As Godfrey "Budge" Sperling writes his last column for the Monitor, we're reminded that at least a half dozen US presidents and four generations of political correspondents in Washington sought his journalistic leadership and admired his character and commitment to the news. I've been a subject of his column, a guest at his breakfast, and a conduit to his meetings with two presidents. President Reagan hosted the Sperling Breakfast in the East Room of the White House. The president asked who'd be there. I replied, "Every journalist in Washington that counts, and Budge picked every one of them." The nation knew Budge's breakfasts with newsmakers for the stories they generated. Presidents knew them for the institution they comprised: the Washington journalism establishment.
By the late '70s, when Vietnam and Watergate virtually eliminated personal relationships between presidents and the press, Sperling still brought them together. By the late '80s, when TV ruled and the print press slid further down presidential agendas, Sperling's breakfast gave them access and prominence. By the '90s, when every conversation with the media was contentious and framed by the ideology of political debate, Sperling remained true to the principles of journalism and the process of reporting.
It's in the nature of journalism for reporters to judge others. Just as surely, it's in the nature of political participants to judge reporters. They know Sperling's columns were honest and insightful, that his breakfasts were inspired and in the public interest, and that his first questions mattered. And they know he's a gentleman. As we say in politics, his words have legs.
- Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary to presidents Ronald Reaganand George Herbert Walker Bush
The reporters' breakfasts hosted by Budge have spawned hundreds of news stories. And at least one marriage: It was 1981. The year before, covering the presidential campaign for Newsday, I'd met a handsome young reporter for The Baltimore Sun. Carl and I dated, then broke up. Angry words were exchanged. Months later, we found ourselves across the table from one another at a "Sperling" (as the breakfasts are called) with then-Congressman Mo Udall of Arizona. I forget what Udall said. I remember how Carl looked. He eyed me. I eyed him. After breakfast, we chatted. And, well, to make a long story short, we celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary this spring. But we drew the line at one thing: We decided against naming our first son "Budge."
- Susan Page,
Washington bureau chief, USA Today
One of the worst-kept secrets in a town of poorly kept secrets: Many Sperling columns sprang from the breakfasts over which he presided - bringing together reporters and public figures. As meals, they'd have flunked a restaurant review. But the ambiance habitually earned five stars. My favorite journalistic feast occurred when our usually genial host uncharacteristically lit into Jim Brady, then debuting as Reagan's press secretary. Before Sperling opened the questioning to the assembled scribes, Mr. Brady turned to him and inquired: "What ever happened to foreplay?"
- Andy Glass,
retired Cox Newspapers Washington bureau chief
Budge can be charming. But when I met him in August 1974, Budge was all Midwestern directness. He was the Monitor's Washington bureau chief. I was a young reporter newly assigned to his empire. A variety of journalistic giants occupied the offices at the bureau. Because space was tight, he suggested I work out of the broom closet. Thus our relationship began. Budge's Monitor career has spanned nearly 60 years. His marriage to Betty Sperling, the gold standard of Monitor spouses, has lasted even longer. According to reliable family sources, his mother told him at a tender age, "when you get into something, stay with it, Budgie." He certainly has.
- David Cook
Washington bureau chief, former Monitor editor
When Budge phoned in 1966 to invite me to a lunch to introduce our fellow Illinoisan Chuck Percy to a few members of the Washington press corps, I could hardly imagine that it was the start of a great institution. The hundreds of cholesterol-filled mornings that followed produced memorable confrontations, but it was Budge's show. He always got the first question, frequently the last question, and any other question he cared to ask. Always with courteousy and without confrontation, Budge posed the kind of questions that the well-informed newspaper reader - not the Washington insider - might ask. He had a lot of fun with those breakfasts, and so did I. He never treated political journalism as a full contact sport. Like me, he's a University of Illinois alumnus, a sports fan, and a political junkie. Unlike me, he's a man without perceptible ideological tilt. That's why the politicians kept coming back for bacon, eggs, and Sperling questions year after year.
- Robert Novak,
When we gathered for the first time in 1966 at the invitation of Budge we came out of respect and affection for the host. As the Sperling breakfast has grown in importance over the decades, rivaling the White House press conference and the National Press Club lunch as the source of major Washington stories, so has our respect and affection for a man whose personal qualities - modesty, absolute integrity, and collegiality - are matched by his professional acumen. His legacy is more than the scrambled-eggs seminar; it is his own character and example.
- David S. Broder,
The Washington Post