by Bob Baker
After assignments in London and Germany, I became the Consulate’s public affairs officer in Sydney, Australia. The left wing of the ruling Australian Labor Party wanted to show its displeasure with the Reagan re-armament program, especially its expanded missile program, by stopping our navy from using Australia’s ports. We needed those ports to help maintain control over the vital shipping lanes between the U.S., Japan, Australia and the rest of the Far East. Our ships got fresh food, water, other supplies in Sydney and shore leave for the crews.
I asked Washington for a top-level speaker to come down to meet with the media for a week to put our arms control case to the public. I was astonished when Max Kampelman was offered to do the job, as one of his underlings would have been a much more likely speaker to be sent to Australia. Max was our chief arms negotiator, a top foreign policy job.
I had clashed with him at WETA, public television station, years before when I was a current affairs producer there. He had been the President of WETA and had tried to stop my program about the Three Sisters Bridge controversy. Max was a lawyer with political influence as a top advisor to Hubert Humphrey, Senator and one time Presidential candidate. Max wanted to stop my program going on air because major trucking and construction companies wanted to ram a major interstate highway through Washington, D.C. Max made money from them through his law firm. He got my immediate boss the News and Current Affairs Editor, fired because my boss had backed me up and got the program aired. That made Max look poor in the eyes of his pals in trucking and construction.
I cabled him my proposed schedule for a grueling week of radio, television and print interviews. I explained in detail the hostile atmosphere and particular concerns he would meet. He agreed to the schedule. I picked him up in the morning at the airport and briefed him over lunch. He was traveling with his daughter, about 25, who needed to get some special vitamin pills at a drugstore so we stopped to get them en route to their hotel. I was surprised by her as she was not mentioned in the cable traffic on Max’s visit. However, I booked them into two rooms at a good Sydney hotel and picked up Max on time next morning to begin his hard schedule.
Max remembered me from WETA and was a bit distant at first. However, we worked well together. I escorted him to all his interviews, introducing him to the journalists and reminding him beforehand of their backgrounds and attitudes before he went in for his sessions.
Max was one of the most effective speakers on major policy issues I had ever met. He knew his subject, international strategic arms control, cold, numbers, placement, throw-weights of missiles on both sides, local and international political relationships, etc., etc. He was low-key, modest, funny, an excellent debater and clearly a dedicated man.
He was then about fifty-five, medium height, balding, no glasses. His eyes were remarkable. He was the only man I ever met who had hooded eyes. When he was about to reply to a hard question, his eyelids came down partly over his eyes before he answered. He was utterly self-possessed and knew exactly how to maintain his position without giving offense.
I recall he refused face powder at one TV show where the director really wanted to take the shine off Max’s forehead. He disarmed her with, “With my face; a little shine won’t do any damage.” She could not take exception to that and let him go on to shine.
One sharply hostile television interviewer sneeringly asked Max if he felt President Reagan’s reference to the Soviet “evil empire” was not a bit simplistic. Max replied that a government like Moscow’s that deliberately injected important dissidents with drugs to make them insane was evil, in his opinion. The interviewer moved on to other questions.
Max was an excellent spokesperson. He was always on time for me to pick him up, spoke eloquently and clearly, and worked from breakfast until late at night every day for a full week. His performance literally changed the atmosphere in Australia on the issues.
He appeared on every major television, radio news and public affairs program in the country. He met with key journalists on every important newspaper or news magazine. He also had off- the- record sessions I arranged with their corporate bosses.
By the way, when I returned to USIA from my year of training at Channel 26, the U.S.I.A. Director of Film and Television, called me to his office. He reminded me that before he had approved my training in television production at Channel 26, he had made me promise not to try to get a television job in U.S.I.A. He had lots of pals and they needed all the television jobs he had to offer. I was happy to oblige. Bureaucratic folkways have mysterious outcomes sometimes. Following my trail, several other officers went to WETA for similar training in television production.
As the officer in charge of Max’s program, I had to make sure he caught his airplane the next day. I arranged for a Consulate car to pick him up at his hotel in good time to make his flight back to the U.S. I also called his hotel desk and asked the clerk to be sure to send someone up to knock on the two room doors so Max and his daughter would be wakened in time for their flight. The clerk said he would do that, but that they were now in the same room. Max made a point of telling me on his last day in Sydney to be sure to contact him when I got back to Washington. Maybe Max’s eyes were not the only hooded thing about him. I never did contact him.