BY JAMES MOORE
Iowa native Ari Berman, former blogger for "The Daily Outrage," hasbeen enlisted by The Nation to do in-depth reporting from the nation’scapitol.
I meet Ari Berman at his parents’ home in Fairfield. When I requesta lunch interview, it is his suggestion to meet there. A journalism major whoearned his degree from Northwestern University, for the past year Berman hashelmed “The Daily Outrage,” a political weblog for The Nation,one of the country’s leading progressive publications.
He is between jobs, on break, in the process of moving from New YorkCity to Washington, DC. He’s been enlisted by the magazine as a contributingwriter to do more in-depth reporting from the nation’s capitol, somethinghe is looking forward to.
We eat homemade sushi on the back porch on a beautiful Septemberafternoon. He is dressed casually in T-shirt and jeans and eats like hetalks, quickly and with precision.
Berman’s insightful political coverage for The Nation, “connectingthe dots,” as he calls it, belies someone only 23 years old, especiallyfor a VIEWS-paper (as compared to a NEWSpaper, to borrow publisher VictorNavasky’s description), a journal whose “primary function isto interpret and advocate, to discuss and to argue and to debate.”
This is clearly a young man with a lot of forward motion.
James Moore: You’re from Fairfield, right?
Ari Berman: Well, I was born in New York City but I came here whenI was six months old.
So you’re a transplant. And you’re how oldnow?
What attracted you to journalism?
I guess I was always curious and a bit of an instigator. I wasalways independent and knew that I could write. So it was just likea perfect match, in the sense that I felt I could do anything Iwanted with journalism, because you can write about anything you’reinterested in.
And you started writing when you were in high school, or when?
I have to think back. I think the first thing I wrote was for TheSource. It was about a whitewater rafting trip in Maine that I wenton. That was maybe my junior year of high school. And then I wasalso writing about music some for an online music magazine. Fora while I was really into music, like hip-hop and stuff, and I wouldgo to concerts and interview people. I actually think to this daythe most famous people I’ve ever interviewed are Method Manand Redman [laughs].
That’s funny. I’m the music guy at TheSource and whenI tell people I write for The Source, they don’t get thatit’s The Iowa Source. [The Source is a hip-hop magazine]
That’s so funny. So then I wanted to start a school newspaper—partlybecause we didn’t have one and partly because I wanted togo into journalism school at Northwestern and I realized I neededto do something to try and get in. So [my friend] Eric Johnson andI went up to this journalism course at University of Iowa. It wasjust a crash course on creating a newspaper. You had a week. I didn’tknow anything but they taught me the software. I designed this paperand then Eric did all this photojournalism. At the end of it—Ihad worked so hard and I was sort of like distraught at the newspaper—like,God, this sucks, didn’t sleep at all. In the end I won anaward for best newspaper and Eric won an award for best photojournalism.I’m like, wow, we’ve only been doing this a week. [laughs]We could do this. So we started a newspaper. which totally sucked.… Anyway,this is a long answer, but basically the good thing about journalismschool is they throw you right in your first few days.
So right from the get-go you were doing journalism?
No, I didn’t actually. My first internship was at an environmentalgroup, Natural Resources Defense Counsel in DC. So I was interestedin that. That was cool because Democrats were still in control ofthe Senate, because Jim Jefferds switched parties, in a sense, andBush wasn’t doing anything and the environmental movementwas pretty successful at blocking a lot of stuff. So that was interestingand it gave me a window into DC. And then I came back and I tooka few magazine writing courses and I really liked it, so then Iwas clear that I wanted to do some sort of journalism probably.How much detail do you want me to go into?
Oh, we’re just talking. I’ll pick out whatI want.
