Bartleby calls shots on big visit

Friday, August 6, 2004

The overhead telephone bell in the newsroom is a signal to one and all: This could be the most important news story of a lifetime, so some scrivener ought to answer the phone. Now.

"Hello, news department? This is a Democrat. Did you know John Edwards is making a campaign stop in Cape Girardeau?"

Thanks. We really appreciate the advance warning. Who can fill us in on the details?

"The name of the person you need to talk to is Bartleby. Joe Bartleby. I think."

You think? Don't you know who's in charge?

"To be real honest, no. But you have to talk to Bartleby."

Bartleby's number is not listed as Joe Bartleby Who's in Charge of the Edwards Campaign Stop. Unfortunately. But a series of calls to Democrats finally produces a number, which is promptly called.

Bartleby? This is the newspaper, and we're trying to get information about the Edwards campaign stop. Can you give us some details?

"I would prefer not to."

What? What was that? I think we have a bad connection. Are you on a cell phone?

"I would prefer not to say."

Pardon me, but is this the Joe Bartleby who's in charge of making arrangements for a visit in Cape Girardeau by the Democratic candidate for vice president?

"Your question is intriguing, but I would prefer not to answer."

More calls -- sounding more desperate by the minute -- are made to more Democrats.

We called Bartleby, and we're getting nowhere. What's going on?

"We'd like to help. We really would. But everything has to go through Bartleby. We wish there was someone else you could call, but we're having to filter everything through Bartleby -- who, quite frankly, is in way over his head."

You mean there's no one on the state or national level of the Kerry-Edwards campaign who can provide accurate information to the news media?

"You can try to call them. Here are the numbers. We hope you get more information than we did when we called."

Calls are made to the state Kerry-Edwards campaign headquarters.

We're running into a brick wall here in Cape Girardeau. First we hear Edwards will be speaking to a private gathering, then we hear people can put their names on a list. Then we hear the event is open to the public. Which is it?

"We're not sure. That's all being handled by our local contact person."

You mean Bartleby?

Silence. A long, long silence.

"Well, now that you mention it, yes. It's Bartleby."

We can't get the time of day from Bartleby.

"Neither can we."

A long sigh is heard on the other end of the phone line. But the news cycle marches on. Deadlines loom. Editors are ranting.

Bartleby? We need some straight information. Can you help?

"I would prefer not to."

Do you think this is the strategy that will win the election in November?

"I would prefer not to speculate."

The phone line goes dead. John Edwards spends the night in Cape Girardeau. It turns out he needed some dry cleaning done. The pressed shirts and suits are delivered by 9 a.m. Thursday. He makes brief, upbeat remarks to a small crowd of supporters who, despite Bartleby, managed to show up. And the campaign goes on.

R. Joe Sullivan is a scrivener for the newspaper, but he would prefer not to say which one.

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