In the ninth of a series of blogs offering video snippets from Stephen Hess’ numerous interviews with the prominent journalists featured in Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012, Bernard Kalb recounts leaving NBC in 1984 to become the State Department spokesman and then his abrupt resignation after only two years on the job.
Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters is Hess’ latest book, in which he set out to find the 450 Washington reporters he first surveyed in 1978. He tracks them in France, England, Italy, Australia, and 19 U.S. states in addition to the Washington area, locating 90 percent and interviews 283 of them, producing the first comprehensive study of career patterns in American journalism.
Bernie Kalb would return to journalism as a founding anchor and a panelist on the weekly CNN program “Reliable Sources.”
Unlike Kalb’s experience, most of the journalists who subsequently worked for the federal government spoke well of their new employers. Russell Dawson had been covering waste management for a specialized publication when he went to work for the Environmental Protection Agency: “The EPA job was terrific. Working for the administration was challenging. I had a role in every major announcement that was made from 1985 to 1989—Radon, asbestos in schools, reauthorization of the major environmental laws.” Becky Bailey, a radio reporter, got a job as a congressional press secretary. “I loved my time on the Hill, found it fascinating.”
While some might have to confront “disinformation,” or more likely government hype, others would come to agree with NBC correspondent Carl Stern, who had covered the Justice Department for 26 years when he left to become spokesman for the attorney general in 1993. “Every reporter should have to spend a minimum amount of time in government,” he said. “You begin to realize that the things you were so certain of when you were a reporter, you didn’t understand a tenth of what was going on…. It was only when I went inside the department that I realized how little I knew when I was writing these things, simply because of their complexity.”