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Dotty Lynch: An Unsung Giant of Journalism

Dotty Lynch: An Unsung Giant of Journalism

By Scott Conroy - August 12, 2014

Among the perks of being a young journalist at CBS News’ Washington bureau is that many of your older colleagues -- with whom you might share cake at office birthday parties -- happen to be icons of 20th century American journalism.   

Run an errand for a “Face the Nation” producer, and you could find yourself chatting with Bob Schieffer about some of the awful things that Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother told him during their drive to Dallas after her son shot JFK that fateful November day.  

Coordinate a White House press conference feed, and Bill Plante might reward you later that evening with a glass of wine and a wistful tale of what the Tiffany Network used to budget for correspondents’ expense accounts back in 1964. 

Help cameraman George Christian set up his live shot, and you can forever tell your friends about the time you worked with one of the three people inside the Oval Office when President Nixon announced his resignation to the nation.

In January 2005, I had my own experience with this unique opportunity that CBS provides its young employees, though I didn’t know it at the time.  

Like many college students entering their final semester, I was looking forward to the prospect of a post-undergraduate life with a combination of denial and dread.  

On a whim, I applied via snail mail for spring semester internships at all of the national networks’ Washington news divisions.  

As the proud writer of several complete sentences at Georgetown University’s alternative weekly newspaper, and with a vague sense that I was interested in the news, I considered myself overqualified.  

The internship coordinators at ABC, NBC, CNN and Fox saw it differently. 

Only at CBS was my application even acknowledged, and I was overjoyed when Dotty Lynch -- the network’s senior political editor of two decades -- offered me an internship in the network’s political unit.  

At the time, I had no idea that before she became a trailblazer for women in journalism, Dotty had been the first female pollster for a U.S. presidential candidate when she helped propel a little-known senator named Gary Hart to a stunning victory in the 1984 New Hampshire primary.  

Neither was I aware of her groundbreaking work on polling data that helped usher in a new era of interpreting the female vote.    

I was just happy to get a notch on my resume and maybe learn a thing or two about photocopying and data entry -- skills that I had begun to refine in previous unpaid internships.  

But from my first day, Dotty made it clear that she cared genuinely about my development as a writer and reporter and was willing to put her own reputation on the line to give me a shot.  

Instead of sending me straight to the coffeemaker, Dotty dispatched me to Capitol Hill for press conferences and even passed along Norm Orenstein’s phone number when I needed a quote.  

As an unpaid intern, I had no right to any other title, but that didn’t stop her from directing a CBSNews.com producer to identify me as Scott Conroy “of the CBS News political unit” when my first story was published and appropriately buried somewhere deep in the bowels of the site.

After she pushed me to generate a few more clips, Dotty drafted a letter of recommendation -- a hyperbolic description of my limited professional skillset -- and made a couple of phone calls. 

Abracadabra, presto chango!  

By the time graduation day rolled around, I had a full-time job at the CBS Broadcast Center waiting for me in New York. 

It was only later that I learned how many other careers at CBS News Dotty had helped to launch: CBSNews.com Executive Washington Editor Steve Chaggaris, “Face the Nation” Executive Producer Mary Hager and Senior Producer Rob Hendin, and CBS News Special Events Producer Kia Baskerville, to name just four who are now leaders at a once again flourishing news division.  

I know that they and everyone else who was touched by Dotty’s generosity were as saddened as I was to learn she had passed away Sunday in Washington after a year-long battle with cancer. She was just 69. 

I had stayed in touch with Dotty over the years and had spoken a couple of times to her political communications class at American University, where she no doubt inspired many of her students to consider this line of work, but I hadn’t known she was sick. 

That is not surprising, since Dotty seemed always to care more about others than about herself.  

People get into the news business for all kinds of reasons, many of them noble.  

For almost all of us, however, the prospect of one day seeing our words in print, our faces on the TV screen, or our names being called at a self-important awards gala is a primary, if largely unacknowledged, enticement.  

Dotty wasn’t like that. 

She was one of the rare individuals in the ego-driven, often soul-deficient world of Washington journalism who cared more about the accolades of her protégés than her own. 

I only wish I’d had the opportunity to thank her once more.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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