This year I decided to torture my sources, coworkers and other journalists with a Christmas question.
Q: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” If someone in your life had never been born how would your world have turned out significantly different? Excluding parents, spouses and kids.
My own answer took a variety of directions. If I’d never met WaPo‘s Wesley Lowery, for instance, I’d never know that asking a race journalist about his own race — especially when the cop who stops you thinks you’re white, Arab and Asian — means you’re racist, at least in the world according to Wesley Lowery. In a similar vein, if I’d never met The Daily Banter‘s White House correspondent Tommy Christopher, I’d never know that I could just stop eating watermelon to support black people. Who knew?
On a more serious, sappy note, if I’d never met my first Washington editor Al Eisele, I wouldn’t know that a Washington journalist doesn’t have to be self-absorbed. When he was my editor, he always had time for anyone who entered his office. Rather, he always made the time and acted like whatever you needed was far more important than anything he had going on. I also wouldn’t have this phrase still regularly floating around in my head: “Perfection is the enemy of the good.”
Now let’s hear from journalists around town and beyond.
Steve Friess, freelance journo, ex-Politico reporter, University of Michigan journalism prof: “The one person who set my life on its current path is Emily Richmond, now public editor for the National Education Writers Association. About 12 years ago she was a fellow panelist when we met on the set of Vegas PBS’ Nevada Week In Review. Our friendship, which blossomed pretty suddenly, was something I needed as a newly minted freelancer with no office to go to or regular colleagues to banter with. She defended me — or refused to pile on — when I harshly critiqued her Las Vegas Sun colleagues on my media-criticism blog and gamely agreed to co-host The Petcast, our (hopefully) soon-to-return weekly podcast on pets and animals. Mostly she introduced me to the idea of taking big risks for the life I said I wanted. So I applied and got a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan the year after hers. She was key to knowing about the program and in my coming to Ann Arbor for a whole new life for me and my husband. Without Emily, I might very well still be in Vegas doing what I did successfully for a decade — but nothing more.”
Bob Cusack, editor-in-chief, The Hill: “My college tennis coach Rick McClure. He has been a mentor to me since I met him more than 25 years ago. I barely made the Loyola (Md.) tennis team my freshman year, but he saw something in me. By senior year, I was No. 3 on the team and a co-captain. Being on the team was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and Rick’s guidance helped me through some challenging times.”
Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief, USA Today: “There are a lot of people who have changed my life, personal and professional. One was surely Robert W. Greene, my editor at my first job. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who became the Suffolk County editor at Newsday. He hired me out of school to be the No. 2 reporter on Smithtown, working out of the now-defunct Ronkonkoma Bureau. (The wonderful Susan Soper, who went on to the Atlanta Constitution, was the No. 1 reporter on Smithtown at the time.) Greene loved covering crime and corruption and also animal stories. He once had me writing day after day about a lost three-legged dog named Hopalong; I swear I’d still be writing about him if that pooch hadn’t finally come home. Greene called me into his office one day to complain my expense report was too small; why wasn’t I taking more people out for drinks? He was huge, loud, profane – and irresistible. He taught most of what I know about journalism today.”
Neil Munro, White House correspondent, The Daily Caller: “If the fuse of a land mine had worked as intended on Iwo Jima in 1945, I would never have been brought over here by a U.S. Marine’s daughter, and I’d probably be a bureaucrat in Brussels complaining about resurgent patriotism in Europe while trying to find jobs for my two kids, Gaston and Helga.”
Sam Youngman, reporter, Lexington Kentucky Herald-Leader: “I’m sure this is a popular answer, but I’m gonna say Jesus. And coach Cal.”
Andrew Kirell, editor-in-chief, Mediaite: “If my first boss, John Stossel, had never been born, I’d likely have never gone into TV production or digital journalism.”
Roger Stone, GOP strategist, author and blogger: “If Richard Nixon had never been born I would gone into acting instead of politics.”
Sam Nunberg, communications aide to Mr. Donald Trump: “If Roger J. Stone Jr. had never been born, I would never have joined the dark side.”
