Poking around Google a few weeks back to see how various television reporters were playing the healthcare debate, I searched for "Candy Crowley."
Back came the expected raft of citations: government stories, pieces from Election 2008, a link to Crowley's award-studded bio. There was a mention of her elegant obituary of Ted Kennedy.
And this: "Candy Crowley Has Lost A Lot Of Weight."
The blogosphere has been awash for months, I discovered, in other incisive speculation about CNN's senior political correspondent: She must have had a face-lift. No, it had to be gastric bypass. One genius wanted to know if she would change her name to Salad Crowley.
Now we know. A career of sophisticated political observation, graceful writing and determined fairness earns you this: speculation about your metabolism and guesses about your turns under the surgeon's knife. Such is the wonder of our ever-freer public discourse.
Yet even we who admire Crowley couldn't help but notice the change. In the aftermath of a brutal two-year presidential campaign siege, one of the top political reporters on television looks slimmer, healthier, even a little more serene.
When I first contacted her, Crowley wasn't at all sure she wanted to talk about this. I couldn't blame her for worrying that all the hoo-ha might distract from what she does best.
With a slight chuckle, she said: "It's stunning to me that something I consider so separate and apart from what I do for a living has taken up so much space in some people's thoughts. I am a hard-news journalist. That is what I do."
But a few days after I first made contact, the veteran of eight presidential campaigns agreed it might be worth talking, a little, about her new incarnation. She wanted to thank the many fans who have been e-mailing to express their admiration. And she wanted to knock down a few myths.
So here it is, straight up and on the record: There has been no Lap-Band. No gastric bypass. No surgery at all. Rather, Crowley said, she has been dieting, swimming and working out, sometimes with a trainer, since last December.
And, in a change she thinks has made the biggest difference, she has taken up Transcendental Meditation. A couple of times a day, Crowley escapes her break-neck schedule to settle into what the TM website describes as a "natural state of restful alertness."
"I feel great physically. I feel really good," the newswoman told me Tuesday. "I'm lighter now in a lot of ways."
I should have known I would get that kind of candor from a correspondent who routinely draws accolades like "no-nonsense" and "straight shooter."
Most viewers have given up trying to discern Crowley's politics. Like anyone in the big media these days, occasional potshots come her way. But the complaints are so evenly distributed between the two parties, it offers another proof that Crowley is playing it down the middle.
A recent assessment on President Obama's record, one year after his election, eschewed both celebration and condemnation, citing some successes and many challenges. "The list of the undones is long, varied and mostly difficult: immigration reform, new financial market regulations and a game-changing energy bill," Crowley reported.
Other journalists admire how often the one-time Associated Press reporter weaves poetry into scripts that might easily be left to prose. And these are pieces written at lightning speed, often in the back of campaign buses or in the midst of noisy convention halls.
A story on a company devastated by the 9/11 attacks observed that the firm had moved "40 blocks north of Ground Zero, a breath away from memory." Preparing for the rollout of Sarah Palin's biography, Crowley described the former Alaska governor "lighting a fire in the grass roots of Republican-land -- fresh, folksy and fierce."
While the chatterocracy fights to be first to peg a new trend or to declare another watershed moment, it's often Crowley who will add the missing context or even concede (horror of punditry horrors!) that an outcome remains uncertain.
In a recent gaggle over the Obama Justice Department's decision to try suspected terrorists in New York City, Crowley assessed the risks and concluded we would all have to "wait and see" whether the administration had calculated correctly.
Since coming to CNN from NBC in 1987, Crowley has won most of broadcasting's big awards, traveled around the world and visited every state in the union. She has controlled her own destiny in every sense but one: on the quadrennial presidential campaigns she, like other political reporters, has had her health and welfare thrown into the hands of the operatives who run the Big Dance.
That means 4 a.m. wake-up calls, rushed meals, little exercise and the relentless pressure of deadline.
"With the election over, if I can borrow from Anderson Cooper, I wanted to take a 360-degree look at my life and say 'What would make it better,' " Crowley said. "That may sound touchy-feely, but that's what I did."
Operating in a world of furious motion, Crowley had the sense to seek out stillness.
While others have focused on her appearance, Crowley said "this is about the weight and it isn't." Meditation has meant greater equanimity and health gains that "have held together in a way they haven't held together before."
Still, even her mother wants a number. Just how much has she lost?
"I told her, 'You know I don't have a scale in this house,' " Crowley said. "It's important to know what motivates you, not what motivates somebody else."
The flood of messages and blog postings about the "new" Candy Crowley continues to say something disturbing about a society trained to a beauty queen norm. But the newswoman feels encouraged by the fans expressing solidarity, not just with her weight struggles, but with the way she presents herself to the world.
"That's one reason I thought I should go ahead and recognize that this discussion was going on," she said. "I really appreciate what those people have been saying to me, some really heartfelt things."
Crowley can count herself in a select company of women -- Andrea Mitchell and Lesley Stahl are also in the club -- whose news careers on national TV continue to flourish into middle age. The truism has changed but only a little: Newsmen get more "distinguished" with age, while their female peers rush to dye their hair or find a safe haven in academia.
Maureen Dowd bemoaned, a few years back, the "queue of pretty-boy pod-people in the wings" for big TV news jobs. If excellent journalism was the top priority, the New York Times columnist wrote, then Candy Crowley would be in line for an anchor position.
Agreed. In fact, it would have been nice if Crowley had been given a real look for Lou Dobbs' nightly CNN slot, vacated just last week by the blustery commentator. But that job went to 2008 election map savant John King.
Still, the move of one more man up the ladder creates another opportunity. King's old post on CNN's four-hour Sunday program, "State of the Union," needs filling.
I can think of one candidate who's tan, rested and more than ready.
"On the Media" column also runs on Friday on A2.