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CSotD: It’s only business

Ann Telnaes gets it absolutely right on a level that hits me personally, and perhaps it’s a chance to talk about the system, because I’m sure tired of talking about the issue.

For about a year and a half, I edited a small, twice-weekly community paper in western Maine.

Back in 2006-8, Maine had two Senators noted for their independence and fair thinking, but the state comes in two parts and few people straddle both coastal Maine and woodlands Maine.

I referred to Olympia Snowe as the Senator from Lobster Maine and Susan Collins as the Senator from Moose Maine, and we were in Moose Maine.

I met Olympia Snowe twice, and spent a couple of hours with her that second time. She may be the most intelligent person I’ve ever met and is certainly the most intelligent one who also has a wicked sense of droll Yankee humor.

But she was from Lobster Maine and rarely got up our way.

 

Susan Collins dropped by fairly often, and I also liked her.

We built up a very good working relationship and had some pleasant times when she was in town.

And sometimes when she pretty much wasn’t.

She came up for Memorial Day one time and there was an issue I wanted to talk to her about, but she was only passing through to meet some veterans, wave in the parade and then get to the next town for their marking of the holiday.

So I waited outside the American Legion until she got there, told her what I wanted to talk about and gave her my cell number.

About two hours later, as she headed towards her next obligation, there ensued a ridiculous but substantive interview, in which her car kept going around hills and through valleys, so that she’d lose the signal mid-sentence and have to call me back.

She could have told me to call her a day or two later, or she could have just blown me off with “not now, too busy.” Even for Maine, which ain’t California, the paper I edited was laughably small and insignificant.

But we liked each other and had a good working relationship and so she helped me get what I wanted on deadline.

Here’s the point: You hear people, both in journalism and in politics, talk about their good friends and their good relationships, and it’s important to realize that it can’t work that way, and, for the most part, it doesn’t.

When it does, the system is broken. This is why so many ethical, serious journalists despise the White House Concubines Association Dinner.

It’s useful to be civil and it’s nice when you like someone, but you can never forget that these people are not your friends. They can’t be.

I had sources who were friendly but clumsy: You always knew they were looking for an advantage, buddying up to plant information. That sort of “good relationship” simply meant they’d take your call, which was helpful, as long as you double-checked everything they told you.

But there were others who you genuinely enjoyed being around. You could have a laugh and go out to lunch and genuinely enjoy their company.

Until one of you had to, as Jules and Vincent would put it, “get into character.”

The fade here, as Telnaes accurately depicts it, is that Collins began to slide over to the more doctrinaire Republican side, a movement which seemed to intensify in 2008, when she handed over chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee to Joe Liebermann as a result of the Democratic victories that year and the two of them began to team up on hard-line policies.

Or maybe it was somewhere else. But whenever it started and for whatever reason, she stopped being quite so independent and I was kind of glad to be gone from Maine because it was a process I’d rather watch from a distance.

And it certainly was a process, a fade, a gradual disappointment, such that yesterday was less shocking than dispiriting.

Tessio: Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.
Tom Hagen: He understands that.

Journalists and politicians can’t be friends because neither of them can have friends. That’s just how it is. There comes a time when you have to drop the hammer and, when that moment comes, you can’t worry about who it’s gonna hit.

Which always reminds me of a hard moment when a friend I had lunch with regularly, but a source, called me in tears over something I’d written in which she was involved. And, even as she chewed me out, she admitted she knew I had to do it, but goddammit she wished I hadn’t, and I felt like shit because I had to do it but goddammit I wished I hadn’t.

But that’s how it works. You cover the news, you write what you have to write, and sometimes it takes you places you wish it wouldn’t.

You also wish it wouldn’t make you cynical, and you have to struggle to be realistic and not to give in to that, either. A cynical reporter is as bad as a sentimental one.

True of journalists, true of politicians.

Which means that, when you see a good, independent voice fade, and fade some more, and finally stand up to announce her final disappearance into the Dark Side, it makes you wish things could have been different.

But they can’t, and they never have.

Keep your friends close, and your sources closer.

 

And take comfort wherever you can.

 

“Oh, Jake,we could have had such a damned good time together.”
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

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