Okay. I’m just giving you the chronology of how I got there.Then I went to Switzerland and did this program where I studiedabroad. I studied the UN basically. It was a field studies programwhere we studied international organizations. It was after 9/11and I thought the best thing for me to do would be to go abroadand learn how everything else works because I knew obviously allthis stuff would play a major role. So I went there and I got reallyinterested in foreign policy and then I came back and through school—everyonein journalism school interns, it’s a setup program—andI interned at this place Editor & Publisher, the trade for thenewspaper industry. They were doing this really amazing stuff—editorGreg Mitchell, sort of old-school leftie—was doing a lot ofmedia coverage on Iraq and I had been abroad, so I had been readingthe Guardian and watching BBC, so I knew what the alternative was.I came back and I was stunned. I was literally floored that thisdebate was not going on. I mean, it seemed so clear in Europe thatthis was a fucked-up thing to do, so opposite here. So Greg andI and one other reporter just started writing about this stuff allthe time. We did newspaper roundups and we checked how many editorialpages were against the war—none. I started writing about thatand it just became all-encompassing.
I can’t believe I didn’t find you—until JosephWilson’s criticism of the president’s misuse of Iraq’suranium threat in July of 2003, even the so-called liberal mediaseemed fast asleep.
Yeah, but it was still sort of small scale. But the Internet haschanged the way people view news. No one read E & P inprint except for people in the newspaper industry. A lot of peopleread it online. Send it on commondreams.org or put it on truthout.comand it’s all over. So then I got an email one day. I had metVictor Navasky, the publisher of The Nation, at a partysponsored by Week magazine. It was a debate about mediacoverage, and Greg said, “You wanna go?” And I said, “Yeah.”’ Imet Victor and I was really happy. I didn’t know what to saywhen I met Victor and Victor’s like, “I’ve beenreading your work.” And I’m like all, “Thank you,’ andreally meekish. And then I did a piece—remember the last pressconference before we went to war where Bush called on everyone.It was screened and the last question was like [chuckling in disbelief], “Mr.President, can you tell us the role prayer plays in your life?” SoI go in the next day and Greg’s like, “Did you watchthe press conference?” I’m like, “Yeah, I couldn’tbelieve it.” He’s like, “Do a thing called ‘QuestionsWe Wished They’d Asked.’ ” So I did a thing called “ThirteenQuestions We Wished They’d Asked.”
It was such a little thing but it got a lot of attention, and Katrinavanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, emailed me and she says, “HiAri. Saw your very good questions. Wondering if you might want towrite something for The Nation?”’ And I said, “Well,yeah, Katrina, I’d love to write for TheNation, but I’dalso like to intern there.” [laughing] It’s a competitiveintern program and I’d wanted to do it for a long time andobviously this was my in. So I interned there and I got a reallygood opportunity to write. I wrote this piece about Richard Perle.
I read that as well. Beautiful piece.
Thank you. It’s funny, I did a story about how he took moneyfrom foreign broadcasters. I just did CBC radio and they just gaveme $350—full disclosure! [Perle] was using his governmentstatus to sort of charge money. It was just a small thing, but Perleis just the shadiest guy ever. And I wrote a few other pieces. Iwrote a piece that I was particularly proud of about the WashingtonPost’s pre-war coverage, and how they buried all their bestreporting and put them on like page A29. I talked to all their reporters.
That was favorite piece I’d written up till that point, andthen I went back and finished school. I had a lot of interestingclasses my senior year of college. I took a narrative journalismclass with Alex Kotlowitz, the journalist. He wrote ThereAre No Children Here. It’s about these two kids that grow up in theghetto in Chicago and he just tracks them. He’s a great writerand he was like really tough, you know? And then I took a wrongfulconvictions class with this professor at Northwestern who’sfreed like 6 or 7 people from death row. We had this wrongful convictionscase and we were sent around the south side of Chicago every day.Five white kids, knocking on doors, trying to dig up evidence. Andactually we’ve gotten very, very far along. Different groupshave done it since us but we’re at the point where he haslawyers now and about to file a motion.
So I took these classes and then I had to figure out what I wasgoing to do. I was pretty focused on getting a job writing. I’ddone it before so I wanted to keep doing it. I was applying forthis fellowship at the American Prospect in DC and I needed my editorto write a recommendation for me at The Nation. So she wrote mea recommendation and I sort of dropped a hint like I’d comeback there if it was possible. She sent me an email a month afterwriting the recommendation. Katrina always writes her emails startingin the subject line. So her subject is, how would you like to…that’sthe subject. So I’m like, what the hell? And it says…comeback to The Nation? I was like, great. She’s matched the offeressentially. It was great because I didn’t end up gettingthe fellowship at the Prospect. So if any American Prospect readersare reading this… I have a lot of friends at the Prospect.It’s a great magazine but . . . The Nation’s a littlebigger and I knew everyone there anyway.
