Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Personal Aside: 2 Thoughts While Shaving.


1. Roger Simon.

Roger Simon is a journeyman liberal who has been around forever. He is chief political columnist for “Politico.” Now he has a column in the “Sun-Times.” But what caught my eye the other day was the choked up emotionalism Simon says he felt watching Sen. Ted Kennedy throw out the first ball at the Boston Red Sox opener. The old guy who is battling brain cancer throwing out the first ball—sob, sob, Roger can’t stand it!

If that’s hard to take, Roger, how about conjuring up the young woman starved for oxygen in a car overturned in a deep channel near Chappaquiddick island? There was no report of the accident since the driver, Ted Kennedy, didn’t want to be tagged with it. He had been with another girl and the two of them were Irish drunk, not recognizing that Mary Jo Kopechne was asleep in the back seat.

The two of them swam out and when they discovered Mary Jo was in the back seat, Kennedy still neglected to report the accident since he didn’t want to be tagged with driving a car with a girl trapped in it and he not having done anything to save her. So he let it hang, didn’t tell anyone. When the diver finally came in response to someone reporting the car in the pond, the diver said that if he had been called earlier he might have saved the girl. She evidently had lived for quite a while, he said, since she, starved for oxygen, had crawled up to the front seat to gasp the last oxygen available in a bubble.

Yeah, watching that old senior citizen Kennedy tossing out the first ball was a real gripper, Roger. Can you imagine a national political correspondent still failing to comprehend the moral consequences of that infamous episode? And that these are the people who are determining the content of our news?

2. Walter Trohan.

Walter Trohan for anyone who’s been in Chicago as long as I have, is a name that will be imperishable in the annals of journalism.

Before he died at the great age of 100 with all his mental faculties crystal clear, I had a chance to meet him. He was the longtime Washington political editor of the “Tribune” from the earliest days of the FDR administration through the last bleak days of the Nixon era. Incidentally, in his Chicago days he was the first reporter to come on to the scattered bodies of the Saint Valentine’s Massacre in 1929 at the SMC Cartage, 2122 N. Clark in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The other day I was perusing his Oral History which is locked up at the Harry Truman Library in Independence and has never been printed. Trohan told me some of what is contained in that Oral History. He said that when Truman came to Washington as a senator, he was still in hock for paying off the bills when his haberdasher store went bust in Independence. He and Mrs. Truman never had any great store of money and he was still in difficult financial straits when he became president. He would conduct a series of White House poker games to which there was a great line of people waiting to play for an intimate view of the president. But Truman was very choosy who played with him. Sen. Burton K. Wheeler (D-Montana) who was a very good poker player wanted to play but Truman, his friend, cautioned him away. “Burt, you can’t afford it.”

He was right. Trohan didn’t have the money to play either but once in a while they’d allow him to kibitz. As the bourbon flowed and the cigar smoke rose, the conversation…all off the record…was full of stories for an enterprising reporter. Everything was off the record of course but the tips for stories that were about to break were worth everything.

Then Trohan found out why Truman had told Wheeler why he couldn’t afford to play. Those who played were brokers, rich men, rich senators, rich lobbyists. At the end of the evening, Truman toted up what they owed him and gave his players bills. Then and only then did Truman put a fixed price on each chip. He didn’t win all the time but he won enough at huge stakes that when the checks flowed, his debt on the haberdasher store started to evaporate.

People who contributed found themselves named to the federal bench, one to the Federal Reserve. It was a lovely way for Truman to eradicate his debts, have fun with the boys and also entertain a newsman like Trohan with delicious news tips. So those of us who are ready to faint because Jesse Jackson, Jr. might have consorted with some Indians to raise dough for Blago to get himself named to the Senate…should recall the evil old days under a man who is purported to have been on of the best presidents we ever had.


  1. John Thomas Mc GeeanApril 14, 2009 at 6:26 AM

    Your great story on HST was a part of History--the part that never gets written. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Do you know if Nixon played poker in the White House?