The Political Junkie's Diary

As the producer of yesterday's segment with NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin, I was relieved to hear that Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), recently returned from Argentina by way of Appalachia, had decided to delay his press conference, originally scheduled for 2:00 p.m.

In my humble estimation, we'd booked a good show. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea was scheduled to join us, to talk about the previous day's press briefing, and Gina Smith, a reporter for The State told us she'd call in toward the end of the segment, if she could, to talk about her scoop (a few hours earlier, acting on a tip, she found Sanford at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, getting off a plane). Minutes before we got her on the air, the story moved light years ahead. On his blog, Ken did a great job of summarizing what happened:

It's the end of the day, a long day, a chance to reflect on what exactly happened on this surreal Wednesday.

When the Mark Sanford story broke, I was sitting across from Neal Conan, the host of NPR's Talk of the Nation. We were on the air, live. It was our regular Wednesday Political Junkie segment on TOTN. As the segment began, we learned that the governor's news conference, which was scheduled to begin just as the show was starting, would be delayed a half hour.

That gave us more time. So we discussed the bizarre nature of the situation, I did the obligatory bad jokes ("He was actually in Argentina? He's so pampas"). And then we went on to the other political subjects of the week. Villaraigosa's not running for governor of California. What in tarnation is going on in Albany? How 'bout those Nixon tapes!

NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea then came on the show to talk about behind-the-scenes stuff during a presidential press conference. The callers were great, and Don was, as always, superb.

And then Neal's face dramatically changed.

You can read the rest, after the jump...

He had the wires up on his screen, as he always does in the event of breaking news, and he motioned to me in a dramatic gesture. I got up and looked at the screen. I couldn't believe my eyes:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - SC Gov. Mark Sanford says he's been unfaithful to his wife with friend from Argentina

Of course, on sober second thought, it made complete sense. Missing for a week, including Father's Day. His wife hadn't heard from him. His staff kept announcing suspiciously different reasons for why no one could find him. Something was up.

Neal and I talked about it for the remainder of the segment, half in shock, and then I raced back to my desk to watch the remainder of the news conference.

It was painful. The governor revealed more details than I ever thought a smart politician should. But a smart politician wouldn't betray his wife and family or lie to his staff and the voters who elected him.

And that in a nutshell was the mixed emotion that hit me as I was watching him. Wow, he's so honest about his feelings, I thought. Wait, what am I thinking, he's lied to everyone close to him! How can "honesty" belong in the same thought? I don't believe I blinked for some 15 minutes.

When I finally exhaled, people were coming by, asking if I had seen the e-mails between Sanford and his girlfriend. I read them, and felt dirty.

It's hard to find sympathy for the Mark Sanfords of the world, or the John Ensigns or the Kwame Kilpatricks or the John Edwardses. And yet, when you read these expressions of personal feelings and emotion, you can't help — or at least I can't help — but feel sad. Not sad for the betrayers necessarily. Just sad. People are hurt, badly hurt, by foolish actions. Careers are ruined, and lives are ruined. And I don't know what else to say. It's not that I've suddenly lost faith in Mark Sanford. It's ... I don't know.

Will he stay on as governor? What's next for the GOP? That's for tomorrow.

I feel deflated, and I'm leaving the office.

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