>> i do some consultingwork on american-- >> the feeling in the room-- >> you don't ever say to-- >> what about the-- >> to qualify for services-- >> we left-- >> more of a community-- >> doing in autism. >> in 2008 terry mutchler becamethe first executive director
of pennsylvania'soffice of open records. today she has the nation's firsttransparency practice group at the law firm ofpepper hamilton where she helps corporations,the news media, and government officialsnavigate the complex world of open records law. before becoming an attorneymutchler covered politics for the associated press andwas the first woman appointed ap state house correspondentin illinois.
she had a secret fiveyear relationship with the late illinoissenator penny severns, which she chronicles in herpulitzer prize nominated book "under this beautiful dome:a senator, a journalist, and the politics ofgay love in america." here's our conversationwith terry mutchler. terry mutchler thank youso much for joining us. >> it's my great pleasure. thank you for having me.
>> you've enjoyed animpressive list of firsts in a colorful careerthat began at penn state where you earned yourundergraduate degree. you went on to become a reporterand later a managing editor for the penn state newspaper,"the daily collegian." what, first of all, inspiredyou to want to be a reporter? >> well it's interestingbecause when i came to penn state i knew iwanted a big university; i had come from asmall hometown.
>> the poconos. >> the poconos; i wasin east stroudsburg. had a great experience there buti wanted to be in a community where i could getlost if i wanted to, and yet have a nicheat the same time. and i thought enoughof myself at the time that i thought i could do a walk on on the penn statefield hockey team and i think the coach's namethen was gillian rattray,
if i have that right. in any event i lasted aboutthree days in the tryouts and i was not cut out forthat division one level. so i remember sitting undera tree over by pollock fields and thinking to myself, oh mygoodness what are you going to do now and, becausei wanted to do something in the extra-curricular world. i'd always liked to write and isaw this ad that said come try out for "the daily collegian,"and i went and tried out
and i was one of the fewfreshman that made the cut and i knew i had found my place. so i cut my reporting teethat the collegian and i just-- once i started to understandthe business and how that worked i knew i washooked for a long time. >> now you won a number ofawards; the keystone award. in pennsylvania youwere the first woman, but also the youngestreporter in the nation to be appointed theap bureau chief
and state house correspondent,this was in illinois. >> yes. >> a number of firsts; first of all did you feelpressure as a result of that? >> i did feel a lot of pressure. >> and i should mentionyou were 27 years old. >> i was 27 at the time, yes. i had done a lot of cuttingedge reporting in pennsylvania for the ap and also forthe associated press
in atlantic city. they had asked me to take overthe illinois state house to-- they wanted to do, at the time, what was considered cutting edgecomputer assisted reporting, and they really wantedto dig into the, kind of, the graft that is illinoispolitics or can be. so i went there, i was theyoungest, i was the first woman, and you know perhaps youngenough not to really understand that mantle at the time,
although i did feelsome pressure, you know; i felt like i had to succeed. >> and ironically enough, iguess, you end up not long on the job seeingsenator penny severens. >> right. >> and literally fallingin love at first sight, which of course is more thana little bit of a problem for the ap bureau chief. >> absolutely.
>> covering the senate. >> right. it was certainly-- you know, there's no wayto sugar coat this one; i was clearly in thewrong in that way from a journalism perspective. i write about inthe book the day that i had seen penny idid not know who she was, didn't know she was a law maker. i end up calling a friendof mine in new york,
a former reporter andsaying to her, you know, i think i just fell inlove, and as we fin-- when i finally figured outwho penny was and my friend in new york calledme and for days was like look terry you'rethe first woman, you're the first bureau chief, the youngest, youcannot do this. and i did not heed thatadvice and i got myself into a wonderful relationshipbut a terrible ethical conundrum
that cast appall overthat relationship in fact for many years to come. clearly as the head of the apin springfield i should not-- what i should have done, inretrospect, was gone to the ap and said look i am inlove with this woman, i am going to pursuethis relationship and somehow built a firewallaround covering the senate. >> and in fact you'd donethat earlier in your career. >> i did.
