The Mirror

The Mirror Questionnaire With Stateless Media’s Peter Savodnik

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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Stateless Media founder Peter Savodnik has some thoughts on the Washington media they may not want to hear. To those of you who can’t handle this, shut down now.

“Two things: 1. Many journalists, not all, think (or feel compelled to think) that Washington matters a great deal. Washington is increasingly an afterthought,” he said. “It’s a tax or joke or yoke that the rest of the country must endure. 2. They confuse information and knowledge. Reading about the latest Obamacare debacle or the latest NRSC ad buy doesn’t make you wise; it just means you know what’s happening today and what will be unimportant and mostly forgotten tomorrow.”

Those who’ve previously worked with Savodnik still speak relatively highly of him. “Peter spots trends well ahead of the the crowd,” said Alex Bolton, a reporter for The Hill. “He is at the forefront of the transition to post-print journalism and made ‘mom jeans’ a fashion statement long before Barack Obama got to town.”

Asked what it was like to edit Savodnik, The Hill‘s Managing Editor Bob Cusack remarked to The Mirror by email, “Peter was always easy to work with. We interviewed candidates as well as congressional campaign chiefs together, the most memorable one being Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.). She complained that our photographer (who is no longer with The Hill) was taking inappropriate photos of her. Peter and I looked at each other, and somehow segued to the next question.” (As memory serves, the senator thought the intern was shooting up her skirt.)

Savodnik has written for the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, GQ, Wired and The Atlantic. He formerly covered campaigns for The Hill. He has lived in Moscow and Colombo, Sri Lanka. His book, The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, was published last year by Basic Books. Recently, he founded Stateless Media, which produces documentaries called shortreals for and The Verge, among other venues.

He likes all reporters except those who have scooped him.

Let’s begin.

Bona Fides

Hometown: Los Angeles

Age: 41

Named for: The initial of my first name comes from my grandfather, Philip Savodnik

First job ever: Teaching piano lessons

Current employment: Stateless Media

That’s Savodnik, pictured below, with wife, Kate. 


If someone wants to get on your good side, what candy or liquor should they ply you with? Laphroaig single-malt scotch

Most exotic place you’ve ever visited: Northeastern coast of Sri Lanka. War-torn villages, daal curry and some of the most amazing beaches in the world.

Why do you think Washington is so polarized? And please consider your answer in terms of boring us. Freud’s narcissism of minor differences.

Who is your celebrity crush? I don’t care about celebrities. What’s a celebrity?

A thought that makes you want to cry: Pussy Riot is the best thing the Russian opposition has going for it right now.

Weirdest habit you’ve observed in a newsroom (workplace) setting? A reporter who sat next to me at The Vineyard Gazette, on Martha’s Vineyard, used to insert snippets of poetry into his stories, unbeknownst to his editor — usually Shakespeare or Byron, sometimes Keats. He covered high-school sports.

If you had to kiss a politician who would it be? I don’t make out with prostitutes.

What’s next for you? What would you do with your life if absolutely nothing could stop you? Movies, and then more movies.

Pick one: House of Cards, Homeland or Veep: House of Cards, of course.

Pick one: CNN’s New Day, Morning Joe, GMA or the TODAY Show: C-SPAN.

If you had to have a U.S. senator or congressman as your father who would it be? Probably Ron Wyden with a dash of Chuck Schumer. That way, I could exercise my civil liberties to the fullest extent possible, and we’d have a pied à terre in Tribeca. Also, there’s Jon Kyl, one of the smarter senators I’ve interviewed.

Since this is The Mirror Questionnaire, what would you change about yourself physically if you could? I have odd toes.

And your personality? Please.

Preferred beach: South Beach, Martha’s Vineyard.

Guilty pleasure TV show: Orange Is the New Black. I had just had an operation, and I was laid up on my couch. I binge-watched my way to recovery.

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.) “But this amp goes to 11.”

Workout regimen: Semi-frequent.

Pick one – flabby thighs, cankles or love handles? None of the above.

Choose: Beautiful eyes, best personality or perfect legs? I’m not sure how to answer this question.

A thought that brings you great joy: Term limits.

A regret (of any kind): When I was reporting my book, The Interloper, I had several very engaging phone conversations with John McVickar, one of the former U.S. Embassy officials in Moscow who handled the Oswald case. McVickar was extraordinarily forthcoming and thoughtful, and he served the United States with honor and distinction. I had planned to pay him a visit when I was in Richmond but didn’t find the time. A few months later, I learned that he had passed away.

Any brushes with death? If so, please describe. Driving in Arunachal Pradesh, in northeastern India. I became violently ill while working my way up the switchbacks toward the village of Tawang, on the Chinese border. I felt like death, although I’m not sure I had any brushes with it.

Just a preference Q: Bo or Sunny? Bo. I’m an older brother, too.

Most annoying thing your editor (boss) does: When I was freelancing, it was the same thing always: My editors would tell me to stop bleeding on deadline and send in my copy, and then I’d wind up waiting a week or two before getting comments.

Rank how hairy your butt is: 1 to 10?  n.a.

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. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald. I’d prefer Ari Shavit. My Promised Land is the best book I’ve read in years on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When was the last time you were, if ever, naked outside? That’s between me and my wife.

From London’s 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? Myself.

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? That’s a pointless question.

From lefty radio host Bill Press: Where’s the one place in Washington you’d love to have sex, but can’t? Is the Lincoln Bedroom still on the rental market?

From former Rep. Weiner’s ex-phone sex partner Sydney Elaine Leathers: Who is the worst journalist on your favorite news channel? There are too many to name.

From Washington Free Beacon’s Lachlan Markay: Which universally acclaimed piece of literature, art, film, or music can you simply not stand? Guernica.

Please provide a question for the next lucky victim of The Mirror Questionnaire. Make it good. Why do you matter?