Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 18

Mike Grunwald, Journalist

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Show notes

Mike Grunwald is a journalist and the author of two books, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise, and The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. He has worked for The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Time and is currently a senior writer for Politico Magazine. Mike has earned several journalism awards and is currently working on a book for Simon & Schuster about food, land and climate change. You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeGrunwald.


Key points include:

  • 05:57: Behind the scenes in Washington, D.C.
  • 10:25: Cultivating sources as a journalist
  • 17:53: Involvement with the Everglades
  • 35:43: Proudest career moments

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Ep.18.Michael Grunwald


Mike Grunwald, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman and I’m so excited to be here today with my friend from college. Michael Grunwald Mike, welcome to the show.


Mike Grunwald  00:17

Hey, thanks for having me. Will,


Will Bachman  00:19

Mike, we spent together time together at the Harvard Crimson where you were sports editor and tell me about your journey since since graduation.


Mike Grunwald  00:30

Oh, wow. Yeah, that was feels like yesterday, I guess. Maybe a lot of yesterdays ago. You know, I kind of got the journalism bug at the Crimson. Yeah, I did. I was did sports. Then I was the editorial chair. And I was writing sports for the Boston Globe over the summers. And, and then right after college, I went straight to the globe as just kind of a cub reporter, you know, doing nightcaps, covering zoning board meetings. Learning how people lived was that the law of I basically then did have sort of had a seven year itch I did every job for seven years, I was at the Globe for seven years, I went to the Washington Post for seven or eight years. Then I was at Time Magazine for another seven years. And finally, Politico magazine, which I just left last year and did a couple books while I was in the models, journalism organizations, and now I’m, I quit to be unemployed and worked on my latest book, you know, without without a boss hovering over


Will Bachman  01:41

  1. That is awesome. Let’s talk about some of your books. So you’ve got two books out the swamp, the Everglades, Florida and the politics of paradise. And the new New Deal, the hidden story of change in the Obama era. I got to say the New Deal is one of my favorite books ever, on politics, government. And just I wish there was more books like that, that actually get into the details of these big spinning bills, like often the press just the what you get in the newspaper. It’s always just so thin. It’s like, oh, you know, Democrats proposed a $900 billion spending bill and the Republicans want to 800 billion or something. It’s just you don’t get into the details. Tell me a little bit about the new new deal about about the process of writing that book.


Mike Grunwald  02:30

Oh, thanks. Well, I mean, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, I guess one of the great on the record sources, and one of the real architects of the economic policy I was writing about it was a member of our class, Jason Furman, who was incredibly helpful. And as everybody knows, incredibly smart. You know, I was funny, I, I did that book while I was at Time Magazine. And, you know, it’s a it’s a book, mostly about the Obama administration’s response to the financial crisis, the Recovery Act, it’s sort of famous stimulus bill. And, you know, my, I had my first child in March 2008. In a right, I think it was a week after Bear Stearns collapsed. And, and my, so I kind of missed the financial crisis a little bit, you know, I sort of was, you know, in kid world. And, and by the time I started paying attention to the Obama stimulus bill, you know, I just said, wow, you know, $800 billion. That seems like a big deal. And since I was really interested in climate and energy stuff, I was like, wow, there’s $90 billion for clean energy. That’s like 30 times more than we’ve ever spent in a year. That’s crazy. I didn’t really realize how to most of Washington, the stimulus had become this kind of giant joke. So it was kind of interesting experience. I was already living in Florida. So it’s a little bit outside the group think. And, and I kind of got to report it, even though it was in real time. And, you know, the book is about the first Obama term, which I was reporting in the middle of, it was almost like doing history. Since I kind of missed the the initial year. And it was, it was great, you know, is it sort of got to talk to everybody, you know, and both it was I had a whole chapter about the kind of Republican plot to destroy Obama before he even took office. I was very fortunate that I really started reporting the book, right after the Republicans took you took back Congress and took back the House and 2010. So they were all excited to brag about their, you know, their great plot and how they made it happen. So it really kind of worked out it was, you know, I had done my Florida book, a lot of it while I was living in Washington. And then it was kind of interesting to do a Washington book while I was living in Florida.


Will Bachman  05:24

Tell me about some story that you learned while you’re working on that book of just how things work behind the scenes that you felt really illustrated just how Washington actually ends up with a final budget, maybe some things are very last minute, we’re all sorts of things are getting voted on real quick and someone slips it in or, or someone who’s you know, thoughtful, very strategic at working over a long term. And they were able to get these things in the bill. What What’s the story or two that really stood out for you?


