Friday, February 03, 2006

Call me...Woodward and Bernstein

So, I had this silly idea: I was tired of writing fluff pieces. After all, I didn’t go to college for I-don’t-want-to-admit-how-long just to spend my life giving decorating tips to businesses or writing profiles (glorified press releases) about our biggest advertisers. Wasn’t I supposed to be a reporter?

And then I saw this ad: “Political magazine needs aggressive, tenacious journalists who will stop at nothing to get the story.” Why, that sounded just like me! Dazzled by visions of Woodward and Bernstein, I applied, even though I was pitifully underqualified. However, a couple of weeks later, I got The Call. It was a last-minute assignment, but one that paid very well, so I took it. Only then did I realize I was in way over my head. Me, a political reporter? God (or Buddha, or Goddess, or your favorite deity) have mercy on us all!

After I stopped hyperventilating, I started calling. I needed quotes, fast. I had one day to churn out a 1,000 word article about an issue I’d never heard of. Apparently there was this ballot question in this other state, and there was a lot of controversy, and everyone was pointing fingers, and the bill failed anyway, and now everyone’s ticked off about the whole sordid affair. Or something like that. Worst of all, it was a bipartisan issue. Despite my political ignorance, I knew what this meant: the opposing parties would use me to insult their opponents.

To protect their identity, I will not refer to the political parties by their official names. Instead, I’ll call them “The Jets” and “The Sharks.” The Jets supported the issue. They were, well, pissed that it had failed. And, they blamed their opponents for confusing voters and dooming the issue. The Sharks thought the whole thing was a dumb idea that never should have made it to the ballot. Neither side made much sense to me. They spoke in a haphazard string of political lingo, full of pretty, but empty, words. Political double-speak. I recognized it. It was eerily similar to the corporate double-speak I listened to all day for those fluff pieces.

I consulted a political expert with excellent credentials, hoping for a clear-headed, objective voice. He was obviously very smart. And he obviously loved to talk about politics. And talk. And talk. And use very, very big words. Now, I don’t have anything against big words. In fact, some of my best friends are very big words. But, they’re usually along the lines of chiaroscuro, schadenfreude, or albedo. I don’t like big words of the political variety. They scare me.

By now, the hamster in my head was spinning furiously on its wheel. I had less than 24 hours to translate a bunch of big, fluffy, but ultimately meaningless quotes into a hard-hitting investigative piece. Can you say sunk? Midnight came and went, and by dawn I wanted to forget politicians even existed. I began to nod off. And then I had this dream: We had rounded up all of the politicians and shipped them off to a deserted island, a la Survivor. We made them build their own huts and forage for their own food. It was very entertaining.

My deadline closing in on me, I struggled to pull myself together. Muse, oh muse, where are you? I began to mutter...must write must write must write...

Fortunately, an imminent deadline has one advantage: it drags the muse out of hiding and makes him do his job. Those fluffy quotes began to arrange themselves on the page, and, to my shock, what they formed was semi-coherent. Maybe the journalistic gods hadn’t abandoned me after all! I did meet my deadline (by half an hour), and though I didn’t particularly enjoy my political diversion, I learned a lot. And, it spawned one of my most brilliant ideas yet. Now, I just have to figure out how to lure George Bush, Congress, and the entire political system to a deserted island...
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