How to Use a Telephone and Other Reporting Tips
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The question I get most frequently about Wide World of News is how I put it together each day.
It is easier than you think.
I have two tricks of the trade I use: a phone and a pen.
As to the phone: Unlike reporters born in the ‘90s, I don’t really rely on DM and IM. Instead I call people up, chat them up, and write it up.
How do I get people to actually answer their telephones and, like, talk with their voices?
First, I call government officials during office hours and ask their assistants if I can speak to them.
When an assistants asks, “May I say what this is in reference to?,” I use I line I learned from the great investigative reporter Jack Anderson (via Brit Hume):
The officials always get right on the line.
Second, I call sources on their direct lines at 5am, when they are in the office but not staffed.
For instance, just moments ago, I had a very vivid and detailed conversation with Jake Sullivan simply by calling the number I’ve had for the president’s national security adviser going back to the Scowcroft days.
“This is Jake,” the voice said, and we were quickly on a romp around the world, touching on hotspots such as Burma, China, and Russia (along with a little White House tittle tattle, natch).
My second overall method is a reliance on my readers from around the world, who, on six continents (and counting….) are awake as I start to draft the newsletter and pepper me with questions.
How do I seem to always know what my readers are interested in?
Because no matter what the format on any given day, Wide World of News is basically driven by my answering the questions you all are literally asking me while I’m trying to work.
It’s sort of like the method Jen Psaki uses to prepare for her daily briefing, only more voluntary.
So in this edition, to give you a look behind the scenes at how the sausage is made, here are some of the questions I’ve already received today, and the direct answers, ungussied up.
Does Joe Biden really care about having his pandemic relief package win bipartisan support?
Yes, the way I care about eating less gooey butter cake and more apples.
As long as Congress will quickly send him a bill that has about $2 trillion in spending that includes money in all the categories his own proposal held and that can win the support of both Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin, then of course the president is all for a bipartisan bill.
Which is to say, the president is very much for a bipartisan bill all other things being equal at a time when all other things in DC are NOT equal.
The greatest failure of the Democrats since Bill Clinton was president (and continuing through Hillary Clinton’s campaign) has been the party’s inability to win policy/political debates on issues on which the public agreed with the Democrats’ position by about 70-30.
Team Biden is counting on muscling through a reconciliation package with universal Democratic support in Congress and broad based bipartisan support in the country and then giving Republican members a choice: vote for the measure on final passage (even if they have been effectively absent from the negotiating process) – or face the wrath of voters in the midterms when the law’s impact turns the economy around.
PS: This is EXACTLY the strategy and tactics used by the new Obama administration in 2009, with implications for partisanship, the image of the Democratic president, and the congressional elections two years later.
The other, related significant parallel to note: As with back then, Republicans are not really cooperating in any real sense, expecting the newly elected Democratic president to offer them somewhere between 50% and 45% of a loaf in the deal, when the president’s party’s Hill majorities, need for speed, public support for action, and Electoral College mandate make that an unrealistic demand.
Also, read this Politico story on the Senate amendment process as the next stage of reconciliation – with an opportunity for Mitch McConnell to be all wily.
What is the existential meaning for the Republicans of Kevin McCarthy and the House conference standing by both Liz Cheney and Marjorie Taylor Greene?
I still can’t believe McCarthy thought Steny Hoyer might actually accept a deal in which Greene would lose one of her current committee assignments, get a new committee, and suffer no other sanction.
Politically, McCarthy probably chose the path of least resistance in trying to keep the conference – and the party – together by backing both his controversial members.
The Cheney flap is probably largely over for now, but the Greene saga is just beginning.
Her soft private apology to her mates (“for putting her colleagues in a difficult spot”) and public defiance (“On a podcast with right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza published Wednesday, Greene took aim at GOP leaders for not standing more squarely behind her: ‘It’s me this week, and it’ll be someone else next week, and our leaders are too weak to stand up against it. That is why Republican voters will not vote for them anymore.’), demonstrate that the woman Senate Republicans openly call crazy is at least in part crazy like a fox.
There are at least three Greene shoes waiting to drop, two in a bit and one right now.
As for the former: What is Donald Trump going to say about the Gentlelady from Georgia when the time comes? And how are Democrats in the House going to treat her (and vice versa) in the hallways?
As for today:
For now, the immediate problem facing House Republicans was how they would vote on Thursday on Democrats’ resolution to strip Ms. Greene of her committees.
With Democrats in control of the House, the measure is certain to pass. But the vote will force Republicans to go on the record for the first time on whether Ms. Greene should be punished for her past comments, and it will force them to confront head-on the conspiracy theories that Mr. Trump allowed to flourish, and in some cases fed, while he was in the White House. (New York Times)
And/but also this:
I’m having a hard time understanding the Biden foreign policy agenda and how it will differ from Donald Trump’s administration.
How would you explain that?
Dear sir or madam,
Joe Biden faces the same essential challenge that his predecessors have: How can he get more leverage over the leaders of Russia and China to try to get them to act more in line with U.S. interests?
Two essential reading stories frame all this quite nicely.
* The Wall Street Journal on Team Biden’s posture towards China, suggesting there is an accommodationist camp led by John Kerry and a confrontationalist camp led by… most everyone else.
* A David Sanger Special in the New York Times suggesting that the arrows in the quiver are economic sanctions, international coalitions, and the power of the Chinese and Russian people to protest in the streets.
I share Sanger’s skepticism about sanctions; I think international coalitions are vastly overrated regarding building leverage over those two aspiring superish powers; and I think the power of the people is the whole ballgame.
So, the question for Team Blinken is this: How can that last power be stoked and tapped?
If you could have a covid-safe dinner at a back table at Tosca with any four Washington types and discuss one topic, who would your four guests be and what would you talk about?
Guests: Tom Cotton, Amy Klobuchar, Anita Dunn, and Mike Donilon and we would talk about these two paragraphs from Tom Edsall’s New York Times column:
[Mitch] McConnell has a history of bending with the wind, accommodating the extremists in his party, including Trump and Trump’s allies, and he voted in support of the claim that Trump’s second impeachment trial is unconstitutional. If the conspiracy wing of the Republican Party becomes strong enough to routinely mount winning primary challenges to mainstream incumbents, McConnell may well abandon his critique and accept a party moving steadily closer to something many Americans (though not all) could never have imagined: the systematic exploitation of voters gullible or pathological enough to sign on to preposterous conspiracy theories in order to engineer the installation in Washington of an ultraright, ethnonationalist crypto-fascist white supremacist political regime.
The problem of keeping the extremist fringe at arm’s length has plagued the Republican Party for decades — dating back to Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society — but nothing in recent American history has reached the crazed intensity of Donald Trump’s perseverating, mendacious insistence that he won a second term in November. That he is not alone — that millions continue to believe in his delusions — is terrifying.
So what should I read that is fun fun fun?
All my best,
M. Evan Halperin
I recommend this Politico piece about how President Biden interacts with the White House staff and the wider world. Normal people will go “awwwwwwww, how nice!,” while cynics will wonder which Team Biden comms staffer placed such a bouquet.
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Topics: politics, the new Biden administration, the media, the Presumption of Grace, or whatever you wish.
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