Thank You, And Farewell, To My Friend Ben Blank

Back in 2006, in one of my more self-indulgent Political Junkie columns, I wrote about how I came to political journalism. It's 1982, I'm walking out of my apartment building in Fort Lee, N.J., I run into CBS' Charles Osgood (who is waiting for a cab), I tell him it's my dream to cover campaigns for CBS, he gives me a phone number of someone to call.

That someone was Warren Mitofsky, then the head of the CBS polling unit. He died in September of 2006, which prompted the trip down memory lane in my column.

Warren became a friend, and a big fan of Political Junkie, but he never hired me to work at CBS.

Not long after my interview with him, I was driving to a — God, I hope you've filled up on caffeine before reading this entry — political memorabilia show in Bordentown, N.J., with Ben Blank. Ben was a longtime collector friend of mine from Teaneck, N.J., who was graphics director for ABC News, and we often drove to those shows together. Ben said he had a lot of people I could talk to at ABC, and I followed up on those leads.

ABC News event badges from election 1980, shuttle STS-7 1983, Reagan in Europe 1985.

hide caption Ben Blank headed up the grahics dept. at CBS and then ABC News. These press badges were part of his operation. Ben died on Feb. 3 at 87.

The leads proved fruitful. I was hired as a political researcher for ABC News in New York in 1983 and was transferred to Washington in 1986 as the deputy political director. In 1991 I was hired by National Public Radio — not only a premier news organization but, I should add, the answer to last week's ScuttleButton puzzle — as its first political editor. I left in 1994 to run the Hotline and then returned to NPR in '98. And now you know everything about me.

But it began, in all seriousness, with that conversation on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1982 with my friend Ben Blank.

Ben died earlier this month at 87. Another collector friend sent me the obituary written by Jay Levin in the Bergen Record. I saw the headline, stopped in my tracks, and sat as my mind wandered back to all those times I visited him in his amazing office at ABC in New York, and how he, more than anyone else, was initially responsible for my entrance into political journalism. His life, as recounted by Jay Levin and later by Steven Heller in the New York Times, talked about his long career in television news graphics, first at CBS (1953-62), then at ABC from 1962 until his retirement 30 years later. Heller's obit ends with a fun story about Ben being asked about tabloid claims that the space program was all a hoax filmed on a movie lot. Ben's response: "You know, we could have done it all with graphics. All they had to do was ask."

The two obituaries had it all, except for how he facilitated my start in journalism.

A good guy with a wonderful sense of humor, Ben Blank will be missed. He will always have my gratitude for his help and his friendship.

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