WASHINGTON: When I was just starting out, in the mid-1970's, I got a freelance assignment from the Los Angeles Times' Sunday sup, called West,to do a profile of a now-legendary California campaign manager named Joseph R. Cerrell. The idea of the story was that I would follow Cerrell around as he worked with various candidates. That led me to Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, and that led me to columnist Bob Novak, who died this week. It was from Novak that I learned one of the best lessons a young reporter could ever learn.
One of the stops on this assignmenrt was San Francisco, where he was working with Sen. Humphrey. I wanted to talk to Humphrey about campaign managers and their impact on elections, and share deep thoughts about the body politic. Trouble was, what with shaking the money tree and shaking supporters' hands, Humphrey didn't have any time for me.
Cerrell arranged for me to travel with the senator from downtown SF out to the airport and ask my questions while I sat next to him. Notebook in hand, I showed up on the street where the senator's car was waiting -- and discovered that waiting there as well was Bob Novak.
You knew him of course, not so much from television as from the Evans and Novak column that seemed to have wires into everything happening in Washington. Novak was courteous, friendly, seemingly interested in what I was doing, but his eyes were always riveted on the hotel doorway that Humphrey would come out of. He kept emphasizing that reporters had to work, and walk the streets, that you couldn't do the job just by staying by the phone. He invited me to call him in Washington. He was really quite generous in his interest and guidance. But when there was a flurry of activity near the hotel door and Humphrey was approaching, he put a move on me that I still haven't figured out.
All I know is, he ended up sitting next to Humphrey, and I ended sitting next to Novak. I got my questions answered, so there was no problem there. More importantly, he taught me one of those lessons a good reporter should always know and never forgot: if you want to get the story, you've got to get the story. And he showed me, by example, that courtesy is possible, even desired,in a competitive environment.
--- Bob Meyers