From This Town to Our Town: A political reporter explains why he left Washington for good
It had been nearly ten years since I arrived in Washington. I’d risen through the ranks, made all the right friends. Press secretaries feared me. Senators respected me. Comely young Hill staffers were mine for the taking.
I had it all that bleary November morning. And I was dead inside.
I’d forgotten that I work for you, the average American schlub. Or maybe you’re a Washington-based political reporter, in which case you sicken me. But then that’s too harsh. I was you once, or a more successful version of you. So listen when I say that you need to get out while you still can.
I used to let Twitter determine my self-worth. One minute I was on top of the world because Sam Stein retweeted me. I’d reward myself with booze, cocaine and cheap sex. Cheap because the women were often low quality in the looks department, and I hated myself for how I treated them.
If you were one of these almost-attractive women, I want you to know that I am truly sorry. Many of you deserved better.
That morning last November, hungover, raw and unshaven, I stumbled to the mirror and told myself I’d get out. I’d rediscover why I got into journalism. I’d go back to the Upper East Side of Manhattan and remember where I came from.
It would make me a better reporter. In time, it would make me a better man.
I went back to my old stomping grounds, just a little family neighborhood known as Carnegie Hill. I’d talk to real people, everyday hedge funders and philanthropists. Folks who don’t give a hoot about the horse-race bullshit, and want nothing more than to watch their kids make the rowing team at Riverdale.
Real people. The kind I’d come to Washington to write for. People like my parents.
The day I signed the lease for my apartment — just a little one bedroom overlooking the Frick — was the best one of my life. It was smaller than the old place, sure, but I’d broken away from Washington. In time, the staff at On The Record would forget that I like my Bloody Mary with celery salt.
Now my days start with fresh lox and the local paper. I check the weddings section on Sunday and text “congrats” to old friends. I raise money for my old boys’ school, where I hope to send my future children.
I talk to people about their concerns and what they want to read about. They tell me they’re worried about de Blasio, but voted for him anyway. They tell me how they lay awake at night fretting about taxes on carried interest. They say they think Hillary will likely run for president and, what’s more, she has a good shot of winning.
These are the kinds of perspectives you just can’t find in Washington. There it’s all “Tom Freidman this” and “cocaine that” and “I’m nailing so-and-so in the whip’s office.” And again, if you were that so-and-so, I just can’t apologize enough.
I’m not one to pat myself on the back or use clichés, but I know it took real courage to leave that world behind. I had to face up to the fact that I wasn’t the problem. Washington was the problem. Dirty, unsafe Washington, a town filled with slack-jawed asthmatics trying to fuck me literally and figuratively.
Twitter friends aren’t real friends, boss, and until you get that through your head, don’t even bother telling me this piece is courageous.
Back in Washington, my decision to leave was a scandal. Editors pleaded with me not to go. My publisher offered me a massive raise. They asked me what I thought I would find by going home.
I told them I hoped to find peace of mind, and I have. But there’s so much more to it than that. I’ve also found better food, better sex, more money, and hotter women. That last part was really important to me. Have you seen The Hill’s “most beautiful” list? Disgusting. Vile, really. Have any of you heard of the gym?
If you’re a news consumer, remember that Washington journalists aren’t being straight with you. They’re writing for the guy in the next cubicle over, and he’s probably a dick. Like the kind of guy who tells you your Susan Collins profile is brilliant, but tells his friends you’re second-rate.
What does that guy know? Everyone says he’s gay. You almost hope all the gay rumors get back to him so he finally comes out of the closet. That would be the brave choice, for him. Hopefully the rumors help him be brave.
But the bravest choice is leaving Washington and going home, because journalism is important. Remember that.