Liberal Pedigree Smooths Quick Rise in Washington Press Corps

October 26th, 2009 4:12 PM
From liberal Democrat Howard Dean to top editor of the magazine which proclaims it has “The Website Washington Lives By.” The “preppy-looking 28-year-old” Garrett Graff “has eased his way up the ladder -- from presidential campaign speechwriter to media blogger, from Washingtonian freelancer to top dog -- with remarkable fluidity,” Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz marveled in a Monday “Style” section profile of Graff.

Kurtz outlined how, when his father was toiling in Montpelier for the AP, a 14-year-old Graff went to work in the summer for then-Governor Howard Dean, soon “building Dean's first Web site in 1997.” Graff got into Harvard and landed “Washington internships at ABC and the Atlantic” and “when Dean launched his presidential bid, Graff was his deputy national press secretary.” Then, “after Dean imploded, Graff moved to Washington and launched the Fishbowl DC blog for Media Bistro, showing a flair for self-promotion.”

The monthly magazine may be best-known for lists of the “best doctors” and “best schools,” but “Graff proclaims a passion for long-form journalism,” Kurtz reported. “The October issue, his first as editor, features a richly detailed piece on a Washington couple charged with spying for Cuba. But the cover story is a puffy look at Fairfax's Thomas Jefferson High School. (Although it does have the unusually contrarian headline 'Why You Should Hate This School.' Answer: because it might be too good.)”

It's a good bet that with this meteoric rise, it won't be too long before Graff lands with a more influential national media outlet.

An except from the portion of “Meet the New Boss: Can Garrett Graff put his stamp on Washingtonian?” where Kurtz recounts Graff's life story:
...A relative newcomer to the Beltway, Graff grew up in the tiny Vermont capital of Montpelier. His dad ran the Associated Press's Vermont bureau; his mother was a children's book author and later editor of Vermont Life magazine; his father's stepfather had been drama critic for New York's Herald Tribune. At 14, Graff became a summer press aide for the state's Democratic governor, Howard Dean, staying on to write press releases after school and building Dean's first Web site in 1997.

Graff went to Harvard (there were also Washington internships at ABC and the Atlantic), where he devoted four years to the student paper. He and some colleagues at the Crimson scored the scoop that the university had tapped Larry Summers as its next president; the head of the search committee refused to confirm it, dismissively telling the Boston Globe the next day, "Kids can get it wrong sometimes."

When Dean launched his presidential bid, Graff was his deputy national press secretary. He reported to Joe Trippi, the hard-charging campaign manager, who sometimes crumpled the placid aide's work and threw it back at him.

"He was incredible," Trippi recalls. "No matter how many times I told him to go back and do a speech over, he'd come back with something better." If Trippi gave Graff an issue to handle with the press, "he might blow it the first time. But there was something about him. Even when he blew it, I'd trust him again and he'd get better the next time around."

Graff, retreating behind his New England reserve, declines to say whether the press was unfair to Dean: "No matter how you answer that question, it ends up sounding like sour grapes." He says he saw both superlative work and shoddy reporting: "We dealt with some unbelievably irresponsible journalism in that campaign."

After Dean imploded, Graff moved to Washington and launched the Fishbowl DC blog for Media Bistro, showing a flair for self-promotion. During the flap over the Bush White House giving access to Jeff Gannon, whose X-rated past emerged while he worked for a Web site run by a Republican operative, Graff applied for a daily White House pass. He chronicled his efforts online, did a spate of cable shows, and the New York Times recorded the blogger's triumph when he got his credentials. "I had my 15 minutes of Web fame," Graff says.

Graff soon tried freelancing for Washingtonian. His first assignment was . . . a profile of me. Graff was methodical, meticulous and fair, making only one error involving chronology. Other pieces followed, and Limpert hired him to edit the breezy "Capital Comment" section. Graff also found time to knock out a book about politics and technology, "The First Campaign," and is working on another about the FBI.

After [Editor Jack] Limpert decided last spring that he wanted to dial down to a lesser editing role, Graff was briefly elevated to the No. 2 post of executive editor. "Cathy wanted to try me out a little in terms of decision-making," he says. Apparently he passed the test. Media reports on his appointment focused on his age, as Graff cheerfully noted on his blog....