The FishbowlDC Interview With WTOP’s ‘Brickin Brackin Sassafrassin’ JJ Green

Say hello to WTOP’s National Security Correspondent JJ Green, who has worked at the station since 2004. Asked for his thoughts on new versus old media, he replied, “I’ve always been sort of forward leading when it comes to technology. The title for my senior thesis for broadcast journalism was ‘Selected Implications of Satellite Electronic Surveillance.'” Mr. Smartypants graduated from Hampton University, near Virgina Beach. “I had no idea, no understanding that led me to believe I’d be involved in covering national security now. I had no clue, no interest and look where I ended up.” Green praises new media, but stresses that you still have to go that extra step of verification. “We’re so breathless now, with so many other avenues and sources for people to get their news that there is pressure individually to want to keep up and be recognized,” he said. “We have to be really careful when using social media.” Green covers global intelligence and terrorism. His career history is extensive, but we’ll give you highlights. He came to Washington in 1989 to work as a reporter for WMAL radio. After working as a weekend reporter on FOX-5 WTTG in the early 90s, he worked on air as a correspondent-in-training on ABC News NIGHTLINE. He covered various elements of the O.J. Simpson trial and race relations. Asked if he thinks O.J. was guilty, he said, “No, I did not and I do not now have an opinion on that. As a journalist, I don’t think that my opinion really counts when it comes to covering the news.” Green’s resume includes working at CNN, where he covered The Million Man March and The Balkan Peace Talks as a general assignment reporter in Washington. In the late 90s he began working for the Voice of America Television and as host and correspondent of Africa Journal while traveling extensively. Don’t try trash talking him in another language. He’s fluent in Spanish, speaks working level French and is studying Korean and Arabic. Among the problems he faces with government public affairs is they have lumped radio into one pool, so that it all appears to be talk radio. “WTOP is a news radio station not a talk radio station,” Green said fervently. “We have people who do opinion for us. It’s not designed to be a talk radio station.”  In 1996, Green landed what he looks at now as “the” job: host of C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Asked if he kept a straight face with callers, he said, “I think I laughed once while I was at C-SPAN. A caller phoned in and said ‘Dude, you dress almost as nicely as Brian Lamb.’ I cleared by throat and regained my seriousness.” Lamb is purportedly a great dresser. And Green? “I like nice clothes.”

If you were a carbonated beverage, which would you be? One that is finished.

How often do you Google yourself? Whenever someone says “hey have you googled yourself lately?”

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor/boss (or vice versa)? “No” is the worst I’ve ever said. Thoughts are another matter.

Have you ever goofed up on air? What happened? Yes, a colleague at a radio station, who shall not be named, sneaked into the radio studio years ago and lit my news copy on fire and I huffed and puffed my way through it.  True story.

Who is your favorite working journalist and why? Tavis Smiley, because one day when I used to host C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” and I was getting hammered by some guy on the phone for being political, which I was clearly not, Tavis, who was my guest, immediately pivoted from the cool intelligent scholar he is and verbally assaulted this guy on live television to get him off my back.

Do you have a favorite word? Yes… is my favorite word. No is such a waste of effort.

Who are you named after and what are people’s general reaction to your name? I’m named after JJ Green Sr. So Jessie James Green Jr. is my full name and our middle name, James, came from his mom’s maiden name. She was not inspired to name her son after a gunslinger.

Who would you rather have dinner with – NBC’s Brian Williams, CNN’s Roland Martin, ABC’s Sherri Shepherd or Fox News’ Megyn Kelly? Tell us why. I’d choose NBC’s Brian Williams, because I tell him how Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube are always cutting up at the Pentagon gaggle. No actually, I’d ask him if he wanted to switch jobs for about 10 years.The Earth’s human population is dying out and you must save it. You will spend a romantic evening with either Scandal’s Kerry Washington, Homeland’s Claire Danes or any of the women from FNC’s “The Five”. Who will it be? (None is not an option.) I’d chose Scandal’s Kerry Washington, because the Real Judy Smith is a very good friend of mine and, well, she’s well…you know…hot.

