Washington Press Club Foundation
Virginia Pitt Sherlock:
Interview #3 (pp. 84-117)
February 20, 1993 in Stuart, Florida
Lesley Williams Brunet , Interviewer

Go to Session One | Session Two | Session Four
Index | Cover | Home
Page 84

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Pitt: I look back on that and think, overall, it was a good thing, and it was a healthy thing that we questioned and challenged our own government to the extent that we did, and I'm sorry it's not done more now, to tell you the truth. I think kids on college campuses now are not nearly as active and committed and dedicated as we were, but maybe we're just waiting for the pendulum to swing back. I don't know.

Brunet: Were you also involved in the other protest movements, such as civil rights and women's rights?

Pitt: Yes. In fact, of course, we were in sex-segregated dorms. There were no men in the women's dorms, and vice versa, and there were some very strict rules. Believe it or not, we had to be in our rooms by 9 p.m. every night, except on weekends I think we were allowed to stay out until eleven, maybe midnight, I can't remember. But I can remember marching around the women's dormitory, chanting, "Um baw gowwa, we got the powwa!" I don't remember where that came from or what, but this was the chant that we were all using, and the whole purpose of that was to open up the dorms so that the women could go out. I think the men's dorms had no restrictions on the hours. They didn't have to be back at a certain time, but the women did. We had to be back in the dorm. They literally locked the doors. There was a back way you could get in, but if you opened that door a big alarm went off and everybody came running, so they would know that you had come in late. I believe that there was a real disparity between how they treated the men in the dorms and how they treated the women.

Oh, yes, we marched around and we chanted and we sat in and did all those things where you sit in the dean of women's office, I guess we did. I don't really remember a lot of details about what happened. I believe we got some changes on the hours. I don't think that we got them completely lifted, but I do seem to think we got them expanded somewhat. And it wasn't too many years after I left that they had co-ed dorms and things opened up, but when I was there it was very different from what it is now.

Brunet: Were you also involved in the civil rights protests?

Pitt: I don't remember too much about that. I can remember going to programs. I remember Dick Gregory* coming to speak, and I can remember going to those programs and certainly being a participant in signing petitions and whatever things were going on.

At one point during my college career, of course, I was in West Virginia, and Senator [Robert C.] Byrd, who still is in the Senate, but he's given up his leadership position, but he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan apparently back in the fifties or something, and I can

* Dick Gregory (b. 1932), comedian and civil rights activist.

Page 84

Page 85

remember the petition drives going around to impeach Senator Byrd because of his membership in the Ku Klux Klan. I can remember that being a big issue, and I can remember passing out petitions and participating in that. Obviously he wasn't impeached, so I don't know what kind of outcome there was, or what even was done with the petitions. I don't remember who we were petitioning.

Brunet: I was thinking that you had some family connection with Senator Byrd. Your father?

Pitt: Friend. Not related in any way, but as a friend, yes, because I would go to Washington from time to time and would always go into his office. Southern politicians are great with constituents, anyway. They really know how to work constituents. They would drop whatever they were doing and come out and greet you like a long lost relative, even though you're not, and he was certainly no different. I haven't seen him in years and years and years. But I can remember doing this as a teenager and as a very young woman.

Brunet: But then you were signing petitions to get him out of office.

Pitt: Yes, impeached.

Brunet: Did your father know you were doing this?

Pitt: I don't know. I'm sure he did. I'm sure he did, and I'm sure he just thought it was nonsense. My father never got too upset about things like that, because he knew that nothing was going to happen. It's the attitude that I took years later which would enable me to vote for Jerry Brown,* because I know he isn't going to win, but I can make my little statement. I think my dad looked at those things that way.

I think I had a discussion with him years after I got out of college, about whether I had embarrassed him in any way, because he was a senior professor on the campus and very well respected and part of the administration, really. I often wondered whether having a sit-in in a dean of women's office or passing out petitions to impeach Senator Byrd was embarrassing to him, and it didn't bother him a bit. He thought I was entitled to do whatever I wanted to do, and it was no reflection on him. He never felt that it was. We disagreed on virtually every political issue that ever existed, and he knew that and I knew that, but that didn't really affect our relationship. We were able to separate the intellectual disagreements from more emotional disagreements. So I really don't recall his having any problem with that. Of course, I did live in a dorm; I wasn't living at home, and that made a difference, too. I did have a certain level of independence, that he may not have known about certain things. But I think I probably told him about most of it, just to sort of "dig" him a little, if nothing else, just get something started.

Brunet: This early involvement in protests, I was wondering if you'd thought about the origins of that. Does this come from family background or was it the spirit of the times?

Pitt: I think it's far more the spirit of the times. Whatever family background or family influence in it I suppose would come just from an attitude in my family that you do what you think is right and that you speak out. Both my mother and my father were not the least bit shy about giving their opinions on things, and supporting people who were especially people who

* Jerry Brown, former governor of California, and liberal candidate for Democratic presidential nominee in 1992 primary elections.

Page 85

Page 86

didn't seem to have the equipment, whether it was the intellectual equipment or whatever, to speak for themselves.

My mother, I always felt, was on that far extreme of what I guess they call paternalism, as far as racial issues are concerned. My mother was always very gentle and very sweet and very kind. She always felt that blacks needed to be helped or assisted, and that they were somehow—"inferior" isn't the right word. That's not a word that I could really apply to what she felt. She just felt that she had a duty or an obligation, I guess, to do what she could to bring blacks along, but it was not from a position of equality that she was looking, it was really from a position of superiority, I think. She didn't intend it to be offensive, but that was her attitude. I was never taught to feel badly about people of other races; I was taught to feel that we should help, we should do what we can to help.

When I went to college and I went to school with blacks and lived in a dorm with blacks I got a different perspective on what I could do to help, which was not so much patting someone on the head and saying, "Here, let me take you by the hand," but just being supportive while they were able to do what they could for themselves. But I think that the spirit of the times was more powerful than anything else at that time.

Brunet: As I'm listening to your comments, I'm wondering about the relationship between your involvement in these kinds of protests and your taking a stand on the suit, in terms of did you feel an obligation.

Pitt: Well, I'm sure I did. That was because in the suit, the women—everybody, but women in the AP were spread out all over the place, and there were a lot of small bureaus where maybe a woman would be the only woman in the bureau, maybe the only person in the bureau, but certainly the only woman in the bureau, so that women in the AP were really very geographically isolated, and it was very difficult for a woman in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to get some sort of support because of the lack of physical proximity.

Since I was physically located in New York, where I was surrounded by more people, but also had access to all the bureaus because of the work I was doing, I was talking to these women on the phone every day and once a week, I felt like I was some sort of a central point that they could focus on that had more to do with my physical location and the job that I did than anything else. I felt especially badly for the women who were in the smaller bureaus who didn't have any support, who didn't have anybody around them telling them, "This is not the way you're supposed to be treated," or that, "You have some options here." I felt especially bad for those women. I think I did feel a special obligation that I knew things they didn't know, because I had talked to so many women and I could put it all together. I was not isolated; I was just the opposite.

So, yes, I think there was a certain amount of obligation there. In fact, I can remember talking to Jan Goodman about that and saying, "I'm not sure that I have a claim. I don't think I do have a claim, but I know about all these others. I'm the one person who has information from hundreds of women. So I need to be involved in this for that, in order to get those people to participate." I think when this started I did not think that I had an individual claim. I mean, I was doing pretty well. I was on the general desk, I was in New York. I was doing all right. I just didn't know what all the men were making. [Laughter.]

Brunet: We talked about that. As I reread it, it was very good. Do you see any other relationship between taking a stand in your earlier years and taking a position on the sexual discrimination case?

Page 86

Page 87

Pitt: I don't know that I do. I never really thought about it. I suppose that if you're the type of person that takes a stand in one thing, you take a stand in another. I suppose that's true. I never really thought about it or tried to relate things. I guess there's something to be said for that. Maybe it's a character trait. But I never really thought about it. I still have it. I still do it. That's my profession now, you know; I argue for other people.

Brunet: I was going to ask you about that.

Pitt: That's what I do. I take their problems and try to solve them, and their problems become my problems. One of the things I say to my clients almost daily is, "Okay, we've had our little conference and now I know all about it. Now you go home and stop worrying about it. I get to worry. That's what you pay me for. Now I'll take care of it, one way or another, and I'll worry and I'll fret. You can stop." And I guess that's really the same thing, where you're taking a stand for someone else's benefit. Only now I get paid for it. [Laughter.] Sometimes.

Brunet: We may follow up more on this relationship when we talk about your movement into the law.

When you were involved in the suit, did you feel that you could really make a difference in that corporate structure?

Pitt: Yes, I always did. I knew we were, because we upset them so much, so I knew we were going to make a difference. I never doubted that we would make a difference. I had doubts that we would be entirely successful, and I had doubts that we would ever really make the AP executives see the light. I never thought that they would really get it, but I thought at least we would force them to do something, even if it was something that they did because they were required to, and not because they wanted to or understood. I worked with a fellow on the general desk, an older gentleman named Ed Dennehy, who used to make changes in copy that would come in, to remove sexist references, and he would say, "I don't really understand why I'm doing this, but I just know if I don't change this, Ginny's going to yell at me." My feeling about that was that was okay. I didn't really care whether he understood or not. I would prefer that he understood it, but if he didn't understand it or wouldn't understand it, at least he knew he needed to change it. I think I felt the same way about the AP and the suit, that we might not get a real understanding or a real acceptance, but, by golly, we were going to make a change. I did feel that way.

Brunet: Do you feel like the AP has done some backsliding since that time?

Pitt: I don't know. I don't have any contact, really, with the AP to know that. I see bylines in the newspaper, and I sure see a lot of male bylines out of Washington and foreign assignments, which were traditionally where women had difficulty getting the good stuff. I do see a lot of male bylines, but I don't know what that means. A lot of times, bylines get knocked off and it just says "AP." So it may be that I just don't see enough bylines to make an informed judgment. I don't have any idea at this point what the corporate structure of the AP is like, whether there are any women in any managerial roles other than out in the field. I don't know. I haven't had any contact. I'm trying to think of the last time I talked to someone from AP; it's been a long time. So I don't know. I wouldn't even hazard a guess on whether there's been backsliding.

Brunet: You mentioned your father and taking a different stand from him. I think you said, when we spoke during my last visit, about your father being against your getting involved in the suit.

Page 87

Page 88

Pitt: Yes.

Brunet: As the suit progressed, did he continue to be opposed?

Pitt: No. He never really said that he thought it was a good idea, and I don't think he ever did think it was a good idea, but he wasn't harping on it or telling me he thought I should drop it. He never told me to drop it, he never did. He thought it would be harmful to my career, and it was. There's no doubt about it. He was absolutely right. It was harmful to my career. That's the truth. He was opposed to my getting involved, because he thought that that would pretty much end my career with the AP, and that was right, but I made a choice, and I knew that going in. I knew that going in, that I was not going to come out as chairman of the board. I knew that. It's a choice I made, and I guess I decided if I'm not really going to get anywhere without the suit, what difference does it make? And I think that was true. I don't think I would have gotten anywhere without it, because women weren't. We just weren't.