Mike Grunwald  05:57

Sure. Well, I mean, there was one thing that was really interesting about the Obama people is, look, I’ve always been kind of a policy dork. I kind of started learning about politics, because I realized that, you know, if you want to write about policy, if you try to ignore the politics here, you’re missing half, at least half the story. But a lot of these Obama guys were real, you know, techno nerds, kind of my people, in a way, you know, including Jason. And so, I remember doing a lot of report, and my favorite example is now kind of well known. But, uh, but I wrote about the, in the initial Obama stimulus when they were putting together, they were trying to decide how to just give people money. And, and, of course, you know, I’d take an F 10, which Jason now teaches at Harvard. But I think we both took it with Marty Feldstein. And, and we had learned the sort of Keynesian basics about how, you know, you just need to throw money into the economy. And, and, you know, even if you’re just paying people to dig up, dig up holes and fill them back in. That’s pretty good. But there was a really interesting debate inside the Obama economic team, about behavioral economics, where some of the economists were arguing, hey, you know, we shouldn’t just give out this money. Because what we found is that when people see they’re getting a, you know, a big windfall, they’re more likely to save it, and we want them to spend it. So we’re not just going to hand out checks. We’re in fact going to dribble it out a few dollars a week through reduced withholding, so people won’t even notice that they’re, that they’re getting this extra money, and they’ll be more likely to spend it, which is kind of good economics. But the thing about giving people money so that they don’t notice it, is that they don’t notice it. So at the time, they were Rahm Emanuel was free, you know, screaming, he was like, This is crazy. We got to get people there, Ed McMahon moment, you know, he was talking about, you know, we’re old. So we all remember the the Ed McMahon Publishers Clearing House commercials, where would you tell people they they win the lottery and give them the big check. And so the long story short is that Obama did it the outside I guess not that short. But Obama did it the economist way, you know, the kind of dorky technocrat way. And they dribbled it out a few few hours a week. And, and I think a year later, it came out that 5% of the country knew that Obama had given them a touch a tax cut. It was fewer, it was sort of fewer people knew knew about it, they knew that then believe that Elvis was alive. So it was, you know, a kind of classic example of how sort of no good deed goes unpunished. You know, the basic takeaway of the Obama stimulus was that it really was pretty good policy in many ways, and really did help prevent second Great Depression, and helped jumpstart this clean energy economy where we now have solar and wind and electric vehicles. Did a lot of did a lot of pretty cool things. But it was a political disaster. Everybody hated it. And, you know, two years later, Obama was, you know, completely, you know, had this huge rebuke in the midterm elections, and the stimulus is still kind of remembered as a joke. So, certainly, I mean, that was, for me a big takeaway of from writing about Washington intensely for the first time was the the idea that, you know, good policy is not necessarily good politics. And, and there is a little bit of that sense that the public if, you know, did Lassie save that baby in the well today, you know the public would yell at him for, you know tracking mud on the carpet.


Will Bachman  10:15

Talk to me about cultivating sources as a journalist over a period of years or even decades about, about what that’s like.


Mike Grunwald  10:25

You know, I’m pretty bad at it, honestly. I mean, it’s funny. When I was first hired at the Washington Post, by, you know, classic Harvard nepotism by my friend Susan Glasser, who’s classic nine, we worked together at the Crimson. She hired me and the at the time, the only job available was on the national staff was covering the Justice Department, which was a real sort of, you know, cultivating sources be. And I just sucked at it. I was so terrible. I mean, I remember my first day, they, they threw me it was the day the guys shut up, shut up the capital. And at that point, I’m not even sure I don’t think I even realized that the FBI was part of the Justice Department. They had me come at me, they had me, they told me some some guy who you could call the post could call the Justice Department. And he would confirm or deny things. I remember it was my first day, I got this guy on the phone, and I’m like, Hey, I’m the new Justice reporter at the post. We’ve got this, the name of the shooter, his name is Russell Weston. Is that right? And can you confirm that? And he said, No. And I said, What was the Russell what right? You said no. I said is the Western right? And he said no. And I kind of confidently walked back to the national desk with my first new piece of information. I was like, Nope, that’s not it. And as I was saying, A CNN was showing a picture of Russell Weston’s driver’s license, TV guy, like made a fool of myself already. I’ve never been good at cultivating sources. I always admire the kind of journalists who find out things that people don’t want you to know. I’ve always been more of a journalist who kind of writes about stuff that’s hidden in plain sight. And that’s much easier genre where I talk to people about stuff that I’m interested in, usually they’re interested to. And, and, you know, people who are doing interesting things usually like to talk about it, especially if they think the person they’re talking to his interested. We’re humans that way. And that’s pretty much been my, you know, way of cultivating sources. I mean, right now, I’m, you know, I’m writing about food and agriculture and climate change. And, and, you know, most people I talk to, they’re just so thrilled that somebody cares, even if they think, you know, my take on might be different than theirs. They’re usually just happy to talk.


