"A frank, highly engaging, behind-the-scenes memoir by one of today's most respected journalists.
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About the Author
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Iím not sure how I got to be so pushy. In the beginning, and even now, I wanted to emulate Miss Virginia Clair and be a lady and an ace reporter at the same time. Itís a balancing act Iím still sorting out after nearly four decades in the business. Though Iím viewed by many of my colleagues (and my subjects) as aggressive, I see myself rather differently, as shy, trying to overcome a basic reserve and bookishness.
My mother, a first-generation American who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, used to worry that I was too tough when questioning political figures. As a younger woman she had a fear of authority, and she couldnít figure out where Iíd developed such a ìfresh mouth,î as she put it. But Iíd always been something of a rebel, getting into trouble talking back to teachers at school or cracking jokes in class. Maybe it has something to do with being the middle child of three, eager to carve out my niche and attract attention in my own way.
My parents provided an example of lives lived with a deep sense of purpose and a strong code of behavior. To them, and to most of their generation, nothing was as important as the work ethic. We were not just encouraged to perform; we were expected to outdistance all of our peers. If we came home with a score of ninety-five on a test, our father would ask, only half-jokingly, what happened to the other five points? Perfectionism was a family disease. Iím certain that my parents are responsible for the seriousness with which I tackled my new profession, even as a fledgling reporter. It was not a great leap from their lessons of social responsibility to my unquestioning belief as a young adult that journalism was a mission.
We were supposed to be adversaries of those in power, wardens against abuses and conflicts of interest. Both of my parents came from tightly knit Jewish families. A big part of their life was building and supporting community organizations, as well as sustaining the synagogue. In particular, my father came from a long line of scholarly, observant Jews, and took the traditions very seriously. From an early age, we were taught that we had a moral and religious obligation to give back to society.
My father built a business, manufacturing furniture and housewares, and ran it for forty years. After he finally sold it to new owners, they asked him to stay on, which he did; his attempts to leave always elicited eager offers of a more accomodating schedule, until he was past eighty. My mother worked just as hard, first as a homemaker and volunteer, then as a school administrator. She organized visits to nursing homes for our Girl Scout troop and spent years playing the piano at a school for children with developmental disabilities. Teaming up with a friend who was a former Rockette, my mother knew, intuitively, that music and dance would be good therapy. And although she began on the womenís auxiliary of the local symphony orchestra, before long she was the president of the orchestraís board. When she had a goal in mind, nothing could stop her.
My family was always interested in politics. Even before we moved to the suburbs, my mother took my older sister and me to watch major eventsólike the first televised inaugural when Harry Truman was sworn in as president in 1949óon a television set in a store window near our apartment in the Bronx. Once we had our own television, I recall our parents watching the Army-McCarthy hearings, and being outraged by Joe McCarthy. As kids, we traded i like ike and all the way with adlai buttons in elementary school. And by the time I was in high school, John F. Kennedy was debating Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King, Jr., was marching for civil rights, and the dinner-table conversations with my older sister and younger brother were dominated by arguments over the Vietnam War.
We all went to a public high school that was a hotbed of political activity. A stone building, it was beautifully situated on twin lakes that were perfect for ice-skating excursions with our father during the winter. But the bucolic atmosphere barely masked the temper of the times. The local NAACP organized groups to demonstrate at Woolworthís lunch counter, part of a national protest. A few more daring students became Freedom Riders down south. The entire school mourned the death of Mickey Schwerner, one of the three civil rights workers killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, whose mother was our popular biology teacher. According to testimony in the 1967 trial of eighteen suspects, Mickey, twenty-four when he died, was known to the Klansmen as Goatee or Jew Boy. Four decades later, a seventy-nine-year-old preacher was finally indicted for the murders.
But even more than politics or public service, my adolescence was dominated by music. My mother, a fine pianist, gave boundless time and energy to foster our musical educations. Tirelessly, she juggled a complicated after-school schedule and ferried me to violin and piano lessons, choir practice, All-County Orchestra, and eventually, rehearsals for the Philharmonic Symphony of Westchester, a community symphony. My sister, Susan, played the piano, string bass, and bassoon; my brother, Arthur, played the cello. We had two pianos in our home, in order to play duets. Often, we fell asleep listening to our mother downstairs, playing Chopin nocturnes or Beethovenís Moonlight Sonata. The school system also made music education easily accessible. I was in first grade when a teacher first put a violin in my hands. Practicing was a joy, not a chore. I could close my bedroom door, shut out the rest of the family, and transport myself into a self-created world of beautiful sound. A junior high school teacher took us to the Metropolitan Opera, exposing me to rehearsals of La BohËme and Lohengrin. School choirs gave me my first chance to sing Christmas carols and, later, more advanced liturgical music.
I loved all types of music and listened to everything, even if it meant sneaking a radio under the bedcovers to hear jazz when my parents thought I was asleep. Because I lived so close to New York City, a favorite high school date was a trip to Greenwich Village to a jazz club. Being underage, I borrowed an ID from my older sister to get in. On Christmas Eve, her boyfriend Lewis Greensteinólater to become my brother-in- lawótook us to Alexander Schneiderís chamber music concerts at Carnegie Hall.
Having a sister so close in ageóonly two years olderówas critical to shaping the person I have become. When we were four and six years old, she protected me from street bullies and taught me to read. As I became an awkward adolescent, she overlooked my sillier obsessionsólike the fantasy that I could become a cheerleaderóand concentrated on the serious stuff, like helping me prepare for college. This early love of teaching persisted, leading her to a career as a college professor in two widely different fields: British and African literature. Of course, being so close in age, we also fought as children, but our fatherís refrainóìYou two will be each otherís best friends when you are grown upîóhas proven true. And Iíve often thought it was my special bond with my sister that helped me to develop strong friendships with other women, both in and out of work, for the rest of my life.