>> when you had a relationshipwith a legislative staffer. >> who happened to be a man. >> and they did createthat firewall. >> i did. i was-- you know, iwent to rich kirkpatrick who was at the head of the apin harrisburg and i-- after i had been outon a few dates with-- that was a staffer fromthe house speaker staff. i said to him, rich listen ithink this relationship is going to, you know, bea longer one and--
or a long one and iwant to disclose it and it was very cleanand ethical and simple. he thanked me. he, you know, laiddown the parameters that i could not coverthe house, which was fine, and any story thathad an implication he, you know where there couldhave been an implication; he made sure it was vetted. it became difficult in illinois
when that scenario happenedagain and i fell in love with a woman and thatwas very complicated for me personally;i was not out. also at the time in centralillinois in the 90s it would-- i mean clearly penny would havelost her senate seat i think; you never really cantell in retrospect but it would nothave been an easy-- >> this was 1993. >> yeah, it would not havebeen an easy disclosure.
having said that, you know,courage is doing, you know, the right thing in real time. and, you know, thatwasn't even-- like that wasn't evena grey area, you know. i clearly should not havebeen in that position or in that relationshipat the same time. >> in fact you calledit the biggest regret of your life and unforgivable. i'm wondering if at this stageif, you know, more than 20 years
out you've forgivenyourself for that. >> i have in a waybut in the sense that it doesn't keepme up at night. however, where i do have aproblem is i still get caught when i try-- when i describemyself as a former journalist. >> you hate the word former. >> well i did disservice to thatprofession by being involved with a source and in journalism at the time it reallywas unforgivable.
i can't-- i mean shortof committing a crime in journalism what's the biggestethical breech you could commit? and so, you know, wheni recently i did-- i've done some other eventson a book tour and a lot of the moderators have said tome, well you know terry it was at the time, it was, youknow, in that moment, like all these explanations,and that is true; it was clearly a verycloseted community. i was too young toreally, you know,
understand the fullbreathe of that, i think, and also i was not matureenough to really deal with my own issuesof being closeted. and then on top ofthat, you know, you have this very powerfulillinois senator now in the mix. >> she's 14 years your senior. >> yeah she was and-- buti didn't handle that well. it was, in a journalismcontext, unforgivable. at the same time i knew thatnothing was going to keep me
from that relationship. >> did it influencehow you reported on her or what was goingon in the senate? you -- and sometimes i thinkyou recused yourself from some of the stories but youhad to edit them all. >> yeah, i think that it didbecause that's like saying, you know, if we wentto a restaurant and we said oh the mouse isonly on the corner of the plate, you know, you can't makethose kinds of distinctions.
for readers, they-- what theyneeded to know was either that the full truth so thatthey could make a determination about the veracity of the storyor alternatively i needed not to put myself in thatposition of covering somebody that i was involved with. i do think, in retrospect, at the beginning ireported a little bit harder at the beginning;like i remember-- >> more critically do you mean?
>> yeah. i rememberpenny and a group of law makers took a junketto israel and i, through her, knew of course every law makerthat was on that, you know, trip and what the expenses wereand i just plastered all of it, i mean i wrote everythingabout that and-- but the-- but i can honestly also say that then the coveragebecame slanted in-- because of my relationship andi write about it in the book. there was a-- penny had--
had had, i believe at thatpoint it was a second surgery to remove-- >> for breast cancer. >> for breast cancer, ofwhat she ultimately died. >> in 1998. >> yes. and in 1994, i thinkit was, i'm trying to remember but after one of the initialsurgeries related to it of course-- actually it was1994 because she was running for lieutenant governor.
i of course was at thehouse but i was a secret and so all the news coverage,nobody could get in touch with her, all thenews coverage was that she was convalescingat home. she had made a remark that she,you know, was tired of reading about this, particularlywhen you're in a statewide racefor the governorship. i asked her a few questions, howshe felt, picked up the phone, called the ap and dictated thestory that she was, you know,
working from home, doing, youknow-- so clearly, you know, it wasn't that i privately--at the beginning i was very-- i tried to, even though it wasstill wrong, i tried to carve out where, you know, tokeep myself out of it, and then that eventuallyfell by the wayside as well. we stayed in thatethical conundrum for just under a year when,for reasons i write about in the bookas well, i chose-- >> you went to alaska.
