David Remnick is an American journalist, writer, and magazine editor. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his book Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker magazine since 1998. He was named Editor of the Year by Advertising Age in 2000.
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In addition to my editing duties, I regularly write for the magazine and our Web site, and recently sat down with President Obama to discuss the election, what it means for America, and his legacy: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/28/obama-reckons-with-a-trump-presidency?mbid=social_reddit
I think it's time for me to go! It's been great fun and it's time to go pick some cartoons and to see if we actually have something to put on the cover this week. Have a great Thanksgiving, and thank you for your time. And thank you for reading The New Yorker. All best, David Remnick
What are the most important steps that the press can take to help safeguard American civil rights in the new political climate?
We should do our jobs---write and broadcast fairly, rigorously, and fearlessly. That is a good start. And we can get out into the country more deeply, and into the world more widely. And that is, I know, a hard thing in an era of cost-cutting. But it is absolutely necessary.
How did you get into editing? Is it something you have been interested in for a long time?
The truth? I never edited anything other than my high-school newspaper until, in 1998, while working happily as a writer at The New Yorker, I was asked to edit the magazine. Crazy, right? That was 18 years ago...
Did you ever end up getting that beer with Obama?
The President said he would tell me all about his first meeting with Donald Trump---but only off the record and over a beer. So far, no beer. I'm waiting eagerly for that beer summit.
As a keen historian of the Soviet Union and Russia, do you find the coming Trump administration problematic inre handling Putin?
Well, yes. It seems pretty clear that Vladimir Putin wanted Trump over Clinton; we also hear that American intelligence is convinced that Russian hackers worked in that quest, beginning with the hack of the DNC. Putin clearly wants a weaker, more chaotic, more pliable figure at the top. And he appears to have gotten his wish.
Why does the New Yorker put umlauts on repeated vowels that start a new syllable?
The best thing to do here is read Mary Norris's book The Comma Queen and watch her videos on newyorker.com. http://video.newyorker.com/watch/comma-queen-an-episode-of-diaeresis?mbid=social_reddit
Do you think that Trump will repeal Obamacare? Would that be a good or a bad thing?
I don't think he will---or not completely. Once people have a benefit, a boon to their lives, that they did not have before, they are loath to give it up. Twenty million people have health care who didn't have it before. So, start with that....Does Trump want to take that away? I bet not, and he has already said as much.
If you could interview any living person who would it be and why?
Beyonce would be fun. She so rarely gives a truly open interview, and I would love to see if she would speak more openly and freely about the impact she's had lately, and her life. Oh, and the Bobster. Bob Dylan. He's always fascinated me and, try as I might....
What's your advice for a young American interested in working as a foreign correspondent?
There are more than a couple of ways to do this. When I was in Moscow, for the Washington Post, my bureau chief there was Michael Dobbs, a truly great correspondent. And the way he started was to set himself up in Eastern Europe (Belgrade) as a stringer. He barely got by at first, but he was writing a ton for various places about the late communist era. That led him to The Washington Post, which shifted him to Warsaw, then Paris, then Moscow. What I mean is, there is a freelance route, too---not just waiting forever to work your way up the line.
Your article the day after the election scared the hell out of me (it was great, but depressing). Has Trump's somewhat milder behavior in the ensuing weeks changed your mind any or are we doomed?
also, some people are saying Trump is using Twitter in a genius fashion to direct people away from his real scandals? could he really be that smartly manipulative?
Milder? Hmmm. The appointments of Mr. Bannon, Senator Sessions, and Gen. Flynn hardly seem "mild" to me. As for his use of Twitter, it doesn't evoke confidence in me. I'm not really sure the best use of a President-elect's time at 2 AM is to rant about SNL or a polite dissent on the stage of "Hamilton." But I admit it sure was an effective tool during the campaign.Effective and deeply worrying...
How important do you think it will be for American journalists to speak more than one language in the coming decades?
Well, even though my Russian is far from perfect, it was essential to my work abroad. it would have been a bit of a problem to land in Siberia with only my "Hi how are ya!" to offer.
As a member of the so called "liberal elite" media, how do you respond to polls that have shown that only 35% Americans think the media is trustworthy? Do you think accusations of one sided coverage are fair, or are they overblown?
I think it's a fair charge to some degree and it helps puncture one's own bubble and disconnectedness from so much. But at the same time, I've travelled and reported in the world an awful lot and no one person can be everywhere, experience everything. But it is useful to absorb the criticism and take it on board and find ways to make things better. And I think if you read the work of George Saunders, Evan Osnos, Larissa MacFarquhar, and others in The New Yorker you will find very fair reporting.
How does The New Yorker plan to cover the presidency of Donald Trump? As a new subscriber, I found your extensive coverage of the election over the last six months to be invaluable. At the same time, when I initially subscribed, I was drawn by the literary aspects of the publication including extensive fiction, feature, and critical work.
