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Hugh’s Eclectic Interview With BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief’s Ben Smith

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HH: As the snow begins to fall to mark the beginning of the De Blasio administration, I have Ben Smith in studio with me. He is editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed. He is also the only person I’ve ever interviewed who worked for the Baltic Times in Latvia. And it’s that what I want to focus on, Ben. What exactly were you doing in Latvia working for the Baltic Times?

BS: You know, it was the late 90s, and if you’re a young journalist, what you wanted to do was go to Prague. And I’d actually studied Czech, but you couldn’t get a job at the Prague Post, you know? And so I washed up in Riga.

HH: How did you study Czech? You know, a lot of young journalists don’t study Czech.

BS: You know, my schedule, I was into Milan Kundera. You know, it happens. And plus, I wanted to go to Prague. It seemed like a cool place to be a journalist.

HH: You’re a Yalie.

BS: Yes.

HH: And have you never not been a journalist?

BS: Oh, yeah, I kind of, I mean, I wasn’t a student journalist, particularly. A little bit, but I wasn’t on the Daily News. I wasn’t, I don’t think I was competitive enough.

HH: But right out of college, did you start scribbling for a living?

BS: Yeah, I went to the Indianapolis Star and covered cops for the summer there, which was amazing, and then went to Latvia, naturally.

HH: And from Latvia to where?

BS: I started stringing for the Wall Street Journal out there, came back here to work for the New York Sun and a bunch of New York papers covering politics here.

HH: And so now you’re 37 years old, you’re editor-in-chief of the fastest growing octopus on the web. And is BuzzFeed ruining journalism?

BS: It’s actually our official slogan. Fastest-growing octopus on the web. No, I mean, I think we’re the, I mean, we see ourselves as maybe the first really ambitious journalistic outfit that’s really native to this new environment that’s where Twitter and Facebook are the core distribution platforms, and where if you’re doing journalism, if you’re doing entertainment, what you need to be thinking about is how people will share them.

HH: How interesting. You know why you’re on today?

BS: I have not a clue.

HH: You’re my New Year’s resolution.

BS: Uh oh.

HH: No, I have been holding a grudge against BuzzFeed since you would not produce McKay Coppins during the Romney campaign when he slagged on the Governor. So I thought I would just give that up and start bringing you guys back on again.

BS: Well, thank you. I didn’t even realize we’d been banned.

HH: Oh, you were. You guys weren’t banned, you were in the penalty box. A ban is a lifetime substance abuse, NFL three strikes policy. Penalty box is McKay should have come on and answered the story, and you held him out. I don’t even blame him. I blame you.

BS: Oh, no. I don’t want my reporters to go get beat up by the likes of you.

HH: But why, it’s not getting beat up. It’s sort of like if you’re in a story, you should talk about the story.

BS: You see, I think usually, if, is if you’re in a story, I think when you’ve reported a story, you should usually let the story stand for itself.

HH: But when he got caught talking about the Governor…

BS: Oh, that was the, I can’t even remember the details.

HH: Neither can I.

BS: All I remember is that was the dumbest, most out of context thing I’ve ever heard.

HH: Yeah.

BS: But…

HH: He said like a completely random, nutty thing, and it would have taken like one minute for him to say I just…

BS: As I recall, he said something that was obviously true as a descriptive fact.

HH: Yeah, something like what dumb thing will Romney say today? I can’t remember what it was…

BS: Which in retrospect, was a pretty, was a reasonable prediction on that campaign.

HH: But it demonstrated an attitude towards the candidate which was actually not what I think McKay held, but which was kind of a fun thing to say, right?

BS: Right, and I think when you’re on the campaign trail, anyone, and I don’t think that is any less true of McKay than most reporters, you develop this sort of naturally antagonistic relationship with the campaign, that you’ll hear, because there’s this hostage kind of situation.

HH: Yeah, so how is he, is he flourishing as your political editor?

BS: He actually just got promoted, or demoted or something, and he’s no longer, he’s back to writing. He’s a senior political writer. He’s going to be, and he’s got a book deal. He’s doing a book on the future of the Republican Party.

HH: Oh, dear, there is one of those every week. The last guy to do that was David Frum, and look what it did to his career.

BS: His is going to be really great.

HH: Okay, I’m sure.

BS: But yeah, no, our new political editor is Catherine Miller, formerly of the Free Beacon.

HH: Okay, oh…

BS: Great kid.

