Media Matters

Queen of Liberalism

Mary McGrory -- and the human factor -- remembered.

By 5.5.04

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WASHINGTON -- Much has been written about syndicated columnist Mary McGrory, who died recently at age 85 after a long illness. She made her mark in Washington covering the Army-McCarthy hearings 50 years ago in July. She was the darling of the liberals. But she had another side.

When the New Right first surfaced in the mid 1970s Ms. McGrory made the predictable comments about the extreme right. She called me early on and referred to me in rather unflattering terms. Not a surprise. That continued for some time, not that she gave extensive coverage to our movement.

The one day I called Ms. McGrory. I told her that while we disagreed on nearly everything, I thought she was correct in her views on Northern Ireland. She advocated that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland be re-united, a view I have long held.

"Well, bless you sweetheart," she said. We had a fairly lengthy conversation on the subject. I had visited Northern Ireland in 1982 and gave her my observations. She said, "This is so unexpected. I didn't think anyone on your side of the aisle held such views." I admitted that mine was a minority view on the right. I told her of others such as Connie and Bill Marshner who were likeminded and passionate in their views on the subject.

Thereafter, whenever Ms. McGrory referred to yours truly, it was never again with pejorative terms. Moreover, she called me many times to get background information on people and events on the right and was never as sharp-edged in her writing when addressing those subjects. Not that she ever lost her liberalism. It simply proves that, as is with the rest of us, she had a human side. When she learned that I agreed with her on an issue about which she cared deeply, she found it difficult to be as sharp edged as she had been in the past.

INDEED, I TELL MY fellow conservatives that in dealing with the media to always remember that they are real people. Of course, most of them are liberals. But they are also husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and they have varied interests.

There was a columnist who was especially nasty whenever he mentioned me. In fact, he seemed to have so much contempt for my views that I quit returning his calls. Later I heard that his child had a very serious illness. I was acquainted with the illness. A relative of mine had it when I was a kid. That child died. I wrote him a sympathetic note. He called me and said "Washington is a tough town. Lots of people knew of my situation. You are the only person who bothered to contact me." After that, whenever he mentioned me, he never again was nasty.

When I was press secretary to the senior Senator from Colorado, there was a reporter from our home state never missed an opportunity to take a shot at my boss. In due course I invited him over to my home for dinner. At the time I had small children. After dinner I was about to put the kids to bed. He asked me if he could play with them. He got down on the floor and he and they had a great time. Finally I did put them to bed. When I returned to the living room, I found this reporter with tears running down his face. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. He proceeded to tell me that he had five children. His wife left him and took them to a distant country where he almost never saw them. I expressed appropriate sympathy. This reporter's attitude toward my boss changed. I'm sure he would never admit that there was any connection between that visit and how he reported on the Senator but I am convinced that there was. I related to the reporter as a human being.

Sometimes I know of a reporter's interest and when I come across something in that field that I think he might not have seen I send it along. It makes a difference.

FROM TIME TO TIME, there are reporters or columnists who are so ideological that no matter what you do, even if you become a source of stories for them, they will still attack you. But they are in a minority. Despite the fact that most news people are liberal, because they are trained in liberal schools and associate with liberal colleagues and acquire a liberal value system, they are people with the same hopes and desires and aspirations as the rest of us. If you treat them with respect, if you look for issues you can agree on, and better yet if you can get to know them, it will be difficult for them to be as sharp edged when reporting on you than if you are some abstract right winger whose views they despise.

Mary McGrory, may God rest her soul, even as the queen of liberalism in our nation's capitol, still had a human side. From all I have heard she was a kind and decent person. And like the rest of us, when she was passionate on an issue, having found a fellow sympathizer, she simply could not attack that person the way she could before she knew their views on her favorite issue.

Despite our profound disagreements, I will miss her. She was a person who believed strongly in what she did. From her perspective, she was fighting for truth and justice. And there were times when she ended up doing just that. May she rest in a place where there is no pain, nor grief nor sighing but only life everlasting. Memory eternal!

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About the Author

Paul M. Weyrich is chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.