Lou Cannon is probably the most distinguished reporter Nevada has ever produced, after Mark Twain. He’s a former White House reporter for the Washington Post and author of several noted books. Last month, he was honored as a distinguished writer by the journalism school at the University of Nevada, Reno.
You came from Reno. Your family had a business here, is that right?
I was born in New York City. [In Reno] my father had a second-hand and gun and hardware store. It was across the tracks from where the station used to be [on Commercial Row].
You went to Reno High School when it was on West Street.
It was the only high school in town, and I graduated in 1950.
In high school, you wrote for the Nevada State Journal..
I did different things. They had high school columns, and I wrote a Reno High column, and I wrote a sports column. And then I also did proofreading for them, and occasionally, they let me do some kind of a story. And then there was a summer there I worked for the [Reno Evening] Gazette. There was an editor named Bill Friel, and I worked for him.
When you got our of high school, you went to UNR?
Yes, I went to UNR [then known simply as the University of Nevada] for a year, and then I transferred to San Francisco State.
Were you working for the Reno newspapers during that year?
Part of the year, but I mostly was not. I can’t remember when I stopped working for them. I think I worked for them the fall semester, not the spring. I was working my way through college, so I worked in a mill, cleaning up a mill at night. And then I used to—I was a chess player in those days, I loved to play chess. Bill Harrah gave us an upstairs room where we used to play chess. And I remember once coming in from cleaning up the mill and just sitting town and the dust just flew all over me. I got really ragged by the other chess players. They said, “It’s fine to come from the mill, but we don’t want ash all over, dust all over the chess pieces.”
After you left, did you ever think of coming back to Reno?
You know, I don’t know that I ever did. I’m not sure. But what happened to me is that when I transferred to San Francisco State, there was some unit—I don’t even remember what it was—that they gave credit for it at Nevada that they didn’t give credit for at San Francisco State. So I lost a unit … and I just decided to chance it. You had a very undemocratic draft during the Korean War. If you were in college, it was the most undemocratic draft in the history of the nation. If you were in the university or college, and you were taking a full load, you were exempt from the draft, period. You could be taking 15 and a half units of basketweaving. But since I had to work [at SFS], I didn’t feel I could take another unit, and I sort of bet that the draft board wouldn’t draft me, and they did. … And I went in the army from San Francisco. When I came out I had a kid [Carl Cannon, now White House reporter for National Journal], and my wife and I got a job in San Francisco, so it never really came up. I mean, I wasn’t one of these people who are determined to leave home under the theory of not going home again, or people who are determined to return home. Neither was true for me. You know, my life had just changed.