National Journal national reporter and formerly the publication’s Editor-in-Chief Ron Fournier has found the formula for making his articles go viral: Write about his experiences with past presidents in the most sticky sweet way possible and hit publish.
As George W. Bush is on a media tour this week to promote the opening of his library at Southern Methodist University in Texas, Fournier wrote a piece Tuesday lauding the still-unpopular former president as “a good man.”
“He remembered names of the spouses and children of his staff, and insisted that hard work at the White House not be an excuse to let family life suffer,” Fournier wrote.
The article (a piece on “presidential humanity,” as NJ called it in its daily newsletter) is as much about Fournier as it is about Bush and Bill Clinton, Bush’s predecessor. One of the many self-referential anecdotes in Fournier’s piece:
One steamy summer day in 1999, then-Gov. George W. Bush called me with an exclusive interview and interrupted my first question. “What’s all that noise in the background, Fournier?” he asked.
“I’m at the pool with my kids, governor.”
Bush replied, “Then what the hell are you doing answering your phone?”
The article earned Fournier a guest spot on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss it. It was passed around on Twitter with readers (mostly conservatives) calling it “compelling,” “uplifting” and “an interesting perspective.” It landed a link on Drudge, headlined, “FOURNIER: Go Ahead, Admit It: Bush Is A Good Man…” As if Fournier’s name in all caps legitimizes an opinion at least half the country already holds.
Asked what makes his commentaries on Bush garner so much attention, Fournier… first directed us to a piece he wrote Friday, in which he called on the public to “pray for our president” in light of the Boston Bombings. The story began with another ultra-sensitive short story about how Bush pledged to do his job immediately after 9/11.
He later followed up. “Judging by the flood of emails and tweets, from Democrats as well as Republicans, it would seem that readers appreciate posts about the presidency that get beyond partisan fights and score keeping,” he wrote FishbowlDC by email. “In this case, I tried to talk about the humanity that is often lost in presidential coverage.”
Fournier continued, “As I mentioned in today’s post, I am as guilty as any journalist when it comes to a bias toward conflict. I love to cover the horse race of a campaign. As a White House reporter, I wrote sharply critical stories about Presidents Bush (Katrina, Iraq and his second-term ‘credibility gap’), Clinton (Lewinsky and ’08 missteps) and Obama (his leadership style and legacy). That is my job. But the more I do this, the more I hope to surprise people with something different. Something distinctive. If today’s post stuck out from the norm, I’m happy — and I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Fournier’s latest column is virtually a repeat of what happened in December. Then, he wrote about how Bush and Clinton gave him a new perspective on his son who has Asperger’s syndrome. At his wife’s urging, Fournier went on a road trip with his son in which he met with the former presidents. That one, too, earned him a spot on “Morning Joe” and heaps of praise from journalists and others on Twitter. So much so that Fournier wrote a reaction piece about all the reaction to his story (try to get your head around that).
At the time, even reporters inside National Journal were embarrassed by Fournier’s me-centric journalism upon stepping down from the Editor-in-Chief position. Since then, his reputation in certain circles has worsened. Sources familiar with Fournier, which include former employees, say he has gone over the deep end. No longer in charge, he’s writing columns that play to Drudge, likely prepping himself for his next move outside of National Journal — a rumor that has been swirling for months.
Some journalists now see Fournier as a conservative columnist and not one to be taken with the seriousness he reaped before he started indirectly praising himself and pointedly sprinkling powdered sugar on former Presidents in stories. As a longtime journalist put it, “There is a danger when reporters make the stories about themselves — they just come off as self-serving.” Another asked, what’s with the Twitter flame wars? Does he really need to respond to every @dumbass who doesn’t care for his column?