Will Bachman  13:11

What’s your, what’s a typical week, like, for you? You know, as a journalist, let’s say before he started this current book, which I imagine is a slightly different sort of schedule, but as sort of a typical week working at Time magazine or the Washington Post.


Mike Grunwald  13:29

You know, I mean, it’s kind of boring. I mean, journalism is, I mean, the job is fascinating, but describing it as, you know, an incredibly prosaic, you know, you call people and then you write down what they say. And then you, you know, and then, you know, if you’re working on, you know, longer term story, hopefully, you get to go somewhere and look at what people are doing. You know, I remember, Bob Woodward once told me that every morning before 8am, he used to, he used to leave 30 voicemails for sources. And, you know, and then he would spend the rest of the day sort of fielding their calls. You know, I’ve never had that kind of work ethic. But I have been lucky since, you know, after my first few years in journalism, have mostly been working on longer term stuff. And I think it’s like any research project, you know, you see what’s been written before you see what there is to learn and then you talk to everybody you need to talk to. And on every side of the issue, I’ve I guess, I’ve always sort of believed in at least half of the, the fair and balanced slogan, right. I mean, you’ve you’ve got to be fair, I don’t think you got to be balanced. But you have to have an open mind and talk to everybody. And that’s pretty much what I what I tried to do I, you know, figure out who knows stuff And then see if they’ll tell me stuff.


Will Bachman  15:04

One thing I’ve always wondered about is journalists who write books. How in the world do you manage to do a book while you are, like, holding down a regular job? Do people do this to sort of in the evenings or the weekends? Or does your employer gives you a little bit of slack and time to work on it? Like, how does that work?


Mike Grunwald  15:23

Well, I only really did that once I took a book leave to do the swamp. When I when I was at the Washington Post, because the post was just amazing. You know, it’s the whole national staff was doing books, and it was like, it was and they were just great about letting you go and, and do your thing. Time magazine was less great. But I don’t think my you know, the, the editor of time while I was while I was there, I think was probably not, you know, I don’t think he really thought I was very good. So I didn’t really have that much to do at the time. And, and, you know, and I was writing stories about the Obama administration, which and then we ended up, you know, when the book came out, I think we use like, four excerpts from the book when in Time Magazine, so they ended up being also pretty good about letting me do my thing. And then I, you know, ended up essentially leaving political magazine because I decided I couldn’t juggle, juggle the book and, and the reporting that I was trying to do so. So I guess, you know, if somebody had to explain how to do it, I wouldn’t be the best I did. You know, when I even when I was at time, it was it was really terrible. And I have these, you know, it’s kind of a joke in my family. That time my daughter, Lena, she was a baby. While I was while I was churning out, churning out the new New Deal. And that was the one book that I did, reasonably quickly. And it was pretty intense. And I have these, you know, we would joke about how I pretty much missed Linda’s first year, and then you know, kind of saw her when she was 18 month and I was like, Hey, we have a cute kid. What happened? Julia, I used to, I used to, she used to knock on my door when I was working. And I you know, she was like, 12,000,012 months, 14 months. And she and I opened the door and she’d say, kick ball me. And, and of course, I’d have to go outside and kick a soccer ball with her for, you know, when she was like barely bigger than the ball. Now she’s, you know, 12 and is on this intensely competitive soccer team. But, you know, I get to, I always claimed that that was the only time I saw her when I when I was mired in Obama world.


Will Bachman  17:44

Tell me about the swamp, what got you so interested in the Everglades that you decided to spend a good chunk of your life writing a book about it?


