After being a reporter for 23 years, I’m pretty used to interviewing members of congress, senators and governors, along with the men and woman who wanted the jobs those politicians held. I wasn’t always comfortable doing that. In fact, my first time interviewing a senator was downright intimidating, but I learned quite a bit from that experience.
It was late 1989, and I was cub reporter and anchor at WREX-TV in Rockford, Illinois. I was assigned to interview a giant in the senate: Senator Paul Simon, the bow tie wearing one-time presidential candidate. He was about to launch his re-election campaign and there was a scrum of reporters to cover it. I did some research and prepared some questions. When Senator Simon approached me, he said “Hi Dennis, I’m Paul Simon.”
I’ll admit, I was blown away by the fact that he knew my name. I was just a rookie reporter at a small station in a big state with five television markets! I was really impressed. In a way, it disarmed me, and I may have asked some wimpier questions because of Simon’s warm, avuncular way.
After I spoke to him, the senator approached the next reporter, and I noticed an aide whispering in his hear, “that’s Steve Jones (I can’t remember the actual name,) from the Register-Star.” “Hi Steve,” bellowed the senator, “I’m Paul Simon,” I guess I wasn’t so special after all.
In this week’s Face the State flashback, I will take you back to 1989-90, when I covered my first U.S. senate campaign, a learning experience if there ever was one. You’ll see a clip of one of my interviews with Senator Simon. I was so bad of a rookie, I cringe when I watch it.
I also have a clip from an interview with Simon’s opponent, Congresswoman Lynn Martin, a Reagan disciple, who would go on to be Labor Secretary under the first President Bush. I interviewed her hours after my grandmother died, and I remember she gave some comforting words.
I also learned a few lessons that day: make sure your socks are high enough, because no one wants to see your hairy shins on television, and never address an elected official by his or her first name.
Before the interview, Martin told me to call her “Lynn.” I was a 20-something, just learning the ropes, so I did what she told me. Later as the viewers of Northern Illinois watched my report, my boss Dennis Horton, watched in horror as I called a sitting member of congress (older than my mother) by her first name. I was told never to do that again and I have never forgotten that lesson.
You can see the entire flashback this Sunday morning at 11, only on Face the State on Channel 3. UPDATE: Here is the segment: http://www.wfsb.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=6876141
Categories: My early career