By DeWayne Wickham
I’m not a big anniversary person, but 2010 is a benchmark in my journalism career that has me thinking as much about the future as the past.
It was 25 years ago that I started contributing to the opinion page of this and many other Gannett newspapers – a job which has allowed me to occupy space in some of the most prized real estate in the newspaper industry. And over the past quarter century I’ve had a lot of memorable experiences.
And what a quarter century it's been.
I ate dinner with Fidel Castro in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution; had lunch with L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first black elected governor, in a room where Confederate President Jefferson Davis used to eat his meals; and I sat in the cabinet room of the White House sipping soda and nibbling low calorie cookies with President Bill Clinton.
I flew with Secretary of State Warren Christopher on the Air Force plane that returned deposed Haitian President Jean Bertrand-Aristide to Haiti; was a member of the press corps that accompanied Nelson Mandela on an 8-city tour of the United States just a few months after his release from a 27-year imprisonment in South Africa, and flew to Montreal with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a conference on aid to Haiti after it was ravaged by an earthquake.
I was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show twice. And in 1991, I interviewed George Wallace, the former Alabama governor who proclaimed in his 1963 inaugural address “segregation now…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever.” Wallace told me his racism was driven by the politics of his state, not a feeling in his heart.
I attended the state dinner President Clinton gave South African President Thabo Mbeki. I was in Paris the day White House candidate Barack Obama met with French President Nickolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace, and in the Denver stadium the night Obama went there to accept the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
But with all the ringside seats I’ve had over the past 25 years, there remains much I want to see and do before my column is put out to pasture. Here’s my bucket list.
I want to interview O.J. Simpson, who is serving a 33-year sentence in a Nevada prison for armed robbery and kidnapping. I covered his 1995 double murder trial in Los Angeles. While others still debate Simpson’s guilt in that “trial of the century,” I want to talk to him about his penchant for whistling “If I Only Had a Brain” – a song for the “Wizard of Oz” – during subsequent scraps with the law. I suspect getting to the bottom of that question will reveal more about the former NFL superstar than all the books that have been written about him.
I want to spend a couple days with George W. Bush talking about the things that interest him now that he’s not “the decider” of this nation’s fate. I want to know what it’s really like to go from being the world’s most powerful leader to the afterlife of the American presidency. And I want to know what he worries about now that he no longer gets a daily briefing on the real and perceived threats to this country.
I want to interview Graca Machel, a leading African political activist and advocate for children's and women's rights, who married two African heads of state. Her first husband, former Mozambique President Samora Machel was the unelected leader of a one-party socialist state. Her current husband, Nelson Mandela, served two terms as president of a multi-party democracy in South Africa that he had a big hand in creating.I want to know what attracted her to each man – one of whom brutally suppressed his enemies while the other used a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to heal his country’s wounds.
These are the conversations that top of my “to do list” – the truth and understanding I want to pursue – as I begin this next phase of my journalism career.