The FishbowlDC Interview with National Geographic Traveler’s Contributing Editor Carl Hoffman

Sometime during the holidays, Carl Hoffman will take off to New Guinea to investigate the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller for a new book, Somewhere in Eden, set to publish in 2013. Authorities declared Michael (son of Nelson) dead in 1963. He either drowned or was killed by locals, Hoffman explains on a cold, rainy morning at Tryst cafe this week. Most days National Geographic Traveler and Wired’s Contributing Editor can be found in faded Diesel jeans on a faded couch there or down U Street at Big Bear. Born and raised in Washington, he graduated from University of Massachusetts/Amherst where he majored in Social Thought and Political Economy. He’s always lived in Washington minus his studies at U. Mass, traveling post college and a year as a ski bum in Vail. “Do you want a bio or something?” he asks helpfully. “I could send you a lot of shit.” Thank you, Carl. We appreciate shit and a lot of it. Hoffman’s bio says he has driven the Baja 1,000, ridden reindeer in Siberia, sailed an open dinghy 250 miles, and traveled to 65 countries. It also says his three children make fun of him often. He recently memorialized his father, Burt Hoffman, who he deems his greatest writing mentor. And rightfully so — his father, who died of lung cancer in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was Editor of the Washington Star and National Journal. Though Hoffman’s clearly at home in Washington, he says it might soon be time to leave. “Might be time to go live in a crowded, exotic, dirty city far away for a little while,” he muses aloud.

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? Grapefruit soda.

How often do you Google yourself? I don’t. I have a Google alert.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? You’re retarded. How’d that go over? Not well. I come from a long line of burn bridgers.

Who is your favorite working journalist and why? I love C.J. Chivers and Anthony Shadid at the NYT. Both are amazing.

Do you have a favorite word? Why.

What word or phrase do you overuse? Why.

Who would you rather have dinner with – ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s Candy Crowley or NBC’s Andrea Mitchell? Tell us why. I guess I’d want to have dinner with Christiane Amanpour because she’s been a lot places and she’s seen a lot of things. She must have a lot of curiosity of the nooks and crannies of the world. Definitely not Andrea Mitchell.

You are ordered to go on a road trip to an undisclosed location. You can go with White House Spokesman Jay Carney or Bo, the President’s Portuguese Water Dog. No ones feelings will be hurt. Who do you take? Honestly it’s really hard to travel with a dog, especially the places I go. I’d probably pick neither. It’s much better to travel alone – always more interesting. Although the dog, if you got hungry you could always eat.

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? It’s silent.

It’s 3 a.m. and you get up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. Do you check your BlackBerry or iPhone? Absolutely.

What word do you routinely misspell? There’s so many. Every word with an i and an e. Handwriting spelling I always got D’s in. Actually, now I’m a pretty good speller because of spell check.

What swear word do you use most often? Definitely fuck.

Find out why Hoffman gets weepy often…

If you weren’t a journalist what would you be? It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be – is to be a writer. So I guess I’d just be dead. I’m curious and full of wonder. I’d be a storyteller, a filmmaker.

When you pig out what do you eat? I’m an opportunistic omnivore. I eat anything and everything. French fries. I love French fries. Anything with a lot of flavor and spice.

If you could influence journalism in one way right now what would it be? I think journalism needs to retain plenty of long form narrative pieces both in the newspaper, magazine and online. Super well reported, lyrically written in-depth pieces that go beyond the moment. We’re so engulfed in the moment with twitter and social media. We’re constantly inundated with new online journalism, which is cool. The backside is there’s still this place for long deeply reported, beautifully written stories. The beauty of writing is important.

When did you last cry and why? I cry all the time. I’m moved often. The Ides of March. My daughter was like, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

What TV show is your guilty pleasure? I finally stopped watching television. I really like Game of Thrones.

What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken? For years I didn’t take vacations. I was all over the world, but it was always work. The last couple of years, I had a good one in Sri Lanka, and a good one in Rome. For me, just sitting in the park reading or at the beach is a pretty good vacation.

What is your absolute favorite item of clothing in your closet? We want the fabric, the brand, the store and the price if possible. My blue jeans. I wear them every single day. Diesel. I only wear Diesel jeans.

Pick one: Joy Behar, Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg or Elizabeth Hasselbeck? Who is Joy Beeharr? I know who David Hasselbeck is. Oh, he’s Hasselhoff. I consider them all irrelevant. [He later sends me an email saying Behar’s HLN show has been canceled.]

Do you read your astrology? I most certainly do. I read the first of every month.

Have you ever had a near-death experience? I’ve gotten really scared a couple of times. The scaredest I’ve ever been is when I was on a bus traveling across Afghanistan and the bus broke down. I was going to get off the bus and walk around but the guy sitting next to me said do not get off this bus, this is a bad area. Suddenly I was like, what the fuck am I doing here; why am I taking a bus across Afghanistan during the middle of a war? [The bus was repaired and life went on. Hoffman doesn’t regret the trip.]

Ever been arrested? No comment. All I have to do is look at a policeman and they arrest me.

Tell us a secret not many people know about you. Deep down I’m really easygoing.

What scares you? Oh, shit. Grizzly bears.

Who is your mentor? All of my great editors have been my mentor. Susan Murcko, formerly at Wired. Keith Bellows at National Geographic Traveler. My father was my biggest writing mentor of all.

What and where was your first job in journalism? Well, the first story I ever sold was a travel to the Boston Globe. It was a freelance story. The second was to the Baltimore Sun. I’ve never had a real job, not after college.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? I’ve never been embarrassed in my career, really ever. I’ve been angry , humbled, I don’t think I’ve ever been embarrassed.

Have you ever been fired? Yes, I cleaned a bank the summer I was 16 just as a substitute for a couple. And they fired me. I cleaned it well, but I looked in drawers. I’m curious. 

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? My kids make me laugh all the time.

When and why did you last lose your temper? Right now. (Jarringly obnoxious sounds of jackhammers are disrupting this interview on 18th Street.)

Which movie title best describes your journalism career? Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a little pretentious.

Who would you want to play you in a movie? People tell me I look like Richard Gere and George W. Bush.

Name jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): Ski mechanic; construction worker; House folding room (room where materials are printed and folded for constituents in basement of Longworth, huge industrial blue collar machines, messengers, shipping flags, furniture, whatever, bullshit, all came from the folding room.)

Do you have a me-wall? If so, who’s on it? Not right now. I don’t really have a me-wall. I have awards.

Who should just call it a day? Elizabeth Hasselback. I think Herman Cain should call it a fucking day.

From TMZ Founder Harvey Levin: You are about to be served your last meal. What will it be? I want it to be big. I want oysters, fresh grilled fish, Indian food, truffles, champagne, and I want a hotdog off the street.

Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. Make it good. Who’s your favorite poet?