New Hampshire is a small state is a phrase heard frequently, but with layers of meaning.
The phrase came to mind this week with the passing of longtime political journalist John DiStaso, who was once a competitor and then a colleague for 14 years at the Union Leader.
Although we had both been in New Hampshire journalism for a while, I only met John once. “press conference” with Northeast Utilities executives proposing a settlement agreement to end the 1989 New Hampshire civil service bankruptcy.
The meeting took place in a sparsely furnished second floor office next to Veterans Park in Manchester and they came with boxes of documents outlining their proposal.
John didn’t look like he was from the union boss, long hair, beard, but he quietly informed the executives of their offer. He must have had a first copy of the documents to ask the probing questions he asked.
We talked a bit as we left the conference and bumped into each other frequently while I worked for Fosters’ Daily Democrat covering the State House and politics.
John was kind and loved to talk about the things we witnessed that made any journalist shake their head and wonder what this or that politician was thinking or not thinking.
As with many New Hampshire journalists, if you wanted to stay here and make a decent living, there were two places you could work, the Associated Press or the Union Leader.
I started working for the Union Leader in March 2000, which also marked the beginning of one of New Hampshire’s biggest stories in the past 100 years, the impeachment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court David Brock.
The court clerk had reported an interaction between Brock and then-Judge Stephen Thayer, who strenuously objected to one of the appointments made by Brock to replace one of the judges who had recused himself from his case. of divorce.
Yes, New Hampshire is a small state.
John was covering the story and spent several days sitting outside the closed courtroom of the House Judiciary Committee as members heard testimony behind closed doors.
Most reporters didn’t bother or were told not to bother trying to cover the proceedings behind closed doors, but John persisted and produced stories by talking to members as they were leaving and he knew who they were interviewing.
After his many years in the Union Leader, John was trusted by the hierarchy as he always refused to divulge his sources of stories, no matter who asked.
One day, the impeachment information barrage was about to burst as John and the Associated Press reporter had the basics of what the committee was investigating and where it was heading.
There was a new editor at the Union Leader who was uncomfortable publishing John’s story without knowing the source of the information.
As I had just covered the State House she asked me to confirm which I did and was also able to add additional information that no one else had which later became the one of the keys to his dismissal.
When I spoke to John saying the story was going to air because I had confirmed it with a member of the committee, he said we should have a double byline on the story.
I said I’d be happy to have a review at the end saying I contributed to the story, but he finally insisted that if you couldn’t confirm it, he wouldn’t have at all aired.
Over the next six months, we spent countless hours at committee hearings that summer in public as they crafted three articles of impeachment against Brock after deciding not to remove two other justices.
Impeachment was a classic case of the separation of powers and which controlled the system, procedure and rules of the court system, legislature or court.
What had been a rather happy marriage for decades was turning into a contested divorce.
The days were long in rooms 210-211 of the Legislative Assembly Office Building and often went into the evening.
One of us would do a first story for the national edition of the newspaper, then John would do the main story and I would do a sidebar on one or two of the key issues.
We listened to hundreds of hours of testimony, hours of questions and comments from House members leading up to a special session of the House in late summer that produced four articles of impeachment, including one approved on the floor on the challenged judges allowed to comment on the case.
They all passed and the action moved to the Senate where the whole routine began again.
Throughout those six months, John was focused, calm and determined to keep us ahead.
I have always respected John’s work and his ability to find information from different sources.
After spending the summer and fall covering impeachment, I had even more respect for him and his work.
He was a consummate professional and he had a low tolerance for someone he knew was not telling the truth.
We were in pods near the union boss and sometimes John’s voice would get louder and he would let the person on the other end of the phone line know that he knew they weren’t telling him the truth. It was usually a candidate’s press lackey who was the recipient.
John was old school having worked his way up to the top of the ladder as a political journalist.
Politics in all its maturations was his forte.
John left the union leader when wages were slashed as the internet took over the media world saying he had two kids to go to college and could no longer afford to work there.
He went to the NH Journal in its early days telling me at one point that he was still able to report what he wanted without interference from the people who owned it.
But John must have been happier with WMUR over the past seven years, where he could still do his job behind the scenes to extract the information before anyone else and not have to be in front of the cameras all the time.
The last time I saw John was before the pandemic at the New Hampshire Press Association awards dinner at the Institute of Politics and we talked about his work in television and how different it was, and her kids making their way through college.
I received a nice note from John when I received the Association’s Achievement Award the following year when the ceremony was online.
John had received the award the previous year, and they had misspelled his name like they had mine on my columnist award. After all these years in New Hampshire journalism, they can’t spell your name.
John has been an integral part of the state’s political and journalistic arena for decades and no one will replace him or the quality work he has done.
Rest in peace my friend.
Garry Rayno can be reached at [email protected]
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state events for InDepthNH.org. During his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. Over the course of his career, his coverage has spanned the spectrum of news, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electrical industry deregulation and presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.