Bureau Snapshots


By Henry Hubbard


   I was interviewing Kirk O'Donnell, then legal counsel for Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill in the late 1970s.  I asked him about the latest proposals to make changes to Social Security.   He answered: "Social Security is the third rail of American politics. Touch it, you're dead.”

   That seemed like a line worth quoting, so I broke the rules treating all remarks from Congressional staff as anonymous.  We credited Kirk with it in the magazine. The line caught on, and Kirk loved the attention he got for it.   Decades later, New York Times columnist Bill Safire footnoted his language column with a comment that he sure wished he knew where that line came from.  Kirk's authorship is now enshrined in the last edition of Safire's political dictionary.

   Sick Call:  Our esteemed bureau chief from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s, Mel Elfin, had an answer for everything. His phone rang one day. A radio talk show host was asking his question of the morning. He asked Mel: "If you woke up one morning and heard on the mews that a nuclear-tipped missile was heading for Washington, DC, and would hit in 15 minutes, what would you do?"

   Answered Mel: "I'd call in sick."


   Woman’s Lib: Women’s liberation at Newsweek sometimes meant more than a long overdue fair and open opportunity for women to become reporters, writers and editors. Sometimes it overlapped with the sexual revolution.  During the early days of the Reagan Administration, another male staffer and I were working on a file in my office around 2 a.m. on a Thursday or Friday night.  (Newsweek’s weekly deadlines often meant killer hours on Thursday and Friday).  We heard a rustle in my office doorway.  There stood one of our women reporters.  “Geez you guys,” she announced, “I’m just horny as hell tonight.”

   Stunned, we stared in silence. Sex in the office here was not unknown. But this?  Serious?  We were both married. After maybe 15 seconds, from somewhere in my brain came a reply: “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we can help you with that.”


Henry Hubbard was science writer, editor and reporter in New York and Washington, White House correspondent, congressional correspondent and deputy bureau chief from 1959 to 1984


 Expensive Accounts


By Jim Doyle


   Newsweek worked hard and played large, accumulating a rich lore of expense account stories to be cherished as long as someone else picked up the tab..


   Big Spender: After the final night of a Democratic convention, Hal Bruno, one of the best political reporters Newsweek (and then ABC News) ever hired, was asked to find a restaurant that would take the gang of Newsweek reporters and editors despite the late hour and no reservation. Hal always arranged everything, from hiring off-duty firefighters to drive the editors around to making sure Miss Katharine and all other VIPs got food, drink and reverential treatment.

   Hal located a place nearby that he knew had a big dining room.  Hal greeted the maitre D with deference, apologized for not having a reservation, and shook the man's hand with a large bill in his own. The fellow was delighted. "Right this way, sir."

   Hal turned the corner, eyes widening. The place was empty! He'd just laid out $50 in grease to get into a room with no diners and 100 empty seats.


   Corkage: At the Republican convention in Kansas City, Mo. in 1976, Hal lunched the  day before at the Crowne Plaza with Maynard Parker and Ken Auchincloss, two of the Wallendas (nickname for the four top guys in New York).  He was to fill them in on what they could expect.  With great authority, Maynard and Ken spent a long time discussing the wine list, and finally settled on a distinguished red.  Hal, a kid from Chicago and always amused by any sign of  pretension, was the host.  So the sommelier uncorked the bottle and presented the cork to him on a silver tray. As the oenophiles waited in anticipation for Hal’s sniff, and then the ceremonial pouring of a swallow for his taste, Hal took the cork in his hand, put it between his teeth and bit it in two.            "That will be fine," he said. The table was silent for a moment of discomfort. Then Ken laughed heartily. Maynard, Newsweek’s top guy, never did.  Which pleased Hal even more.


   At Sea: Dwight Martin was a senior writer, editor and national reporter in New York in the 1960s and early 1970s. I never met him, but stories about him abounded.  He affected the reserved and hauty pose of an aristocrat, was given to irony, kept everyone at arm’s length with his wit and got away with murder on his swindle sheets.

   Martin was assigned to cover the annual naval maneuvers of the Atlantic Fleet at the height of the Cold War around 1964 or 1965 and flew to Norfolk, Va., where he boarded a destroyer.  He later submitted a taxi bill for $157.50.  This was too much even for Newsweek’s accounting department.  They called him on it.

   “How can you spend $157.50 for taxis,” he was asked, “when your other accounts show that you were on the destroyer that day?”

   “Big destroyer,” Martin said.


Jim Doyle was chief political reporter and deputy bureau chief at Newsweek from 1977 to 1983.