GC: No, not really. The last time I was with McCain—and it was actually the best time to have been the last time—was the week when the economy blew up. Every day he was doing a new thing, and it was a fascinating experience to watch him being remade for every event. It did seem to me that the campaign staff were being very chilly about seats and everything on the plane. They came back and apologized afterward, though, and were really nice. But then two weeks later they apparently barred Maureen from the plane—so clearly there was not total happiness there. I think Obama did the same thing, in the end—some of the papers that didn’t endorse him didn’t get onto the last flights.
MG: How did you spend your election night—and the day after?
GC: One of the things you learn when you do newspaper journalism for a really long time is that election day really sucks. There’s nothing you can do, so you just sort of wander around. So, this year, for the first time, I organized it: I got my hair cut, I went to the dentist, and then we did a program at the Times. And then after that I just went to a friend’s house for a party. My column didn’t run until Thursday, so I sort of had the night off, for all practical purposes. And then the next day was my usual column-writing day.
MG: So you normally write your columns in a day?
GC: Yeah. And during the campaign, most of the debates were my writing nights. So you’d listen to the debate, and it would end around 9:30, and then you’d have a 10:00 deadline. So it’s really kind of bouncy. But that’s fun. My assistant, Amanda, really enjoys that, the sort of “here we are, and it’s deadline!” excitement. You don’t get much of that in the op-ed section; you don’t have that deadline-a-minute thing that everyone else does. So everyone really likes it when there’s a debate, or a State of the Union, and we’re running around, trying to do it all at the last minute.
MG: That’s funny—in my mind, one of the best parts about being a columnist would be being spared the deadline-a-minute pressure.
GC: Well, you like a mixture. When there’s really not much going on, like now, you can be planning a column days in advance. But just the fact of deadlines is glorious. I love having deadlines. When I was an editor, I thought, well, of course, I’ll write all the time; I’ll just write on my own schedule whenever I get inspired. And I barely wrote anything. I was very interested to find that if I wasn’t forced to write by somebody saying, “You’ve got fifteen minutes,” then nothing would ever get done.
MG: Do you ever miss editing?
GC: No! No, it was a wonderful experience—it was the best thing to have had a chance to do—but I was always determined that it wasn’t the thing I was going to do forever, that there would be an end to it.
MG: What do you see to be the overarching role of a columnist?
GC: What you really have to do is find a new way of looking at something people have already looked at. But also to bring new stuff to the table—so when people come away from your column, they have new thoughts and new insights and new information, really, about what’s happening. All of the columnists on the op-ed page of the Times are also reporters. Paul Krugman, sure, has never been a reporter, but Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, which I guess is even better than being a reporter—emphasis on the “better”! But everybody goes out and reports. Just sort of saying your opinion is not enough. That doesn’t move it. It’s a much broader challenge than just, “Well, here’s my take on the news.”
MG: Do you see that role changing, now or in the future, particularly given the proliferation of opinion writing on the Web?