Stockman probe opens Debategate memories

Published 2:34 am Tuesday, December 19, 2006

By Staff
For all the national notoriety I owe Dave Stockman, I never knew my old congressman.
I met him and covered him, but he largely represented us in Washington while I was away at college.
Thanks to Stockman, Newsweek magazine wanted my photography (but I forgot to put film in my camera), the Columbia Journalism Review ridiculed me, Barbara Walters interviewed me, Maureen McFadden visited my office, my work was quoted in the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun and I stood by my story on the steps of the Daily News June 29, 1983, to the tune of the ABC World News Tonight theme song.
I dispatched my 15 minutes of "Debategate" fame quickly at 25 so I could fade back into anonymity.
My Barbara Walters wrote for the Kalamazoo Gazette, which on Friday, July 1, 1983, reported that Dee Bourdon, an Elkhart Truth correspondent from Edwardsburg, and I confirmed a quote by Stockman saying he relied on a "pilfered copy" of a Jimmy Carter briefing book to prepare Ronald Reagan for a 1980 television presidential campaign debate with Carter.
We both used the "pilfered copy" quote in reporting on Reagan's "sparring partner's" remarks during his Oct. 28, 1980, talk before 65 members of the Cassopolis Optimist Club at Diamond Harbor Inn on Diamond Lake hours before the televised debate in Cleveland.
We both were stunned at the similarity between Stockman's predictions and the televised debate.
No national media picked up our stories at the time on the briefing book issue, though it played prominently in the Daily News – eight columns across the top of the front page.
It only became national news after Time correspondent Laurence I. Barrett wrote a book, "Gambling with History."
It didn't help that United Press International carried a story quoting Stockman saying he didn't recall his comment.
Neither did banker Foster Daugherty in a conversation with the Detroit Free Press.
I told the Free Press that I was listening and taking notes while most everyone else was sipping cocktails and eating lunch, and if I had fabricated the quote, why didn't anybody complain three years before when it was fresh in their minds?
The Chicago Tribune ran a story July 14, "The moles may be multiplying," quoting my detailed Daily News account, "reprinted last week in the Baltimore Sun." The mystery deepened and "touched off internal White House battles" because of conflicting accounts given by the conservative faction (Ed Meese, William Casey) versus "such pragmatic moderates" as James Baker and David Gergen.
From the June 30, 1983, Niles Daily Star: "The growing flap over who sneaked Jimmy Carter's briefing book to the Reagan forces prior to the 1980 debate thrust the Dowagiac Daily News into the national spotlight Wednesday. As 'Debategate,' as it's already been dubbed, unfolded, ABC News flew a film crew from Chicago for an on-camera interview with Managing Editor John Eby … Stockman had just returned from four days at the Reagan retreat in Virginia, acting as the Republican nominee's 'sparring partner.' Stockman quipped at the luncheon that he was 'confused and disoriented' from pretending to be Carter."
The September/October Columbia Journalism Review dubbed it "Lategate," with "William Boot" tagging us with the immortal line, "One can't help wondering if certain newspapers in America's heartland, given the opportunity to interview Mrs. Lincoln, would have asked her how she liked the play."
You know him as Chris Hansen of NBC News' award-winning newsmagazine, "Dateline NBC," and its series of reports on men who target young teens over the Internet.
I could only laugh at criticism that we failed to contact UPI, because even after the story broke, they didn't want it from me, they wanted to pick it up from the Free Press.
I was reminded of Debategate by Stockman being a target of a criminal investigation into possible financial fraud at an auto parts company he headed before it collapsed into bankruptcy.
The investigation, expected to be presented soon to a New York grand jury, focuses on whether Stockman and other corporate officers misled investors about the financial health of the company by artificially inflating stock prices. ABC News broke the story Dec. 11.
It looks as if Stockman could face criminal charges of securities fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud.
The two-term congressman was budget director from 1981 to 1985, when he stepped down and wrote a book I bought.