Let Us Now Praise (Not So) Famous Men

Paul Paolicelli, Featured writer


Paul Paolicelli
Paul Paolicelli

I took a call in my Senate office from a New York producer on the Tom Snyder show who asked if my Senator was available for an interview. Any Press Secretary (no longer any such thing, now it’s “Director of Communications”) who is conscious knows that national exposure for your boss is the holy grail.

What did he want to talk about? I asked. The woman at the Merchant Marine Academy came the response. I told him I’d get back to him.

I immediately went next door to the Senator’s office and told our Administrative Assistant (no longer any such thing, now it’s “Chief of Staff”) about the conversation. Neither of us had the faintest idea of what he was talking about. “Let’s see the boss,” he said, and we went into the inner sanctum.

The boss, Senator J. Glenn Beall, Jr. of Maryland, had a shocked expression on his face. “How in the world did Tom Snyder hear about this?” Hear about what, we asked in unison? The story came out: the Senator lived in Bethesda and was listed in the phone book. He’d gotten a call one night at home from the parents of a constituent whom he’d appointed to the academy. She’d been kicked out for having had a sexual liaison with a fellow male classmate. The parents believed their daughter was being treated unfairly since the young man involved was allowed to graduate, she’d been the only one punished.

Indignant, the Senator called the Commandant of the Academy that night and demanded an explanation for why his constituent had been unequally punished. The young woman was reinstated with other disciplinary action. Case closed as far as he was concerned.

“That a great story,” I said. Snyder was the king of late-night TV at the time and a ratings leader in our biggest markets; Baltimore and the DC metro area. Wonderful publicity for the boss on an issue that he appeared to be the white knight.

“I would never discuss such a personal matter in public,” said the Senator. “That was a purely private matter and there’s no way I’m going to embarrass this young woman or her family on a national TV show.” I tried pointing out that he was on the right side of this issue and that the publicity would be very helpful in our key areas, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

My Senator was a patrician; his ancestors had come over in the 17th century and, among other things, had founded Georgetown in 1637. He came from a long line of public servants (his father had been a Congressman and Senator before him) and the idea of exploiting a constituent’s sensitive situation was abhorrent to him. I had to turn the invite down.

I’ve often thought about this in contrast with today’s group on Capitol Hill where exploitation can sometimes be the rule. I wonder how many Senators today would turn down national publicity on ethical grounds. For my Senator the personal issues of that family weren’t fodder for political gain and he wouldn’t even consider the notion, his response was firm and immediate. He knew his values. And I’ve come to admire him more and more as the years have gone by…..