Kenneth P Vogel writes: I have always thought of overhearing conversations as an underappreciated journalistic tool.
When political donors, lobbyists and politicians gather at hotels for meetings and strategy sessions, they often keep out reporters. But they usually can’t keep us out of the lobby bars and restaurants where they gather afterward to gossip. And I’ve picked up all manner of tantalizing nuggets — from U.S. senators, billionaire donors and influential operatives, among others — by positioning myself within earshot of those conversations while nursing a beer at the bar.
Sometimes, those nuggets have been featured in my journalism, including in my behind-the-scenes reporting on how major donors have influenced politics; more often, they’ve merely helped me add texture to my reporting on money and influence.
But I’ve never overheard a conversation quite like the one I accidentally encountered last Tuesday, when I met a source for lunch at BLT Steak, a downtown Washington steakhouse frequented by the capital’s expense-account set. My source chose the restaurant, but I didn’t protest, since BLT is on the same block as The New York Times’s Washington bureau and has a delightful tuna niçoise salad with fingerling potatoes and green beans.
Being a rare temperate day in Washington with tolerable humidity, we requested a table in the restaurant’s outdoor section, which abuts a busy sidewalk. Not long after we’d ordered, my source noticed someone he thought he recognized being seated at the table behind me.
“Isn’t that the Trump lawyer?” he asked. [Continue reading…]