A budding young journalist turns the spotlight on me

November 21, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- The class was made up of some of the brightest college journalists from around the country.

They were attending American University for a semester to learn all about "Washington Journalism."

I was invited to speak to them.

The title of my speech was: "I Have No Idea What Washington Journalism Is, But Most of It Stinks."

The next day I got a call from one of the students.

"We each have to do a profile on one of the speakers," she said. "And I would like to interview you."

No, I said.

"No?" she said.

No, I said. I hate to be profiled. The last time I was profiled was by Baltimore magazine, and they called me a "a low-life guttersnipe whose guts should be squeezed through a meat grinder and made into chopped liver."

"Did they really?" she said.

Yes, I said, and then they listed the Ten Best Places in Baltimore For Chopped Liver. It was what they call a news package.

"Well, I wouldn't do anything like that," she said. "I always try to be fair, honest, impartial and unbiased."

Then what the hell do you want to go into journalism for? I asked.

She showed up at my office at 3 p.m. the next day. She had a list of questions written out on a yellow legal pad.

"What is the best story you have ever done?" she asked.

Watergate, I said.

"Watergate?" she said. "You did Watergate?"

Did somebody say I didn't? I said.

"Well, no," she said. "But in our journalism book it says that Woodward and Bernstein did Watergate."

Success has a thousand fathers, I said, and failure is an orphan.

"That's very profound," she said.

That's because it was a very profound fortune cookie that I read it in, I said.

"By the time you leave journalism, what do you think your proudest accomplishment will be?" she asked.

I honestly believe that in a fair fight I probably could take Barbara Walters, I said.

"That would be your proudest accomplishment?" she asked.

I would go directly to the body, I said. Jabs and hooks to the ribs. Kill the body and the head will follow.

She stared at me for a few seconds and then looked back at her notes.

"Um, what is the biggest mistake you ever made?" she asked.

My obituary column on Jack Lemmon, I said.

"Jack Lemmon is dead?" she said.

No, he isn't, I said. That's the problem. I got him confused with John Lennon. And I wrote this great tribute to him, about how kids all across the country were lighting candles and singing "All we are saying is give peace a chance" because the star of "Mr. Roberts" and "The Apartment" and "Some Like It Hot" had just died.

"Did you get in trouble?" she asked.

Rule one for columnists, I said, is that whenever you get something terribly wrong, you just claim you were being satirical.

"But weren't your editors angry?" she asked.

Yeah, but I told them: Look, when Jack Lemmon does die, we can say we were the first with the story.

At this point she turned over all the pages of her pad in order to get to her last questions. Maybe she had a train to catch.

"Name five adjectives to describe yourself," she said.

You're kidding, I said. That's the dumbest question I ever heard.

"No, I am not kidding," she said. "And you told us in your speech that the only dumb question is the one you don't ask. So I am asking you."

I hate when people quote me to me. They must assume I take what I say seriously.

"Five adjectives," she said. "Now."

OK, OK, I said. How about grumpy, sleepy, happy, bashful, sneezy and, uh, doc.

"That's six," she said, "and you forgot dopey. Last question: What do you want carved on your tombstone?"

Just my name and my motto, I said.

"Your motto?" she asked.

Sometimes in Error, But Never in Doubt.

"I'll be going now," she said.

Can I call you a cab? I asked.

"You can," she said, "but my name is Louise."

And that's when I knew she really was going to make it in this profession.

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