While browsing the interwebz, I came across a story called "Take This Town and Shove It: A White House reporter’s tale of sex, booze and the briefing room” on Politico by Sam Youngman. Being a proud DC native (with a DC flag tattoo that my parents hate to prove it) and someone that occasionally likes to flirt with the idea of real journalism, I couldn’t help but be intrigued enough to read about that magical world of “Washington” that lives in the parallel, bizarro universe next to my own in DC.
Maybe it’s because I’m just getting into House of Cards, maybe it's because I work with some amazing writers who really know their stuff, or maybe it’s because after a few years of playing writer I'm finally “seeing the game slow down,” as athletes say, but I’ve come to seriously respect those day-in, day-out political journalists who are the real checks and balances for our government. It’s got to suck spending hours becoming not just familiar with all the ins and outs of a variety of political issues, but making sure you’re ahead of the curve in order to be the first to a story or an angle. I mean, I spend my time writing about Saturday Night Live hopefuls and comparing them to NFL players.
I am entertainment; it’s the political journalists that are the true difference-makers, and I was curious to see how the more-important half lived.
But unfortunately, Sam Youngman’s article didn’t whisk me away with tales about sex, booze, or even briefing rooms. It didn’t leave me feeling jealous of the "rockstar" life of a high-end political journalist like I thought it would at first, nor did it make me want to move to a second-tier city to get more hands-on with my journalism like I think Youngman might have intended it to.
All it did was remind me of Almost Famous.
If you haven’t seen the 2000 film written and directed by Cameron Crowe that tells the story of a teenage journalist on the road with a fictional band called Stillwater, here’s the Wikipedia page and shame on you; it’s a great flick. Anyways, there’s a scene about 3/4 of the way through the movie where Stillwater’s guitarist Russell Hammond becomes disillusioned with his current rocker lifestyle and decides after a show in Topeka, Kansas to tag along with some fans to a house party.
“From here on out, I’m only interested in what is real. Real people, real feelings. That’s all I’m interested in now,” he remarks to our young journalist William.
And from what I can gather in his essay, it sounds like that’s what Mr. Youngman was searching for too when he decided to leave his job reporting on the Hill for the literal greener pastures of Kentucky and Louisville's Herald-Leader. After a few hundred words too many regaling us with his adventures in Ugly Hollwood, he admits that eventually "it was harder to ignore the near criminal disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country.” He needed connection. He needed purpose. He needed to feel like he was making a difference.
And I totally get that.
Even after only a few months at the politically-centered Daily Banter, I’ve noticed a misanthropy and disdain for both our elected officials and the apathetic populace growing inside me, and I don't even really cover politics. With knowledge comes power and all that good stuff, but resentment, fear, and dejectedness all slip in there too. Hell, Youngman even admits to as much when he says, "I recognize that even my return to Kentucky journalism is at base a selfish move; I’m not really trying to save the profession as much as myself.”
But while I still don’t know if I necessarily agree with his decision to do the political version of living in a Topekan basement with random teenagers, and I definitely think both the title of the piece and the goading "get out of Washington. It’s messing you up more than you know” are examples of click-baiting bullshit, I do understand the decision.
As much as we here at The Daily Banter try and dress it up with sarcasm and parody, it’s draining to be well-informed about just how screwed up a lot of things are. It takes real determination and energy to shake it off, take it one day at a time, and call out the bullshit when you see it, even if it feels like no one is listening.
But it’s necessary.
Maybe in a decade, I too will become dried out after standing so close to the flaming pile of shit that is pristinely labeled “Current Events,” but for right now, I’m proud be sitting at my desk only some 30 odd blocks from the Capitol, high-fiving Ben Cohen when he goes after Glenn Greenwald and re-tweeting Chez’ latest rant because I believe that with every single view we get, we’re affecting one more individual.
While stoned in the living room of that Topeka house, Russell says to a random bespectacled boy named Aaron, “You are what it’s all about. You’re more important than the silly machinery.”
I think Sam Youngman and I would both agree with that statement, but we'd mean two completely different things.