Runaway Spoon

A Slice of Watergate History

June 15, 2016

With the reopening of the Watergate Hotel, my mind skipped back to The Associated Press and a job three of us did after the fateful break-in at the Watergate Office Building. 

Our teletype newsprint of the AP story backs up the memory.  

This was the first news story linking Richard Nixon’s re-election committee to the break-in.  Our original is now brown and musty, saved only by the expertise of a professional restorer.  But the words remain clear and readable.

I had transferred barely a year earlier to the AP’s DC bureau from my post as AP’s Atlantic City correspondent.  As still a newcomer to the bureau, I was relegated to a Saturday shift. June 17, 1972, was slow.  There was a night editor, a teletype operator (in the non-computer days), and me.

Bored, I wandered over to where the teletype operator was typing in a short, very short, sliver of a police blurb.  It reported that five men broke into the Democratic National Committee office at the Watergate complex and were nabbed.  Way back then, AP had an “A” wire for national news and a “B” wire for secondary and regional news.  The editor had put the blurb onto the “B” wire rack to be sent as a minor story.

I had a gnawing hunch.  My gut said that it was a bigger thing that deserved the “A” wire.  The editor, a crusty ol’ guy, was intimidating. I didn’t want to piss him off.  But I ambled over to him and gently suggested perhaps that blurb deserved “A” wire attention. He didn’t say a word.  Seconds later, I noticed he had walked over and quietly moved the blurb to the “A” wire.

Early the next morning – Sunday -- the ringing phone woke me up.  I answered the call.  It was a young Republican friend who lived at the other end of the hallway from my apartment at the St. George, near DuPont Circle.   He (unnamed by me forever) was a lower level staffer at the Committee to Re-elect the President who was planning to launch his own fledgling computer-related equipment company.  He was laughing that one of the break-in men worked at the Nixon campaign committee.  

WHAT?!  I quickly ditched a commitment to go with a hiking group to Calvert Cliffs.

I shouted to my husband, Dick Barnes, an AP investigative reporter that this was quite a startling, if not shocking,  revelation.  We both headed straight to the AP office three blocks away.  Less than a week earlier, the first reports under a new federal campaign finance law had become available at what was then the General Accounting Office.  Most reporters had purchased the contributions list; Dick also obtained the expenditures report filed by the Nixon committee.

Bingo!  It listed the name of James W. McCord, Jr. of Rockville, one of the men arrested in the burglary.  He was the paid security coordinator for the committee that had been derisively nicknamed CReeP.  And, McCord’s private security firm in Rockville had provided equipment to the committee.

Dick had another AP investigative reporter – H.L. Schwartz, who was at home --- scurry out to McCord’s house in Rockville to try to get quotes. But Schwartz was met with refusals. Telephone inquiries were similarly stone walled.

Dick telephoned the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case, then pounded out the major story.  One detail in the story: “Authorities investigating the case were not aware of the link to the Nixon committee until The Associated Press found McCord listed in the voluminous filing required under the new campaign finance act.”

The long 750-word story went on the AP’s “A” wire (first graphs reproduced here from the original).  As only an editor of the original piece (although I intially talked with the source), I declined (now regrettably) to be included in the double byline. 

The Washington Post’s Woodward and Bernstein went all the way with Watergate, of course.   But in their second day on the story, they came to their newsroom and found our AP story that, according to All the President’s Men, “made it embarrassingly clear why McCord had deserved further checking.”  

An unheralded involvement in the course of history?  Yes. Still, Barnes, Staihar & Schwartz touched history.


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A Classy Swan Song

May 15, 2016

It was a class act, in all ways. 

First Lady Michelle Obama was the guest of honor for her last time at Congressional Club’s First Lady’s lunch Thursday.  But several times she made it clear that she would like to be invited back when she is just Citizen Michelle.

In stressing diversity, she delivered a flawless talk to the two thousand or so guests on how great it is that today’s young people are so naturally attuned to the acceptance of all people -- of all origins and nationalities. 

