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Military Times’s Dan Lamothe: The FishbowlDC Interview

Say hello to Dan Lamothe, the newly promoted senior writer for Military Times. He grew up in Chicopee, Mass., once home to the world’s largest kielbasa. Who says tough military reporters (who grew up in the home of the largest kielbasa) who cover three star generals and who’ve been embedded in a particularly violent section of southern Afghanistan can’t watch “Glee” and like it? And who says a tough white military reporter with self-described big ears can’t request Will Smith to play him in a movie? He can. Read on.

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? Pabst Blue Ribbon. I grew up blue-collar, and yet I suddenly spend more time than I ever thought possible in hipster D.C.

How often do you Google yourself? Eh, probably more frequently than I should. I do think it’s important for a journalist to know how his or her work has reverberated on the Web, though.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? I tend to keep a cool head pretty well at work, so I’m probably a bore here.

Who is your favorite working journalist? Given my current line of work, I follow C.J. Chivers and Rajiv Chandrasekaran pretty closely. I ran into both of them in Afghanistan, and they were great guys.

Do you have a favorite word? “Maelstrom” is a current favorite. So is “pizza.” For different reasons, of course.

Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? Definitely Sarah Palin. I’d ask her about the Marine whose rear end became famous after I blogged about it from Afghanistan. (Read that here.) I went out on patrol with Marines searching for snipers and was ambushed while on foot with Marines living in a beat-up Afghan schoolhouse, but the tattoo piece was by far the most popular one online.

Find out what a journalism prof once wrote on the top of one of Lamothe’s essays after the jump…

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? It’s the opening riffs of Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter,” perhaps one of the most indecipherable songs known to man.

When did you last cry and why? I got misty-eyed a few weeks ago covering a Sept. 11 memorial event near Buffalo in which four Gold Star families who all lost loved ones last year in the same battle in Afghanistan for the first time. I’ve grown to know several of them quite well in the last year, so it hit pretty close to home.

What word do you routinely misspell? “Cincinnati” gets me on the right day.

What swear word do you use most often? Sadly, it’s the F-bomb. And I’m afraid embedding with infantry Marines didn’t help.

What word or phrase do you overuse? “Dude” is a problem. So is the aforementioned F-bomb.

What TV show do you have to watch? I watch “24” religiously. “Glee” has become a character flaw. I’d like to say I started watching it because my wife likes it, but the truth is I’ve snuck in episodes while on a treadmill at the gym, too.

Where do you shop most often for your clothes? I tend to avoid stores as much as possible to buy work clothes, but I load up at least once every summer at the Prime Outlets near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on the way back from the beach.

Whom do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Ellen, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? I don’t watch any of these, but I’ll pick “The View,” since Saturday Night Live mocks it so well.

Pick one: Leno, Letterman or Conan? Conan, although that “Team Coco” jazz has grown a little tired.

If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? That depends. Is it temporary, or permanent? I’ll go with Gen. James Mattis, as long he’s explaining war theory and I get to take notes for later. Sounds like a win-win.

Who is your mentor? Professionally, C. Mark Brinkley, my first editor at Marine Corps Times, was invaluable in helping me understand what it would take to write for a readership that is nearly all active-duty service members or veterans, both of whom will call you out if you screw up military nuance. Personally, I admire my father’s black-and-white conscience and willingness to find time for my two younger brothers and I around work and other commitments when we were kids.

What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? “Who gives a sh–.” Howard Ziff, a wise professor I had at the University of Massachusetts, once wrote this on the top of an opinion column I turned in for class because he thought I spent too much time writing about my own feelings, rather than the topic at hand. On another note, several journalism professors I had at the University of Maryland during graduate school preached the merits of specializing in a specific subject matter, and that has worked out well for me at Marine Corps Times.

What and where was your first job in journalism? In high school, I wrote for the teen section of my local daily, which is now The Republican in Springfield, Mass. I returned after getting my bachelor’s degree at University of Massachusetts to spend stints at The Republican covering higher education, crime and a few suburban communities.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? After an extremely tense foot patrol in Marjah in May, I was back in a tent on a combat outpost when Marines shot off outgoing artillery rounds. Thinking they were incoming and already on edge, I dropped to my stomach in a flash, prompting sympathetic laughter from the other two journalists nearby. Sigh.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? The aforementioned tattooed Marine in Afghanistan was pretty high on the list. As you might expect, he was kind of a character. In terms of celebrities, I found Kevin Bacon to be articulate and patient, and R. Lee Ermey to be blunt and hysterical. Ermey cold-called me at my desk one day after I had e-mailed him through his Web site. I thought somebody was playing a prank on me.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? Interviewing anyone who recently has lost a loved one – especially a youthful loved one – isn’t easy. I can’t really pick one of those interviews, but there’s always a certain level of guilt that goes with disturbing people during their most troubled times, even if it’s part of the job.

What’s the biggest scoop you’ve ever had? I made waves by breaking a story in February that the Corps was dropping its conventional rifle ammunition in Afghanistan in favor of deadlier rounds used at that point only by special operations forces. More recently, I’ve used hundreds of pages in declassified military documents to open eyes about the heroism of Dakota Meyer, a Marine who braved enemy fire three times last September to find the bodies of four friends in a ditch in Afghanistan. Some experts on military valor say he should receive consideration for the Medal of Honor.

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? When I realized that my fandom of “Glee” would be spread across the Internet as a result of this interview. Whoops.

When and why did you last lose your temper? I’m not sure, but I’m assuming it was something related to D.C. traffic.

Which movie title best describes your journalism career? “The Hard Way,” starring Michael J. Fox. I’ve never seen the movie, but there’s something to be said for working your way up.

Who would you want to play you in a movie? Will Smith. To play me, sarcasm is necessary, and so are big ears.

Name some jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): Produce clerk in a grocery store, youth-league basketball referee, data-entry clerk at an insurance company and temporary carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. Sadly, my mailman days ended relatively quickly when I found myself in a minor accident with a mail truck. True story.

Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. Make it good. If you could change one thing about the way politics and journalism mix in D.C., what would it be?

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