From the Archives
Memo to Washington Journalists
10:35 AM, Dec 9, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
We recently uncovered a memo, circulated to Washington journalists after the 1994 election, which is again pertinent after November's midterm election. It was published in the Wall Street Journal under Andrew Ferguson's byline and, as the original piece disclaimed, "Any relation to any actual memo circulating in Washington newsrooms is purely coincidental."
From: XXX XXX, Managing Editor, The XXXX XXXXXX.
To: Political reporters
Re: Covering the new Congress
I know the last several days have been difficult for you. Soon you will bid adieu to many good friends on the Hill -- men and women who were always there with that pointed quote, that special document to round out our stories and bring our readers the fairest, most informed congressional coverage possible.
But now is no time for tears, frankly. Literally thousands of new Republicans will be moving here to take positions on the Hill, and we have a big task ahead as we transition to this much less familiar environment.
The purpose of this memo is to make your transition as painless as possible.
What are congressional Republicans? In a nutshell, that's the question I've heard from many of you over the last week. It's a fair one. All across Washington, from Georgetown on one side to Cleveland Park on the other, neighbors have been asking the same thing. Our librarians have been very helpful (see profile of Everett Dirksen attached). And I have done some research of my own.
My information is admittedly sketchy. I have a call in to Elliot Richardson, an old tennis partner who is himself a Republican, and hopefully he'll be able to flesh out some details. What follows is the information I've gleaned from several casual conversations, including my lunch earlier this week with Dave Gergen.
(Incidentally, Dave indicated in the strongest possible terms that contrary to erroneous reports last year, he has always been a Republican and is "damn proud of it." Some of these erroneous reports appeared in our own paper. We have got to be more careful, people.)
Here, then, are the results of my reporting.
The days when moderates like George Mitchell controlled the Hill are gone, at least for now. Most of the new Republican congresspersons and staffers are adherents of the right-wing philosophy of "conservatism." Conservatism can be traced to such right-wing thinkers as Franco, Pinochet, and William F. Buckley Jr. Conservatism, in brief, calls for dismantling the entire government while simultaneously controlling the most intimate decisions of a person's life. Contradictory? Sure: like cutting taxes, increasing defense, and balancing the budget, all at the same time! Let's make sure our readers understand the impossibility of doing this.
Several sources emphasized that in reporting our stories, we should take care not to call staffers or congresspersons on Sunday morning, when the vast majority of Americans stay home to watch Brinkley. But apparently many Republicans "go to church." Some of you will be familiar with churches in Cleveland Park for their marvelous chamber music concerts. Our new Republican friends, however, go to church for "services" -- patriarchal rituals that date back to the early 1900s or even earlier. This also has something to do with "turning back the clock," another right-wing tenet of conservatism.
Over the years you have been able to develop relations with congressional sources through your kids' schools -- at soccer games, Earth Day ceremonies, Condom Fairs, and the like. But beware! I'm told that many of the new Republicans will be sending their kids to "public schools" in the suburbs, where they don't even charge tuition. As one waggish source put it to me, "Half these clowns have never heard of Sidwell Friends or Georgetown Day!" Good news for you as parents; bad news for you as reporters, who will have to create new avenues of informal communication.
Again, not easy: Many of the Republicans will be living in Virginia, the state across the Potomac from Bethesda (see map attached). These suburbs are usually 1980s-style wastelands of tract houses -- "one step up from the trailer park," another source quips -- that have destroyed irreplaceable historic landscapes. If there's sufficient interest, the paper will be happy to arrange a bus tour. They must be seen to be believed.
This won't be news to some of you. It's been my pleasure to entertain members of our staff at my farm in the Shenandoah Valley, which is also in Virginia. As you drove out you may have noticed that instead of Volvos and Camrys many of the natives drove old cars, "pickup" trucks, and vans. The men wear their baseball caps oddly -- with the bill turned forward, instead of backward in the more conventional manner. Often the women look as if their fitness-center memberships were canceled years ago. Oblivious to the population crisis, these people sometimes parent more than two children (and then complain about condoms in the schools!). All of them own guns.
I mention this because you've heard Gingrich talk of the "ordinary Americans" that he and his congresspersons supposedly represent. My sources indicate that this is a ruse. Historically, Republicans have been controlled by the "haves" in the war against minorities, women, gays and other "have-nots." There is a great deal of documentation for this. I suggest you consult books by Sidney Blumenthal and Haynes Johnson. Their understanding of Republicans sets a lofty goal all of us should aspire to.
So let's get to work. In this new era our job remains the same: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. When it comes to choosing between a self-satisfied, out-of-touch elite and ordinary Americans, I think we all know where we stand.
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