What do you read? What are your media consumption habits?
Well the day starts with all the various morning newsletter type things, which I confess I don’t always get through all of them. First Read, The Note, Playbook. I kind of miss the days when Playbook was a little more idiosyncratic. National Journal, Talking Points Memo, Bloomberg, Media Bistro, The Washington Times and the Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh newsletters.
And then I have this guilt thing where I leave them unread in my inbox. I don’t watch a lot of cable news, unless there’s something specific going on. And then I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I wish I could say I read them all regularly every morning. That is not always the case.
How is it writing about American politics for The Guardian?
I really love working for them. They’re really interested in a sensibility over specific kinds of content. Also it’s kind of lovely being considered the moderate at a publication. I also feel like sometimes what I’m doing for them is translating American politics into British, the American into English. I do sometimes feel like what I’m doing is talking people down. If the only thing you know about the United States is what you saw on MSNBC, you might think the right wing had culturally a lot more power than it really does. The way that we cover Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin. Sometimes I have to say, ‘Sarah Palin is not going to be president.’ That’s not going happen, don’t worry. We’re not going to invade Iran anytime soon.
I defend America … not that it’s being attacked. But the American people are really decent people who make good choices. The way that politics gets covered, it emphasizes the worst of us as a country. We actually do a pretty good job picking our leaders. We’re still chugging along.
What are you paying close attention to this election cycle?
The struggle in the Republican Party remains relevant. I do think that there’s a kind of quest for energy in the Republican Party. They have yet to find it.
Is there any campaign moment from this cycle so far that we’ll remember after election day?
The news cycle moves so damn quickly. Are we already over Obama’s gay marriage announcement? That’s going to be a thing that lives on for decades. It means a lot for a lot of people. It’s a validation that I alluded to: we’re a decent people. And we tend to do the right thing when led in that direction.
What has surprised you about the election?
The fact that people, suburban women, are passionate about their access to birth control and concerned about infringement of their rights to control their bodies. Women haven’t forgotten that we fought really hard for those rights, that you can’t take those things back or question those rights without causing a problem, without at least raising some concerns. That the gender gap is a real thing. It exists. I think it’s a little unfair to say Republicans have a ‘war on women.’ I don’t believe they hate women. I do think that that is the end result of not allowing women to have control of their bodies.
You’ve written online for so long. What’s one of the weirder comments/feedback you’ve received?
I am amused by the fact that I have lived long enough to be in a time where it’s not weird to make friends over the Internet, where you can strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met and later meet them in person and not have to explain that to someone else.
The signal-to-noise ratio has gotten a lot better. When I first started writing online at suck.com, the signal-to-noise ratio was pretty good. There was a tiny community online. There was a moment where it got really bad, the flood gate opened, everyone was online, and the craziest people spoke the loudest. And now I think we’re at a period where there are a lot of crazy people, but it’s easier to filter them out. The Internet looks more like the rest of the world.
How is it to write about politics from “fly-over” country (St. Paul, Minnesota)?
I really treasure it. I’m not sure if I could do the job I do without having lived in Washington. I’m not sure I could do it from Minnesota if I hadn’t lived in Washington for so long.
It’s not like I’m in a bubble in flyover country. Thanks to the Internet and technology, I can carry on conversations that perhaps 10 years ago would have been harder to do. It is a great reality check to live in a community where talking about politics is not the norm.
What’s your writing day like?
I still appreciate all the things that are still cliche about the blogger. I do wear draw-string pants all day. I get up, I read, I email with my editor. I have a quota of about three pieces a week. The Guardian is not very rigid about what that looks like. I’m very lucky. I get to kind of pick the topics I’m passionate about. I’m most productive in the middle of the day or the end of the day. It’s been a kind of hard thing to learn about myself.
When I talked to The Guardian, blogging didn’t make sense anymore. It’s 140 characters or it’s something more thoughtful, or longer. People don’t really have an appetite for that 200-to-150 word post, I don’t think.
What’s the future of the “blog”?
I was an American history major, and leaned heavily on Marxist interpretations of history. Means of production determines what it is we trade. The technology supported the kind of short form, but not shortest form, posts of classic blogging. And technology now supports something different. It will depend on what technology supports, and what can be profitable. The blog format was not profitable. Who knows what is? I still think we might go back to nailing up signs on telephone poles.
One thing that can’t be undone: we will never go back to a period where only a privileged few get to put their voices out. I think journalists are finally coming to terms with that.
What use is Twitter?
Besides the news speed, I guess as a writer, my personality as a writer has always been that I like working within a form. If I was a poet, I’d write haiku. The restrictions and constrictions fit me, they bring out the trouble maker in me. Definitely Twitter does that. The trick of being able to say something in 140 characters is something I get satisfaction from pulling off. In a way Twitter is the area of writing where I am truly doing writing for its own sake. I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I have added something to a conversation.
Should journalism be entertaining?
Of course. Not always, but it’s not bad to be entertaining. I sometimes think, there are journalists and writers who, when it’s convenient, call themselves entertainers. I’ve been guilty of that myself. Sometimes you practice journalism whether you like or not.
At what point does humor get in the way of a serious point? Does it ever?
It doesn’t have to get in the way. What I’ve learned the hard way is that if you offend enough people, they will lose sight of the point you are trying to make. There’s a way you can use offense to make a point. It’s an area that I can’t give you any boundaries about. It is a risk that I’m obviously willing to take a lot of the time. It’s what passes for maturity in my world that I try to sometimes rein it in because I feel like the point I want to make is more important than shock value.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com