The Covington News office is conveniently located for its local government reporters within easy walking distance of city hall, the Historic Courthouse and the county administration building. Today Gabe Khouli holds down that beat, but before Gabe, there was Rachel Oswald, trudging those well-worn paths and developing far more friends and admirers of her work than enemies. She was back in town this week for a visit with some of those friends.
These days, as a reporter for Global Security Newswire, Oswald’s beat is the halls of the State Department, Capitol Hill and think tanks in and around Washington, D.C., a leap of Olympic proportions from small-town politics to the deadly serious realms of international security. Owned by Atlantic Media Co., parent of The Atlantic Monthly and National Journal among other media outlets, Global Security Newswire is billed as “Daily News on Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues.” What Oswald knows would keep most of us innocents sleepless anywhere from Seattle to Bangor.
More specifically, Oswald covers North Korea, and surprisingly, she said the secretive country is not a loose cannon on the world stage, despite all appearances to the contrary.
“This regime, after some 60 years, is now into its third generation,” she said. “It’s survived a lot longer than anyone thought.
“In their own way, they are very smart and a master at game-playing,” she said. “They know they couldn’t survive a war, and they are all about survival. They are not going to give the U.S. any reason to invade. They are worrisome but not suicidal. They know just how far they can go to push our buttons.”
What should be worrisome to the North Koreans, according to Oswald, is that public opinion in China is turning against them.
‘‘This is significant,” she said. “North Korea has disobeyed China twice recently. In December, it was the long-range rocket test, and in February, it was the nuclear test.”
The contrast between D.C. and Covington couldn’t be more stark, Oswald has found.
“I loved being a small-town reporter, and I still really miss it,” she said. “Covington is so chock-full of great characters and good stories, not earth-shaking ones, but really good stories.” People like County Clerk Jackie Smith, “the personification of Southern hospitality,” genial former mayor Sam Ramsey, and Irene Smith with her customized golf cart resembling a ’57 Chevrolet made a lasting impression on her, as did Salem Campgrounds, activities on the square and ubiquitous BBQ competitions.
“This was a great place to cut my teeth,” she said.
On the other hand, she finds Washington to be “dysfunctional. The ethics (suggesting the lack thereof) are depressing, and you just get furious if you think about it. The people are all so buttoned up and uptight and stultifying. They are far less sociable than here. There’s no just dropping by for a visit; it has to be scheduled two weeks in advance.
“Here in Covington, I was invited over for iced tea, and then they fed me!”
Living in D.C. has left her jaded, and she finds herself more cautious and less a risk-taker than when she flew the coop in Covington in 2009 for the chance to be part of great national change taking place in Washington.
However, she finds good things about living in D.C. close to Capitol Hill.
“I really love the urban environment,” she said. “There are so many free cultural events and museums, even think tank programs.” The city is a feast of good eating choices, as well.
Jaded though she may be, Oswald still feels committed to a philosophy shared by most journalists. She wants to “make a difference” and “occasionally” she believes she does.
“While Global Security Newswire doesn’t have the largest reading audience, our readers tend to come from the federal government, the military, Capitol Hill and the think tanks.”
Oswald is a crusader when it comes to freedom of the press and is active in the National Press Club, where she is a vice chair of the Freedom of the Press committee.
“We strongly oppose the Department of Justice’s subpoenaing the phone records of the Associated Press. If this is not addressed properly, it will set a dangerous precedent. The Obama administration has indicted more government officials for leaking than all other administrations, this after campaigning to be the most transparent administration in history.”
So says intrepid reporter and passionate advocate for freedom of the press Rachel Oswald. We’re glad to know we impressed you as much as you still impress us.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.