My siblings were less outgoing than I. In our family, I was the drama queen and classroom cutup. For two summers, my parents sent me to music school at the Aspen Music Festival, even though I was technically too young to qualify for the program. For a while, I thought I might even attend music school, like Juilliard or the Curtis Institute, rather than a liberal arts college. But soon I got beyond the stage where I could coast on whatever talent I had as something of a prodigy. In the world of professional music, I was not going to stand out.
So when I entered college, it was to study liberal arts. At the University of Pennsylvania, I studied English literature. My family and professors fully expected that I would go on to graduate school at Cambridge, England, where I had been accepted at one of the womenís colleges, but I was determined to do something very different. Itís difficult to recall what fueled my restlessness, but my parents had raised three very independent children. My sister and her husband went to Kenya as Peace Corps volunteers in 1966, when being in the Peace Corps was still considered very adventurous. My younger brother and his wife homesteaded in a remote section of northwest Canada, building a log house and running a general store in a small mining town.
My travel lust was satisfied more vicariously. I fell in love with broadcasting, with telling stories about other peopleís exploits. At first, I combined my love for English literature with educational radio by importing BBC programs on Chaucer and other writers for our campus radio station. When I proposed exploring further adaptations as part of graduate study in England, a faculty committee at Penn judging fellowship proposals dismissed the idea. Though I was groping toward the kind of programming produced successfully years later on Masterpiece Theatre, one of the committee members found the notion ìvulgar.î She and her husband, also a professor at Penn, were proud of not even owning a television. So instead of going to graduate school, I decided to take a stab at this vulgar profession.
Four years earlier, I had been introduced to broadcasting by accident. As a freshman at Penn, during a meeting on the top floor of Houston Hall, the student activity building, I heard music and wandered down the corridor to discover the studios of the universityís fifty thousand-watt noncommercial radio station, WXPN. The format was almost entirely classical music, mixed with what we called folk music (some hillbilly, a lot of blues) on Saturday night, and jazz after midnight. They told me they could use help programming music, and before long I was hooked. I loved choosing the music, timing the cuts, balancing the selections. And more than anything, I loved performing on the air, introducing the pieces and reading notes about each composition. If I was in a hurry, Iíd read the liner notes on the back of the albums. When I had more time, I dug deeper and researched the background of individual compositions.
Soon I had my own program, an hour of chamber music airing every Tuesday night at eight. Pretentiously, I called it ìMusica da Camera.î The theme was the third movement of Respighiís Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute. I programmed my choices, back-timing each selection, and read introductions to fill the hour.
In those years, the station was entirely student operated, and we took ourselves very seriously. Nominally, we reported to the dean of students, but we were told the responsibility for protecting the FCC license that had been awarded to the university was entirely ours. The station had a four-person management team, by tradition and practice all male. Gradually I took on more and more responsibilities and by my second year became the first woman to break into their ranks by being selected to be program manager of the station. This could not have happened at the other Ivy League schools, even Cornell, which was coed; there was gender discrimination at Penn, but it was well known to have the fewest restrictions on women.
It was also a presidential election year, and as a member of a consortium of Ivy League radio stations, we participated in ìnetworkî coverage of election night. I had interviewed Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee, when he came to campus to give a campaign speech. He was patient and responsive, much to my surprise, given my youth and inexperience. Heady stuff. As a result, I was a logical choice to go to Rockefeller Center in New York City and take part in election-night coverage for the Ivy stations and their radio audiences from Dartmouth to Columbia. The only problem was that when I checked in at the old Roosevelt Hotel near Grand Central Terminal, I was preregistered as ìAndrewî Mitchell and assigned a roommate: a guy from Yale. It took me a while to get my own room.
Once again, no one in charge had given any thought to the possibility that a woman would be involved. I have no idea how we organized the coverage, except that I was assigned to broadcast results of the Senate races. All they expected me to do was rip and read the wire ìleads,î without doing any original reporting. It was pretty basic, but gave me a taste of how to combine my love of politics and broadcasting. By the summer of my senior year, Iíd found a part-time job at KYW, one of Philadelphiaís top radio stations and one of the first in the country to broadcast ìall news, all the time.î It wasnít to report the news. I only got in the door because my mother had forced her daughters to learn typing and shorthand as fallback insurance against lifeís surprises, and the station needed a summer-relief secretary.
Owned by Westinghouse Broadcasting, KYW Newsradio dominated the market and had a sister television station that was an NBC affiliate. As graduation neared, I decided to apply to the management-training program Westinghouse ran for young college graduates. Getting accepted was the easy partóthe real challenge was persuading them to let me into the all-male newsroom. Instead, they tried to steer me toward jobs more traditionally held by women, in public relations or advertising, which didnít interest me at all. Finally, I told them Iíd drop out of the management program if theyíd give me an entry-level job in the newsroom for union wages, about fifty dollars a week.
With my Ivy League degree, I had talked my way into a job as a copyboy, which is what desk assistants were universally called in those days. I had to rip reams of wire reports spitting out from the old, clattering Teletype machines, then hang one copy on a nail in the wire room and distribute the others to the anchormen of each hourís newscast. It helped if you remembered which anchormen liked their coffee black and which took sugar and cream. Most of the men helped me learn the ropes. But some delighted in hazing me as the only woman in the newsroom. As best I could, I tried to deflect or ignore it.
To get interviews for their newscasts, Iíd work the phones, calling locations to find someone I could interview when a story broke. In between, Iíd edit and transcribe the ìactualitiesîóthatís what we called sound bitesófrom the interviews, and log incoming audio feeds from London and other Westinghouse bureaus.
