#AskTIME Subscriber Q&A: Jay Newton-Small and Michael Scherer

14 minute read

Welcome to the first ever TIME subscriber Q&A. We will start posting questions and responses at 1 p.m. EST and continue for 30 minutes.

We have been gathering reader questions all week but will also take questions in the comments below or on Twitter with the hashtag #askTIME.

If you are not a subscriber yet, it is not too late to sign up.

#askTIME Michael, how are the meals on AirForce1? Do they charge TIME for alcohol on domestic transits? Have you stolen any memento off the plane? Is the presidential seal plastered on all the toilet seats?

Michael: I’ve only flown with Obama. But the meals I’ve had on Air Force One are frequent, fatty and superior to what you would find on domestic airlines. I’ve had French toast covered with sugary syrup, good sandwiches, fried chicken, pasta, omelets, and more. They are the sort of meals that slow you down, so you have to be careful. There is usually a meal for every leg of the flight, and meals at the filing centers on the ground, so reporters can be served five or six meals in the course of a single day. The bar is well stocked, but not exactly free, given the ticket price we pay for the privilege.

Another perk is a well-stocked library of music choices for every flyer—entire albums by everyone from Bowie to Beyoncé—and a library of new or recent release inflight movies, which everyone in the press cabin needs to agree on. (Photographers usually decide.)

I have never stolen a memento, though I have been tempted to take the glass tumblers, which are sand blasted with Presidential seal. There is a gift packet they give you on your first flight, which includes a photo of the plane, a pack of Presidential M&Ms, and, by far the coolest part, matchbooks with the Presidential seal on them. There is no smoking allowed on the plane, but they still give out the matchbooks. Sort of a throwback thing, I guess.

There are free toothbrushes in the bathroom, but I don’t remember ever seeing a seal on the toilet seats.

Jay: I’ve also flown on AF1 with both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. With Bush the meals were BBQ heavy, reflecting the president’s tastes. With Obama they’re fairly straightforward American and slightly healthier. They do serve alcohol on request but with the potential for the president or a senior administration official to come back and brief at any moment, few drink it. All journalists pay for their seats on the plane—it’s a flat fee based on the compliment of the plane and split between the number of people and the amount of gas and supplies used. And, yes, the presidential seal is plastered everywhere, including the toilets.

#askTIME for Michael and JNS – Tell us a story – we know that during Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein had to do unusual things like interview Deep Throat in a parking garage, arrange flower pots and newspapers, and literally flee the WaPo building to avoid a subpoena. Given a lot of stuff is off the record / maintain privacy /etc., what funny stories CAN you two tell us that you have experienced in your work that didn’t make it in print?

Jay: I was once on a conference call in 2006 with Hillary Clinton announcing $10 billion in cuts to Medicaid that she’d gotten put back in the budget. Back then calls were not muted and all the reporters could hear one another. Clinton was running late and one reporter had clearly put down his landline and picked up his cell phone. We could all hear his side of the conversation. He was making a date with a woman at a bar—a blind date. “You’re pear-shaped?” he asked, “Oh, great I’m an ass man,” he said as Clinton came on the line. She yelled over him for about 30 seconds and gave up in disgust. We all hung up but an enterprising Newsday reporter hung on and when the man finally picked up the conference line he got his name. The next day on the cover of Newsday there was a story about the Long Island radio station manager who’d disrupted Clinton’s call with reporters. Just before the jump, Newsday said something like: When a reporter approached their house, his wife said she had no comment.

Michael: No flower pots for me. I had a weird encounter while reporting the Edward Snowden story last year. I met a source at a steakhouse, and there followed an elaborate cloak and dagger exchange, with some of the source’s colleagues, who were also in the restaurant, saying they saw people at the table next to us apparently try to tape the conversation, hand an iPhone to someone else in the restaurant, and then carry the iPhone outside after we left. They confronted the iPhone courier, and both parties spent some time on the street taking photos of each other. No idea what that was really about. Nothing we discussed at the meal would have put at risk classified information.

