The Other McCain

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

Ralph Z. Hallow, R.I.P.

Posted on | October 18, 2020 | No Comments

Having worked with many colorful figures over the years, I can confidently say none was more colorful than Ralph Z. Hallow, the veteran political correspondent who died Saturday at age 82.

In his youth, Ralph was a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and could tell all kinds of stories about Sixties radicals, but by the time I met him — when I joined the staff of The Washington Times in 1997 — he was already a legend in the D.C. press corps. George H.W. Bush famously called Ralph a “horrible fellow,” basically because Ralph wouldn’t let Bush off the hook on his broken promises.

Ralph always dressed colorfully — his ties, his shirts, his pocket squares — in the old-school style that was also preferred by our late editor Wes Pruden, and he and his wife, longtime NRA executive Millie Hallow, threw legendary Christmas parties at their home. You’d see all kinds of famous people from politics and journalism at these parties, and once we had a gigantic singalong with Ralph’s stepson Ian Walters on piano, me on guitar, and talk-radio host Blanquita Cullum leading the whole crowd to the tune of “La Bamba.” But I digress . . .

Ralph had sources like no journalist in the world ever had sources. He was on a first-name basis with every influential conservative you’d care to name, and he could dial up Newt Gingrich or Grover Norquist as casually as you might call your own brother. After a couple of years at the Times, I became Ralph’s more-or-less permanent editor, which could be a challenging task because Ralph would sometimes “file his notes,” as we used to say, and it was my job to translate this into English.

How it usually went was this way: After the noon editorial meeting, managing editor Fran Coombs would call me into his office and tell me that Ralph’s proposed story had a chance at Page One if the story matched what Ralph had promised in his “tout” (the one-paragraph thumbnail summary that reporters sent in for the noon meeting). This meant that by the 4 p.m. meeting, the story needed to be close enough to a finished product that the editors could greenlight it for A1. Fran would give me notes saying to “make sure he gets” such-and-so an element into the story to “back up the lead.” The challenge was often to get an on-the-record quote from a named source saying what Ralph knew to be true, but which nobody wanted to put their name on. You’d hear him on the phone arguing with a source — an RNC member, a congressman, a former cabinet secretary — about the exact wording of a quote that the source was willing to have attributed to him.

Oh, they don’t make ’em like Ralph anymore. It was a pleasure to know him and work with him, and he will be missed. R.I.P., sir.




 

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