So that was great. I came back with the understanding that I wasgoing to write this blog called the “Daily Outrage”.. . and if the time came write other longer pieces . . . I’vedone three pieces. One was on the Democratic Leadership Council.One was on Al Gore’s new cable channel Current, which basicallywas looking at how we thought money and the cable business and anumber of factors sort of corrupted what was going to be an alternativeto Fox News. And if you watch Current now it’s interestingbut it’s totally moved so far away. It was a media piece.It didn’t change anyone’s life but it was really funto write. It was so nice just to be able write about a cable channelas opposed to like a Democrat or Republican.
After that I wanted to do something more substantive. I had hadthis frustration ever since I was in Switzerland and following theIraq debate—as you have—the really, really horriblyfrustrated mind-state of the Democratic establishment. In a wayI blame the Democrats more than the Republicans, because you can’tblame the Republicans. I mean, this is what they do but the Democratsshould have known better. I kept asking people, why did so manyDemocrats support this war? Never got an answer that I was satisfiedwith. I talked to so many people and either they said, well, thereis no foreign policy establishment, or some answer that I just wasn’tsatisfied with. So I said, well, I’m going to write a storyabout why it is that so many people in Washington support this warand other wars.
Is that your phrase, “strategic class”?
It was a phrase that I got from—I think it was Steve Clemons,this guy that I interviewed who’s really great, who led thefight against John Bolton. [Steve Clemons] is a fellow at the NewAmerican Foundation and runs this blog, the washingtonnote.com.He used that phrase when I interviewed him. But Steve is cool. Idon’t think he cares that I sort of just lifted it. What hetold me is that there’s been this incredible corruption ofthe strategic class. That’s what he told me. The frame ofmy piece was the corruption of the strategic class.
What ended up happening, though, is I tried to write a big pieceabout the Democrats’ failure to create what I thought wasan alternative national security policy in general that was beyondIraq, because I think that’s the major problem here. On alot of big topics there is really not enough of a significant alternativeto the Bush doctrine, and that to me was the big failure, becauseyou have all these people in think tanks who are getting paid todo it and not doing it. That was a tough piece to write. It wasvague. I had a lot of material. It was hard. So I basically turnedin this 5000-word draft. Editors were like, you need to cut thisdown. So I was working with this guy, Sherle Schwenninger, alsoa fellow at the New American Foundation, he was helping me, andI decided I was going to write about Iraq. Because that’swhat everyone is worried abut anyway and that’s the majorfocus. So then it just became a piece about the Democrats and Iraq.
I liked it a lot but, boy, it’s harrowing.
And the “Daily Outrage”—was that something createdfor you?
No, this other guy, Matt Givens, who was a Nation writer who’dwritten about Russia for a while, he started doing it and he wentto go to med school. So they needed someone to do it and I did itfor a year. And then I just stopped doing it right now because Iwant to do other stuff. It’s really fun to write every day.It’s also really time-consuming and what you find is you canhit a lot of different topics quickly but you can never really gotoo far into one. If you want to go far into one, you can keep writingabout it, but it was sort of neither her nor there, I thought, becauseit wasn’t really a column, in that it wasn’t reallyflushed out and no columnists write every day anyway.
Good columnists have three or four days to marinate. And it wasn’treally a blog because it wasn’t continuously updated, so I’dbe frustrated because I would see bloggers update four, five timesa day and really flush out stories. So I felt the space had somelimitations. I was eager if I was going to come back to The Nation,which they wanted me to do, that I would do something different.And the difference was that I’d go to Washington and thatI would write longer stories and do more on-the-ground reporting,which is what I’ve always wanted to do anyway, be a reporter.
And you were in New York City, right?
What kind of traffic did the “Daily Outrage” have?
Good traffic. A lot of people read it. It was on different sitesoften and I had a lot of readers writing into me. We had a commentsection near the end and that was just insane. It was too much bythe end. I thought it went well. The traffic was better on my featurescertainly, but the traffic was always pretty good on the blog.
