I used to wake up every morning and worry about Jim Traficant.
Traficant was the congressman from Youngstown, Ohio, and I was covering Washington for his hometown newspaper, The Vindicator. Back then, in the early 90s, Traficant was best known for his bad hair and fiery one-minute speeches when the House started its business each morning. (He’s in prison now, but that’s another story.) The Vindicator is an afternoon paper. If Traficant said something nutty in the morning – “Beam me up, Scotty,” was a favorite refrain — I had to get it in that day’s paper.
Covering Traficant and other members of the Ohio delegation (then-Senators John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum, a young Sherrod Brown) for States News Service taught me how much what happens in Washington really matters at home. It’s a lesson that many have forgotten, as newspapers shutter their DC bureaus. And it’s one reason I’m excited to be joining The Washington Independent – the chance to use the tools of online news to once again make those connections, to help people hold their government and their leaders accountable, and to hear back from you about what we’re doing.
Eventually I stopped worrying about Traficant. I spent a few years working in the Washington bureau of the Hearst newspaper chain, covering the Pentagon (I was embedded before embedding was cool), the Supreme Court, the Justice Department, and national politics.
Then I moved to New York, and joined the Financial Times as the paper was trying to expand its reach in America. Over eight years, I did many jobs at the FT: ran a daily gossip column, covered New York in the aftermath of September 11, edited the great Weekend FT, wrote about media companies and culture, and then came back to Washington to write again about politics. Most importantly, the FT changed the way I write, and helped me break away from the constraints of U.S. newspaper journalism. As Jeff said, analysis and confidence were encouraged. Attitude was allowed. It was great fun.
I left the FT at the end of 2006, and have been writing about all sorts of stuff: women in the military, Michelle Obama, the deep sociological meaning of the neighborhood listserv, food, and, of course, politics.
At The Washington Independent, I’m going to jump right in to one of the best stories of this campaign season: religion and politics. I’ll look at institutions and influentials, and their impact on the election, public life, and national policy. I’m looking forward to the conversation.