He Once Took Pity on a Rooky Reporter
By Carol Bogart
Turns out former President Ronald Reagan kept a diary throughout his two terms in office, a daily diary that notated his thoughts on everything from world leaders to his occasional belief that we tottered on the brink of Armageddon. Excerpts are now published in Vanity Fair magazine.
Even had I not had a personal encounter with then-presidential candidate Reagan in the late '70s, I would have felt an affinity for the man who would later openly announce he suffered from Alzheimer's – just about the time I was losing my dad to the mind-robbing disease.
My experience with Reagan began when the assignment desk at the TV station I worked for in Atlanta sent me to cover his scheduled news conference at Peachtree Plaza. Our assignment editors tended to be Johnny-Come-Latelies – and the joke at our station was, "If it's news today, it's news to us."
This track record held true when I entered the ballroom in which Reagan had been scheduled to speak, only to learn the news conference had ended 10 minutes earlier. Radioing the desk, I said simply, "We missed it."
The assignment editor – probably fearing for his job – informed me that if I didn't interview Ronald Reagan, my employment would be terminated. I'd been a TV news reporter for exactly 15 months – 13 of them sentenced to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Now there's nothing wrong with Scranton. It sits within easy driving distance of the Big Apple and the lovely Pocono Mountains. However, back then (and perhaps now), this old coal mining town rolled up its sidewalks at 10 p.m. Not many fun things to do for a fun loving anchorette just out of college.
So, I was pretty darned excited when I landed a job in the "New York of the South." Atlanta was oh-so-cosmopolitan. So what if every damn street was named Peachtree this and Peachtree that and I spent my first months there in utter confusion – particularly since the native tongue sounded nothing like the English I'd grown up with in Ohio. It took awhile for me to understand that PO-leese meant police, and that Pontsduleeun was Atlanta-speak for Ponce de Leon – a major thoroughfare nicknamed "PDL" (which is easier to say than Pontsduleeun).
I'd had that Atlanta dream job for all of two months when the assignment editor threatened my livelihood should I fail to land the Reagan interview.
What to do.
Desperate, I approached the clerk at the front desk and asked him for the phone number in Reagan's room. Going to a house phone by the elevators, filled with trepidation, I dialed it.
Mr. Reagan answered on the second ring, sounding rushed and impatient. I explained who I was, and just told him the truth. I was a new reporter, we'd arrived late for his news conference and, swallowing tears, I said, "If I don't interview you, I'll lose my job."
He told me he was about to leave for Hartsfield Airport, headed to another campaign stop, but that if I promised I wouldn't take more than 5 minutes, he would come down.
I promised; he did; I turned in the taped interview – and not only did I not lose my job, the following year other stories I'd done were awarded double Emmys.
Throughout the years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, all politics aside, I always remembered his act of kindness toward a scared, green kid – when he needed to catch a plane.
Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her articles at www.hubpages.com and her columns at www.bloggernews.net.