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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Looking Back

Resigning led me to look back on the five and a half years at The Company and beyond.
Sure, there have been some unpleasant times recently as it went through changes I and others disagreed with and as the industry as a whole continues to morphe into something I don't particularly care for. But I also have had a number of good times. Very good times, in fact.
I began working in journalism 11 years ago, when as an eager high school grad I took a summer job at a major news magazine in Paris. The editors parked me on the "Culture Desk" where my duties involved reviewing books and movies. Who would give such a responsibility to an arrogant and ignorant young man, I wondered. But the job was great. Not what I ultimately wanted to do, but I was hoaning my skills, meeting interesting people and seeing my name in print.
During my college years, I spent summers working at a variety of media companies: Sky News, the Press Association and WTN (now APTN) in London and Dublin. My duties ranged from production assistant to writer and it is during those years that I developed a true love for television. In addition to recognizing the power of story telling through pictures, I was drawn to the technical aspect of TV production and fancied going into documentary making at some point in my career.
So off I went to grad school in the United States. Chicago and its bitter winter -- the worst blizzard the city had had in decades -- greeted me. For a year, I learned the ins and outs of reporting, took law classes to cover courts for a couple of local papers and became comfortable shooting and editing for television. I loved it, in fact.
The program I attended included a quarter in Washington, where students report for media outlets. My assignments were WISC-TV, a Madison-based CBS affiliate, and WHO Newsradio in Des Moines, Iowa, where nonother than Ronald Reagan worked as a sportscaster.
Those three months were phenomenal and taught me a huge amount. I mingled with the Wisconsin Congressional delegation and was particularly impressed by Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl. While not on my beat, the experience also took me to the office of Paul Wellstone whose candor, friendliness and passion touched me very deeply. I also marched the final mile to Capitol Hill with Granny D, the 90-something year old ladywho had travelled on foot across the country to raise awareness about campaign contributions, an issue Feingold has been very involved in. Other stories led me to the Drug Enforcement Agency for a piece about methamphetamine labs, the White House, the halls of Congress and the Justice Department.
When the quarter came to an end, I scored an interview with The Company (no, not the CIA...) and was hired in the Summer of 2000. I was on top of the world: my employer's name carried with it prestige and a deep-rooted journalistic heritage and to work for them in Washington, D.C. was something I had never imagined possible for such an inexperienced kid. I was 22 and clueless. What were they thinking?
While in D.C., I had the good fortune to work with some extraordinary people, talented and knowledgeable journalists whom I admired very much. Most had worked in all four corners of the world and were real old school journalists, the kind I hoped to become.
I wrote far too many stories to remember them all, many of them completely meaningless, but some whose coverage I was involved in will always remain with me. The sniper shootings in Washington and Sept. 11, for instance are still freshly etched in my mind as scenes I'd never thought I'd witness.
Then there was my first meeting with Clinton, in the closing months of his administration. My editors had sent me on the White House pool to accompany the president to an event. If I remember correctly, Clinton was to give a speech somewhere in town (I believe it might've been the National Arboretum) and then unveil a statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his wheelchair on the Mall. The "travel pool," which consists of a small group of reporters, photographers and a television crew, typically piles into two vans that are part of the presidential motorcade and escorts the president on all his movements.
As we waited in the Rose Garden to be taken to the press vans, Clinton walked out of the Oval Office and into the courtyard. The Secret Service, obviously surprised, lined us all against the wall as the president said with a smile "Don't worry, it's just me."
A relaxed Clinton then proceeded down the line and shook hands with all of us. He knew most by name, as they were regulars to the pool, and queried a photographer about his son, who had undergone surgery a few days before.
Then he reached me. "I've seen you before, but I don't believe we were ever formally introduced," he said with a smile. "I'm Bill Clinton, it's nice to meet you."
I laughed and introduced myself, shaking his hand. He chatted briefly, but I hardly remember about what and we were soon packed into the vans and hauling ass through red lights down Washington, D.C. streets.