They put me on the shift where they thought I could do the least harm, midnight to eight in the morning. Most of my friends were in graduate school, with more flexible hours. I felt isolated, especially because I had to try to sleep during the day. My social life was nonexistent. Working nights meant walking through the center of the city, crossing Philadelphiaís Rittenhouse Square, to get to my graveyard shift. More than once the police stopped me, until I explained that I was a night worker, not a lady of the night. Although the hours were lousy, they were perfect for an apprentice reporter. The city reflected the national turmoil over race and the Vietnam War, often exploding on my watch.
Socially, Philadelphia was still a fairly provincial city, its business community governed by the mores of the Main Line. Politically, it was a cauldron of ethnic rivalries, dominated by competing Irish and Italian constituencies. When it came to political power, blacks need not apply. Add to this steaming stew the growing tensions over the Vietnam War and the movement for civil rights, and you had plenty of elements to fire the imagination of a novice journalist.
Sometimes, the opportunities were local crime stories, the bloodier the better for our audience. In 1967, the ambitious young district attorney, Republican Arlen Specter, who had developed the single-bullet theory of John F. Kennedyís assassination for the Warren Commission, was running for mayor. Specter was challenging the incumbent Democrat, James H. J. Tate. On the Saturday before the election, I was covering a Specter campaign rally on South Broad Street when the head of the homicide division, an aggressive prosecutor named Richard Sprague, wheeled up, jumped out of his car, and announced that a fugitive named Steven Weinstein had just been caught in Times Square.
Twenty-eight-year-old ìStevieî Weinstein, as the tabloid press called him, had run a tobacco shop near the Penn campus that had become a hangout for the college boys. The only problem was that one of the students had disappeared and later turned up in a trunk, floating in the Delaware River. A thirteen-state alarm was issued for the missing tobacconist. The lurid murder had become a campaign issue for the Democratic incumbent who accused his DA challenger of ignoring warnings about Weinsteinís suspicious behavior. Now the murder suspect had been caught in Times Square, but much to the chagrin of the politically ambitious prosecutor, Weinstein was in the hands of the NYPD, beyond photo opportunity range for Specter until an extradition could be arranged from New York.
Without even finishing his speech, Specter jumped into a car with his aides and headed up the New Jersey Turnpike to handle the arraignment himself. I called my desk and was ordered to follow in hot pursuit. Thatís how I ended up in New York City, with barely a dime for a phone call, covering the booking of a murder suspect and trying to explain to nationally known correspondents like Homer Bigart of The New York Times why a simple arraignment was being argued by the district attorney of the City of Philadelphia. Adding to the ìcolorî of the story, Weinstein rode back to Philadelphia in Specterís car in handcuffs, with a pipe clenched between his teeth.
For all of his grandstanding, Specter lost that election, although by only ten thousand votes. For me, it was a lively introduction to local politics. A year later, national politics were turned upside down by a dramatic announcement from the Oval Office. On Sunday evening, March 31, 1968, I was absentmindedly selecting tape cuts for upcoming newscasts as Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation in the aftermath of North Vietnamís Tet Offensive. Suddenly, the president shocked the world by saying that with Americaís future challenged at home and abroad, ìI will not seek nor will I acceptî the partyís nomination for a second term. It was an abdication of power that few people even in Washington had anticipated. Suddenly, adrenaline flowing, I was running tape and copy into the studio for the anchorman who, with no advance notice, had to deliver an entire newscast on the surprise development. It was only the beginning of what became a crash course in covering breaking news.
Later that same week, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Iíd kept a tape of his 1963 ìI Have a Dreamî speech on a shelf and scrambled to put together an obituary. Anticipating riots, Philadelphiaís police commissioner, Frank Rizzo, declared a limited state of emergency and started shutting down the cityís bars. The news director needed someone to cover what was happening in the streets, and I quickly volunteered. Grabbing a tape recorder, which in those days was an Ampex machine that weighed at least fifty pounds, I jumped into one of our ìnews wagons.î It was painted red, white, and blue, with the logo all news, all the time bannered on both sides.
Feeling a little bit nervous, but not really scared, I drove to North Philadelphia, parked, and got out to interview people congregating on stoops and street corners. For the most part, they had poured from their walk-up apartments and the housing projects to share feelings of grief and outrage. Perhaps it was because of the partial curfew or the heavy police presence, but aside from some shattered storefronts, Philadelphia escaped the widespread violence that erupted in other American cities that night. Another factor that may have helped was the cityís strong network of African-American civic leaders and ministers who worked hard to preserve the peace. Still, KYW repainted its mobile units soon afterward so that we could move around the neighborhoods more unobtrusively.
Only two months later, on June 5, I was home watching the returns from the Democratic primary election in California when Bobby Kennedy was shot. In what seemed like an instant replay of the shock and horror of the King assassination, America had witnessed another political murder and lost another leader. Without wasting time to call in, I ran through Rittenhouse Square to the newsroom, trying to absorb the impact of this shattering murder. The country seemed to be spinning out of control, and I was torn between my own reactions of grief and what seemed an inappropriately ghoulish desire to be part of the action, looking for a local angle to add to the national story. Finding none, I repressed my personal feelings of horror and pitched in as the newsroom scrambled to cover the story. I was learning a basic lesson of journalism: how to keep my own emotions in check when reporting on a tragic event. That year, we had too much practice.
