Cindi Ross Scoppe

How John Jenrette made me a tougher journalist

In this 1980 photo, then-Rep John Jenrette goes over paperwork with his attorney Kenneth Robinson before one of a series of House Ethics committee hearings.
In this 1980 photo, then-Rep John Jenrette goes over paperwork with his attorney Kenneth Robinson before one of a series of House Ethics committee hearings. AP

I MET JOHN Jenrette in 1988, long after he was anybody important, but while he still knew important people — and had salacious stories to tell. It was a brief encounter, but one that taught me a lot about how to be a journalist.

George H.W. Bush had just named an obscure senator from Indiana as his running mate. I was a 24-year-old reporter who had been covering the Legislature for just a little more than a year. And The State’s legendary political reporter, Lee Bandy, was on vacation but working the phones and producing provocative tips about a then-decade-old trip to Myrtle Beach by newly minted vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle. (Repoter John Monk, by the way, tells me that the story of that trip is in the new book about Mr. Jenrette, Capitol Steps and Missteps — The Wild, Improbable Ride of Congressman John Jenrette.)

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New book tells how liquor, sex and FBI derailed S.C. Congressman Jenrette’s life

Could former SC Rep. John Jenrette have been Speaker of the House?

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Since Lee was technically on vacation, I was dispatched to the Grand Strand to do his legwork. Never mind that I needed to be in Columbia to put the finishing touches on a two-month-long investigation that was running that weekend about the infectious-waste incinerator in Hampton County.

The legwork changed daily based on Lee’s latest tips and included tracking down bartenders with names like Red and Rocky and driving out into the middle of nowhere to find John Jenrette, the notorious former congressman from the PeeDee who was supposed to have details about alleged sexual liaisons.

The unscheduled meeting was pleasant but unproductive, and I drove to the nearest pay phone, miles away, to call my editor, Brad Warthen, and tell him the former congressman refused to give me anything more than cryptic innuendo. Drive right back over there, he instructed, and march in and say, “I’m sorry, Mr. Jenrette, but that’s just not good enough."

I did as directed. And to my utter amazement, he gave me the name of a woman I eventually was able to track down at her office.

Of course, she refused to tell me anything more than the name of her attorney; if there was a story there, I never found it.

I also was never again as willing to take “no” for an answer.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.

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