HH: Very terrific hire. Are you just going to take everyone from the Washington Free Beacon, because Lachlan Markay is the next big thing in journalism.

BS: You know, there are a lot of good reporters in the partisan media, and I think like, I have this whole theory that for a while in the 2000s, all the good jobs for young journalists were on the left and on the right. And then actually, really, since the start of Politico, there’s kind of a recentralization, like there are jobs for essentially politically neutral organizations again that are kind of sucking people in from where they had started out at National Review or at TPM.

HH: Well, Costa going over to Washington Post…

BS: Right.

HH: And obviously Miller coming to you, but does it matter anymore if people wear their politics on their sleeve?

BS: Oh, yeah. I mean, I don’t hire people who want to be ideologues or…

HH: Oh, no, but I mean Costa isn’t, I think Costa is a conservative, but it does not impact his reporting.

BS: I think he is, too, but I don’t really know, actually. No, I think it does hurt you if you’re, as a reporter, you’re out there. I mean, yeah, I think it can limit basically who’s going to talk to you and who’s going to trust you.

HH: Does Vin Scully call a fair Dodgers game because he knows who’s going to, he really wants the Blue to win? He was the Rose Parade’s marshal, so be careful.

BS: Yeah, I’m out of my depth here. I mean, I guess I think it can, you know, there are certain kinds of reporters for whom it can actually, I mean, I guess I’m interested in breaking news and getting stories. And there are times where like Glenn Greenwald, where if you hold yourself and your views are very, very clear, a source may come to you, because they know exactly where you’re coming from and bring you something amazing. But more often, people, I think people may not see you as an honest broker, and I think like you can just so easily lead yourself to see what you want to see, and not be talking to people who are going to check you.

HH: All right, three questions. Do you believe in God?

BS: Wow. No.

HH: Did you vote for President Obama?

BS: I didn’t vote.

HH: And were you unwilling…

BS: No, I’m not unwilling. I think that reporters should vote, but I think they should not say who they voted for.

HH: Okay, and so, but should they declare if they believe in God or not?

BS: I mean, it’s not a question I thought through, and you sort of caught me by surprise there.

HH: Because I often find that journalists will tell me all what they think or don’t think about God, but won’t tell me who they voted for, which I find to be one of the more ironic combinations…

BS: I think if I covered, I think if my beat were the Catholic Church, I would maybe not want to say that.

HH: Why? What possible impact could that have on your reporting?

BS: I mean, I think that it’s important that your sources trust you and see you as neutral.

HH: But I don’t see anybody as neutral, and I think I am the most representative of people. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I’ve talked to thousands of people. Nobody believes journalists at all. Nobody cares what you vote or don’t believe.

BS: You know, I think different people do it differently, honestly, and there are also people who do, who feel very strongly about policy issues or about…and there are people who do not have a very strong fixed point of view. Like a lot of good journalists, like I think myself, are basically kind of wishy-washy on a lot of the policy issues. And so it’s just not what I, and so why lead with it? Why box yourself in? I mean…

HH: Okay, can the Sunday shows be saved?

BS: You know, I never, I did not, I’ve never in my life spent a lot of time watching them.

HH: And so what purpose do they serve?

BS: You know, I’m going on This Week this week for the first time, so I’ll ask you, I’ll try to figure it out and get back to you.

HH: Oh, no, what will be very fascinating, I’ve only done This Week once.

BS: I think TV, I mean, but I don’t think it’s really about the Sunday shows. I think it’s that like the internet is a really great way to get information.

HH: Well, the Sunday shows still, it’s like they’re the tyrannosaurus Rex in the swamp. They are the last gasp of the big media. And Mike Allen put out a list of who’s appeared on them over the last year. Did you see that list in his Monday morning…

BS: I don’t have that in my head.

HH: Well, McCain is second…

BS: Right.

HH: Lindsey Graham is fourth. It’s all the usual suspects.

BS: Yeah.

HH: It is such deadly dull stuff. Who are you appearing with?

BS: (laughing)

HH: You don’t know?

BS: I’m so unprepared for this interview, Hugh. All I know about is snow and you know, like cat pictures.

HH: Well, I’ll get to cat pictures and lists after that. But why did they call you? What do they want to talk to you about?

BS: I think, you know, I think they’re talking about the new year, and I think they want to talk about like the internet and the media.

HH: And with the idea that you are becoming the guru? Are you, is BuzzFeed the biggest website now for news?

