Rebel Without a Pause: 35 Years of John Stanton

If you don't know Roll Call's John Stanton, you should. Perhaps the last true renegade on Capitol Hill, "Stanton" is not afraid to go against the grain. To know him is to know a rollercoaster - delightfully thrilling and terrifying all at once. FBDC's favorite rock & roll journo turns 35 today, so we [politely and cautiously] asked him for an interview.

john stanton.jpg

If you don’t know Roll Call’s John Stanton, you should. Perhaps the last true renegade on Capitol Hill, “Stanton” is not afraid to go against the grain. To know him is to know a rollercoaster – delightfully thrilling and terrifying all at once. FBDC’s favorite rock & roll journo turns 35 today, so we [politely and cautiously] asked him for an interview.

Today is your birthday, is this the way you imagined life at 35?

Well, I’m sober and wearing pants, so not exactly…at least as far as the birthday goes. As for life, I generally only have immediate and VERY long term plans, so 35 never really occurred to me until recently. I do, however, have a damn good idea of how life best be when I’m 85.

Why journalism? Why political journalism?

Well, in 1997 after college my then-wife and I moved back to DC and into my folks’ basement. After several weeks of blissful unemployment, my father threatened to have repo men forcibly dispossess me of the notion that I could, in fact, freeload indefinitely and that it was in my best interests to find gainful employment. Seeing as how the news business is in the family, he helpfully suggested that I pursue a career in journalism.
As for why political journalism, why the hell would I do anything else?

Do you think your physical appearance has helped or hindered your career?

Helped, mostly. People are either afraid of me or presume I’m too stupid to catch on to the game they’re attempting to run, both of which tend to work in my favor.

Are you as tough as you look?

Clearly.

Are you afraid of anyone on Cap Hill?

Aside from a healthy terror of anyone with a badge and a gun, the only person I’m afraid of is Jackie “Crazy Eye” Kucinich. Images of her infamous street battle with Cleveland police back in 1991 still haunt me.

Is it true that you were the catalyst for an imposed press dress code?

Naw, nothing so dramatic. The powers-that-be were rightly concerned that my relaxed look was under-cutting my awesomeness, and suggested a make over. I resisted at first, but I think the whole punk rock mortician look suits me. And as my main man Boo Dixon says, “nothin’ scares ’em more than when big boys like us dress nice.”

Who is your dream interview?

My grandfather, the original John Stanton. Not only was he the managing editor of the Chicago Daily News and the prototypical newsman, but he was a certifiable Irish-Catholic Mack.

What was your proudest career moment?

There’s a few – breaking the story on how Republicans used bloggers and Jeff Gannon to undermine the credibility of the Argus Leader in the Daschle-Thune race, my work on the myriad federal investigations into Sen. Stevens and having my stories on Rep. Lipinksi’s chief of staff picked up by the Chicago Sun Times, bringing back the Stanton name to Chicagoland reporting. Also, the time a certain former chairman of a very powerful House Committee called me a “son of a bitch.”

Who do you admire most in your industry?

Roll Call’s own Paul Singer and Charlie Mitchell, who are better reporters than I can hope to ever be. Salon’s dynamic duo Mike Madden and Mark Benjamin. Mark’s stories – including his breaking of the Walter Reed story a year before the other guys found it – make me cry. And Mike’s prose make you laugh, angry and think hard on whatever it is he’s writing about. Mitch Prothero, a freelancer based out of Beirut who’s the double threat of journalism – a fine reporter AND a great shooter. And last but certainly not least, I can’t forget the Wall Street Journal’s John Wilke and Glenn Simpson. They personify I.F. Stone’s dream of hard-hitting investigative journalists and are simply the best. Period.

What is your industry pet-peeve?

Self-referential “reporting” where reporters and editors insert themselves into their stories, and then write follow up stories on the stories about their stories. I really don’t care to read self-congratulatory stories or long navel gazing pieces on just how cute some “new media” publication thinks it is.
Also, the sacrifice of quality reporting at the alter of “winning” the increasingly short news cycles we all seem to be working on. I’m all for getting the story out first, but when it starts to interfere with the production of thoughtful, quality writing and reporting, it undermines the entire craft and does our readers a grave disservice.

Check out Stanton’s hilarious answers to some of our “obligatory questions” after the jump. Happy birthday, big guy!


What is something that most of your colleagues don’t know about you?

I’ve never been arrested and I have two kittens named Left and Right.

Favorite DC bar? Favorite DC restaurant?

Dc9 / Horace and Dickies, Marvin, Bistro du Coin and Fogo de Chao, in no order

If you were a carbonated beverage, what would you be?

Sparkling Hatorade