Byron York is the chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner and a Fox News contributor. He is the author of “The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.” He has appeared in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Weekly Standard, and the New York Post. York spoke at Hillsdale’s Center for Constructive Alternatives on Tuesday.
What attracted you to journalism?
I got into the news business because I like news. Whenever you see anybody, you say: “What’s up; what’s happening; what do you know?” I think that’s the basis of the news business. Even if you’re a columnist, you want to find out things that are happening. If you’re reporting and you can find out a story or some aspect of a story that other people don’t know and you can report it, that’s a very satisfying thing and that’s why I got into it.”
As far as the current state of both the media and politics, are we really as divided as it may seem? If so, what can bring us back together?
We are pretty divided; I think there is no doubt that we are significantly divided. On the other hand, we were divided in 1998, which is the year of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, which resulted in impeachment. It was a terribly divisive time. Sometimes events can bring people back together, sometimes one side just wins. Imagine that the Democrats win a big majority in November and a Democrat wins the White House, it could be that one of the parties pulls ahead of the other and it won’t be so fought on the margins. I don’t know when we are not going to be so divided, but it will end sometime.
What do you do to get away from the constant news cycle and your work that forces you to pay close attention to it?
Well, I just went on a driving trip out West. I went to South Dakota and Wyoming, and I went to the Black Hills, Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Little Bighorn which is just fabulous, just a revelation, a really striking place to be. I also went to Jackson, Wyoming and Yellowstone. It was just my wife and I, and I really didn’t think much about the news. I only had to write one piece in the two weeks I was gone.
We know who Byron York the journalist is, but who is Byron York the man?
I play the guitar and the mandolin. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at vintage guitars and mandolins on the internet. I play golf. These are really boring things. I actually wrote a piece about Bill Clinton’s golf game. I like to travel when I can.
What drives you — what gets you up in the morning? What impact do you hope to leave on society?
I think curiosity drives me. I just want to know what’s happening. The thing that I try to do is to give readers some perspective that maybe they’re not getting in some of the other coverage of something. When I’m covering a campaign, I try to give them a perspective that they’re not getting elsewhere. You can’t be totally unique, but if you look at the coverage in the major newspapers or on the networks and it’s all one thing, you can try and offer something else, based on the fact that you were there and you’re reporting on actual events. So that’s what I try to do.
Do you have any advice to young journalists and young college kids preparing to enter the world of politics?
Young journalists, I would encourage them — even if they ultimately want to be in opinion journalism — I would encourage them to work and start off with mainstream news organizations. Operated by the rules and the standards of the mainstream news organization. Later, when they feel that they’ve had some experience, they can branch into opinion if they have the opportunity. I do think it is important for them to do that. In terms of politics, this is a very separate world; I have never worked for a political campaign or an office or politician or anybody, but we need those people. We need people who are warriors and partisan. That’s good. I would encourage them to do what a lot of students from Hillsdale seem to have done, which is to go to Washington and see what’s going on. Perhaps get a job in a member of Congress’ office because Congress is kind of big and sprawling and it can be a zoo sometimes, but it is a really important place and they are doing really important things, and seeing it done is really, really valuable.