The Washington Post’s Dan Balz received The Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting yesterday. He joined me on today’s show:
HH: Honored to have on the Toner Award winner for excellence in political journalism, Dan Balz of the Washington Post. He picked up his medal last night. Dan Balz, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, and congratulations. That’s a great honor and well earned.
DB: Well, thank you. You’re kind to say it. It was terribly gratifying to win that award, because I was a friend and competitor with Robin Toner, who was the first female national political correspondent at the New York Times who died of cancer about six years ago, and it’s a great honor and a great award, and I was quite surprised to win it and very humbled.
HH: Well, I’ve got to play a little audio from the dinner last night. This is Dan, I’m talking with Dan Balz, who you can follow on Twitter, @DanBalz, but this is Dan Balz last night to a crowd that included the former Secretary of State and first lady, Hillary Clinton.
DB: Please, thank you very much. Secretary Clinton, thank you for continuing to sit here through this. I didn’t expect that you were going to be here. I’m happy to yield my time back to you if you want to take some questions. (laughter)
HH: All right, Dan Balz, that was pretty funny. Tell the audience how she responded to your kind invitation.
DB: Well, she declined the invitation, but she had a big smile on her face. I think she got a kick out of it, and it was meant in fun, and you know, I knew she wouldn’t do it, but it was fun to do and she took it in good humor.
HH: All right, coming up after the break, Peter Hamby is going to join me, one of the new breed, and after him, David Drucker, one of the new breed, and after him, David Weigel, one of the new breed, and your buddy, Phil Rucker, is here a lot. You must be feeling like I am, a little gray-haired when you see all these youngsters running about. It used to be that you had to work 30 years to get to the political beat.
DB: Well, you know, I made a point of this last night. I said, I mean, for a lot of reasons, I felt lucky to win the award, but I said I feel lucky in part because there’s a generational shift that’s going on in the political reporting world over the last half dozen years, and really, over the last three or four years. And there is a terrific group of younger reporters who are now out on the beat. And you know, I work with a number of them here – Phil Rucker, who you mentioned, Bob Costa, Matea Gold and others, and there are others from other news organizations that I’m rubbing shoulders with when I’m out on the trail. And I’m greatly impressed with their talents and the way they manipulate all the new media in ways that they’re far more skillful than I. And I said last night that you know, I found that in doing this job as long as I have, in one way or another, you have to kind of reinvent yourself with every presidential cycle. You can never quite do it the same way you did the last time. And the younger group of reporters are helping me get better as I get older. And so I am greatly appreciative of them, and in awe of a lot of them. You know, Dave Broder, who was my mentor and once said a long time ago that you can never, the lessons of the last campaign never apply to the next campaign. You just can’t take them forward. And he said the person who was spot on in one campaign is as dumb as you know what in the next campaign. And so you just have to go out there every campaign and start it over and try to do the best you can.
HH: Is there a lessening of comradery among the political journalist class as there was reported back in the days of the boys on the bus and the very famous books about that, and the Teddy White books? Is that gone, shattered, or is there still some semblance of it?
DB: Oh, I think there’s still some semblance of it. There’s a lot of mutual respect. I mean, it is an intensely competitive business at this point. It has never been more competitive than it is today, I don’t think, and because the competition comes from a lot of different places. There’s good, political reporting on all kinds of different sites, and different news organizations, and we’re all aware of that. And yet when we’re out there, I mean, we’re all trying to do the same thing, which is hold these candidates to account, to try to understand better what’s going on inside campaigns, but particularly, and again, I mentioned this last night, you know, there’s a lot more to political reporting than who’s up this week or who’s down next week. It’s what does this tell us about the country, what are the ambitions of the voters, not the ambitions of the candidates, and there’s a lot that people are doing on those fronts that I think is terrific.
HH: Now I just had on Senator Mark Kirk, one of the favorites inside the Beltway because he’s worked so hard at his recovery. He’s also worked so hard on a bunch of bipartisan efforts. My question is when you get people like Kirk in an election race like 2016, does some Beltway favoritism take over? He’s a Republican, by the way. He’s on my team, and you don’t play for either team. You’re one of the old school. But he’s on my team and I want him to win. But does it take over that they’ll try and help him along because he’s been there and he’s had the personal story and he’s well-liked?
DB: I don’t know that that in the end helps him. I think people respect what he’s gone through and have some admiration for that. I mean, it’s a powerful, human story. But elections are elections, and they are decided in a very, you know, competitive and sometimes very tough environment. And I think we try to sort it out as best we can. So I don’t think anybody gives someone a break because of that, but I think that people recognize you know, part of what being a politician, or part of what you do or I do or anybody else, you know, it’s sort of the character and integrity you bring to it. And you know, I think some politicians are recognized for having more or less of that, and I think that does have some effect on things. But that’s not a partisan issue. I think that’s a different way in which people look at how things unfold. But as I say, campaigns are campaigns, and it is a tough, tough business these days. And you know, the press has some role in that, but there’s all sorts of other forces that play a bigger role.
HH: The longer the experience, the better the journalist, the more quick they are to throw the flag on BS. And here’s the President today. He got asked a question, I don’t know who asked him the question about the relationship between him and Netanyahu. Here was his response.
BO: I have a very businesslike relationship with the Prime Minister. I’ve met with him more than any other world leader. I talk to him all the time. He is representing his country’s interests the way he thinks he needs to, and I’m doing the same. So the issue is not a matter of relations between leaders. The issue is a very clear, substantive challenge. We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security, for Palestinian aspirations and for regional stability.
HH: So Dan Balz, what do you say is the BS meter on that? We have a very good relationship? (laughing)
DB: (laughing) It’s reasonably high, I would say. I mean, we know that they do not have a good relationship. He’s being diplomatic. But to say we have a businesslike relationship says it all. This is not the kind of friendship that we’ve sometimes seen in relationships between world leaders, and everything that has happened, not just over the last few weeks, but over a number of years with President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu tell us that they do not have a good relationship, and you know, he doesn’t want to, in this press conference, come right out and say that. But everybody knows it.
HH: Everybody knows it. Okay, last question, I began the show with Marco Rubio, and obviously foreign affairs has soared to the front of this. I had an author on, Ben Hall, yesterday, just an amazing reporter from London on ISIS. All of a sudden, everyone’s talking about Iran and Iraq and ISIS and the Islamic State spreading out. Have you seen a presidential campaign as caught up in foreign affairs as this one since the ’79-’80 cycle?
DB: I don’t think. I’d have to actually scroll back in my brain to figure out if there were any other time, but I don’t think so. I mean, I think that normally, we are much more focused inward and on domestic issues. And I suspect there’s still a lot of that within the electorate. I think that in some ways, the candidates on the Republican side have found a way to go after President Obama right now on foreign policy in part because the economy is doing a little better. We know that there are a lot of people who are still struggling and suffering, but the economic numbers are somewhat better. It’s a little harder to go after him on that. There’s a lot of contention about foreign policy right now, and they’ve seize on that. I’ll be curious, frankly, to see how that evolves over the next, you know, we’ve got a long time between now and the summer and fall of 2016.
HH: Amen to that. Dan Balz, I hope you’ll spend a lot of that time back on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Again, congratulations on the award last night, richly deserved.
End of interview.