a few years ago.

The Old School guys are few and far between in the news business nowadays. The motley collection of staffers in the newsroom of the Washington Times back in the day — including guys like Jerry Seper, who typed his stories by the hunt-and-peck method — could never be assembled by any 21st-century editor, simply because guys like that don’t go into the news business anymore. Journalism has become an elite profession, and attracts basically three kinds of people:

  1. “Save the World” types who think of journalims as a sort of humanitarian charitable endeavor, wherein they’ll “make a difference” on behalf of the oppressed victims of society. Such people should be encouraged to join the Peace Corps instead.
  2. Neurasthenic intellectuals with literary pretensions. These people are essentially dilettantes, slumming it in the news business as a way to pay the bills until they can sell a screenplay or a novel.
  3. Would-be TV stars. The cable-news era has created a niche market for camera-friendly “personalities,” and a lot of these young kids in journalism nowadays are writing news or punditry as a means of auditioning for a TV gig. They wake up in the morning, turn on MSNBC, and imagine the days when they’ll be sitting at the table with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brezinski, who will chuckle at their pithy aphorisms and bon mots.

Good luck with that, OK?

When I got into this racket 25 years ago, there was no MSNBC, no Fox News and no Internet. A job as a $4.50-an-hour staff writer at a tiny weekly paper in Austell, Georgia, was a pleasant alternative to driving a forklift in a warehouse on Fulton Industrial Boulevard as a way to pay the bills while playing with a garage-rock band.

My career plan to sell 10 million records, tour the world, marry Brooke Shields and retire by age 30 didn’t work out, and so I stayed with the journalism gig until I won some awards and came to Washington and . . .

Look, we don’t know when we begin something where it will take us. And the last thing I expected when I got into this racket was to be here in the Des Moines International Airport, two days after the Iowa caucuses, waiting for a flight to Boston to begin my coverage of the New Hampshire primary campaign.

What has made this possible, of course, is the “Army of Davids” effect: The Internet allows a writer to reach readers directly, in a personal way, without the intermediaries — publishers, editors, et cetera — who were necessary to the writer’s livelihood before the rise of New Media. And the kids nowadays who take all this for granted don’t have the hard experience of having worked in the pre-Internet era when a writer had to jump through all those hoops, and deal with all the hassles, necessary to get a chance to earn a living in the news business.

Write for the reader. If this plane I’m waiting for in Des Moines should crash on takeoff, let those be my final words of advice to aspiring journalists. Try to picture in your mind the person who is reading your words, and try to write something that person would actually want to read. The tragedy of modern American journalism is that the industry has lost sight of the reader, the paying customer who is the whole point of the enterprise.

Yesterday after the Bachmann press conference, I had to wait my turn for an interview with Bachmann’s press secretary Alice Stewart. And when I got my turn, I introduced myself as Stacy McCain of The American Spectator and The Other McCain, to which Alice replied, “Yeah. I know. You’re famous.”

It’s the kind of “fame” which, with $1.49, will get you a cup of coffee. For what it’s worth, however, Richard McEnroe is correct in observing that I didn’t get here because of my good looks. Nor did what people usually call “talent” have anything to do with it. Writing is a skill, not a talent, and this difference is important because a skill can be improved by practice. And I practiced like hell during all those years when I was covering stuff a lot less important than a presidential election campaign.

In 1987, I was working as a sports editor in Douglas County, Georgia, and the two news reporters for the paper were a couple of 20-somethings of the literary dilettante type. They did the necessary minimum of reporting while one of them worked on his novel and the other worked on his one-act plays. Meanwhile, I was burning the midnight oil trying to put out a sports section and, observing these two other guys, I vowed not to be like them. Maybe journalism wasn’t my first career choice — hello, Brooke Shields, wherever you are — but if I was going to do it, I was going to do it with all my might.

So now it’s 2012, and I’m on the campaign trail. Whatever happened to the two dilettantes, I don’t know. But I shared a cab ride from the Super 8 motel to the airport with a kid named Noah Rothman, who covered the Iowa caucuses for a site called Ology.com. I asked if he was going to New Hampshire and he said, no, the company wouldn’t pay for that trip.

