July 23, 2017

Time to give up on politics?

Politics have, unfortunately, been part of my life for too long.

I covered elections as a newspaperman, starting with local ones while working for The Floyd Press as a high school student, then state and national ones as a reporter for The Roanoke Times in the last 60s.

Coverage of elections and actions by governmental bodies continued during my 12 years as a reporter and photographer for The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, part of the St. Louis metro area.

Then I joined “the dark sitd” as a Congressional aide in 1981, first as a press secretary to one Congressman, a chief of staff to another and later as a committee “special assistant” to yet another.  Congressional work led to positions as a political operative for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican National Committee and, finally, as Vice President for Political Programs for the National Association of Realtors.

My operations at the Realtors ran the association’s Political Action Committee, then the nation’s largest.

After more than a dozen years of political operations, I walked away from politics from the inside and returned to journalism to cover the often-questionable actions of those I once served.  I also started a national political news web site, Capitol Hill Blue, which today is 22 years old and ranks as the oldest continually-published political news operation on the Internet.

Capitol Hill Blue came along when news operations had, for the most part, no yet discovered the Internet.  It began publishing on Oct. 1, 1994.  Nandonet, operated by the Raleigh News & Observer, was also on line but that was just about it and its initial focus was not politics.  McClatchy Newspapers bought the service in 1995 and discontinued it in 2003.  Capitol Hill Blue was nine years old by then and continued.

The Washington Post featured CHB in a roundup of web sites early on, calling it a “must read for politics.” The New York Times media writer Felicity Barringer profiled the site on March 8, 1999, noting:

It became clear last week that journalists in some corners of the mainstream press check in with Capitol Hill Blue. Last Monday, for the first time, The Hotline, the capital’s most widely used daily electronic tip sheet, used material from Capitol Hill Blue and a liberal site called American Politics. Hotline is a summary of all things political, from newspaper coverage of candidates to the most recent polling data.

The site rode high with exclusives on President Clinton’s many dalliances, including an English woman who came forward about an alleged rape when he was a Rhodes Scholar.

We were among the first to uncover that President George W. Bush lied in his claims of “weapons of mass destruction” that were used as a justification for the invasion of Iraq in Desert Storm.  The weapons were never found because they never existed.

We also fell flat on our face when an often-quoted source who claimed to be a former campaign operative for Ronald Reagan turned out to be a phony.  We apologized and move on.  Another story used sources who claimed Bush called the Constitution just a “goddamned piece of paper.”  Turned out the sources were not in the meeting where they claimed they heard him say that but had heard it from someone else, could not be located.  Our mistake and we had to eat a lot of humble pie.

Still the stories CHB published since 1994 number in the many thousands and the ones we learned were wrong was less than one tenth of one percent.  A low figure by many standards but still too many for my taste.

I tried to walk away from CHB shortly after leaving Washington and moving back to Floyd in 1994 but those who “bought” the operation could not come up with the purchase price and I remained as founder, publisher and columnist.

On a good day, a little more than 200,000 readers visit Capitol Hill Blue and reader interest has increased since the election of Donald Trump as the controversial President of the United States.

Trump obviously generates news but he also wears down those who try and get to the truth behind all of his bluster, grandiose claims and lies.  I find dealing with his administration tiring.

CHB turns 23 on October 1 of this year.  I’ve thought a lot lately about the future of the site.  The Internet is overrun with sites that proclaim to report “the news.”  Many have been identified as “fake news” operations but such sites thrive in a society that is both gullible and ignorant and I feel American voters are both.

I also turn age 70 in December of this year.  Maintaining CHB requires getting up around 0500 each morning and working in my studio for four or give yours to help keep the site updated.  During the day, I am contacted for decisions on placement and play for new stories that erupt during the day.

I’d rather be riding my Harley, photographing high school sports and documenting the musical heritage of Southwestern Virginia — my three favorite past times now.

Perhaps it is time to grow up and decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.

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