Rich Rogin was my mentor, my adviser, my advocate, my defender; on occasion, he was the witting victim of my peculiar sense of humor. Most of all, he was my friend.
If I never thanked him for all he meant to me, it was probably because I never fully realized it until it was too late to tell him.
I met Rich in the summer of 1986. I had just started working at ABC News as a correspondent in New York. I was as green as the grass on the Great Lawn of Central Park. Rich was a veteran field producer who specialized in investigative stories. I was in my early 30s. Rich was in his mid-50s. I am African-American, from Los Angeles. Rich was Jewish and from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We were a perfect fit.
Rich was as serious a journalist as anyone I ever met. He had a passion for facts and information. As a journalist, he was dogged and thorough. He did the difficult, relentless, behind-the-scenes work that is critical to television news but invisible to viewers. Rich had high standards — maybe impossibly high. He used to complain about one reporter was "very mediocre." I loved that expression. Only Rich would feel compelled to append the word "very" to a description of something or someone being mediocre. He detested mediocrity.
Rich was a moral man. He had a fervent sense of right and wrong. If someone or something violated his moral code, his face would darken and he would mutter that it was "outrageous, just outrageous."
Early in my career, I was once covering a mob trial with Rich. When the verdict came down, the story was assigned to one of the big-name correspondents. I was very disappointed. But Rich was characteristically outraged. The next thing I knew he had fired off a blistering letter of complaint — this was pre-e-mail — to various bosses and editors. I was amazed and deeply touched by his gesture. I also thought he would get himself trouble, maybe lose his job. I don't think he cared. If he believed a wrong had been done, Rich would speak out and he would always speak loudly. Fortunately, he got away with it.
Colleagues recall that Rich and I were always arguing with each other. I recall it as vehement debates — about news, the news media, the responsibilities of reporting, about accuracy and fairness, about writing and style. But I also as much prone to baiting as debating Rich. Because he was such an "old" guy, I called him Pops. He just laughed. Sometimes, he would sarcastically reply by calling me Sonny. I also called him The Rogue.
I loved to tease Rich. He could be such a serious, even cranky guy at times. Naturally, that made him ripe for my oddball sense of humor. But I respected him deeply. I watched him and learned from him. I flatter myself to think I absorbed a small measure of his moral sensibility and fierce integrity.