Pssst. Dan, I know you're reading this. Clip it, Dan. Clip this article. Half a million people are waiting.
Dan is Dan Friedman and I have just put him in an awkward position. Reporters are always asking him to clip their articles and publish them in the "Early Bird," a daily Defense Department news roundup.
But Friedman is supposed to publish the "Early Bird" without fear or favor, as journalists say.And by now he is surrounded by coworkers waiting to see if he will pick up the gauntlet.
For 15 years, Friedman has arrived at the Pentagon at 2 a.m. He peruses the nation's newspapers for defense-related articles he reprints in a form easily digested by military brass in the Pentagon and around the world.
For 15 years he has been exercising thumb and forefinger muscles in tireless devotion. Fifteen years of cutting and pasting. Fifteen years of meeting predawn deadlines, of keeping the military up to date near and far.
It is a heady responsibility, and Dan Friedman takes it seriously.
When Dan Friedman arrives at the Pentagon, the world's largest office building is so empty that the guard on duty gives him a complete rundown on who is already there.
Friedman goes through the "River Entrance," up the escalators and through several corridors to a remote fourth-floor ofice. It is quiet as night here.The klieg lights outside cast an eerie yellow glare. Friedman's only company are the stacks of newspapers and hundreds of accordion files that line the walls and a cheeseball he brought from home for breakfast.
"It's a great time to work," says Friedman, cool and trim in his open-necked polyester shirt. "But you have to be a night person to really enjoy it."
Friedman is described by his coworkers as a work hound, and he digs right in.
Two o'clock: Friedman prepares to read The Washington Post. Baltimore Sun, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, whatever is available.
Three o'clock: Friedman, scissors in hand, cuts into The Post. "I'll bet there's something in here about Congress and the budget.Because I know they were meeting yesterday."
Also around 3, Helen Young, chief of the Air Force's Current News branch, which publishes the "Early Bird," arrives. She is filling in for an ailing third member of the usual clip-and-paste trio known as "The Knights of the Round Table."
Shortly after, Simms walks in, bent under a stack of papers on his shoulder. With a groan he heaves the load on a desk, then walks away again with the coffee maker to fill it with water.
By 6, Young, Friedman and Simms must have the first "Early Birds" ready for Harold Brown's chauffeur, who delivers a copy to the Secretary of Defense at his Crystal City apartment.
They approach their deadline with quiet determination.
Four o'clock: The first printers arrive and start the offset copiers that run clickity-clack through the morning. By 4:30, two of the "Early Bird's" eight pages are ready to go to press.
Five o'clock: Friedman has not touched his cheeseball yet. It has nuts on it, but he has no time. Cool as a tower of lead despite the deadline pressures, he shows his choice of front page articles to Young. With her approval, today's edition is nearly complete.
Already, the first pages are being beamed by telecopier to the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Neb. Later, the "Early Bird" will be sent to bases across the country and transmitted by Defense communications to commands in Europe and in the Pacific.
"Many generals," says Young with pride "start their day with the "Early Bird.'"
Six o'clock: This deadline has been met, as it has nearly every weekday for almost 20 years. Soon members of various service branches will take bundles of "Early Birds" back to their commanding officers.
By 7, Friedman can relax. The delivery of the day's news has, once again, been assured. He reaches for his cheeseball and spreads some Ritz crackers.
Some would say that Dan Friedman is too serious about his work, that he guards too closely the secret of the "Early Bird" success.
"He's incorrigible," says one staffer. "One time someone handed me a Baltimore Sun, which I normally don't read. But I thought, 'OK,' and started reading it. Then Friedman came by and snatched it away from me. 'You're not ready for The Sun yet!' he said. "He only lets me read The Christian Science Monitor and The Journal of Commerce. Big deal."
One student intern, staffers say, had to wait three consecutive summers before Friedman would allow her to make up a page.
"He's not very well liked," volunteered another staff member.
Nevertheless, Dan Friedman's iron grip and proclaimed incorruptibility have helped make the "Early Bird" the envy of other government news summaries. Journalists covet its elite readership.
"There's no question that ours is the best product of its kind in the government," boasts Harry Zubkoff, who oversees the $1 million-a-year production of the "Early Bird" and related publications.
"Over the years, I must say that I've helped a dozen agencies set up operations."
Ninety percent of "Early Bird's" mail, said Zubkoff, is requests to get on the mailing list. The rest is from journalists unhappy they haven't been included, or pleased that they were.
"They say, 'Gee, thanks for putting my article in the Current News yesterday. Not only did it make a hit with me, but it impressed my editor as well.' Or, 'Gee whiz. Why didn't you use the article I wrote yesterday? It was a great article and how are we going to get the people in the Pentagon to read it if you don't print it?'"
Helen Young said part of the reason for the "Early Bird's" success is the group's willingness to say "no."
Zubkoff concedes that an occasional publicity-hungry Defense official puts decorum aside and asks for an exception.
"There may have been occasions that we have been asked to do things against our better judgment. On most occasions, we have been successful in resisting such efforts. If anyone wants to go over our heads, they have to go to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs."
Through it all, Dan Friedman remains unflinching. "Just remember to call me 'chief' of the "Early Bird," he says, munching on his cheeseball.