Q&A: Ruby Cramer, political reporter at BuzzFeed

"The consistency with which Anthony Weiner walks around the city with a guy holding his name up behind him is impressive"

There’s an audible sense of panic in Ruby Cramer’s voice when she answers the phone at our scheduled interview time. “Oh god, I’m so sorry,” she says, cutting me off after I identify myself. “Can we do it tomorrow? Literally, any time tomorrow.” The BuzzFeed politics reporter, who’s currently both trailing Anthony Weiner—filing long narrative pieces from his mayoral campaign trail—and covering Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s senate race is very busy. I wait for tomorrow, but my call goes straight to voicemail. We hatch a new plan: Cramer will text me her ideal time when she gets into the office, and I’ll call at her command. I spend the morning refreshing my cellphone, over and over again, and send myself a text to make sure my reception’s working: “Ruby Cramer text test,” I write. It’s the only text I get that morning.

Later that day, news of Weiner’s latest sex(ting) scandal—paging Carlos Danger!—hits the Web, and Cramer posts a polished profile of Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, in response. When the chaos clears, I manage to get Cramer on the phone. “I am so sorry,” she said. “Literally, it’s all my fault.” Or just an inevitable side effect of life on the campaign trail with America’s most infamous candidate.

Now that the New York City mayoral race is in full swing, and so many of its candidates are so colorful, what’s your beat like?

It’s been interesting covering a city race from the perspective of BuzzFeed, because we are a national outlet, and we have a national readership, and there hasn’t always been a huge interest in this race. I think really when Anthony Weiner got in the race in May, that’s when my editor really said, “You have to go into this full time.” You have to go from doing nothing on this to spending half your summer on it. [Weiner] just made the race something that people were watching nationally. So I really went from being not in it at all to throwing myself into it.

What’s a typical day like for you while covering the campaign?

It’s different day to day. I try to get out. If I have been sitting in the office all day, I definitely don’t feel like I’m doing my job. I’ve gotten out to see—I sound like such an amateur-slash-tourist—but I’ve gotten to see parts of the city I haven’t seen before. The fact that some of these events require me to take three subways and a bus out to southeast Queens. I love that.

Most of us think of BuzzFeed reporters as sitting in front of a computer all day, but so many of your stories are very anecdotal and scene-based. Is that normal?

There are some reporters who are operators themselves; they’re really good at getting people to reveal stuff on the phone. I’m not as good at that. It’s funny, because we do have that reputation, completely. I think one of the first days I was out with Anthony Weiner, I went over and introduced myself, like: “I’m Ruby Cramer from BuzzFeed,” and I was about to launch into a question and he was like, “BuzzFeed? You actually go out for stuff? You actually leave your office.” But I don’t blame him for saying that; I get that a lot. I think the scene pieces are fun, and the candidates are such that it’s a personality-based race as much as it’s based on issues.

What are some of your favorite stories so far, and how did you get them?

I liked doing the Rockaways piece [“Anthony Weiner, Feeling ‘So Right,’ Gets Back to His Base in Rockaway”]. With that piece, I saw his schedule for the day, and he had a bunch of stops that day, but he had this beach walk in the afternoon for like an hour. I thought, okay, I have to go because that’s the community that’s really—I think I called it his base. But those were his constituents when he was in Congress, and that’s where a lot of the people really did love him. Anthony Weiner was someone who was in Congress for 12 years and only passed one bill, but what he does have a good record in was constituent services. I run into people who say, “I remember one time when I called Anthony Weiner and got my street lamps fixed.” It was just kind of a fun day, and of course he was talking about “This feels so right” over and over and over again. It’s an interesting picture too: Anthony Weiner barefoot on the beach basically just loving regional politics.

There’s this one piece I did after The [New York] Times came out with this piece that he did nothing in congress. I was at a forum where I asked him about this one anecdote that I became obsessed with, which was that in 2005, he threw a salad against the wall. I actually have to go back and read it to you because it’s so funny. I mean, who throws a salad against the wall? Okay, here: “In 2005, he became so irritated with a staff member that he threw a salad against the wall, then left the room as the dressing slowly dripped, leaving a stain.”

At this forum I was like, “What happened with the salad?” And he said, “I was just talking about the salad with Josh [a friend and former body man; nobody seems to know his last name], and that story is totally made up.” And then [Josh] gave the best explanation ever which is that the door just opened and there was a salad on the wall. What does that even mean? And then I just wrote this short story about the salad. It was kind of about his reputation as a bad boss, but mostly about the salad. And a lot of people liked it.

