The FishbowlDC Interview With Politico’s Carol Lee

Carol Lee photo.jpg Politico White House correspondent Carol Lee isn’t a politician. But she had to recently turn into a politician of sorts to win the contentious at-large seat on the White House Correspondents’ Association Board. The election wasn’t “perf” as she might say – in fact, it turned downright nasty toward the end, with factions supporting and badmouthing one candidate over another. Here, we learn more about the woman who won. She grew up in Levittown, Pa. She attended NYU J-school. She isn’t afraid to cuss at an editor. And no, she doesn’t deem Politico a sweat shop as recent stories suggest. “If anything, I overwork myself,” she says.

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? Mountain Dew. The more caffeine the better.

How often do you Google yourself? Maybe once a year.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? My editor in Florida was a loud, swearing, barking newspaper guy, and I’m from Philly so we were pretty candid with each other when discussing stories. He once suggested during a staff meeting that I write a story a certain way, and I said, “That’s the stupidest f—ing idea I’ve ever heard.” It may have been too much. He seemed startled.

Who is your favorite working journalist?
Ken Bazinet of the New York Daily News seems to have things figured out.

Do you have a favorite word? No, but I don’t like the word perky.

Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? Dinner with Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama would be interesting.

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? Whatever tune is “normal” on a BlackBerry.

When did you last cry and why? When Donovan McNabb left the Eagles for the Redskins.

What word do you routinely misspell? Maintenance. In fact I misspelled it writing it here before spell check intervened.

What swear word do you use most often? I think I answered that with my editor anecdote earlier.

What word or phrase do you overuse? Perf. It’s short for perfect. I’m addicted.

What TV show do you have to watch? I really only have to watch the Sunday news shows. For fun, I’m a big fan of Modern Family.

Where do you shop most often for your clothes? Vintage, thrift and designer discount stores. Shopping is a sport, and they offer a challenge.

Find out what makes Lee angry and about her stint as a restaurant spy after the jump…

Who do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Ellen, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? I don’t watch daytime talk but I guess I’d say The View because it’s like a coffee klatch, with cameras.

Pick one: Leno, Letterman or Conan? Conan.

If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? Jon Jarvis, the head of the National Park Service. If anyone knows how to make a radio out of a coconut, he should.

Who is your mentor? [NYT’s] Gail Collins offered me my first job out of graduate school and has given me terrific advice ever since. [NYT’s] Maureen Dowd and [NYT’s] Andy Rosenthal have also been very supportive.

What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? Don’t pay attention to other people’s careers because it only takes energy away from your own.

What and where was your first job in journalism? I worked for a web site for brokers and financial planners. I had no idea what I was doing, which I later learned is 90 percent of what journalism is about.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? Where do I begin?

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? Eugenie Clark, aka the “Shark Lady”. She was still deep sea diving at 85, had survived lung cancer and discovered a new clam.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? Any “man on the street” interview. That goes double if it was for a weather story.

What’s the biggest scoop you’ve ever had? The most interesting was, of course, in Florida. This man had been fired from his city manager job after his bosses found out he was undergoing a sex change. The city I covered was searching for a new manager. I broke the story that the man, Steve, applied for the job as a woman, Susan, with an asterisk on the resume that the name change was legally pending.

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? Probably the last time I saw both of my sisters.

When and why did you last lose your temper? I was driving, and the GPS just kept saying “acquiring satellites.”

Which movie title best describes your journalism career? “Absence of Malice.”

Who would you want to play you in a movie? Somebody who would do her own stunts.

Name some jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): My first job was in the gift shop at Sesame Place. It went downhill from there: telemarketing, cookie shop, clothing store, book store, diner waitress, customer service rep, nanny, camp counselor, restaurant spotter, which is like a secret shopper but with food and waiters.

We had to ask Lee more about her “restaurant spotter” job. This is what she told us: “I spotted a server rushing me to order when I had sat down close to the time the kitchen closed. That’s definitely a no-no. They’re supposed to treat you as if you arrived in time for the early bird special. I also spotted a waiter giving me a hard time when I sent back a steak, and a bartender not attempting to up-sell me on a vodka tonic order.”