Why I Was An NJ Addict

The magazine you’re holding is one I’ve loved for 45 years.

Dec. 11, 2015, 5 a.m.

This is not a column I’ve looked for­ward to writ­ing. Like de­liv­er­ing a eu­logy for a close friend, it’s an hon­or to be asked, but you hate the reas­on why.

I’ve had a 45-year love af­fair with Na­tion­al Journ­al. In my ju­ni­or year (1970-1971) of high school in Shreve­port, Louisi­ana, our de­bate team re­searched and built our case both for and against the pro­pos­i­tion that Wash­ing­ton “should es­tab­lish, fin­ance, and ad­min­is­ter pro­grams to con­trol air and/or wa­ter pol­lu­tion in the United States.” My part­ner, Gary Jack­son (now an at­tor­ney in Char­lotte, North Car­o­lina), found an art­icle in a Wash­ing­ton-based magazine, Na­tion­al Journ­al, that was au­thor­it­at­ive, ob­ject­ive, and help­ful. We dis­covered that the one-year-old magazine was already highly re­garded in the na­tion’s cap­it­al. Once I moved to Wash­ing­ton for col­lege and be­came an in­tern on Cap­it­ol Hill in Janu­ary 1973, I was ad­dicted. Al­most every place I worked for the next 25 years sub­scribed to Na­tion­al Journ­al.

As much as I loved writ­ing a column at Roll Call for a dozen years, Na­tion­al Journ­al’s pub­lish­er, John Fox Sul­li­van, and own­er, Dav­id Brad­ley, lured me away in 1998. Sul­li­van was the pub­lish­er every journ­al­ist wanted. “Hands-on,” as one alum­nus put it, “roam­ing the news­room, shar­ing gos­sip, en­cour­aging the troops.” An­oth­er re­port­er noted that Sul­li­van “al­ways pro­tec­ted us from pissed-off, power­ful folks or ad­vert­isers who threatened to pull their busi­ness, etc., for some story. He took their flak and nev­er asked us to rein in our re­port­ing.” As for Brad­ley, few people have in­ves­ted as much of their money, heart, and soul in ser­i­ous journ­al­ism as he has in re­vital­iz­ing The At­lantic and Na­tion­al Journ­al.

In those days, Na­tion­al Journ­al oc­cu­pied a unique place in Wash­ing­ton journ­al­ism. Many of its writers, a bit older and more ex­per­i­enced than the city’s usu­al journ­al­ists, were ex­perts in the top­ic or in­sti­tu­tion they covered. Na­tion­al Journ­al was a cross between a think tank and a ser­i­ous magazine on pub­lic policy and polit­ics. If you worked in Con­gress, the ex­ec­ut­ive branch, in­de­pend­ent agen­cies, or for a cor­por­a­tion, trade as­so­ci­ation, labor uni­on, think tank, law firm, or pub­lic re­la­tions com­pany, when Na­tion­al Journ­al wrote about an is­sue or situ­ation that mattered, you read it first.

It’s fool­hardy for me to start men­tion­ing names, among the hun­dreds of journ­al­ists who have writ­ten or ed­ited the magazine or have de­signed or pro­duced it. But it seems al­most crim­in­al not to point out some of the most tal­en­ted. There wasn’t a journ­al­ist in Wash­ing­ton who knew the is­sue of in­ter­na­tion­al trade as well as Bruce Stokes did. On do­mest­ic is­sues, Neal Peirce was the fore­most au­thor­ity on state and loc­al ini­ti­at­ives and polit­ics. (I prob­ably have five or six of his books at home.) If you cared about ag­ri­cul­ture, you wanted to know what Jerry Hag­strom thought and saw. The deep-dive re­port­ing on health care by Mar­ilyn Wer­ber Ser­afini and Ju­lie Kosterl­itz, and by Mar­gie Kr­iz Hob­son on en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment­al is­sues, were must-reads for the pro­fes­sion­als. After the 9/11 at­tacks, na­tion­al se­cur­ity and in­tel­li­gence moved to the fore­front in the magazine, fea­tur­ing fine work by James Kit­field and some young­er re­port­ers, not­ably Shane Har­ris, Sydney Freed­berg, and Siobhan Gor­man.