In subsequent years, I have looked back and felt that, and I've had other women tell me that they understand that I and the other named plaintiffs in many ways sacrificed ourselves or our careers for them. I think that's a little too strong, you know. We made choices. We had choices. I went on. I still worked at newspapers and had a career beyond the AP, so I think "sacrifice" is a bit strong. But I think we definitely did give up any real chance to personally participate in the higher levels of the AP when we did that, because AP was mad at us, and I would be, too, if somebody sued me. I wouldn't be all that happy with them.

Brunet: As the suit was concluded, did your father make any more comments, or did you ever discuss that?

Pitt: I don't think I remember. I don't think I remember discussing it with him toward the end. I think we may have discussed the money involved. When I say "the money involved," I mean more what it cost the AP, more than what I got out of it and what any of the other plaintiffs got out of it. I think we may have discussed that, and he may have been somewhat shocked at that. I really don't remember any other discussions with him about the suit and the outcome. You have to understand, it went on over such a long period of time that it was almost anticlimactic when it was done. It's like the old movie star, you say, "Gee, I thought he was dead. I thought he died ten years ago." It was like, "I thought this thing settled ten years ago." It just took so long that when it finally ended, it was with a real whimper.

Brunet: He was not a union man, correct?

Pitt: Oh, no. Just the opposite.

Brunet: Did he ever comment on the union's involvement in the suit and your involvement with the union?

Pitt: No, I don't remember his ever doing that. He really, really felt that I could do what I wanted to, and he would offer his advice or comments, either solicited or unsolicited, but I never got the feeling that he was really all that disapproving of what I was doing. He didn't think it was a good idea, but if I wanted to do it, "Yeah, go ahead." I didn't get the impression that he would think any less of me or any more of me if I did one way or the other.

Brunet: And your mother?

Page 88

Page 89

Pitt: She's hard to read. I think she was outwardly a little disapproving, but inwardly not so. Certainly in her later years she's become as much of a feminist as anybody I know. She really got worked up over the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment]. And in Florida some legislator who's been around here for years and years and years, very popular and everybody loved him, my mother wouldn't vote for him for anything because he voted against the ERA in the state legislature twenty years ago. So she really has started to at least express more openly things that I didn't know for sure how she felt. She sort of kept quiet. She didn't say too much. She's supportive. She's always supportive of what we do, my brothers and me. She never gives us a hard time. But I think she was more in favor of it than my father was. I think she was.

Brunet: What about your brothers?

Pitt: My older brother just thought it was a bunch of nonsense. My younger brother I don't think cared one way or the other. [Laughter.] Not interested. I can't remember ever really talking to them about it.

Brunet: And yet this was something very important in your life at one time.

Pitt: Well, we were physically separated by many, many, many miles. I didn't get together with my family that often, even on the holidays. I was usually working. I worked every Christmas until I think after I left the AP. I don't think I went a single Christmas or Thanksgiving or Fourth of July or other major holidays I didn't work at the AP. Part of that was because you got extra pay for working holidays, and part of it was because I didn't have family around I used to volunteer to work the holidays so that my co-workers who did have family around could be free to spend it with them. That was sort of a personal thing that I liked to do. I felt comfortable working those holidays when I knew that somebody else was going to be able to spend it with their family. But I didn't really get together with my family that much physically during those years, because it was just too far away and I was working and working hard just like I do now. I just didn't take much time off. So when you talk on the phone with them, you were more inclined to just sort of catch up on family things than to talk about this.

Brunet: I have to admit, I'm not sure I would ask this of a man, but I feel that I should bring it up. You've mentioned several times earnings were very important to you. Why was that so important? You've even said you didn't have time to travel, to do things with it.

Pitt: I don't know. I don't know why it was important. I can remember being very, very young, a little child, and thinking that it would be nice to have a lot of money. I grew up in a very middle class, or upper middle class, background. I wasn't poor. I wasn't impoverished. I guess perhaps at that time, and I'm not sure it isn't still today, but at that time perhaps the amount of money you made was a measure of your success. The more money you made, the more successful you were. Maybe that was it, the idea that if I could just make lots and lots of money, I would be considered successful.

Brunet: Considered successful by others?

Pitt: Yes, I guess.

Brunet: Or by yourself?

Pitt: I never really thought about it. The obvious thing is you like to have money so you can buy things, and it's funny, I'm not particularly materialistic and never was, and am still not.

Page 89

Page 90

I don't know what I spent it all on. I eat out a lot. [Laughter.] I do. So maybe I eat a lot of my money. I don't know. I never really gave it a whole lot of thought, I guess. It just seemed like that's the purpose of work. Why do you work? You work to make money. So the more money you make, the better you are at your work, I guess.

Brunet: Do you see what I mean about I'm not sure I'd ask a man that? It's accepted. It's a Catch-22 question.

Pitt: I learned a long time ago, and it's always been a thing for me, that you should get paid for your work, and women in a lot of traditional areas do not get paid. We don't get paid certainly for being wives and mothers, and a lot of the volunteer work that women do is unpaid work. I'm violently opposed to unpaid work. I'm not opposed to the concept of volunteerism, and I do a lot of pro bono work, but I would be opposed to—at the AP, for instance, there were a lot of people who wanted to get ahead, and their idea of getting ahead would be to do extra, but not turn in their overtime sheet. So they would put in an extra three hours and not get paid for it. I thought that was demeaning. I thought that when you just gave away what you were doing then it was an expression that you devalued your skills or your talents. So I would always insist on getting paid for whatever I did.

Journalism, in a lot of areas, especially in TV, has what they call unpaid interns. These are kids, usually college kids, who come in and work for the summer, and they either get paid nothing or they get paid just a pittance, and the idea is, "Well, they're learning, and this is part of their learning experience." But I really object to that, because I think you're demeaning them and you're devaluing their labors, and if they're not helping you, if they're not doing anything that's contributing, what are they doing there? Don't have them hanging around; they're just getting in the way. So I think you either pay people or you don't use them.

Brunet: You had also said earlier that the AP was the best training ground in the world. Why did you say that?

Pitt: Because you have to work very fast and you have to work for whole bunches of different editors. You had whatever it was, I don't know, back then, nine-thousand-member newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, whatever, and every one of them was your boss. You'd get a call from some little two-bit daily in who knows where, and if that guy wanted a story, you said, "Yes, sir," and you got it for him, and you got it as quickly as you could. There's the old cliché about in the wire service you have a deadline every minute, but that's true. Somewhere there's a member outlet somewhere whose deadline is right now, so you can't take two days to put a story together. You can't take three hours to put a story together. You have to work very, very quickly. You have to produce a lot of material, and you have to do it very quickly. You have to be excruciatingly accurate. That is just the absolute most important thing. You have to respond to what we would call the member requests. Again, you could be talking to some little copy editor, the lowest of the low, but you didn't know that. The guy on the other end of the phone is your boss, and when he calls and tells you he wants something, you get it. It really teaches you a lot of discipline, it teaches you speed, it teaches you the importance of accuracy.

The AP always had extremely high standards, really exaggerated standards in terms of journalistic ethics and practices, about not accepting free gifts or paid vacations and things like that. I think they went to extremes a lot of times. I can remember being in the bureau in Boston when some company sent over this huge box full of—I can't even remember what they were now. It's like nutcrackers or some little devices, and they were really cute. I guess this company made them or something. But we had to dutifully pack them all up and ship them back. Nobody was

Page 90

Page 91

allowed to keep them, because we didn't want to be accused of accepting favors or gifts from people that we might be covering. No newspaper or TV station or anything that I'm aware of has standards anything like the AP's standards in terms of strict ethical practices, so you learn those, and you learn sometimes that you can bend them, but not at the AP, you don't. So in terms of the training ground, they really take the high road, or they did at that time, and they teach you the very top of the profession. Then you can later, if you want to, play with it or adjust it. You can do that. But you've learned it the right way and the way it's supposed to be done.

The only deviation that I know of from that was that there was some belief—and I'm convinced that it's true, although I have no evidence—that the AP did allow the CIA to use it for some nefarious purposes where there were apparently a couple of AP staffers who were, in fact, CIA operatives, and the AP apparently knew this and allowed it to go on, which I found really reprehensible.

Brunet: We're talking about foreign?

Pitt: Yes. And it was funny, there was one correspondent, whose name I can't even remember—if I could remember it, I'd say it, but I can't remember it—who was a young guy, very young guy, didn't have any experience that any of us were aware of, and, of course, you've got to have two years with a newspaper before you can be hired by the AP at that time. That was just a standard. But he didn't seem to have any journalistic experience that any of us were aware of, and he was only about twenty-six. He was a young fellow. Geez, he always got the greatest assignments, you know. He'd be in Vietnam, and then when things started heating up in South Africa, he'd be in South Africa. Then when things started heating up in Central America, he'd be in Central America. He just got the greatest assignments. So we were all convinced he was a CIA operative. He certainly wasn't a reporter. Now he filed stories and his byline ran, but we were all just amazed that this young fellow with very little experience seemed to be getting such plum assignments all over the world. Every time something heated up, there he was. I don't know what ever happened to him.

Brunet: How objective were his stories?

Pitt: I don't remember. He didn't do that many stories. That was another thing. You're sent to a hot spot, you do stories, so he did do stories, but he wasn't really cranking them out. He wasn't Peter Arnett or anything like that. He would do a story here or a story there, and then off to another hot spot. We were all very convinced. We used to go out after work and have drinks, and we all agreed. There were a couple of others that we had our suspicions about, but that one, we were certain. But as I say, no evidence, nothing to put my teeth into.

Brunet: So I assume those ethics included high objectivity.

Pitt: Oh, yes. It's a different style of journalism, and I think the style has changed. I read stories all the time in not only local newspapers, but I read the Miami Herald, I read a lot of newspapers, and there's a far more subjective bent to reporting now than there was then. It doesn't always bother me; sometimes it does. I'd just as soon not see it. I see it on TV a lot. The reporters inject themselves into stories. I don't like that. AP would never allow that, never permit you to inject your own personal either experiences or beliefs. I was watching a TV report the other day about Haiti, and this young man is standing in front of the camera with his microphone, and he begins to tell us about how he was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic some years ago, so he has a personal understanding and knowledge of what's going on in Haiti. And I'm thinking, "Why is he telling me this? I don't care about his background.

Page 91

Page 92

I don't care what he did. I want to know what's going on in Haiti. I want to know what's going on behind in there." And I see more and more of that, and I think it's very self-indulgent. I think it's egocentric to do that. It doesn't convey anything to the viewer or the reader, it really doesn't. I think it's just self-indulgent, so I don't approve of it.

Brunet: Does this lack of objectivity cross all subject areas?

Pitt: Yes, I think so.

Brunet: Naturally, politics comes to mind.

