He was a gregarious boy fresh out of Hampden-Sydney with a beaming smile, talking a mile a minute and full of curiosity.
Jonathan would have blended into the diffuse background of the 2001 gubernatorial race for Virginia’s top political correspondents at the time, but for the fact that, seemingly at every stop, he was looking for us. He hovered like a gadfly. He noticed everything. He engaged the gray-haired press in conversation and asked us about the case.
He served in a variety of roles—driver, body man, tracker—for the campaign of Mark L. Earley, the state attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate. I would have considered him a mere supporter, except he didn’t to behave like a. He seemed methodically studying the system as a whole, analyzing it from within.
No memory is more vivid than Labor Day of that year – a sultry, grotesquely damp late morning in the village of Buena Vista after its parade, once a mandatory event for political candidates nationwide. ‘State. At the time, the countryside was somewhat sleepy in the summers (“the Virginia way”) and the BV parade was part of a handful of Labor Day weekend events, including Acres of Democrats du Sunday in Wytheville, a Monday parade in Covington and Rep. Bobby Scott’s annual picnic. in Newport News. They kicked off the nine-week fall sprint to Election Day.
The Buena Vista parade would leave after GOP and Democrat breakfasts in the city’s business district, travel through streets lined with families perched on their porches or curbside lawn chairs amid a thicket of campaign signs, would turn right onto West 10th Street near the old Parry McCluer High football field, cross the bridge over the Maury River, then culminate in an outdoor pavilion in Glen Maury Park where each candidate got the microphone for a few minutes to woo the electorate.
When finished, the contestants were consumed in a media fray that enveloped them from all sides.
Mark Warner, the Democrat and eventual winner of the 2001 gubernatorial election, had come down from the stage and was swarmed by scribes pushing recorders or microphones as close to his mouth as possible to capture his words clearly through above the din of the nearby crowd. Among those leaning forward with a recorder was Jonathan, acting as Earley’s stalker – a campaign staffer who records first-hand audio (now video) of an opponent in the hoping to exploit a blunder. Someone jostled Jonathan’s arm and his recorder inadvertently brushed Warner’s lip.
Dave “Mudcat” Saunders was advising Warner’s campaign on its rural strategy that year. Among his ideas was the entry of a car with the Warner logo in a NASCAR event in Martinsville and a bluegrass-themed campaign song to the tune of the Dillards”Dooley.” Mudcat was on the outskirts of the group and saw red as Jonathan’s recorder poked Warner’s face. He grabbed Jonathan and tried to pull him out of the fray. Nothing more than a few glares and muttered curses, which was probably lucky for Mudcat considering Jonathan’s youth and size. Most striking, however, was how quickly Jonathan got rid of it and regained his focus, as any member of the press should have.
Mudcat, a colorful former journalist not known for his self-censorship, was later remorseful and, when I recalled the incident years later, he said in his mountain drawl: ” Ah felt shi**y’ about the way ah treated that boy.”
That memory replayed last week as I sat in a group of people listening to Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, both national political correspondents for The New York Times, discuss their new bestseller, “This Will Not Pass “. Their nationwide book-promotion tour took them to Richmond where they did a Q&A on their work documenting former President Donald Trump’s aberrant behavior during the 2020 campaign and his alarming efforts to stay in power. by all means after losing to President Joe Biden.
No one in 2001 could have tied down JMart to overcome the ziggurat of American journalism as he did. He worked his way into the business at Hotline, the National Journal’s political newsletter, then entered the ground floor of POLITICO in 2007 before joining the Times.
But he is not unique among journalists who have gained national notoriety from inauspicious roots in Virginia. The late Roger Mudd began a career at the Richmond News Leader that would make him senior political correspondent for CBS News and, for two years, co-moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Mudd’s classmate at Washington & Lee, the late Tom Wolfe, was a Richmond native who worked at the Washington Post before becoming an early pioneer of “new journalism” which uses a novelist’s style of storytelling in non-fiction books. Prominent examples are Wolfe’s classics, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “The Right Stuff”.
Carl Bernstein, co-author of the Post’s legendary Watergate and Nixon White House coverage and co-author of “All the President’s Men” with Bob Woodward, was Virginia’s Richmond-based government correspondent in the early 1970.
There are more recent stories involving my contemporaries. You can’t watch CNN’s coverage of Congress or the White House without seeing correspondent Ryan Nobles, a WWBT-TV alumnus from Richmond who has covered the Virginia government. Another Ryan alum at WWBT, Aaron Gilchrist, is now a network anchor at NBC News. Peter Baker, Mike Shear, and Anita Kumar were once the Post’s chief Capitol Square correspondents: Baker and Shear are now senior Washington correspondents for the Times, and Kumar is POLITICO’s chief White House correspondent and editor. Deputy Head. Jo Becker, who covered state government with Shear, is a three-time Times Pulitzer Laureate. Maria Sanminiatelli, who worked at Daily Progress in Charlottesville before joining me on the Associated Press team in Richmond, now runs AP’s Top Stories Hub in New York. Joe St. George, formerly of WTVR-TV in Richmond, is now the Washington-based national political editor for Scripps Television. Michael Paul Williams won a Pulitzer last year for the columns he wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
I’m sure I missed a lot, and for that oversight, I apologize.
The thing is, you never know where talent, hard work, and a bright, inquisitive young mind can lead people in this endeavor. Which brings me to the present.
You may have read about personnel transitions at the Virginia Mercury recently. It’s relevant because in 44 years in journalism and communications, working with many incredibly gifted colleagues, I have never been associated with an organization as solid wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor as this one. (Full disclosure: I’m not Mercury staff.)
Former Mercury staffers Mechelle Hankerson, now WHRO news director, and Katie O’Connor, senior editor of Psychiatric News, have moved on to great things. Ned Oliver, a news virtuoso who was named Virginia’s 2021 Outstanding Reporter for his work with the Mercury, has decamped to join a new Richmond-based Axios publication. Kate Masters, who joined the Mercury at the start of the pandemic and set it apart and distinguished it with its state-specific health care and education coverage at a time of unprecedented tumult, is moving to New York. She was named Virginia’s Outstanding Young Reporter for her work last year. And Robert Zullo, a masterful journalist and the maestro who assembled this remarkable team as Mercury’s founding editor, is moving to Illinois where he will write stories on national energy policy for States Newsroom, Mercury’s owner.
A final testament to Zullo’s stewardship is his handing over the keys to Sarah Vogelsong, an excellent reporter he hired who has become Virginia’s authoritative voice on environmental and energy policy coverage. Sarahwho got her start in a Virginia weekly, will serve as editor of the Mercury.
The Mercury does what few news organizations can do these days: it hires, replaces rising talent. Staying by Sarah’s side will be Graham Moomaw, who holds Mercury’s cornerstone as legislative/government/policy writer. Graham’s reporting and storytelling skills are equal to or better than any of my aforementioned colleagues who have become national celebrities.
In a career that spans six decades, I have sadly raised many glasses toasting those who have progressed, retired, or evolved. Years away from frenetic competition and the deadlines of daily reporting, seeing colleagues excel and progress brings deep satisfaction over time.
Twenty-one years passed between the moment my orbit crossed Jonathan’s and the evening Last week when I told him publicly how proud I am of what he has accomplished.
If I’m on this side of the turf and sane enough in mind and body in 21 years, I hope to say the same to the rising young stars I’ve been blessed to know as a Mercury contributor.
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