By Kristine Craig
On Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 6 pm EST, DPR Editor in Chief Kristine Craig sat down with UCD Alum and a Senior Editor of the New Republic Magazine Isaac Chotiner near his apartment in downtown Washington D.C. After transferring to UC Davis from UC San Diego during his sophomore year, due in part to his internship with California Congressman George Miller, Chotiner found a home with the Aggies in Davis, CA. He spent the next three years studying political science, playing intermural basketball, and Frisbee. After graduating, he worked on the Kerry campaign, and decided to come to Washington D.C. with the hopes of working in their administration.
Despite the campaign’s unsuccessful turnout, he came anyhow, and began working for a polling firm in Dupont Circle, leaving after 9 months to work at the Washington Monthly as an intern, where he had the opportunity to write. He said it was a “great experience. A lot of journalists start there, even some that I work with now. They also give interns a chance to write… …you have to do fact checking and copy editing and all that s%#t but it’s great.” He then went to work for Blogging-Heads TV for about 6 months before joining the New Republic as a Reporter/Researcher, a one year lowest-level staff position, with his primary job being fact-checking and blogging.
Kristine Craig: Now, was Chris Hughes Editor in Chief at the time?
Isaac Chotiner: No, um, gosh. I think it was 2013. Google that. I left the New Republic after about a year. I worked at the Huffington Post for about a month, and I hated it, so I quit.
KC: What position did you have?
IC: News Editor? Something, I can’t even remember.
There were some great people there, but I didn’t like what I was doing.”
And then I started freelancing for a while- wrote for a number of different places. Eventually in 2009, I was hired to run the online book section that the New Republic was just starting, as Executive Editor of the Online Book Review. When I started, a man named Frank Foer was the Editor. And Frank left to write a book and Richard Just was the Editor during the time I was doing the book review stuff… Chris Hughes bought the magazine and replaced Richard with Frank who came back to edit the magazine, and then Frank hired me on as a Senior Editor. For the last year or so, I’ve been doing writing for the web and online.
KC: Were you able to see a difference in the magazine between your first position and your second, based on the leadership change?
IC: When Chris bought the magazine in 2000-whatever it was, we were… Richard, to his great credit, kept us afloat during that period, but it was very bleak. It was clear there was not much money being put into the magazine. And Chris came in and felt like he really wanted to revitalize it. Bulked up staff, got new offices.
KC: You have two offices now?
IC: Yes, one here and one in New York.
KC: Switching back to sort of UC Davis stuff- were you involved in any clubs or activities, do you have any funny stories or anecdotes?
IC: God, I was such a terrible UC Davis student. What did I do? I played Frisbee… I played intermural basketball. The only thing I remember about intermural basketball was that my best friend- we were on a 3 on 3 team, and he couldn’t play one day, so me and another friend played 2 on 3… which was a bleak experience. I will say that it was bad…. I lived a very uncool life.
“The one benefit of living an uncool life is that- well I wasn’t even a particularly good student, but I did, during that time, do a lot of reading and came into my own and what I wanted to do, and got interested in journalism and the world more than I had been.”
KC: Do you know if there were any political science organizations back then? I mean, now there’s Aggies for Israel, we have DCR, DCD, and DPR and that’s about it. What was going on when you were there?
IC: So I actually …this is going to sound embarrassing, but I remember going to a few meetings for Democrats for Wes Clark… Do you remember his presidential campaign? He was a general who helped win the Kosovo War, and had no political experience… and Democrats got incredibly excited about him in 2004 as if he was going to challenge Bush. And I remember being excited about him too. Although he was just an atrocious candidate.
KC: (Laughs) So when did you move to D.C.? What year?
IC: 2005. The weekend of Bush’s second inaugural address. The city was full of people in cowboy hats.
KC: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
IC: Well, I hope that the New Republic is still around- and I have no reason to think it won’t be-and I hope that I am still contributing to it. I love the magazine and I love my colleagues, it’s a really great place to work. I’m also going to be writing a book over the next few years.
KC: What is your favorite thing about the city of Washington D.C.? Do you have any funny stories since you’ve been here, transitioning from Davis?
IC: The one thing about D.C. that people kind of say it gets a bad rap for, is that it is ‘an insular town, everybody is obsessed with politics.’ And that’s true in some ways, but it’s a really interesting place- you have people from all over- you have the IMF, the World Bank. You know, you get people with different perspectives, interesting life stories. If you go to other places, in some ways it’s more insular.
“You also have a thing which I think is good, where you really get Democrats and Republicans socializing just because normally you’re in your own town, your own city and you’re sort of surrounded by people, but here, you get to talk to people and that’s always sort of interesting.”
KC: Do you have any pets?
IC: No, I wish I had a dog.
KC: So tell me what a typical day in the life of a political journalist is like.
IC: Oh gosh, well that’s going to make me sound lazy. I mean, my day? I wake up, go to the gym, read the newspaper, and then in the morning start working on what I’m writing.
KC: The New Republic has seen huge ideological, political, and social changes since its first issue in 1914. How would you sum up the ideological trends of today? …In the broadest sense, are we becoming more liberal or conservative in your opinion?