Pitt: Politics and sports. Sports, that's where it's the worst. "Our team," you know. You can always tell when somebody is writing a story which team they're rooting for. I think sports has been traditionally the place where this lack of objectivity has been the worst. Politics, yes. But I think it's everywhere now. It's very rare for me to read a story in a newspaper or even hear it on the TV, of any length, where I don't cringe at at least one sentence or one suggestion that I feel is editorializing. That's what we used to call it. I think now they call it color, giving something color.

Brunet: I don't suppose you have any idea as how that happened to evolve or if you can identify a time when it changed.

Pitt: I don't know that I can. I used to think it had something to do with the fact that you didn't used to have a college degree to be a reporter or editor. You had to just have some grit and some common sense and be able to go out on the street and report things accurately, and a lot of news outlets would hire you whether you had a college degree or not. Then all of a sudden, I don't know all of a sudden when it happened, I guess in the seventies and early eighties, you had to have a college degree. That became very important. Nobody was going to be hired without a college degree. And some of the best reporters I've ever known have not had college degrees, but they've had something else, whatever it is that makes them really fine reporters and writers.

I don't think that colleges—and I say this as the daughter of a journalism professor—I don't think colleges are turning out good journalists. I don't. I think their equipment is archaic.

Brunet: What do you mean by equipment?

Pitt: They're not using the computers and the types of things that you run into when you get into the business. Maybe they are now, but I think for the most part they're not. I don't know whether that's a lack of funds or a lack of knowledge on the part of the people who are ordering the equipment, but I don't think they're teaching journalism students the things that journalism students really need to know to be good journalists. I think this is in a lot of industries, I think it's this way in law school, too, the teachers are not people who have done the work. The teachers are not people who have come out of the profession; the teachers are people who come out of journalism school, but they don't come out of journalism. The kids I don't think are getting really basic instruction. I think they're getting a lot of theoretical instructions. I think they're being taught to inject themselves and to think about things and inject their thinking into what they're doing.

A lot of what I learned was very rote—the who, what, when, where, why, how. It was formulaic in many ways, and every now and then we could deviate from it, but pretty much we followed the formula. I'm not saying that that's necessarily good. I'm not saying that there can't

Page 92

Page 93

be some tinkering with it, but if you had a story and you had ten reporters in the fifties, the stories wouldn't deviate that much. They'd be pretty much the same. But if you send ten reporters now to cover the same story, it's just all over the field, because everybody's got a different idea about how you should approach it or what you lead off with or the slant that you take. I think that's not good, and I think it's probably because it's coming from the journalism schools and because so many places are requiring a college degree before they'll hire you.

Brunet: How important is the more broad-based college education?

Pitt: You mean just a general liberal arts education or something?

Brunet: Right.

Pitt: I don't know. I think you really do need to have some training and some education in journalism and writing. I think you have to have that. I think you have to have a more broad-based interest. The best journalists that I know are people who are very well read and they're very articulate on a number of different subjects. They're not narrowly focused. I'm not sure that a liberal arts education is necessarily what you have to have to be that way, as long as you have the interest in a lot of different areas and enough initiative to read about them or learn about them. I do think that's important. But I would be reluctant to say that someone with no journalistic training at all should be a reporter. In fact, I think that may be a problem, too. You can be a great English major and you can write great essays, but that doesn't make you a good reporter or even a good writer for magazines or newspapers or certainly TV or radio.

Brunet: Let me flip the tape.

[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]

Brunet: Do you have anything more you'd like to add about what makes a fine reporter and a columnist?

Pitt: Yes. The most important, I think, is someone who has very broad-based interests, someone who's interested in a lot of things and can talk about a lot of things, and if not have knowledge about a lot of things, ask questions to learn about a lot of things, and someone who is not so self-centered or self-indulgent that they forget what they're doing, they're not just on some little ego trip to write about what they know and what they think and what they think everybody else ought to think.

Brunet: I noticed in reading over the transcripts, even at an early age you seemed very confident and sure of yourself and your abilities. I was wondering how important you think that is to be a successful journalist.

Pitt: I suppose that it's awful important in a number of fields, journalism among them, because what you're doing—and I'm speaking from the point of view of a newspaper reporter right now, although it certainly applies to the other disciplines—really is you are serving as the eyes and ears of the readers, the public, for an awful lot of things, including the courts, which is, after all, a public institution, and the schools and city council and the Congress. These are all institutions that exist to do the public's business, but the public, now it seems more with C-SPAN and all, CNN, but the public doesn't always get to sit in the courtroom or in the council chambers or in the Senate gallery. They don't know what's going on unless you tell them.

Page 93

Page 94

So I suppose there's a certain level of arrogance that enters into it, that, Who do you think you are that you're going to go to this meeting and you're going to tell me what was important about it? It's a three-hour meeting, and you're going to come back in four-hundred words and tell me what happened at that meeting. Who do you think you are, that you can pick out, out of a three-hour meeting, four-hundred words worth of all I need to know? So I don't know whether that's arrogance or confidence, but I think you have to have that. You have to feel that you can do that. You have to feel that this is what was important. Out of that whole three hours, this is what was important, and this is what I need to tell everybody. This is what everybody needs to know.

I guess there's a thin line between confidence or arrogance. I guess that's where it comes in. A surgeon who goes in and is going to repair somebody's body, or an attorney who goes in and is going to keep someone from going to the gas chamber, I mean, those seem much more dramatic, but I'm not sure it is any more dramatic than being the eyes and the ears of people who otherwise would not know what their government is doing or what this corporation is doing or even what the sports team is doing, I guess.

Brunet: I think you had said that you were not afraid of taking a stand at AP, because you were very good at what you did. What made you so good at what you did for the AP?

Pitt: I don't know. I have no idea. I don't know. I think I did get good training in journalism school, after I've just spent ten minutes ranting and raving about journalism school. But the teachers that I had really were practicing journalists and were lured into teaching really by my dad, who felt I think fairly strongly that he didn't want anybody teaching a course in magazine-writing who had never published a magazine article. So I did have training from really tradespeople. They were good at their trade or their craft, which was journalism. They weren't just teachers. I hate to say that. I don't mean to be impugning the abilities of teachers to teach, but I learned from people who knew what they were talking about. I did intern. I got paid for it, by the way. [Laughter.] A normal beginning reporter's salary, I think.

I suppose that, the training, and an interest in doing well, and associating with people that I felt were good reporters, and learning from them, that's a very important thing. I suppose there's something to be said about going most of your adult life and not really having friends who aren't in your same profession. That's not necessarily a good thing. But that's really what happened to me. Most of my friends were, and are, journalists. We would sit around and hash things out and criticize each other, but more often criticize somebody who wasn't there at the time. You learn from that. I suppose that's what made me good.

Brunet: Since you mentioned your friends, I was going to ask you, especially during the time when you were working so many night shifts and overtime, what kind of effect did that have on your social life?

Pitt: Since most of my friends were also in the profession, they also had the same kind of screwy hours. I remember most of the time being in rather large groups, rather large rowdy groups. When you'd get off work, you'd go out and you'd have drinks and talk about things. We didn't all that often talk about work, but we'd talk about movies and we'd talk about plays and we would talk about other people. So I don't remember it limiting my social life, except as far as normal people were concerned. I certainly always had groups of people who were ready, at the drop of a hat, to go out and have a drink. We didn't go to other people's houses very much. A lot of that, I think, is just being in New York. It's just easier to go to the local bar or restaurant or something. You didn't often go to people's houses. I do remember one time we all piled into the

Page 94

Page 95

subway and went out to Howard Angionne's house in the suburbs. Howard Angionne was on the general desk, and he was one of the odd breed who lived in the real suburbs, where there were trees and sidewalks. It was really something. We were all amazed. He had a basement rec room with paneling in it and stuff. It was like something out of the movies, and we all got a kick out of that. We went out to Howard's one night till about four in the morning. I think his wife was ready to kill us all, but we had a wonderful time. But that was like a real adventure. That was a real foray, a journey, to go to somebody's home.

Brunet: Is that because the city is so large?

Pitt: I think so. The city is large and everybody's spread out. Everybody lived in teeny tiny little apartments, you know, and it was expensive. You didn't have an apartment big enough to have ten people in there, you really didn't. As I said, it was just so convenient to just go to the local bar or restaurant or whatever, everybody throw their money on the table, and there was always enough. You could be rowdy and not worry about disturbing your neighbors and that kind of thing. But I would have said I had a very active social life, despite the hours.

Brunet: Let me ask a few more scattered questions, and then we'll talk about, as you say, the career beyond the AP. You had mentioned something very early on about a book, My Mother, Myself, and how it had a big impact on you. Do you remember the author of that?

Pitt: Nancy Friday.

Brunet: Why did it have such a big impact on you?

Pitt: For one thing, it made me see a lot of my mother in myself, which I never saw, I never thought. In fact, I always thought that I wouldn't be anything like my mother, and I didn't want to be anything like my mother. I thought my mother was too "mothery." I didn't really see her as an individual person; I saw her as a mother. It's very hard to picture your mother as anything other than your mother, and I didn't want to be that. I wanted to be a career woman, successful and rich and all those things, and I didn't want to just be my mother. When I read that book, I became aware of the fact that it really was true that sometimes when I would laugh and I would hear my mother's laugh, it really was me, you know, and all these things that all of us now go through and know—words coming out of my mouth that were my mother's words, and they're coming out of you. It all made sense to me.

The book just sort of laid it out that, first of all, it happens to everybody, and, second of all, it's not a bad thing. Third, take a look at what your mother really is and who your mother really is, and look at her not as your mother, but as a person. I just became amazed when I sat down and did that, and I realized that my mother was really a very brilliant woman. She really is. She's very cultured and she's very educated and she's very knowledgeable about things.

My father was such a dominant character and such a forceful, powerful figure, I always thought of my mother as being sort of a meek little mousy thing with no real personality on her own. But when I began thinking about it more and examining it more, I realized she really had a wonderful personality of her own that was entirely independent of my father, and she manipulated my father in many ways that I wasn't aware of, because I wasn't paying attention. I sat down and wrote her a letter, that I was really bowled over by what a neat person she was, and I hadn't really ever thought of it before. So I guess what the book really did was make me just stop and look at my mom, and I do see a lot of her in me, and now I'm just delighted to have a lot of her in me. I wish I had more of her in me. I think I have a lot of my father in me, it's not all

Page 95

Page 96

of his good qualities. But it forced me to look at my mother as an individual and not just as my mother, and to realize that she's really quite a lady.

Brunet: Do you remember how old you were when you read the book?

Pitt: I was working in Cincinnati, so I must have been early twenties.

Brunet: You had also said that you had tried not to emulate other writers and tried to develop your own style. How did you develop your own style?

