By George Archibald
As the late Geraldine A. Ferraro was buried March 31 in New York state, which she represented in Congress for three terms and as the first and only woman ever nominated to run on a national ticket for vice president of the United States, my own personal memories are bittersweet. I was The Washington Times investigative reporter who broke the story on July 20, 1984, the day after Ferraro was chosen as Democratic presidential challenger Walter F. Mondale’s running-mate, that started derailing her run against re-election of the Reagan-Bush Republican ticket.
In my book, Journalism Is War, the chapter titled “Skunk at Geraldine Ferraro’s Party” is about the Times’ exposÃ© of a Manhattan business involving Ferraro and her husband, John Zaccaro, that she did not disclose on her financial ethics reports because it involved controversial parking lot ownership and even production of pornographic magazines and films.
Eleven years after my stories, in the summer of 1995, when we both attended the United Nations Fifth World Women’s Conference in Beijing, China, where Ferraro was co-chair of the U.S. delegation with Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, I told Ferraro I was sorry that journalism like this hurts innocent family members of the person in the news. She nicely told me she harbored no ill will towards me or the paper. “Stop calling me Mrs. Ferraro,” she said. “Call me Gerry. Look, you had to do what you had to do,” she laughingly told me. “We’re a tough bunch. Don’t worry about us.”
And tough she was. In her own book published in 1985, Ferraro: My Story,” she recounted the firestorm caused by the story and how the Mondale-Ferraro campaign spent the next several weeks in battle mode to undo the damage, all culminating in a massive press conference in Queens attended by all major news organizations, who filled a rented warehouse.
Ferraro wrote in the book: “Backstage the tension was palpable. Everybody — my staff, the attorneys, my son — was a nervous wreck.” There were microphone difficulties and technicians scurried to get the box working that all the news organizations plugged their microphones into.
“After ten interminable minutes, the technicians came in and said they still couldn’t fix the mult box. â€˜Fine,’ I said. â€˜Set up all the microphones instead and let’s go. â€¦ I want the American public to see what I am going through.’ “For the next ninety minutes I answered every question imaginable into the forest of microphones in front of me. I didn’t think about anything except hearing the press out. And answering their questions until they got tired of asking. I tried to call on everybody at least once, but one young man from the Washington Times, an ultraconservative paper owned by Sun Myung Moon, kept popping up no matter who I pointed to.
‘Let me get to everybody once and I’ll come back to you,’ I said to him. But still he kept jumping up and down, attempting to grab the spotlight.”
No, I was just trying to get a full and truthful story instead of all the PR flim-flammery that Gerry was dishing up. We all know how that works in the political world.
But the ultimate impact of the story was that President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush won the 1984 re-election in a landslide, Mondale went back to the U.S. Senate for the state of Minnesota, and Gerry Ferraro went on to become President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights amid two unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate.
In the last and perhaps most rewarding period of her life, Ferraro was a feisty advocate for liberal-left causes as co-host of CNN’s popular Crossfire program and as a popular contributor for Fox News Channel.
Ferraro, as a politician newsmaker, gave this writer a huge leg up in his own career as a scandal target, yet I shall always remember and revere her as one of the strongest, most sincerely committed, courageous, and likeable advocates on heartfelt liberal causes that this man she called an “ultraconservative” has
George Archibald, former 21-year senior investigative reporter and four-time Pulitzer Prize nominee at The Washington Times, lives in Berryville, Virginia.