If This Dog Is Ugly, How Did It End Up in a Presidential Library?

Screen shot 2014-04-28 at 8.58.48 AMBy Jack Limpert

We published a lot of important stories in The Washingtonian but the one that got the most attention was about a dog. And now it’s in a Presidential library.

The dog, Millie, lived at the White House with then-President George H.W. Bush, and her story, accompanied by a portrait in a gold frame, now lives on at the library of former President Bill Clinton.

How does a magazine come up with a dog story that ends up in a presidential library? Early one morning in June 1989, I was walking our golden retriever.  I stopped to talk with a neighbor who was walking her springer spaniel. When I said something nice about her dog, she began to talk about the virtues of springers and she mentioned that hers was a lot better looking than Millie, the president’s dog. I’m not sure she called Millie ugly but she didn’t think she was a good representative of the breed.

When I got to the Washingtonian office, our art director showed me her idea for that July’s Best & Worst cover—it was mostly type with a small picture of a gold crown. The editor’s brain began bouncing around: Best and worst, generic gold crown. How about putting a worst on the cover—Millie, the President’s dog? No, the art director said, the gold crown would be classier. No, the editor said, Millie is Washington’s ugliest dog and she’s the cover.

About 10 days later, the July issue hit the newsstands: Here’s one story about what happened:

President Doggedly Defends Millie
June 29, 1989 DAVID LAUTER | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — You can criticize his arms control plans, oppose his flag burning amendment or even argue in favor of higher taxes, but don’t mess with the President’s dog.

“I know you guys don’t write the editorials, but our dog was named ugliest dog in Washington by the Washingtonian magazine,” President Bush told three reporters from The Times at the end of an Oval Office interview Wednesday, referring to Millie, the family’s springer spaniel. “I’d like some defense on the West Coast. Imagine picking on a guy’s dog.”

A few minutes later, the telephone rang at the offices of Washingtonian, the capital’s slick city magazine.

“I’d like to know who did the ‘Best and Worst’ ” article, the caller asked, referring to the piece in which Millie was labeled as ugly. “I’d like to know how you picked the ugliest dog,” the caller continued. Receptionist Felicia Stovall said that the editor who had prepared the piece was tied up and asked the caller’s name. “President George Bush,” the caller responded.
So in my 40 years at the magazine, our most talked-about story came from listening to a neighbor talk about her dog. The President was asked about the cover  at a televised news conference, and Millie and the magazine got big play all over the world.

The lesson for editors is that you just never know where a really good story will come from. Keep your eyes open and listen to what people are talking about and who knows where the story will end up.

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