JNS & MS: Everyone agrees that the press coverage preceding the Iraq war was tragically flawed. What do you personally do to see to it that your coverage of events isn’t unduly influence by groupthink or CW?

Jay: Hi Paul. At the time I was working for Agence France Presse, perhaps the most vehemently anti-war news agency in DC at the time. Everyone at AFP was appalled by the march to war and everyone’s seeming inability to question the Administration. As to what I do to get away from group think: sometimes it’s as simple as seeing a group of journalists on the Hill and going the other way. The good thing about being a magazine is that we aren’t so worried about the head-on coverage, which gives me the luxury of ignoring some of the big press conferences that I know will be transcribed or on the wires and talking to other folks outside of the limelight.

#askTIME Why do conservative protests (eg., the Bundy Ranch debacle, the current protesting of busloads of refugee children, Tea Party protests in general) get so much more coverage than liberal protests (eg., Moral Mondays, the minimum wage protests, the protests in Detroit about the water cutoffs)?

Jay: MementoMori: Start running – and winning in primaries – your own Sharon Angles, Christine O’Donnells, Richard Mourdocks and Todd Akins and you’ll see how quickly we pay attention! The Tea Party gets ink because they have successfully hijacked the House agenda, the Senate majority and they constantly say stuff at war with the pro-business base. Liberals don’t even have a candidate that will challenge Hillary. The TP has Cruz, Rand, and probably 20 other also rans dying to take on Jeb Bush.

Michael: Liberal protests get a lot of ink too, including Occupy Wall Street and the more recent minimum wage protests. I think this moves cyclically too, with the activists out of power making more noise. Back in 2006, the netroots liberal uprising efforts go a lot more ink than the conservative rebellion, because one was peaking and the other just beginning. That said, I agree that we have to keep checking ourselves on how we balance coverage, and what we are missing.

#askTIME for JNS or anyone reporting on Liz Warren – Jay / others – Now that Elizabeth Warren is stumping for other candidates and speaking more on the road, how much is she already shifting the election climate for Democrats? I’d expect steady support at rallies from loyal D’s who attend them, but what are you seeing / hearing beyond that? Is she noticably increasing fundraising, or are more people outside the D base paying attention to her populist message? Or are more D’s across the country embracing and repeating HER message and tactics?

Jay: Warren is so far left she’s appealing to the far right in red states like Kentucky and west Virginia, as I write in this week’s mag. She’s certainly doing an effective job of making Hillary nervous, while tamping down any expectations that she might challenge her. But with nervousness comes action. Just look at Hillary’s Charlie Rose interview where she says that the No. 1 priority for anyone running for president should be to address economic inequality.

Michael: One of the best storylines of the Democratic primary in 2016 is what Warren will ask for and get from Hillary, assuming Hillary Clinton runs. Jay gets at some of this in the magazine this week, raising the possibility of a Warren cabinet position in a Clinton Administration. But we don’t know yet. I think this will have to run its course for a while. What is clear is that Warren is a major force in the party, and she is not going away.

#askTIME for JNS – Jay, how likely / how soon will Kurdistan go independent? Will Turkey be receptive to an independent Kurdistan given the past history was not always friendly? How likely might Kurds in Turkey move to Kurdistan, or is that a non-issue?

Jay: The Turkish/Kurdish rapprochement is an amazing story. The fact that the Turks had 100,000 troops mustered on the Kurdish border in 2007 because they were so nervous the Kurds were going to declare independence is just astonishing. Today, Turkey is the largest investor in Kurdistan. That same border is chocked with trucks and tourists going both ways. Turkey has recognized the Kurdish language and is making peace with the PKK. Its three southern provinces are already essentially run by Kurds and are semi-autonomous. If Turkey looses them one day, it’s losing a poor area that was once an economic and security burden and gaining a stable, moderate, oil rich state to their south that insulates them from the chaos in central and southern Iraq. Erdogan has changed the calculus of the Middle East by empowering the Kurds and making them his more than willing vassals. It hastened the collapse of Iraq and gives Turkey a strong hand in helping to shape how the civil war plays out both on the Kurdish and Sunni sides—a position Saudi Arabia wishes it was in.

