Then he talked to Carl Bernstein.
“ ‘All the President’s Men’ came out as a book and Robert Redford had bought the rights,” Gordon told me.
Gordon had read the book on the plane back from a vacation in Spain. When he saw in People magazine that Redford was looking for a Bernstein to play opposite his Woodward, he fired off a telegram to Redford’s production company seeking an audition.
“Imagine the guts or temerity to do that,” Gordon said.
Gordon figured he should get a feel for Bernstein, so he flew to D.C., booked a room at the Madison Hotel and called The Washington Post reporter. Bernstein declined to meet in person but spent an hour on the phone with Gordon.
“He was very generous with his time,” Gordon said. “He didn’t hang up on me.”
Gordon did not get the role — or even an audition. But he was okay with that.
“When I left Washington I realized I don’t want to be in a movie playing a reporter in Washington. I want to be a reporter in Washington,” he said.
Gordon moved to Washington in 1975, breaking in as a “day hire” for Channel 9, the CBS affiliate. Because his actual name was the same as a prominent D.C.-area car dealer — Herb Gordon — he adopted the first name “Chris.”
“It was a magical time,” Gordon said of those Ron Burgundy days. After work, the titans of TV — Glenn Brenner, Mike Buchanan, Pat Collins, Susan King, etc. — would hold court at the Dancing Crab restaurant behind Channel 9.
“That’s where I learned journalism,” Gordon said.
Because he was a lawyer, Gordon often covered the courts.
“I had the confidence that I could read an indictment, read an affidavit and understand it. And that I could convey it in conversational ways that a viewer could understand,” he said.
There may have been some showmanship involved, too, a holdover from his legal days. One of the cases Gordon took to trial before moving to Washington involved defending a man accused of swiping $2,000 in cash from an open safe at a small-town butcher’s shop.
“I had elicited in testimony that the $2,000 was not two thousand-dollar bills. It was a stack 4 inches high and 6 inches wide,” Gordon said.
Gordon put his client on the stand wearing the same clothes the accused had worn on the day the money went missing.
“I told him to take each pocket and pull it inside out,” said Gordon. “Given a stack of cash, where would you put that? The owner said he never saw a bulge in his pocket and never saw him hiding anything.”
The jury deliberated 30 minutes and found the defendant not guilty.
In other words: If the cash doesn’t fit, you must acquit.
Gordon spent time on the air in Hartford, Conn., and at Court TV. He also left local TV screens in 2000 to work as a lawyer before returning to journalism after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
“I’ve kept reporting separate from law,” he said. “Now I’m going back to law.” Gordon is joining the Karp Law Firm, where he will focus on personal injury and contracts work.
The occupation of lawyer does not have the best reputation. These days, neither does journalist. A lot of people, it seems, revile both professions.
“Well, I can tell you when they’re done well, they shouldn’t be reviled,” Gordon said. “I have tremendous respect for journalists and good journalism. And I have tremendous respect for lawyers when they are honest and hard-working.”
The two professions have a few things in common, he said, and some key differences. Both involve communication.
“It’s the way of telling a story and getting people to trust you and getting people to believe you,” he said. “The difference is, the guiding principle [as a journalist] is I want to be fair and balanced in everything I do. I don’t want anybody to know what I think about any controversial issue.
“As a lawyer you’re an advocate. As a lawyer you take a side. As a lawyer you’re a champion for your client.”
As for his earlier Hollywood aspirations: “I think Redford made a better choice, in retrospect.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.