A shocking introduction to political journalism in D.C.

My introduction to political journalism in Washington D.C. was abrupt and shocking.

I was in Washington, D.C. from July 9-14 for The Washington Journalism and Media Conference at George Mason University. During this conference, I attended seminars, toured museums and participated in activities designed to inform young reporters.

On the fifth day of the conference, national youth correspondents of WJMC were given the chance to meet with staff members from their state’s senate or congressional offices. I was scheduled to meet with a member of Sen. Patty Murray’s staff, Shavenor Winters. But as my meeting had been scheduled later in the day and we were on a buddy system, I decided to keep my new friend Isabel Naquin company as she went to her meeting with staff members for Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana.

When we arrived at Sen. Cassidy’s office, we met another youth correspondent who would be participating in the same meeting. As we sat in the waiting room, we watched a TV news report of the heated debate over the Senate health care bill.

Within five minutes, a man and woman from Cassidy’s staff greeted us and led us into a large conference room. After sitting down, Isabel and I reached to take out our journals and pens while the other youth correspondent started to set up a tripod. As we did this, the staff members told us that in no way was this meeting to be recorded: no notes, videos or audio recordings allowed.

The staff members explained that the senator would not be able to come to the meeting because of the healthcare debate but as members of his staff they would do their best to answer our questions and represent Cassidy’s viewpoint.

Isabel asked questions about the LGBTQ community and anti-discrimination laws that Cassidy had voted against. The room grew tense. The answers given were long and unclear, although the idea most repeated was that the laws were a federal overreach of government and therefore unconstitutional. The tension came to a stop when the man nudged the woman several times and took the lead on answering questions.

The other youth correspondent asked about the health care bill, mainly why it was so unpopular. The staff members said the bill was misunderstood and wrongly attacked by the media and Democrats. The interview came to an end and as we left, we shook the staff members’ hands and thanked them for their time.

The next meeting was my interview with Winters, which Isabel joined in. Notes were allowed and Winters was OK with speaking on the record. I focused on the same issues that Isabel had focused on in Cassidy’s office, to determine the difference between the two sides. The answers were completely different. When I asked if anti-discrimination laws were a governmental overreach, Winters replied that it isn’t overreach if it is protecting the rights of citizens.

As the interview continued, I felt as though I couldn’t have been better introduced to the polar opposites of D.C. politics. The interview ended and, as before, Isabel and I shook Winters’ hand and thanked her for her time.

When I look back on the meetings I participated in, one thing is clear to me: the two political sides in the United States couldn’t have a deeper chasm between them.

— Hannah Chisholm is a Kitsap News Group intern and a Running Start student at Olympic College.