Pitt: Well, I don't know. One of the things you do is when you write something and it looks familiar, you change it. I would write something, and I'd say, "Wait a minute. That's trite. I've seen that before. I don't know where I've seen it, but I've seen it before. So let me just change that just a little bit so it doesn't look so familiar." I guess that's probably the biggest thing. When you read a lot, that's the danger of reading a lot, you absorb things, including the style of the people that you're reading. If it's especially nice, you have a tendency to spit it back out, even five years later when you're in a situation where you can write on a similar subject. You have to be sort of careful about that. I've written a lot of things where I started off, I would write it, and it just sort of came too naturally, it just sort of flowed out, and I'm thinking, "Wait a minute. I've seen this somewhere before. This came out too easily." I would look at it again and just play with it a little bit.

To be honest with you, I'm not sure what my style is. I'm not sure I can define it. I'm not sure I can describe it. It would be an interesting test to lay three sheets of paper in front of me with writing and see if I could pick out my own. I don't know if I could or not. There are certain rules that I always follow that I picked up over the years, and I just adapt them. I guess I could tell, if the piece of paper had sentences that were thirty words long, I would know I hadn't written that, because I don't do that. There are certain rules that I just never break. But I don't know that I can describe what my style is. I think when I was younger and when I was writing a lot, I think I did have a style. I must have, because I was very conscious of it, of having a style. I was very conscious of not wanting to write just like somebody else. The worst thing was to be blah. You didn't want your stuff to be blah; you wanted it to have some zip, for lack of a better word.

Brunet: When you went to the Cincinnati Post and you worked as the assistant city editor, you were "in charge" of a "meager little staff" there, is what you said. What kind of a supervisor were you then and in later years when you had a supervisory role?

Pitt: I don't want to characterize it as good or bad, because I think I have a lot of good supervisory qualities, but I also have a lot of bad supervisory qualities. I'm not a tough supervisor. I'm not an autocratic supervisor. I don't say, "Do this." I've never been a "do this" supervisor. I usually try to explain why I want somebody to do something, and most of the time I think that's good. I think most of the time that works. Sometimes it doesn't, because then you get into arguments with people because your explanation as to why you wanted them to do something isn't satisfactory. I don't know. But my supervisory style, I suppose, is less autocratic than most.

Brunet: Are we talking about now or then?

Pitt: Now and then. Now and then. Then I was very young and I didn't really know how to supervise. I would get a lot of help from other people, and even the people that I was supervising. I would approach them as, "Can you help me out here? Can you do this?" rather than my giving an order to do this. That was the approach I used, and I think I still do that to a certain extent.

Page 96

Page 97

I don't think I've changed all that much. I'm a little more authoritative about it, but I think I still take that kind of an approach, like, "We're working together here for something. Would you help me out by doing this?" or, "Would you help us out by doing this?" I think that's the approach I used then and still is, to a certain extent.

Brunet: At the AP, as well?

Pitt: Yes. At the AP especially you felt sort of a team effort, because everybody at the AP has job titles, and really, everybody's job title was the same. You used to be a newsman; I think now they call it newsperson. But that's what you were, and everybody was really the same. There might be one newsperson who was the supervisor, but they were still a newsperson. That's it. Other than the bureau chief, everybody else in the bureau was really on the same level. I could be the supervisor tonight, but tomorrow night somebody else would be the supervisor. So you never really felt that you were always in charge of other people, and there was more of a team approach to things. It was almost a, "Hey, look. If you do this for me tonight, I'll do this for you tomorrow night when you're supervisor." I think that was even stronger at the AP than anywhere I've worked.

Brunet: When I was reading your deposition, something came up that we have not really discussed—the tricks.

Pitt: Shifts, really. A trick is a shift. You work the night trick or the day trick or the overnight trick. I don't know where that expression came from. I have no clue.

Brunet: It's an unusual one.

Pitt: That was something that changed a lot in the AP. It was very unusual to get put on the same trick all the time, but I felt that was a punitive thing at the AP, and that's certainly one thing that happened when I did get active in the suit. At some point I got switched to very undesirable tricks.

Brunet: You had also mentioned your enterprise work. You were able to discern what was a good story and what wasn't. How did you do that?

Pitt: That's something I don't know either. I don't know how much of this stuff is just gut, you know, going on gut. I guess the way I look at it is, I'm interested in a whole lot of things, I really am. I really have a lot of interests. There's very little that bores me. There's very little that I can read or hear or watch that I find boring. I really am interested in just about everything. So if I'm not interested in a story, I figure nobody is. I guess that's the way I look at it. I was able to tell a good story from a bad story, because if it didn't hold my interest, it was not going to hold anybody's interest, because I was always looking for something interesting in everything. I guess people who have very narrow focused lives and interests I don't think would be able to tell a good story from a bad story, because if it's not science, they're not interested. I have very broad-based interests, and I guess that's what makes me think that I can tell a good story from a bad story.

Brunet: When you were doing your enterprise work, when you were talking about it earlier, I had to wonder if this was a creative outlet for you, because so much of your work at the AP was supervising.

Pitt: Oh, sure, it was.

Page 97

Page 98

Brunet: Did you have a burning desire to write?

Pitt: I can't say I had so much a burning desire to write as I had a burning desire to cover things, to get out there and meet people and do interviews and not just rewrite other people's stuff. Also with the enterprise, not only was it the act of writing it or creating the story, but coming up with the idea, making contacts out in the community. Of course, New York is a wonderful town for that, to be able to go out and meet people in a professional capacity, and have them call you when they had something that they thought you'd be interested in.

I did a lot of author stuff for a long time, because it was easy. You make the acquaintance of three or four PR people who work for publishers, and the next thing you know, you're swamped with, "Hey, you want to interview this author? You want to interview that author?" I would do them, because most of the time the authors were fairly interesting. I didn't do a lot of authors of fiction; it was usually non-fiction. So once again we get into an area where I was learning things about these various subjects that they were writing on. So a lot of it was just being able to get out in the community and feel like you're part of the journalistic scene, instead of just sitting in the office, editing other people's work. It was important to me to do that.

There's also something, too, about the writing. There's also something about a sense that it's only fair that if I'm sitting around taking your writing and ripping it apart and editing it, it's only fair that I show that I can write. Sometimes there are some editors that you just wonder if they've ever written a story in their life, or if it was so long ago, they've forgotten how. I think part of it was a sense, too, that it's only fair, if I'm going to be editing other people's stuff, that I do stuff myself and let it get edited, which it did. I had some heavy editing of my stuff. I'm very thick-skinned, you know. It's very difficult to upset me. You can take my copy and do just about anything to it.

Brunet: As a lawyer, I would think that would be good preparation.

Pitt: Yes. [Laughter.]

Brunet: You did tell me the story about sending back the copy about Prime Minister [Margaret] Thatcher. Were there other times when you were criticized by the original writer for the rewriting you had done on a piece?

Pitt: It's funny. I'm sure I must have been. I'm sure I must have been, but I remember only the good ones. I remember getting notes from really top—Peter Arnett, I mentioned, George Esper. I can remember getting notes from them, thanking me for the editing. And that's unusual. See, those were good writers. Those were people who know good writing, and they didn't have the kind of egotistical "Don't touch my stuff," which I think is the mark of an amateur, and I did have one of those in the newspaper at Maine. There was a fellow who told me if I ever edited any of his stories I was to take the byline off. He didn't want his byline on something I'd edited. So I said, "Fine," and I proceeded to take his byline off. That lasted for about three stories, and then he found out he really wanted his byline on, so he caved in and we put his byline back on. But that, to me, is the mark of an amateur, someone who thinks that what they write is so perfect it can't be touched. A lot of times I don't edit things because I think it's badly written, but sometimes you've got to shorten. When you shorten, you can't just take big chunks out, you know. Sometimes you have to rework to provide transitions and things like that. Really, that's the only one I remember, that fellow at the Portland newspaper who told me I was not to put his byline on anything I edited, because I had just butchered things.

Page 98

Page 99

Other than that, I really remember the opposite. Somebody sent me—I don't remember who it was—somebody got a Pulitzer Prize. Who was it? In the Washington bureau. And sent me the nicest note. Would it have been Walter Mears? Did Walter win a Pulitzer?* He covered Washington doings for so long. But anyway, whoever it was sent me a note, and it said, "Thank you for all your good editing. This prize is half yours. Tell you what. I'll keep the $1,000, you can have the plaque." At that time, you got $1,000 and a plaque. So he was going to split it with me.

Brunet: Did you get the plaque?

Pitt: No, I didn't get anything, but it was a nice, nice note. As an editor, you don't get any better compliment than that, than to have people whose work you butchered acknowledge that maybe you've done a good job. I do remember that more than once, and I attribute it less to my editing skills than I do to their proficiency as journalists and their professionalism. I've said it before, you're really working with the cream of the crop at the AP. You were at that time, at least. I assume you still are today. You're really working with topnotch professionals, and I attribute I think more of it to that than anything else.

Brunet: You said earlier that one of your goals was to be in charge as the general desk supervisor and bureau chief. One reason you wanted those positions was that you would be in charge. Is there more to be said about why you wanted to be in charge? This is another question that, now that I think about it, would you ask a man that?

Pitt: I used to joke that I wanted to be in charge so that I could have my own parking space. I got sick of coming in looking for a parking space. At least people who are in charge always have "Reserved for Mr. Johnson," and I wanted to be able to have a parking space.

I haven't really thought about this either, but I suppose that goes to a feeling of confidence, that I know what I'm doing and I know how to do it right, and if I'm in charge, it will be done right. If I'm not in charge, it won't. [Laughter.] I don't know.

Brunet: That sounds like a control issue. [Laughter.]

Pitt: There you go. So I suppose that's it. I don't know what else it would be. Part of it is money. If you're in charge, presumably you make more money. If you're in charge, you don't have people telling you what to do, and especially when it's stupid stuff. And I've done a lot of stupid stuff in my life because somebody who was in charge told me to do it. [Laughter.]

Brunet: Such as?

Pitt: Stories. I think I had an editor one time who made me do a story on the rolled-up newspapers that they make fire logs out of or something. It was just kind of dumb stuff. Mostly, I guess, that would be it, the kind of stupid assignments you get from editors whose cousin suggested something or had some experience, and this editor thinks now we have to have a big story on it, and they would assign you to do some dumb story that nobody could possibly be interested in or do a good job on. In terms of other specific examples, I'm sure I'll come up with them, but I have done a lot of stuff that I didn't want to do and didn't think needed to be done,

* Walter Mears of the Associated Press won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1977.

Page 99

Page 100

but because somebody in charge said it had to be done, you did it. I sure would like not to have to do that anymore, and I don't now. [Laughter.]

Brunet: You got your wish.

Pitt: I am in charge. [Laughter.]

Brunet: Soon you'll be a judge.

Pitt: Yeah.

Brunet: If you had become a bureau chief, would you have run things differently than the way they had been run?

Pitt: I suppose it depends on the bureau. But yes. Do you mean did I ever sit around and say, "Gee, if I were chief of this bureau, we wouldn't be doing this and be doing that"?

Brunet: Right.

