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FishbowlDC Interview With TPM’s Benjy ‘Paramananda’ Sarlin

Say hello to Benjy Sarlin, who covers politics for Talking Points Memo, where he is readjusting to life after the 2012 election.

His colleague, Evan McMorris-Santoro, says this about Benjy: “Benjy is a Twitter virtuoso. He needs to stop making me look bad by being so good at hashtagery.” But another colleague, Igor Bobic, jokes on Twitter that he’s a “total dick.” (At least we think he’s kidding.)

Previously Benjy reported on national politics for The Daily Beast, where he was Washington correspondent. Born and raised in New York City, he covered city politics for the New York Sun until its untimely death (though, it’s still in shambles with the occasional zombie editorial). To be truthful, we’re still don’t think we’ve gotten to the core of Benjy Sarlin. But we do know a lot of seemingly useless details.  He has an unhealthy attachment to barbecue and Twitter. “Twitter is like my Kryptonite, both the source of my reporting strength and its biggest weakness,” he tells me in an email exchange. “I get annoyed when I see stupid stuff floating around and if you’ve seen something silly pop up in one person’s feed, you’re about to see it everywhere, only worse. It’s fun engaging with people over these little dust ups, but I think I’m irrationally invested.” On the subject of astrology: “I don’t believe in astrology, but I’m willing to be convinced if Nate Silver posts some kind of chart.” Strange hobbies: He insists he is an accomplished juggler. Fine dining: He wants to dine with George Washington (if he could, that is).

Perhaps one of those most interesting things about Benjy is his name and its weird spelling. “My name is almost uniformly misspelled thanks mostly to those dog movies in the 1980s, even by friends and family,” he explains. “‘Benjy’ was the name of my dad’s closest childhood friend, so that’s how I ended up with the particular spelling. My folks are Jewish and you’re not supposed to name someone after a living person, but at the time I was born the original Benjy was in the Hare Krishne and had changed his name to — I believe — Paramananda Das. Since then, he’s left the Hare Krishne and gone back to his old name, so I’m actually not sure if it’s kosher for me to stick with Benjy. Maybe I’ll change my byline to Paramananda Sarlin?”

If you were a carbonated beverage, which would you be? 

I’d like to think of myself as pre-Schumer Four Loko, but I’m really not hardcore enough to justify it. Let’s go with root beer.

How often do you Google yourself? 

Phsaw, I got alerts for that.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor/boss (or vice versa)?

My first day as an intern out of college, my only task was to set up a device to record a phone interview between an editor and Joe Wilson. I blew it and the whole thing was lost. To the editor it was probably the most minor daily annoyance, but to me I had just screwed up the only real world task I’d ever been assigned about as badly as possible. I was all nerves for a week after that.

Who is your favorite working journalist and why? 

Present TPM company excluded (and really, they are the best), I’m a big fan of Molly Ball at The Atlantic. It’s hard to find good campaign reporting that has a broad national scope but also involves talking to actual voters and she’s amazing at tying the two together. Voters have interesting things to say, really!

Do you have a favorite word? 

“Gluttony” is an incredible feat of English language. Say it out loud — gluttony. It sounds exactly like what it means. Aliens could land tomorrow and understand “gluttony” the first time they heard it.

Who would you rather have dinner with – CNN’s Candy Crowley, ABC’s Martha Raddatz or Fox News’ Megyn Kelly? Tell us why.

Funny enough, I was on the same plane as Candy Crowley on the way back from the final presidential debate last month. We had a coffee while we waited to board and she could not be nicer. I’d just spent the last week talking to Republicans in Florida who were incensed over her mid-debate Benghazi fact check and passed on a couple of choice quotes. I was extremely impressed with the way she handled both the debate itself and the backlash afterwards. She took the complaints against her seriously enough to defend her performance but she had enough perspective to not make herself the story and enough wisdom to know everyone would just move on to the next outrage in a few days time. Which is a long way of saying that I’d be glad to get dinner.

Much more on Benjy after the jump…

The Earth’s human population is dying out and you must save it. You will spend a romantic evening with either Scandal’s Kerry Washington, any of the women from FNC’s “The Five” or MSNBC’s S.E. Cupp. Who will it be? (None is not an option.)