Is that the story where it ends with him making his aide run out in the rain for a bigger umbrella?

Yes, that’s it. For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen him do anything worse than the umbrella thing.

Are there anecdotes that you haven’t been able to fit into a story?

There’s nothing like the salad, ‘cause that was amazing. There was this moment on the campaign trail with Huma that I thought was kind of telling about both her and him and maybe their relationship. We were in Harlem, and they were walking up Frederick Douglass Boulevard and popping into different restaurants and shops. And they had a couple staffers with them and this volunteer whose only job is to hold up this “Anthony Weiner for Mayor” sign behind him. There’s always this guy holding up this sign. And I swear, I’ve never seen him say, “Hey, thanks for holding the sign.” I’ve never seen him even talking to the guy.

So we’re walking up the street and [Huma’s] like, “Seriously Ben’s [the sign guy] hand must be killing him by now,” and Anthony didn’t even respond. And she’s like, “I feel bad.” And Anthony was like, “It’s not a hand thing, it’s like a shoulder thing.” And she’s like, “It’s a whole arm thing.” And meanwhile, the guy is standing there. And then—oh, this is why I didn’t use this, because I got involved. I was like, “Well, why don’t you ask him?” And then [Ben] was like, “Actually, it’s a circulation thing.” But just the fact that Huma would care about this guy that Anthony doesn’t usually talk to when they’re out, and then that they would fight about what part of his hand is hurting.

Is it normal for a candidate to walk around in front of a sign?

I don’t know. Maybe? The consistency with which Anthony walks around the city with a guy holding his name up behind him is impressive. He’s always there.

When the Carlos Danger thing broke, there were a whole lot of salacious things you could’ve run, but you didn’t. Why is that?

I just did a profile of Huma that I worked on for several weeks, and the timing of it was such that we published it on Tuesday, amidst the latest sexting scandal. That was something I was happy with, because this is an incredibly private person, that you never hear from or see, but there’s so much fascination with her—or I have fascination for her. Because she’s in the middle of the two most interesting stories: Anthony Weiner and Hillary Clinton, and she’s incredibly smart and incredibly adored but completely press adverse. And I thought, okay, how am I going to do this? She’s not going to give me an interview, clearly.

I had a feeling she was going to come out in Harlem to this jerk chicken festival, and she did. And I kind of had a feeling from his campaign she was going to come out again soon. And each time she came out I got a little more color for the piece. I filed a draft on the Friday before the [Carlos Danger] story broke, and I had first edits back to me that night and spent the weekend retooling the piece. I was basically a wreck; I hadn’t slept the night before. Sometimes I very stupidly think I can be most productive by doing all-nighters, which is a self-destructive college habit.

On Tuesday I was supposed to go on vacation; I did go on vacation. We put the Huma piece for Tuesday online, because it felt like now or never. My editors have a really good sense of timing—I don’t. I was thinking of coming back to the city, and I was in Bradley Beach in New Jersey with family friends, and they were kind of like, “Why are you at your computer half the time when you’re supposed to be at the beach?” So I was following the crazy circus very closely.

And you wrote it after seeing her in three events? So, it’s like your “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” moment?”

Oh god, I would never compare myself to Gay Talese. He’s a genius. I didn’t get an interview with her, if that’s what you mean. His campaign is great to work with. I have nothing but great things to say about his press person, Barbara [Morgan]. [Until Tuesday night, when Cramer posted “Anthony Weiner Spokeswoman Apologies For Calling Former Intern A Slutbag.”] She was not like, “No, you can’t get an interview,” but she was like, “This probably isn’t going to happen.”

Now that you’ve been covering him for a few months, what’s your relationship with Anthony Weiner like?”

I think he was skeptical about BuzzFeed at first. He reads everything that’s written about him; I’m pretty convinced of that. People say he micromanages, but I think he really, really pays attention to what’s being written about him. I’ve heard him say to other reporters: “Here’s what I didn’t like about [your piece].” He joked to me once: On the first day that Huma came out on the campaign trail, I went up to her, and I identified myself as a reporter from BuzzFeed, and Anthony said, “Oh Ruby’s the one that wrote that nice piece about the Rockaways and all that other bad stuff as well.” He also offered me a mimosa at a restaurant where he was also getting iced tea. He’s like, “What do you want: water, a mimosa?” And I was like, “I don’t think my boss would be very happy about that.” And he was like, “It’s BuzzFeed—you’re supposed to be buzzed.” It was totally a joke.

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Alexis Sobel Fitts is a senior writer at CJR. Follow her on Twitter at @fittsofalexis. Tags: , , ,