Pitt: Yes, I'm sure that's true. I don't remember a lot of specifics. The only bureau really that I worked in was Boston, and Boston was quite a large bureau, large enough that the person in charge really could make a difference about things. The morale in the Boston bureau, at least during the last year or so that I was there, was just abominable. It was terrible. The bureau chief there was not well liked and was not doing a good job. It was very easy to sit around and say, "Here's what I would do if I were running this bureau," because it really was in bad shape.

Brunet: Can you think of any specifics?

Pitt: I'm trying to remember. One of the things, I guess, was the way the scheduling was done, the tricks. Back to that. Everybody was unhappy with their schedule. When you have seventeen people or however many people you're scheduling, you're going to have somebody who's unhappy with their schedule. I understand that. But this was at the point where everybody was unhappy. There was one fellow who loved working the overnight, and he had done it for years. That's the midnight to eight. He liked it! He actually liked it. There were two midnight-to-eight spots; there were two of you on. There were two fellows who really, really liked it, and for some reason they got put on days, and other people were put on overnight. It just didn't make sense, because there were enough people in the bureau who wanted to work certain shifts and enough people who didn't mind working certain shifts. In fact, we got together. The people in the bureau actually got together and drew up our own schedules to show that it could be done, and the bureau chief was offended and took that as a challenge or something, and it just got worse. So we didn't really improve things any.

So I remember the specific of the scheduling, and we were getting split shifts, where your two days off would be Tuesdays and Saturdays, so you couldn't do anything, and these terrible turnarounds. It was awful. I don't know whether that was deliberate or whether it was incompetence, in terms of the scheduling. I really don't. At this point, I don't care, so it's not worth pondering. But the scheduling was bad, the assignments were bad. That was a bureau in which we got a lot of stupid assignments that just weren't valid. And in Boston, for crying out loud, you've got all those universities and research and medical, really important stuff coming out of it. You really shouldn't be wasting your time on stupid stories. So I'm sure I sat around and

Page 100

Page 101

talked about what I would do if I were in charge, but I don't remember any more specifics than that.

Brunet: You mentioned not wanting to do stupid stories. Did you also have a desire to do more so-called women's issues? Did the whole "women's issue" question come up to you at the time?

Pitt: I don't remember. I did do stories on women's issues. I remember doing Roe v. Wade stories and National Women's Political Caucus stories and things. I did do those kinds of stories, and I did suggest them routinely. I did do that. I don't recall ever being told I couldn't do one. I don't recall ever having to fight for it. I don't recall that. I recall saying, "Gee, I think it's time to do a story on the National Women's Political Caucus," or something, and they'd say, "All right," and I would do it. I did a lot of anniversary stories, anniversary points of various things that were important in the women's movement. I interviewed a lot of women who had written books or whatever on feminist issues, but it was not a major part of what I did, and I never considered it a major part of what I did. I certainly didn't feel that I had any kind of a mission to cover these kinds of issues or stories or to get the word out.

Brunet: How important was it to you to be first? You wouldn't have been the first bureau chief, but was that a goal, to become the first bureau chief?

Pitt: No, no. That was never anything that entered my mind. In fact, when I went to Boston, there was a woman in the bureau, and I don't know that she was the first, but she was the only woman in the bureau, and then I came along. We became very good friends, and we're still good friends. We correspond and all that. Years later, we were able to discuss her feeling about being the only woman, and now all of a sudden here's another one, and she's not the focus anymore of something, whatever it is, good or bad. She was resentful of that at first, but it didn't take very long before she was very glad to have somebody else. When I talked about that isolation, that really hit you, it really does. When you're the only woman in a large bureau like Boston was, that can be very isolating. You may every now and then think it's kind of nice to be special or whatever it is that comes along with being the only, but she found out that she liked it a lot better not being the only. I think probably I sort of felt that way about being first. I didn't really want to be first. I'd like to have a lot of us up there. Being first was never anything I thought about.

Brunet: You had said that Roxinne Ervasti was the most unsupportive woman in terms of the AP.

Pitt: Yes, I think so.

Brunet: How did she display this?

Pitt: She would say, "Why are you doing this? You're going to hurt us. You're going to make it impossible for—I don't know whether she said "me" or "us"—to advance and do things." I didn't have a lot of conversations with her, but I can remember two or three, and they always started out with, "Why are you doing this? It's going to hurt."

Brunet: Hurt you or hurt all of us?

Pitt: I think she meant hurt her and maybe other women, but I think she was more concerned about hurting her, and she wanted nothing to do with it. It's kind of sad, but there was a lot of fear there.

Page 101

Page 102

Brunet: Did she or other women work actively against the suit?

Pitt: I think so. I think so. I'm not sure how. I say, immediately, yes, I think so, but now when I'm trying to figure out how I can elaborate on that, I'm not sure that I can. When it was winding down toward the end, I think there was one woman—I don't know that there were any more than that—who actually came to the hearing and urged the judge not to approve the final settlement.

Brunet: Do you remember who that was?

Pitt: Never heard of her. I never heard of her, which is not to say that I'd heard of every women who had ever worked for the AP over the period that the suit was covered, but I knew most of them, and I had never heard of her. She just came out of the blue, and I don't even remember her reasons or anything. She got up and made a speech to the judge, and she objected to the settlement. As a class member, of course, she really could have thrown a wrench in the works, but the judge didn't accept her argument. I'm trying to think if the women actively hurt or hindered, and I know they did, and I know that I felt that at the time, but I don't know what it is I think they did.

Brunet: Keep you from getting information?

Pitt: I just don't remember. I guess I had a sense more that it was kind of spreading stories that weren't true or trying to foment some sort of rebellion among the ranks. I guess maybe that's more what I'm thinking of, where we really did need to have the support of our co-workers. We really had our necks out, the individual plaintiffs, and we really needed to know that people supported us. When someone comes up to you and says, "Why are you doing this? You're hurting me," or, "You're hurting us," it doesn't make you feel very good, but you sort of go on. But when that person is calling other people and trying to get other people upset, telling them that what you are doing is going to hurt them or is going to do this or do that, or have this result or this effect, which you have no way of knowing what it's going to do, I think that's what I would consider actively hindering or working against us. I guess it was another attempt to further isolate us and make us feel that what we were doing was wrong, and then maybe drop out or give up.

Brunet: I've been told in another suit that there was an occasion when a woman was pretending to be working for the suit and was actually serving on the inside as sort of a spy. Did that ever occur?

Pitt: I don't recall anything like that. I don't recall that.

Brunet: Was the union membership as supportive as the leadership?

Pitt: I think so. I don't have any direct recall, but I think that it was. In fact, I think the union leadership made efforts to sort of poll the membership from time to time, and I think that the membership, by and large, was very supportive.

Brunet: This is in contrast with other unions.

Pitt: Very unusual. In most other suits, the unions were defendants. They weren't plaintiffs; they were defendants. Because the union contracts very often perpetuated the difference and the disparity in the treatment. So it was extremely unusual to have the union taking the position that this union took, very unusual. I don't know how much of it was because

Page 102

Page 103

the membership, in general, was supportive, and how much of it was because they had leaders who weren't afraid to stick their necks out. I don't know. I really don't. But it was very unusual, and at the time it was just almost unheard of, because the unions really were defendants most of the time.

Brunet: How much of this is because the union is representing a different kind of a worker?

Pitt: Sure. Sure. An awful lot, yes. These are people who considered themselves professionals rather than mechanics or autoworkers or whatever, and, yes, I think that had a lot to do with it.

Brunet: Let me flip the tape.

[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]

Brunet: Do you have any knowledge of the background of the case with the New York Human Rights Commission? We didn't really talk about that very much last time. Were you involved at all in that part of the suit?

Pitt: I don't think so, because that would have been while I was still in Boston, I think, that that was going on. I'm not sure. I really don't know about that.

Brunet: You had said that one reason you decided to become more actively involved and become a plaintiff was when you found that the men around you were making so much more money than you. But that didn't come up in the deposition. If you get a chance to look at it, you may see that. I wondered if there was any legal reason why that was not raised. You talk about advancement, but [not] actual dollars.

Pitt: I don't know. Of course, I don't have enough of a recollection of the deposition to know if it just wasn't appropriate. It may be that usually when you take testimony from someone in a deposition, you're getting information that they have, and I wouldn't have any real direct knowledge of how much somebody else made, other than if they told me or showed me, and that would be hearsay, legally. The deposition was conducted, of course, by the AP attorneys, so they're not looking to get me to say things that are going to hurt their case, they're looking to get me to say things that are going to hurt my case. So I guess they wouldn't bring it up.

Brunet: There was some mention of someone who had threatened you with contempt for refusing to name who you had talked with. I did notice that in the deposition, they were trying to have you identify people outside of actually the named plaintiffs.

Pitt: That's about all I really remember about the deposition right now. If I look at the transcript, I'm sure I'll remember other things, but that's the thing I remember the most, because I was a little frightened. I was a little frightened, because I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know what they could do to me. But on the other hand, I really knew it wouldn't be right to give the names. Those of us who had put our names on the lawsuit, we were out there. We knew that. But it didn't seem right to me that other people whose names weren't on the lawsuit, that their names should be thrown out, because I felt the AP was retaliatory. I felt that they were retaliating against those of us who were involved, and I thought if I started naming names, that those women would be in trouble. I really, really believed that, and I still believe it. It didn't seem to me that I should have to give those names.

Page 103

Page 104

How did it come out, do you remember? [Laughter.] Did you read it? How did it come out?

Brunet: If it did, I didn't catch it, but I don't think they actually threatened you with contempt, but they are trying to get you to name the names.

Pitt: I know I didn't name the names.

Brunet: They are also trying to have you name names on racial questions. Actually, I think Jan [Goodman] was advising you not to answer on all those kinds of things, because that was outside the scope of the deposition and the case itself. I think that was a separate suit.

Pitt: A separate count or a separate suit. I wasn't involved in that one, because obviously I wasn't representing the racial discrimination counts.

Brunet: But apparently you had talked to people about that earlier.

Pitt: Yes. Sure.

Brunet: I wondered, since you had said something about this earlier, about the attitude toward blacks, your mother's attitude, that you were there to be supportive as they took their own steps.

Pitt: I guess the strongest influence on me, there were really two individuals that I worked with at the AP that made an impression on me as far as the racial disparities. One was a woman named Earnestine Young, who was a TTS operator. She wasn't a reporter or a journalist; she punched the machine that fed the wire. Earnie was just the most delightful, bubbly, outgoing, bright person you'd ever want to meet, and I believe she was taking classes at night. This was in Boston. I believe she was taking classes at night and trying to get her degree or whatever, and she wanted in the worst way to be a reporter. She wanted to move into that news position. They just never really took her seriously. The AP never really took her seriously, and I don't know how much of it was because of her race, I don't know how much of it was because of her sex, and I don't know how much of it was because she didn't have any experience. She didn't have the requisite newspaper experience. She was an AP employee, but what they call a technical crew. She was a machine operator. Nobody from the AP in any kind of administrative level would give her any kind of support or encouragement or assistance or promises or anything.