You mentioned the Richard Perle article. That was one ofthe first you did, wasn’t it?
That was the first piece I wrote for The Nation.
In the piece you quote Perle saying, “The suggestionthat being paid for work I do is somehow an abuse of my role asa member of a government advisory board is the sort of slanderI expect from The Nation which, since the collapse ofregard for the vision of its founders, and the paucity of ideasto replace it, has been reduced to impugning the character ofthose whose ideas have prevailed over yours.” This soundsCheney-esque in its demeanor. How do you respond to that accusation?And, if you will, just give a brief history for people who maynot be familiar with TheNation.
Well, first I would encourage everyone to buy TheNation’spublisher Victor Navasky’s memoir, AMatter of Opinion. It’sa really great read and it gives the whole history. And Victor’slike a really wonderful old man. The first convention he ever coveredwas 1956, Adlei Stevenson. If ever I want to pick someone’sbrain, he’s a pretty good person. TheNation started in 1865by E.L Godkin, who was an abolitionist, and Frederick Olmstead,who built Central Park. It had a pretty distinguished followingand it became a place where lots of different abolitionists suchas Frederick Douglas were published, and then it formed into a radicalmagazine, one that fused radical and liberal ideas.
First it was corporate power in the 1910s and 1920s, and then itwas just this crazy cold-war mind-state. If TheNation became knownfor anything, for better or worse, it was the fact that it foughtMcCarthy very fiercely, much more than anyone else, and that sortof became its stance. Then it was obviously tough on Reagan andit went through a number of incarnations. The Bush presidency didn’trescue The Nation but it put it much more on the map. Circulationstarted skyrocketing, and the kind of independent alternative analysisthat The Nation’s done forever was really in demandamongst a certain group of people—especially after 9/11 whenyou couldn’traise certain questions. I gained a lot of respect for it, and ifyou go back and look at everything we’ve written about thewar, it’s very clear that The Nation was right. Andother places, too, you know, Mother Jones, the Progressive,etc. But the centrist media, The New Republic, they got it wrong.The right-wing media got it fantastically wrong.
People say to me, “No one could have known, we couldn’thave known,” and I say, “look, I—and I’mnot a journalist—I can show you my letters to editors allthe way along as well. To say that nobody got it—well, nobodylistened, nobody debated it, that’s what’s so weird.
So The Nation is now considered a flagship publication of the Left.People that think we’ve become too mainstream call us a figureheadof the progressive establishment—like there’s such athing as a progressive establishment—and people obviouslyon the right think The Nation is just a one-track record, essentiallyalways the same thing. I think at this point it’s importantto just keep hammering away.
Writing about heavies like Richard Perle, are there everany tremors? I know there’s supposed to be a Fourth Estate that is supposedto be a check on power, that’s supposed to be a part of democracy.
The Perle thing—this is so funny because we had to get acomment from him because I’d been calling all these peopletrying to get a comment, including his friends, and asking themif Richard Perle broke the law. So we had to get a comment and Icalled his secretary and she’s like, you should just emailhim. So I emailed him this question, do you think it’s morallyquestionable, whether he was violating the ethics rule and the lawthat governs public employees using their government position forprivate gain. And I got home one night a few days later from a bar,like three in the morning, and I looked at my email and there’san email from Richard Perle. I’m like, you gotta be kiddingme. I was shocked and I immediately forwarded it to my editor. Ifigured he would just not respond, or “no comment.” Andhe just came off looking so bad. That was just a great quote andI was really happy that he gave us that. People get so personal,reflects totally poorly on them. Here I am a lowly Nation internand Perle’s writing back to me from some villa in Italy, allworked up.
Obviously using it as an excuse to slam TheNation.
Someone threw a pie in his face a while ago when he was speaking.Otherwise, Perle’s been hit pretty hard.
Any favorite stories or interviews? You’ve already mentionedthe “Strategic Class.”
I guess that’s my favorite story I’ve done, probablyhad the most impact.
Do you have pretty free reign in terms of going out? Do you comeup with stories?
