Stephanie Merrick is the managing editor at the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication in Washington, D.C. The following is an excerpt from an interview that was recorded this week with Stefan Kleinhenz on Radio Free Hillsdale.
What is the Free Beacon?
We started out as combat journalism. I think we were the first ones to coin that term. We are a publication that goes after, specifically, the Democrats and the way that other outlets cover Republicans. So we’re going after Bernie Sanders the same way that the New York Times would go after Mitt Romney when he was running for President.
How did you end up at the Free Beacon?
I started off college as a pre-med major and I quickly realized that was not for me. I worked at the Michigan Review at the University of Michigan which is the conservative publication in Ann Arbor. I worked there as a sophomore, and I loved it. I loved being part of the newsroom. So I started doing internships in D.C. every summer. I worked for the Washington Examiner and the Daily Caller before getting my job at the Free Beacon. I got an assistant editor position at the Free Beacon, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.
Michigan Football: is that important in your life?
Yeah — Go Blue!
Is Jim Harbuagh going to stick around for awhile?
I’m not convinced about him. He hasn’t really taken our team anywhere.
I’ve heard the argument that he’s gotten Michigan to the best place they can be right now.
If that’s the best we can do, I think we need somebody else.
We live in a fascinating time with journalism, politics, and everything. Your publication is geared toward getting in the fight, getting in the mud, in ways that people haven’t done before. How has Trump, in your perspective, changed the way that journalism functions?
That’s an interesting, loaded question. He’s changed it in a lot of ways. No one has ever covered a politician like Trump — his tweets, you know. His breaking news and his tweets: you have to cover it, and if you don’t cover it, you’re not part of the conversation. We’re not so focused on covering him as we are on covering the Democrats. We try to stay out of that battle. But he’s changed it incredibly.
But is it new for a politician to be saying the things that people have felt for a long time? That media isn’t fair, that overage isn’t fair, that it’s not talking about both sides fairly. How does that change the way journalists function?
For us, it hasn’t changed a ton. He’s still giving access to the same exact people. And we don’t have a White House correspondent or anything that has a ton of access to him. He is giving more access to other conservative outlets. I think that has changed.
Looking at the 2020 primaries, it looks like Bernie might be running away with the nomination. Do you think that’s a response to Trump? Do you think that Bernie’s movement is a response to that or do you think it’s something completely different?
I think Bernie is similar to Trump in a lot of ways in that he’s kind of a populist movement. He’s kind of anti-establishment — we can change Washington by getting the craziest person. His supporters might not think he’s crazy, but he has the most outlandish ideas, farther from what we currently live in. And it’s just a reaction to the fact that we just don’t like what’s happening in Washington.
Do you think that Bernie could beat Trump? Is that why people like him? Do people believe he is the best candidate to beat Trump in the general?
I don’t know who believes that. I’ve never met anybody who believes that. I don’t believe that. But I didn’t think Trump was going to win either.
Bernie was mentioning that Fidel Castro and his regime weren’t that bad because they taught people how to read. Is that fair criticism when he’s trying to point out that there are good and bad parts to things? Or is there no validity in that?
That’s an outrageous position to have. You saw all these Democratic congresswomen coming out against him in Florida, saying this is ridiculous, to think of all the people Castro has murdered. Why would you defend a murderous regime? You don’t have to.
What do you think his thought process is in that?
Either he doesn’t know or he truly thinks that Castro was a good person. I don’t know which is scarier. He’s always been drawn to these authoritarian regimes.
Do you think it’s coming from a good place, that he thinks there is some truth in this and that we can make our country better in all of this? Or does he have some ulterior motive?
I think he believes what he says. I think he truly believes that socialism is the way to go. I don’t think so, and I don’t think most Americans think so. But I think he thinks that there is some way that socialism could be good. Even though it hasn’t worked throughout history.
Do you think that the Republicans perhaps need to be having a conversation since people are drawn to that message?
I think that Republicans and Democrats are both doing it at this point, saying how much it’s going to cost. In that same interview, he discussed how Medicare is going to cost 300 trillion dollars. How are we going to pay for that? Taxes. Does that mean the middle class is going to be paying more in taxes? Yes. That’s a pretty easy way to get people turned off of that.