Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Humor Columnist Turns Flack

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Humor Columnist Turns Flack

Article excerpt

HYPERBOLE IS A common tool of congressional press secretaries, but one deputy really pushed the envelope recently.

He told reporters that his boss was a vice presidential candidate who had buns and abs of steel and was once a woman, and that Mel Gibson and Cher would be making appearances at a press conference and hearing, respectively.

That is, however, pretty much what one could expect from Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry.

Barry recently spent four days working for Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) at the invitation of the freshman congressmans full-time communications director Deborah Winston, a former columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Barry would have been there a full week, but had to dash off to appear on "Wheel of Fortune," Winston said.

"I've known him maybe eight or nine years," Winston said of Barry. "He's someone who's been nice to me over my career -- helpful, supportive, an overall great guy."

Winston ran the idea past her boss, who said, "Great:" and then wrote to Barry.

"Like all columnists, I'm always desperate for something to write a column about," Barry said. "Long ago, I ran out of anything I needed to say. Anytime anyone presents an idea that's even remotely interesting, I say, "Yeah, sure."

But how does working on Capitol Hill compare to other Barry adventures, such as flying in a fighter jet or playing the role of a dead guy in a community opera production?

"Comparing being in a fighter jet and in Congress, from a puking angle, Congress is better" he said.

Compared to appearing in an opera, in Congress, he added, "you rarely get pushed off a bed by people screaming in Italian."

On Barry's first day, he and Winston went to a four-hour seminar on how to be a press secretary.

"Since I've only done this since mid-January, I don't really know how to do it, either. I probably would have gone, anyway," she said.

Winston said she and Barry "were kind of amused by the panel of journalists who came in and said what they do, what makes news."

One journalist, she recalled, began his presentation by declaring he was one animal the press secretaries will never tame.

"I told Dave when we were leaving, `I don't remember reporters being that arrogant: " Winston said, adding--with a laugh, "We did not try to tame the beast."

The seminar taught Barry "all these incredible number of ways to get more paper than you already have. [And how to] generate more paper," he said.

"We learned how to get our message" out. Then, a bunch of media people came in and told us how they don't want our message," he explained. "There was no effort to disguise the hostility. It was fun to be on the other side."

Barry did regret, however, that he was introduced at the seminar, since he had planned to keep the week very low-key.

"That was kind of my goal. If I spent the time doing interviews about how to do it, I would not have had time to do it' " he noted. "I avoided talking about it for a few days."

When calling the media, he identified himself as Dave Barry from Congressman LaTourette's office:

"TV people generally figured I was someone on the staff.

Most newspaper people knew I was on the staff for a week," he said.

At least one newspaper lobbyist visiting the congressman's office recognized Barry, but then figured his couldn't be right and put it out of his mind.

In town for the National Newspaper Association's Government Affairs Conference, Ohio Newspaper Association executive director and regional lobbyist Frank Deaner was waiting to see the congressman when he spotted Barry. …

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