August 14, 2013
Jack Germond
Jack Germond (Washington Post file photo)

Of Jack Germond, who died Wednesday, I have little to add. You knew him almost as well as I did. As opposed to some, he was totally who he appeared to be in his numerous television appearances, particularly his long, less-than-happy stint on “The McLaughlin Group.” He did that grudgingly, a labor of labor undertaken to supplement his income — and he never pretended otherwise.

I did the McLaughlin Group with Germond — I don’t know, four of five times. He came to the set naked, no notes, no index cards with ersatz ad libs already written down. He knew what he knew, and that was quite a lot. He was, to his very bones, a newspaper man. You can fake it on TV, but not before the typewriter. There, words, not appearances, count.

I was always “the kid” to Germond. He was older, of course, but that was not what made me the kid. The appellation had been pinned on me by Germond’s longtime partner, Jules Witcover, whom I had met when he worked for a time for The Post. (Witcover and I co-authored a book about the fall of Vice President Spiro Agnew.) But even before that, I had met Germond on the storied “bus.” I guess it was the McGovern campaign.

By then, Germond was a legend. No one had read him — he then wrote for Gannett — but everyone knew of him. He commanded the bus, silently set rules of decorum. We were competitors, but we helped each other. We were not mean, we were not nasty, and we did not showboat. We were expected to do our work — to do our own work — and we looked down on many of the TV guys (but not the ones who had started in newspapers). Germond even had rules for settling meal bills.

The bus is gone now — gone as an amiable (mostly) men’s club where the candidate could, after hours, safely hoist a few. “The Boys on the Bus,” the title of Tim Crouse’s classic book, did not indulge in gotcha journalism. Among other reasons, Germond would not condone it.

I was never a regular on the bus. By 1976, I was writing a column, getting on and off the bus. For me, the bus was a terrifying place. It had cliques and rules and complex body language — who was in and who was out and what the press secretary actually meant by “background” or “off the record.” Some of the boys were not particularly friendly to the itinerant columnist, a big foot from the even bigger Washington Post. Germond was. Germond always was.

Germond had many colleagues and many of them will write something about him in the coming days. They will laud his reporting skills, his analytical talents, his total lack of pretention, his rules, his good humor and the wonderful stuff he did with the amazingly talented Witcover. I have only this to add: He was an awfully nice guy.

Jack, RIP.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.