CQ Roll Call’s News Head on Covering Congress, Iowa’s Unreliability and Trump

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsIf the ear-splitting decibel level was any indication, the media mavens and money men had plenty to talk about today. My lunch date, Steve Komarow, CQ Roll Call’s vice president and news director, certainly did. Up from Washington for a quick trip (he was catching the 3 o’clock Acela back to DC after our lunch), I was glad he made time to meet me and dish about the mood on the Hill, size up the head-scratching presidential campaigns and talk about CQ Roll Call’s position as the go-to source for news and analysis for Washington insiders. Lisa Linden, CEO of LAK PR, who knows more Beltway power brokers than anyone else I know, arranged our confab.

Steve-Komarow and Diane Clehane
Steve Komarow and Diane Clehane

Steve, who is celebrating his first anniversary at the helm, oversees the largest newsroom dedicated to coverage of Congress and has a CV that is ripe for the Showtime treatment. “I’ve never had a beat I didn’t like,” he said. He got his start in the ’80s as a local news reporter for the Associated Press in Washington. “Marion Barry was mayor — it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said between bites of Cobb salad. Then, he moved to Capitol Hill — “at the time of the Jim Wright scandal [the congressman resigned in 1989] and the end of Tip O’Neill’s term as Speaker.”

A decade later, he landed at USA Today as a defense correspondent, covering three secretaries of defense and military operations in several war zones like Haiti and the Balkans. He made headlines as the first reporter to cover a cruise missile launch from inside a B-52 bomber. When I asked Steve if he was an adrenaline junkie, he seemed amused and said simply, “I like to challenge myself.”

Steve was embedded with the U.S. Army during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and went on to cover the capture and trial of Saddam Hussein, reconstruction efforts, and the insurgency. In 2006, he returned to the AP as deputy international editor in New York, overseeing journalists in more than 90 countries before moving to the Washington bureau. He also did a stint at Bloomberg News before landing at CQ Roll Call.

It was clear talking to Steve that he is very much the political news junkie who enjoys the digital “deep dive” CQ offers to its subscribers. Although you might not know it from the exhaustive media coverage of the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls,  “There is a lot of [other] serious stuff going on” in Washington and CQ Roll Call’s readers are looking for all the inside baseball intel they can get. “Our readers are professional people in the White House and Congress, federal agencies, lobbyists. They are very interested in process, policy and regulations. They are looking for a very specific level of detail. It’s our job to keep our eye on the ball.”

And so they do. Last summer, Congress was trying to pass an appropriations bill just after the Charleston, S.C., church shooting. “There had been several Democratic amendments and late one night, the Calvert Amendment from the Republicans came through that would have undone the ban [in the previous iterations] on the Confederate flag at cemeteries managed by the National Parks Service. No one caught it, but we did. It was pulled from the floor and there was an uproar on the Hill. After that they never passed another [appropriations bill].”

“Almost everything” is behind a paywall because, explained Steve, “Our subscribers are looking for an edge. We have to provide news and analysis they can’t get from other sources.” Gone are the days when hearings provided true “oh my god” moments, said Steve. “They’re scripted and more for show.” As for the information that comes out of Congress itself, “There’s a misconception that everything about Congress is online. It takes real work and a certain level of reporting to find out what’s really happening and give insight on what could happen next as opposed to what they tell you is happening. Congress is full of clues and we know the code.” The site also serves as a subscriber resource with lengthy profiles of every single member of Congress. The print magazine, CQ Weekly, serves as “a showcase for our reporters’ best work.”