For comic relief, there was plenty of colorful local politics to keep us busy in those years. Even before Watergate made investigative reporting fashionable, a young journalist could make her name covering corruption in Philadelphia. There was certainly enough of it. District Attorney Specter, today the stateís senior senator but at the time the cityís only Republican-elected office holder, was always investigating somebody. There were special grand juries, lots of indictments, and enough delays so that no one noticed the lack of convictions. Most of the Democratic politicians could have stepped out of the pages of a Damon Runyon story. There were men like the rotund leader of the cityís congressional delegation, William Barrett, who wore spats, had a Tang-colored toupee, and returned from Washington each night to hold court in his row house neighborhood, passing out patronage.
When Barrett died only two weeks before the April primary in 1976, party bosses dictated that he be renominated from the grave. Scrambling to explain why on our morning newscast, I reached the local political boss, state senator Buddy Cianfrani. Cianfrani, who was later convicted of bribery and jailed at the federal penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, explained the scheme: they were telling people to vote for the dead congressman so the party could handpick his successor. Their choice to replace him would be a little-known state legislator named Ozzie Myers. Later, as a member of Congress, Ozzie achieved notoriety on an FBI video for intoning, to explain his demand of a bribe during the FBIís undercover Abscam sting, the immortal words: ìMoney talks in this business and bullshit walks.î The investigation led to the conviction of six House members and one senator, Harrison Williams of New Jersey.
By then an NBC correspondent, I got the network to chopper me to the parking lot of Philadelphiaís sports stadium, knowing it was only blocks from Ozzieís home in South Philadelphia. We got there so fast I was able to talk him and his wife into an exclusive interview before he lawyered up. In October 1980, Myers became the first House member to be expelled from Congress since 1861, when three representatives were ousted for supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War.
But of all these colorful characters, none dominated the cityís politics like the police commissioner and future mayor, Frank Rizzo. Larger than life, he was known to his fans and foes alike as the Big Bambino. Alternately, some people called him the Cisco Kid, because he wore pearl-handled revolvers, one on each hip. The barrel-chested police chief was the former head of the vice squad, notorious in those days for his celebrated busts and his busty girlfriend, stripper Blaze Starr. (She had earlier had a featured role in the private lives of Louisiana governor Earl Long and President Kennedy.) Loyal to his friends, Rizzo ran roughshod over his enemies. As police commissioner, he had become famous for outrages like ordering a group of Black Panthers to line up, face a wall, and drop their pants so he could bring in the news photographers to shoot their humiliation.
For stunts like that, he was idolized in many of the cityís white wards and feared by minorities. The city was divided along a simple fault line: either you loved Frank Rizzo, or you hated him. In a city of neighborhoods segregated by race, his combustible personality only deepened the divide.
Rizzo had always enjoyed a fawning press corps, which made me very uncomfortable. As captain and then commissioner, he had fed the newspapers his version of reality, and the leaks greased his climb to the top. His notion of how to handle the few women reporters he encountered was fairly primitive. At first, he tried to charm us. If that didnít work, he tried intimidation. My verbal duels with him were legendary. At one point, during an antiwar rally, he even had one of his top lieutenants warn me that the civil disobedience unit was doing surveillance on one of my relatives, then a student on the Penn campus. The not-very-subtle message was that I should back off in my coverage of the police. It was frightening, but probably also stiffened my resolve.
By the time Rizzo ran for mayor in 1971, I was covering politics for KYW, having graduated from the police and schools beats. Rizzoís Republican opponent was Thacher Longstreth, the tall, courtly head of the chamber of commerce and former city council member. A Princeton graduate who favored bow ties, Longstreth was a perfect foil for Rizzoóthe antithesis of the tough cop and urban legend he was opposing. The Republican civic leader might have carried the Main Line in suburban Philadelphia, but in a racially divided city, Rizzo embodied working class votersí resentments and aspirations. Although black Democratic voters defected, correctly reading Rizzoís law- and-order appeal as a coded racial message, the tough cop won with more than 53 percent of the vote.
The morning after he was elected, I interviewed the mayor-elect about his transition and, among other questions, asked whom heíd appoint to be his fire commissioner. To the shock of everyone listening, he laughed and said, ìHow about my brother?î He was serious, ignoring rules against nepotism to jump his kid brother several ranks and put him in the newly formed cabinet. It was a good hint of the way he planned to govern: headstrong, oblivious to ethical norms, and in a style entirely his own.
As a woman reporter among men, I knew that figuring out how to cover Rizzo as mayor was a special challenge. He was always ready with a cutting comment putting down women, but, par-adoxically, that may have helped me to be a better journalist. His barbs only inspired me to ask tougher questions. Not that Rizzo was unique in his patronizing attitude toward women.
James Tate, the man Rizzo was succeeding, was just as bad. At a farewell news conference with Tate, I asked about a major controversy, the cityís failure to win international approval for an international bicentennial exposition. Tate said, ìThe one thing about not being mayor is I donít have to answer your questions any longer, little girl.î He might as well have slapped my face. I was the top broadcast political reporter in town, and in an instant I felt like a ten-year-old who had just been dressed down by the teacher.
Rizzo took office and started remaking city government in his own image. KYW carried his news conferences live, and they soon became celebrated confrontations between the bullying mayor and the handful of reporters willing to take him on. On one occasion, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the police had shot an unarmed teenager in the back in West Philadelphia. The community was outraged. I called the mayor to see if he would agree to investigate the police. No, he said. ìMy men are right when theyíre right, and theyíre right when theyíre wrong and theyíre trying to be right.î
The mayor called back a few minutes later to complain that his previous comments were off the record. No deals, I said, not after the fact. He was furious, and I was in trouble. After that, he was determined to make my life miserable.
Only years later did I learn from one of my early mentors, KYWís news director Fred Walters, that Rizzo had called at least once a week to try to get me fired. The complaints even went all the way up to the chairman of Westinghouse Broadcasting, Donald H. McGannon. Fred would tell the mayor to prove that I had been either inaccurate or unfair, and he would take action. Rizzo never produced the evidence and Fred never told me, he said, to avoid any ìchilling effectî on my reporting.