Mike Grunwald  17:53

I mean, it was a real, you know, it’s real serendipity. It changed my life. I, you know, I got obsessed with the Army Corps of Engineers when I was at the Washington Post. I mean, the story that I think I mentioned, I, you know, I flamed out of that job covering the Justice Department, I was just awful at it. Then they gave me a job covering Congress, where I was really just as bad I was, you know, I was I was not good at covering a beat. And, you know, they’re really incredible stories about my incompetence on those beats. But uh, but finally, the, the managing editor Steve Cole was like, Look, you know, just write about stuff. I don’t care just, you know, find something interesting to write about. That’s kind of your up your alley, something policy wise. And bizarrely, I ended up stumbling into the Army Corps of Engineers, and spent a year writing about how they were building all these like preposterous water projects that were destroying the environment and wasting money all over the country. It was just incredibly fun. And then the final story was supposed to be about how the kind of future of the Army Corps, how they were getting their act together and they were going to fix the mistakes they’ve made in the past, like in the Everglades, where they kind of helped destroy the Everglades. And now they were in charge of the largest environmental restoration project in the history of the world to try to fix it. So that was my first time. Actually, it wasn’t. It was my first time visiting the Everglades was in the summer of 2001 to 1002 1000. And it was pretty it was almost my first time in Florida. And it was the summer it was disgusting. You know, mosquitoes. The Everglades is not like the Grand Canyon. It’s not one of those places where you go, you go and you’re just spellbound. I would say it’s kind of more who it’s more keen than Ooh, and ah. And it’s always just like, What the hell is this place? But, you know, I ended up realizing that there was This incredible story about this restoration plan because it was it was a mess. And then once I, I got the post to let me do an entire series, just about the Everglades and restoration and how screwed up it was, was while I was doing that, I started to realize that like, you know, there’s kind of incredible story about Florida, you know, because it all pretty much used to be a swamp. And now there are 20 million people here. How did that happen? And it’s really the story of the kind of destruction and attempted resurrection of the Everglades. So I ended up moving to Florida to do the book. I you know, I met a girl you know, married her ended up, you know, contributing to Florida’s overpopulation problems. But, uh, but yeah, it was completely serendipity. I was not one of those New York kids who visited Florida during the winter I had a I had only been there before I started working on the Everglades stuff I’d only been there once to cover the the Andrew Cunanan Versace murder thing.


Will Bachman  21:07

You mentioned some moments of incompetence at the post that love to hear a couple of those stories. Oh,


Mike Grunwald  21:13

God. I mean, well, what I love to tell is, so again, this was also an probably still my first month covering the Justice Department. And, and you know, what we were, there were these bombings in the US embassies in East Africa, which, much to my shock, they were like, that’s your story. That’s my story. I don’t even couldn’t even find, you know, Tanzania on a map. But so at one point, Steve called the, you know, the sort of at the time, he was the brilliant Managing Editor of the post, probably no, he wrote ghost Wars, The Secret History of these CIA in Afghanistan. And basically this guy who kind of knew everything, he walked by my desk and said, you know, there’s, you know, I got a tip that there’s a, there’s a sealed indictment, and I think it was the Eastern District of New York, for Osama bin Laden. You know, who at the time we sort of barely heard of, but you know, got it started getting a lot of attention, because people thought he had bombed these embassies. I was like, oh, okay, that’s cool. He’s like, Well, if you can confirm it, you know, that’s a great story. See if you see if you can get the FBI to confirm it. And at this point, I already had my, you know, guy at the FBI. So I called him up and I said, Hey, you know, we heard there’s this sealed indictment for Osama bin Laden. Can you confirm it? He said, Well, Mike, I wouldn’t steer you away from that. I said, Oh, thanks. Thanks. That’s awesome. But I really need you to confirm it. He said, Well, I can’t do that. But I really wouldn’t steer you away from that. And like a frickin moron. I said, Oh, well, and told and told Cole, I couldn’t confirm it. And like two days later, it was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. And I called back my source. And I was like, what, why couldn’t you confirm it? He’s like, I told you, I wouldn’t steer you away from it at that point. And that they did like leak investigations where he would have to, you know, say under oath, that he hadn’t confirmed it. But I was so clueless about how Washington works, how reporting works. It’s really kind of remarkable that I was gonna say that I didn’t get fired. I’ve had, you know, basically did get fired from government in the Justice Department. But then I didn’t get fired from the post.


Will Bachman  23:41

What are some other rules of Washington that you learned over time of people will say one thing to communicate something that it takes some cultural literacy to understand?


