Newspapers were rolling in dough in the late 20th century. Reporters had expense accounts and plenty of public officials were happy to let them pick up the check.
Not Janet Reno. She paid her own way, spoke for herself, and did not require those around her to bow, scrape, or screen calls to her home phone, which was in the book and accessible to the folks who paid her salary.
The former Dade County state attorney and United States attorney general under Bill Clinton needed no help to “craft the message.” She did not lard the public payroll with puppet masters to put words in her mouth about the “Hot Topics” of the day.
Harry Truman had done all the “message development” Reno would ever need.
Time after time after time, Reno faced hostile citizens, taxpayers, Congressional committees, and reporters. Her talking point never varied. “The buck stops here. With me.”
Reno was the state attorney in 1980, when riots broke out in Miami after her office failed to convict four white police officers accused of beating an unarmed black man to death. A dozen people died, and hundreds more were injured before the National Guard could restore order. Reno walked through the wreckage —alone, unarmed and unguarded — to take accountability with angry, distraught survivors.
Reno came from a storied Miami family that knew the difference between real friends and transactional friends. She was a star in a generation of lawyers that knew you can’t win if you’re afraid to lose. All of that would serve her well in jobs where making life-and-death decisions was just a normal day at the office.
Reno had hoped to continue in public life as her party’s standard bearer against Jeb Bush in the 2002 governor’s race. But the denizens of the Democrats backed the more malleable Bill McBride, leaving history to wonder if Bush could have crushed Reno as easily as he demolished McBride.
The memory of Reno standing in front of a bank of microphones, answering hostile questions truthfully until her interrogators gave up in exhaustion, is a source of pride to Florida, and an enduring example of what real accountability looks like.