A few times after that, I had the pleasure to meet Clinton again and was particularly impressed by an off-the-cuff speech he gave at a luncheon with the Democratic Caucus a couple of weeks before leaving the White House. One heck of a speaker.
Another good memory is that of covering a concert at the executive mansion in 2000, I believe. "A Very Special Christmas," was dedicated to Special Olympians who were honored that night by the Clintons and an impressive array of guests.
A handful of reporters including myself were placed at the receiving line on a lower floor of the West Wing, from where guests were escorted to a tent erected on the South Lawn where the show was to take place. Still green and very impressionable I was awestruck to meet -- in the space of less than an hour -- Jamie Lee Curtis, BB King, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, Naomi Campbell, Tom Brokaw, Val Kilmer, Jon Bon Jovi, Macy Gray, Wyclef Jean and others who I now forget. We were then taken to the tent where we were dazzled by the show. Definitely a night to remember.
Clinton was very active, so my weekends were often spent at golf courses where he played, a number of evening events and early church services.
One funny story comes to mind. When making our way to the Army Navy golf course in Fairfax, VA one Saturday, an old man in a beaten up car somehow managed to insert himself in the motorcade on Rte. 66, obviously by mistake. He found himself on the left lane, squeezed between us (Press Van 1) and the CAT Team car ahead, a Suburban packed with Secret Service guys in fatigues, armed to the teeth. They usually travel with the trunk window up and make sure there are no intrudors or dangers to the caravan of vehicles.
When they spotted the poor old man, the agent sitting in the back of the CAT car and facing the confused driver, gestured at him to change lanes. No reaction. He then waved his AR-15 (I believe) at the old man, who again remained frozen. The agent finally pointed the gun straight at the driver who suddenly copped on and swerved out of the motorcade, which was moving at a healthy 80 mph.
As we turned around to see what had happened to the poor old man, we noticed he'd crossed all lanes and pulled over on the break-down lane. No messing with the Secret Service!
Under Bush, more time was spent sitting in the press room, desperately waiting for something to happen. But since he spent most every weekend at Camp David, little ever happened.
I did, however, have one amazing experience while covering Dubya, as he headed to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to talk about HMOs. My editors asked me to travel up there with him and call in a story. The trip, to my great excitement, was to be done by chopper. Secret Service drove us to the foot of the Washington monument where a replica of Marine One awaited alongside two staff military helicopters. We filed in through the back of the copy of Bush's chopper and when Marine One lifted off from the South Lawn, we took off too, circled the monument and got into formation for a quick flight to Baltimore.
Looking out the round window to see Marine One off our port side and several other helicopters around was awesome. As we returned, the formation overflew the Capitol then headed for the Potomac where the pilots made a right turn and lined up with the Reflecting Pool. As we approached it, a soldier in the back lowered the ramp, giving us a spectacular view of the monuments and the basin as we overflew them.
Not bad for my first chopper flight!
There are too many stories to write about, such as the time I met with participants of a slavery reparation march on the Mall. Ahead of the rally they had replied to my interview request and instructed me to meet them at the Nubian Eye, a store in a shady area of town. When I pitched up, a young lady in fatigues guarding the door coldly showed me in. Once inside, I was greeted by men in fatigues who pointed out a chair from where I would listen to the man in the suit talk to me from a wooden podium.
Great. These guys are New Black Panthers, I realized. They were, however, very nice. When I asked a couple of slightly tougher questions, however, the two beefy guys behind me closed in close, making their presence very, very clear.
Washington, in short, was a blast.
I then moved to Boston, where my duties mostly involved reporting financial news, not my cup of tea. A few stories such as the Church sex abuse case, the prison murder of one of the pedophile priests and the blackout stand out in my mind.
The grind of financial journalism, however, got to me. But he money was OK, and since the job was allowing me to finance my Private Pilot's License, I stuck with it. Flying, however, changed everything and I spent the past year planning that big step into a new career.
It is with little regret that I leave my current job. However, I'll always remember with fondness those great moments in Washington, where fate and the kindness of my editors combined to my living stories that I shall never forget.
All of them, who will remain dear friends, I wish to thank for the glorious moments they afforded me.


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