BS: We’re certainly among the biggest. We had more traffic than the New York Times, for instance, last month. I think like Yahoo has an enormous amount of traffic. Huffington Post has more traffic than we do, too.

HH: Why do people hate you? I honestly don’t hate you. I read you guys for plenty…but why do they hate you?

BS: You know, I don’t think a lot of people do. I mean, having worked for Politico and having seen people work for Huffington Post, like I think BuzzFeed has had an incredibly easy ride. I think people have been incredibly nice to us on all sides, and generally, I’m…

HH: In preparing for this…

BS: Like Politico is just like every day, somebody was taking a whack at us.

HH: Oh, everybody likes…

BS: And like kind of seeing us is like kind of deep, some kind of conspiracy.

HH: Do you think that? Do you think Politico is a harder…I think Politico has an easier to defend brand than BuzzFeed does.

BS: I thought Politico was so easy to explain.

HH: Yeah.

BS: And we were just so straightforward. But no, people, but I think the times have changed for it. You know, six years ago when we were starting Politico, people kind of distrusted us because we were from the internet, and that was a weird new thing. And when I was out in Iowa, actually, in early 2007, I’d say I was from Politico, and I’d say well, you know, it was started by editors of the Washington Post as a print newspaper, pretty easy to explain, and people thought we, didn’t trust us because we were from the internet. Four years later, I’m out there saying I’m from this website, BuzzFeed, that’s actually almost impossible to explain if you’re not on Facebook and Twitter, and people, older conservatives in Western Iowa say you know what, you’re from the internet, we know this is a thing, sure, come like take my picture holding up a sign, whatever.

HH: What is, how do you explain BuzzFeed to people? And you know, my demographics, 35-64, it turns a little bit younger than most talk radio, but how do you explain to a 50-plus audience mien what you do?

BS: I mean, I think it’s hard to explain to people who aren’t on Facebook, but I think most Americans now are on Facebook…

HH: Yeah.

BS: And basically, if you look at your newsfeed, you see news, you see pictures, you see cute animals. You see all sorts of different stuff. And I think what basically our view is that media companies need to be, people are spending more time on Facebook than they’re spending on your website, and media companies need to be making the things that people want to share on Facebook and on Twitter and in those newsfeeds, and the whole mix of stuff.

HH: Are you a force for the good?

BS: I mean, I think journalism is a force for good.

HH: No, is BuzzFeed?

BS: Doing lots of reporting, yes, absolutely.

HH: And why?

BS: Because I mean, I guess I think both journalism and entertainment are goods.

HH: And is there anything like you in Russia? Is there anything like you in China?

BS: I don’t think so. I mean, we are getting into a lot of other countries – Brazil, France. I think we’re the thing that are like us.

HH: That’s interesting. Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed is my guest this segment and next.

— – – –

HH: Lachlan Markay, who is the Washington Free Beacon funniest named journalist in America, had a very funny re-Tweet, $$$ when I quoted to Ben Smith, my guest in studio, that he is the next big thing in journalism. I think he’s expecting your call tonight to sign him up, Ben. Where do you, what do you require of someone who comes to work for you at BuzzFeed?

BS: I mean, I think you know, there are different kinds of jobs. I think for political reporters, maybe the most important quality is just raw aggression.

HH: Unpack that.

BS: I mean, I think you have to be very willing to insert yourself into uncomfortable situations to be, and to ask sort of difficult questions of older people who have lots of status and stature. And it’s difficult, actually, to like barge up to a U.S. Senator and ask them some obnoxious question they don’t particularly want to answer. But it’s also very important.

HH: You know, if they’ll give you enough time, it’s easy. It’s just if you have to do it in 30 seconds, it’s hard. Now the guy who does this, Jason Mattera, is famous for walking up to a microphone to a lefty and putting them in an uncomfortable position.

BS: I know, his dad is a minister here in New York.

HH: And he’s very, very good at this.

BS: Very interesting guy.

HH: Jason is very, very good at this. Is that in the long run going to help us get politicians to answer questions honestly?

BS: I mean, no, politicians hate to answers honestly, and hate to answer questions. And so I think like, and it’s in both, it’s kind of like literally and metaphorically, you know, challenging people is really important.

HH: Top ten truth speakers in Washington, D.C. who are elected.

BS: Oh, God, elected truth speakers?

HH: Who actually tell you what they believe.

BS: All I’ve got is Joe Biden. I don’t know. I’m not sure there are any others. And he’s ridiculed for it, and maybe rightly.

