Linda Douglass on Obama Job: “I’ve Seen Something I Believe In”

By Chris Ariens 

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Like a broken Maytag washer, retired ABC correspondent Linda Douglass will skip the spin cycle.

As new senior advisor for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, “My intention is that I won’t spin,” she says. “I absolutely vow that I will tell the truth.

“I also understand that one has to present the campaign in a certain way at certain times. I know that will be a challenge. It’s new to me. I’ve got to learn, and on the fly.”

The flying begins next week. Douglass got the offer late last week; she didn’t accept until Tuesday night, she says. It leaked out yesterday, just hours after she resigned as a contributing editor to National Journal.

“By the time I made the call, it wasn’t a tough call,” says Douglass, 60, a 34-year veteran of ABC and CBS. “Late last week, it was a much tougher call. I was really agonizing.

“Having been a journalist for most of my adult life, I think there’s a line you cross where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to cross back. I realize I’m going through a door that probably won’t be open again. I’m ready for this change.”

A few calls over the weekend with the campaign — including one from the candidate, though she won’t confirm it — “made a big difference to me,” Douglass says. “I saw that this could be a history-making presidency.”

The deal wasn’t sealed, however, until Douglass’ “most important conversation.” With her husband, attorney John Phillips, a major Obama fundraiser.

Douglass met Obama in 2005, when she was covering Capitol Hill for ABC. “I was impressed immediately. He struck me as somebody who had calm, good judgment. He was modest, not a showboater. He’s one of the most honest politicians I’ve ever talked to.”

Still, as a flack, isn’t Douglass moving over to the dark side? (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

“Not at all. I am actually feeling really proud of this decision. I’ve seen something I believe in. I want to be more than a bystander. I want to take risks, make a difference, through advocacy.”

She knows there will be missteps and weirdness along the way. Particularly among the traveling press corps, many of whom are her longtime friends.

“I like reporters. I really like reporters,” she says. (Paging Sally Field.)

“They’re my friends. It’s probably a double-edged sword. I respect what they do. I know how hard it is. Obviously, in my role as a campaign official, I’ll have to be more guarded about what I say. It could end up straining relationships or ending friendships.”

The biggest strain will be Douglass’ first campaign appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“It’s kind of terrifying,” she says. “Being on the other end of a Tim Russert interview means you have to be absolutely at the top of your game. Tim is the master.

“I always feel sorry for anybody being interviewed by Tim. If it ends up being me, I will feel very sorry for me.”