Sunday, March 20, 2005

LAT Political Writer Dick Bergholz, One Of A Kind

When the late political writer Richard Bergholz was writing for the L.A. Times, he used to sit well in front at news conferences, and when the politician started talking, Bergholz used to shake his head from side to side. It was very disconcerting for the politician,

Bergholz could be intimidating, too, to both his editors and colleagues, but like a lot of people in our profession, he was unforgettable.

I remember, one time, during the 1976 Florida primary campaign, I caught a ride to the Tampa Airport with Reagan's campaign bus. As usual, Bergholz was the LAT correspondent with Reagan. I had been covering Carter. But I knew Reagan well, so I mentioned to him that I was going back to California that night and asked him whether there was anything I could take back home for him. Reagan never missed a beat. "Bergholz," he said very forcefully.

One time, when he was running for President, Lloyd Bentsen came out to California for the weekend. When he got back to Washington, he told the Times' congressional correspondent, John Averill, that he had encountered in the California press corps "the worst son of a bitch I ever met." Averill responded that it had to be either Reich or Bergholz. "Bergholz," Bentsen replied.

Bergholz had an infallible instinct for when a candidate was in trouble. When Reagan made the mistake once of producing a tax plan, Dick went after it hammer and tongs until Reagan dropped it.

But Bergholz wasn't always infallible about who was doing well campaigning. Most campaign managers didn't think all that much of billboards as a means of advertising, but Dick did. He used to measure how well a campaign was doing by how many of its billboards he saw. A campaign manager knowing this once followed Bergholz home and then had billboards placed all along the route he took. The next time Bergholz saw him, although he was usually not very complimentary, he told him enthusiastically that he could see how well his candidate was doing.

It was Carl Greenberg, Bergholz's colleague at The Times, who was the subject of Richard Nixon's "last" press conference in 1962 in which he declared that Greenberg always quoted him accurately and was the only fair political reporter he ever knew. Greenberg was mortified and Bergholz was glad Nixon had not complimented him.

Neither Greenberg or Bergholz ever accepted me as a political writer, and, once, when I introduced my wife to Dick, he turned on his heels and walked away, not saying a word.

But later, when he retired, Bergholz became friendlier to me, and he used to sometimes call me up with suggestions or questions. When Dick died, his family asked me to deliver his eulogy, and I felt honored, although I don't think the family was too happy with it.

As a representative of The Times, however, Bergholz was memorably honest, and we all were glad we had him.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could Bentsen have made a mistake?

3/20/2005 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>> when I introduced my wife to Dick, he turned on his heels and walked away, not saying a word. <<<

Why would he do that? That's just plain rude, if not merely to you then certainly to your wife. If a person can be so boorish in the area of basic courtesy, then Bergholz sounded like he was a big butthole more than anything else.

3/21/2005 3:01 PM  
Anonymous DWR said...

Curmudgeonly might be a more accurate description.

When I lived in San Marino, I occasionally sat with Dick on the RTD bus into LA. One day he told me that Bill Roberts (who at that time was running George Deukmejian's campaign for Governor) was racist because a Deukmejian radio spot produced by Roberts used Slim Pickens as the voice over. He was "certain" that Pickens was used by Roberts in an attempt to remind listeners that Deukmejian's opponent, Tom Bradley, was Black.

3/22/2005 11:12 AM  
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