On the arm of a military escort, The First Lady, smiling broadly, traversed the long runway – from one end of the huge International ballroom at the Washington Hilton to the other – then on to the podium. She was attired in a peach-colored dress that gave a sartorial nod to the color theme of the event: anything to do with Georgia.  The luncheon chair of the event, called "Georgia Posh, Peach Southern Hospitality," was Vivian Bishop, wife of Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Georgia Democrat.

(Photo by: Natalia Janetti)

The club's membership includes spouses of members of Congress, ambassadors, Supreme Court justices and cabinet secretaries. The club, founded in 1908, nurtures and encourages bipartisan friendships.

Mrs. Obama has attended the yearly luncheon as guest of honor for the entire time she has been first lady, a long-standing tradition for all first ladies. She was introduced by club president Vera G. Davis, wife of Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill.

“Today’s luncheon pays a tribute to Mrs. Obama’s dedication and work with military families and her program to encourage healthy eating and exercise,” read the event program.

One of the gifts presented to Mrs. Obama was a painting of first daughters Sasha and Malia done by 13-year-old Columbus, Ga., student Barbara Joy Tillman, 13.

The charitable recipient of the 2016 luncheon is the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, a service unit that provides support for both professional and family caregivers.

Among entertainers were Grammy Award winner Tasha Cobbs, Grammy Award winner Monica, and Timothy Z. Mosley “Timbaland.”   Into the swing of things, Mrs. Obama, from her chair on the dais, clapped in rhythm, gave thumbs up and blew air kisses to the performers. 

Next year, the club president is slated to be Mrs. Jennifer Messer, wife of Indiana Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind.

Guests included Cabinet spouses, Mrs. Janna Ryan, wife of the Speaker of the House; Mrs. Mary Kennedy, wife of the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; Dr. Joanna Breyer, wife of the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court; Mr. Steven Hargrove, husband of the Attorney General, and Mr. Paul Pelosi, husband of the  Minority Leader of the House of Representative. 

Like each recent luncheon, Pelosi took to the runway with obvious glee and enjoyed every moment of his fame, even if only a minute or two, as he waived to the audience who cheered his presence.


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Outta Here to Italy

May 9, 2016

So, let’s guess. Tired of politics?  Need to get away for a while?  Do we have an event for you!   A chance to spend real quality time in Italy.

The American Initiative for Italian Culture acts as a two-way bridge between Italy and the USA seeking to promote art and culture in both countries.   On Thursday, May 26, from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, at the Dumbarton House, the AIFIC is doing its spring benefit event (cocktail buffet) that will offer auction items that’ll take you to great places in Italy. Once over there, expect wonderful Italian cuisine, wonderful Italian music and wonderful Italian views.

Ticket price is $150 per person and $275 per couple, with other ranges of sponsorships and participation.  Dumbarton House is 2715 Q Street NW in Georgetown.  Valet parking will be available.

To pique your interest, here’s just some of the live auction offerings:

*One week in the medieval village of Castagneto Carducci - Tuscany on the Etrusan Coast, the best kept secret of Tuscany, in a a cozy one-bedroom apartment a few steps from the Gherardesca Castle, visiting sprawling wine estates including the Tenuta Biserno. Seven nights for 2 people.

*Queen of the Dolomites, Cortina has all the credentials to be crowned the all-seasons paradise with its spectacular scenery, lifestyle, culture and gastronomy. Cortina D’Ampezzo, Dolomites, Italy. Spend one week in the four star Cristallino Hotel.  Seven nights for 4 people.

*Southeast Sicily Baroque.  Experience the history, clear waters, traditional events and culinary journey in the world heritage of Sicilian Baroque.  Five nights for four people in a large private house in the historical center of Noto, Sicily.  Dinner at  Michelin-starred restaurant for four people. Tours.

*Venice – CINI Foundation.  Sleep in the private rooms of Foresteria of the Giorgio Cini Foundation Monastery not open to the public on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.  Enjoy its hidden treasure and secret masterpiece collections. Listen to The Quartetto di Venezia, the complete Beethoven String Quartets, and more.  Three nights for 4 people.  Breakfast for the entire stay. Dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant  Osteria Da Fiore in a private balcony for 4.

Get the whole scoop on these auction items at: www.AIFIC.org

 


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