So much has been written in the aftermath of David Brinkley’s death that it borders on the presumptuous to add anything. But I’ll presume that my lone encounter with the iconic Brinkley qualifies.
He was speaking at Eckerd College in the mid-1980s. I was a staff writer for Tampa Bay Business Journal and had arranged for some pre-lecture interview time with Brinkley. His itinerary was cramped and his availability limited, so I shared the time slot with the Tampa Tribune’s television columnist, Walt Belcher. John Wilson was setting up nearby to do a video version.
Several things made a lasting first-time impression:
*Brinkley was taller than I thought. Talking heads have no legs, so who is to know? He was 6′-2″.
*He was, however, every bit as candid, self-effacing and wry-witted as I had expected. Television hadn’t distorted anything on that front.
*He was also professional, polite and patient. He was, after all, indulging those who were less adept at interviewing than he was.
*And, of course, there were those inimitably cadenced speech patterns. I kept thinking to myself: “This guy does a great David Brinkley.”
Most of the substantive details of the session and subsequent speech now elude me. But I do recall these:
*He called himself a “skeptic” — not a “cynic.” But he conceded he was challenged by politicians to maintain that distinction. He said the essence of the politician was “the pursuit of power.” That, in turn, led to a need to “dominate and control.” And that’s the kind of people who were coursing through the corridors of Congress.
*He said the “Kennedys never picked up a check” and buttressed it with a story I now forget.
*He said celebrity status and accompanying fame weren’t any big deal. He acknowledged that it was “temporary and somewhat superficial” and didn’t get caught up in it. He said he always kept his success in perspective; to wit: “It was TV that worked — not me.”
*He chuckled all the way through the retelling of a tale from the “Huntley-Brinkley Report” days. A woman stopped him in an airport and said: “Aren’t you Chet Huntley?” He said he didn’t want her to be embarrassed by her misidentification, and since Huntley-Brinkley was a team entity, what was the harm? So he said he was, indeed, Chet Huntley.
She then replied: “Well, I think you’re very good. But I can’t stand that idiot, Brinkley.”
It was vintage Brinkley.
We’ll not be seeing his kind again.