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Barton Swaim is an edi­torial writer and book reviewer at the Wall Street Journal. His time as a speech­writer for South Car­olina Gov. Mark Sanford is the subject of his memoir “The Speech­writer: A Short Edu­cation in Pol­itics.” He is this semester’s Eugene C. Pulliam Dis­tin­guished Vis­iting Fellow in Jour­nalism and just fin­ished teaching a one-credit course on objec­tivity in journalism.

How did you get into opinion journalism?

I got in through pitching book reviews to the Weekly Standard and the Times Lit­erary Sup­plement, and even­tually the Wall Street Journal. Believe it or not, editors are always looking for someone who can review a book.

Your edu­cation includes attending a sem­inary and earning a doc­torate in English lit­er­ature from the Uni­versity of Edin­burgh in Scotland. How has this schooling affected your approach to writing?

My sem­inary edu­cation gave me a philo­sophical grounding and intro­duced me to a lot of con­cepts and ancient texts that I rely on all the time. It shaped my thinking in basi­cally every way. My edu­cation in English didn’t shape me as much, but it intro­duced me to a lot of a lot of classic texts. I also traveled overseas to do the doc­torate, and living abroad itself was more the edu­cation than the degree.

You’ve said speech­writing for South Car­olina Gov. Mark Sanford was in many ways a dif­ficult job. What advice do you have for people who may find them­selves in chal­lenging pro­fes­sional situations?

Try not to be overawed by political power and the people who hold it in. They don’t want, or at least they don’t need, people who are going to idolize them. They need people who can push back at them when they’re wrong, and, if it’s speech­writing, stop them from making garbage-sounding argu­ments. Be ready to stand up for yourself. I was not as ready as I should have been, but it would have helped. It’s better, actually, for the person you’re working for if you can stand up for yourself when appropriate.

What’s a good book you reviewed recently?

“George Wash­ington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father” by David O. Stewart. It’s a bril­liantly done biog­raphy about George Wash­ington as a politician. There have been thou­sands of biogra­phies of Wash­ington, but each one has its own con­tri­bution. This one brought out the ways in which Wash­ington used his strengths and his ability to command loyalty in others. It was beau­ti­fully written as well, and just a pleasure to read.

Have you ever changed your mind on an important subject?

I used to put too much trust in politi­cians, and I realized that was wrong. Now, on the face of it, that sounds obvious. You shouldn’t trust politi­cians, and yet we all do — when one dis­graces himself, we’re sur­prised and shocked. But we shouldn’t be shocked. It’s healthier to be skep­tical than to put too much stock in a politician’s strength and virtue. When you’re skep­tical, you’re able to assess them in a more real­istic and helpful way than when you go along with whatever they say.

What does the future of jour­nalism look like?

In the current media and political class, no one seems to be capable of acknowl­edging any kind of fault. They’re com­pletely inca­pable of self-crit­icism, but even­tually they’re going to die and retire and new jour­nalists are going to take their place. And those people will have watched the dis­grace that is American jour­nalism in the 2020s, and they’re going to do things dif­fer­ently, I think even on the left. Even­tually there may be a desire for some kind of healthy change. Surely young people can see that this pro­fession needs to be changed in fun­da­mental ways, even if they’re not conservative.