There’s a lot of back and forth with the editors. It’salmost never just like, oh, I’m going to do a story and itjust makes it in. My first piece I had to do, because I guess Iwasn’t proven enough, the Perle piece, they just kept stalling.So I was like, forget it, I’m just going to do all these interviews.I basically did 18, 19 interviews before I was even assigned thepiece really.
And then I told my editor, I have all this good stuff. She said,okay, write it up and we’ll see. I wrote it up and she said,this is great. I was like, yeah, I’ve been trying to tellyou this all along. So then after that it became easy. It becamea cover and people liked it. The piece about Gore’s cablenetwork was just assigned to me. The “strategic class” piecewas a back and forth thing. I told my editor, I think we shoulddo this piece and she goes, that’s great, I’ve beenwanting a piece like this for a while. So it was very easy. Andnow, when I get down to Washington, it’s going to be a mixtureof me figuring out what’s going on and them telling me. Youcan only tell people so much what’s going in Washington fromNew York, is my sense of it. But also I’m writing for a nationalmagazine, not a Washington magazine, so it’s good to havepeople outside of Washington giving you feedback and telling youwhat to do.
Tell me about your Ralph Shikes Fellowship.
It’s through the Public Concern Foundation, which is basicallya splinter of The Nation Institute. It’s a non-profit armof The Nation. It’s a side thing and sort of a technicalityas to why I’m paid there and not somewhere else. Ralph Shikeshimself is an old-school Leftie who has a really large print collection,a lot of his prints are in MoMA [Museum of Modern Art] and elsewhere,which I find interesting.
Any thoughts on why the media has become so gun-shy? Even the NewYork Times and the Washington Post have done mea culpas on why theircoverage on the run-up to the war relied so heavily on unsubstantiatedsources, like Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi, and soforth. Is it media conglomeration, like Gannett? It seems to meeven investigative journalism as a function is on a downward trendin general. Do you have any sense of any of that?
It’s a really difficult question to answer. People say, well,a lot of people in the media are liberal, and on certain issues—maybegay rights—a lot of the people in the media are liberal. Butpublishers—the people who have the say at the end of the day—areoverwhelmingly conservative. And what they’re conservativeabout is the bottom line. And the bottom line is not investigativejournalism. The bottom line is not liberal news. They have to worryabout pissing off advertisers. They have to worry about pissingoff the government. You know, it’s tough, if a NewYork Times or a WashingtonPost reporter does something the White House doesn’tlike, they’re just going to take away their access. They didthat to Rick Lyman [of the Times], who wasn’t allowed to travelon a plane with Dick Cheney.
So what’s going to happen is they’re going to replacehim with someone else, someone who’s obviously more willing.And in journalism, there are a lot of rank opportunists who wantto be in front of the cameras. I mean, it’s gotten to be peopleget hired on CNN for how they look, not for how they report, andthat’s every news station. So obviously what you’rehaving is the Miss America contest playing out on CNN every singletime they go to an anchor, which is fine—it’s nice tolook at, but it’s not real journalism.
The same thing happens with the White House press corps. I thinka lot of them are well-intentioned but they’re worried abouttheir sources; it’s a very small club; they all know eachother; they’re all friends with all the people and they worryabout going too far. And I think it’s really tough and a lotof them just aren’t willing to really talk about it. Evenreporters who are tough on the president sometimes are weary ofgoing too far, I think, and that’s what happens when you’rein the establishment media—while alternative media just doesn’thave enough resources to get in. And they suffer often from theirown failings, which are a narrow mindset and an inability to tella story that a lot of people can relate to. I worry a lot of timesthat the things that me and my colleagues do are so narrowly tailoredthat people who don’t know a lot about politics won’tunderstand it, and that’s a limitation of what the alternativepress does.
The right-wing media is incredibly well organized; they have aton of funding and they’re great at putting pressure on people.For example, look at the reporting on Israel. The Israeli lobbyhas just been incredibly good at making the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinianconflict fairly one-sided in this country. I think it’s one-sidedagainst Israel in Europe, by the way, but it’s one-sided againstthe Palestinians in this country. An equal balance has not beenstruck. The best coverage of Israel, funnily enough, is in Israel,by Left Israeli papers.
It’s like if people think of the U.S. as George Bush. Youknow, we’re a divided country. I know in Israel it’sthe same thing with Ariel Sharon.
