On Breslin, Depression and Obama…

By Dave Lieber

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Columnist
Secretary, National Society of Newspaper Columnists Education Foundation

Dave Lieber

Dave Lieber

The master returned.

Jimmy Breslin, who has written two or three newspaper columns this year following his surprise retirement last year, was stirred to pen a brief memoir about the shooting death of Robert F. Kennedy.

After he viewed the movie “Bobby,” Breslin wrote a column for Newsday, his former employer. In recent months, Breslin had debuted a play he wrote and he is working on several books.

In the late November column, he described Bobby Kennedy’s populist passion this way:

“I don’t know where else you get this kind of passion, deep total passion that can move multitudes. There has hardly been anybody since Kennedy. Clinton on a good day, and the fellow today, Obama.”

His description of the actual shooting in June 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel is worth revisiting, too:

“Suddenly, there is a guy in the hotel with a pistol and he is holding it straight out and firing at this knot of people who had just walked into a gray, wet kitchen…

“It put a couple of bullets into the head of Robert F. Kennedy. He went down with a brain full of bullet splinters. He was on the wet floor with an eye rolled up and his legs bent under him.

“You couldn’t get the gun out of the hand of the shooter. Hands grabbed and yanked and twisted but could not get it. The gun waved and people jumped away from it and now Roosevelt Grier, the immense professional football lineman, grabbed the shooter and got this huge arm around his neck from behind, and somebody screamed, ‘Kill him!’ and Roosevelt just stared. All he had to do was tighten the arm and the guy is gone. Somebody else screamed, ‘No, no! Keep him alive!’…

“The crowd was swaying and threatening to fall as one. I just went with them, my feet barely on the floor.

“Somebody screamed that the shooter was kicking himself loose.

“‘He’s not going anywhere,’ Grier said. He was pressing his massive torso on the flattened shooter.

“He looked at me when he said this. Somehow I had been shoved by the crowd onto to the table and I was sitting on the shooter’s legs.”

Breslin turned 76 on Oct. 17.

Legend has it that he was supposed to visit the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Hawaiian convention about 20 years ago as keynote speaker, but he never showed up. Anyone who knows Breslin will tell you that is not unusual.

OK, all these years have passed, Jimmy. We forgive you.

* * *

Columnist Chris Rose/New Orleans Times-Picayune, a Pulitzer finalist for commentary, shared a lengthy story with readers, distributed by Newhouse News Service, in late November about the affects of covering a massive story such as Katrina.

In my paper, the Star-Telegram, one of the jump headlines summed it up this way: “Depression: I was a dead man walking.”

Rose wrote:

My case might be more extreme than some because I immersed myself fully in the horror and became a full-time chronicler of sorrowful tales. I live it every day, and there is no such thing as leaving it behind at the office when a whole city takes the dive.

Rose talks about taking medication, seeking professional help, his family woes and other interesting aftershocks.

It’s a powerful story. If you get a free moment, here it is:

* * *

Finally, in case you missed the great story about 26-year-old columnist Nicklaus Lovelady, let’s bring you up to speed. Nick toils at the Henry Daily Herald in McDonough, Ga. He is a county government reporter covering the county seat in Henry County, 25 miles south of Atlanta.

As a bonus, Nick also gets to write a weekly Wednesday column on the opinion page.
Nick sounds like the rest of us when we were younger. Paying your dues, far from home (Nick grew up in Detroit) and getting to dabble at something you really could enjoy – column writing.

Here are some of his recent headlines from some of his news stories this month:

Teen driving academy coming to Hampton.
Stormwater credit could ease fee burden.
Preservation group submits plan to board
Final round of public meetings begins today.
Stockbridge moves forward with City Hall.

But the Wednesday column… now that’s a different story. The kid recently hit a grand slam.

He wrote something so sharp that it was picked up by Romenesko’s Web site. That’s where I saw it. His strong writer’s voice struck a nerve.

The University of Louisiana at Monroe graduate wrote a nervy scold of Barack Obama for a gentlemanly slight that happened a few years back. The way he handled it showed me the kid possesses a creative side that hasn’t been lost as he covers the final round of public meetings today.

I called Lovelady to compliment him. Turns out my gut instinct about him is right. He says the column keeps him going as he covers county government. Someone recently asked him why he doesn’t try to move to a bigger paper. He answered that the Atlanta women were beautiful and “I have a column.”

Here’s his grand-slam column, as posted on Henry Daily Herald-Online.

Obama owes me an apology

Published: November 14, 2006

 I don’t care, I’m not changing my mind on this one.


I don’t like Sen. Barack Obama.

He might make a good president some day, but he won’t get my vote. At least not until he apologizes.

Some might say I’m holding a petty grudge but let’s see you become the butt of joke in front of 1,000 people.

Two years ago I was a full-time newspaper reporter in Illinois covering Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

I had the looks, I had the charm and I had my eye on this pretty young thing who was doing an internship for a competing paper.

It took me nearly two months of running into each other at various news events before I worked up the nerve to begin talking to her.

And then Obama shows up.

The senator made his way to SIUE one day to introduce some legislation that would increase grants for students. Prior to that, me and the girl became really cool as I let her in on a few tricks of the trade.

The day Obama came, there was a huge press conference at the university’s student center with about 100 people inside the conference room and hundreds more viewing the conference on a big screen in the lobby.

Obama did his thing, and at the end there was segment for questions by the media.

After about five questions from different television and newspaper reporters, I stood up to ask mine.

“Wait a minute son, this is for professional media only,” Obama said to me.

“What do you mean? I work for the local paper,” I said with a crackling nervous voice.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were a college student. You have such a baby face,” he said with an unremorseful grin.

