Asked to describe himself in five words or less, freelance journalist Steve Friess says: “Driven, confident, opinionated, funny, goofy.” This, on a bio for Michigan State University, where he teaches journalism. He came to Washington in June 2012 after completing a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. He went to work for Politico, but lasted only 15 months and fled the scene (to be clear, he quit and wasn’t fired). “I hadn’t had a proper job for 12 years and I had always been curious about what it would be like to work in DC,” he told The Mirror. “After a year, I’d seen enough to realize it wasn’t my thing.” Back to Michigan he went, with his partner, Miles, and two chihuahuas, Black and Jack.
Asked what disturbs him about the journalism students he teaches, Friess replied, “I worry that journalism students aren’t aware enough about current events and significant people. I give news quizzes in the beginning of most classes, and it disturbs me how few of these aspiring reporters — even some of the best of them — know who their senators, mayor or governor are.” And delights? “On the flip side, virtually all of them came back from their required half-day job shadows completely stoked about the news business and how the media works. The fact that we can still get kids that jazzed about doing this work, that it at least initially still seems glamorous and exciting, is incredibly encouraging.”
His freelance career, meanwhile, continues at full speed. His work has appeared in NYT, BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, New York mag and more. The story he’s most proud of as of late is a 7,000-worder he wrote for Take Part on male victims of military sexual assault. “That piece is the thing I’m most proud of since I left D.C. It’s the sort of thing I hoped I could do for Politico Magazine and that I hoped they’d pay market rates for, but they don’t actually seem that interested in that kind of work or compensating competitively for it,” he said.
Hometown: Syosset, N.Y., home of Michael Isikoff, Idina Menzel, Meg Wolitzer and Natalie Portman
Named for: My dad’s best man, who I never met
First job ever: Front desk at Sportset, a gym in Syosset, N.Y.
Current employment: Freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and adjunct journalism professor at Michigan State University
If someone wants to get on your good side, what candy or liquor should they ply you with? A Reese’s Pieces Sundae with butter crunch ice cream at Friendly’s.
Most exotic place you’ve ever visited: Urumqi, Xinjiang Province, China
Why do you think Washington is so polarized? And please consider your answer in terms of boring us. Well, whatever it is, it is NOT because of self-important and exceedingly lazy journalists who think significant differences and petty conflicts are equally important. Definitely not that.
Who is your celebrity crush? Charles Krauthammer, duh. (OK. And Ryan Phillippe.)
A thought that makes you want to cry: After years of insisting it was going upscale, the Las Vegas Strip has reverted to its naturally tacky state by adding a Ferris wheel.
Weirdest habit you’ve observed in a newsroom (workplace) setting? My first editor-in-chief used to suck her thumb and twirl her hair – sometimes at the same time — as she walked through the newsroom and in meetings.
If you had to kiss a politician who would it be? Aaron Schock. As a service to him.
What’s next for you? What would you do with your life if absolutely nothing could stop you? These are two different questions, aren’t they? What’s next for me is my weekly poker game in Ypsilanti. If absolutely nothing could stop me, I’d write the all-access, best-selling biography of the most fascinating person I’ve ever met: Steve Wynn.
Pick one: House of Cards, Homeland or Veep: The Americans.
Pick one: CNN’s New Day, Morning Joe, GMA or the TODAY Show: Morning Joe.
If you had to have a U.S. senator or congressman as your father who would it be? The very honorable Rob Portman.
Ever slept with a source? No, I have not.
Since this is The Mirror Questionnaire, what would you change about yourself physically if you could? My huge cheeks, which were once considered cute, are starting to make me look like Fred Thompson.
And your personality? Find a way to convey confidence and competence without coming off as egotistical.
Preferred beach: Mandalay Beach at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas during an outdoor Go-Gos reunion concert. (This has existed.)
Guilty pleasure TV show: The Neighbors
On a scale of 1 to 10, how self-obsessed are you? (10 being you can’t tear yourself away from your own daily Google search and 1 meaning you often spend time in the country away from your computer and don’t give a crap about your Klout score.) 5 normally. 10 when I’ve got something big posting/publishing/airing.
Workout regimen: Sometimes I sprint to the fridge during commercials.
Pick one – flabby thighs, cankles or love handles? Love handles.
Choose: Beautiful eyes, best personality or perfect legs? Eyes.
A thought that brings you great joy: My husband and our puppies love me (anyway).
A regret (of any kind): I’ve lost contact, mostly, with the friends I made during my years in China.
Any brushes with death? If so, please describe. Not in this life, no. Had quite a few quick, untimely incidents in previous lives, but so far so good this time out.
Just a preference Q: Bo or Sunny? I made some nice cash off Sunny for a piece I did on her Michigan roots for New York Magazine, so I guess Sunny.
Most annoying thing your editor (boss) does: Fails to OK every story I pitch and provide ample expense money to realize it to the fullest.
Rank how hairy your butt is (1 to 10): 6ish
Go for a stroll in the park with one of the following and explain the reason for your choice. 1. Andrew Sullivan, of The Daily Dish. 2. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart. 3. NewCo’s Glenn Greenwald. Sullivan. A gay man whose opinions aren’t completely predictable and has actually earned his right to be in love with himself? I’m there. Also, maybe he’s finally ready to tell someone why Adam Moss fired him at the NYT Magazine.
When was the last time you were, if ever, naked outside? Black’s Beach in San Diego, 1997ish.
From The Sunday Times’ Toby Harnden: If you could tell one person to their face that they’re full of shit, with no consequences, who would it be? Vladimir Putin.
From Al Jazeera’s David Shuster: If you had to watch or read a news report in a language you didn’t understand, what language would it be and why? Italian. Just sounds nice. (Seriously, Shuster, that’s the best you could do?)
From lefty radio host Bill Press: Where’s the one place in Washington you’d love to have sex, but can’t? Antonin Scalia’s office.
From former Rep. Weiner’s ex-phone sex partner Sydney Elaine Leathers: Who is the worst journalist on your favorite news channel? Thomas Roberts.
From Washington Free Beacon’s Lachlan Markay: Which universally acclaimed piece of literature, art, film, or music can you simply not stand? “Thomas Jefferson” by Jon Meacham. I tried.
From the latest Mirror Questionnaire interviewee Julie Mason of SiriusXM: What is the lie you always tell about yourself? I’ll have time for that book proposal once I finish these assignments I have right now.
Please provide a question for the next lucky victim of The Mirror Questionnaire. Make it good. If you were the opposite of your sexual orientation, name three people you’d sleep with.