What swear word do you use most often? My swear word is “Brickin Brackin Sassafrassin.” Funny how it sounds like another stream of really bad words when I actually say it.

You’ve just been told the big news: You get to have your own Sunday morning talk show. Who will be on your roundtable? (Pick four journalists or pundits types.) Gwen Ifill because she’s really smart, Soledad O’brien, because she also knows everything, Bill O’Reilly, because Soledad and Gwen would probably yell at him and he at them. And TJ Holmes, because the brother is really bright. He’s also just cool and we could crack jokes to lighten things up.

On a serious note for a moment, if you could have dinner with a person who has died, who would it be? My father’s father. I never met him. He died when my Dad was 9.

Who is your favorite Boybander and why? (Ezzy, Hazy, Weigel, Attackerman, Beutler) Really – who are these guys? None of them. How about Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

When you pig out what do you eat? Everything in sight –really!

What is your absolute favorite item of clothing in your closet? We want the fabric, the brand, the store and the price if possible. If it’s a certain kind of underwear we don’t want to know about it. A 20-year-old blue pin-stripe suit by Evan-Picone –yes they did make men’s clothing at one time. I still get compliments on that.

Have you ever had a tarot card reading? NO

Have you ever had a near-death experience? Yes the moments before the F-16 Thunderbirds jet I was flying in rocketed straight up in the air in a 9g maneuver. But no, I did not throw up.

Ever been arrested? Yes, in Argentina in 2002 for trespassing with my crew on a TV shoot chronicling the famous Iguazu Falls. Detained but never charged.

What scares you? Some of the young flacks who work for the U.S. government today think radio news is the name of a museum exhibit or something and that national security correspondents on “local” radio like WTOP are a waste of their time. Sad part is, older journalists, who know better are not reading them in on this.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? Late May 2006 at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti –I’m in the men’s Cadillac (toilet facilities) as they are called. It is 10 p.m.  I’m getting cleaned up to get sleep because were flying out to Balad, Iraq the next day.  I’m only partially clothed when the door on a stall opens (which I ignore) and then it closes (which I also ignore). But when I hear a female voice say, “excuse me this is the ladies…” I look up and realize there are no urinals in there and I was in the ladies room. After bolting out of there, leaving behind toiletries and clothing for fear of being detained by MPs, I realized I’d been in that same facility doing the same thing three nights in a row. My excuse was it was next to our barracks and I assumed it was the male toilet. Bad journalism.

Have you ever been fired? No. knock on wood.

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? A couple of weeks ago I was watching NBA Open court and they showed a decades old video clip of Charles Barkley, one of the regulars on the show, wearing a Houston Rockets uniform and the shorts were really short and small. Another regular, Kenny Smith, I think, asked Barkley who let him out of the house wearing hot pants! My side is still hurting.

When and why did you last lose your temper? Inauguration Day – something about my flight landing later than it was scheduled to.

Breakfast cereal of choice: Honey Nut Cheerios

Who would you want to play you in a movie? Denzel Washington of course!

Hotel you stay at when you visit Manhattan: St. Regis

From TMZ Founder Harvey Levin: You are about to be served your last meal. What will it be? My mom’s pot roast, with carrots, potatoes and green beens and her banana pudding.

From Maynard Institute’s diversity news reporter Richard Prince: Best time you ever had with your clothes on? A 2002 odyssey, where I traveled from Bolivia, to Paraguay, to Brazil and Argentina, with two crazy Paraguayan guys named Manuel and Vicente and a girl named Mari-Cristina. One month of constant travel, some of the world natural wonders, amazing food, side-splitting humor and me  sitting down with the former president for an interview. We are all journalists and very inquisitive. This, by the way, was the same trip where we were all arrested by the Argentines for trespassing.

From Boston Globe’s Bobby Caina Calvan: “If you could take something to the grave (and afterlife) with you, what would it be?” The feeling I had when I graduated from college –pure euphoria!

Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. This one may live on indefinitely. Make it good. What’s your biggest regret?