Much of the politically motivated features that I have read in recent editions have been fantastic, but is this something that I should expect to continue on a weekly basis? Or do you see the publication getting back to more "regular" content soon?
Obviously, a close and critical eye of the new Administration will be necessary, but how do you see this fitting in with the traditional "bread and butter" of the magazine?
Great question. I think the leading role of journalism is the honest and rigorous application of pressure on power. And we will go on doing that, more than ever. But I also want the magazine and web site to be funny and literary and much more. So the sense of variation and surprise will not go missing, I promise.
What is the most exciting thing you have gotten to do as an editor?
No kidding, the answer is easy: work with the most talented writers and editors in the world and at a place where we are afforded absolute editorial freedom. What could be better?
How do you think history will remember Obama?
Kindly. His Administration made the hard decisions to rescue a failing economy; got as close to universal health care as it is politically possible to get; embodied a level of tolerance never seen before in the White House; went eight years without scandal; etc etc
Do you think the Democrats are going in the right direction with Sanders/Warren?
Remember this: Sanders is 75 and Warren in her late 60's. And so the Democratic Party is going to need to do the hard work of developing and surfacing younger talent, too.
I have started to listen to the New Yorker Radio hour recently. How do you like doing the radio show compared to your traditional editorial and writing duties?
I'm so glad to hear that! I love doing the Radio Hour---it's a totally different way to reach people and a completely different medium. And it's exciting to think of it in its infancy. Who knows where it will go? https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-new-yorker-radio-hour/id1050430296?mt=2
Were you personally reassured by President Obama's answers and demeanor in the conversations you had with him after election day?
Not entirely, no. And I don't think Obama is convinced of his own language of hope. He is, after all, playing a role: the assuring still-in-office President, who is hoping against hope that Trump will be less bad than feared. We shall see.
To be honest I dont know you and I dont read the paper or anything...
So: What is the best sandwich you have ever eaten?
Katz's deli, pastrami, rye, mustard, cole slaw on the side. Can't beat it with a stick.
What was Bill Maher like before he was famous...always cranky?
I knew Bill when we were kids playing basketball in his driveway. He didn't have much of a shot but his wisecracks never missed their mark!
Did Obama smoke during the interview?
Also, not a question: I really like Etgar Keret's fiction. Thanks for publishing his stories.
He quit smoking ages ago, though he chews Nicorette. Glad you like Etgar: he's very very funny.
Mr. Remnick, I love your work, always look forward to reading anything you write. Is it time to start writing a "Lenin's Tomb" from the American perspective?
I really hope not. Because that book was about the utter collapse of a system and its institutions. I think democracy is in infinitely greater condition than Soviet communism in the late 80s.
It seems that you have a really strong relationship with Obama, having written a book about him. Is he notably different in private? Hillary loyalists have noted that the public and private versions of Hillary are really different and the private Hillary is deeply loyal, hardworking, and detail-oriented. What are Obama's "secret" traits that don't always appear in his public image?
On a scale of 1-10, how worried are you about the next 4 years?
How's the New Yorker doing in the landscape of the general crumbling of mainstream media? Do you feel like the situation is easier or harder for you compared to the NYT since you're a magazine?
PS - I worked (from 5pm - 2am, 5 nights a week) with Alex for several years at our college paper, the Daily Pennsylvanian. He's a great guy.
Alex is wonderful!
As for Obama: He seems to me quite similar in public: the equanimity, the poise, the determined quite optimism, the cerebral aspect....In private he is a little looser, less buttoned up, funnier
Serious Q: How does the New Yorker maintain its reputation and editorial standards while the rest of the web has descended into an insufferable mess?
I don't agree. The Washington Post and The New York Times published a series of brilliant pieces throughout the campaign. There are many examples elsewhere. But we have also seen that all of these places need to get out of New York and LA etc as much as possible. Not too many years ago, when they were struggling economically, the Wash Post closed all of their domestic bureaus to save money. Thankfully that trend is being reversed, at least there. What is insufferable, to use your word, is the rise of the post-fact press, the conspiracy-theory press, a yellow press for the 21st century online. That holds out all kinds of dangers, especially when someone like Donald Trump thrives on it, finds advisers in its midst, etc.
Favorite jazz songs/albums of all time?
Wow. I love so much music, jazz included, that we could be here all day with this one.....but, I am a huge fan of Louis Armstrong's stuff in the Twenties and Thirties; Ellington; Basie; Billie Holiday; Miles Davis; Albert Ayler; Sinatra is a great musician......take a look at the list of top 100 jazz albums that I did with my colleague Richard Brody; easy to find on our site newyorker.com
Why do you think Hillary lost?
