The Nov. 30 issue of WORLD includes a Q&A with Mark Leibovich, a New York Times Washington reporter and author of the best-selling This Town (Blue Rider Press, 2013), an examination of capital culture. Here are some of his additional comments from the interview that took place at Patrick Henry College.
How did you learn the craft of writing? Through great pain and suffering as any honest writer will tell you. A lot of reporters pretend that it’s easy, and there is a level of arrogance that sort of comes with that. They know the truth, write it, and that’s it. My approach has always been much more staccato and, I would say, pain-based.
Did you go into journalism right after college? Pretty much. I needed a job, was answering a bunch of want ads, and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got this job at the Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly in Boston, and was answering phones for years. Eventually I began listening to conversations, they began letting me write stories, and eventually I decided, hey, maybe I can do this for a living. Next thing I know life was happening and I was a journalist.
What’s changed over the years in journalism? The gold standard of my industry is no longer reporting and fairness and objectivity, but punditry. If you can get noticed by yelling louder than the other guy on TV you’re going to make a name for yourself and get recognized in airports and get big speaking fees. That’s where the rewards are now. A disproportionate number of journalists are relishing their own role in the carnival.
Some Patrick Henry College students here have Washington ambitions. Should they steer clear for a while? A lot of people, especially after this book has come out, say, “Look, I want to serve the country. I want to come to Washington. I’ve always had this romantic view of it.” I’m starting to tell people it’s probably a good idea to start elsewhere, to get to know either a part of the country, or a group of people who operate from different perspective. Failing that, make sure you have a fuller sense of what your values are and what you’re there for and what you want to accomplish, rather than throwing yourself into this stew of opportunism which Washington can be.
Were you eager-to-please? I’ve never been that. I have always been the wise guy in the back of the class skeptical of everything.