Jake Tapper and Mark Leibovich Interview Each Other on How to Make it in This Town

Photo credit: Janet Donovan
Jake Tapper. Photo credit: Janet Donovan

Wednesday night at Hogo, 826DC hosted an event on “How to Make it in This Town” with New York Times best selling authors Mark Leibovich (This Town) and Jake Tapper (The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor). The two sat down and spoke about and interviewed each other on their careers in Washington since the 1990s.

And in case the conversation wasn’t satiating enough, 826DC coordinated drink specials in honor of the evening’s guest speakers. For Tapper, there was “That Old Fashioned” – stag, vanilla syrup, and crazy bitters. Guests could also order the Leibovich, a Red Stripe tall boy, or the Full Leibovich, paired with a shot.

Prior to the evening’s formality, FishbowlDC had the chance to chat with Tapper, who offered some fodder as to how Leibovich can make it in this town after writing This Town. The CNN host joked, “Apologies. Lots and lots of apologies,” and later added, “He’s one of the best writers in modern journalism.”

Asked what it takes for anyone young to make it big, he added, “Here’s my advice for anybody, about anything. Work really hard. That’s the key to everything. Nobody wants to hear that because everybody wants to learn the trick – learn everyone’s middle name, show up ten minutes early for work – whatever. If you work really, really hard, and you’re good, and you’re constantly improving, that pays off.”

Photo credit: Janet Donovan
Mark Leibovich. Photo credit: Janet Donovan

Jokingly asked what advice he had on how Tapper can go about actually making it big in this town in journalism, Leibovich took the serious route and said, “I think he already has…Jake is a great ‘how to make it in journalism’ story. And he’s very handsome.”

During the 30 minute back and forth, Tapper shared his somewhat unlikely career path that led him to where he is today. “I had just a meandering path of goatees and lattes on the road in my back pocket. Working at a PR firm, and working at this and that. And I felt completely directionless and miserable.”

He went on to recall a ski trip with friends where two brothers in attendance had written a freelance story for The New Republic.

“A lightbulb went off in my head like, ‘Ohh my God. People – real people – write these things.’ The idea that I could maybe do that was an epiphany. So I started doing as many freelance stories as I could for as many places as I could and Washington City Paper ended up being the first place to hire me. It’s amazing to me when young people think that they have to have it all – the plan – at the age of 22.”

Asked by an audience member about one of the hardest stories he’s ever written, Leibovich recalled the 2010 New York Times Magazine piece on POLITICO’s Mike Allen. “I knew basically everyone in the story. And it was a classic case of writing about the water I swim in everyday. And I think a lot of people, like me for years, shy away from writing about something they knew so well. But I just thought it was important.”

He went on to add, “It was a lot of work. I had to explain to readers of The New York Times who this guy was, what POLITICO was, why you’re reading about them, why the media environment is different now, why you should care about it, and how it affects what you watch on cable, what you read in the newspaper and on the blogs, and how it sort of ripples down into our politics.”

826DC is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills.