Press Talk: Of boots, ’gates and politics

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

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photoLou Brancaccio

WASHINGTON -- OK, lots of folks go to lots of conventions in lots of different fields. And I’m sure those accountant, software and milk carton manufacturer gatherings have their own certain special alluring features.

But come on, man! You have to admit newsroom conventions are something special. Yes, the media are on the ropes a little today, including newspapers, but we’re beginning to pull ourselves out of our financial hole.

And conventions like this help. They also help to recharge the battery. So if I may, let me take you all through some observations after spending a few days in the nation’s capital.

Boots on the ground

A few of us can honestly say we put our lives on the line when we go to work. Not me. But there are some in our business who do. The American Society of News Editors brought together a few war correspondents, who inspired everyone in attendance.

Rodrigo Abd, AP photographer; Tyler Hicks, New York Times photographer; and C.J. Chivers, senior writer at the New York Times, all spoke of their time covering the wars in the Middle East.

One key, they said, was staying calm during extreme chaos. They also said that in order to keep going they had to be able to “let go” when not covering the war. Easier said than done.

In the end, we all should be grateful there are journalists willing to head to the front lines to keep us informed.

Watergate 40 years later

On the Web

Woodward and Bernstein talk about Watergate 40 years later.

Even if you’re too young to have “lived” Watergate, you likely know of it. It was a transformative, seismic event that altered our fundamental trust of those in power.

Whenever I’m in D.C., I always make a pilgrimage to the Watergate Building. That’s where all the president’s men broke into the Democratic headquarters back in 1972. It led to President Nixon’s resignation. The building is like many in D.C. -- big and gaudy. When I worked in Washington for seven months, I used to love walking over to the Watergate. I even shopped for groceries in a little store there. Just standing at the Watergate gives me a rush. It was, of course, the mother of all “gates” to follow.

ASNE brought together the two main players in uncovering this story: Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. And 40 years later, they are still captivating as they speak about the pressures of covering the story. There was a discussion on how Watergate would play out today in our crazy instant-information landscape. Woodward and Bernstein weren’t so sure it would have changed much. Others disagreed.

Regardless, sitting a few feet away from these guys was sweet. In large part they are the reason I ended up in this profession.

Obama vs. Romney

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column saying what the lead of the story would be the day after the presidential election. In short, I wrote, it would say, “Obama wins.”

I wasn’t making an endorsement. It was simply a prediction.

At the ASNE convention, I had the opportunity to hear both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney speak at two separate luncheons. I sat about 70 feet from both of them. I went in ready to change my mind if I needed to. Romney exceeded my expectations and Obama met my expectations. But that isn’t a good sign for Romney. Obama is a gifted orator. Romney is good, but he can’t hold up against Obama.

And if there is one issue that I can’t see Romney overcoming, it’s the idea that we shouldn’t tax the richest among us a little more. Obama has to overcome not bringing the deficit down, but of the two issues, not taxing the rich more will be a challenge.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, http://twitter.com/lounews or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.