Bacon, Eggs, and Fresh Ideas

Why do I keep doing it? After presiding over the 3,000th meeting of the Monitor's breakfast group, I asked myself that question.

Well, I do like to meet with public figures and ask them questions that may make news or, short of that, will provide insights into their thinking and into what kind of people they are. And I look forward to meeting with my colleagues. There's much schmoozing and friendly banter before and after these sessions.

Obviously, the breakfasts have provided me - and other Monitor writers who attend them - with invaluable assistance in shaping many, many stories.

But, more than anything else, I love to start my day with a breakfast that serves up new ideas and fresh information along with bacon and eggs. It's stimulating; it's fun. And I've looked forward to each and every one of those thousands of get-togethers.

We started with, of all things, a lunch! That was back on Feb. 8, l966, when Sen. Charles H. Percy met with a dozen of us journalists at the National Press Club. We became a breakfast simply because, several weeks later, I found the club all booked up for lunch on a day when New York Mayor John Lindsay said he could be with us. Lindsay said breakfast sounded "fine" to him. So just by accident we discovered that breakfast is an ideal time to get together with newsmakers.

At the beginning, guests provided much of their information on "background," where the source could not be mentioned. Soon we were insisting that everything was to be "on the record." And by the time we were meeting with President Ford in the State Dining Room of the White House, to mark our 10th anniversary, our group had swelled in size to 40.

Later, when we met with other presidents, we were up to nearly 50. But the average size of our group - those journalists who come in day after day to question politicians, congressmen, members of the Cabinet, and governors - is in the mid 20s.

On our 3,000th it would be ungracious of me not to mention those who have worked side by side with me in producing these breakfasts. First, there was Betty Kuemmerling, then Cece Barnett, and now Joan Merow. They set up the breakfasts (from names of possible guests that I provide), invite the guests and the journalists, and then send out the bills. Each attendee pays his or her own way. Betty, Cece, and Joan - you have my gratitude!

Then there were those on the Monitor who encouraged me to keep the breakfasts going over the years. Saville Davis, my bureau chief back in 1966, discerned the breakfasts' potential and cheered me on. Editor DeWitt John, who might have ruled there was no place for such an activity in the Washington bureau, became one of my big rooters. And successive editors - John Hughes, Earl Foell, Kay Fanning, Richard Cattani, and David Cook - have been enthusiastically supportive of the breakfast. How easy it would have been for one of them to say, "That's a lot of nonsense, Budge. Get on to other, more important things."

So it is that we've reached 3,000 get-togethers of the breakfast group. Over all, only a relatively few have been lunches. Once we met at the bedside of the wounded George Wallace at dinner time. Just a few days ago we were with New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman at a brunch. At the 1996 national political conventions we were very busy: including both breakfasts and luncheons. We met six times in San Diego with the Republicans and nine times in Chicago with the Democrats.

And so we go, on and on.

One final word. I'd like to think that our group is providing a valuable service to Washington's print journalists, one that carries out my newspaper's dedication to helping others. This thought is deeply satisfying and does much to keep me on the job.

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