The press there is very tough on him, I think in a lot of waysmore tough than the press is here. I think the L.A.Times, the N.Y.Times, they’re good, but they’re usually just reportingthe news. The majority of the time they suffer from an establishmentbias, more than a liberal or a conservative bias.
You wonder how people are going to get any coverage. Some say,oh, the people are dumb. I don’t think that. I just thinkwhen you’re only getting these kind of bites, you have tofight to get different bites and I don’t think people haveenough energy.
That’s the good thing about the blogs. People make a lotof the blogs but they are really good at providing an alternativenews source, every day pointing out hypocrisy, pointing out a differenttake on the news and culling from a lot of different sources. Soif you read the good blogs at least—and stories from the NewYork Times, the Washington Post, also stories from TheNation andbetter progressive publications and MotherJones and then thereare also stories from abroad.
Who are the investigative journalists that inspire you—SeymourHersch?
Seymour Hersch, yes. There’s investigative journalists—andthere’s journalists I really like. I like Hendrik Hertzbergwho writes for The New Yorker. He writes the “Comment” sectionfor them. He’s probably like my favorite journalist in termsof the way he uses words. I really like Paul Krugman a lot. I admirea lot what Nick Kristof has written about Darfar and just reallycrusading and putting that on the agenda. I think the Knight-Riddernews chain has done the best reporting from Iraq by far. Just showswhat’s possible with three or four journalists and a reallydevoted editor. They beat the Times and the Post every day in termsof what’s going on in Iraq.
Hersch is sort of the pinnacle for all of the younger investigativejournalists. There’re other investigative journalists I likea lot. There’s this guy Ken Silverstein who writes for theL.A. Times. He wrote for The Nation, for Counterpunch,and for a lot of lefty blogs for a while, and then he went and wrotefor the L.A.Times. He’s doing this amazing reporting the L.A.Times,where he is essentially writing stories that could easily be publishedin The Nation for the Times. But he’s justdoing reporting. He’s going out and getting the story. Hewrote a great cover story for Harper’s a while agoabout pork-barrel spending in America that I thought was terrific.I think Thomas Frank is a really great writer. I really enjoy readinghim. And the NewYorker has some great writers. Jon Lee Anderson,who writes “Dispatchesfrom Iraq,” is a terrific writer. There are some of the peopleobviously I work with whose stuff I really like. Bill Greider. Ilove his reporting now but his stuff was just great if you go backand read it.
I like Michael Moore a lot, too. I thought Fahrenheit911 was reallypowerful and I thought Bowling for Columbine was fantastic. I thoughtwas really an amazing film.
There’s really no equivalent to Michael Moore today. I mean,he’s fulfilling a role that, I guess, populist political leadersmay have done in the past. But no one is doing the grassroots organizingand protests that he’s doing. I think he’s quite effective.People say Fahrenheit 911 was too bitter, it turned Republicansagainst Democrats. I don’t think so. I think if we would havehad more of that stuff there was a better chance we would have wonthe election.
You’ve probably seen the latest polls. Republican numbersare the lowest they’ve been for Bush. They’re down to82%. All this and they’re down to 82%! It’s like prettymonolithic.
John McCain has higher approval ratings amongst Democrats thanhe does amongst Republicans.
He just came out with: I think we should have the “otherside” of the debate on the whole so-called intelligent designthing.
Yeah, I’m not endorsing John McCain. I’m just sayingthat the Republican Party has certainly shifted farther right.
So what is it like, just on a more homey level, comingfrom [Iowa] and going into the fray now? Any perception on that?Obviously you’reexcited…
Well, growing up in Fairfield’s interesting because thereis innate skepticism towards power, power in terms of governmentsense, that there isn’t in a lot of places. Because of theNLP [the Natural Law Party], you’re taught to be suspiciousof the two-party system and you’re taught to be suspiciousof Democrats and Republicans and the promises they make and theway they run Washington. That always made me curious about whatelse was out there. That was really helpful, and obviously justthe upbringing I had was, I thought, in a way somewhat anti-establishment.