John Nolte, editor, Breitbart News: “If Andrew Breitbart had never been born I would’ve been bagging groceries at Ralph’s. That’s no exaggeration.”
Tina Dupuy, syndicated columnist: “My friend Robin Reiser was my maid of honor. If she hadn’t been born I wouldn’t be married. So…yeah…thanks for that.”
Eddie Scarry, media writer, Washington Examiner: “If Peter Ogburn hadn’t been born, I would have never learned how to truly spice up a baked chocolate chip cookies recipe.”
Peter Obgurn, executive producer, Bill Press Show: “I can’t imagine what life would have been like if Marty Rudolf hadn’t been born. I basically only use Twitter to read what Marty has to say.”
Anneke Green, White House Writers Group: “If Clark Judge had never been born, President Reagan would have been less eloquent, there’d be no White House Writers Group, and I’d be just one more starving writer cursing the internet’s corrupting influence on journalism. On a serious note, I would be a very different, nastier person if Christ had never been born. Grateful to mark his coming this year.”
Patrick Howley, reporter, The Daily Caller: “If the sexless smug trust fund liars of Washington media hadnt been born and carted off to the suburbs to grow up playing coed soccer, then I wouldnt have a job destroying them with superior reporting. So I guess I owe them some meager gratitude. When Im done with them theyll wish they hadn’t been born. At the very least they’ll be discredited and unemployed.”
But wait, there’s more: “Alternatively: If I hadnt been born the D.C. media losers would have no one to group together to condemn after they kill Charles Johnson. Their lives would be empty charades, endless processions of pro Democrat gif making and discussions of the evils of heteronormativity. They would grow old and despondent crying out for some challenger to swoop in and beat them in traffic with superior reporting and way better writing. So really, I’m the Jimmy Stewart here. Lets open a dialogue, jerkwads.”
On a bit of a random note, he added… “Fuck Buzzfeed. Im Jack London on a snow trail to truth.”
Paul Conner, associate editor, The Daily Caller: “If Patrick Howley weren’t born, I wouldn’t have gotten this email this morning, and I would have missed a slew of hilarious antics and breaking news stories that leave us all more entertained and more informed.”
Alexander Griswold, media reporter, The Daily Caller: “If Patrick Howley never existed, my Christmas party date might have had to kiss ME.”
Charles C. Johnson, editor-in-chief, GotNews: “If Andrew Breitbart wasn’t born there’s a high likelihood that I’d just be writing software code or doing something otherwise boring with my life. Being a nerd, etc… I don’t know, man. It’s kind of a strange life right now, I’m not going to lie.”
Derek Hunter, radio host, Daily Caller contributor: “Were Betsy Rothstein never born I wouldn’t be bombarded on Christmas with morbid, unanswerable questions. OK, I’d be bombarded by one less morbid, unanswerable question. Still, not worth it. I’ll take the questions and the gossip (since it’s never about me).”
Ben Howe, reporter, RedState: “If Trey Parker (and/or Matt Stone) had never been born, I wouldn’t have watched every episode of South Park a zillion times and realized they were impervious to getting old. I wouldn’t have found that having South Park episodes playing in the background while I work is the perfect balance of not being distracting while remaining entertaining enough that should I pause in my work and look up for a moment, I can enjoy their splendor. The TV version of pausing to take in the beauty outside the window of a corner office overlooking Central Park. Not having this work device (not to mention the giant gaping hole that would exist in my humor diet) would’ve made me less productive, especially on those all nighters. This would’ve prevented me from achieving whatever meager success I’ve accumulated, which would’ve left me penniless in the wake of the 2007-08 recession. Having nowhere to go, no one to turn to, desperate, I would’ve obviously taken any work I could find. I’d eventually discover a large market for people seeking ‘company’ with overweight bald men that have a gaping humor hole in their chest. Once my wife found out what I was doing for money, she would’ve kicked me out of our home which would only exacerbate my drug use (oh yeah, I developed a drug problem), forcing me to find room and board at ‘any price necessary’, and likely, have caused me to join an underground cult movement that worshipped a ‘messiah’ named Kyle. To recap, had Matt Stone (and/or Trey Parker) never been born, I would most likely be a divorced, drug addicted, male prostitute that worships a guy named Kyle. Not a pretty picture to say the least. Thank you Matt & Trey.”
