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The FishbowlDC Interview with Politics Daily’s Melinda Henneberger

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henneberger.jpg Say hello to Melinda Henneberger, editor-in-chief of Politics Daily. Her path in journalism has taken her from Brussels, Belgium and Rome to Texas prisons and, of course, Washington, D.C. The prisons, she says, were a good prep for politics. The left-leaning editor counts former President George W. Bush among her least enjoyable interviews. Read on.

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? A Schweppes tonic water.

How often do you Google yourself? Not in years and never again.

Who is your favorite working journalist? I hired a bunch of them, but other than at Politics Daily, I’d say Slate‘s Emily Yoffe, who is funny, serious, and can do absolutely everything.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? I don’t know that I’ve ever said anything worse than “I quit,” but the vice versa is too vile to print.

Do you have a favorite word? Not really, but I’m very fond of the Italian word vergogna.

Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? Palin!

BWhen did you last cry and why? I don’t cry that infrequently, but when I lost a friend I thought the world of, that was worth crying over.

What word do you routinely misspell? If I knew I wouldn’t persist, but I spelled refrigerator with a ‘d’ for an embarrassingly long time.

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? No clue.

What swear word do you use most often? As my humiliated children will attest, I often say things like, “Oh, my heavenly days!” They wish I leaned into the f-word a little more.

What word or phrase do you overuse? My family said it would be “sweetie” and PD’s Patricia Murphy nominates “poifect,” but that’s only to her.

What TV show do you have to watch? Treme.

Where do you shop most often for your clothes? That’s easy; my sister Joane Pickett’s store, Pickett Fences, in Larchmont Village in L.A.

Who do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? None of the above; if I had time to watch TV during the day, I would go all out and indulge in “All My Children.”

Pick one: Leno, Letterman or Conan? No thanks. Jon Stewart.

If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? I guess Obama, so they’d come on the double.

Who is your mentor? My friend and college writing teacher Elizabeth Christman, who died this winter at age 96, was the only person I really ever thought of that way, though a lot of people in journalism have taken chances on me and been very generous.

What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? Liz told me that deciding is the most difficult part; the rest is just hard work.

Read more about Henneberger and her thoughts on the “ungracious” George W. after the jump…


What and where was your first job in journalism? I went to grad school in Belgium on a fellowship, and after I finished I had an internship at the European Commission in Brussels, where my job was to write and pass out press releases at the noon briefings, which were wildly well attended on account of the open bar. So I got to know a bunch of the correspondents, and they started giving me their doggiest assignments – the ones they didn’t have time for – and I loved it and that’s how I got started.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? I can’t remember who I said invented the diesel engine, but in case it ever comes up, it was Rudolf Diesel, as every car freak in America let me know.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? Nobody famous I donÂ’t think; I used to love interviewing criminals when I covered Texas prisons, and I guess that was good prep for politics.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? No contest; that would be 1999′s George W. Bush, who not only was ungracious but repeated the same seven answers word for word no matter what I asked him, and no matter that these answers had nothing to do with the questions.

What’s the biggest scoop youÂ’ve ever had? When I was the Rome bureau chief for the New York Times at the height of the American clerical sex abuse scandals in 2002, I had half a dozen Vatican officials who were in a position to know tell me that John Paul was too ill to adequately respond to the situation. The Times never even ran the story – maybe theyÂ’re still having meetings on it – but the International Herald Tribune did, and though we can argue over whether JP responded adequately even when he was younger, those church officials who now insist that his health was a major factor are not revising history; they said the same thing at the time.

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