In the summer of 1967, Mitchell began working for KYW Newsradio, having been accepted in Westinghouse Broadcasting’s management-training program for young college graduates. After her bosses tried to steer her toward a more traditionally female job in public relations or advertising, she finally told them that she would drop out of the programif they would give her an entry-level job in the newsroom.
With my Ivy League degree, I had talked my way into a job as a copyboy, which is what desk assistants were universally called in those days. I had to rip reams of wire reports spitting out from the old, clattering Teletype machines, then hang one copy on a nail in the wire room and distribute the others to the anchormen of each hour’s newscast. It helped if you remembered which anchormen liked their coffee black and which took sugar and cream. Most of the men helped me learn the ropes. But some delighted in hazing me as the only woman in the newsroom. As best I could, I tried to deflect or ignore it …
They put me on the shift where they thought I could do the least harm, midnight to eight in the morning. Most of my friends were in graduate school, with more flexible hours. I felt isolated, especially because I had to try to sleep during the day. My social life was nonexistent. Working nights meant walking through the center of the city, crossing Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, to get to my graveyard shift. More than once the police stopped me, until I explained that I was a night worker, not a lady of the night. Although the hours were lousy, they were perfect for an apprentice reporter. The city reflected the national turmoil over race and the Vietnam War, often exploding on my watch …
[Philadelphia Mayor Frank] Rizzo had always enjoyed a fawning press corps, which made me very uncomfortable. As [police] captain and then commissioner, he had fed the newspapers his version of reality, and the leaks greased his climb to the top. His notion of how to handle the few women reporters he encountered was fairly primitive. At first, he tried to charm us. If that didn’t work, he tried intimidation. My verbal duels with him were legendary. At one point, during an antiwar rally, he even had one of his top lieutenants warn me that the civil disobedience unit was doing surveillance on one of my relatives, then a student on the Penn campus. The not-very-subtle message was that I should back off in my coverage of the police. It was frightening, but probably also stiffened my resolve …
As a woman reporter among men, I knew that figuring out how to cover Rizzo as mayor was a special challenge. He was always ready with a cutting comment putting down women, but, paradoxically, that may have helped me to be a better journalist. His barbs only inspired me to ask tougher questions. Not that Rizzo was unique in his patronizing attitude toward women.
James Tate, the man Rizzo was succeeding, was just as bad. At a farewell news conference with Tate, I asked about a major controversy, the city’s failure to win international approval for an international bicentennial exposition. Tate said, “The one thing about not being mayor is I don’t have to answer your questions any longer, little girl.” He might as well have slapped my face. I was the top broadcast political reporter in town, and in an instant I felt like a ten-year-old who had just been dressed down by the teacher.
Rizzo took office and started remaking city government in his own image. KYW carried his news conferences live, and they soon became celebrated confrontations between the bullying mayor and the handful of reporters willing to take him on. On one occasion, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the police had shot an unarmed teenager in the back in West Philadelphia. The community was outraged. I called the mayor to see if he would agree to investigate the police. No, he said. “My men are right when they’re right, and they’re right when they’re wrong and they’re trying to be right.”
The mayor called back a few minutes later to complain that his previous comments were off the record. No deals, I said, not after the fact. He was furious, and I was in trouble. After that, he was determined to make my life miserable.
Only years later did I learn from one of my early mentors, KYW’s news director Fred Walters, that Rizzo had called at least once a week to try to get me fired. The complaints even went all the way up to the chairman of Westinghouse Broadcasting, Donald H. McGannon. Fred would tell the mayor to prove that I had been either inaccurate or unfair, and he would take action. Rizzo never produced the evidence and Fred never told me, he said, to avoid any “chilling effect” on my reporting.
I often wonder why I was either naïve or gutsy enough to confront Rizzo as I did. Six feet two inches tall and 250 pounds, he was tough, profane, powerful, and very intimidating. I found myself standing up to him almost as a matter of instinct, only afterward realizing that I was courting danger. At the same time, he charmed a lot of reporters, hiring some of the city’s most experienced newsmen to become members of his cabinet. At one point he even suggested that I could be deputy managing director for housing. At fifty thousand dollars a year, it was a fortune compared to my starting salary of fifty dollars a week. But I knew my job was to be his adversary. It never occurred to me to accept.
Mitchell met her future husband, Alan Greenspan, when she was covering the White House during the first Reagan administration. He was not in government at the timea situation that would change soon enough.
I’d known of Alan Greenspan since 1983, when he was head of the President’s National Commission on Social Security Reform. Among other assignments at the time, I was covering White House budgets, which included trying to fact-check the fiscal wizardry of Budget Director David Stockman and explain Reagan’s trickle-down economics. On a regular basis I’d question David Gergen, then assistant to the president in the Office of Communications, about the latest budget numbers.
During 1983 and 1984, I hammered Gergen with questions about whether the White House budget assumptions were credible. Finally he said, “Why don’t you ask an outside economist? Learn economics the way you learned about arms controlit’s the next step for you.”
It was smart advice. He suggested I consult Alan, who at the time ran an economic consulting firm in New York.
When I called Alan, with no introduction, he was very helpful. Soon, we were talking fairly regularly, and at some point I asked him to one of those correspondents’ dinners to which reporters invite their sources. As it turned out, Barbara Walters had already invited him, but he said that if I ever got to New York, I should call him for lunch. There was something in the way he said it that prompted me to call Gergen and ask, “Is this guy single?”
To which he replied, “Don’t you know? He’s a really eligible bachelor,” confirming my growing suspicion that Alan was interested in more than the budget.
Still we didn’t get together. Both of us were busy, and we lived in different cities. Finally, in December of 1984, I was in New York to do a year-end report for the Today show, and Alan invited me to dinner. It was December 28, that lovely time between Christmas and New Year’s when the tree is still up in Rockefeller Center, the holiday store windows are festive, and New Yorkers are no longer rushing past each other to finish their shopping. I envisioned doing the Today show live and then taking the rest of the day off to primp for dinner.
But a story broke that day in The Washington Post that Nightly News wanted me to cover. Instead of preparing for my date, I scrambled to pull together a segment for the evening news. Barely an hour before I was to meet Alan, I raced back to the hotel to change clothes and grab a cab to the restaurant. By then it was snowing. It was also rush hour at Christmastime, and there were no cabs to be had. So I trudged across town to the restaurant, tired, wet, and not very glamorous by the time I arrived at Alan’s favorite restaurant, Le Perigord.
He was already waiting at the table, a pattern that has in fact been repeated in all the years sinceAlan waiting patiently, while I finish reporting an unanticipated story. But the moment I sat down with him, the evening was transformed. We connected, talking about music and baseball and our childhoods. I found this shy man known for convoluted explanations on economic trends to be funny and sweet and very endearing. We had such a good time, he suggested extending the evening by going for a drive through Central Park in the snow. That was our first date.
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Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from TALKING BACK: ... to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels by Andrea Mitchell. Copyright © 2005 by Andrea Mitchell.
©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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COVER STORY: Talking Back, Getting Hitched, Speaking Out