IC: Well it’s interesting, we are having our 100th Anniversary issue at the end of the year. Yeah, the first World War was just starting when we had our first issue.
KC: I suppose what I mean is that in different pockets of the U.S., you get concentrated liberal or conservative populations. So from your perspective being in D.C., do you think America is trending towards liberalism or conservatism?
IC: D.C. Republicans are closer to the way the Republican Party is headed, in the sense that if you talk to Republicans who work for Republican magazines, those who work for Senate staffers, almost all of them are more socially liberal. Most are more accepting of things like gay marriage; generally tend to be pro immigration, or pro immigration reform, much more than if you polled Republicans at large. I don’t think that they are leading the party in any direction, but I think that that is a way the party is going to change. Still economically conservative, but less socially. Obviously a huge chunk of Americans are socially conservative, but that is changing. I mean, the country has become undeniably more liberal in some ways, but I still think it remains the most conservative of all Western European countries.
KC: What is your vision for the New Republic’s future?
IC: I mean, I read all of the articles in the magazine- I have a critique of some, and I love others, but fundamentally, I think it is a good magazine, and I would like to see us continue doing what we are currently doing- really great cultural criticism, really great reported pieces, really great essays, argumentative essays. Obviously, not every piece is a home run, but there are not that many magazines in the United States that do all those things.
KC: If you could choose a topic in politics that you are most passionate about, what would it be and why? Do you have any ties to a certain issue?
IC: Actually, sort of Pakistan and India, is what I am most interested in. I traveled to India for the first time in 2007, and I’ve gone a number of times since then. And I am doing a piece about Pakistan now.
KC: Was it that specific trip that sparked your interest? Or was there something before maybe?
IC: No, I was already interested- I studied the British Empire in college a lot.
KC: Are there any current issues there you feel strongly about?
IC: Well, I am anti-Taliban. (Laughs). The specific issues seem less important than just the big picture.
KC: So you are invested in the future of Pakistan?
IC: Yeah, I mean I would like to a see a more tolerant, liberal country without blasphemy laws, where minorities and women having more standing. I think the issue in India right now is that it has had this incredible development in the past 50 years, but the progress has been made at less quick levels that it should have. The thing is figuring out how to grow economically in a way that hundreds of millions of people are still not in poverty.
KC: On that note, minimum wage- what do you think about the national minimum wage hike? Is it a good idea?
IC: I know that there is a debate about whether it hurts employment. I tend to find the evidence not all that all convincing that it does. I’m not an economist, so I will admit to basing this issue on economists I read who tend to be more liberal, but that’s my take.
KC: So, I have been following your articles for the past month or so, after one of our editors suggested to connect with you, and I wanted to ask you a few questions about the article on Wendy Davis. You claim that the minor mistakes pointed out by Manny Fernandez’s in-depth piece on Wendy Davis’s campaign in the New York Times really don’t matter- that they are not the meat of why she is trailing in the polls, and that a generic candidate simply cannot win. Do you think that she possesses the “huge upsides” to make her a viable candidate?
IC: Probably not in Texas. I think she maybe is an appealing candidate in some ways, but I guess one of my pet peeves about the way politics is covered is that too much of it is about- ya know, did so and so make a good speech? Which matters… but doesn’t matter that much. It’s the economics and the demographics in that area. If a Democrat is losing in Texas… I mean, Mitt Romney lost in Massachusetts by how many points to Obama? A lot. That doesn’t mean anything to me about Mitt Romney, just that Massachusetts is a Democratic state. I was frustrated by that piece for the way Fernandez presented the Davis campaign.
KC: Do you think that her (Davis) being a woman influences her campaign favorably or unfavorably in Texas?
IC: I would imagine being identified with the abortion issue as not a great help. I think our next President, more than fifty percent chance is a woman. So I’d like to think that either party could elect a woman now. You saw the way the Republicans embraced Palin and the way the Democrats have embraced Hillary for next year. Either party could nominate a woman, and a woman could win.
KC: Do you have any predictions or thoughts regarding the RNC Presidential Convention in Cleveland with the return of LeBron James? How do you think this national attention will affect Cleveland- in terms of the economy, political atmosphere, and job outlook?
IC: I don’t know how it will affect the RNC, but if you are asking me to predict who the Republican nominee will be, I think either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio will run. And I think either of them has a better chance than anyone else.
KC: How do you think LeBron and the RNC will affect Cleveland?
IC: Maybe economically a little bit- I don’t know enough to say- I mean they certainly seem very excited.
KC: Lastly, what advice do you have for current students who are interested in political journalism?
IC: Just keep writing. Whether its columns in the school newspaper, whether it’s long emails to friends about something. Just write, write, write. I once wrote to a novelist who I used to read-this is back when I was like twelve-who wrote back saying just keep writing no matter what, just write, write, write.
I would also suggest that it’s good to read newspapers and magazines. You come across issues you didn’t know about and you get interested in them and it blossoms out into more and it’s good to have lots of interests.
KC: Thank you so much.