Ward Just’s Washington: Looking Back at Life as a Reporter


Standing outside looking in, the reporter’s life was easy to disparage. Proximity to power: one’s nose pressed against the glass of the pantheon. At times Nicholson thought of himself as a collateral descendant of F. Scott Fitzgerald, his theme an endless and forever fruitless search for motive, the one fact always denied to reporters; of course Fitzgerald dealt with the very rich and Nicholson the very powerful. And he could not invent these characters; they were real people with ages and names and addresses. In his lifetime the powerful had become infinitely more interesting than the rich, the trappings of office and influence more subtle and complex that the distinctions bred by birthplace or money. The sources of power were usually elusive and their effects had consequences.

My God, you’ve got the best sense of place of any reporter in this town. Misfortune, misadventure—whatever you want to call it. You’ve never been an advocate of anything, that’s your great value. Damn near unique, a sweet and sour balance. I’m not blowing smoke at you. It’s a hell of a fine quality in a reporter, and I ought to know because I’ve got the same kind of hard-on.

In Washington it is possible to be unconnected and rootless, an entirely classless human being. It may be the only city in America where that’s not only possible but desirable.

This was one of the particularities I loved about Washington: all theories tend to collapse into detail.

—From Nicholson at Large, a novel by Ward Just, published in 1975 by Little, Brown and Company

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