We exchanged business cards and Noah said, “Oh, I know who you are. I follow you on Twitter.” Him and 10,000 other people. But it is you, my readers, who have paid for this trip, and I try to keep writing for you.

They just called boarding for my flight, and it’s time to go, onward toward the final humiliation of “Governor Asterisk.” The ultimate collapse of the Perry campaign will come later.

My intent in this post was to name-check everyone who has contributed to the Shoe Leather Fund to send me out on this crazy journey, but there’s no time for that now. They’ve just called final boarding and I can’t afford miss that flight because, after all, you paid for it. I hope you feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth so far. But there are still many miles to go, and so there’s just enough time now for me to type the Five Most Important Words in the English Language: Hit the freaking tip jar!

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Comments

  • Anamika

    Life prefers to operate in the dark, so that its parts don’t know what it’s up to. If it could be discovered by Stacy, or a large number of more-alert-than-customary folks, what Life was really up to, what it was doing through the individual, civilization would seize up, it would freeze, just like your hot little mustang you’ve got parked in the driveway would, by removing all the oil from that fuel-injected high-compression V-8 engine and then going out for an early evening freeway drive. 

    How can you verify this?

    Simple, because YOU DO, and you are one of the most complex, finely machined parts within the Great Machine which is Organic Life on Earth, certainly more than some old Detroit V-8, and YOU operate totally in the dark, from birth until death, lubricated by that special lubricant you know nothing about, but flows in any case, unimpeded, resulting in the sweet, sweet slumber of life on earth.

    Oh, you find that intolerable, for the instant in which you hear it said — like right now — and, thoughts are already buzzing around your head preparing your pithy retort (ho hum, “Where’d they come from?”), but then in just a moment or two, you’ll forget all about that, pull the covers back over your eyes and ears, and continue dreaming those pleasant, or even unpleasant as the case may be, dreams, as you anxiously prepare to punch that SEND button…ho hum, “Where’d that response come from?”

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  • Don Surber

    Dude, you are wearing that car all wrong. That top goes down. Cold? That’s what they have heaters for.

  • Anonymous

    Just because I’m okay with your comments on the cricket links doesn’t mean you can go back to posting essays in the comments to other posts. Last warning.

  • adolph.stephens

    “homely”
    Nice.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Godspeed.

  • John Kenda

    Finally broke the seal on donating. More to follow.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

    If  Stacy lowers the top he has passenger problems.

    http://tinyurl.com/7j8owyt

  • Don Surber

    One more thing, you make hunt-and-peck sound like a bad thing. I do 20-25 words a minute, which is about the speed of writing. The 100 WPM guys should join the steno pool. Oops, we replaced those with computers. Who is really obsolete?

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  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie Chomper

    Hickory walking sticks make for pretty good clubs.  I should get one myself.  What 3 Beers Later calls “homely” I would call seasoned, redolent of character and experience.

  • JeffS

    Why do you think Stacy wears a fedora?

  • http://thatmrgguy.wordpress.com/ Mike G.

    Those 100WPM guys also make a lot of spelling and grammatical errors whereas us hunt ‘n peck typers usually catch our mistakes before hitting the send button, eh?

  • http://thatmrgguy.wordpress.com/ Mike G.

    Well, it probably covers the shiny spot on top of his head. ;)

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  • Quartermaster

    RSM may be homely, but his wife is hot. Makes you wonder what he did to con that girl into marrying him. Whisky? Drugs?

  • Mrs.The Other McCain

    Don’t do drugs,don’t drink…..Nice girls don’t kiss and tell…Just saying. :)

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

    A speedo, a pole, a bowchickawowwow dance track…

  • http://saberpoint.blogspot.com Stogie Chomper

    Obviously, Mrs. McCain has a different opinion of her husband’s looks, and hers is all that matters.

  • Pingback: Hunt-and-peck roolz « Don Surber

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    So, Thaddeus McCotter was road kill?

    Cheers

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