Only a snake bites with a tape recorder

Years ago, when I was still working at a newspaper, the Bremerton Sun, I got a telephone call one day from a young man who said he was a student at East High School, and would like to talk to me about what it was like to be a political writer and columnist.

I was not up against a deadline at the time so I said OK. We chatted at some length, he said thank you and hung up.

Not long after that, I got a call at home one evening from a co-worker at the paper. “Guess what?” she said. “I just came from a cocktail party for East High School parents where the entertainment was playing a tape of you being interviewed by one of the students.”

There was nothing embarrassing on the tape. I mean, I didn’t swear or anything, since I was talking to a kid, but the whole thing was treated as a big joke, my friend said, because they had put one over on me.

Calling me wasn’t even the kid’s idea, it was the teacher’s, and it was piped live into two classrooms full of students. Unbeknownst to me, I had an audience of 50 or 60. Not only that, said my friend, the party wasn’t the only place the tape was being played.

My response, of course, was to write about it, and what a below-the-belt thing it was to do. Not once did this kid mention that this wasn’t just between him and me, but was a classroom event cooked up by the teacher. As it was, I was fairly loose, even telling him some funny stories about politicians that I wouldn’t necessarily put in the newspaper.

After the column about the incident appeared in print, the teacher called and apologized, saying she had destroyed the tape. This was after the Privacy Act was passed in 1967, making it illegal to record a two-party conversation without telling the other person. Not that I would have sued or anything. It was just dirty pool to tape me without telling me I was the lesson of the day for two high school classes. I might have phrased things a little differently had I known 50 or 60 pairs of ears were listening.

The point of all this being that I know a little how President Bush feels, about the secret taping of private conversations he had with longtime “friend” Doug Wead, an author, minister and former aide to Bush 41.

Bush 43 can’t know for sure exactly what he’d said and on which occasions when he was being drawn out by Wead on politics and people and the sins of his youth, but there’s an old saying, if you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said.

I suspect the president found out long ago that Wead had done this because Wead says he hasn’t communicated with him since early in his first term. I can’t believe this obviously close friendship would have ended so abruptly without reason. I think Bush has simply avoided this one-time confidante and kept his mouth shut while waiting to see what Wead planned to do.

What Wead eventually did was write a book about presidential childhoods which apparently hasn’t been selling too well so he needed publicity. He called the New York Times, told a reporter about the tapes and played a dozen of them for him, including the one that the Bush bashers pounced on in which the president indicated he had tried marijuana in his youth.

Hounded by reporters over the years to come clean about drug use, Bush has always refused to answer the question because, he said on the tape, “I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried.”

Wead insists he meant well. His “main motivation,” he told the New York Times, “was to leave the nation a unique record of Bush.” He didn’t make the tapes public to make money, he said, although he conceded it would jack up sales of his book.

His original intention, he said, was that the tapes be released only after his death. If he had any integrity at all, he would bundle up the rest of the tapes and send them to the president with an apology, but then what would he have to work from for Volume II?

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, Wash., 98340.

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