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What you say may haunt you

By DOUG THOMPSON - A Capitol Hill Blue Commentary
August 11, 2013

Best way to behave in Washington.

Best way to behave in Washington.

Senator Mitch McConnell‘s campaign manager is in hot water for telling someone he once worked with on the Ron Paul Presidential campaign that he is ‘sorta holding my nose’ while trying to get McConnell re-elected.

The guy on the other end of the line secretly recorded the phone conversation and posted it online.

Jesse Benton, the campaign manager with the big mouth, violated the first rule of life in politics:  If you don’t want to make the front page, watch what you write or say.

In my 23 years in Washington, I broke that that rule often.

In 1981, shortly after coming to Capitol Hill as a press secretary to then Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois, the Pope was shot and a reporter from the long-gone Washington Evening Star called for a comment.

“How,” he asked, “does the Congressman feel about the shooting of the Pope?”

“He’s against it,” I said.

The reporter paused.

“You’re joking.”

“Of course not,” I said.  “Do you think he’s in favor of shooting Popes?”

That exchange ended up as two paragraphs saying Findley’s office wasn’t taking the wounding of the Pope seriously and I ended up on the carpet for making him look bad.

Later, when Illinois Congressman Dan Crane was among two members of the House caught nailing Congressional pages, I was headed back to the Congressional office where I was chief of staff to another member when I ran into a wall of cameras, lights and microphones camped outside Crane’s office in the Canon House office building.

“Tell me,” an attractive blonde female reporter said as she stuck a microphone in my face, “how do you feel about the allegations against Congressman Crane?”

I was on my way back from the Canon commissary with some lunch so I held up the food bag and a cup of coffee and replied: “I think I’m late to eat lunch and I have work to do.”

That night, there was my face and my answer on the six o’clock news with the reporter saying something like: “For some on Capitol Hill, the news about Congressman Crane having sex with an underage female page was no big thing.”

Fortunately, they didn’t identify me or the Congressman I was working for at the time.

In Washington, a casual remark or an inappropriate comment can get you into trouble fast.

Ask Herman Cain, a former fast food executive and, for a short time, a possible contender for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination.

While serving previously with one of Washington’s trade associations, Cain often put the move on the city’s attractive, and sometimes willing, female population.  More than one turned him in for asking for sex and that came back to haunt him and end his brief flirtation with the Presidential race.

My penchant for saying what was on my mind was popular with reporters but not so with those I worked for and with during the Washington tenure.

One night back in the 1988 election year, while serving as Vice President for Political Programs for the National Association of Realtors, I appeared on PBS with Guy Vander Jaqt, a Congressman who was also chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee.

We were debating the pros and cons of political action committees (PACs) and I appeared on the show as a trade association executive who, at the time, ran the largest one in town.

“PACs,” Vander Jaqt claimed at one point during the show, “are nothing but whores.”

“Congressman,” I countered, “there’s something wrong with your analogy.  Where I come from, whores are the ones standing there, with their hands out, asking for money for a service that they are at the time only promising to deliver.  I get demands like that from you and other members of Congress all the time.  We’re the ones paying and all of us in the PAC community need to remember that when we pay out money under such circumstances, the very best we can expect to get is screwed.”

The headline in the paper the next day said it all:  “PAC leader calls members of Congress prostitutes.”

The headline was right.  I said it.  It was true, but I was still the one who got his ass chewed out by the boss.”

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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

5 Responses to What you say may haunt you

  1. Jim Grandone

    August 11, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    Great stories and the point was driven home as only a seasoned story teller with experience could do. Bravo Doug!

  2. Helen Rainier

    August 12, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Your anecdotes demonstrate just how easy it is for something you say can be twisted to sound completely different than how it was intended.

    Glad you’re back Doug and hope you are feeling better. Getting older is the pits.

  3. SDR Sr

    August 13, 2013 at 11:09 am

    As some are want to say, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

    hahaha, the similarities of the oldest profession and congress…

  4. David

    August 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    In your two examples the reporters put forth stupid questions asking how you or the congressman “felt” about something.

    In the first case, it was clear you weren’t taking the reporter seriously. His two paragraphs could easily have condensed to…Congressman Findley’s staff isn’t taking my silly question seriously.

  5. CA Leeson

    August 15, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Washington hates truthful answers.