But Na­tion­al Journ­al wasn’t only about is­sues. It kept watch on polit­ic­al in­sti­tu­tions and the people who ran them. Rich Co­hen covered Con­gress, and the House in par­tic­u­lar, more closely than any­one else. Kirk Vic­tor did the same in the Sen­ate. Burt So­lomon did some great re­port­ing as a colum­nist at the White House and has come back in re­cent months to edit my column and make it far bet­ter than when it was sub­mit­ted. There was only one Stu­art Taylor Jr., a Har­vard Law School gradu­ate whose cov­er­age of the Su­preme Court and con­sti­tu­tion­al law was un­par­alleled. Peter Stone, Carl Can­non, and Alex­is Si­mendinger con­trib­uted ori­gin­al and in­cis­ive re­port­ing about how Wash­ing­ton works.

Many of the best ed­it­ors star­ted out as re­port­ers. Richard Cor­rigan, a le­gend at Na­tion­al Journ­al, died in the of­fice in 1991 (be­fore my time) at age 53. John Moore was an­oth­er tal­en­ted re­port­er and writer. I was for­tu­nate enough to have my column ed­ited for a time by the in­defatig­able and ir­re­press­ible Mi­chael Kelly, who be­came the first Amer­ic­an journ­al­ist killed cov­er­ing the Ir­aq War, at age 46. For much of my ten­ure at NJ, my column was ed­ited by Charlie Green, the top ed­it­or, a soft-spoken but strong lead­er, a lovely man with the pa­tience of Job.

In re­cent years, print journ­al­ism about polit­ics and gov­ern­ment has fallen on harder times. Cable tele­vi­sion and the In­ter­net changed everything. News, in­form­a­tion, and opin­ions are dis­pensed 24/7 and at the speed of light; in-depth ana­lys­is and deep re­port­ing are less ap­pre­ci­ated. In a “high-ve­lo­city” (us­ing Brad­ley’s term) news en­vir­on­ment, a weekly print pub­lic­a­tion cov­er­ing polit­ics can’t sur­vive. As Con­gress has ac­com­plished less and less, few­er ad­vert­isers need to reach the lead­ers on Cap­it­ol Hill. The days of print-based polit­ic­al journ­al­ism are over.

For me, I’ll still be plug­ging away, my fu­ture columns avail­able to Na­tion­al Journ­al mem­bers be­hind a pay wall. I’ll also lead my team at The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port and give speeches here and there. An era has ended, but life moves on.

What We're Following See More »
Julian Castro Announces 2020 Exploratory Committee
31 minutes ago
Theresa May Faces Vote of No Confidence
53 minutes ago
New York Attorney General Planning To Investigate Trump Family
1 hours ago

"New York Attorney Gen.-elect Letitia James says she plans to launch sweeping investigations into President Donald Trump, his family and 'anyone' in his circle who may have violated the law once she settles into her new job next month." James plans to investigate Trump's real estate holdings in New York, any government subsidies those businesses may have received, whether Trump has violated the emoluments clause, and "the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting." James also campaigned "on passing a bill to change New York's double jeopardy laws with an eye on possible pardons coming out of the White House."

Senate Passes Farm Bill, 87-13
18 hours ago
Senate To Take Up Criminal Justice
1 days ago

"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Senate will take up criminal justice reform legislation as soon as this week, marking a win for President Donald Trump and a remarkable turnaround for the bill. The latest version of the measure could be released as soon as Tuesday, according to two sources familiar with the matter, and is likely to win over more Republican support on a plan that had sharply divided the GOP."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.