01 Feb 2002


Web Exclusive: Behind the Scenes with Karen Tumulty


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As Time magazine's national political correspondent, Karen Tumulty counts among her confidants some of the country's most powerful and influential people. But that doesn't mean she's forgotten her days at the San Antonio Light, where she started her career in journalism. "It was a really wild time," Tumulty recalls. "The paper was owned by Hearst, and our chief competitor was published by Rupert Murdoch. It was a classic newspaper war, with dueling headlines along the lines of 'Baby Eats LSD' and 'Pregnant Cat Gunned Down.'" Tumulty would be reminded of some of that circus atmosphere years later in Washington, especially during the Clinton impeachment hearings. "We would hear things at Time that in our editorial judgment did not belong in the magazine's pages," she says, " but then they would jump from Matt Drudge to Jay Leno, and everyone would know about them. I never thought I would find myself in the position of chasing the tabloids, but in fact they did break some news."

Amid the sometimes lamentable comportment of journalistic and political Washington, one individual who remains a constant inspiration for Tumulty is Washington Post columnist David Broder. "I admire him not only because he always has something important to say, but because he works so hard at it. He is still out there with his national reputation, knocking on people's doors and getting to know every county supervisor and freshman congressman. He has a sponge-like mind and unending curiosity, which I don't think enough reporters have, especially once they've gotten a few decades into their careers."

At Time, Tumulty notes, "one of the great luxuries is that you don't have to cover 'the daily story.' So, for example, two years before the last presidential election, I was assigned to Al Gore. Sometimes I'd be the only reporter on his plane." That kind of access enabled Tumulty to break the story that Gore had hired feminist Naomi Wolf as a consultant, an exclusive about which she says facetiously that "my bureau chief and I will probably have no greater achievement in our careers than introducing the 'alpha male' concept into the political lexicon." Similarly, Tumulty was assigned to cover Newt Gingrich early on when he was still a relative unknown. "It seemed at times a fool's errand," she recalls, "so it was fascinating to see all he talked about - his grand design - actually come to fruition, only to turn into disaster two years later."

As for President Clinton, Tumulty will long remember a leisurely off-the-record dinner with Clinton and several other journalists only a few months after he was nearly forced out of the White House. "What struck me," she says, "was that he had lived through something totally different than what the country had been through. It made me realize that when you're President and you have all these aides and supporters and the institution around you, it creates an almost entirely different reality, separate from what all the rest of us know and have experienced."

To read Karen Tumulty's latest article in Time, visit www.time.com/time/ and search for "tumulty."

Visit Time's archive to see the Tumulty articles listed below, as well as many others. (Note: Time charges a fee to access its archived material, including all articles that are more than two weeks old.)

Just Show Business 10/28/01
A make-believe bill to save the economy

Wartime Recession? 9/23/01
War on terror gives no boost

Bush in the Crucible 9/16/01
Is crisis making Bush a leader?

The New Kennedys 8/5/01 (Cover story)
A third generation takes its turn

Why Collateral Damage Is Permanent 6/9/01 (Cover story)
Bob Kerrey and the ghosts of Vietnam
(cowritten with Johanna McGeary)

A One-Man Earthquake 5/7/01 (Cover story)
Jim Jeffords's GOP defection

How Can We Miss You If You Never Go Away? 2/26/01 (Cover story)
Clinton bows out badly

Gore's Secret Guru 11/8/99
A Tumulty scoop: Naomi Wolf and the alpha male

The Better Half 12/28/98
Hillary Clinton shines as husband declines

Let's Play Doctor 7/13/98
Politicians and health care

Why Subsidies Survive 3/25/96
Congress and corporate welfare

Man with a Vision 12/26/94
Inside Newt Gingrich

- Garry Emmons (send e-mail to the author)

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