By Adam Pagnucco.
The most feared person in MoCo politics is not an elected official. He’s not a union leader, a developer, a big contributor or even a blogger. He’s Washington Post reporter Bill Turque, who has covered the MoCo beat for over four years. Happily for politicians and unhappily for the rest of us, Turque has stepped down and it’s unclear what the Post will do next.
MoCo officials did not fully understand what they were getting when Turque began writing about the county. Among his many previous assignments, Turque covered former D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, a FAR tougher figure than any MoCo politician. Turque’s battle for information from the school system escalated to the point when his own bosses tried to censor him. Then there’s the story of when the Post allowed Rhee to use one of their conference rooms to hold a meeting. Rumor has it that Turque quietly walked in with a notepad. Rhee was about as pleased as a bride who sees a cockroach in her wedding cake and wedding gown!
Politicians in MoCo had it easy from the Post until Turque showed up. His two predecessors on the MoCo beat were Mike Laris, who wrote one or two articles a month, and Victor Zapana, who was fresh out of college. Neither knew a lot about the county. Turque, in contrast, was a long-time resident who quickly learned the history and the players. Before long, inconvenient stories began appearing in the paper. Politicians began longing for the days of scanty coverage!
How to pick the Best of Turque? There are so many articles to choose from. There’s the time when he outed a union-linked operative as the author of an anonymous attack website targeting former Council Member Valerie Ervin. Then there was the article in which he called out the County Council for violating its own law on Public Information Act disclosure in taking down email addresses from the county’s website. Council Member Marc Elrich, who has long said he turns away developer money, was caught by Turque taking money from an attorney who represents developers. Council Member George Leventhal has yet to recover from Turque’s posting a video of his berating budget director Jennifer Hughes from the dais which was cited in Bethesda Magazine’s coverage of his Executive campaign launch. And then there’s the Silver Spring Transit Center fiasco, the subject of countless Turque articles up to his flaying the county for getting fleeced by lawyers and experts. Years ago, a Leggett administration official complained to me about Turque’s relentless coverage of the transit center. Your author replied, “You can’t blame the wolf for liking the taste of meat!”
Perhaps no politician in the county will be happier to see Turque leave than David Trone. Turque wrote a story on Trone’s political contributions early in his candidacy for Congress including the now-infamous Trone quote “I sign my checks to buy access.” Trone’s campaign never got past that statement. But there was more, including coverage of the Trone Spy and a Trone company’s payment of a fine for making illegal campaign contributions. We think Trone should celebrate Turque’s retirement by instituting a blow-out sale at Total Wine. Spread the joy, Mr. Trone!
The key to understanding Turque is that he’s an old-school, all-business reporter. If you have real information, he’ll look at it. If you have BS, spin or rumor that repeatedly doesn’t pan out, he sniffs it out lickety-split. The worst thing one could ever do with Turque is tell him “there’s no story there.” To Turque, that is proof that there actually IS a story and it will make him dig harder. One more thing. Your author has spent countless hours eating sushi with Turque and to this day I have no idea who he voted for.
The future after Turque is hazy at best. The Post is searching for a successor. It’s possible that the Post will bring on another newbie like Zapana or perhaps have its MoCo beat reporter take on work outside the county as its solicitation suggests. Either of those possibilities would likely result in declines of coverage here. Add that to the demise of the Gazette and the Examiner and, other than Bethesda Magazine and a couple online outlets, we could have a news desert at a time of historic change in county politics.