Commentary

Christensen: New book reveals old-school politics

rchristensen@newsobserver.comNovember 26, 2013 

The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor’s head and shoulders were being shoved out the sixth-floor window of Raleigh’s Sir Walter Hotel by his political consultant, who was threatening to heave him out for deliberately sticking him with a bad check to pay for TV ads.

“You see that street down there?” Grady Jefferys asked. “I want a certified check for $60,000 today or I’m going to splatter your fat --- all over the sidewalk, and Jay and I will swear that we saw you in the window and tried to keep you from jumping.”

Jefferys said he had no intention of hurting the candidate, state Rep. Allen Barbee of Nash County, in what he acknowledges was a Mafia-like move in 1972. But he did collect the $60,000.

Politics, Jefferys allowed, sometimes operates under rules that resemble professional wrestling on television.

That story and others are told in Jefferys' new book, “I Never Promised Not To Tell,” a memoir of his decades in Raleigh politics as a newsman, video and film producer, ad man and political consultant for 45 campaigns.

Normally, memoirs by local figures are pretty bland stuff – either filled with thanks and mundane stories about their climb to success or score settling.

But Jefferys’ book is filled with good stories. Jefferys, who grew up on a Wake County tobacco farm, has been around media, politics and advertising since the 1950s. He saw the rise of the first TV stations of Raleigh, the first major advertising firms.

Juicy gossip

The book is filled with juicy gossip – which local TV mogul was seen every afternoon having “a steamy encounter” with a woman in a conference room, which symphony conductor was so disappointed with his life he wanted to publish a memoir called “The Mean Streets of Music,” and which gubernatorial candidate canceled five news conferences in a row because he just couldn’t face reporters.

Jefferys writes about the rise and fall of WNAO, one of the first TV stations in Raleigh. He was there for the start of the advertising firm McKinney and he was on hand as TV ads became the way to reach voters. He was also involved in 1979 in an effort to launch a newspaper, backed by a group of businessmen disgruntled with The N&O. The paper did not last.

Jefferys doesn’t have too many kind words for TV, either.

“The fact is local television news, equipped with helicopters, news teams and big vans of equipment, is a largely irrelevant enterprise directed to a segment of the population that does not understand the difference between being entertained and being informed,” he writes.

Helms’ good humor

Most of his stories are from the 1950s and 1960s. But he also recounts the time, in 1970, that he took Democratic Rep. Nick Galifianakis and his wife, Louise, to the WRAL-TV studios. The couple met Jesse Helms, who was operations manager and editorialist.

“ ‘Jesse, why were you so against my husband in this campaign?’ Louise Galifianakis asked.

“Helms protested: ‘Ms. Louise, you know WRAL-TV doesn’t take sides. We have to cover the news.’

“Mrs. Galifianakis’ response was loud and blunt. ‘You’re just an old a------ and you’ve always been an a------.’

“Helms took the insult in good humor. “ ‘You don’t mean that Ms. Louise,’ he said. ‘I know you don’t mean that.’

“ ‘Yes, I do,” Mrs. Galifianakis said. ‘You know you’re an a------.’ ”

Two years later, Helms defeated Galifianakis to win election to the U.S. Senate.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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