For ABC’s Jim Scuitto, it came down to two choices: Relocate to Beijing or hang the pictures in his new Georgetown home.
After a decade in the London bureau as ABC’s senior foreign correspondent, Scuitto had been in Washington less than a year when U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke last month asked him to be his chief of staff and senior policy advisor.
“We still have a stack of pictures on the floor, leaning against the wall,” says Scuitto, 41, a 13-year network veteran. “We had gotten our son into a great little preschool and had just settled in.”
Still, the offer was too good for Scuitto to refuse. A Chinese history major at Yale and Fulbright Fellow, he was proficient in Mandarin. Two of his three sisters had worked in Asia; they were with his parents in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The China job offer came up “organically” during one of Scuitto’s discussions with Ambassador Locke, whom he viewed initially as a source. To Scuitto, it was “surprising, unexpected and irresistible.
“It’s a chance to be inside the premiere superpower relationship of our time… I’ll see how foreign policy is made and help execute it. We often don’t get that chance as journalists to get
that view from the inside. It was too unique and too special to turn down.”
ABC was very supportive of the move, according to Scuitto. News chief Ben Sherwood, whom Scuitto labels as a mentor, released him from the remaining year-plus of his contract.
Scuitto’s last day at the network was Dec. 23. He and his wife, former ABC Newser Gloria Riviera, and their two sons, ages 1 and 3, are scheduled to move to China in a few weeks.
Before accepting the job, however, Scuitto wanted to make sure he could return to news. (No hard time timeable, but he envisions that will be in two to three years.) One of his first calls was to colleague George Stephanopoulos, who encouraged him, Scuitto says. Also, ABC told Sciutto that he’d “always be welcome,” he says.
Working for the ambassador “is not an inherently political job,” Scuitto insists. “It’s a foreign policy job. It doesn’t color you in that sense. It just adds to your knowledge base and contacts.”
In his new role, Scuitto will advise Locke on all national security and trade priorities, as well as help manage the second-largest U.S. embassy in the world. With an estimated 1,200 employees, it’s second only to Baghdad, Scuitto says.
Walking away from news “will be really difficult, even for a couple of years,” he acknowledges. “I love the business. It’s the only job I’ve done for nearly 20 years. I still consider it a mission.”
Making the transition from journalist to source “will definitely be a change. I’ve only been on one side my whole working life. It will be fun, too.”