Mike Grunwald  23:55

Yeah, I mean, Washington was a weird place. I mean, I, you know, it’s, it’s a company town. It’s a very interesting company. So there are a lot of people in Washington doing interesting things. And, you know, when I first got there, I was really sort of put off by the place particularly, you know, it was during the STARR investigation, and everybody was so obsessed with with it, and it was almost like, you know, you’re kind of important at a dinner party or whatever it was kind of like by how connected you were with the, with the various players in the, you know, that were sort of parading across the front page every day. And everything was so political, everything was viewed through such a politics lens. When I think I mentioned that, you know, I’m sort of more of a government dork. You know, how do these things work? But, you know, after a while, you know, I did, I did learn, you know, I, I did find my policy people in Washington and you learn that there are just a ton of people doing incred Of all wonky work, because they want government to work better. And, you know, didn’t ever see, you know, they kind of come out of their hidey holes to go on C span, you know, every couple of years. But otherwise, they’re completely anonymous. But they’re, you know, just a wealth of information. And then there’s this kind of, you know, sort of the Washington everybody pays attention to, you know, which is mostly about politics. And I, you know, had to learn was relevant to the stuff I worked on, because you can’t write about transportation or finance or climate. Without understanding the politics. It’s really important, but certainly, you know, I found the policy stuff more interesting, and the policy people more palatable. And, and it also felt like policy was something where, you know, one of the things that interested me about it was, it was something where you could really figure shit out. You know, there’s, you know, there were kind of, if there weren’t right and wrong answers, they were better answers and worse answers. Well, politics, it always felt like everybody was just talking out of their ass. Nobody really knew what people liked. You know, I never I thought for a while, when I was in Washington, I was dating a pollster, you know, kind of worked at one of the big polling firms. And, you know, I would hear about, about, you know, about the polls and how they, you know, they call 20 people in one would answer, and it just all sounded like bullshit to me. I don’t think anybody really knows what anybody thinks. And I don’t think we’ve really figured out how to how to know. So I always thought that there were a lot of people with a lot of big ideas about politics and sort of Florida. You know, what, Tim Geithner, who I worked with, later used to call excess confidence relative to knowledge.


Will Bachman  26:58

What’s curious about your model of a, let’s say, congressional representative in that my, my wife recently worked on just a local campaign, right for local city council in New York. And it was so hard, so much work, you know, to go out there and organize people to hit the streets and raise funds and get noticed and get attention. I mean, super hard for a small local election, which suggests to me that people they get elected to Congress, that is a hard thing to do. A lot of people want that job, it’s hard to do that they must be good at something. But people didn’t have a fairly low rep, you know, kind of perception, right, of the capabilities of going there. So what’s your mental model for the kind of person that gets elected? What are they good at?


Mike Grunwald  27:53

They’re smart, most of them are smart. And most of them are. Most of them are people. Know, people, people, you know, they’re, you know, they’re good. They like being around people. They’re good talkers. They’re shrewd. And they’re kind of I think all of that is sort of underrated. What I found them just sort of eternally disappointing was their, their lack of curiosity, their, I guess you’d call it lack of courage, they all just, you know, they all came and did the same shit. You know, and it was partly maybe because they had to go sit in the, you know, in the the D Triple C offices for six hours a day, dialing for dollars. But, um, you know, I always thought like, God, you know, you’re in Congress have like, three things that are your thing, you know, that you become the expert on, but there was shockingly little interest in that and shocking little interest in, in doing everything, but just kind of what was expected of you. So, so yeah, a lot of like, kind of challenging people who I’m sure would have been, you know, good middle managers at very large companies. But, uh, but you know, not a lot, you know, obviously, they’re totally exceptions. Where you’re like, God, that person is just so impressive and, and some real, like, kind of public minded, most of them, most of them aren’t there just because they’re like, you know, just to get ahead. Most of them have some kind of belief. They think they’re doing the right thing. But, but not a lot of courage and, you know, an incredible amount of groupthink.


Will Bachman  29:44

Yeah. I wonder if the courage piece if there’s something almost Darwinian about it, where if someone is, you know, very independent minded and doesn’t just follow the party orthodoxy and, you know, dives into some issue, maybe He goes against party lines or something, those people, just the way the system works will get weeded out. Right. So yeah, you know, so that, if you try to do that, then you will get weeded out so that the system sort of selects for people that will be willing to kind of go along with, with what the party line is, even if they know that it’s kind of BS.


