Interview with Jodi Kantor, New York Times correspondent and author of “The Obamas”

by Caren on March 7, 2012

Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Jodi Kantor is a New York Times correspondent and author of the bestselling book, The Obamas. She began her journalism career by dropping out of Harvard Law School to join in 1998. Four years later, she became the Arts & Leisure editor of the New York Times. She has been covering the Obamas since 2007, writing about their  faith, friends, marriage, roots, and family, among other topics. Jodi is a recipient of a Columbia Young Alumni Achievement Award, was named to Crain’s “Forty Under Forty” list of New Yorkers, and appears regularly on television. Though she is a Washington correspondent for the Times, she lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Drinking Diaries: Do the Obamas drink? When?

Jodi Kantor: Rarely. What the far right misses about the Obamas is their total squareness. Michelle Obama’s in particular. These are people who exercise all the time. The president managed to quit smoking at one of the most stressful points in his presidency. The Obamas have been known to order drinks on their date nights, but the president, whose father was an alcoholic, drinks sparingly. When there’s a White House party and he has a drink, everyone talks about it the next day in an “oh-good-he-must-have-been-relaxed” way.

What about the Republican candidates?

Mitt Romney doesn’t drink, in accordance with the rules of the Mormon church. There are a lot of old stories of him being served orange juice at parties where everyone else had beer. Newt Gingrich has been known to enjoy a glass or two.

The Obamas book jacket

Do you drink with sources?

Sometimes. The cliché is true: the best interviews sometimes take place in a dark bar, wineglasses in hand. But that’s also why fact-checking is important—in that environment, it’s easy for either one of you to mess up details.

Also, it’s very awkward when you take a source out to dinner and they order an expensive bottle of wine. Then you have to decide if you’re really going to submit the expense or just pay for it yourself. In this day and age, are you going to ask the New York Times to pay for that?

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

My husband and I are light drinkers. I don’t think we’ve gone through a bottle of wine over dinner since our second date, and that was in 1998. We usually have vodka stashed in the freezer, but we take three years to finish one bottle. Sometimes on a summer evening, I’ll mix it with a little lemonade and mint before dinner.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

I remember drinking cold champagne and eating salty potato chips on my honeymoon. We were sitting on the deck of our little bungalow overlooking the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. That was divine.

Have you ever had a drink at work?

The day the Pulitzers are announced is always one of the best days of the year at work. Everyone gathers on the third floor, with a plastic glass with an inch or two of champagne, and we laugh and cry at the speeches. And very very late on election night in 2008, two dozen or so of us crowded into Jill Abramson’s office for drinks.

I was also very impressed by the cocktail culture on Hillary Clinton’s campaign plane when I covered her in the spring of 2008. At five-thirty sharp, a flight attendant wheeled the drinks cart—a real, fully stocked drinks cart—down the aisles of the plane. It was a civilized ritual in the middle of campaign madness.


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