You will have to humor me in this as I take up the front page of RedState for a personal post and some language that does not normally appear here at RedState.
I was supposed to be in Washington last night for a party. But we had a family matter come up, then I got put in a cast for daring to walk barefoot over cobblestone (long story), and then a friend’s father died. So travel was not to be. And I are sorry I could not go because the party was to honor my friend Lucy Spiegel.
Lucy was my boss at CNN. Honestly, I worked at CNN for three years before I even knew Lucy had a boss. Having seen everybody from Anderson Cooper to the head of CNN himself taking direction from Lucy on big nights, it just never dawned on me that she reported to anyone except maybe Jeff Berkes and God.
At CNN, Lucy was my goddess and champion of all the political contributors. She made sure we got air time. She coordinated the intricacies of debates. We sat where Lucy told us to sit. She was George Patton — a few times using . . . ummm . . . Pattonesque language. If we ever had to invade Sicily again, Lucy Spiegel would have beaten Patton and Montgomery to Messina.
She is retiring from CNN. Having been on Sixty Minutes and in various war zones — which, I might add, proved useful when she alone recognized the boot cleaner outside her house was actually unexploded military ordinance — she headed to CNN and worked up to the fancy title of “executive director for contributors and audience,” which for a number of us from James Carville to Paul Begala to David Gergen to me over the years translated to “boss.”
I have written before about the providential nature of me winding up at CNN. My friend Michelle, who I did not know at the time, reached out and asked if I wanted a job. She asked me to meet her at the CNN Center in Atlanta where I’d meet the one person who had to sign off on the deal. There I go, with a terrible cold, half a voice, and a badly fitted suit. That one night, a few weeks before Christmas, I met both Michelle and Lucy in person. I liked them both immediately.
Lucy was and is exactly what you hope to find in television news. She did not mince words. You always knew where you stood (with Lucy, that was often literal too when on set) and she was willing to tell you that you’d been a dumb ass by actually saying just that. And she’d also tell you when you did well, without you having to ask.
This requires now that I get into the Atlantic profile of me. In it, there is this bit from Paul Begala:
Paul Begala, the Bill Clinton strategist turned Democratic analyst, first encountered Erickson early in 2010, when they were on CNN together and Erickson disparaged the memory of the recently deceased Senator Edward Kennedy, saying Democrats wouldn’t have lost his Senate seat if Kennedy had resigned when he learned he had brain cancer instead of trying to be a “martyr.”
“I got very, very upset,” Begala recalled recently. “I lit into him.” Begala told the CNN brass he would no longer appear on the air with Erickson. But in the run-up to the 2012 primaries, the men got to know each other while riding around Iowa on the CNN campaign bus, and they became friends. “I realized we needed his perspective,” Begala told me.
I believe Paul repressed the part where I also compared Kennedy to unicorns or some such.
CNN put me through a vetting process. They wanted to see how I did with various people. Of course they had me on with James Carville one night. He knew right where I was from in Louisiana and we hit it off. Paul, on the other hand, first encountered me that night and it was one of those very CNN panels where there were nine, yes NINE, people in tiny squares plus an anchor. I wasn’t getting much of a word in.
During commercial break, Lucy came in and told me they were going to come to me and I needed to make my point and be sure to stand out.
Oh I stood out alright.
The next day I had to go up to New York City for a Hannity appearance. Sean came into the Green Room, looked at me, and all he said was, “Wow, so last night . . .” I did not need him to tell me. But then Lucy called.
“Toots, I like ya. But we need to talk about something. When I told you to stand out last night, I did not think you’d interpret that as ‘be an asshole.'” She immediately laughed, which put me at ease. Point made. But then she gave me some really terrific advice.
“You can make any point you want to make. And I know you think we want someone to be moderate. We don’t. But if you want to get taken seriously in this business you can have any opinion you want, but if it is not respectful you’re going nowhere.”
I am pretty sure that’s exactly how she put it. And I have done a good job failing to live up to that standard repeatedly. I try. I do my best to get there. But I know I don’t always. Lucy, though, set the benchmark and for me it is the benchmark.
For a network we on the right perceive to be liberal, and I think it is often true, I found a lot of openly admitted liberals at CNN who were willing to give my side a fair airing. Whenever I thought CNN was fixated on a narrative and ignoring key facts, I never hesitated to email Lucy.
There was not a single time that she did not work to make sure I had air time to challenge what I thought needed challenging. And she worked behind the scenes to make sure my concerns were addressed. There were often times I felt like there was an editorial bias, but there was never, not once, a time where I did not think they were willing to give me and my views a fair hearing when I pushed back. Lucy had a lot to do with that.
When I was sick, she checked in. When the family was sick, she wanted updates. When I was under attack from some group somewhere, she was a sympathetic ear. I miss my friends at CNN. I do. They are wonderful people, I learned a lot from them about both the news and about life, and I like them tremendously. I miss terribly not having Lucy calling to give pointers, encouragement, and criticisms.
Being the guy in Georgia most often on remote, I often felt Lucy worked extra hard to make sure I was integrated into the political contributors at CNN. She made sure I was regularly in New York and Washington. She made sure I was regularly mixed in with various other contributors at events. On big nights she made sure I was comfortable on set and rotated all of us around so, during commercial break, we got to know each other more personally than we otherwise would have. It built camaraderie among a lot of different people from different backgrounds with different views.
Those small things matter in a business prone to gossip and excess. I didn’t think twice about defending Hilary Rosen when I thought she was unfairly attacked during campaign 2012 because Lucy had made sure so many of us had gotten to know each other not as opponents, but colleagues. Donna Brazile is a part of my family too because of that. Some of you may not know this, but Gloria Borger is my sister — or at least I claim her as one.
So many of the folks at CNN remain like family, even though we can’t talk politics without arguing. We can talk life and kids and history and recipes and Louisiana. I could listen to David Gergen talk about his time working for various Presidents for hours or Ron Brownstein’s polling reviews during commercial breaks. The inside stories that so rarely get brought up are just fascinating to my inner History junkie. And you haven’t lived until you’ve stayed up to 3am ET eating cold pizza and drinking warm beer in the Des Moines Marriott with Alex Castellanos, Mary Matalin, and Donna Brazille. Actually, you haven’t lived until you’ve driven through tornado warnings in South Carolina with Roland Martin giving the play by play in the passenger seat fixed on the radar updates on his phone.
Lucy understood relationships matter and they matter to her. None of these things would have ever happened in my life, but for her.
Many people have WWJD as a motto. At my house, Christy and I have been known to ask WWLT — What Would Lucy Think. There’ve been more than one occasion where, believe it or not, I’ve held my tongue because I knew exactly what Lucy would think. A while back I told her I do that and, without missing a beat, she said, “Kid, you’re not doing it enough. If you were still mine, we’d have to talk.”
She’s right. There’s always room to improve. She was the best coach I’ve had in that department.
“Get yourself an angry Jewish lawyer” was Lucy’s last piece of advice when I was negotiating contracts. I now give that advice to friends in the business too. I don’t know that I ever got bad advice from Lucy. She’s one of a kind.
Lucy, I’m sorry I missed the event, but God bless you and keep you.
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