Mike Grunwald  30:23

I mean, certainly, when I was there, I mean, it wasn’t, you know, I didn’t live there during the Trump era. Or even, you know, or even, you know, I’d already moved down here before the, before the Obama era, though, I was spending a lot of time there. But obviously, I was sort of aware of the polarization. That, you know, infected everything. And, you know, everybody hung around with their own, you know, it was all shirts and skins, everybody hung around with their own team. So, you know, which reduce the incentive to, you know, to piss off the people you are spending all your time with. I remember this one guy, I mean, I don’t really buy this, but I remember when I, one guy, I knew had this whole theory that, that Airline Deregulation was responsible for a lot of a lot of the problems in Washington, because a lot of the congressmen who used to hang out in Washington all weekend and, you know, get to meet the other, you know, the other team and, and hang out, instead, they got to fly home to their, you know, to their districts every week. You know, I don’t know if it was that. But look, I do think that there’s, you know, it’s, it’s a very unpleasant process right now. And, and it is a, it has become this disgusting team sport, which I think has attracted the kind of, you know, the kind of people who are comfortable in that, you know, and that, certainly, the young, you know, a lot of the younger, a lot of the younger people are less people I would want to hang out with, because they’re, you know, they’re there because they want, they’re there to be on a team. And, and, look, you know, I probably get in trouble for saying this. But I think a lot of the journalists who cover Washington, particularly Washington politics, you know, they also kind of liked that game, they also they like covering team sports. And, and, and being a policy journalist is a lot less rewarding than it used to be even, you know, at the risk of sounding like an ancient person. But, you know, even 20 years ago, when I was writing about this stuff, I would feel like, you know, there was a sense of, you know, that I was trying to figure out new things and, and interesting ways of thinking about problems, and that my readers were, you know, were interested in that, too. You know, and we could talk all day about the problems journalism has on the supply side, but there’s a real problem on the demand side, too, you know, I found that, like, you know, by, you know, I guess by, you know, certainly by the Obama era, it felt like, it felt like most readers, they weren’t looking for information, they were looking for ammunition. And, you know, and it was just an all the feedback I got was, you know, it was, it was all either like, you know, you know, thank you or fuck you. And, you know, you don’t really want to hear either one of those. You, you know, as a journalist you want to, you know, you want to engage with, you know, the actual issues. You know, you don’t want to be perceived as, you know, as sort of carrying somebody’s water. And, and I just think so I think that kind of polarization, which is, you know, every everything that happens in Washington, and increasingly, a lot of things that happen in the country. It does, you know, sort of cast the pall over the whole business.


Will Bachman  34:01

What are some journalists or writers that you follow? Either at major publications or or if you want to listen to sub stacks or newsletters that you subscribe to?


Mike Grunwald  34:10

Oh, oh, that’s a great question. Well, just I mean, off the top of my head, because you asked about the sub stacks. I mean, what I definitely do with Lacey is who I know, you know, I know pretty well, and I think he does a great job. I do David Roberts. Because who I think is like a really great climate writer. And climate. There are a lot of people who have, you know, I read their stuff, and my favorite is probably Betsy Kolbert at the New Yorker. Bill McKibben, whose politics are not always mine, but I think he does a great job of former former crimson president you know, I think they’re I, I should be it’s one of those things right. Yeah. I hate to Uh, you know, single people out because there’s so many, so many great people I read. But yeah, I certainly, you know, gravitate more towards the, you know, the great policy writers and the great narrative writers, you know, people who want to work with, you know, Katelyn, boo. More now you can read, you know, the read like David grant, I really sort of admire that kind of work.


Will Bachman  35:24

Fantastic. What’s other than your family? Which sort of everybody’s kind of obligated to say, what’s, what’s something that you’re real proud of? Whether it’s a story or a book, or something else that you’ve done at work? What are some kind of real proud moments for you?