>> i went to alaska. and it was, kind of, acombination of reasons but what i find fascinatingin retrospect is that more than talking about thesecrecy or coming out. penny and i talked aboutthe ethical conundrum of the situation more than wedid about the obvious elephant in the room, which was you know that we were two womeninvolved and should be out. was there [inaudible].
>> and here you wereparking car either a block, sometimes more than a mile away. >> yeah. >> going in the backdoor of your own home. >> yeah. it-- i mean istill cringe when i think about the thingsthat we and i did to keep this relationshipa secret. i would park two milesaway from our house, i'd make sure it was dark.
penny and i the same inthe reverse when she was-- you know, we kept anapartment for show. you know, we did some-- oneof the craziest things we did that i write about in the bookis we would, for those people that have housekeepers orcleaning ladies, we would get up and sort of clean forthe cleaning lady, and in retrospect one of themost toxic things i recall-- >> your hair. >> and i wrote about-- yeah.
i used to have very long hairand i would lint roll my hair from the sheets andfrom the floor, and i mean my hairwas very long; it was like downto my waist, yeah. >> and it clearly wouldnot have been penny's hair. >> right, becauseshe had short hair. and, you know, and the levelof what we did to maintain that secret, even after i leftjournalism, was incredible. >> now it's not lost on anyonethat you went from this secret,
you went to alaska,you came back. you started law school so you'reno longer working for the ap. and you became pennyseverens' press secretary so now you could be withher and it made sense for you to be with her. >> right. right. >> but your career after that,you become a lawyer and you end up being called bygovernor ed rendell to head up the very first pennsylvaniaopen records office.
>> the irony in thatis just-- i mean-- >> the irony-- >> the person who kept secretsis now helping journalists and media and corporations find out information aboutgovernment. >> yeah, it's certainly,you know, ironic. it also what's interestingto me, and i think it evenstems further back than the relationship is ithink i spoke a little bit--
i've spoken a little bitabout this, but all-- since i became a journalist, even here at "thedaily collegian," you know i used the openrecords laws, i was familiar with the freedom of informationact, fighting for transparency, etc. what i find even moreironic than after, sort of, being the government's secretthat i was assigned to disclose, if you will, wastaking this position at the office of open records.
i also find it ironic, and i'msure some therapists would have a lot to say about thisbut i also think it stems from a very tumultuousyoung life; i was a victim ofsexual assault. i think that my family,you know you're bought into the conceptof keeping secrets. >> the seeds of secrecyyou said-- >> yeah exactly. >> were sown there.
>> yeah. and i think i was verywell trained to keep secrets and it almost became as, youknow, kind of not natural but it was certainlyvery familiar. but what i find interestingis around the same time as the sexual assault occurred-- >> you were 10? >> i was 10, i wanted to-- i-- it was around that timethat i started to want to become a lawyerand, you know,
those dynamics areinteresting to me because clearly my personallife was in a shambles and it was deeply closeted,and yet i'm, you know, somewhere inside me i wanted thelight out there in some fashion and so i think thatthe professional and the personal it eventually of course collidedand thus the book. >> and in a lot of waysyou say almost killed you. >> that's true.
>> so i'm just wonderingonce you unburdened yourself of this secret how catharticwas it and how difficult was it to write this book thatyou didn't write until-- didn't publish until 2014? >> yeah. you know, thefirst time that i came out was two years afterpenny had died, so, i mean i was really verymuch wedded to this secret. and she and i, even thoughwe had talked many times about finding our way out,wanting to, you know, not in a,
you know, some kind of a grandstand way but we were going to-- we had planned this oneevent where we were going to have a picnic and we weregoing to invite people over and i don't know what exactlywe were thinking because, you know-- >> this fantasy. >> yeah, exactly. i mean we're going toinvite people over, not explain why i'mthere, and yet--
i mean everybody kind ofknew anyway in one regard, but when i did come out finallyi still had a lot of work to do because i had a lot ofreckoning, if you will, both personal andprofessional to deal with. and also it was verydifficult to make the choice in one hand about,you know, ethics. penny was my key confidant,i did not have that anymore so i was making thesedecisions, you know-- >> in isolation.
