No more Loop contests. No more T-shirts. After some 2,700 columns, this is my last. So it’s time to look back a bit and to thank those who made it happen.
Thanks first and foremost to Bill Clinton, whose ridiculously chaotic presidential transition after the 1992 election launched this column. The idea was to chronicle the vicious infighting and backstabbing ’mongst Democrats desperate for top jobs in a White House that had belonged to the GOP for 20 of the previous 24 years.
It was just a short-term thing called “In Transition,” with an expiration date of Jan. 20, 1993.
But the jobs, naturally, weren’t filled by then, so the column kept going, with the name changed to “The New Regime.”
After a few months, the regime wasn’t so new. So, over my bitter objections (it sounded goofy, too Chicago), it became “In the Loop.”
The focus quickly expanded from job appointments and Senate confirmations to writing about all manner of government non-, mis-, and mal-feasance, about the waste, fraud and abuse of our tax dollars and about bureaucrats gone bad.
For example, there was the 2007 televised press conference by retired Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson, deputy administrator of FEMA, about efforts to contain spreading wildfires out west. An anonymous agency tip led us to the fact that no reporters were at the “press” conference — the questions were softballs lobbed to Johnson by his own staff.
Another column, in March 2007, revealed that World Bank president (and former deputy secretary of defense) Paul Wolfowitz had been involved in some excellent salary raises for a bank employee with whom he had been romantically linked. The uproar led to his resignation three months later.
There were so many fun items, such as one in 2013 when Chief Justice John Roberts (whose career, by the way, I launched in 1984 when I put his then-cherubic mug in a front -page story about Ronald Reagan’s White House lawyers) was overheard telling a local Starbucks cashier that he was paying in cash because someone had gotten his credit card numbers and he had to cancel the card.
Another item revealed that then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson had supplemented his Cabinet salary by flipping houses in Alexandria. Another found Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) at a hearing last year grilling a befuddled witness until an aide passed the senator a note. “I’m at the wrong hearing,” he announced.
The column also went international, with blockbuster news that iconic singer Tina Turner, living in Switzerland, was no longer going to be a U.S. citizen.
A 2010 column noted that the “ hapless” and “increasingly loopy” Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was the biggest loser at a Washington summit for failing to score a private meeting with President Obama.
The Japanese media went wild. “Loopy” suddenly became a popular phrase in Japan, where it was printed on T-shirts (in English) with a sketch of Hatoyama. Hatoyama conceded to Japanese lawmakers: “As The Washington Post says, I may certainly be a foolish prime minister.” He was out within weeks.
I’ve written often about codels — trips by congressional delegations to find elusive foreign policy. Although apparently difficult to find, it seems to be seasonal, requiring trips to Europe in the spring and summer and to Latin America (Iguazu Falls, the Galapagos and Rio) or Southeast Asia in the colder months.
Readers sometimes ask why I write about them so much.
This is luxury travel only top business executives with private planes experience. You drop your bags at a House or Senate office and they appear at your fine hotel room. Wonderful tours already arranged. No immigration lines, no customs, no shlepping, no hailing cabs.
And in all these years, have I ever been invited to go along? Not once! Never!
Sometimes I was able to kill the most outrageous trips, such as one 12-day bipartisan tour of the Middle East ginned up by then-Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.). It started in Marrakesh, with stops in Jerusalem, Aswan (high on the Nile), then down the river to Cairo, to a Red Sea resort and on to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan and then Damascus. Twelve senators plus spouses and many aides had signed up — 36 people in all, flying business class on a military jet. After that column, one senator and an aide flew commercial to Israel, Syria and Jordan. Would-be travelers were furious at me.
But the junkets continue — the lure is just too great. Newly discovered “security concerns” are cited to keep itineraries secret at least till almost wheels up. So I was tardy writing about then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s stunning 10-day tour of China in 2011 with nine other senators, spouses and staffers — visiting dangerous, diplomatically sensitive places such as a gambling resort in Macau, Hong Kong, the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Great Wall. Those places are slightly less dangerous than McLean, Va.
And now, my thanks.
This column has always been a collaborative process, with generous and wonderful colleagues both here at The Post and even at other publications (you know who you are) feeding tips and even writing items. Often they send them because they think the public would want to have the information but that the items don’t work as full news stories. More often I get them because other reporters want complete deniability, so they can say: “I simply don’t know how he gets this stuff.” I can’t thank them enough for their contributions. (The biggest contributor is Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, with 53 named mentions.)
Thanks also to Post colleagues who had the patience to work with me on a full-time basis: politics reporter Phil Rucker, the Reliable Source’s Emily Heil and, of course, Colby Itkowitz, who’s off to anchor her own blog, Inspired Life.
And, of course, I want to thank Loop Fans everywhere who were kind enough to alert me to all manner of misdeeds by our nation’s “leaders.” The column could never have happened without you. I hope I was able to enlighten and entertain each morning.
Readers and colleagues had come to know when they heard something that was clearly an In the Loop item. It was, alas, hard to define precisely, though most likely it would generally include something about Washington officials and lawmakers behaving badly or forgetting that, without the voters, they wouldn’t be here in the first place.
In the end, though, a Loop item was something like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: You knew it when you saw it.
Finally, I want to apologize to all those who’ve been upset by items I’ve written, most especially former Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who never, ever, not even for one day, worked for Goldman Sachs.