Mike Grunwald  35:43

Ah. You know, I mean, you know, I don’t know not to, you know, blow off your question, but I do think one of the, you know, as you, you know, as we get older and hopefully minimally wiser, you do start to realize that whatever you’ve accomplished at work, it is, you know, you know, like sands in the hourglass, right, I mean, you know, nobody, nobody’s going to give a shit. Second, your take your last breath, you know, and that really what matters more the, you know, the, you know, the people you love and who love you. That said, look, the swamp was the the swamp was, is really something that, you know, has been able to, especially since I live and live in Miami now. It’s been a nice way for me to connect with people in Florida. It’s certainly a, you know, it’s a book that is a tattle tale long life. And that, you know, I think has helped people understand, you know, this is like a very strange state with a incredibly weird relationship with our natural environment. And, you know, I hope that the book is sort of helped people understand that a little bit better. And it’s very nice that I still, you know, not every week, but certainly a few times a month, I’ll hear from somebody who read it or you know, discovered it and, you know, has something to say about it. And it’s not only people who have who have listened to the audiobook and want to complain that the guy who read it mispronounced Kissimmee with to hear that, that’s probably, I guess, I would say, like, once every two months, I’ll hear some very. But, ya know, I’m, look, I’m, you know, I came into journalism. So, you know, I was like a snotty Harvard kid. I had opportunities to go to places like, you know, the New Republic, you know, very young, I was offered the, even at the, when I was at the globe, I had a chance to be the Boston Red Sox beat writer, which was, like, a big prestigious job there. And then, you know, later in my career, I certainly I, you know, I could have been the White House reporter, I’ve had lots of opportunities to, you know, be, I guess, more of a more of a brand or more of, you know, be on TV more. And I guess I’m proud that I never went in that direction, that I really tried to be more of a reporter, and more of it and, and, and, you know, stupid things, but like, you know, I haven’t had like a ton of bad corrections. I made like a horrible mistake. My first month at the Boston Globe, I wrote a profile of a company and got the name of the company wrong through the whole profile. And, you know, sort of learned a lesson like, oh, you know, I gotta take this shit seriously. So I’m kind of, you know, not like, I haven’t screwed up stories or written stories that didn’t hold up that well. You know, I wrote the time cover about Marco Rubio, which, you know, had the infamous cover line, the Republican Savior. I wrote a piece in 2009, about Republicans where the cover line was endangered species, so that didn’t, that didn’t hold up so well. Like, you know, I’ve certainly made my share of you know, idiocies. But I think like, I tried to go about the job with you know, I think the right attitude of like, you know, that I don’t know stuff and I want to learn stuff. And then I want to explain stuff that I have learned. And I think that’s that’s, you know, I think if you look at my body of work, you know, I haven’t I’m not like, I’m not super brilliant. One of those people who can like explain this super complicated science or, but But what I’ve been pretty good at, I think is taking stuff that’s a little bit complicated. And, you know, not like super complicated, but just like a little complicated and trying to make that, you know, palatable for, and hopefully entertaining for people. And that’s, you know, I guess, as a body of work, I’m pretty proud of that. And, you know, I’m still, I’m still at it, I hope this this book I’m working on now is it certainly, you know, I think is more excited about that than I’ve been about anything else, it’s about how to feed the world without frying the world, kind of food and climate. And I do the, you know, I’ve tried in my career to take on, you know, the sort of big, big issues that are, you know, about humanity and nature, and, you know, economies that I think are, you know, we all, we only get one spin around, right on the blue marble, and, you know, and so I want to try to write about stuff that I think is important, and try to understand it a little bit better and help others. I think that’s kind of all you can, all you can do, even if, you know, I think if you’re, you’re not going to be remembered by how many followers you had on, on Instagram, or, you know, or even necessarily by, you know, some great DC wrote. So all you can do is just sort of try to, you know, do your work the best you can. And then, even though you said you don’t want to you don’t want me to talk about it, like, you know, I think then, you know, get the family side, right, because in the end, that’s what matters the most.


Will Bachman  41:45

I think it’s really cool that you included in your answer of things you’re proud of prestigious jobs that you didn’t take, that’s pretty cool. Talk to me a little bit about any courses or professors you had in school that had some long term effect on you, whether professional or not just maybe it’s something that just sparked a side interest, but any, any courses or professors that you had in at Harvard


Mike Grunwald  42:14

you know, how to, I mean, only the the courses I remember that I loved the most have almost nothing to do with, you know, the work I ended up doing I love I loved Helen vendler his poetry class. You know, I love the that art I took in architecture, history of architecture with now I’ve even forgotten the guy’s name that I loved. I, you know, I took you know, I loved Stanley Hoffman’s International Relations class. And then I think I’ve spent in my career a total of six months maybe doing foreign reporting and, you know, 30 years doing, you know, national reporting. Really, for me, the, you know, my biggest takeaways from college were, were working on the crimson and and meeting and meeting my best friends.


