Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Man Who Changed My Life

Gil, left, in1976 with another great editor, Don Murdaugh 
It was 1968.  I was 23 years old.  I had worked for a weekly paper, the Mount Holly (N.J.) Herald, for four months when I had a job interview with the editor of The Trentonian in Trenton, N.J.
 I was an hour late for the interview and figured,” boy, I’ve really blown it!”
But little did I know, the editor was one of those people who was oblivious to the passage of time and didn’t seem to notice that I was late.
“I can hire you,” he said, “at the same salary you are making now,” which was $90 a week.
“No,” I responded (since I was pretty sure the job interview was history in any case), l can’t come here for less than $110 a week.
He said, “Well, I have to think about that.”
A week later, he called and said, “Okay, I will hire you at $110 a week but you better be damned good.” (I wasn't.)
That was the nexus, the turning point, that determined how the rest of my life, and several other lives, would go. That’s how much I owe F. Gilman Spencer III—not the Delaware County Daily Times columnist but his father. 
Six months later Gil Also hired my later-to-be husband, Stuart Rose, who turned out to be a fine newspaper editor himself, and for the next eight years, Stu and I could not wait to get up in the morning and go to work for Gil.
Gil died last  Friday at age 85. He had a long life, a great life, a larger-than-life life. 
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of journalists who fell in love with Gil Spencer.  I am but one.
He was the editor of the Philadelphia Daily News (where he saved the career of novelist Pete Dexter), the New York Daily News (where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill) and the Denver Post. 
Early in his career, he worked for the Delaware County Daily Times, then the Chester Times.  He often told a story about being sent to court to cover the arraignment of a local madam in Chester. 
He was thrilled.  It was a huge story. The court testimony revealed the madam’s client list, including many local politicians and judges.  He breathlessly called in the names, but by the time he got back to the paper, the names had all been deleted!  Such were the conventions of journalism back then.
But Gil went on to become a legendary editor, He was fearless, beholden to no one and often at war with publishers and politicians alike.  At The Trentonian, he was hired by the legendary Ralph Ingersoll, fired by someone else in the chain of command and rehired by Ralph within days because he had the temerity to go to Ralph’s house and fight for his job.
And he was, at some point, an announcer for WCAU-TV.  He used to tell this story about when he started:  Every half hour, it was his job to go to the mike and say in a deep voice, ‘This is WCAU-TV.”  After a couple of days of that he asked his trainer, “Why don’t you just record that?” and the trainer replied. “Shhh.”
Gil was the greatest cheerleader I ever met.  Each day he’d saunter out into the newsroom:
‘That was a terrific piece you did,” he’d say to one reporter.
“You really socked it to them.’ He’d say to another.
“Give me a cigarette,” he’d say to a third.
He was always trying to quit smoking.  One time he came and sat on my desk and distracted me by talking about a story as his hand subtly snaked into my purse, extracted a cigarette and casually lighted it, pretending innocence the whole time.
He was fiercely loyal to his staff.  He’d defend you to the death if he thought you were right and he’d defend you pretty much the whole way even if he thought maybe you were at least partly wrong.
He was famous for starting wastebasket fires with his cigarettes, and when he was at The Trentonian, he had a corkboard behind his desk where he extinguished thousands of cigarettes until they finally took it down. 
But back then, we all smoked. 
Gil was an amazing writer and editor.  His editorials were luminous, entertaining, gripping.  I remember one editorial where he characterized some local politician as a lizard, crawling out from under a rock, loathsome and venomous, to wither in the light of day.  What editor writes like that today?
I am most proud of this: When Gil Spencer won the Pulitzer Prize, I was the reporter at the Trentonian  chosen to write the story.
Only three of us in the newsroom knew it was happening.  Gil was on the phone with U.S. District Judge Herbert J. Stern who had nominated him for the prize.   When the news came across the teletype, Gil whooped and threw the phone into the air where it landed in the nearest wastebasket.  We had to fish the judge out of the trash.
At his Pulitzer party, we strapped him into a straitjacket borrowed from Trenton State Hospital (for the criminally insane) and I squirted whipped cream all over his face.  He was then required to give his acceptance speech.  He was a good sport.
Thank you, Gil, for the rare privilege of having known you, having worked for you and having been one of your countless friends.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Here I am

Hello there.  I’m a new Daily Times blogger.  I decided to write this blog because I’ve noticed that some readers (viewers, users) seem to have less and less grasp of the difference between facts and opinions in the Internet age.  I hope to point out some differences between the two, to illuminate little-known facts behind the headlines and, not incidentally, to express my own opinions in this forum.   Here’s hoping we get a lively discussion going.
Here we go then: 
In the wake of Weinergate, which came in the wake of the Schwartzenegger affair, which came either right before or after the indictment of John Edwards, I wondered which party has fielded the most – and most sensational – sex scandals in recent memory.
