Fat Man in a Middle Seat

In this era of political journalism when the chaste has ushered out the chase, a book like Jack W. Germond's Fat Man in a Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics serves as antidote reminding readers that politics was not always the banal creature of TV imaging. Recalling memory-deficient Ronald Reagan's skill in turning to his advantage questions he couldn't answer, Germond regrets that the first requirement of politics and often the only one for electing presidents is “a facility for producing one- liners [that] project the right image on television.”

Germond often projected the wrong one, and it led to delays in snagging the title and salary of Washington bureau chief of the Gannett Newspapers. During the long stew over Watergate and Richard Nixon in 1974, Germond wrote a column accusing the President of dusting off an old penchant for “scapegoating.” When the Gannett higher-ups scrapped the column, Germond quit (“my first smart political decision”), took a big pay cut, and talked the “other” Washington paper, The Star, into hiring him as its chief political writer.

Although rough on George Bush (“most vacuous” of presidents), Bill Clinton (“a president is not free to act as his glands dictate”), and Jesse Jackson (“he played on the weakness of the press to criticize him”), Germond descends to rancor only once. His diatribe against John McLaughlin [“loud-mouthed bully”] and the McLaughlin Report, which he left in 1996 after fifteen embattled years, seems too strong a protest for a vehicle that allowed him “the luxury of being a newspaper reporter without having to live on a newspaper reporter's salary.”

Fat Man in a Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics is a must for anyone grateful to find the Menckenesque has not entirely fled the political scene.