HH: Well, Joe, he does speak his mind. I’m going to absolutely, I’m going to agree with you on that. But what about Paul Ryan? I think Paul Ryan will tell you the truth, or he won’t answer the question.

BS: You know, Paul Ryan’s brand is as a truth speaker, but I think, so I don’t know. I mean, but I do write, and but I do think, I mean, you know, a lot of these guys, I think it just depends. And it’s usually, it’s not necessarily that they’ll lie to you, it’s just that there’s certain things that they don’t want to talk about.

HH: Who is the least forthcoming person that you have tried to question in D.C, both parties?

BS: I mean, I’m not going to put it on a list. Like Barack Obama has obviously not been a model of you know, openness to the press starting on this campaign.

HH: You know, I’ve just written a book called The Happiest Life, and Michael Medved interviewed me about it earlier today, and I have these seven characteristics of people who are happy. And he ran down them, and he asked me if the President was happy. And I hadn’t even thought about it. I hadn’t applied the template to the President. Do you think the President is a happy guy?

BS: You know, I think, I mean, I guess I don’t know. I’m not sure being president of the United States is a job that makes you real happy.

HH: George W. Bush was a happy guy.

BS: I mean, I think there were times when he was miserable, right?

HH: Everyone has bad days, but I mean general disposition, we all have…

BS: But general disposition, yes, I think Obama’s a happy person. I think he’s a Hawaiian.

HH: Oh, explain that.

BS: I mean, I think there’s, you know, the best stuff that’s been written about him is by David Maraniss, and just about, you know, like his sort of cultural roots and this very sort of, I don’t know, in Hawaiian culture. That’s where he went to high school. There’s a kind of levelness about him, and a calm, and like that seems to come from there.

HH: Would you add detachment?

BS: For sure, a detachment, but also, I mean, he, like obviously in his personal life, like wanted a stability and a stable family that he’s built against like a lot of odds.

HH: All right, now talk to me about Valerie Jarrett, the most powerful uncovered person in the last 25 years in Washington, D.C. How has she achieved that?

BS: Well, I mean, I think she’s very close. I mean, you know, her power comes from her closeness to the Obamas, and that’s in the end, like the first family is always going to be a black box, to some degree. And that’s, you know, whether it’s the Bushes, the relation, the Bush marriage or the Clinton marriage, I mean, it’s just hard to know what people say to each other, and she’s part of, and she talks to Michelle, and she talks to Obama, and she goes into the, you know, and she’s able to talk to them in the residential quarters when other advisors are not.

HH: But there have been people like this before – Michael Deaver, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes. I’m sure if we think for a second about Bill Clinton…

BS: No, but none, yeah, but…

HH: But they were not enigmas.

BS: They’re, she’s a personal friend of theirs in a way that’s not true of those other people you mentioned.

HH: Oh, Karl Rove would be…

BS: …and a personal friend of them both. You know, Karl Rove and Laura Bush were not close, close friends.

HH: No, you’re right about that.

BS: You know, so I think that’s, I mean, so but I think, I actually think in some ways she’s obviously, there are lots and lots of people in the Obama administration dislike her, see her as a force of kind of chaos and as thriving in chaos when they’re trying to create order. But I think that often, things that she, it’s useful to blame things on her that are ultimately her being the bearer of bad news, her doing fundamentally what the President wants, or kind of enabling…

HH: How much do you know about her? Do you know where she was born?

BS: Iran.

HH: I did not know that until today when someone told me that. It’s not conspiracy. Her dad was a doctor there.

BS: No, no, she has a really interesting life story.

HH: Yeah, and she went to Michigan Law. She was there when I was at Michigan Law. I’d never known that until today. She’s fascinating.

BS: And her career was a very like pragmatic, urban, political/real estate career if you knew, wander around his neighborhood in midtown New York, you meet a lot of people kind of wheeler dealer politician/real estate moguls. I mean, that’s a good business to be in.

HH: Yeah, so why has she got this screen? And do you agree with me A) that there’s a screen that has not been penetrated?

BS: You know, that she, I mean, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve read a lot about her. I mean, like that you don’t see a lot, that David Axelrod was quoted trashing her in a way that you very rarely see.

HH: I missed that. What did he say?

BS: Gosh, I’m not going to remember the details, but basically, that he’s not a big fan.

HH: When this administration is done, Ben Smith, do you expect the same number of memoirs to flow out of it as flew out of the Bush and Clinton administrations? And will they be flattering? Or will they be self-incriminating and destructive?

