Welcome to Reporters' Notebook



While Governor Askew’s Death Was Sad, Some Amusing Memories Emerge

Written by Al Hutchison. Last updated Sunday March 23rd, 2014


Reubin Askew’s death last week, while sad, brought back some amusing memories for me. I knew him because as a Tampa Tribune reporter I had covered his campaign to be Florida’s governor back in 1970,

HUTCHISON - 38.7 kb
and our paths had crossed a few times after he was elected and even after he left office and sought the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1984.

Perhaps my funniest memory became amusing only in hindsight. One day during his campaign for governor, he agreed to give me an exclusive early-morning interview. When we finished, I went to work writing a story about the interview on my portable typewriter -- remember portable typewriters? -- and, when my story was complete, I hoofed it to the nearest Western Union office (another vestige of another era) and sent to Tampa where, presumably, an editor would make sure it met the Tribune’s standards and then send it to the composing room.

With that exclusive interview out of the way, there was nothing else I needed to do that day so I simply followed the other political reporters around and relaxed as I watched them diligently take notes and ask questions. I was privately amused to be the only journalist in the crowd who wasn’t working.

But my amusement turned sour the next morning.

I bought a copy of The Tribune and searched for my story. I found my byline all right, but the story beneath it bore no resemblance to the one I’d telegraphed to Tampa. In fact, it was word-for-word the same as a story written by Barbara Frye, at the time the venerable chief of the Tallahassee bureau of United Press International. I was furious, but I didn’t know whom to target with my anger.

Years later I discovered what had gone wrong: An editor had handed my story to a copy boy who had then deposited it in one of the vacuum tubes that were used to deliver the newsroom’s stories to the composing room downstairs where typesetters would convert them into type (this story is full of references to antiques). But that particular vacuum tube -- if you’re old enough you may remember seeing them in department stores where sales clerks would send items to the business office and vice versa -- was inoperative, so my story never reached the composing room.

How did I know this? Because once the Tribune moved to its present building on the banks of the Hillsborough River, the old newsroom was torn apart and someone found the missing vacuum tube ... and my story was still in it. In desperation, on deadline, someone had decided to slap Barbara Frye’s story in place of mine but neglected to change the byline.

On another occasion, Governor Askew came to Tampa to make a speech about hurricane preparedness and by then I was the editor of The Clearwater Sun, my hometown newspaper that no longer exists. With a companion, I drove over to hear the speech and afterwards Askew approached me and asked how I’d traveled to Tampa. When I told him my colleague and I had driven, he asked if the colleague -- another former Tribune reporter named Terry Plumb -- could drive home alone.

Why? Because the governor wanted me go ride with him to a meeting in Pinellas Park so he could bend my ear about some pet legislation he was pushing in Tallahassee. He hoped the Sun would endorse it. He said he’d make sure I got a ride back to Clearwater.

So I hopped in the governor’s limousine and we took off for Pinellas Park. But it was lunchtime, and we both were hungry. So we stopped at a McDonald’s in South Tampa and sat in a booth while downing our hamburgers. A Tribune photographer -- one I didn’t know -- spotted us and began to take pictures. I told him that he’d be wise to leave me out of his photos and he asked me why.

"The minute you show a picture with me in it to your editor, you’ll know why," I told him. Sure enough, in the next morning’s Tribune there was a photo of Askew eating lunch in McDonald’s and only the sleeve of my sports coat was visible. The Trib didn’t see any need -- nor would I if I were making the decision -- to print a photo of a Clearwater Sun editor.

I don’t recall the legislation Askew was pushing so hard, but I do remember I didn’t get a word in edgewise on our trip. He was a very serious politician.

By 1984, I’d moved on. By then, I was the publisher of a small daily newspaper in Greenfield, Mass., and when Askew’s ill-fated bid for the Democratic presidential nomination brought him to the area in search of support, I was able to do two things to help him: First, my wife and I hosted an informal reception for him at our home and it was very well attended. Secondly, my newspaper endorsed his candidacy in the Democratic primary ... and he came in first in our county.

When he later finished last in Maine’s primary, he knew the jig was up and he withdrew from the race.

A local politician had objected to the reception at my house, remembering that I’d always steered clear of personal political involvement so as to do my best to remain objective.

"You wouldn’t host a reception for me," he protested.

"I will when you run for president," I replied.