- Ken Herman American-Statesman Staff
Finding yourself in need of some hope for the holidays? Sometimes it’s found in unlikely places. I found some where hopeless cynicism often resides.
It’s a little place near and dear to my heart. I call it journalism.
Jamie Dupree is a Washington journalist. He’s 54, married and has kids ages 8, 11 and 13. He not only covers D.C., he’s of D.C. His parents met as congressional aides in the 1960s, and Dupree worked as a U.S. House page in the 1980s.
He’s covered the Capitol since 1986. Since 1989, he’s worked as a radio reporter for Cox Media Group, the outfit that, for now, owns this newspaper. I got to know Dupree when I worked in the Cox Washington Bureau. Nice guy. Great voice. Solid journalist doing solid journalism.
For several years, he was a regular on Sean Hannity’s radio show, as Politico recently wrote, appearing as “the straight newsman to the partisan host.” Hannity has called Dupree “the most connected man in Washington.”
Dupree’s now a newsman in a place newspeople generally don’t like to be: in the news. The Politico story was headlined: “The Radio Reporter Who Lost His Voice But Still Covers Congress.” In The Washington Post, the big letters above the story said: “He was the ‘Golden Throat’ of Cox Radio. Until the day he woke up and couldn’t speak.”
About 18 months ago, Dupree’s voice began giving him trouble. Earlier this year, his once-smooth and confidence-inspiring voice pretty much gone, he was diagnosed with a rare malady known as tongue protrusion dystonia, a neurological disorder for which there is no treatment.
“Dupree is a radio reporter without a voice,” Ben Strauss wrote in Politico.
“He’d become the radio man who could not talk,” Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote in the Post.
Can you imagine? A radio reporter who can’t talk. A dad who can’t talk to his family. At this point, you’re hoping to find out Dupree’s voice has returned. It has not. But he’s still a source of hope. Stick around.
Dupree continues to report, writing down his questions and reporting the answers online at jamiedupree.com. There’s no one better than @jamiedupree on Twitter for congressional play-by-play with informed explanations. In a recent House floor speech, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said she’s known Dupree and his work for more than 20 years. She detailed his challenges.
“This is a rare condition which has no known treatment and it prevents Jamie’s brain from connecting to his mouth and causes his throat to push his tongue out of his mouth when he attempts to speak, squeezing the sound out of his voice,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “A radio reporter.”
“However, in spite of this severe health problem, Jamie has remained active through Twitter and his news blog. Mr. Speaker, Jamie Dupree is a perfect example of the positive role that devoted and professional journalists play in our free society and I wish him and his family all the best during this most difficult time. Thank you, Jamie. Godspeed.”
Godspeed, indeed. And here’s where we find hope in two of our most important institutions as we navigate a national landscape led by a president who, on an almost daily basis, seeks to drain hope in those important institutions.
In Ros-Lehtinen, we have a member of Congress reminding us of the indispensable nature of a free and robust press.
And in Dupree, we have a longtime journalist who’s urging us not to lose hope in Congress.
“I believe in Congress,” he told Politico. “I want to tell people to trust the institutions, to relax.”
Believe? Trust? Relax? And this is from somebody who’s been covering Congress longer than most of its members have been in Congress. Determined to spread some of this hope this holiday season, I asked Dupree how he can believe in an institution in which so many Americans have lost faith.
“I do believe in the Congress,” he emailed. “Yes, the House and Senate often look like a hot mess from afar. And up close, you can make the same case as well.”
But Dupree says he still believes Congress “can perform its duties and act as a ‘guardrail’ for any president who might try to wander off the right path.”
Solid reporter that he is, Dupree did not name any particular president.
“The House and Senate are filled with well-intentioned people,” he wrote. “Yes, they tend to downplay the transgressions of their own party and focus too much on the transgressions of the other. Welcome to the real world. We tend to do the same things in our personal lives. Just think of how you interact with your relatives.”
Dupree said he does not believe we’ve “reached some unprecedented point of no return in the Congress. Yes, it would be nice if Republicans and Democrats would compromise ‘for the good of the country.’ But if you are holding out for that, I bet you are still waiting for your brother or sister to apologize for something awful they said over a holiday dinner a few years ago. That’s not going to happen is my point.”
Dupree is distressed by the disappearance of the moderate wings of each party: “Now, if you are in the middle, you are vilified by both sides.”
But he added this upbeat note based on his study of congressional history: “We (no longer) have people pulling pistols, we don’t have the fights that break out where lawmakers pull the wig off the head of another.”
I’m glad the pistols are gone. I would, however, be OK with an occasional de-wigging. But that’s just me.
“Maybe I’m naïve,” wrote Dupree, who isn’t, “but I still think the place can work. The voters just need to give politicians the room to operate. No one gets everything that they want.”
Here’s a self-test about hope and government: Regardless of what you think the tax reform package will cause, are you hoping the Republicans are right and it leads to better lives for many Americans, not just the megawealthy ones? Or are you, for political reasons, hoping the whole thing’s a dismal failure? And if you are, are you no better than the partisan lawmakers in which you’ve lost hope?
That last bit aside, there’s my attempt, with an assist from a colleague, to offer some hope for the holidays as some among us bemoan the state of our union. Dupree’s voice is gone — temporarily, we hope — but he’s still worth listening to.