Farewell to the Fat Man

For anyone coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s, Jack Germond (who just died at the age of 85) was the embodiment of the old-school political journalist, mostly in a good way. He was cynical without becoming a cynic; could do shoe-leather reporting but also write it up so that it could sing; and even was a pioneer TV pundit who got out of the biz when it became too ludicrous.

His columns with Jules Witcover (published first at the Washington Star, then at the Baltimore Sun when the Star folded) were the absolute must-reads of their day. (One of my great professional accomplishments was to get them to write about how unexpectedly funny my then-boss Sam Nunn was in a speech introducing Bill Clinton). And their four “campaign books” were the best aspirants to the mantle of Teddy White before everyone realized the days of a single authoritative chronicle of a presidential campaign had passed.

I met Germond a time or two in passing, but never got to know him, so I’d recommend Charles Pierce’s tribute to him at Esquire today for a more personal account. And I’d also second Pierce’s recommendation that you read (or re-read) Tim Crouse’s 1972 classic The Boys on the Bus for a snapshot of Germond at work.

Perhaps the best indication of why Germond was a perennial throw-back was his control over his ego. Would any other big-foot journalist entitle his memoir Fat Man in a Middle Seat? I doubt it.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.