In the brushes with candidates department… tomorrow’s vice-presidential debate brought to mind a lot of the different folks I got to interview when I was a student journalist. As a reporter — then editor — for the University of Tennessee Daily Beacon, I interviewed a pretty diverse list of people, from soap opera actor Michael Swan to comics creator Mike Grell, who I would later follow on Iron Man.
There were also a number of politicians: Lamar Alexander, sometime presidential candidate and currently the senator from Tennessee, was a former governor and president of the university system while I was there — naturally, that resulted in several interviews. I didn’t interview George H.W. Bush when he came to town, but I took a position as a student aide during the presidential visit in order to get the chance to photograph his arrival at the airport for the paper.
Then there was Senator Joe Biden, who, when he came to Knoxville in early 1989, had had a hell of a year. In 1988, he had run for the Democratic nomination — only to hit the shoals after failing to cite quotations from Neil Kinnock. Later in the year, he suffered an embolism. Anyway, after he recovered, the university brought him in for some kind of lecture series, and there was a slot set aside for interviews before the lecture — for whatever reason, the two local papers (of which only one exists now) didn’t take part, so I wound up getting the full time-slot. It was a good thing I’d done some homework beforehand, as I actually had questions enough to get a couple of days’ worth of articles out of it on topics ranging from Eastern Europe to the balanced budget amendment.
I can’t speak to anyone’s political preference — I’m strictly non-partisan here — but I can say that he was very decent to a kid reporter scared out of his wits. A lot of politicians came through without paying much mind to the student press — OK, some of them completely ignored us. And in this case, he wasn’t our state’s senator and he wasn’t running for anything. But he was generous with his time, and I have a good memory about that experience. In particular, this was the time when I was beginning to think about international relations for grad school (which is eventually where I went), so getting to talk to the #2 guy (at the time) on the Foreign Relations committee probably helped point me in that direction.
(Irony moment: Both Biden and Alexander are on TV this second voting on the financial package!)