The following April, two related items ran on the same day on Politifix’s “Informed Sources” gossip blog. The first came under the subhead “Wow, did you see …”:
Jack Westphal, running through D.C.’s Reagan National Thursday afternoon? Yes, it was the hunky Iowan, and just about every head turned to watch his mad dash to the gate.
It’s been a rough seven months for the legendary “Waterphal” writing team. By all accounts Westphal, who continues to publish his small newspaper and website, has struggled to weather a fair amount of outraged public opinion over his outing the dirty secrets of his former-brother-figure (and recently indicted former Republican nominee) Swan August Erickson. Opinion on Westphal’s whistle-blowing is mixed, especially in his own hometown where feelings run high, particularly since the Governor’s brother Peter committed suicide last September.
And everyone knows that Politifix’s dark and brooding Sam Waterman went to the lock-up just five days after their byline-sharing story ran, when he refused to name a source for a grand jury investigation.
So it was about time these two caught a break, or even several. As reported, on Monday they learned they’d won the Pulitzer for their exposé, in spite of some industry objections to the reporting methods they used and some ethics they ignored.
But we happen to know it wasn’t a celebration that brought the famously tall, and frustratingly publicity-shy, Westphal to town.
The buzz is he went directly to the Alexandria Detention Center. And just why was the blond Adonis visiting our newsroom rogue? The two may have their bone of contention (oh, we are too bad, aren’t we?), but it sure doesn’t stop them from working together, for the right price. And “Waterphal” is nothing if not shrewd. Separately they could make fair sums on individual book deals about breaking the Erickson story. But by insisting on a package deal, they drove publishing houses into a bidding war that we hear is bringing each man an advance that could make a Saudi prince weep for joy. The scoop is that, since Waterman obviously wasn’t free to travel, Westphal came in to iron out the details and get the contract signed.
And his sudden exit? A name-withholding jailhouse employee says Westphal’s cell phone beeped with the news that Tess Benedict, his very talented, very pregnant, artist wife (and former Trib photographer, and former Waterman … oh never mind, we all read that famous editor’s note, didn’t we?) was admitted to a Des Moines hospital, having gone into labor just a wee bit early. Westphal made it to his flight, just as they were closing the door, by jumping the queue at the security line and running like the athlete he is, to the delight of admiring ladies all through the concourse.
Did he make it in time? Yes, he was in the operating room when his daughter was delivered via Caesarian section just past midnight Friday morning. Papa tells us mother and baby Mary Katherine are “fine.” Beyond that, the quiet man would not go. But there’s no reason to think this tyke won’t do well. Like the song says, her daddy’s rich, and her mama’s good looking. And if she got his long legs and her big blue eyes, we figure we’ll finally get to see a picture of her when she’s on the cover of Vogue in about 18 years.
The next item ran under the subhead, “As for the Bad Boy …”
Things are finally looking up for Sam Waterman, too. Besides The Prize and the book deal, he was sprung from jail the same day as the Benedict-Westphal birth. (It must be hard to keep a journalist locked up when the hospital official insisting on the investigation was indicted along with Erickson.) Yeah, we know you all read about his release on the cover of almost every national newspaper yesterday. Personally, we were reassured by one of his few printable quotes when asked about the jail experience, “It was a hell of a place to quit smoking.” Still the same old acerbic Sam, itching to get back to work, right? Not quite.
He walked in to a Politifix newsroom standing ovation this morning. All his friends and even some of his old adversaries were glad to see him, after doing the First Amendment proud. General Manager Mike Dodson struck the traditional standing-on-a-desk pose to welcome him back with flowery words and a near tap-dance of delight that Politifix’s first Pulitzer was snagged under Dodson’s watch. Of course everyone seemed to have forgotten that just seven months ago, there was an office pool to guess the date he would give Waterman the ax. (Our money was on August 3rd!)
And what did Waterman do just ten minutes after the festivities ended? Word has it he walked into Dodson’s office and turned in his notice. Why? We don’t know yet. The last we saw of Sam, he was trapped in our General Manager’s office. Dodson was physically standing in front of the door and talking fast, in what we can only assume was a desperate attempt to get The Dark Prince to change his mind.
Politifix Editor and long-time Waterman friend Steve Johnson wasn’t optimistic. “Sam’s done about everything worth doing in this business. Besides, think what the guy can make in speaker fees alone.” Good buddy, photog Rick Higgins just laughed when he heard the gossip, telling us, “Anyone who went to see Sam while he was locked up knows he talked a lot about buying a place on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island. There’s some little town up there he’s always wanted to go back to.” A little town? Sam Waterman?
All we can say is that must have been one hell of an advance.