By Howard Kurtz
Thursday, August 26, 2010; C01
Just when he has a chance to assume a front-row seat in the White House briefing room, Major Garrett is leaving Fox News and returning to print journalism.
Garrett, who has been widely recognized as a straight-arrow reporter caught in the crossfire between President Obama's top aides and the network of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, is joining National Journal as a congressional correspondent.
The hostility between the administration and Fox "never wore me down," Garrett said Wednesday, but "of course it made my job more difficult. . . . I'd be a liar if I said otherwise." But, he added, "I was a conscientious objector in that war. I never fought it."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Garrett lived up to Fox's fair-and-balanced motto: "I have always thought Major was one of the smartest people in the briefing room. He's tough, and I'd say the slogan actually did fit him."
The main reason for his departure, the Fox White House correspondent said, is the frenetic pace of cable news: "I want to talk less and I want to think more. I always considered myself an accidental TV reporter."
When he told Roger Ailes he was leaving, Garrett said, the Fox News chairman replied: "You're one of the few guys who never got addicted to TV."
Michael Clemente, a Fox senior vice president, said that "Major's a first-class reporter. He's got a naturally inquisitive mind, and returning to print will allow him to do what he knows and loves best."
Fox is moving Pentagon reporter Mike Emanuel back to the White House, where he will join Wendell Goler in sharing the front-row seat that the network was recently awarded after Helen Thomas resigned under fire for her comments about Israel.
National Journal, part of Atlantic Media, is in the process of reinventing itself under its new editor in chief, Ron Fournier, former Washington bureau chief of the Associated Press. Garrett says Fournier broached the idea over dinner several weeks ago at Kinkead's, a restaurant a few blocks from the White House. Fournier said in a statement that Garrett is "known across Washington as one of the hardest-working journalists in the business, a fierce competitor on his beat, and a good and decent man."
Earlier this week, National Journal hired Matthew Cooper, the former Time correspondent who had been working for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, as its managing editor. In filling about 30 vacancies, the public policy weekly has also tapped political consultant Matthew Dowd, Atlantic's Marc Ambinder and reporters from the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, USA Today and Politico.
Even last fall, when Anita Dunn, then Obama's communications director, assailed Fox as a "wing of the Republican Party," she pointedly excluded Garrett from her indictment. After what amounted to an administration boycott of Fox, Garrett was granted the first interview with the president during a round-robin last fall with network reporters in Beijing.
Garrett, who turned 48 on Tuesday, said he would miss the pace of cable news and the high-profile platform provided by Fox. But in television, he said, you learn 20 times as much as you are able to report on the air.
"You get so bogged down by the logistics of what video do you have and what studio is available. I want to return to enterprise reporting that consists of a pad, a pen and a phone." Beyond that, he said, "I just want to allow my brain and my spirit to have a little bit more room, and play with words, and have fun with them again."
Garrett began his career in print, writing for U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Times and the Houston Post, among others. He joined Fox in 2002 after serving as a White House correspondent for CNN.
Looking ahead to his next challenge, Garrett said: "I've still got a fastball, I think. We'll find out."