Drunk by noon. That’s how the Washington press corps described itself back in the bad good old days and even into the ‘70s. They’re a much more serious lot now, perhaps too serious, with grown-up manners and a code of behaviour. But around the holiday season, they lighten up a little. They did the other day when the airlines, in the form of their trade group, the Air Transport Association, called a ‘press conference.’ The ATA and its chief, Jim May, wanted to respond to the proposals from the DoT and FAA to limit flights at JFK and the other New York City airports, a big story. But by mid-afternoon, when May took to the microphone, some reporters were quite well relaxed. We’re not saying it was Christmas spirits, just the spirit of the season. So, when a reporter from the Bloomberg news agency asked the first question, a reporter from The New York Times broke the protocol that demands respectful silence when another reporter is speaking and blurted out jokingly, “hey, that’s the question I was going to ask!” The room burst into laughter, as the two are friends, and one journo noted that the prestigious New York Times could ask the same question as often as it wanted.
Then May solicited questions from out-of-town reporters on a phone hook-up; the first ‘out of-town’ journalist was from The Washington Post, which is based some seven or eight blocks away from the National Press Club, where the event was taking place. Laughter accompanied the suggestion that perhaps The Post had cut its travel budget. And then there was quiet again until a photographer spoke up. Shooters and snappers generally don’t know the subject matter they clicking away on; they could be covering a tuna-fish industry event in the morning and golf-ball news in the p.m. The lens-women, who hadn’t covered ATA before, walked up to May afterwards and said, “Hey, you give good face”. A former Marine Corps captain who saw combat in Vietnam, May was somewhat taken aback but laughed politely. Who says the fun has gone out of journalism?