Pershing: Sharp or Snide, HOH Was the Most Fun Job

Posted March 18, 2009 at 5:24pm

So, Heard on the Hill is finally turning 21. Our little baby is all grown up. Perhaps now would be an appropriate time for a montage — cheesy music, slow-motion footage of readers laughing, Members of Congress getting ensnared in sex scandals. And, of course, a series of yellowed portraits of the column’s fraternity (sorority? co-ed-ity?) of past authors, which I’m proud to say includes me.

[IMGCAP(1)]My stint with HOH was relatively short, shoehorned in for a few months between Mary Ann Akers and current co-author Emily Heil. But during my decade at Roll Call, I had several different beats and served as an editor, and I can honestly say that I probably had the most fun writing the HOH column. It’s a terrific franchise, with a large, built-in audience and a similarly sizable army of tipsters eager to pass along information.

Unfortunately, I did not have the job long enough to get blackballed, sued or otherwise attacked by any angry subjects of my writing. Perhaps I wasn’t really that rough, or perhaps the targets I wrote about just didn’t have a lot of shame. I’m thinking here of Indiana GOP Rep. Dan Burton, who missed four days’ worth of House votes in 2007 because he was playing in a charity golf tournament in Palm Springs, Calif. (Mystery Solved, Feb. 7, 2007).

I was, however, very proud to get the phrase “astronaut love triangle— into Roll Call for (probably) the only time in the newspaper’s history (It’s a Small World, Feb. 8, 2007).

Before the “series of tubes— took off as a medium for distributing political and other news, HOH was like an early version of a blog. It combined original reporting with sharp, occasionally snide commentary on happenings reported by others. And it came in small, easily digestible pieces. And its popularity demonstrated what the growth of Internet news has proved — people have an insatiable appetite for gossip.

If you only got Congressional news from HOH — try it for a week! — you would think the only things Congressional staffers do all day are snicker, chuckle and raise their eyebrows. I’m not sure if real people actually do any of those three things, but it’s always been acceptable to take a little dramatic license with the column. While we’re at it, tongues don’t really “wag— either. Maybe on dogs, but not humans.

One more benefit to writing HOH: It gives you the chance to refer to yourself in the third person without sounding like Rickey Henderson. As in, “HOH thinks Members of Congress should not visit prostitutes,— or “HOH hears that tongues were wagging— (see above). I could never have written, “Ben thinks …— without sounding weird. Or at least, weirder.

So, congratulations to HOH, and to Roll Call, for 21 fine years. Today, I will snicker and raise my eyebrows in your honor.

Ben Pershing wrote the Heard on the Hill column in early 2007, while also serving as deputy editor of Roll Call. He left Roll Call in 2008 and now writes two blogs, the Rundown and Capitol Briefing, for the Washington Post.