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The FishbowlDC Interview With NPR’s ‘Political Junkie’ Ken Rudin

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ken.jpg Say hello to NPR‘s Political Director Ken Rudin, whose “Political Junkie” blog appears on the website. Something few might know: Rudin is crazy for political buttons. He has a collection that’s 70,000 strong. So… NPR employees do their interviews in the nude? Who knew? We’re not sure if Rudin wrote this when he was in the nude, but so be it. However you need to do it, just meet our deadline, I say. Seriously, thanks to Rudin for giving us many laughs on a Friday afternoon.

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? I would say Orangina. True, it’s not as carbonated as soda, but it’s not flat like, say, Sunny Delight. It’s a compromise. Boy, if that’s not a John Kerry answer, I don’t know what is.

How often do you Google yourself? This question begs the predictable, and dirty, answer, and I won’t give in to it.

Who is your favorite working journalist? Some people, of course, will say that’s an oxymoron; not me, however. While I tend to gravitate towards those who cover campaigns for a living – and I don’t have one favorite – I will say that I have deep respect and admiration for those journalists who volunteer to work out of a war zone, be it Afghanistan, Iraq, places like that. It takes an incredible amount of courage to cover stories like that. I know I couldn’t do it.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? I once said I thought Barbara Boxer had bad hair.

Do you have a favorite word? Yes.

Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? Michelle Obama, but not for ideological reasons. I would love to talk to Sarah Palin about what 2008 was like for her and what her thoughts are about 2012. But ultimately I don’t think she’d ever be off her script, off message. … whereas I’ve read some absolutely charming interviews with the First Lady where she is surprisingly and refreshingly candid. But if there is anyone in fairly recent history I could have dinner with, it would be Bobby Kennedy. I would have loved to listen to him talk about what he went through between his brother’s assassination and his decision to challenge President Johnson in 1968, the anguish, the pain. I can’t read enough about that.

When did you last cry and why? Usually when I cry it’s when I’m watching a scene in a movie that on the surface has nothing to do with me directly but nonetheless touches a spot that brings me back to something emotional in my past. Or I’m listening to a song that reminds me of someone or a special time. I have found it harder and harder to cry at real-life things since 9/11; I’m almost numb to reality.

What word do you routinely misspell? This sounds crazy, but for some reason I constantly misspell Eyjafjallajokull, the Iceland volcano that erupted a few months ago. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? I just checked. It says “Verizon.”

What swear word do you use most often? Glenn Beck.

What word or phrase do you overuse? ‘I’m sorry, I won’t ever say (or do) that again, I promise.’

What TV show do you have to watch? From its first airing back in 2001, I couldn’t miss “24,” as infuriating and ridiculous as it was. (I mean, seriously, a BLACK president???) I spent the last nine years screaming at the TV once a week. “Meet the Press” used to be a must-watch program but, sad to say, I stopped watching after Tim Russert left us.

Read more Rudin after the jump. Find out which summer camp newspaper gave him his start in journalism…


Where do you shop most often for your clothes? I guess mostly Macy’s and Men’s Wearhouse. Truth be told, a lot of us are naked when we’re on the air at NPR, but it doesn’t matter.

Who do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? You’re forgetting Neal Conan, host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Pick one: Leno, Letterman or Conan? Letterman, but only because I don’t like Leno and never thought Conan (that OTHER Conan) was funny. But just as Johnny Carson got tiresome after awhile, Letterman stopped being outrageous years ago.

If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? Senator Heidi Klum.

Who is your mentor? I’ve worked for people I deeply respect and admire but I never had a mentor.

What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? It’s probably the advice I didn’t take. Back when I started with ABC News in the early 1980s, and my job was tenuous, an ABC vice president said there was no future for me in political journalism. I should either focus on journalism, he said, or political advocacy, but few people ever get to do both. I remember telling him that I could never make that choice, that this is where my heart tells me I should be. And in this case I was right. And that was 26 years ago.

What and where was your first job in journalism? I would have to say ABC News, in New York. But let the record show that I was also the editor of my camp newspaper, the Lokanda Lantern, at Camp Lokanda in upstate New York in the early 1970s. I would write up fake “letters to the editors” from campers, which they loved, as well as do the crossword puzzles (“French for savoir faire”).

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? I was the deputy political director at ABC and new to Washington. This is the spring of 1986, and I’m invited to [legendary Democratic fundraiser] Pamela Harriman’s incredible home in Georgetown for a political chat. Maybe, though I can’t be sure, but maybe I was having one too many Oranginas. Anyway, I was by a spiral staircase, standing as it turned out, unfortunately, directly under Mrs. Harriman, an inopportune positioning. As I usually do, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: “Well, I was told that anytime I was in Washington I should look up Pamela Harriman.” Everyone around me suddenly became silent. And I slowly removed my ABC News pin that was on my suit jacket, turning colors that Crayola wouldn’t even recognize.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? Probably the first time I interviewed Ted Kennedy. First of all, he had terrible trouble in finishing or even constructing a coherent sentence, and I kept stopping the tape so he could get his thoughts together. But what I enjoyed most about it was that, when we were off topic, he would talk about his family, and his kids, and his nieces and nephews, and I will always remember that gleam in his eye about it.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? I often had to stake out figures on Capitol Hill, such as Barney Frank or then-Speaker Jim Wright, who were involved in some scandal or another, and I was instructed to ask the same questions over and over again: “Are you going to resign?” “How long will it be until you resign?” That was awful, and my subjects were equally awful. One day, when talking to Wright, instead of asking him if he would resign, I said good morning, how are you feeling? He brightened up and chatted away. I was so pleased! When I got back to the ABC bureau, my boss was furious with me: “Why didn’t you ask if he would resign,” he said.

What’s the biggest scoop you’ve ever had? Not many. Dick Gephardt dropping out of the presidential race, little things like that. I’ve spent much more of my career as an editor than as a reporter.

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