>> in isolation andby myself still. you know, and i alwaysfind that it's fascinating that there are threads ofsecrecy that still, you know, can find you in some fashion,or tie you up in a way. it took me a very long time. i would tell people the storyof being locked out of my home and the story that i hadwith the end of penny's life. >> because the severnsfamily didn't acknowledge that you were her wife or her--
>> her partner and theysaid you were just friends. >> and so literally you'rebooted out of your house, can't get into the house that-- >> we bought together. >> and your name-- together,and your name would have been on the deed except that youconsciously said there is a record. >> it's public record. >> public record and someonecan see the deed transfer
and both of our names on it. >> wow. >> and so, you know, and at thetime, of course, this was all against the rubric of being27 or 28; you're young and you think the worldis-- you're invincible. it never dawned on me that my--you know, that our life together or her life would end in,you know, five or six years, so you make these decisions where you always think youhave time to figure it out
and you don't always havetime to figure it out. so when i started to tell peoplethe story there were people that would say to me youreally need to write this. and when i had started writingthe book i started writing in 2003 or 4-- 2004 and idid it primarily out of fear that i would forget pennyor forget the stories, and which is reallyimpossible but you don't know that when you're in the midstof grief, and so i started to write them and then i--
you know i put it awayfor a very long time. and then people would sayyou need to do something. at the same time youhad this, you know, cacophony of a seachange happening in the united statesrelated to gay marriage and this sea change coming in atthe same time that i'm figuring out this is an important story and i should do somethingwith this. and one--
>> in fact when your book cameout, i think, nine states-- >> yeah, there was-- right. >> allowed-- >> exactly. >> same sex marriage. by 2015 president obamacame out and actually said, i think maybe 2014, hesaid he supports it. >> and the next year the u.s.supreme court made it legal in all 50 states.
>> yeah it was aremarkable timeframe and also i thinkeven though i know that people had been advocatingfor this for obviously decades and longer it also, inthat window of time for me, seemed to happen very fast. it seemed like from the 90sforward was like, you know, you couldn't anticipate howquickly the change had occurred. >> now the interestingthing is that part of the reason youdidn't come out was
because to a largeextent you didn't even acknowledge yourself-- >> as gay. >> you were homophobic. i think that one of thehard revelations in the book for myself, realizations,you know penny and i had the quick answer thatoh we can't come out because, you know, she was a lawmaker, i was an ap reporter. in deeper retrospect i think wewere both homophobic and i think
that we couldn'tquite grasp that. now she got through thatmuch quicker than i did. i grew up in a very religiousand fundamentalist household where it was very biblicallybased and i got a great deal out of that and still relyon faith in a very deep way. i just never reallyworked through some of the issues that i was having. so for me it became more ofa, you know, a noose in a way. penny kind of gotthrough it and, you know,
and then it just becamethe practical reality of when are we goingto come out, which we-- over time we talked about. but it was a muchdifferent road for me. it was a very isolating road. >> interestingly though it wasyour story that was presented on the floor of the senate-- >> when they said it'stime for illinois-- >> to accept gay marriage.
>> in fact that's where thetitle of the book came from. it was ironic becauserepresentative ann williams, who is in illinois, and who idid not know in my relationship with penny but she and ibecame friends when she was at the attorney general'soffice in illinois. she was a sponsor of thislegislation, she knew the story, she felt the need andwanted to tell the story, thought it would be--it would resonate with her law making colleaguesand she started by saying one
of the most beautifulstories i ever heard happened under this beautiful dome. and interestingly enough,unbeknownst to her, penny many years beforethat had said to me that she could never walk intothe capital without looking at the moonlight that spilledinto this beautiful dome. and so that was not theoriginal title of the book but when the publicist read thebook she immediately picked this up and was like this isthe title of the book.
