It’s not exactly a high moment in local journalism when visibly buzzed reporters amble up to Gov. Don Sundquist and offer suggestions on how to pass an income tax. But at this past Monday’s holiday buffetgraciously hosted by the governor and his wife Martha at the Executive Residencejournalists, Cabinet members, and public information officers, along with the usual assortment of ill-dressed ne’er-do-wells, loosened up for once and talked about everything from the upcoming legislative session to who was dating whom. For one night, at least, it was OK to fraternize with the enemy.
At first, however, this year’s Christmas bash looked like it was going to be a big dud. In one year the Republican governor had gone from a triumphant politician basking in the aftermath of a landslide re-election to a hapless leader, alienated by his own party and embraced by disenfranchised liberals.
With a raging tax debate that has nearly debilitated Sundquist and made heroes of the Limbaugh-lites of talk radio, it didn’t seem like the right time to party on.
At around 6:30 p.m., there were not more than 10 people under the tent, most of whom were awkwardly trying to make conversation amidst a rather modest spread, ho-hum drink selection, and run-of-the-mill cover band. But gradually the party picked up, and by 7:30, the tent was nearly full, and people were having a good time.
A dateless Henry Walker, former media critic with the Scene now with In Review, was chatting it up with WKRN-TV Channel 2 anchors Bob Mueller and Brette Lea, both of whom, by the way, actually look better in person than they do on-air. The Scene’s nattily attired Jeff Woods, his wife and kid on hand, was slumming with some past and present members of the Capitol Hill press corps, including Paula Wade of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Tennessean columnist Larry Daughtrey.
Also, the painfully ubiquitous Adam Dread, overachieving with his date Drue Smithshe with a neon flashing baseball capwas overheard talking about himself, his new enemy, Council member John Summers, and then, um, himself again.
Channel 2’s ultra-friendly Chris Bundgaard bopped from group-to-group, seemingly enjoying his acknowledged status as the one TV guy that print reporters actually respect. Finally, it was rumored that there were radio reporters on hand, but nobody cared enough to find out.
What about the governor? Well at first, Sundquist looked like he wanted to kick these strange people out of his house, but after a while he actually seemed to enjoy talking to the many reporters who, in some cases, have tormented him for five years running. He especially seemed to like handing out gag gifts to the various journalists and media outlets.
To the left-leaning Daughtrey, once a sharp critic, now a staunch ally during this tax debate, he gave a pillow to highlight the never more relevant truism that politics makes strange bedfellows.
To WSMV-Channel 4, a station oft-criticized for its sound-bite reporting about state politics, he presented a legislative Blue Book and a copy of the state budget. Finally to Mr. Woods and the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey, he gave an ornament of the governor’s mansion in honor of their “hard-hitting exposés” on the problems the first lady encountered when she tried to redecorate the Executive Residence.
Members of the Capitol Hill press corps answered back with their traditional medley of poorly sung Christmas carols, including, “The Budget is Busted,” to the tune of “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Bob Rochelle,” to the tune of “Silver Bells.” Referring to the cranky state legislator and once arch-enemy of the governor as a “reptile,” the Rochelle song played up the recurring irony of switched allegiances, pointing out that now, amidst the tax debate, the Democratic lawmaker may be the governor’s best friend.
Of course, amidst this rare truce in the media/political hostilities, there were some grumbles. Channel 4’s Dennis Ferrier, who has become a veritable celebrity for his charged on-air confrontations with the governor, remarked on the WLAC Morning Show with host Steve Gill that reporters who cover Sundquist should not have gone to the Christmas party to socialize with the governor.
Asked by the Scene to clarify his remark, Ferrier said, “I think it’s inappropriate to eat cheese balls with the governor.” Asked then to explain why he himself went to the party last year, Ferrier said everyone should go at least once to see the governor’s mansion. Especially if they’re fed those tasty cheese balls.
No pigtails Pink, just pig.
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