Christina Bellantoni is assistant managing editor, politics, at the Los Angeles Times. Before moderating a Zócalo panel discussion titled “Is the Republican Party Dead?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo district, she spoke in the green room about interesting times, influential teachers, and organic baby purées.
Was there a teacher or professor who really influenced you?
Everybody’s favorite teacher in high school was this man named Eric Clemensen. He taught government and politics and everybody called him Clem. I went to the same high school my mom did, and he had been her teacher, too. He was very loose; he would cuss in class, and he would say, “I want you to watch How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [i.e. Dr. Strangelove].” He was a relaxed teacher. He wore jeans and he was open about his own life and his own politics. In his classroom he had magazine covers going all around [on the walls]. It was a good class, too; it was either AP Government or AP History. But actually [also] the yearbook instructor— his name was Mark Klick—he taught me a lot about writing and reporting that I still remember.
What superpower would you most like to have?
Stopping time. Because there’s never enough of it. I could take advantage of it in so many ways.
What are you reading now for pleasure?
201 Organic Baby Purées was what I fell asleep reading last night. I have a Stephen King book sitting there that I’ve opened a couple times over the last couple months. I’m a fan. He actually was very influential in why I became a writer. I was reading him from the time I was young. I wanted to be a novelist, and then at some point I realized you can’t actually make money as a novelist, unless you’re him.
If you could time travel to any era, past or future, where and when would you go?
I’d probably want to spend some time with Bobby Kennedy. That period of time was so volatile and interesting. And just also in general his decision-making process, and how he felt about his own family, his relationship with the Civil Rights Movement—I think all of that would be very interesting. The time itself is interesting, but he—of all the people of that time—would be the one I’d want to know.
Do you think this time is as interesting as that one?
I think in some ways you can’t tell, right? In some ways it feels like that, but it’s like a balloon that’s been just blowing up, blowing up, blowing up, and you don’t know if it’s going to pop. And it could pop. But maybe it’s all going to be okay.
What’s hanging on your living room walls?
Some wedding pictures. We have this really beautiful poster of a butterfly that says, “Migration is beautiful.” And then I have some scenes of Paris, one that’s the Moulin Rouge, caricature drawings, and then we have a map of Paris. And then we have the Gherkin building [the 30 St. Mary Axe skyscraper] in London, which is where my husband used to live, which somebody gave him when he left London. And then we have a shot of the Fourth Street Bridge.
What advice do you give young journalists?
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and tell people what you want. And don’t be afraid to start at the very bottom. My first job at a newspaper was as a receptionist, and every day my job was to get the faxes off the fax machine. Then I got a research job, then that led to everything else. You have to be really aggressive about it.