If you’re as old as I am, you may recall that it was Arkansas Democrat Wilbur Mills who kicked off the whole political sex scandal thing when police stopped him one night while driving in Washington and his companion, stripper Fanne Foxe, the “Argentine Firecracker” leapt out of his car and into the Tidal Basin. 
Before that the Washington press corps had a kind of “gentleman’s agreement” with politicians that their private lives were off-limits.   After that a great many details of politicians’ sex lives came out, including JFK’s trysts in the White House and segregationist Strom Thurmond’s mixed-race daughter, fathered on a 15-year-old family servant.
So, going back to Wilbur Mills and counting congressmen, senators, presidents (Bill Clinton) and governors, but excluding judges, mayors, elected state officials and non-elected administration officials, I compiled a list of 27 Democrat and 28 Republican miscreants, accused or admitting to sex scandals.
These scandals include, but are not limited to: fooling around with underage congressional pages and other youngsters (Bauman, Crane, Foley, Reynolds, Richmond); fathering illegitimate children (Burton, Fossella, Thurmond) ; soliciting and/or frequenting prostitutes both straight and gay( Spitzer, Vitter, Allen, Frank); fondling, groping, propositioning or having affairs with staffers (Souder, Ensign, Packwood, Adams, LaTourette); putting their lovers on staff ( Hays), many run-of-the-mill extramarital affairs (Hyde, Gingrich, Chenoweth-Hage, Paterson, Newsom, Wise, Condit) and, of course, posting explicit photos of themselves online or on Twitter (Lee and Weiner).
 My list is below.   Here is Wikipedia’s list which is more inclusive than mine, since I did exclude lower state and non-elected federal officials.  I also excluded a few accused miscreants that I thought were pretty iffy, such as Gus Savage and Arlan Stangeland.
The list includes Governors Schwartzenegger (R-Calif.);  Jim McGreevey (D-N.J.), who famously called a press conference to announce he is gay; Eliot Spitzer (D.N.Y.) who prosecuted others for using the service of hookers before being run out of office for the same thing, and Mark Sanford (R- S.C.) who has added “hiking the Appalachian Trail” to our long list of euphemisms for “having illicit sex.”   
Interestingly, the only woman on either my or Wikipedia’s list is Helen Chenoweth-Hage, R-Idaho, who admitted to having a long-term affair with an Idaho rancher. 
My feeling, is a pox on all of them, but I have to give props to the Republicans for flaming hypocrisy:  at least nine of the people on my list (Thurmond, Calvert, Livingston, LaTourette, Gingrich, Vitter, Craig and Ensign) voted for the impeachment or conviction of Bill Clinton.  Many of the rest on the list ran on strong conservative, family values platforms even as they were doing whatever it was they were doing in the sexual arena.
Extra credit also goes to Democrat Tim Mahoney, who admitted to several affairs, as he replaced Mark Foley, who was accused of sexually harassing a House page.
Finally, the most shocking thing I learned researching this post is that the “bachelor president, James Buchanan, was rumored to have had a homosexual affair with William Rufus king, who served briefly as vice president in 1853.  No direct proof of the relationship ever surfaced but the two roomed together for 15 years!  Maybe Washington rents were exorbitantly high even back then.
Here is my list, in more or less chronological order of either when the scandal occurred or when it was revealed. I haven’t included the specific sins and the sinners’ offices on my list as that would involve more typing than I’m up for, but feel free to look up any and all names yourself.
Democrats (1970s and 1980s) Wilbur Mills, Robert Leggett, Wayne Hays, Allan Howe, John Young, Fred Richmond, Gerry Studds, Gary Hart, Jim Bates, Barney Frank.
(1990s-2000) Chuck Robb, Brock Adams, Mel Reynolds, Bill Clinton.
(2000-2011) Gary Condit, Paul Patton (Gov. of Kentucky), Bob Wise (Gov. of West Virginia , Jim McGreevey (Gov. of New Jersey), Neil Goldschmidt (Gov. of Oregon), Roosevelt Dobbins, Gavin Newsom, Tim Mahoney, Eliot Spitzer (Gov. of New York),  David Paterson (Gov. of New York), John Edwards, Eric Massa, Anthony Weiner. (27)
Republicans (1970s and 1980s) Tom Evans, Bob Bauman, Jon Hinson, John G. Schmitz, Dan Crane, Donald “Buz” Lukens.
(1900s-2000) Ken Calvert, Bob Packwood, Bob Livingston, Helen Chenoweth-Hage, Henry Hyde. 
(2000-2011) Ed Schrock, Steve LaTourette, Jack Ryan, Don Sherwood, Mark Foley, Bob Allan, Newt Gingrich, David Vitter, Larry Craig, Vito Fossella, John Ensign, Mark Stanford (Gov. of South Carolina), Mark  Souder, Chip Pickering, Dan Burton, Strom Thurmond, Chris Lee.  (28)