Saturday, July 14, 2012
Waiting for Bill Webster
Koster came to a picnic at Neosho High School designed as a fundraiser to help the Newton County Democratic Committee open a headquarters.
Apparently, the Daily reporter had been promised an interview with Koster, but was "snubbed" to use John's words, and I am sure that is an accurate description.
Sadly, it is something reporters have to get used to. If it benefits the politician to do the interview, he will make time for it; if not, it may never happen.
When I read John's posts, it brought back memories of covering the governor's race in 1992. Normally, a Carthage Press reporter would not be covering a statewide race in person, but when the leading Republican candidate, Attorney General Bill Webster, was from Carthage (we had even run his prom picture when he was in high school) that made it our story and I was the one who drew the assignment.
On the night of the primary, I attended the victory party at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, though his victory was by no means assured. His opponent, Secretary of State Roy Blunt, had narrowed the margin considerably with attack ads during the waning days of the campaign.
When I arrived at the hotel, Webster's aide, Tony Feather, told me the attorney general would be happy to have a one-on-one interview with me, since I was the representative of the hometown newspaper.
An hour later, I received my second visit from Feather, who told me I might only get a few minutes with Webster. Webster was nowhere in sight. He would not emerge until Roy Blunt conceded.
As dance music continued to play in the background (no expense had been spared), I started thinking of backup stories I could write. About 15 minutes later, Feather returned and said, "Randy, we're not going to be able to let you have a one-on-one; you'll have to interview him with the rest of the print reporters."
I tried to impress on him that I was the only reporter from Webster's hometown paper, but that didn't have any effect. After 10 p.m., Bill Webster and his wife, Susan, finally emerged, to a thunderous round of applause. I slipped in close enough to hear that they were waiting for Roy Blunt to concede...and they were angry that they had not heard from him.
The voices were kept low for a while and I could not hear what they were saying, but when Tony Feather headed toward me, I knew what he was going to say.
"Randy, we're not going to be able to get your interview." He apologized and I have always believed that he was sincere and that he had tried his best to get me the interview. Now I had to scramble.
After Blunt conceded, I still held hopes of getting in a question or two, but those hopes were dashed when the television circus began. Webster's media coordinator, Renee Howell, guided Webster toward the long banks of television cameras, and I watched as Webster, who did not have one second to give to the reporter from his hometown newspaper, or any other print reporter, gave a full interview to every television reporter in the room.
One female reporter from a Columbia station had taken off her shoes and for some reason stood on a chair to conduct her interview. I watched in disbelief as the man who appeared on his way to becoming the next governor of Missouri climbed up on the chair beside her for the interview.
While Webster was running the TV gauntlet, I approached his wife and asked her for an interview, and she graciously answered some questions, but I had still not given up on getting an interview with her husband. I knew that was what my editors wanted.
After Bill Webster made his victory speech, he, the victorious attorney general candidate David Steelman and their wives (I wonder whatever happened to Sarah Steelman) headed toward the exit. If they reached it, my last chance for an interview was gone. Seeing an angle that would enable me to get to the door before them, I bolted for the door and got there just before Webster.
"Attorney General Webster," i said, "Randy Turner with the Carthage Press. Can I ask you a couple of questions?" For one brief moment, I thought he was going to turn me down, but then he said, "Sure, how can I help you?"
I asked him some questions about Carthage and Jasper County and the roles the locals had played in his campaign, then asked a few questions about the general election campaign. It was not an award-winning interview by any means, but I knew it would satisfy my bosses.
Looking back on that night with 20-20 hindsight, I still find it hard to believe that I worked that hard to ask a few questions of someone who clearly did not care anything about his hometown newspaper (the same newspaper that endorsed Bill Webster three times when only one other newspaper in the state, the Joplin Globe, had even endorsed him once) .
I paid him back three months later when I voted for Mel Carnahan.