Washington Monthly‘s founding editor, Charlie Peters, short and slightly hunched over with a shock of white, silken Washington hair, was a man of few words Thursday afternoon at the New America Foundation as he watched a documentary about his own life.
A little like showing up for your own funeral. But his reaction didn’t require words, really. It was all in his shoulders.
Sitting in the front row of a small packed room with a screen, his shoulders shook up and down in dramatic spasms as he laughed and laughed while reporters recalled what it was like to have him as their editor.
And it wasn’t always pretty.
The film, “How Washington Really Works: A film about a Man, a Magazine and the Media,” by Norman Kelley, chronicles the life and times of Peters and the reporters who worked under him. Or, more like, survived him. (See Kelley and Peters pictured below.)
“Was that really good enough?” asked National Journal‘s Matt Cooper, who introduced the 30-minute film as well as appeared in it. Cooper had Peters as an editor. He also has an impression or five of the things Peters, through a slow, southern drawl, used to say to get reporters to write better stories.
“It’s like a 12-step meeting,” began Cooper. “My name is Matthew Cooper and I worked for Charlie Peters. Charlie had an incredible impact on my own life. As hard and tough as it could be at times, it was a changing event for me. Pretty remarkable, but we’re all still pretty much friends.”
Former Washington Monthly reporters who showed up to see the film alongside Peters included MSNBC’s Tim Noah, The Atlantic‘s James Fallows, author Gregg Easterbrook and Daily Beast‘s Michelle Cottle.
In the film, Cottle agreed with Cooper, saying, “You’ll do anything to avoid the bad Charlie.”
Jonathan Alter appeared several times throughout the film. He admitted that when he worked for the Washington Monthly he earned $8400 a year and worked seven days a week. Despite paychecks like this, no one regretted it.
Fallows moderated a panel of former Washington Monthly reporters as well as current Editor-in-Chief Paul Glastris. He asked everyone to describe how Peters personally impacted their lives.
“Big shoes, obviously,” Glastris said about stepping in after Peters left the publication in 2001. He spoke of “real journalism” and said the right-wing media still hasn’t gotten it. He spoke of working on 12 drafts and working on one story for one to two months. “Bloggers for the most part could all use a Charlie,” he said emphatically.
Cottle: “Aside from the nervous tic and the ulcer? You have to ask the stupid question.”
But maybe the most touching moment of the day came when Peters’ wife, Beth, could be seen mopping tears from her eyes as Fallows declared that none of them would be the people they are today without her, and without Charlie.