Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Ex-congressman's death prompts former reporter to reflect on their professional relationship, which served the public

Sylvia A. Smith
Retired reporter Sylvia A. Smith writes for the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette: "People often said to me, 'How can you stand to cover Mark Souder?'  They meant: How can a lesbian atheist non-athlete working for the most liberal newspaper in Indiana (from an opinion-page perspective) not go bonkers when writing about a deeply religious, politically conservative baseball fanatic? My stock answer: 'He returns my calls.'"

Smith's column was prompted by Monday's death of Souder, 72, a congressman for 16 years. "Souder, unlike many of his Republican colleagues, did not mistrust the news media," writes Smith writes, who was the paper's Washington-based reporter and columnist for 23 years. "And he recognized a basic concept: No one can write clearly about something they don’t understand. Mark Souder was never simple to understand."

Mark Souder
Smith cites examples of Souder's unorthodox positions on issues, from national parks to Bill Clinton's impeachment (he voted for one of the four articles). "To explain these seeming inconsistencies for a Republican takes some understanding of the logic behind the position," she writes. "So we talked. And talked. And talked. . . . Week after week for 16 years, I spoke with Souder more than anyone other than my spouse. Through all that talking, Mark Souder and I developed a trust. He trusted that I would not burn him: If I didn’t understand something, I’d ask. I trusted that if he was involved in something I’d consider big news, he’d give me a heads-up. This wasn’t a quid pro quo; it was mutual respect for how each of us did our jobs. That kind of trust between a journalist and a source is far more important than friendship or liking a person – though I liked him, and he liked me. I liked Souder because his interests were varied and transcended getting reelected."

Smith concludes, "Mark Souder was never my buddy, never a confidant. Our world views were nearly polar opposites. But we both believed in the duty of an elected official to be transparent about positions and votes and the responsibility of a newspaper to inform its readers in a fair way. . . . He often did or said things that, when I wrote about them, produced front-page stories. He was not a cookie-cutter politician. And he returned my calls."

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