Will Bachman  43:03

We return to the Department of Culture, we’re asked for what recommendations do you have of either books or movies, art dance that you often recommend to your friends?


Mike Grunwald  43:20

Oh, wow. You know, gosh you know, it’s always like, what was the last book right? I mean, you know, my sort of classic books that I you know, I’m kind of like everybody else’s maybe, you know, you know, I love the power broker as much as everybody you know, and common ground and, you know, The Warmth of Other Suns. Current really predictable stuff. But you know, yeah, again, it’s like one of those things where, hey, you know, I just read my friend Susan and, and Peter’s book about about James Baker’s, you know, is great,


Will Bachman  44:01

man who ran Washington that is a fantastic


Mike Grunwald  44:05

exactly, um, you know, right now I’m, I’m so I’m so deep in climate world that, you know, that it’s hard for me to think about non non climate books,


Will Bachman  44:15

what books on climate have? Have you found really important as you’re shaping your thinking?


Mike Grunwald  44:22

Well, again, Betsy, Betsy Colbert’s books are so good. And McKibben, do. You know, Bill Murray, Bill McKibben and I remember reading the end of nature, back when I was, you know, the kid at the Globe, and I remember his, his other book that had a real impact on me. I remember writing a column about it now, probably 30 years ago, when they gave me they tried to make me their generation X columnist at the Boston Globe when that was still, you know, a thing for 20 Somethings. But he wrote a book called The For the age of missing information, and it was about, I remember he spent 2024 hours watching. Like, every error he watched 24 hours of this was when we were like in the 500 channel cable universe, He taped every cable channel and watched it all.


Will Bachman  45:18

I remember that book. Yeah, I didn’t read it, but I’m like, Who would torture themselves doing that? Oh, my God.


Mike Grunwald  45:23

And then he spent 24 hours sitting in nature. And he wrote a day, you know, he compared him, but in remember, that was like, before the internet, but it was about sort of what we’re missing. So things like that. But I mean, you know, you know, on another cultural stuff, you know, I used to be super into theater. But since I moved to Miami, I haven’t, you know, I don’t go to the theater, like I used to, like I did in Washington when I was going to Shakespeare, or certainly when I was living in New York, and going on Broadway. And, you know, so I just watched the same kind of, you know, prestige TV that everybody else does. I just went through the, you know, I’m going through his arc, and it just flashed winning time, which of course was, which, of course, was fun, since I’m a rabid basketball fan. But, you know, my kind of cultural existence where I, you know, write the magazine stories, play a lot of tennis, do some yoga, and hang out with my family. That’s pretty much it.


Will Bachman  46:29

Remind us of your title of your upcoming book. And when when it’s coming out?


Mike Grunwald  46:35

Well, that’s the working title is eating the earth. And it’s come out when I finished it, I guess. But I do I have started writing a column about food and climate for culinary media, which is also called eating the earth. And I’m about to start a podcast of my own, which is that well, not just my own, because I have a partner, The Washington Post food columnist, Tamar Haspel. It’s going to be called Climate wars. So that’s starting in June.


Will Bachman  47:06

Fantastic. Any links Mike, you want to give for people that want to track what you have going on?


Mike Grunwald  47:15

Well, I guess you can follow me on Twitter, I guess. Probably the best way to it’s at my Grunwald and I am starting, I am starting a I have started as substack though rates right now. It’s just like a free substack. It’s called admissions. And, and right now I’m just sending out links to my, to my columns, mostly, and when the podcast starts the podcast, but at some point, when I, you know, when I’m closer to done with my book, I am going to start emitting regularly and I think, you know, in some ways, I feel like, maybe I was always meant to be a blogger. And so, the final I’m gonna get my chance, like, you know, 20 years after blogs died.


Will Bachman  47:58

All right. Well, we will include those links in the show notes. Mike, it’s been such a joy, hearing your stories and catching up. Thank you very much for coming on the show.


Mike Grunwald  48:08

Thanks for Thanks for doing this. Well, it’s really it’s really cool. And it’s, it’s, I hope, I hope it’s I’m still not 100% Sure, I’ll make it through Union, but I hoped I hope to do it.


Will Bachman  48:19

Hope to see you there. And listeners, you can go to 92 Sign up for the weekly email to get notified the latest episodes, and a five star review and iTunes will help others discover the show. Thanks for listening