Brett Decker, White House Writers Group: “The late syndicated columnist Robert Novak gave me my first job in DC 20 (yikes) years ago. He was from Joliet, Illinois, and liked that I was from Detroit — another rough Rustbelt town — and had built cars on a Ford assembly line, so he made me a reporter, editor and television producer, the latter of which I was particularly unqualified to do given that I didn’t even have a TV at home. I think about Mr. Novak during the holidays because he always wore a bright red wool vest with his business suit and got a kick out of saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to secular Scrooges he figured would take offense at the greeting.”
Evan Gahr, freelance D.C. journo, D.C. Gadfly, resident phone enthusiast: “My grandmother Ruth. Except from her, I grew up in an apolitical family. When I was in fifth grade and at her house, my grandmother told me panoramic stories about the founding of Israel, the rise of Hitler, the Holocaust and FDR, the depression and the New Deal. Anyone who heard these stories, so vivid and passionate, would have thought she was a Holocaust survivor or grew up on a Kibbutz before the founding of Israel or been one of the young lawyers who came to Washington in the early 1930s to help Roosevelt set up the New Deal. The moment I heard these stories I became entranced with current events and wanted to be part of them and have my opinion matter. I fell naturally into opinion journalism. I also got from these stories my Manichean view of the world. There were clear heroes and villains. Yeah, yeah. Not everything is black and white and people are complicated. But liberal journalists who think they are being really nuanced and sophisticated by pretending everything is a shade of gray are the real simpletons. Anyway this world view of stark absolutes made me determined to expose political and intellectual wrongdoing and dishonesty, best accomplished these days by getting people on the phone who normally hide behind secretaries because they know what I busted them for is indefensible. (The articles are also a manifestation of my desire to have fun and be noticed.) I also got my fierce sense of Jewishness from my grandmother. We never talked about race issues — an abiding journalistic passion of mine these days. But one thing my grandmother said stood with me and has much to do with my current sensibility (an abhorrence of diversity fetishists). She said there are good and bad of every race. Diversity fetishists assume all blacks are good and therefore hiring more at newspapers would automatically be a boon for journalism. And they assume all white males are bad. My grandmother was beautiful and charming and smart and diplomatic. If she had been born in another era, when there more opportunities for woman and Jews, she could easily have ended up a senator, governor or high-level diplomatic. She also loved and adored me so much and made me feel so special that years later all that gave me the fortitude to overcome big difficulties. The year before she passed away and was very feeble, I had my first op-ed published in the New York Post. My grandfather bought the paper and showed it to her. I said what did Bobbum think? He said, ‘She didn’t know what the hell it was. She kissed it.'”
Eric Owens, education editor, The Daily Caller: “At age 19, I spent a semester abroad and one of the people in the group was this guy, Keith. I was a standard-issue lefty then, smug in many stupid beliefs. Keith was this free-market-loving Republican. A hilarious, mensch of a guy, Many cervezas and mixed drinks later, he had calmly, amicably convinced me that a lot of what I thought about the world just wasn’t so. We both transferred to different schools when we got back to the Midwest, and I didn’t see much of him after that. I remember the experience as this intense period of epiphany. I blame Keith for urging me to major in economics, because, God, did that ever hammer my GPA. But I really can’t imagine where my worldview would be had I not met him. I am grateful.”
Grae Stafford, video editor, The Daily Caller: “The Nerf’s direct air compression system that has enabled me to rain unending foam death on my fellow Caller Christopher Bedford. The Daily Caller for allowing said “raining of unending foam death” during work hours. Capitalism for making foam darts so cheap that ‘aiming’ has been consigned to the annals of history.” Alternatively… “Johnny Walker.”