BS: I mean, I guess all memoirs are in some ways, I mean, all good memoirs are a little bit self-incriminating and destructive, right? Only the boring ones are flattering.

HH: Rumsfeld’s was an amazing memoir.

BS: I mean, I look forward to Obama’s, right? That’ll be the one that everybody wants to read.

HH: He won’t.

BS: Oh, of course he will. He’s a writer.

HH: Oh, come on.

BS: He’s written two books. Okay, Bill Ayers wrote them, but he…

HH: No, no, no. I mean, those are lazy books. They’re first person account books. All you have to do is write whatever you feel. There’s no one account…I mean, when you write a presidential memoir, you’ve got to actually do a hell of a lot of work. Those are, I was associated with Nixon in ’78-’79-’80 right after the memoir team left. They were exhausted by the undertaking of R.N. Presidential memoirs, that’s why W. did his in the way that didn’t really require it. I can’t see him putting in the hours to do that.

BS: I mean, he’s got a lot of time. He’s a pretty young man.

HH: He’s going to be, what do you think he’s going to do with his post-presidency?

BS: I think that’s a great question. I don’t know. I mean, I think there’s this new model, right, which is Clinton, which is to…

HH: Well, W. is the newest new model, and that’s the opposite of the Clinton model.

BS: Well, right, but those are the choices. I mean, I think you could imagine him keeping this campaign organization and staying kind of a national leader and having real kind of organizational juice, but you could also see him playing a lot of golf, like he has in some ways more, he has more personally in common with W. than Clinton in the sense that he doesn’t have that, he doesn’t seem to have that desperate, that very, very intense need to be liked and to be in the mix. Like you could have imagined him not making it into the Senate and living a perfectly happy life.

HH: That’s very true. Where do you think he’s going to live? Prediction time that we will pull out in 2017.

BS: You know, if he doesn’t live in Chicago, they will feel very deeply betrayed out there.

HH: That’s not the answer, though. Where do you think he’s going to go?

BS: I think he’ll go to Chicago.

HH: I don’t.

BS: You can imagine…

HH: He’s coming here.

BS: You think New York?

HH: He has to come here. This is where, in fact, if you’re going to run the Clinton model, you have to come here.

BS: Oh, see, I think you run the Clinton model with a base out of Chicago. I don’t know, Honolulu, outside choice.

HH: We’ll be right back. One more segment with BuzzFeed Ben, then Lileks comes on. How come you haven’t hired Lileks, yet? He’s the funniest guy on the web. He was actually BuzzFeed before BuzzFeed was BuzzFeed.

BS: You know we don’t hire conservatives.

— – – – –

HH: I want to conclude by talking with Ben Smith about Ben Smith. What is your ambition?

BS: I mean, I think we want to be…

HH: Not we, Ben Smith.

BS: Oh, my ambition? My ambition at this point is totally tied up with BuzzFeed’s ambition. I’ve fully drunk the Kool-Aid. You know, I want to be at BuzzFeed for the rest of my career and build something amazing.

HH: And what do you, what would you like people to say about it, the rest of your career, that could be forty years, it could be fifty years, given how lifespan’s going on. What do you want people to say about it when they give the…

BS: When I’m an 150 year old cyborg?

HH: Yeah, or when they’re looking back at it.

BS: I mean, I think that, you know, we want to be like the great new news and entertainment outlet for this new ecosystem that we feel has changed like kind of more radically than people realize, and the way information gets distributed.

HH: And how quickly is it itself changing?

BS: I mean, I think there was a huge change in the last three or four years, maybe bigger than the previous five or eight in terms of this shift away from kind of your website and toward individual pieces of content getting passed around by individuals and who were, and only the best stuff and only the stuff they loved most getting shared.

HH: And how do you stay ahead of that? I mean, do you get up in the morning and think how do I, are you looking everywhere constantly, how do I stay ahead of this thing?

BS: I mean, I think we live very fully immersed in it, so it’s not like it’s a thing we’re staying ahead of. It’s the water, it’s kind of the air that we breathe.

HH: Is there a reality show at BuzzFeed’s offices if you allowed them to film it?

BS: No, I don’t think so, just a lot of really smart people working really hard who love their jobs.

HH: Now I just finished this book, The Happiest Life, and I believe there are seven aspects. Arthur Brooks says there are four – faith, family, friends and earned success. How do you do on those four?

BS: I have three out of four. Is that all right?

