May 21, 2009

They Teach ‘Journalism Ethics’ at Harvard, or So I’ve Been Told

We were driving through Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, on a beautiful May afternoon when my source in Texas finally came through with the scoop. Except I didn?t realize he was a source. Hell, I didn?t even know he was in Texas. And I wasn?t actually looking for a scoop.

For several days, I?d been following the GOP grassroots rebellion against the party elite, after Texas Sen. John Cornyn?s National Republican Senatorial Committee endorsed Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in that state?s 2010 Senate primary.

If you know anything about Crist, or anything about Florida, and especially if you?ve been tuned into the current state of GOP politics, you knew immediately that Cornyn had just invited a bloody civil war with his own party?s conservative grassroots.

Being a strictly neutral and objective professional journalist (laugh now, or forever hold your peace) I jumped into the midst of the story. This is a big part of why I?m gonzo, and why those Culture 11 dweebs never got within a country mile of gonzo. But I digress . . .

Having cast aside all that ?ethics? crap with my first blog reaction to the news—?Treacherous bastards!?—I then spent a full week pouring kerosene on the sparks in the Republican grassroots. Two days after the NRSC?s blunderheaded treachery, I attended a cocktail party and talked to a ?young Republican operative? who was enraged by Cornyn?s arrogant intrusion 15 months ahead of the Florida primary.

Actually, there were a lot of enraged operatives at that party, some of whom had been been on the GOP payroll until a few months ago. Less than 24 hours later, I had created the ?Not One Red Cent? site to chronicle the impending showdown, the Thucydides of this incipient Peloponnesian War.

By Wednesday afternoon, I?d become so transfixed by the saga that my children were complaining of neglect. Clearly, it was time to take our three youngest kids (ages ten, eight and six) to the nearby convenience store for Slushees. One of my 16-year-old twin sons volunteered to drive, and asked if we could also go to Waynesboro to collect the $100 balance owed on some work he and his brother had done in one of their several entrepreneurial endeavors. Some kids do internships. My kids work.

So 16-year-old Bob was driving and the three little ones were in the back seat slurping on their Slushees as we rolled into Waynesboro. Meanwhile, I was riding shotgun, busy on my cell phone, texting ?Not One Red Cent? updates to various people.

This is how it is in New Media age. If you aren?t constantly hustling, you?re never going to get anywhere in the online world, because you?ll get out-hustled by somebody who wants success worse than you do. Having pried myself away from the computer for a while, my cell phone was the only tool handy, and I was working as hard as I could.

My son collected his $100, joking as he cranked the car that fortunately he hadn?t had to break any kneecaps, and we began the return trip to our home in the Maryland hills. And at precisely 6:27 p.m., the phone chimed to tell me I?d gotten a reply message: ?Stacy? Good site and good luck. I may have forgot to tell you that I moved to Texas . . .?

Texas! What the heck? Beep. Beep. Seconds later, I was talking to my friend, who explained that by the strangest coincidence he was . . . well, a source.

More calls were made. Scrawling notes on an envelope I?d grabbed from the glove compartment, by the time I got home, I had an exclusive: Texas Republicans were alarmed by Cornyn?s interference in the Florida primary. And I worked into the night to nail it down, discovering along the way that Florida?s state GOP chairman had yielded to grassroots fury and rescinded his endorsement of Crist.

OK, so don?t phone the Pulitzer committee. It wasn?t an earth-shattering revelation worthy of 72-point front-page headlines, but it was a legitimate scoop, a rarity for an obscure freelancer, and the result of good old-fashioned hustle. Fortune favors the bold, and if I hadn?t been boldly pitching my site via cell-phone, I never would have discovered I had valuable sources in Texas.

Glowing in triumph, I recalled an insult that had been bothering me for a few months. When a Georgia boy with a degree from Jacksonville (Ala.) State University comes to Washington as a journalist, he becomes accustomed to a steady diet of insults from the snobs of the Beltway media elite.

Some insults rankle worse than others, however. So it was impossible to resist the impulse to rub that insult back into an arrogant Ivy Leaguer?s face: ?Of course, conservative bloggers never do reporting because, as liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias says, ?What the right lacks are people with the skill to do the job.? And since Yglesias went to Harvard, he knows everything.?

I beat you, punk. And I’d beat you every day of the week, you arrogant son of bitch, if I could ever find somebody to pay me to do it full-time. Skill, be damned. My grandfather was an Alabama dirt farmer and I guarantee the one thing they never taught you at Harvard is how to outwork the grandson of an Alabama dirt farmer, because it can?t be done.

Besides which, as a great man once said, You Can’t Put No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll.

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