Earnie and the other woman in the bureau, Mary Thornton, and I were sort of a little trio that would go shopping together on our days off, when we could get together, and we were friends more than just co-workers. Mary and I would encourage Earnie, and did. In fact, many years later, Earnie came to work at the Miami News. A friend of mine who I'd worked with at the Cincinnati Enquirer was the editor of the paper at that time, and I introduced Earnie and got Earnie on the staff there. So she did eventually become a reporter, and I lost touch with her. I haven't seen her or spoken to her in a number of years, so I don't know.

The other individual who was also in Boston was Warren Leary, who was a science writer for the AP. I'm not sure of his background, but I think he had a degree from Harvard or something. He was very highly educated, very, very brilliant in terms of understanding complicated scientific projects and things, excellent writer, fine human being all around, and I found out that Warren had been hired as a minority trainee. Here was a man who had qualifications out the wazoo. I mean, his qualifications would run circles over anybody else's, and he had been hired as a minority trainee because he was black—that's it. He was black, so, "Oops.

Page 104

Page 105

Here's your little pigeonhole. You are a minority trainee." And that's what they called him. He was in that minority trainee program for something like two terms, which I think is six months each. I think they can keep you as a trainee and then they can extend it. Apparently, and I'll get all fuzzy on this, but apparently they get some sort of federal funds or something if they hire minorities under the minority trainee program. So they were doing this really so that they would not have to pay Warren as much, because the salary was subsidized. But I just found that offensive. I think I was more offended than Warren was. Well, no, Warren was pretty offended.

But the idea that because of the color of your skin you're given a different title—a white person with the same background would be a newsman, a black person with that background is a minority trainee. That was just wrong. I mean, that was just crazy. The whole purpose of the minority trainee program was to train people from minorities who didn't have the background and the qualifications and try to bring them up to that level. The AP was using that as a catch-all and dumping ground for any person with black skin. I think they may have thrown Hispanics in there, too, but I'm not sure about that.

But working with, and being friends with, Earnie and Warren is what heightened my sensitivity to the racial disparity in the AP, because these were both very capable, wonderful people, and they were being treated differently I think solely because of the color of their skin. Neither one of them were plaintiffs in the suit, and I'm trying to remember why not. I'm sure I discussed it with both of them. There's no doubt in my mind that I did. But I don't have any recollection of why they weren't actively involved in the suit. I know they were both very supportive of it, but quietly. I think it was probably harder to get blacks involved, because blacks were more vulnerable, or at least perceived themselves to be more vulnerable, so many of them were in the minority trainee program, which provided really no job security or protections. It was much more difficult to get blacks interested in the suit and in participating than it was with whites. I don't remember why Warren and Earnie didn't participate. I know I must have discussed it with them. I'm sure I did.

Brunet: There's been mention of the interrogatory. That was sort of threatened during the deposition. Do you remember what that was?

Pitt: Interrogatories are another discovery mechanism, like a deposition. Interrogatories are simply written questions. They write them down and send them to you. You have time to think about it and write down your answer. We did do interrogatories. I think Maureen Connolly had her interrogatories, and I think I may have given those to you. Maureen, I think, forwarded those to me. They would have been a series of written questions, and each question is called an interrogatory. We all had interrogatories, and I'm sure I did, too, but Maureen actually dug hers out.

Brunet: I'll look at those again. I just wondered if you remembered what yours covered.

Pitt: No, I don't.

Brunet: You had also said that during your news years, the newspeople were not controlled by management people. Is that still the case today, as far as you know?

Pitt: At the AP, I don't know. I don't have any idea. My guess is, it's probably still true. I think the AP is advanced enough that they would separate management from news. Newspapers I've worked at have struggled and, by and large, been able to separate management from news

Page 105

Page 106

decisions. They do pretty well at it. Papers that I read I often suspect are not successful in their struggle to separate.

The local paper here—and I guess everybody always complains about their local paper—and the local paper at Tallahassee, when I was going to school up there, it seemed to me would not cover a lot of things they ought to be covering if they were things that might reflect badly on the community or certain institutions in the community such as the hospital, which becomes sort of the sacred cow. If you look, you'll find very often that there will be interlocking directories on boards, where the publisher of the newspaper is also on the board of the hospital or some other institution, and you just get the sense that there's something going on there, because you know that certain stories that are little briefs really ought to be a big page-one story. I get that sense from this local paper in this town more than I have from any paper I've ever seen. I had it in Tallahassee. So I think there are newspapers. The smaller the paper and the smaller the community, probably the greater the influence of management on the reporting staff.

Brunet: How about when you were in Maine with the newspaper there?

Pitt: I think that at the Portland papers that management had more of a hand than they should have in the news, but it still was not significant. It wasn't too heavy. They had more of a hand than I think they should have, and that was a problem with board memberships crossing over. I can only think of one story that was actually killed before it was published because of management interfering, but if you ask me what it was, I won't be able to tell you. It was Mike D'Antonio's story. I think it had to do something with the congressman or something from Maine. I don't remember. It was a political story, and it was actually killed because the publisher or the executive officer or whatever didn't approve. That's the only story I know of that was killed because of meddling by upper management. But I think that there was a certain amount of influence there that was felt, or a presence that was felt. There were a couple of sort of innocuous things that you had to do. When I was an editorial writer, I had to write editorials about tennis, because the publisher thought tennis was the greatest sport, so you had to write editorials about John McEnroe being a boor or something, you know, those kinds of things. But I don't consider that too disturbing. I do consider it disturbing when a story gets killed, doesn't get published, or when it gets changed, or when it gets buried as a brief, something like that. I think that does happen, but I think it happens mostly on smaller newspapers.

Brunet: Let's talk about the transition from the AP and your life in New York to moving to Maine. We did talk about it a little bit on our earlier tape. How did you feel about leaving the AP and also leaving New York?

Pitt: I think I was pretty sad about it, for the most part. I wasn't looking forward to leaving it. I really wasn't. There was a certain sense of relief, because at that point it really was pretty unpleasant and pretty uncomfortable. The suit was heated up, and so there was a certain amount of relief, but New York is always the place, if you're a journalist, that you want to be. That's it. That is what you shoot for. If you're an actress, you want to go to Hollywood, and then if you're a journalist, you want to go to New York. I was there, and I had been there, and I had been doing pretty good, and I felt sad about leaving that.

At the same time, New York City had gotten not as much fun to live in as it was when I first moved there. I had reached the point where I was nervous about getting to and from work at two in the morning, and sort of relieved when I got to work without being murdered or mugged or whatever, and I thought, "This is not really much of a way to live."

Page 106

Page 107

So it was a mixture of sadness and relief, I guess, that I felt when I left both New York and the AP, and I felt the same way about the AP that I felt about New York. It was the top of the profession, and to leave it was sad and hard, really hard. I had spent six years there, and I had a lot of very good, close friends there, and it was hard to leave that.

Brunet: Did you feel defeated and at a crisis point in your life?

Pitt: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. It was a choice. I wasn't forced out. I did want to have a somewhat easier lifestyle. New York really had become a bit of a battleground, just to live in, and I think I was ready for a break from that, and I was ready for a break from the suit and the constant twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week thinking about it, working on it, focusing on it, having it thrown up at me. I was ready for a break from that, too, because it had been a number of years there, too—almost six years on that, too. So I don't think I felt defeated. I think I felt that I was making a choice, and it was a conscious choice. There were good things about it and bad things about it, but ultimately it was a choice that I made.

Brunet: Of course, the suit was really just heating up.

Pitt: The suit, as far as the litigation, but we had been through years of negotiations with the AP and with EEOC in the union forum. I mean, really, by the time the litigation was filed, the worst was over, you know. [Laughter.] I didn't really know that, but it was. The worst part was before the litigation was actually filed. That's when it was really the most unpleasant and difficult and antagonistic. It's like once the suit was filed, it was almost cathartic. The suit was filed, and now the court will deal with it and the lawyers will deal with it. It wasn't so much one on one, head to head, me and the AP; there was this litigation and the lawyers that sort of buffered things.

Brunet: So when you actually left the AP, did you have a job in Maine?

Pitt: No. [Laughter.] No, I didn't.

Brunet: Did you have a place to go?

Pitt: No, I don't think so. No, we just sort of headed up.

Brunet: You went together? Perhaps we should explain that.

Pitt: My husband and I.

Brunet: Were you already married by that time?

Pitt: No, we weren't married at that time. We got married that year, a couple of months later.

Brunet: Your husband was president of the union, is that right?

Pitt: Yes.

Brunet: Pat Sherlock. Had you known him as long as you'd been at the AP?

Page 107

Page 108

Pitt: Yes, because when I was working in the Boston bureau, he was working in the Portland, Maine, bureau at that time, and Boston was the hub bureau that controlled Portland, Maine, as well as the other northern New England bureaus. So I had known Pat really from day one.

We just decided, I guess, to chuck it all for a while. I don't know, maybe we were going through our little "Green Acres"* period or something, where you get away from the city and get into a little quieter lifestyle. I did feel that because of my AP background I could get a job without any problem, and I did.

Brunet: Did he have a job to go to, as well?

Pitt: No, he didn't have one either. No, neither of us did, but we just felt fairly confident that we wouldn't have any difficulty. Usually a small town paper or even a medium-sized paper like the Portland papers will snap up a former AP person. I had some concern about the lawsuit and how that might affect—if they were going to check references or something. I did have some concern about that. I'm trying to remember. I did have an interview with the personnel director at the paper, and I don't know whether I mentioned it or whether he had read about it somewhere, because it had been in the trades. It had been written about. I don't remember whether I brought it up or he brought it up, but it was discussed, and it didn't seem to affect my being hired. So I was hired, and it was right away. I didn't wait too long. I think I may have taken a couple of weeks just to catch my breath and then went in.

Brunet: This was the summer and fall of '78?

Pitt: Yes. Exactly.

Brunet: So you were hired to do what?

Pitt: Oh, golly, what was I hired to do?

Brunet: From the clippings, it seemed like you worked on several different papers.

Pitt: There are three papers. They're all the same; it's a morning paper, afternoon paper, and Sunday paper. But they're all in the same building, the same city. There are other papers in other parts of Maine owned by the same chain, but it is a local chain. I didn't work for the others. I guess it's like any other chain. Your story could appear in the others, but it didn't really happen all that often.

I don't really even remember what I was hired to do. I was hired as the editor of the York County Extra, which was an edition that went just to York County in southern Maine, and I guess it was very fast-growing. It's where Kennebunkport is, which George Bush made famous later. But they published, I guess, on one day a week—I don't know whether it was Monday or what day—this York County Extra, which was a little insert. It was a broadsheet; it wasn't a tab. It was an insert in the paper that just went into the York County area. There was a staff of two or three reporters in York County, so I would edit their stories and lay out the four- or five-, six-,

* "Green Acres" was a popular TV comedy during the 1970s which portrayed a New York couple who moved to the country.

Page 108

Page 109

eight-page supplement, whatever it was. I think that's what I was initially hired to do. I think I did that for a while, and then I think I worked on the copy desk for a while.