There’s more to this world than making money; there’smore to this world than just working at a corporation. I alwayswanted to do something different where I could express myself andmake a difference. After a while, I found that I liked writing andthat I felt I could reach people in a certain way.
I think that you have a freedom in journalism, even in politicaljournalism, that you just don’t have working for a politicianor something. Maybe in five years or so, maybe I’ll jump andwork in politics. I’m only 23. I can do whatever I want, prettymuch. I wouldn’t rule it out. But now, I think, writing isjust so much more interesting because there’s such a dearthof really good opposition independent journalism. In my own smallway I’d like to go see how I like it, whether I can do it.
Washington’s going to be a much bigger challenge than NewYork was. New York was mostly doing interviews over the phone andthen going out and doing some interviews. It wasn’t livingand breathing that community, which some people find to be totallyoppressive. But I also find it to be a ton of opportunity and alot going on there that needs to be reported on. I’d liketo give people the sense of how Washington works, by describinghow it doesn’t work. We elect people to go do a job, and theyaren’t not doing that job. No one elected people to go puta last-minute tax break for Haliburton in the energy bill. That’snot why they’re elected.
I think there’s a sense that stuff isn’t working, butI think it needs to be flushed out a little more. Also, I neverreally considered myself an activist, so it’s hard for meto say what people should do. So that’s why my last blog wassort of inspirational, a little bit of a switch for me [suggestingpeople get involved in local politics, etc]. I don’t reallylike sentimentality or inspiration, whatever.
And that’s your training, right? Are some investigativejournalists too sentimental?
I don’t think any investigative journalists are sentimental.I think that some journalists are probably too sentimental, tootied to their sources or too tied to authority. I was talking toanother friend of mine who does some investigative reporting, andwhat ties investigative journalism together is an innate skepticismtoward authority and somewhat of an anti-establishment mindset,so it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing—someonetells you something and you don’t necessarily think that it’strue. I think skepticism is healthy and good, and there certainlycould be more of it in the media today.
Do you have any advice for inspiring investigative journalists?
Well, I don’t consider myself an investigative journalist.The Perle piece is the only investigative piece I’ve done.I would like to do more of that. I don’t know how you describewhat I do. I think a lot of it is just connecting the dots, providinga narrative that other people don’t provide. It’s almostlike I’m an explanatory journalist, taking what’s outthere and explaining it to people.
That’s the gap that’s missing. The piece you did onthe strategic class, you connected dots that made a structure. Youframed the debate. “Explanatory journalism”—Ilike that phrase. What a wonderful way to end this interview, becauseI think one of the biggest needs is that it all seems too much tounderstand and people just shut off. So I really encourage you inyour work. I think it’s really needed.
Thanks. The one good thing about growing up in Fairfield is, alot of people are doing some crazy, whacked-out stuff, but a lotof people are just following their own path and not really conformingto everything else. I get really frustrated with people in my generationthat I know are smart and committed and somewhat idealistic whojust decide to take that corporate job out there, and they don’tgo work at a non-profit. People that immediately want to start abusiness and make a lot of money and they don’t want to volunteertheir time. You can’t fault anyone for making their decisions;everyone makes their decisions for different reasons. But I justthink there are a lot of opportunities out there for my generationto make a difference, and I think it would be sad if people wouldn’ttake that opportunity.
What about a possible draft?
I don’t think there’s going to be a draft unless there’sanother terrorist attack. I do think—and this is somethingwhere I disagree with some people on the Left—there shouldbe some sort of mandatory national service in this country, notnecessarily military, but you should either rebuild an inner city,or work in a nursing home, or go help build wind generators, orsomething. Everyone should be forced to do something that helpsthis country. We really do have a deficit of shared sacrifice. Peoplelike me, who grew up privileged, can think about this stuff becausewe don’t have to think about money. But if everyone coulddo it and not have to worry about the money, I think that’dbe amazing. I think everybody who joins the military should be ableto go to college for free, outside of the army. You fight in Iraq,you should be able to come back and go to any college you want.The one good thing about the antiwar movement this time as opposedto the antiwar movement in Vietnam is that it recognizes the peoplethat join the military themselves are not the bad guys.
Read Ari Berman’s article in The Nation TheDemocrats: Still Ducking, March 9, 2006.