so that's where it came out of. >> what's been thereaction to the book? >> i have had a tremendousamount of reaction to the book, mostly virtually all good. you know i've gottenvery positive reviews. i've had a lot ofpeople reach out. interestingly, and i stillam trying to figure this out myself, the largestdemographic of people that write to me, you know you wouldnormally think oh they're either
young, coming out, orthey're closeted gays and lesbians, but it's not. the demographic of peoplethat write to me more than any other demographic arestraight men and women who are in affairs and they talk about-- >> the lie. >> the lie and thetoxicity of it. and i found that to be kindof fascinating, really. i've also, now that i'mcomfortable with the book,
i know that sounds like a weirdthing to say since i've lived with it for so long, butwhen i speak about it i'm in a much more comfortable spot. now when i go speak toadvanced journalism classes or the journaliststhemselves i talk with them about how a reporter couldhave discovered that story if they would have been payingattention, using the right to know law, the freedomof information act. >> yeah so now at pepperhamilton you're actually helping
journalists and historians and corporations get theinformation they need-- >> using our right to know laws. how good are right to know laws? are they doing what theywere intended to do? >> well pennsylvania's rightto know law is very strong and i still think that, youknow, it was 50th in the-- 49th in the nationamong the worst prior to the rewrite in 2008.
in the years sinceit's been upgraded, for lack of a better word, toas high as five in some poles. >> and some people refer toit as the pennsylvania model. >> yes they do, and the reasonfor that is pennsylvania is one of only three states that havea binding independent agency to review records requests. so if you're in illinoisor connecticut or pennsylvania you can, if youwere denied access to a record, you can go to, in our case,the office of open records
and they have binding authority; it's not just we thinkthis should be released, the agency has to release itunless the agency goes to court. so i think that thestate law is very good. this, as you know is the 50thanniversary of the freedom of information act this year. on july 4, 1966 presidentjohnson signed it into law. the freedom of informationact has a lot of problems and i think that we needto really rewrite it.
>> well one of the ones tome is the most fascinating is that what's absolutelyoverwhelming the right to know law at the federal levelis companies coming to agencies and demanding informationunder the right to know law but this is information thatthey're using and reselling. >> reselling. >> and the result of that isapparently a backlog of hundreds of thousands of requests. >> journalists and historiansand others who need information
for work they'redoing can't get it. >> they're delayedor put off or denied. >> and that's thesame in pennsylvania. i think it's a real-- it'sa crisis actually in this-- in open records world, at least, because the reality iscommercial requestors should not be using this law toobtain records to go sell. it harms the taxpayer,it harms the process. >> we're paying for them toget this free information.
>> basically, yeah. and then go-- andthen they go sell it. and, you know, there'ssome examples of that with people that, youknow, they're going to start a dog grooming businessso they go get the dog licenses. they're going to-- theyown a pool liner business and they want to know who'sputting in pools this summer. you know, the list is kindof endless in that way. i believe that the solution isto have a bifurcated mechanism
where commercial requestorspay; they can get it but it's a different time frame. it's all of that, i thinkthe priority should be to journalists and citizens to--and historians to obtain that-- that informationbut it needs to be-- they need to be separated out,absolutely, because they are-- they are part ofthe hold up here. >> there are lots of peoplewho say what we ought to do; agencies ought to be puttingthis information online before
they're even asked for it. >> yes. and i thinkthat, i mean, there is absolute statisticalevidence to demonstrate that when an agency, themore public record it puts on a website theless the requests-- >> makes sense. >> they receive. there are agencies nowin seattle and oregon that are 100 percent paperless.
all of their materialis on a website. they get maybe one or two ayear in a request and that's because people don't even,you know, they just don't know that it's there on the website. >> in closing terry,why do you think right to know laws are so-- andopen records are so important? >> i truly believe thatcitizens own this government. i firmly believe thatcitizens have to take control of the governmentback and we have to--
as public officialswe have to understand that we serve the public,the public does not serve us. as i have said, and i know itsounds a little geekish but, even the framers of the constitution their fifthgrievance against the king was that he kept public recordsaway from the legislatures for the sole purpose of fatiguing citizensinto compliance. that plays out everyday in the united states
under the open recordsact and i feel strongly that it shouldn't be that way. >> thank you so muchfor talking with us. >> it was my great pleasure. thank you. i appreciated allyour questions. >> i hope you enjoyedour conversation with terry mutchler. for more information from thisinterview visit our website
at conversations.psu.edu. i'm patty satalia. we hope you'll join usfor our next conversation from penn state. >> production funding providedin part by the corporation for public broadcastingand by viewers like you.