I often wonder why I was either naÔve or gutsy enough to confront Rizzo as I did. Six feet two inches tall and 250 pounds, he was tough, profane, powerful, and very intimidating. I found myself standing up to him almost as a matter of instinct, only afterward realizing that I was courting danger. At the same time, he charmed a lot of reporters, hiring some of the cityís most experienced newsmen to become members of his cabinet. At one point he even suggested that I could be deputy managing director for housing. At fifty thousand dollars a year, it was a fortune compared to my starting salary of fifty dollars a week. But I knew my job was to be his adversary. It never occurred to me to accept.
The reporters who covered Rizzo worked in room 212, directly across from the mayorís office in City Hall, a baroque building that fills a large square around a central courtyard at the conjunction of Broad and Market streets, only blocks from the modest brick buildings where the Continental Congress wrote the Constitution. What would the Founders have thought of the way Frank Rizzo ran Philadelphia!
Our press room was filled with old desks and filing cabinets and reeked of cigar smoke, wafting from a side room that featured a nonstop pinochle game. Sometimes, they let me sit in and play a hand. I shared a corner of the room with a radio reporter from a competing station who kept a gun in his top drawer and occasionally brandished it to make a point. In this mix of men, some of whom actually wore porkpie hats, I was treated like a kid sister. It was an extended family, of sortsóexcept when I politely declined the case of booze delivered to each reporter from the city council president on Christmas Eve. Journalistic ethics, I murmured self-consciously, trying not to be so much of a bluestocking that I would stand out among my more easygoing colleagues.
In addition to the mayorís offices and city council chambers, City Hall housed the court of common pleas, the local criminal court. The corridors were lined with defendants awaiting trial, bail bondsmen, witnesses, lawyers, and other hustlers. The building was a quadrangle, with four wings each extending a city block long, the central core topped by the totemic statue of William Penn. The walls were a grimy tan. Restrooms could be found in each corner. Ratio of menís rooms to womenís facilities: three to one. When Rizzo, known for his well-creased pants and spit-polished shoes, took over, walls were soon repainted white, with blue and gold trim. The woodwork in his formal reception room was oiled and buffed. Carpets were replaced. He even consulted me about the color scheme, perhaps the best indication of what he thought was the appropriate role for a woman reporter.
But clearly, the take-charge new mayor meant business. Unfortunately for the cityís taxpayers, that often meant business for his cronies. Reporters started investigating juicy contracts, like the ones awarded for airport construction and the new sports stadium to companies with suspicious City Hall connections. The state launched an inquiry into police corruption. And the head of the Democratic Party, Peter J. Camiel, accused Rizzo of offering him a political bribe, a trade of city contracts for the right to name the next candidate for district attorneyóin the bathroom of the Bellevue Stratford Hotel, the same hotel where I later covered the first outbreak of Legionnairesí disease.
At the suggestion of an enterprising reporter, Zachary Stalberg of the Philadelphia Daily News, an afternoon tabloid, the two men agreed to take lie detector tests. As the cityís former top law enforcement official was being strapped in, in full view of the press, he said, ìI have great confidence in the polygraph. If this machine says a man lied, he lied.î
The next day, the Daily News gleefully bannered the test results across its front page: rizzo lied, tests show. In fact, he had lied on six out of ten questions. The story was colorful enough to get picked up by The New York Times.
Rizzo was already known nationally as the hard-line former cop who was the only big-city Democratic mayor to support Richard Nixon for reelection. Locally, he was the politician who would tell a news conference, without blushing, ìAndy Mitchell, Iím so tough Iím gonna make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.î Calling me by my nickname was a liberty he took deliberately. Being familiar was a way of belittling and co-opting us at the same time. Rizzoís heroes were Nixon, Moshe Dayan, Frank Sinatra, and J. Edgar Hooveróall tough guys. He held court at night in Palumboís, a South Philadelphia Italian restaurant, but as soon as he was in office, he started building a stone family mansion in the tony WASP neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. Since there was no way that Rizzo could have afforded it on his public salary, the Daily News investigated and discovered that the mayor had accepted favors from contractors. Somehow, he got away with it.
On Wednesday, March 13, 1974, three years into his first term, what was left of his relationship with the press blew up when the mayor stormed out of a news conference that was being carried live on television and radio. According to an editorial in the Daily News, that day ìAndrea Mitchell, KYWís soft-voiced but hard-nosed City Hall reporter, one of the best in the business, leads off the questioning. She asks the mayor about the issue that has the whole city talking, the police corruption report. Frank Rizzo, the man who pledged to run his administration in a fishbowl, passes. Heíll only answer questions on parking at the airport, he tells reporters.î It had been Rizzoís first news conference in four months, and it lasted all of five minutes.
There was another side of Rizzo, the one that made him such a successful politician. He had flair, an unstoppable ego, and a ribald sense of humor. When he rushed to the scene of a crime from a black-tie dinner one night, news photographers captured him in evening clothes, a nightstick stuck in his cummerbund. He had a police chiefís desire to always be in the middle of the action, even if it meant tripping over a fire hose at a refinery fire and breaking his hip. This was the Rizzo who leveraged his endorsement of President Nixonís reelection into unusual access, for a Democrat, to Washingtonís Republican corridors of power. He was a huge political asset, the archetype of the ìhard hatî Democrats Nixon hoped to convert into permanent Republicans. Rizzo was popular, even with the reporters who were most skeptical about his behavior. And he went to extraordinary lengths to try to co-opt his adversaries, especially in the press corps.
