“Misquote! How’re you doing?”
My old friend was halfway through his hamburger at Billy Martin’s Tavern in Washington’s Georgetown section. As a young man he'd been the most hard-nosed reporter in the White House press corps. He got his nickname when at a press conference an earlier president claimed he had been misquoted. Misquote apologized, then innocently asked: “Which lie did I misquote?”
We shared a fair number of drinks together in the days when we both haunted the same Washington bars. Since then he bounced around a bit, at first reporting for the Associated Press, then with Reuters, then a bit with McClatchy and more recently with the Washington Post. Misquote was the utility infielder of the White House press corps. I still follow his byline wherever it appears.
“Eh,” he replied with a shrug. “I love the political beat, but I’m thinking of moving to the sports section.”
“But, Misquote,” I said. “You're one of the best White House reporters in history. You love that stuff. The thrill of the chase, the scent of blood when you get that back-stabbing leak from the insiders fighting for the corner offices. Why jump off the political stuff?”
Misquote was old school. He had started off as a copyboy back in the day. His earliest news experiences came in the summer of 1974 when the powerful Congressman Wilbur Mills drove his car into the tidal basin in an argument with stripper Fannie Foxe, known as the Argentina Bombshell. As a copyboy he hadn’t covered that story, but it was the stuff of legend among his peers. It was also the summer when Nixon quit. Misquote never won a Pulitzer, but at least he showed up at enough briefings to keep his White House press credentials up to date.
He didn’t worry about policies one way or the other. Personal foibles were his reportorial strong point.
He had grown up in DC, and had gone through grade school and high school with the guys who grew up to be DC cops, firemen, cooks and deliverymen, Misquote was never more than a block from somebody he had shared a beer or a game of poker with.
If the cops had to pick up a drunken congressman and ferry him safely home, Misquote usually heard about it. He knew everybody’s favorite watering hole, and was up to date on the romantically tangled and usually secret lives of official Washington.
Like most reporters, he kept his sources well out of sight. But his most important tips came from his all-girl bowling team. He kept that source super-secret. It was something I only discovered by accident.
In the days when I considered two packs a day reasonable, I ran out of smokes in an Alexandria suburb and pulled into the parking lot of an obscure bowling alley to resupply. Inside I ran across Misquote surrounded by a bevy of remarkably pretty girls happily bowling away. Turned out it was his bowling team – an all-girl affair organized on the principle that the hordes of pretty girls from the sticks who came to DC in hopes of finding husbands learned all too soon that they outnumbered eligible men by 3 to 1. To their dismay, they found that every other guy was gay — especially the best looking, sharpest dressers.
Misquote’s single-guy lifestyle took him to the poker and ball games circuit where other straight bachelors were plentiful. Quick to seize an opportunity, he organized an impromptu all-girl bowling team. It caught on.
He would invite his bachelor contacts, one prospect at a time, to come for a night of bowling and to meet girls. To the guys and the girls, such bait was irresistible. In exchange for getting a shot at an eligible straight guy, the girls made sure Misquote got the juiciest tips; tips from the same young ladies who answered the telephones, typed up the confidential memos and scheduled appointments. To them Misquote’s healthy supply of bachelors was solid gold, and they trusted him not reveal his sources.
His luck ran out with the Obama administration. The secretaries were just as young, pretty and smart, but Misquote’s inventory of bachelors was mostly white but the secretaries were young ladies of color who were in the market for the next Obama. The bowling team gradually dried up.
When I ran across him at Billy Martin’s pub, he was feeling his way through the new Trump administration. It was no fun.
“It’s depressing as hell,” he admitted. “I don’t mind the lying. In this town everybody lies about something. But these guys expect you to report their lies as straight news. They believe their own nonsense.” He expected the lying, but he had no patience with dumb.
What he called “the Russian stuff” really got to him. Not for what went on, but for the stupid way they tried to deny having any contact with the Russians. “Their statements have a shelf life you can measure in nano seconds,” Misquote chuckled.
The Trump people were a strange lot, but he was able to develop a few drinking buddy friendships with the thirstier members of the new bunch. They arrived in town eager to make their careers, but soon learned Washington can be a cold and lonely town on a Saturday night if you don’t know anybody, and that a quiet drink in a cozy bar is not without its charms. For guys like that, Misquote the sports bar drinker was the friendliest of ears.
Talking about it seemed to cheer him up. There had just been a confrontation in the press room between the regular reporter from Fox News and a new guy from the highly dubious right-wing website Gateway Pundit, which had recently been accredited by the Trump administration looking for friends.
“It was like rattlesnakes biting each other,” Misquote said. “Imagine being called a racist by a guy from Fox News.
"These guys can’t last forever,” he said with a touch of returning optimism and the old gleam in his eyes. “Maybe I’ll start the bowling team up again."
“That’s my boy!” I patted him on the back, ordering him another beer. There are few things more satisfying than saving a Washington institution.