I think I get the impulse behind the question. No, she did not lose the popular vote. But we live in the system we live in---and the Electoral College persists. Alas. But it persists. And were there, to put it politely, "irregularities"? Well, starting with the DNC hack courtesy of Russian hackers and WikiLeaks.....that seems pretty damn irregular to me.
What are your dreams for visions of universality?
I always forget my dreams
Which bear is best?
The grizzly, definitely.
What book do you love the most, or whose style has most influenced your writing?
There are many, from Dante's Divine Comedy to Middlemarch, from Dead Souls to Anna Karenina, Pnin and Invisible Man, all of Jane Austen....and Homage to Catalonia....OK, enough.
Currently (pre-inauguration) what do you think is the most effective action to take for those who oppose the President elect and his potential cabinet?
We saw this asymmetric news coverage where the lion's share of investigative journalism (on both Clinton and Trump) was done by print media. Subsequently electronic media keep playing the most juicy sound bites and pocketed all the ad dollars.
What can print media do to make their fair share ?
Honestly, I think that there are millions of people who want deep, honest, rigorous journalism. That doesn't mean that every publication that thrived in 1977 will continue thriving....but I think there is a future for the best and (yes) the luckiest.
Which fictional book has most influenced your worldview? Nonfiction?
As the others have said, thank you for your work.
Fiction? Dead Souls. Is there a better book on the absurdity of life. And there is nothing wiser than Middlemarch. Nonfiction: The Collected Essays of George Orwell---those are everything to me.
Hi David. I've read your first book on Obama. What do you think he will do once he leaves office? Any chance you'll write a similar book on Trump?
A book on Trump? I really doubt it. Check out Marc Fisher's book on Trump written with his colleagues at the Post: it's terrific.
I think Obama will write a memoir, pick his spots on speaking out on issues, rest for a while, do some good works in community building, and maybe make some money connected to Silicon Valley somehow.....on this last, I can't be sure
Do you plan on keeping The New Yorker in the current directions it's going in?
To clarify, do you plan on the magazine being heavily political in focus for the foreseeable future?
EDIT: One more question, can you tell me the NYC-area surf spots William Finnegan refused to disclose in Barbarian days?
Well, it has been an especially political time, but I do want a mix. This week, for example, my own piece on Obama is side-by-side with a fantastic reporting piece by Daniel Zalewski about archaeology in Egypt....it's a wonder.
Hi Mr. Remnick- What's your favorite New Yorker Cartoon?
Anything by Saul Steinberg. And Roz Chast: she's killer, don't you think?
Do you have any favorite (non-election related) New Yorker pieces that have been published recently?
All kinds of things, yes: watch out for Rachel Aviv, Ben Taub, Vinson Cunningham.....OK, enough..... You know something? You're just gonna get me in trouble here!
You're a vocal critic of Trump and of the policies of hard-right Republicans and nationalists around the world. What do you do in your personal life and in your capacity as a boss at the New Yorker to enact progressive ideals every day?
Mainly my work. That's my contribution, really.
Dear Mr. Remnick, I was first introduced to your work, and became a big fan of yours, when I read "King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero." Do you still find time to watch boxing? If so, who are your favorite current boxers? If not, which sports do you watch most often?
I leave the boxing beat to K Sanneh. He knows more about boxing than I ever will. http://www.newyorker.com/contributors/kelefa-sanneh?mbid=social_reddit
One of my favorite things about The New Yorker is how funny it is. How do you balance humor with all the serious topics you cover? What role does humor have to play in the new era of the United States?
I'm so glad you think so. My favorite things of the week (usually) are the cartoon meetings (I get to pick about 16 our of a batch of 50 or more "roughs") and my meetings with Francoise Mouly, who develops the covers with our artists. Laughing is now, and always, as necessary as air.
I love listening to the New Yorker Radio Hour and I have to say, you have a wonderful voice for the medium. What was your biggest takeaway, or "lesson", from this election? I have friends and coworkers saying that it proved our country is racist and other peers who say this was a revolt of the working class. Also, could you label any positive takeaways from this whole thing? If there was one positive side to this ugly election season I like to think it gave people, myself included, a better understanding of who we share this country with.
Thank you. I think it would be a colossal mistake to conclude that every Trump voter is racist or sexist, etc. Obviously, some are; and, even more obviously, Trump played to the darkest reflexes in American life. But at the same time, there are many other factors in the Trump vote: a rebellion against globalization and de-industrialization; a distaste for the Clintons; the Comey letters and the WikiLeaks material....and more A positive side? Let me think. Um, let me think.....more.....
Do you have a favourite story or poem that you have published as editors of the New Yorker, and if so, what is it/are they?
Also, I subscribed to the magazine earlier this year and have found it completely engrossing. Kudos for producing so great for so long.
Recently we published a poem by Max Ritvo, a remarkable young man who was dying of cancer and had the clear-sightedness to write about his own failing body and therapy....Read him. You won't regret it.