But the difference between regional and national reporters wasn't the only one I noticed. The straight reporters would report what they'd seen and heard picking and choosing their story elements from what actually happened, but then just showing and describing them and letting readers or viewers come to their own conclusions. In contrast, the name columnists and commentators would get to interpret and analyze, offering their personal takes on what was going on in Campaign '72.
Either way, though, I saw it was the newspeople, not my dad or his press people, who decided what part of a speech, if anything, made it into the papers or on the air. By punching up certain issues or making the candidates the issue or focusing on the horse race, these journalists wielded huge influence. And it seemed to me that television had the most heat. It possessed an immediacy, an ability to capture and transmit the excitement (or the boredom) of the campaignand the sincerity (or cynicism) of the candidates.
And it dawned on me right there in the back of the plane eating peanuts, that television would be the politics of the future. Television would be the way to touch people, move and excite them, anger and educate them the way politicians used to when they had direct contact with voters one-on-one in the streets. I knew this in my gut, and I wanted in.
Remember, this was the 1972 election, just a heartbeat before the Watergate scandal broke open. Before Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (let alone Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) intoxicated a generation with the ideal of crusading journalists exposing the bad guys to the light of the truth. In 1972, the news biz was not an obvious career choice, especially for a young woman.
So I sat in the back of the plane eating too many peanuts (more on that later), thinking, "Yes, this is for me." I, too, would travel the country and even the world, meeting people from every place and every walk of life. I'd hear their stories and then turn around and bear witness, sharing them with the rest of the country. I would be part of this pack of intense and highly competitive professionals. Work would never be boring. Laughter was a big part of it. And hadn't I always said I didn't want a desk job? These guys on the plane didn't even have desks.
Day after day, I asked my traveling companions every question I could think of. Where'd you go to school? What did you study? How did you get all of your experience? How do you handle the competition? What about that punishing deadline every day? Do you dread it or crave it? How many newspapers a day do you read? Five? How do you get scoops? How can you be so breezy, schmoozing politics with the other reporters, when your real goal is to beat the pants off them every night? When do you see your kids? I soaked up the answers, and my own dreams came into focus. By the time Campaign '72 was over, I knew what I wanted to do with my life but I didn't tell a soul.
I didn't tell anyone because I thought they'd view it as silly, and I didn't want the hassle of trying to convince them otherwise. I knew otherwise, and that was enough. Also, part of it had just a little something to do with my family, which regarded the press in many ways as an adversary across a great divide prying into our lives, chronicling our every move. Like many young people who are secretive about their dreams, I thought my family would be incredibly disappointed in my choice.
Copyright © 2000 by Maria Shriver
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