HH: He said you need two.

BS: Well, I’m psyched about, I think family, that to me, that’s the big one for me.

HH: And your friends?

BS: Yeah, like when you have little kids, I don’t know, you never see your friends.

HH: Who’s your best friend?

BS: Now that’s just going to get me into trouble. I’m going to pass on that one.

HH: Come on, tell me. Give me three, then.

BS: My wife.

HH: That doesn’t count.

BS: And that’s all I got.

HH: That’s a crappy answer.

BS: That is literally the truth and all I’m giving you.

HH: Who’s the guy, who do you call if you’re arrested tonight on the street and you have to get out of jail. Who does Ben Smith call?

BS: We’ll just have to see when it happens.

HH: Okay. Secondly, there are seven ingredients – eyesight, energy, enthusiasm, encouragement, empathy, good humor, graciousness and gratitude. Your energy level is high. I can tell that. Your enthusiasm obviously is pretty…

BS: Wait, am I like joining the Church of Scientology here? What’s going on?

HH: You are. Do you encourage people?

BS: Oh, yeah.

HH: How do you treat your writers? Do you go around and treat your writers well? Or do you scream at them?

BS: So my theory is that like positive, you tell people what they’re doing right, and that there’s a whole, I don’t know if you’ve heard this theory, or if we have time to explore it, but if you tell, just there’s a trend, a reversion to the mien, that means that bosses yell at somebody, odds are the next day if they do something terrible, odds are the next thing we do it better, and that trains the boss to yell at them more. And it’s like a huge fallacy.

HH: I have not heard that. I’ve heard seven to one encouragement to criticism ratio works. Empathy – do you have a great deal of natural empathy? Or do reporters have to deny themselves that?

BS: I think, I mean, I don’t know. There are different ways to manage reporters. I guess I like to treat people as adults and not create really intense emotionally dependent relationship, which is what some editor-reporter relationships are.

HH: Are you funny in the newsroom? Do you make people laugh?

BS: I am not the funniest person in the newsroom. But there’s a lot of laughter, there’s an enormous amount of laughter in our newsroom.

HH: You know, Politico asked me for a profile on this book…there is?

BS: Yes.

HH: Politico asked me for a profile on this book, what my favorite joke was. What’s Ben Smith’s favorite joke? I thought it was a stupid question, but they asked it.

BS: It’s the lady on the train, the old saw.

HH: I don’t know it.

BS: Lady gets on a train, and a guy sits down next to her and turns to her and says lady, that is the ugliest baby I have ever seen in my life. I mean, you’ve got to put a bag over that. That is an ugly baby. And you know, she’s outraged, all short, but she stands up, she calls the conductor, the conductors comes over and says ma’am, I’m so sorry this man has behaved outrageously. We’ll get to the first class carriage, we’ll get you a nice glass of water, and a banana for your monkey.

HH: (laughing) I’ve never heard it. And who are you most grateful to for your success outside of your parents?

BS: My wife. She, I would totally, I was going to say now I have no idea what Jonah Peretti was talking about when he started talking to me about BuzzFeed. I said no to him. And then she was like, no, let me explain this to you. You have to do it.

HH: And when did you meet her?

BS: I met her in Latvia, back at the Baltic Times.

HH: Is she Latvian?

BS: She is Latvian, although she now runs a bunch of blogs in Brooklyn.

HH: Oh, okay, and so, and how did it figure out that you were going to marry a Latvian? And how did that go over on the home front?

BS: You know, I come from a mixed marriage, so I think it was all right.

HH: And do you go back there very much?

BS: Yeah, we go back most summers.

HH: Do you worry that Putin’s just going to swallow the damn country?

BS: Yeah, I’ve spent enough time with Latvians and I don’t think that’s a, I think the NATO expansion was really, really important for them. And I don’t think that they’re worried necessarily, I mean, they do worry. I don’t think like tanks are going to roll in from Pskov tomorrow, but I think like Putin’s ambitions, and what he calls, thinks of as the Nureyev Rod are pretty scary.

HH: Is Putin evil or simply a czar?

BS: I mean, I do think he comes out of this deeply Russian, specifically Russian tradition.

HH: Not KGB, but Russian?

BS: Yeah, it does feel that way.

HH: Ben Smith of BuzzFeed, great chatting with you. Thank you, Happy New Year to you, out of the penalty box.

BS: Thanks for having me on.

HH: My New Year’s resolution is done.

End of interview.

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