At that point everyone in the room turned to look at me and laugh. The 800 people in the lobby laughed as my face was projected on the big screen.

Remembered that girl who I was trying to get with, well she was sitting next to me and guess what she was doing?

Everyone was laughing except me.

The next time I saw that young gril was at another press conference, but this time she was acting as if she never knew me. I think I saw her maybe two more times and each time, it was the cold shoulder.

Thanks to everyone’s favorite new senator, I lost big time.

Obama owes me a public apology for making me look like a court jester and for blocking my shot.

Until that time, Hillary or Giuliani will get my vote.

Nicklaus Lovelady covers government for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at nlovelady@henryherald.com.

* * *
Perhaps you heard what happened next.

Obama heard about the column. He called Nick to apologize for “messing up your game” and told him that if the woman “was that superficial, she wasn’t worth it.”

Obama’s staff taped the call and sent it to the National Public Radio show “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” – which played the clip on its Web site.

In a follow-up column, Lovelady wrote:

Obama’s not so bad after all

One of the truest sayings about the human character is that character building takes time but a reputation can be ruined in a second.

On the flip side, I believe there are some rare instances in which a person can do something so extraordinary that their reputation elevates to unimaginable heights. Legendary even.

In just one week, my view of Sen. Barack Obama went from hanging with Judas to flying high with Martin.

And all it took was 15 seconds.

In last Wednesday’s column, I said Obama owed me an apology for making me the laughing stock of a news conference and for causing me to muff my chances with a girl.

Although I was being a bit facetious, I really didn’t like Obama, and because of my grudge I didn’t plan vote to for him if he decided to run for the presidency. I may have been wrong and spiteful, but I have a right to spite.

But what changed my mind about Obama came at about 6:30 p.m. last Wednesday.

All that day I had received e-mails from people who thought the column was hilarious and those who thought I should be beaten with a dozen rusty hammers for requesting an apology for something so petty.

But Obama did call me to apologize.

“Hi, is this Nicklaus?” Obama asked as I answered the phone at work. “This is Barack Obama. I’m calling to publicly apologize for messing up your game.”

Obama went on to apologize for igniting the news conference crowd into laughter when he said I had a baby face, and told me not to fret over the “superficial” journalism intern who turned me down.

Just so you know Obama, your apology is accepted.

Whether Obama apologized because he actually felt bad about the baby face comment or he did it so he can get my vote, the fact that he called me the same day says a lot about his character. I can’t see too many other politicians taking time out of their day to do that.

Not to mention, it was 5:30 p.m. in Chicago. That’s rush hour. I don’t know anybody that’s apologizing during a Chicago rush hour.

While I said I would not vote for Obama out of spite, my views about the Senator have since changed and it’s not just because of his apology. To me it would seem that every American would matter to him, not the just rich or the important.

I would still like to see if his values align with mine before I promise him a vote, but at least he’ll be up for consideration.

Now if only I can get that girl to apologize for dropping me like a bad sitcom.

* * *

I asked Lovelady if he wants to be a columnist.

“I’m not sure,” he answered. “It’s been a fun experience. I’m sure if I move on to another newspaper, I won’t expect the same opportunity. I might be covering a regular county government beat.”

Needless to say, he and I had a heart-to-heart. He is, I assured him, already a columnist. He can become a full-time columnist if you start to see yourself that way – and market yourself to future employers that way.

After all, I told him, “You struck the big bell once. I’m sure you’ll do it again.”

* * *

Finally, our own beloved NSNC member Wally Spiers weighed in with a column on the Lovelady-Obama flapdoodle. Wally met Lovelady when Lovelady interned at his paper, the Belleville (Il.) News-Democrat:

Obama apologizes to reporter after potential love is lost

By Wally Spiers

For a columnist, personal life is always fair game, especially when it involves a funny incident with a national politician like Sen. Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been anywhere near Obama, so the story had to come from Nick Lovelady, who has one of the greatest names ever and is a former reporter for the News-Democrat.

Lovelady now works for the Henry (Ga.) Daily Herald and writes a column on Wednesdays. Last week, he wrote about how he would never vote for the wildly popular Obama for president because the senator shot down one of his potential romances.

The incident occurred when Obama appeared at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Lovelady covered the event for our newspaper.

Lovelady tried to ask a question, and the senator chided him for intruding when the session was for professional reporters.

An aggrieved Lovelady protested. Obama backtracked and tried to smooth over the gaffe by mentioning Lovelady’s baby face as an excuse.

In his column, Lovelady claimed the embarrassing incident caused a young female newspaper intern he had been pursuing to become disinterested.

The upshot came later last week, when a surprised Lovelady received a call from Obama, who apologized for “messing up your game.”

Obama was unavailable for comment Monday but his press spokesman said the whole thing was tongue-in-cheek to match the tone of Lovelady’s column.

“Right before we called, we got a call from ‘Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!’ (on National Public Radio) asking about the column,” said Tommy Vietor of Obama’s staff. “I told them we were about to call and recorded the call, and they ran it on the show.”

Lovelady said he didn’t know what to expect when his column started getting attention on the Internet.

“I was kind of scared,” he said. “Someone told me it was all over the place. I kept checking my e-mail. I was afraid I would get fired or he would sue me or something.”

But like a good columnist, Lovelady plans to milk the moment for all it is worth.

“I’m going to do another column and talk about the apology,” Lovelady said.

* * * * *

Dave Lieber, former NSNC officer, has written Really Bad Column for a really long time for www.columnists.com and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. To contact him, write to reallybadcolumnist@yankeecowboy.com or call 817-685-3830.12/13/06

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