Putting the president aside, are there criticisms from other people that have really stung, or do you take it in stride?
I listen to a lot of criticism. From the left and the right and from everywhere. I mean, everybody's a media critic. And sometimes I think it's on point, and other times I think about it and consider it and then might ultimately disagree with it. But I do listen to it, I really do. I think there is room for improvement for all of the media, and that certainly, and especially, includes me.
So based on his tweets, Trump is not likely to do an interview with you any time soon. But is there a question you would most like to ask him?
Right now? Today? I might ask him what you asked me about whether he thinks any of the criticism is valid and whether any of it stings because maybe he thinks it's true. Is there anything he could be doing better to connect better with the American people, to achieve more of his agenda.
You've written three books, won awards, moderated debates, you have two television programs on CNN, you're a talented cartoonist. Are there any ways in which you consider yourself a failure?
Well, I am a failed cartoonist. I wanted to be a professional cartoonist. Yes, I do a minute-and-a-half cartoon at the end of my Sunday show, but I wouldn't call that a career in cartooning. But yeah, I'm a failure at any number of things. You need to call my wife, kids and my brother and set aside some time.
You've now lived in Washington longer than you lived anywhere else. Do you think of yourself a Washingtonian?
I don't really. I still think of myself as a Philadelphian. I still root for the Philadelphia teams. Other than my house, I still feel most at home in terms of cities when I'm in Philly.
Is there something specific you learned as a child that helps you now in your work?
My mom is a nurse, my dad is a pediatrician. They were born in the 1940s, and they were both inspired to fight against injustice, whether it was the injustices of the Vietnam War or Watergate or children in poverty or oppression of African Americans in Philadelphia where I was growing up. And there was a certain degree of passion and empathy and fighting against people in power that, I think, those were just values that were instilled in me very early. In terms of the journalistic credo of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, I think that's just part of my DNA because of that.
You started out working in politics and then switched to journalism. Why did you do that?
I was looking for a job out of college and a woman friend of our family ran for Congress, so I worked on her campaign. I needed something to do, and I needed a source of income more than anything else.
It wasn't a deep interest in politics?
Well, I was always a political junkie, but it wasn't like I wanted to go into politics. I was very directionless after college and had no idea what to do. I went to film school for a year and left and so I kind of stumbled into it. I worked for a year and change on the Hill, and then after that I decided I didn't want to work in politics. It's an amazing experience, and people should do it when they are at their most idealistic so that they can see how politics actually works so those ideals can be crushed and destroyed.
President Trump is obviously good for ratings and for clicks. Is he good for America?
That's not really for me to say. I think there are ways you can say he is good for America. People are engaged in politics as I've never seen them before, so that's good. I think it's good that there are people who felt forgotten by Washington, D.C., society and elites who the president talks about — the forgotten man and woman, the people whose towns have been decimated by manufacturing losses and bad trade deals and the like. I think that's good for America. By the same token, obviously I think that his attacks on the media and various institutions of government, the judiciary, the intelligence community, Congress, any check or balance or oversight, I don't think that's good for America. But at the end of the day it's not fair to not take all of it into account for those who are assessing it one way or the other. I don't understand anybody who looks at anything as purely good or purely evil in this modern world of politics, because it never is, except for Nazis marching in Charlottesville.
The media is being blasted in ways it hasn't been before. You're obviously a high-profile journalist. Do you ever worry for your safety?
Sometimes. It's a very heated environment, and there are unstable people out there. But violence and unstable people preceded President Trump, and violence and unstable people will be here long after his presidency is over.
Well, that's reassuring.
[Laughs.] Never talk to a reporter if you want to be reassured.
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