Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens recently died in a plane crash and that got me thinking about a card I should have mailed him. I interviewed Stevens in 1988 – our time was brief, but to this day, I remember even the most mundane details with clarity. I was a fresh faced reporter working for KJUD, (an ABC station in Juneau), and Stevens was a towering Republican figure. He was already a well-established lion of a lawmaker. I, on the other hand, was an impressionable, not so confident, “twenty something.”
My initial observation of Mr. Stevens matched what I had heard, mean-spirited and combative. Media insiders nicknamed him “Torrential Ted” and I must confess, at the time, I thought the nickname was fitting.
Controversial talk of the day was over a nuclear submarine. Stevens fully supported a plan to perrmanently house the sub in waters off Alaska’s capital city. He reasoned that it would bring high paying jobs to the local economy and give Alaska, especially the Southeastern Panhandle, a safety net against a Russian invasion. Residents feared an environmental disaster, or worse, and business leaders were concerned that it would harm Juneau’s burgeoning tourism industry.
By Alaskan standards, Juneau is a big bustling city, and it’s the crown jewel of the last Frontier.
Standing on the steps by the front of the Capitol, I asked Stevens why he favored securing a nuclear equipped submarine in the backyard of a densley-populated city. In his gravelly voice, Stevens summarily ripped in to me – “its reporters like you that will kill a good deal for Alaska and its people.” He fumed over any such talk of it posing an environmental risk.
By the end of Stevens’ diatribe, I felt like he had undressed me in public. I certainly could not spar with this titan of congress. I walked away from the interview deeply humiliated and boy was I angry. In my mind, I had choice words for the senator. I dwelled on that interview for several days before realizing my anger was misdirected. Senator Stevens did not take advantage of a rookie; he exposed an unprepared reporter. I simply did not know enough about the subject and it showed.
From that point on, I made a pact with myself to hold the powerful accountable and never to let a senator, king, queen, or ruler take me to task because I was not prepared.That commitment has guided me throughout my long career, and for that, I owe a million thanks to Ted Stevens.
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