On January 24, 1972, Rizzo brought us along as he headed to Washington to see Richard Nixon. He bragged that he had so much clout he could get all of us into the Oval Office with him. When we arrived at the White House, we were ushered into the press briefing room, in those days crowded with cuspidors and overstuffed brown leather armchairs. While the mayor met with the president, we waited, clearly sticking out as a collection of local yokels in that assemblage of older, national correspondents. That is, until White House deputy press secretary Gerald Warren appeared in the doorway to the lower press office to ask if the Philadelphia press corps would come forward to be escorted to the Oval Office.
In a White House photo of that day, Iím the one hanging back, watching Rizzo introduce my newspaper colleagues to the president. All I remember is being so overwhelmed at finding myself in the Oval Office that I forgot to take notes. But Nixonís secret Oval Office taping system captured the moment: there, you can hear Rizzo introduce me to the president saying, ìOh, and Andrea Mitchell there is the political lady for KYW.î
The tapes also reveal that during their private talks before we were brought in, Rizzo tried to ingratiate himself with Nixon, telling the president he didnít support Democratic leaders like Hubert Humphrey or Edmund Muskie. ìTheir philosophy is completely, itís not my thinking. I guess I must say Iím for President Nixon.î
The two men also discussed what they called ìthe extreme leftî and confided their sensitivities about race relations. Nixon said to Rizzo: ìI know they say that weíre a bunch of racists.î
Rizzo replied reassuringly, ìLet me tell you this, Mr. President, in my opinion, you have the blacks like I have the blacks.î
The official tape log reveals that Nixon aide John Ehrlichman also attended the meeting, and that the men discussed whether Rizzo, as a Democrat, would campaign for Nixon. Later, we all had lunch with the mayor at Paul Youngís, a lobbyistsí hangout and the mayorís favorite Washington restaurant. He bragged: ìI told you Iíd get you in to see the president. I told you he was a good friend of mine.î He was so proud of his accomplishment that I bet him fifty bucks he couldnít get us into his next meeting, with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
When we arrived at FBI headquarters after lunch, the same scenario unfolded. The grizzled veterans of the press room scoffed at our expectation that we would see Hoover, who had not been seen by any press in months. Before long, we were again ushered in for handshakes. Hooverís desk was on an elevated platform, and I was so nervous about meeting him, I tripped as we arrayed ourselves around him for a photo session. I recall Hooverís face appearing ashen and waxy: was this the real FBI director, or had we wandered into Washingtonís version of Madame Tussaudís? Rizzo had once again demonstrated his clout, and I was out fifty dollars.
This was my first taste of Washington, but my appetite had already been whetted for national politics. In 1968, Iíd aggressively driven my KYW Newsradio mobile unit right into Hubert Hum-phreyís motorcade along Chestnut Street, wedging my way into line in front of the press bus while I broadcast on the two-way radio. A not-very-friendly Secret Service agent yanked open the car door as I drove, ordering me out of the motorcade and abruptly interrupting my report.
By 1972, I was assigned to cover both partiesí national conventions in Miami Beach. On the floor of the Democratic convention, Pennsylvania governor Milton Shapp called me over to meet one of his colleagues. ìAndrea,î he said, ìthis is the governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter. Heís going to be our partyís next candidate for president.î
I remember sizing up Carteróan obscure politician of average appearance and no national reputationóand thinking that Shapp had lost his mind. Few people had ever heard of the Georgia governor, and at the time the party was about to nominate a far more liberal standard-bearer, George McGovern. The moment stuck in my mind. He was the first of many little-known political figures whom I would meet at political conventions, long before they became major players.
The Democratic convention was tame, despite the brouhaha over McGovernís initial choice for running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, because of the Missouri senatorís past electric shock therapy treatments. It was a different story a month later at the Republican convention, held in the middle of violent antiwar protests. I was assigned to ìdress downî and cover the students rioting outside. My bureau chief apparently thought that I looked young enough to fit right in. As a result, the night Richard Nixon was renominated, I was trapped outside with a crowd of demonstrators being pepper- gassed in Flamingo Park. Temporarily blinded, I ran into an apartment building on Collins Avenue and banged on the nearest door. A kindly elderly couple cracked the door, listened to my pleas for help, and helped wash my burning eyes.
Four years later, Iíd gone a long way toward establishing my reputation as an experienced political reporter, at least at the local level. Iíd covered Minnesota senator Walter Mondaleís abortive run for president in 1974 and Washington senator Henry ìScoopî Jacksonís defeat in the 1976 Pennsylvania primary. Once again, in 1976 KYW radio sent me to cover both national conventionsóthe Republicans in Kansas City and the Democrats at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
It was a great introduction to national politics. In those years, I worked alongside my television colleague from KYW, Jessica Savitch. Jessica, who later came to NBC, died in 1983 in a car accident when she was only thirty-five. I tracked the critical role Pennsylvaniaís delegation played in the hard-fought battle for the nomination between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. When Ford debated Carter at the Walnut Street Theatre in the fall campaign, I helped anchor Westinghouseís radio coverage. Chasing the candidates and their strategists was the culmination of all the political conversations Iíd loved since childhood, at our family dinner table. I knew Iíd chosen the right career.
The morning after that debate, the president campaigned in South Philadelphiaís Italian Market for a young congressman running for the Senate, John Heinz. I had covered Heinzís congressional campaigns, but had never before met his wife, Teresa, a doctorís daughter from Mozambique. On that day, completely overlooked in the crowd around the president and her husband, she seemed overwhelmed by the crush of people. I suggested we duck into a greengrocer on the corner, assuring her sheíd never be missed. It was the start of a relationship that continued through the election and Senate service of her husband, who distinguished himself working on environmental issues and helping to preserve the fiscal solvency of Social Security.