I have not seen any of “Scandal” but want to get caught up. I guess this method beats reading the episode recaps online.

What swear word do you use most often? 

I frequently use “shload” as shorthand for sh**load. It’s a bad habit that goes back to high school and I want to stop.

You’ve just been told the big news: You get to have your own Sunday morning talk show. Who will be on your roundtable? (Pick four journalists or pundits types.)

I’d go the balanced route. On the right, I’d take Phillip Klein from the Examiner who is well liked on both sides for his finely tuned bullshit detector. Liz Mair is one of the smartest Republican strategists I know so throw her in the mix. On the left, I’d go with Jonathan Chait and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who each have a great perspective on how politics really affects people’s lives. I’m a snarky guy for a living, but I actually despise the kind of cynicism that treats elections as primarily a contest for bragging rights.

On a serious note for a moment, if you could have dinner with a person who has died, who would it be?

I like the idea of having dinner with George Washington. I just reread his farewell address and I’d love to hear what he thinks of us now. I figure I’d have to brief him very slowly on the last 200 years. The black president part might take some explaining.

Who is your favorite Boybander and why? (Ezzy, Hazy, Weigel, Attackerman, Beutler)

Got to go with the home team and pick Brian Beutler.

When you pig out what do you eat?

I will clean out Red Rocks in Columbia Heights if unleashed. I’m from New York, so pizza is usually a letdown in every other city.

What is your absolute favorite item of clothing in your closet? We want the fabric, the brand, the store and the price if possible. If it’s a certain kind of underwear we don’t want to know about it.

I have a Panama hat I bought in Puerto Rico. It’s strictly for vacation use only, so I only have good memories of wearing it.

Pick one: Mad Men, Scandal or Homeland.

Mad Men is the only one I watch. I know, I’m a terrible person.

Have you ever had a tarot card reading?

No. Magic cards?

Have you ever had a near-death experience?

Eh. [We asked him to elaborate, so he wrote, "I've come close to dying of boredom many times, mostly while watching the Walking Dead last season."]

Ever been arrested?

Is this a job interview?

Tell us a secret not many people know about you.

I’m an accomplished juggler. Fire, knives, that kinda stuff. Somewhere out there is a 1990s instructional video with me as a kid dressed like a caveman juggling rocky clubs. Thankfully this was in the pre-YouTube era.

What scares you?

What if the Mayans are right?

What’s your most embarrassing career moment?

I worked at the New York Sun when Eliot Spitzer‘s prostitution scandal broke and it was all hands on deck the first 24 hours. Except for me. An editor had decided they didn’t like that his local park’s annual “Family Day” had been renamed “Community Day.” So I had to desperately race to find some talking head willing to complain about it, then call multiple parks officials and the borough president for comment, and then stretch it to 800+ words somehow so there was enough material for an editorial about this horrible surrender to PC-dom. All while everyone else was running to find the name of Spitzer’s prostitute or writing up the rules governing the transfer of power after his resignation.

Have you ever been fired?

In the sense you ungrateful New Yorkers refused to buy enough copies of the New York Sun to justify its continued existence, then yes — you guys totally totally fired me.

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes?

Hello? Yes, this is dog. (http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/217040-yes-this-is-dog)

When and why did you last lose your temper? 

When the Knicks let Jeremy Lin walk I entered some previously undiscovered plane of adolescent rage. If I weren’t in DC that day I probably would have been arrested outside Madison Square Garden for instigating a riot.

Breakfast cereal of choice: Rice Krispies Treats Cereal. Hands down. No contest. End of story.

Who would you want to play you in a movie?   

I’m told I look like this guy, Renly Baratheon.

From TMZ Founder Harvey Levin: You are about to be served your last meal. What will it be?

Only my desire to live keeps me from devouring barbeque all day. Take that constraint out of the equation and it’s game over.

From Maynard Institute’s diversity news reporter Richard Prince: Best time you ever had with your clothes on?

Venice. Wet. Good.

Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. This one may live on indefinitely. Make it good.

What superpower would you want most and what bizarre physical deformity would you be willing to tolerate to get it?

 

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