The FishbowlDC Interview with The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta

Say hello to The Atlantic‘s Garance Franke-Ruta. By far the most challenging thing to tackle about her is her complex name. “A lot of it has to do with pronunciations,” Garance (pronounced Gaaarohnse) said in a phone call. “A lot of people  think there’s a “tz” at the end instead of a “ce.” Sometimes people resort to calling her “G” or “GFR.” Still, others have had trouble with the second syllable of her first name. And believe it or not, there’s another Garance in journalism. She’s an AP writer in California. Weirder still, the two Garances have crossed paths — in college and at WaPo. Franke-Ruta was a reporter there and Garance Burke was an intern before Franke-Ruta arrived. “For awhile people were having trouble sending me email,” she said. “Because it was going to the other Garance.” The reporter has worked at a number of Washington publications that include NJ, TNR, WCP, The American Prospect and WaPo. In December she made the move to The Atlantic. Getting back to that unusual name, Franke-Ruta is named for a character in a French film from the 1940s called Les Enfants du Paradis. No, she’s not French. But she was born in Cavaillon, France and lived there until about two months of age. What does she think o her own name and does she think the film fairly represents her? “I have seen the movie. It’s very long,” she said. “It’s a classic. And it’s very long. It’s not a name I’ll probably pass on. Let’s put it that way.”

If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be?  A Mexican Coke in one of those little glass bottles.

How often do you Google yourself?  Almost never. I have Google Alerts on my name though so I can be pointlessly notified every time I tweet see who’s picking up my items, if there’s anything I need to respond to, stay attuned to the conversation, etc.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? I had one editor who was a screamer, and another who used to floss his teeth while meeting, so it was more how they said things. Both smart men though.

Who is your favorite working journalist? I admire the work of so many different newspaper, magazine, and online journalists who are doing so many different sorts of things  — from Dan Balz to Ryan Lizza to Alexis Madrigal to Andy Carvin to the gang behind The Awl, which has had really terrific coverage of what’s going down in Madison — that it is hard to pick just one. Journalism is many different kinds of things these days, many in the midst of evolving. I’ll just say, because it’s an easier call, that of all the chatty television show hosts, Rachel Maddow is most fun to watch, perhaps because everything about her emergence as a major television personality has been unexpected and she still does things differently.

Do you have a favorite word?  I never use this one but I just love that it exists. “Anstandsrestchen” is the German word for the thing left on the plate out of politeness (you know, when no one wants to be the person to take the last of something). Because of course the Germans have a word for that.

Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? Sarah Palin, no contest. A) She’d be more likely to make news and B) I’m kind of fascinated by her.

What’s the name of your cell phone ring? Standard BB ring.

When did you last cry and why? Tuesday morning, when I found out Rev. Peter Gomes died. He was one of a kind.

What word do you routinely misspell? Reince Priebus. And I completely sympathize with any problems he’s ever had in that regard.

Find out Garance’s favorite swear word…

What swear word do you use most often? Fuck.

What word or phrase do you overuse? Indeed.

What TV show do you have to watch? All of my normal must-watch shows are on hiatus so I just got into BBC -3’s version of “Being Human” while searching for anything worth watching on Comcast On Demand.

Where do you shop most often for your clothes? Online.

Whom do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Ellen, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? I never watch any of them except as online clips when they have politicians on, but I’ve had a soft spot for Oprah since back in the day.

Pick one: Leno, Letterman or Conan? Conan.

If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? Obama, because there would be such an incentive to find him. Plus he is as chill as they come – I recall seeing him nearly get clipped by a pick-up one night in 2004 when he was running for Senate in Illinois, with not even a flinch. And the stories he could tell!

Who is your mentor? An art historian in NYC no one in DC’s heard of.

What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? “Between a fellowship and a job, always take the job. And never go anywhere for less money.” Pretty solid advice for journalists just starting out.

What and where was your first job in journalism? National Journal – as a general assignment political reporter / Jonathan Rauch’s research assistant back in the Stephen Smith-Mike Kelly days.

What’s your most embarrassing career moment? Having to get from Manchester to Porstmouth, N.H., in 2003, to cover a debate. As a New Yorker, I’d never owned a car, and, at the time, had never driven on a highway or over 50 mph. I was convinced I was going to kill myself en route and be outed as a non-driver before the entire campaign press corps. I drove the entire way there on the back roads, behind a snow plow. I took the highway on the way back and can’t tell you how happy I was when I finally got pulled over for speeding for the first time the following year.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? For obvious reasons, there’s one interview and trip I’ve thought about more often more recently – sitting down with Nawal el Saadawi in Cairo while visiting Egypt in 2006.

Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? An ex-con I spoke with while reporting on the razing of some projects in SE. Something about the way he held my hand too long and looked at me while shaking hands hello really gave me the creeps. He was also the first person I’d met who’d killed someone outside of combat.

What’s the biggest scoop you’ve ever had? I’ve mainly been editing the past few years, but I will note that I was last spring the first person to do the math and find that there were a record number of Republican women running for Congress. The NRCC hadn’t even noticed. Before that, the narrative focused more on why the GOP had so few women in office. Afterwards, we got “the year of the GOP woman.”

When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? Can’t recall but I’m sure it was something I saw online – you know, one of those things that seems hilarious at the time and then you forget immediately.

When and why did you last lose your temper? Not a fan of the subset of DC bikers who can’t decide whether they are pedestrians or vehicles. Yes, please, make that illegal left turn in front of an oncoming vehicle and then run a red. Go right ahead!

Which movie title best describes your journalism career? The Warriors.

Who would you want to play you in a movie?  One of the ladies on this list: Click here.

Name some jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): Assistant wardrobe mistress on Whit Stillman’s film Metropolitan. That’s probably the best random title.

Who should just call it a day? Eliot Spitzer.

What song do you want played at your funeral? (Question concocted by Media Matters fellow Eric Boehlert, our FBDC interview from last week): “Rebellion (Lies)” by Arcade Fire.

Finally, please come up for a question for our next FishbowlDC interviewee. Make it good. What is your party or clique?