Covering a President: “The Challenge Is to Be Fair”

 Final Rounds, a 1996 book written by journalist James Dodson, is the moving story of a son taking his terminally ill father on a last golf trip to Scotland.  As they are waiting to play a round at St. Andrews, the world’s oldest and most famous golf course, former president George H.W. Bush is there ready to tee off with a large crowd watching. As a Washington reporter, Dodson had covered Bush in the 1980s.

“This must be a little strange for you,” my father reflected. “To cross paths with  your old friend Mr. Bush like this.”

I admitted it was a little like looking at the ghost of Christmas past. But then, I thought, this whole trip has been a journey into the past.

I said, “I doubt if he would even remember me. I was just one of several hundred faces shouting questions at him in those days.”

“Oh, I bet he would. Seems like a pretty thoughtful guy. You liked him, as I recall.”

I didn’t deny it. In some respects, that was part of my problem. Privately, Bush was one of the most engaging figures I’d spent time with as a reporter. He talked straight and laughed a lot, loved to tell stories, and always looked you in the eye. His politics were centrist, sensibly middle-of-the-road. He seemed genuine and hopeful. He reminded me eerily of my own father and even resembled him a bit.

In this respect, political reporters and golf journalists have the same kind of dilemma—how to get close enough to a subject in order to understand what he’s about without falling under his spell or finding an axe to grind. Maybe I’d fallen a bit too much under Bush’s spell. At any rate, as the tone of politics turned decidedly uncivil in the mid-1980s, when unnamed sources close to the campaign began to replace the traditionally valued identified sources, which so much of responsible journalism used to rely on, I’d learned there really is no such thing as an “objective” reporter. The challenge is to simply make yourself a fair one.

Speak Your Mind