Dave Weigel is a political reporter for Slate. Before participating in a panel on the libertarian legacy of Barry Goldwater, he talked about his love of dancing, why writing about music is tougher than writing about politics, and how he would choose to do battle in a zombie apocalypse.
What does it take to get you out on a dance floor?
Very little. I basically have always looked at—I guess the competition you can say, how other white dudes dance—and they put so little effort into it that doing the opposite, putting some effort, is going to be more exciting. There are stories of me dancing at weddings—that’s the preferred milieu to do it in I think. And I go to lots of concerts, I always have. It’s just fun; I don’t think I’m good at it. If you’re alive, do it. The risk is greater that someone will video you or gif you. I always look horrible in photos. But still, video would be worse.
What was the last great dessert you ate?
A dessert cocktail—I made the Green Russian from Archer, which is a White Russian with absinthe in it, and that counted as dessert for the night. And it was an experience.
If you didn’t cover politics, what would you be writing about?
Music. I started actually when I was at a college paper and the high school paper before that—I was the music review editor of the high school paper, and about half of my stuff was about music for the college paper. I’ve been working in my head for years and in reality on paper for a year and a half on a book about progressive rock music. I really like talking to creative people and explaining why you react to a piece of music or a melody or a chord. It’s harder to write about than politics; the facts are so big and obvious in politics that you can have a little more fun portraying it. With music, you have to be more specific in why it’s good, or else it’s clichéd. It’s harder, and there’s much less market for it, sadly.
What word or phrase do you use most often?
I think “darkly.” I usually use the adverb darkly. I noticed I overused it in a bunch of stuff I just wrote: “darkly humorous” and “darkly sarcastic.” There are much fancier and more luxurious words out there.
What’s your favorite spectator sport?
Baseball, which wasn’t the case until recently. Some friends took me to a game for one of my birthdays, and I loved it and realized it was beautiful to watch. It’s the best looking of all games. I think the stadiums are the best looking. And it’s suspenseful until the very last half of the very last inning. You can be down 100 runs in the last half inning and win. In a football game, they’ll empty out if they’re four touchdowns behind.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I hate when people are analyzing election night—it happens in primary season every week—they will excitingly report the vote totals that just came in, but only 3 percent are reporting. It’s the wrong way of looking at what you’re looking at. It’s not a footrace happening that’s 3 percent of the way done. There are votes cast and they’re being counted in various places. That, and when people use the phrase, “Too close to call” to refer to poll numbers. No. The thing we’re focusing on is a bunch of people going to a booth and mailing stuff in, and we’re counting a pile.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Basically this. I wanted to write. I didn’t quite know what journalism consisted of. I knew I didn’t want to be a politician; I was much more interested in knowing stuff and finding out things than fighting for one particular belief. I didn’t know if that meant teaching or research or whatever it was. But I imagined writing stuff from when I was 13, 14 on. It also helps make your choice when you’re not that great at math I think.
Do you have any good luck charms?
I wear dog tags from my grandfather who fought in the Pacific. He died in 2009, and I got them after he died, and I put them on a chain and wear them. They’re more good luck charms by omission—it’s not like I think I need to put them on to nail an interview, but if they’re not with me, I feel their absence.
What weapon would you choose in a zombie apocalypse?
I think it’s pretty well established by Max Brooks that you need something that’s a shovel on one end and a blade on the other. Also carrying a sharpener. But nothing that involves bullets for all sorts of reasons. It draws attention, and it’s finite. Something that lets you use blunt force but doesn’t get dull after 100 decapitations. I would die within three days though. I’ve thought this through. I would not be one of the survivors. I would be taken out by friendly fire.
What advice do you give to aspiring journalists?
Just go out there and talk to people. Just fling yourself into situations. If you want to cover politics, just do that in the town you’re in. If you want to be a travel writer, start conversations while you’re traveling. You have to talk to people. You see a huge difference in the people who think they can just analyze charts and be journalists versus the ones who go out and talk to people. You have to temper it—do research, then talk to people. It sounds obvious, but a lot of the stuff in political journalism that doesn’t work is just talking to people with no data or no fieldwork.