Selfless Bandy taught others by example: A reporter remembers

Special to The StateOctober 21, 2013 

Aaron Gould Shenin, formerly of The State, now a politcal reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

— When I was new to the beat of covering South Carolina politics for The State, I had a pitch-perfect way of introducing myself to politicos I was meeting for the first time.

“I'm Aaron Sheinin, and I carry Lee Bandy's notebook,” I'd say, watching unsure faces light up with recognition.

It was a great ice-breaker for me and something I always was proud to say.

But Bandy used to hate it.

If he was with me, he'd always protest, chuckle and do this quintessential Bandy maneuver: He'd clear his throat, throw his right hand up in the air and deliver some round-house question to the person we were talking to.

For Bandy, it was never about Bandy, even, if for me, it was because working closely with him was the ultimate learning experience.

For young journalists – heck, for old journalists – Bandy was the best role model we could have had.

But it was a role he never sought because, through all of his work and his private life, Bandy remained humble.

It had to have been a challenge.

After all, the man's face appeared in the newspaper every week for 30 years. The State plastered his mug on billboards. He regularly was sought out by visiting television news crews. He was in documentary movies and was quoted from coast to coast.

But he never boasted. He never sought extra attention, didn't shop memoirs or political thrillers, and never pitched a talk show to CNN.

He did his job.

And I, like countless others before me, benefited.

I sat next to Bandy in The State's newsroom for more than seven years, and I treasure every moment.

A journalist of his stature at many publications might have parlayed his success into special treatment. Bandy never did. After four decades in the business, some marquee columnists start to mail it in, do just enough to keep his name on a column. Bandy worked as hard on his last day as he did his first.

I was talking recently with another former political reporter for The State, John O'Connor, and John repeated something I've said myself countless times.

“I learned more about politics listening to Bandy's side of phone conversations than anywhere else,” is how I remember John putting it.

That is the way Bandy taught. He was never a lecturer. He didn't seek you out to correct something you'd done or said or wrote. He wasn't a coach.

Instead, Bandy taught by example, and we just had to be wise enough – or desperate enough – to watch and listen.

He returned every phone call within 30 minutes and did the same with e-mail (although it was occasionally amusing to watch him fight the generational gap of technology). He unfailingly was polite, direct and understanding.

He taught us to be professional, not confrontational, unless confrontation was required or unavoidable.

He perfected what I'm afraid has become a lost art of journalism. He could meet a politician or other source for a beer in the evening and then rip that same politician in Sunday's paper.

He understood relationships are vital to the business because if nobody knows you or trusts you, they'll never tell you anything. Journalism, especially political journalism, has become so immediately confrontational that the important stuff, the inside stories that explain how our democracy functions, gets lost in the fight.

Bandy knew this and worked hard at it.

It's why Strom Thurmond would joke with him, and why Carroll Campbell's family's called Bandy – and only Bandy – to announce the former governor was suffering from Alzheimer's. It's why Fritz Hollings would cuss Bandy in one breath and share a joke in the next.

It is also why politicians and their consultants would make Bandy's desk one of their first stops on the campaign trail or why they'd call him to pick his brain about this race or that.

And it is why there are reporters all over the country who lit up my inbox as word spread recently that Bandy was not doing well. Bandy's acolytes are at The Wall Street Journal, The (Nashville) Tennessean, The (Portland) Oregonian and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to name just a few.

We all owe Bandy more than I can say. He taught us to be better journalists and journalism benefited, I think.

More than that, though, he taught all of us how to be better people, and I damn well know we're better for it.

Sheinin, a former political reporter for The State, works for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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