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Tim Carney, com­mentary editor at the Wash­ington Examiner, will be speaking at Hillsdale on his new book “Alienated America” on April 4. Wiki­media Commons

Tim Carney is the com­mentary editor at the Wash­ington Examiner. He is also a vis­iting fellow at the American Enter­prise Institute. In 2012, Carney was a Pulliam Fellow at Hillsdale College. He is the author of mul­tiple books, most recently “Alienated America.” He is speaking about his new book at Hillsdale on April 4.

 

What was your inspi­ration behind writing your new book, “Alienated America”?

It was Donald Trump. When he started the race, he got 25 percent in some initial polls, and he was saying that the American Dream is dead. And what is that? Why does the country agree with that?

Before that, I had been working on the question of com­munity as the middle between indi­vid­u­alism and gov­ernment. Too many people, and a lot of con­ser­v­a­tives, have too mate­ri­al­istic of a view of the American Dream, like buying a house. For many, it’s grounded in money — making more than your parents and climbing the eco­nomic ladder. That ties into the American Dream, but it’s good to go back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s American ideas. He said Amer­icans forms these little groups — these “little pla­toons,” as Burke said — and these are where we really get to be political animals. This is also where we get con­nection, support, and a sense of belonging.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say sense of com­munity; this is where we get the support and con­nection we need and get to live out as political animals.

You were a Pulliam Fellow at Hillsdale in 2012. What was your class about?

It was called the Art of the Political Column. Now I’m an editor, but then, I was a full-time columnist. For a time in my career, my boss was Bob Novak, the author of “The Prince of Darkness.” I was there teaching about that, and all my stu­dents were working toward a reported column — not just spouting off your opinion in a column, but telling some­thing from your per­spective that people might not already know. It’s not just a straight news story that tries to leave the per­spective out it. We worked one or two weeks to get a column. One or two of those stu­dents, Kate Bachelder Odell and Macaela Bennett, have gone on to have careers in jour­nalism. I now work with Jack Butler at the American Enter­prise Institute in D.C.; he was one of my stu­dents, as was Caleb Whitmer, and I know he’s some­where in jour­nalism.

Tell me about your craft of jour­nalism. How has it developed over the years? What does the process of writing an article look like for you today?

I try to do reporting for my columns. This was more true before I became an editor, but I try as much as pos­sible to make the reader learn new facts they didn’t already know.

When I worked for years reporting on cronyism, I had to research and read through a lot of doc­u­ments to find out which lob­byists donated to which can­di­dates and how those can­di­dates and other politi­cians voted.

In more recent years, a lot of the time it’s just trying to come up with sort of an expla­nation that puts the news in context. This is what Charles Krauthammer did, and he was a master of it. You pick up his column, and it’s like, ‘Here’s what it all means.’ One of the great virtues of colum­nists is telling both what’s going on and how it reflects deeper thoughts and broader pat­terns.

I also talk about the ideas to as many people as pos­sible, like my brothers and people I know. I talk to my col­league Dave Freddoso and Phillip Klein and the others on the opinion page. And if it’s about a really sen­sitive issue, I spend weeks lining up meetings and trying on argu­ments on dif­ferent people to get things really fleshed out.

If I know any­thing about writing and the craft of jour­nalism, it’s that writing is rewriting. With columns and things I write now, you get things down on paper and then you rewrite.

 

What advice would you give to young jour­nalists, or more broadly, young pro­fes­sionals?

To young jour­nalists, I would say cul­ti­vating your own curiosity and inde­pen­dence are the two most important things. You should want to under­stand better how the world works, whether its pol­itics or sports. Always be curious, and when a question occurs, always wonder how you can get to an answer. And inde­pen­dence makes you valuable. If you always argue a par­ticular line, someone else is going to do that. Your own opinion and analysis isn’t going to interest many people, but what is, is the ability to do reporting that gets people infor­mation they don’t know

For Wash­ington in par­ticular, social­izing and joining things is important. I know there is an immense value in meeting people and learning things about them. There is a great value in that doing it in a way that’s not just net­working, but really getting to know people and under­standing how Wash­ington and adult life works. Nothing works better than meeting people face to face and fos­tering stronger friend­ships. Make sure you’re devel­oping rela­tion­ships and not trans­ac­tions.

The best part of life is going to be rela­tion­ships where you put some­thing in without asking for some­thing in exchange. Social­izing or net­working should be devel­oping rela­tion­ships.