ABC News National Correspondent Jake Tapper had the scoop way back in August, but doggone it, he just didn't have the hard evidence he needed to put that baby away and inch another slot closer to the Journalistic Elite.
But there he was, hanging out on a hunch at the Capitol, no sports jacket because it's summer in DC and he's gotten the top button loose on his Brooks Brother shirt, hell, even his sleeves are unbuttoned, folded up to mid-forearm in that look so favored by Washington's political fashionista.
And here comes Barack Obama, walking straight towards him. Not a surprise, really, since Tapper is loitering in front of the Senate Chamber and everybody is headed straight towards him. Tapper knows through journalistic experience that there are some days when not everyone pushes you to the side. Today is such a day.
Obama stops for what Tapper modestly describes as 'a second'. In reality we know that this encounter took much longer than a single second, for he is Jake Tapper, goddammit, ABC News Senior National Correspondent, a man worth at least twenty times that much, particularly if you're a bright young presidential candidate on your way up. For this was not the Barack Obama we know today, oh no, this was Barack Obama before he was enclosed within the swarm of Secret Service and strategists, a man, Tapper reasons, much like himself.
And so they spoke of Pakistan and Obama's speech about it, how the media had declared it good. The candidate seemed in an upbeat mood - perhaps too upbeat, Tapper thought. Frankly, the man reeked of cigarettes. And as if to confirm his guilt, Obama ran away before Tapper was able to ask why this was so.
Professional that he is, Tapper immediately called Obama's campaign office and asked them the damning question - "Hey, did Obama smoke a cigarette or is my imagination just smelling things?" Of course they told him no, of course they did. It's just your nose playing tricks on you, they told him.
Tapper was crushed. He had always had a reliable nose. His friends and family would attest to the fact that he had remarkable olfactory sensitivity, a characteristic that Tapper looked upon with great pride. But would an unpaid campaign worker answering the phone at the Obama headquarter lie to him about a matter of such importance? Probably not, Tapper decided, and thus began his winter of discontent.
Except last night, there was the candidate on somebody else's network, telling Chris Mathews - Chris Mathews! - that he had indeed 'fallen off of the wagon a couple of times'. Obama admitted that he had smoked a couple guilty cigarettes, and depending on the meaning of couple, it was more than once.
Today Tapper is a changed man. Oh, he knows it's not the end of the world, but still, he wasn't dealt with honestly by the lady at the other end of the phone at Obama's headquarters, a woman who surely must have known the ugly truth and took it upon herself to keep it from him. Corny as it is, he sees himself as a man whose job it is to ensure the rest of us that our leaders are truthfully leading us down the right path. Without that knowledge, Tapper is diminished.
He won't be fooled again.
©2008, Mark Hoback