I bounced around a lot and then eventually went to the Sunday paper and was a news editor of the Sunday paper and did that for a while, and then became an editorial writer my last three or four years, I guess. I was editorial writer and columnist.

Brunet: How did you feel from moving then from the AP to a smaller kind of paper?

Pitt: I would always rather be a little fish in a big pool, I guess, than the big fish in the little pool. So I felt that I had certainly taken a step backward in terms of career. I had certainly taken a step down from the AP, but on the other hand, I was more in line for an "in charge" position, I thought that I was.

Brunet: You felt that you were?

Pitt: Yes.

Brunet: Were you, in fact?

Pitt: No. That's why I left the Portland papers; I wasn't getting anywhere. It's funny, because the publisher of that paper is a woman. But it was very clear that there was nowhere to go in that paper.

Brunet: For you specifically, or for women in general?

Pitt: Both. Both, I think. The corporate structure there was such where they valued a business background, and they didn't really want journalists running the paper. They wanted businesspeople running the paper.

Brunet: You mean management running it, or actual editorial?

Pitt: Mostly management running. Editorial running, there was an executive editor who I felt was a figurehead. I don't know exactly what it was he did, and he had been there for a long time and was always going to be there, so that really wasn't open. So you had to sort of look either toward the corporate structure, and they were branching into cable TV and other kinds of media outlets. To really get anywhere in that structure, you had to break through that corporate barrier. I had long talks about it with the president of the company, who was very receptive, but the bottom line is they were looking for people with business backgrounds, not journalists, and I don't think that women were really going to be considered. I just felt like I wasn't getting anywhere, and I wasn't. It was a dead end.

Brunet: You became an editorial columnist, though.

Pitt: Yes, but there were four of them. It was a nice little group, and I enjoyed those folks and I enjoyed that work, and it was fine, but after a while— I just said I didn't get bored at anything, but it sort of got to be boring. It was very cushy. I made a lot of money, more money than the reporters and more money than the editors, probably. The money was good, the hours were good, the work was easy. You'd go in, you'd write two editorials a day, just pontificate and give your opinion. It was really the cushiest job I've ever had, but it just got—

Page 109

Page 110

Brunet: It doesn't sound challenging.

Pitt: No, it really wasn't. It really wasn't. After a while, it just got to the point when I just needed something else, something a little more interesting.

Brunet: Did you get to choose your topics?

Pitt: Yes.

Brunet: I notice you did talk more about women's issues.

Pitt: Yes. Oh, I did in the columns, yes. The columns were completely—I'd just sit down and write whatever I want. Editorials, we would have an editorial board meeting every morning and propose editorials and then agree on them. You would pretty much write what you had come up with if everybody else agreed that it should be written about, and we were a very cohesive group, so that was never really a problem. But, yes, that's true. But even then, after a while, you start to say, "I've written about this before," and then you start to sound strident or shrill, and you think, "Well, I don't want to make things worse by doing it again." That's the problem of, again, the big fish in the little pond. The pond is just too small. At some point you've done all you can in that pond, and you've got to move out of it, and that's what I did.

Brunet: Were you the women's columnist? Were you hired to address women's issues?

Pitt: No, not at all. Not in the least. There were two women, two of the four editorial writers, and the two of us came at the same time. The other one was a lady who had been a political reporter for another smaller paper in Maine, and she had also similar feelings, but she was a little more politically oriented than I was, so a lot of her columns were more political than mine were.

Brunet: As you said, when you were hired, the suit was not a large factor, but did the suit have any involvement in your not being promoted by management?

Pitt: No, no, I don't think so, and I really was promoted. I really was. I did all right there; it's just that there was no place to go that I wanted to go.

Brunet: You were there from '78 until—

Pitt: '78 until '86. I came down here in '86.

Brunet: What was the reaction when the suit was settled, up there?

Pitt: I don't remember. I know they knew, because I had to take time off work to go down to New York for the final hearing and everything. I really don't remember. As I said before, it was really sort of anticlimactic when it got settled.

Brunet: Did we even talk about the actual hearing?

Pitt: I don't remember too much about it. It was just kind of a formality that you went through. I remember being a little nervous when this woman stood up and began objecting. I was a little nervous that the judge was going to screw it up, but he didn't, and it went fine. It was like, "Is it over? Now what?" [Laughter.]

Page 110

Page 111

Brunet: Did the plaintiffs have to take the stand?

Pitt: No, I don't remember that. We all were sitting at the table with Jan [Goodman], and I don't even remember who all came. Not all of us were there. I don't even remember who all was there. It wasn't really necessary; I guess it was more symbolic than anything. I guess Jan felt that maybe we might have to have some testimony, so she wanted us there, but it wasn't absolutely vital that we be there. But it really was sort of anticlimactic. I don't remember too much about it.

Brunet: We have talked about how the settlement was worked out. We may want to repeat that for the video. There were a few comments you made that I thought were especially interesting.

What was Pat [Sherlock] doing during this time? Was that when he was working for the TV station?

Pitt: Yes, he was a managing editor of a TV/news station in Portland.

Brunet: Did either of you have to alter your career to accommodate the other's career?

Pitt: No, I don't think so. I really don't think so. They were complementary. That was another thing, you know. I talk about big fish, little pond. He was the managing editor of the number-one news station in Portland, which is the biggest city in Maine, and he had been the AP correspondent in Augusta, covering the capital and the state house. He was very well known in Maine and very well respected as a journalist in Maine. So the two of us together, when I became an editorial writer for the largest newspaper, the two of us really had quite a bit of power or influence in a fairly small state. It was nice in some ways, but we were always conscious of the fact that we'd worked in New York, we'd worked in the "big time," and, really, what we had in Maine was nice, but it wasn't much. I think we really sort of wanted to get back to something else, something a little bit more meaningful. Not that much happens in Maine. It's a beautiful state and some very nice people there, but not much comes out of there, with the exception of [Senator] George Mitchell, I guess, who is going on to bigger and better things, perhaps. [Laughter.]

Brunet: So how did you both make the decision to come to Florida?

Pitt: Well, again, I felt I was getting nowhere at the newspaper. That was it. I had reached as high as I was going to go, and I could stay there for the rest of my life and be editorial writer at the Portland newspapers. That was clear. I got along, we were all happy, everything was fine, but I didn't want to be doing that ten years from then. Pat was in a similar situation at the TV station, only he had had a series of changes in the news director, the news director being his immediate boss. A new fellow had come in as news director and was just intolerable. I mean, he was really, really awful. Pat felt that he just didn't want to work with him anymore, and I felt that I wasn't going anywhere where I was, so we thought, "Well, we'll just pack up and move."

In fact, with the settlement proceeds from the lawsuit, we had purchased a condo down here in Florida, which is near my family, so we had come down a couple of times to visit and just stay a week here and a week there. So we had a place down here, and we thought, "Well, we'll just go down there for a while and decide what we want to do."

Brunet: It must have looked good from Maine.

Page 111

Page 112

Pitt: Oh, yeah. [Laughter.] Especially in January, which is when it was. It was January of '86. It was perfect timing. So we just sort of packed everything up. We had a condo up there; we sold it. Everything, the timing was all perfect. We had bought this condo when the whole project was just a blueprint, so we had paid very little for it, because it was sort of "iffy" that it was ever going to be completed, so we got a good deal. Then when we sold it, it was just booming, and we made an enormous profit on it. So we thought we'd just take a little time off. Pat was interested in working on a book. We had been working on this book idea for a number of years, and I had done a lot of research in New York, in fact, while we were there. So we thought, "Well, we'll just give it some time and try."

And when we came down here, he started to work on the book, and I found that I just sort of had time on my hands, and I was getting—that awful word—bored. I went to school and got my real estate license, because my mother had a real estate brokerage here, and I could help her have open houses on Sunday, but I had to have a license. So I got my license, took the exam, and went through all that. But I'm not a real estate person.

Brunet: That doesn't sound like you.

Pitt: No, I don't do that. [Laughter.] I sat with a couple of open houses and said, "No, this is not for me." So I just decided I would try to go to work in a law office, because I had covered courts and I had written a lot of columns about courts and law, and I answered an ad in the newspaper. Actually, I answered a bunch of ads. I was just going to do secretarial work or something, just to get me out of the house, something to do, and this law firm, Jim Littman's office, needed a litigation secretary. What it really was was not so much secretarial as paralegal, but at that time in Florida you didn't have to have a paralegal license or anything. Anybody could be a paralegal. I guess they had just changed it. They were just changing it. If I had come a year earlier, I could be a paralegal, but they had just changed it, so I would have to have a license, so they couldn't call me a paralegal, so they called it litigation secretary. He hired me on the spot, and because of my writing abilities and background he let me do an awful lot of stuff and taught me a lot about litigation, preparing pleadings and court documents. I was here for two and a half years, and I learned a lot about all sorts of aspects of the law. He encouraged me and pushed me off to law school, so I went to law school and then I came back here.

Brunet: Was it hard for you to leave journalism?

Pitt: Yep. Yes, it was. Still is. On election nights, I'm just an absolute basket case, because I want to see the computer results. I want to see them come in from each precinct. I'm used to that. It's very hard for me to sit at home and watch TV and not get constant election results. I'm the world's worst newspaper reader. I read three, sometimes four newspapers a day, and I just rant and rave about the coverage, or lack thereof. I read the letters to the editor, and I'm really dying to write them, but I edited letters to the editor for a long time, so I know better than to actually write them. [Laughter.]

Brunet: Why do you say that?

Pitt: Because I know what happens. First of all, because when you get letters from certain people, you have a certain reaction. It's like, "Oh, no, not another letter from Joe," you know. And I don't want to be Joe. Letters get cut, letters get edited, which is okay. I don't mind that, if there are professionals who are doing the editing, but they're not, really, in the local papers. Every now and then I think about writing an Op Ed piece or something. I think about it, but I don't have time right now. I don't know if I ever will. But I do miss it. I have friends who are

Page 112

Page 113

still in the business, and I keep in touch with them and have a little vicarious enjoyment of the profession, still. I can still carry on a conversation about it and do frequently. There are a couple of folks who have a seasonal residence down here that are journalists that we get together with when they come down on holidays or whatever. So I try to keep a little bit of a hand in, but I guess nowadays, more of my interests are political than journalistic. In other words, I know what's going on because I read the papers, but I don't really know what's going on in journalism. I know what's going on in the world, and I read papers, and I'm a news junkie, but I don't really know what's going on certainly at the AP or at the networks anymore like I used to.

Brunet: You were talking about the AP and the high journalistic standards. How did those compare with what you were experiencing in Maine?

Pitt: No comparison. [Laughter.] No real comparison. The thing that stands out is the "freebie" policy. AP was a stickler: no freebies. You don't take freebies. You don't get a free movie pass, you don't get a free dinner. No freebies! You don't get a trip to Europe. You don't get anything. At the Portland paper, it's like freebies were a way of life. Reporters would call sources and demand free things, which to me was just appalling because of the obvious conflict, or certainly the perception of conflict. AP was always very precise about that. It's not only conflict of interest we want to avoid; it's the perception. And the perception is just as bad as the actual conflict. I was just amazed in Portland that the editors would do all the free things that they did from sources.