Jack Heinz could have stepped out of a Fitzgerald novel, except that, unlike Gatsby, Heinzís air of quiet confidence was not faked. His wife, Teresa, was a reluctant recruit into the world of politics, although already passionate about her causes. But, the young Teresa was primarily a mother and homemaker who tended to defer to her husband on most subjects. She and Jack were a couple so blessed with brains, good looks, and great fortune that his death in a freak plane accident seemed all the more shocking.
On April 4, 1991, Jack Heinz was flying to a district committee hearing in Pennsylvania for his subcommittee on aging, part of his ongoing investigation into Medicare fraud. Instruments on his private plane indicated that the landing gear had jammed. A passing helicopter volunteered to fly by and do a visual check to see if the gear had descended. It flew too close and its rotor blade sliced the senatorís plane, which exploded. Both aircraft landed in a suburban schoolyard, killing seven people, including the senator and two children on the ground.
By then a national correspondent in Washington for NBC, I was driving back from an assignment when we got the first word. The office asked me to confirm the loss. It was one of many times in my career when I found myself torn between personal emotion and professional obligation. I drove to Teresaís home in Georgetown, expressed my sorrow, and, despite feelings of conflict over my dual role, returned to the bureau to write Jackís obituary for Nightly News.
That night, a visibly shaken Tom Brokaw, who had been friends with Jack, said the senator was ìa man who had it all, but he never took it for granted.î Struggling for the right words to convey Jackís special qualities, now forever lost, I described a man who could have lived a life of great leisure, but instead gave himself to public service, a man who still had much to give, and died too young.
Teresa was shattered. Encircled by family and friends, she retreated into her grief, briefly considering, and refusing, the ritual party offer to accept appointment to her husbandís Senate seat and later run to fill out his term. Instead, she answered a different call, taking over the familyís immensely complex charities. Gradually, she transformed herself into an effective CEO, without losing the values or the soft, even quirky, qualities that made her uniquely ìTeresa.î A year after Jackís death, she had so much emotional clout in Pennsylvania politics that a single campaign advertisement endorsing his Republican colleague, Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, was enough to reelect him in a close race. It was not surprising that this woman who disdained politics might learn to love it, and eventually find a new life with another tall, athletic senator educated at Yale, a man Jack Heinz had first introduced her to on Earth Day in 1990óJohn Kerry of Massachusetts.
As much as I loved my life in Philadelphia, if you want to cover national politics, there is only one place to goóWashington. Even though I was at home with the rhythms and neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and knew the cityís deepest political secrets, it was in some ways too comfortable. I knew it was time to move on.
The CBS affiliate in Washington, WTOP, needed someone to cover the corruption trial of the governor of Maryland, Marvin Mandel, who had been indicted on more than twenty separate counts of fraud and racketeering. It seemed tailor-made for someone who had cut her teeth covering Frank Rizzo. The news director at the Washington station was a broadcast legend, James Snyder, a CBS veteran who had already trained a long list of future star correspondents. And the owner, Katharine Graham of The Washington Post, was known to run one of the best broadcasting companies in the business. To my surprise, the mayor gave me a farewell dinner and presented me with a gold-rimmed City of Philadelphia ìLibertyî bowl.
The station lived up to Mrs. Grahamís high journalistic standards, in contrast to the ìif it bleeds, it leadsî motto of many local stations. Snyder had figured out that the Washington audience of federal workers and political junkies wanted to see news of their government. As a result, unlike at most local stations, we were often assigned to what were actually national news stories. I covered congressional hearings, Carter White House stories, and several Supreme Court arguments, including the landmark Bakke reverse discrimination case. At a time when the Equal Rights Amendment was big news, Jim sent me to Houston to cover the first National Womenís Conference.
For all our focus on national news, one of my most memorable stories involved me facing down a redneck tow truck operator in rural Maryland suspected of running a stolen-car ring. It became known as ìAndrea versus the junkyard dog.î Iíd gotten a tip that the ring was cannibalizing stolen cars that were too hot to fence and selling off their spare parts. My cameraman, Kline Mengle, and I drove out to the junkyard to interview the guy. Furious, the man charged into poor Kline. The resulting videotaped confrontation was such an uneven matchup that itís hilarious. All of five feet three inches, I jumped in between the two men, trying to protect my cameraman. The suspect then shouted that he was going to get his shotgun. On the tape, you can see me following the guy into his run-down trailer, pleading, ìPlease, sir, we just want to talk to you.î Sir, no less! When he came out waving his gun, we finally retreated. I did return a few more times, but with the policeówho arrested the ring on charges of auto theft.
But most notably, I specialized in covering a different kind of scoundrel, the political variety. My news director felt all those years tracking Philadelphiaís Democratic political machine qualified me to tackle the colorful characters of Marylandís crony politics, made nationally famous during the bribery investigation of the stateís former governor, thenñvice president Spiro Agnew.
There was Irv Kovens, the godfather of Mandelís crowd, who financed all his campaigns, and Bootsie, the governorís estranged wife, who locked him out of the Governorís Mansion in Annapolis when she discovered he was having an affair with a beautiful blonde whom he later married. In the course of the bribery trial, the governor broke down while discussing his divorce settlement, for which he had borrowed forty- two thousand dollars from an order of Roman Catholic missionaries for back alimony payments. Who could make this up?
