The FishbowlDC Interview With Shashank (NOT Shawshank) Bengali

Say hello to Shashank Bengali, a D.C.-based reporter for McClatchy. He recently relocated to Washington from Nairobi, Kenya where he was the McClatchy correspondent in sub-Saharan Africa. Now a national correspondent, he admits to a little crush on FLOTUS. His first name translates to “part of the moon.” And, yes, people have mistakenly called him “Shawshank.” He says, “I’m used to it. It’s a great movie.”

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? I lived in Kenya for four years without ever getting malaria, so I guess I’d be tonic water. The British brought very few good things to their colonies but gin-and-tonics were a home run.

How often do you Google yourself? I write for a wire service so I check about once a week to see where my stories got picked up. Yeah, that sounds legitimate. Use that.

Who is your favorite working journalist? Hendrik Hertzberg

Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? I have a little crush on the First Lady and I think she’d be a lot more interesting. But my boss would want it to be Palin. Every word she says is worth about a million page views.

When did you last cry and why? The only time I’ve ever teared up at a movie was watching “The Namesake” at the E Street Cinema a few years ago. I thought it captured the whole dynamic of Indian immigrants and their first-generation families so beautifully. I called my parents and told them to see it, and I was all emotional about it. They thought it sucked.

What word do you routinely misspell? Labyrinthine

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? Classic Phone. It’s the same BlackBerry ring that everyone else on the Metro and in our newsroom has. I should really change it.

Who is your favorite active journalist? Is “active” different from “working”? We share an office with Hearst so sometimes I ride the elevator with Helen Thomas. After the career she’s had I can’t believe she actively comes to work every day. She’s kind of amazing.

What swear word do you use most often? Snow

What word or phrase do you overuse? I f–king hate snow

Read more about Bengali after the jump…

What TV show do you have to watch? “Parks and Recreation” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

Where do you shop most often for your clothes? I’m lazy, I hate shopping for clothes and our office is right above the Macy’s at Metro Center. So, yeah.

Who do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? Can I write in “Regis and Kelly”? He’s hilarious; she’s lovely.

If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? I’ll say Biden. He might not shut up but it wouldn’t be dull.

Who was your mentor? The journalism faculty at the University of Southern California

What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? If you write well, you’ll never be out of a job for long. It’s probably not true but it gives me comfort.

What and where was your first job in journalism? Writing half-baked features and movie reviews for the weekly community rag in my hometown of Cerritos, Calif. when I was in high school.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment?
In 2006, then-Senator Obama came through Kenya. I’d just gotten off a long flight and I raced to a reception to meet him. Obama was a bit late, there was a good spread of food and I was starving from the trip. I had an entire chicken skewer in my mouth when Obama opens the door, comes up to me and introduces himself. I couldn’t say a word for several seconds. It was like something out of a sitcom.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? I traveled with Sam Brownback once in Congo and we had a long talk about the humanitarian crisis there. He came off as a thoughtful and deeply compassionate person, and very likable. Too bad about the whole evolution thing.

What’s the biggest scoop you’ve ever had? In 2007 I broke the story that the Bush administration had let allies in Africa secretly imprison a young American guy who was falsely accused of terrorism in Somalia. We named the guy, wrote stories about him and our coverage helped get him released back to his family in New Jersey. Now he’s suing the U.S. for wrongful imprisonment. It was a rare case where I had a story that absolutely no one else did.