Oh, the life of a political reporter in the nation’s capital. What an exhilarating ride it was! From following around Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan at the Capitol (http://bit.ly/d6c9bz) to shadowing members of the White House press corps in the James S. Brady Briefing Room (http://bit.ly/aTkqA7), I’ve had some incredible opportunities this spring. I’ve interviewed White House officials in the halls of the Eisenhower Executive Office building. I’ve interviewed senators outside the doors of their weekly party lunches at the Capitol. And I’ve witnessed Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., fire question after question at Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
But I have to admit the story I’ll most remember was far from the halls of Rayburn, far from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in a small town in Illinois. There, I met Dorothy Clausen, a mother whose been grieving the loss of her son for the past 17 years, and fighting for justice. As I sat in her living room, her dog at my feet, she told me the story of how her son, Seaman Allen Schindler, was murdered. For nearly an hour, she recounted every detail: how he came out to her a year before his death, how he told his captain he was gay, how he was preparing for discharge, and how he walked into a bathroom in Japan before getting back onto his ship…but never walked out. With a quiver in her voice, she told me how two fellow shipmates beat him to death, so badly that when his body returned home, she could only identify her son by a tattoo on his arm.
I then drove with her to the cemetery where her son is buried, where she visits each Memorial Day. There, I stood in a moment of silence with her and a group of gay veterans to honor Schindler. I put my hand over my heart as we sang the pledge of allegiance. And I listened as she spoke about her hopes that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will finally be repealed. That men like her son can finally serve openly in the military. That men like her son no longer have to live a lie. (http://bit.ly/bHUGoB)
I had followed the news about the possible repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell from Washington. I had asked senators about the likelihood of repealing it while in the halls of the Capitol. Yet, the gravity and importance of the issue didn’t fully hit me until I spent a day with Dorothy Clausen, until I spent a day in her world, looking at pictures of her son hanging on the wall and listening to memories of her son from nearly two decades ago.
I’ve had an incredible time getting a glimpse into the life of a political reporter. I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to be a Capitol Hill reporter, trying to catch congressmen to interview on the underground trams or right outside an elevator before filing a story from the press gallery. I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to be a White House correspondent, firing questions at the press secretary before heading back to the cubicles behind the briefing room or out to the lawn for a live shot. The life a political reporter can be incredibly exciting, meeting the people who are shaping history and witnessing the events that are shaping history. Yet, I realized that while reporting on politics can be exhilarating, it’s the everyday people, the grieving mom, the 13-year-old boy with a knack for geography(http://bit.ly/aLhzKz), the little girl who dreams of being a computer scientist (http://bit.ly/a50i45), that I most enjoy interviewing. So I leave the nation’s capital full of memories and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but also ready to step back outside the beltway.