The camaraderie between the reporters and the sources—I was unusual. I was probably the only reporter who would not call various cabinet members by their first name. I would always refer to them as Secretary Quinn or Mr. I just couldn't call them by their first name, because that, to me, wasn't a professional way of keeping that sort of arm's-length relationship. Most of the other reporters there, I think, felt that it was kind of a status thing to be able to call a secretary of state by his first name and be called by first name in return. That, to me, was just unprofessional.

I'm trying to remember other examples. There was not at that paper, like there was at the AP, a written manual that spelled all this out, and it was your bible. You just lived by that. That didn't exist. I have to say, too, that there was a union at the Portland paper, but it was really, really namby-pamby. It was not a good union, not a strong union. It really wasn't a union, I think, in any sense of the word, and I think that makes a difference, too, because the union at the AP was very strong and sort of kept that tension between management and staff going, and kept standards high, I think. It didn't happen in Portland. The union didn't bristle if upper management came downstairs and killed a story. If that had happened at the AP, I think there would have been a walk-out, I really do. The employees were organized and they felt pride in what they did. You didn't have that at the Portland papers.

Brunet: Let me flip the tape.

[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]

Brunet: Do you think this is common across the country in those kinds of situations?

Pitt: The AP is nonprofit. It's a membership cooperative. But the AP is still a business, and they're still in the business of news, and they still try to make money, because the money that they make is used for improving the equipment and facilities and hiring more staff and all. It's just like a nonprofit hospital, you know; they're still business and they still operate with the same goal,

Page 113

Page 114

and that is to make money. So I don't think there's really any distinction between the corporate structure of the AP, which is nonprofit, and the corporate structure of the Portland papers, which is clearly profit. I don't think that really made any difference.

I do think one difference is that the AP corporate structure was made up of journalists, and they weren't just looking for business majors and accountants to run the bureaus, but also to run the New York headquarters. I'm talking about from the president, the vice president—I mean, these were all people who were newspeople at one point. So they may have certain management and business skills, but they were still, first and foremost, newspeople. That made a difference.

At the Portland paper the ownership, as it is in many papers, was a family chain, family ownership, and inherited, with no real firsthand experience or, I think, even interest in the news business. That makes a difference. And what you get, too, at small papers and medium-sized papers, sometimes in a place like Portland, there's not a great deal of turnover, so you get a lot of stale management there. You don't get a lot of fresh blood. At the AP, there is a fairly good turnover rate. There are career AP people, but I think something like the average is four years. There is turnover, because there is a lot of movement physically. Geographically there's a lot of movement, but there's also movement within the industry, and AP is that wonderful training ground that spits people out to editors and publishers positions all over. So you're constantly getting new blood and new ideas and fresh ways of doing things, and you don't get that at the small papers, so it's sort of stagnant.

Brunet: Since you mentioned the turnover years and how people go on to other positions, had you considered, when you left Portland, moving to a different journalism field?

Pitt: Yes, I did. I did, but when we left Portland, we thought less of career than of location. I mean, it's really cold in Portland. There's snow and there's ice, and it's winter nine months of the year. I don't like that. I really needed a break from the gray skies and the cold. We had the place in Florida, and we just decided we would come down here and rejuvenate our physical selves with some sunshine and some blue skies and flowers all year long and things like that. I believe at one point we sat down with a map of the country, and we were saying, "Shall we go here or shall we go there?" It wasn't so much a career move as a geographical move. We were talking about the West Coast. Pat had done quite a bit of traveling out in Oregon and Washington and California, and I'd never been out there—still haven't. We were just kind of exploring where in the country we'd like to go, and we felt that wherever we went, we'd probably find work. But where would we like to go?

Then we just decided we would come to Florida and sort of get ourselves primed and then decide where we wanted to go. When we got down here, we liked it. This is a completely different lifestyle here. It's a different world, and it's very comfortable. We've enjoyed it. So we didn't leave.

Brunet: When you had been covering the courts and writing about judges in Maine, had you ever thought about going to the law at that time?

Pitt: Yes, I think I did. I think I did, because really even the work I did in New York on the AP suit piqued my interest about the judicial system, and I felt that I could prepare papers the way papers needed to be prepared for court. So I had had an interest in that for a long time, and covering the courts and the judicial system in Maine further advanced that.

Page 114

Page 115

Brunet: And the need for women judges there and elsewhere.

Pitt: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Sure.

Brunet: We've talked about your aspiring to be a judge. What's next?

Pitt: Who knows? [Laughter.]

Brunet: Did you also have a supervisory role as the editor in Portland?

Pitt: Yes, I did, really from the beginning, because that York County Extra, although they weren't in the office with me, I was in Portland and they were in York County, I did have supervisory responsibilities for those reporters in the York County bureau. There were two or three; I don't remember. It wasn't a lot. Putting together that edition was my responsibility in determining what was going in it and when it got together, and editing all the copy. Then when I was the news editor of the Sunday Telegram, I had a lot of supervisory responsibility, and that was a full staff of reporters to make assignments to and edit their copy and keep on track. Then when I became editorial writer, I didn't really have supervisory, because we were all sort of equal.

Brunet: Did you control your budget in any of these supervisory roles?

Pitt: No.

Brunet: Hire and fire people?

Pitt: No.

Brunet: But did you make the final decisions about content?

Pitt: Yes.

Brunet: Did you ever put things on the front page that perhaps a man would not have?

Pitt: I don't think so. I don't think so. I don't think so.

Brunet: You've talked some about your style of supervising. Has that changed over time?

Pitt: Well, I think it's changed a little bit, but I think the basic approach is pretty much the same. I don't know if I've talked to you about this before. I didn't put things on the front page that a man wouldn't, I don't think. I did start something with the Sunday Telegram that I just did as a lark because I thought it would be fun, and that is what they used to call the women's page and they now call "Accent" or whatever, I did start assigning the male reporters to write articles for that. That had always been done by women, the women's fashions and cooking and stuff like that. I insisted that the men reporters write stories for the front page of that—I don't even know what the section was called. I found that one man in particular loved to cook. He loved to cook, and I could get him assignments to go do stories that had recipes in them and things, and he just loved it. I sent him off to bread school or something and had him write a story. He loved it. The other man did not like doing those things. The other man really resented it and was not cooperative, and he eventually left. But I did insist on that. I don't want to see just women's bylines in that section. That I did.

Page 115

Page 116

Brunet: How was that received by upper management?

Pitt: Nobody had any problem with it. I don't remember anybody telling me it was good, but nobody told me it was bad. I don't remember. I do remember this one fellow that didn't want to do those kinds of stories, and he complained, but I believe he was told "too bad," I was giving the assignments, and he had to do his assignments. As I said, he did eventually leave.

Brunet: Did you ever feel it was necessary to be more tough because you were a woman?

Pitt: I don't think so, and because my management style I don't think is tough, I don't think I ever was. I'm a more conciliatory manager than most, and I do try to make people want to do what it is I want them to do. I feel like they're going to do a better job if they want to do it. There are only a couple of times that I can think of where I made somebody do something that they didn't want to do, and I said, "Well, I want you to do it." I think that's very rare for me to do that. I've done it, but it's very rare.

Brunet: You've talked about your support of Earnestine Young. Were there other people that you served in a mentor relationship with at AP or later?

Pitt: I hope so. There were two women at the Portland paper who—I don't know whether they ever did actually file a suit, although I seem to think that they did. I don't know whether it was just a complaint or a suit. They came to me when I was an editorial writer at the paper and asked me to help them, because they had some pay disparities. I don't remember all of the details. It was pretty awful, if you really looked at the details, the treatment that they were getting. That was fostered by the union contract, so the union wouldn't help them. I called Jan Goodman and asked her if she knew of any attorneys in Portland who could do this, and she gave me the name of an attorney that she knew, a friend of hers who was also a professor at the law school, and I went with these two ladies to see this law professor, to see if she would be interested in this case, and she was and then took it. After I moved out here to Florida, the lawyer for the Portland papers flew down to take a deposition of me with respect to that suit, and I don't know how it came out. I don't remember. I gave them some money; I donated some money to their fund and tried to be as supportive as I could. I think at one point we talked about paybacks and we talked about the fact that I help you and then you help somebody else, and then that person helps somebody else, and that's the way it works down the line. I'd like to think that I helped some others and that I was a mentor in some respects. Yes, I'd like to think that.

Brunet: To men, as well as women?

Pitt: Well, I don't think so. [Laughter.] I think it would be women. I don't remember really taking any men under wing. No men ever fell there. I don't know. I don't remember. I would think it would be women. I'm certainly more comfortable helping women along. Maybe it's because we feel that women need more help from other women, you know. Men have had their networks for years and years and years, and women haven't. So I've never been very good at the networking. I talked about Jo-Ann Albers, who is really, I think, the mother of female journalists' networking system. I just wrote her a letter this week. We stay in touch, and she's wonderful. She knows everybody. But I think it's important for women to help other women, which is not to say that you hurt men or ignore them or anything else; it's just I never thought about it. But I do think about helping women, and I do the same thing in the law. I think other women do, too, more than they did back in those days.

Brunet: Why do you say more?

Page 116

Page 117

Pitt: I think that fifteen and twenty years ago, women were, in large measure, competitive with each other, and I don't know whether it's like the initial resentment that Mary [Thornton] felt when I went to the Boston bureau, where she was the only one, and then now here's another one, and we're sort of competing. I think there was a more competitive spirit among women perhaps because there were fewer of them in various roles where you were sort of protecting your territory. I think that's lessened now. I think women are less competitive with each other and are more helpful and more supportive of each other than they were fifteen or twenty years ago. Oh, I think that's real clear; it is to me.

Brunet: How much do you think it is because there's been more public discussion of the need for networking?

Pitt: I think it's primarily because there are more women coming along, so that a woman coming along is not so much a threat to knock you out of your first and only status, because there are enough women around that you're a little more comfortable being around other women. I think public discussion of networking is helpful, but I'm not sure that that's the primary force for the change.

Brunet: You said you did not hire and fire, so you did not have an opportunity to hire women, as compared to men.

Pitt: Correct. I didn't.

Brunet: You cited one woman you were working under—the head of the Portland newspapers. Is that the woman you worked under?

Pitt: She was the publisher of the paper.

Brunet: Did you ever work under any other women?

Pitt: Gee, I don't think so. She was the publisher of the paper, and she was very rarely there. She spent most of her time in Boca Raton, you know. She really wasn't a presence in the office. There was a woman city editor at one point, but I didn't work with her, because I was working on the Sunday Telegram. I don't believe I ever had worked directly under a woman.

Brunet: Why don't we stop here for now.

Page 117

Go to Session One | Session Two | Session Four
Index | Cover | Home

© 1993, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.