WASHINGTON -- On Monday morning May 13, 1957, I entered the Washington bureau of the Associated Press in the old Evening Star building on Pennsylvania Avenue, a 26-year-old reporter transferred from Indianapolis where I had reported on the Indiana legislature for the AP. I was immediately sent to Capitol Hill, and soon was helping cover the Kennedy brothers' investigation of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, defended by Edward Bennett Williams. What a start for 50 years in Washington that continue today.
My $125 weekly paycheck was hardly enough to get by, but drinks were cheap in the Members Bar of the National Press Club (restricted to males, as was the club itself), and the small steak there sold for $1.25. I resorted to group living, in a large Georgetown house owned by a Foreign Service officer who was in Costa Rica as ambassador. I paid $100 rent a month. My housemates included two United Press reporters and two CIA employees (one overt and one covert).
It is highly unlikely to find journalists and intelligence operatives cohabiting today, reflecting the kinder, gentler nation's capital a half century ago. Then, as now, a Congress controlled by Democrats with a one-vote margin in the Senate confronted a Republican president. But they opposed each other courteously in 1957. I had arrived in Washington in a pause preceding party polarization, the civil rights revolution, racial riots, student unrest, assassinations, two impeachment proceedings, Vietnam, Watergate and Iraq.
Washington then was still the town of Southern efficiency and Northern charm, shabby and not resembling today's sleek metropolis. The government was much smaller and far less intrusive. The $76.7 billion federal budget ($585 billion in current dollars) compares with the 2007 figures of $2.7 trillion. But even those relatively modest figures spawned an assault on President Dwight D. Eisenhower's budget by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson.
The biggest news of my first week was LBJ leading the Senate on Wednesday to cut $102 million in foreign propaganda funds from the Eisenhower budget. Senate Minority Leader William Knowland and others in the Republican leadership supported the president in principle but voted for Appropriations Committee cuts in the interest of Senate solidarity.
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