@kbanginmotown What is the outlook for immigration becoming an election year GOTV issue for both Ds & Rs, esp. given the asylum children?

Jay: Immigration is the ultimate GOTV tool, especially for Dems. That said, the president’s handling of this new issue with children isn’t playing well and Republicans sense an opening. It’s never going to turn Latinos to the GOP—their record on immigration reform remains dismal—but it risks depressing Democratic turnout in November.

Paul Dirks @phd9
#AskTIME Isn’t it likely that Israel is using the downing of the Malaysian airliner as cover for their invasion. Timing was too perfect.

Michael: The Israeli army has been broadcasting its preparations for a ground invasion for weeks. I have no way of speculating Israeli motivations, but would just say that the likelihood of a ground effort was high.

Jay: Like Michael says, the Israelis have been saying they plan on doing this for weeks. That said, they’re probably a little relieved the world’s cynosure isn’t focused squarely on them.

Brian Anderson AND DonQuixotic
#AskTIME Michael/Jay, based on the current field of Republican candidates, who do you predict will be their front-runner come 2016? Similarly, do you assume Hillary will be on the Democrat’s ticket or do you believe someone else will take the spot?

Jay: There really isn’t a “current crop” of candidates as no one has officially announced his or her candidacy yet on either side. That said, if Jeb Bush runs, he’d be the man to beat on the Republican side. Absent of a Bush candidacy, the field is fairly wide open. Rand Paul has the straightest shot through the primaries, but a Paul nomination is hard to imagine the hawks of his party stomaching—witness Dick Cheney and Rick Perry’s attacks on him of late.

And, yes, all signs point to a Hillary candidacy in 2016.

Michael: What Jay said, though I think Jeb will face a lot of headwinds as well. The Republican side is full of great characters, a lot of different styles and should be full of excitement. Unless Hillary decides not to run, and nothing she has done in the last month suggests she is considering this, the Democratic primary is likely to be far less exciting. But you never know. It’s way too early to make predictions, since history tells us the outcome is sometimes hard to predict.

#askTIME Do you feel politicians that you interview are more interested in trying to score political points or do they actually care about the subject they’re discussing? Do you feel its grow more one way or the other in the course of your career? It seems from a reader standpoint they tend to speak on script and give pre-canned responses more now, is that due to more requests for pre-approved questions before interviewing?

Michael: Depends on the politician. But I would say most actually do care about what they do. It can be a terrible job if you don’t care at all. The problem is that most also believe that the best way to achieve their policy ends is to feign outrage, repeat misleading talking points and act in other ways that would be better suited to selling detergent than informing democracy. So there is a tension between what is really happening and what they say. One of the goals of a lot of our reporting is to break down that distance.

Jay: Yogi, the best answer I can give is: it depends on the politician. But I will say that the longer they’re in politics, the more canned their comments tend to become. Finding a real moment, or an unguarded thought form a veteran pol is very rare. Which is why when they happen – Hillary tearing up in New Hampshire 08, for example – they can have powerful impacts. Or really negative ones – Rick Perry’s oops in 2012. Politicians do tend to be more forthcoming in private, especially when you’ve known them for a while. But when every word you utter is a potential weapon wielded against you thanks to campaign trackers, there isn’t much incentive to go off talking points these days, unfortunately.

#AskTIME, I was kind of joking at first, but then thought about it and wondered, do you think the OWS protests would have been more successful and taken more serious or just put down quicker had the protesters been lawfully caring guns like the tea party protesters do?

Michael: The Occupy Wall Street movement had a structural problem that the Tea Party has not been held back by. Whereas the Tea Party was clearly focused on mobilizing at the ballot box, especially in Republican primaries, Occupy Wall Street never quite came up with a clear set of policy asks or a political process to make them happen. The main focus of the movement was to continue to Occupy Wall Street, which became problematic when the encampment started attracting all sorts of people who did not have political change at the top of their mind. The circus can only take you so far. Carrying guns at Target does not change gun policy nearly as effectively as defeating an incumbent in a low-turnout election.

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