After rough 2016, making journalism great again
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Continuing an end-of-year tradition, contributor Tom Squitieri is visited by a familiar face with whom he discusses events of the past year. Previous installments are available in the Contributors section and at Squitieri's website.

The White House looked lost in a late evening mist, as if a mere onlooker to the bleachers arising for the upcoming presidential inauguration. Off in the distance, early sounds of New Year's revelry could be heard from the roof deck at the W Hotel, the buzzing crowd outside the Old Ebbitt Grill, and the movers and shakers heading to the Hay-Adams.

Yet there was no frolic near the White House. The roads that once permitted easy photography of the White House have long been closed by the Secret Service; those decades of physical barriers were now seemingly fused with other, more piercing barriers to our democracy.

The last time I sat in Lafayette Square in the mist, it was more joyous; a night of being a tour guide, revealing parts of Washington to visitors never expected. Now, as a brooding year coughed to a close, I pondered the new beginning in a country where Hieronymus Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delight" has morphed into Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

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Lost in my thoughts, I paid scant attention to those walking around until I felt a sharp poke on my shoulder. Thinking it was one of the Park Police, I stiffened and prepared for the latest nonsensical command.

To my relative delight, it was my chum, the Old Geezer, looking vivid and energized, as if he had already said "Happy New Year" at a few stops before finding me on the bench.

"Well, hello Old Geezer," I said. "You better watch yourself here. Anyone who walks or looks funny is a prime target for handcuffs and pepper spray."

"Ha," the Old Geezer grunted. "If you lasted here for than 10 minutes, I am sure I will be safe."

"Fair point."

"Well, it's quite a site, isn't it, Tommaso," the Old Geezer said, gesturing toward the bleachers. "Every four years, the people vote and we see what happens and the world wonders how we do this and still survive."

"Yes, perhaps even more this time," I said. He nodded as I continued. "In the past, the media would be the ones to ferret out wrongdoing and make the public aware. This year, it seemed there was a lurch towards deficiencies rather than strengths."

The Old Geezer opened his coat and pulled out a bottle of Slivovitz nestled in a bag. He took a sip and handed it to me. "Remember, the trick is to hide in plain sight," he said.

"Very nice, Old Geezer. But you know what this does to me."

"Of course; it takes you back to cold December days and nights in Sarajevo. And now, you are thinking about Aleppo."

Of course, he knew. He could recognize my various signs and pinpoint with precision the roots.

"Yes, I am," I said. "I am angry because we supposedly drew red lines years ago and now the people are worse off than before. By accounts of those reporters who know the situation, it is worse than Sarajevo was. And this time the bad guys are going to win. The cries of Aleppo I hear at night."

He looked at me silently, sat down on the bench next to me, then turned to look at the White House. So I continued.

"And the greed and insanity here continues. Innocent people being shot by police as if they were targets in an amusement park. People connive to jack up the price of a lifesaving drug like EpiPen and Congress does nothing about it. Wolves, rhinos and other animals are being slaughtered to extinction. The 2016 presidential campaign produced the most disliked candidates in history."

The Old Geezer returned his gaze to me.

"Well, you know the drug companies will continue to raise prices. They just will be more clever in how they do it. Hiding in plain sight," he said. "As for the election, there are a lot of senators, old and new, ready to have a few points to make. Maybe we should give them a chance."

Those were rare soft words from the Old Geezer, but he saw I was not mollified. "Tell you what. Let's walk over to the Hay-Adams for a quick fortifier before deciding how to kick this very bad year away and greet the next one."

Before I could answer, the Old Geezer was halfway across the park, in a beeline to the hotel's Off the Record bar. By the time I got there and fought my way through the crowd, he had already ordered gimlets.

The bar crowd was well-dressed, festive and flirty. Notes were being passed on cocktail napkins, as if patrons were in a high-school class and the teacher's back was turned. Tall tales of job promises and special New Year's treats were rapidly proffered.

"This is the new ruling class," the Old Geezer said with a snort.

The gimlet was good. The Old Geezer would nudge me now and then, just before a note would arrive for an unsuspecting chap. He always seemed to be one beat ahead of the world.

"So listen, Tommaso. Just remember that 2016 has been 'The Year of Completion,' a nine universal year for the planet, with the number nine representing the artist and healer of life. This has been a year of letting go and trusting in the unknown, one where we have wrapped up the last collective nine years of our life. Now, 2017 is 'The Year of New Beginnings,' a one universal year for the planet with the number one resonating with the vibrations and attributes of new beginnings, creation, independence, motivation, progress and uniqueness. It's the reality of the world outside of this downtown area. There are people working three jobs to live, people coming here from all over the world to still find the American dream and old couples who now take small steps but still hold each other's hands in love. If I can survive the closing of the Carnegie Deli, you can manage OK," he said.

"And how bad can a year be when you had delicious oysters and soufflé, found a secret place by the water, they announce no more elephants will be in the circus, a well that sucks water from the air was invented, and Ruthie and the Wranglers make a comeback," he continued. "Just get out there and do it. Hide in plain sight, but keep your sights focused."

"A template," I said, taking more sips. "Think precision balanced with creativity. Perhaps, as Ekaterina Walter wrote, 'We often discover wings we never knew we had.'"

"Indeed," the Old Geezer said. "A template for the Trumplate. Just make sure they are butterfly wings."

That made me laugh, finally. The Old Geezer was pleased and finished his gimlet. "So now that we had this fancy drink, let's head to the Press Club and see if Larry, Paul, Georgie, Rick, Luke, Bobby, Bubba, the Flash, Slim, Joel and the others made it," he said. "Let's get there soon because, as I have often told you, 3 a.m. is that magical time of day where everything is possible and everyone feels invincible."

"In a minute," I said, pointing to the rest room.

It took a while to maneuver through the crowd and when I returned I found a trifecta of female smiles where we had sat, but no Old Geezer. The bartender saw me and handed me a cocktail napkin. "Someone sent this over to you," he said as the three women giggled, their drinks sloshing.

I held the napkin in my hand. It has been a long time since I received a note in a bar. I took the last sip from the gimlet and opened the napkin.

It was from the Old Geezer and simply said, "Make Journalism Great Again."

As the female trifecta sloshed some more, I ran outside and spotted the Old Geezer halfway though Lafayette Park, near the statue. "It's time," he said to mist. "Be with us."

Perhaps it was the blaring horns and giggles still resonating in my ears, but I thought I heard the Marquis de Lafayette say through the mist, "Through darkness comes light, through fear comes love and through pain comes triumph. Glory hallelujah."

I caught up with my friend and we walked silently to the Press Club.

Tom Squitieri reported for more than 30 years from all seven continents as a national and foreign correspondent, winning three Overseas Press Club and three White House Correspondents' Association awards for his war-zone and refugee coverage. He is an adjunct professor at both American University and Washington and Jefferson College and teaches a communication skills program for professional women. He also speaks on the roles of the media in political campaigns and influencing foreign policy. Follow him on Twitter @TomSquitieri.


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