The federal trial was in Baltimore, forty-five miles from my home in Washington. Iíd speed up I-95 to get to court in time each morning. During a rare July 4 court session in 1977, I got two speeding tickets, five miles apart. Meeting me in Baltimore each day was a courtroom artist, Roxie Munro, a freelancer who later left Washington to become a highly successful graphic artist, with many New Yorker covers to her credit. During the course of the lengthy trial, in the late seventies, profound technological changes were transforming our business, the first of many tectonic shifts that expanded our reach as broadcasters. When the trial began, we were commuting to and from Baltimore. By the time it was over, we were reporting live, by satellite, a new technology that revolutionized our profession.
At first, I could cover only the morning and early afternoon testimony, ordering artwork to illustrate key witnesses, before having to race back to Washington in time to go live on the six oíclock news. Roxie would finish painting the illustrations in the backseat of my mustard brown Toyota, waving the poster-sized sketches out the car window to dry them in the breeze. I would drive down I-95 and outline my script at the same time, but without the benefit of a cell phone or any other means to communicate my progress to the editors. Weíd run into the newsroom and give the sequence of sketches to the director. Then, at the very last minute, Iíd put the illustrations, some barely dry, on easels in the studio. The control room would switch back and forth among the illustrations, as the stage manager flipped the cards by hand and I narrated my text, sitting next to Gordon Peterson, the anchorman.
Rarely did we have time to tape anything in advance. Gordon, a veteran newsman who has anchored local news in Washington for decades, has the rare gift of making people who appear with him sound smarter than they usually are. Mentoring us all was Jim Snyder, who built a news organization that dominated the Washington market for years. He was demanding, somewhat taciturn, and alternately fatherly and tough. Above all else, he loved the Mandel saga and wanted to give it as much play on the air as possible. Between Jim and Gordon, I had a road map to the rich political history of Maryland politics. Now I needed to immerse myself in the gritty details of the political drama unfolding in Baltimore.
In todayís age of computer graphics, our techniques for covering the trial seem primitive. But by the time the jury was considering its verdict, we had our first satellite truck and were able to feed the artwork back to our studios in Washington as I stood in front of the federal courthouse in Baltimore and narrated my script. It wasnít a live feed from Kabul, but it seemed very cutting-edge at the time. Fighting off feelings of inadequacy after being on top in Philadelphia, I plunged in and tackled what was, for me, alien terrain. At the time, I had no idea my enthusiasm for the story would lead to another turning point in my careeróthe job at NBC.
The Mandel trial story was so compelling, and the demands of the daily narrative so relentless, that it became a crash course in the basics of television reporting. In addition, the technology was changing rapidly; we were all but inventing it as we went along. NBC executives were watching. Often in my career, big changes took place more by accident than design. I would have stayed at the CBS affiliate in Washington happily, surrounded by as talented a group of local reporters as was ever assembled on one team. But in 1978, Mrs. Graham, advised that the U.S. Supreme Court would likely decide against cross- ownership that permitted newspapers to own tele-vision stations in the same market, sold the Postís D.C. station. We were being traded to new owners, The Detroit News, because of a ruleósince rescindedóthat greatly hurt the quality of local television news by divorcing stations from their newspaper owners. When a call came from NBC, some good-hearted executives at Post-Newsweek persuaded the new station owners to let me out of my contract. On August 1, 1978, I started work less than a mile away, at the NBC News Washington bureau on Nebraska Avenue, where I have worked ever since.
I lived only a mile from the office. For a city girl, I had, with the help of my indefatigable mother, found a very different kind of nest: a Victorian cottage facing a national park on a winding country road, only five miles from downtown. It was just four rooms, too small for my furniture, but a perfect retreat from the craziness of the news business.
I had come a long way from Philadelphia, but I had not yet closed the book on my coverage of Frank Rizzo. Only a few short years later I went back, but this time as a network correspondent to cover one of the mayorís patented power grabs. He was trying to change the cityís charter so that he could run for a third consecutive term. Not surprisingly, he had become a national story with his outrageous suggestion that supporters ìvote white.î At the same time, he blithely called suggestions that he was racist ìhogwash.î
After he lost his attempt to change the charter, I returned to do a story for NBC on what everyone thought would be the end of the Rizzo era. He wouldnít grant an interview, so I went to his house, hoping I could talk him into it. On the day his successor was being sworn in, Rizzo came out of his house to joust with me, wearing a tan lumber jacket, feisty as ever. I saw him once more, in 1991, when he tried for a third time to recapture his old job. He had a new career as a radio talk show host, and had not mellowed a bit. During a televised confrontation, the seventy-year-old politician practically decked a local reporter, shouting, ìI want to fight you,î and even called the newsman a ìcrumb, creep, lush coward.î Vintage Rizzo.
He was also still a dirty campaigner. In that final election, having by then become a Republican, Rizzo accused his opponent, the cityís district attorney, of being drunk because he staggeredóeven though the man walked with a limp because heíd lost a leg in Vietnam and used crutches. When reporters pressed Rizzo on how he knew his opponent was drunk, the former mayor answered, ìYou can be on crutches and still be under the influence.î
At our final meeting, Rizzo, a little grayer and some pounds heavier, welcomed me into his office and reminisced about his earlier days in politics. Why did he give up a big-bucks radio show to go back into politics? ìI love the challenge,î he said, adding, ìYou know the best part? Dealing with the press. I love to go head-to-head with some of them suckers. I really do.î We made our peace.
Only a few months later, I was watching a budget debate from NBCís Senate broadcast booth when the phone rang. It was a Philadelphia reporter asking me to comment on the death of Frank Rizzo. He had died of a massive heart attack in the middle of his comeback campaign. Once asked what he wanted on his gravestone, Rizzo had joked, ìHeís really dead.î
When it was finally true, I cried.
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I picked up the audio book about 6 months ago in a clearance bin and listened to it while working - it is absolutely excellent. I've loaned it out to my children and friends and all have been fascinated with the short glimpses into Andrea's career.