Fearlessly Exposing Pandagate for What It Is
A Reddit Ask Me Anything with Slate editor David Plotz.
Slate’s Editor David Plotz responded to questions on Tuesday about his favorite magazines, his marriage to Hanna Rosin, and his hatred of pandas during an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
webdevcrazy: What was the most unexpected thing you learned from reading the whole bible?
David Plotz: God—what a jerk! I was unprepared for the essentially unpleasant, rageaholic nature of my God. I assumed there was some loving kindness in there somewhere—I know the Christians have that—but there was very, very little. On the other hand, the most admirable people in the book are the people who argue with this implacable, rageful, irrational deity (Abraham, Job, Gideon, Moses). Also, basically every woman in the Bible is a prostitute.
bradspahn: Can you tell us more about what your marriage with Hanna Rosin? As a feminist dude, I feel like there aren't many examples of really equal marriages that involve two careers and multiple kids, but it sounds like yours really is very equal.
David Plotz: Hanna Rosin is amazing, but you know that. I don't know that our marriage is really equal. It is more that the inequalities flow back and forth. We don't split things 50/50 or anything like that. It is that there are periods when I have more responsibility for the kids and periods when she does, periods when my career is front and center and periods when hers is. And we are pretty good about watching out for each other. We've just come out of a period where Hanna has been traveling a huge amount for her book, and it's clear that she'll be a bit more domestic in the coming months, and I may be less. I don't think it occurs to either of us that our own career or life is more important than the other's. We went into marriage knowing that, and we've done a pretty good job sticking to it. Plus, we have incredibly generous parents who help out, and a great babysitter, and great friends, and wonderful children, all of which simplify the complexities of family and work life.
WrigleyJohnson: What made you switch from being a DOJ paralegal to a journalist?
David Plotz: That was definitely the best career error I made. When I graduated from college, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, so I took a job as a paralegal at the Department of Justice to see what lawyers did all day. I loathed it. Two days after I started, I was desperate to leave.
I sent my résumé (college newspaper and bad college clips) to 93 newspapers around the country. Only one, the Winston-Salem Journal, offered me an interview, and then a job. The week of my Winston-Salem interview, I saw a job opening at the Washington City Paper, the alt-weekly in D.C., and sent my résumé and my undergraduate thesis, which was about Marion Barry. The editor, Jack Shafer was intrigued by the Barry thesis, and offered me a job, which I took. I covered D.C. politics for Jack—the most difficult and rewarding job I can imagine.
shanepang: Pandas. We all know your firm stance against pandas in the past. Have your views on pandas softened? Hardened?
David Plotz: Hardened into a diamond-core of loathing and rage. When will Americans wake up and see Pandagate for what it is. The Chinese government charges extortionate rents for us to house, feed, breed their dumb animals. When babies are born, the Chinese take them back, and then rent them to another high bidder. Zoos are literally wasting millions of dollars on this shoddy merchandise, when they could be stocking up with made in America otters or brown bears.
alma9: What is your favorite publication other than Slate (or one of your favorites)?
David Plotz:Top of Form As an editor, I envy and adore New York Magazine, which we subscribe to even though we live in D.C. It is perfect as a magazine—beautiful, always clever, bold, provocative, fun. I read the New York Times more than I read anything.
Echoey: You've spoken often on the podcast about your previously-held anti-gay marriage views. I was hoping you could elaborate on them, and perhaps explain why you felt that way.
David Plotz: Sure. I went to an all-boys, jocky private school in the mid-’80s. It was a school where homophobia was explicit and never questioned. I absorbed enough of that to make me feel ashamed, and I carried forward homophobic ideas into college. Gay marriage was never really something anyone talked—I probably first heard about it as a serious idea in the mid-’90s. At the time, I thought: oh marriage is special. It is a particular, defined institution for men and women, for historic reasons, and we tinker with it at our peril. I was all for civil unions, but I stumbled at marriage. Then, my then-colleague John Cloud talked to me about gay marriage one day, and explained why it mattered, and why civil union was a non-substitute, and how important it was to be free to love who you love and make a family with that person. And I realized that I had been an idiot, and have been for gay marriage ever since.
NinjaDiscoJesus: What did you think of the inauguration speech yesterday?
David Plotz: Perhaps because I have lived in D.C. for so very long, I have been exhausted with speeches. Any politician worth a dime can deliver a great speech, and most of them can write them. But so what? It is very, very, very rare, vanishingly rare, for a political speech to make a difference in the world. Political change never happens because someone makes a nice speech calling for it. It happens because politicians and interest groups commit political capital and labor and money. The Obama speech was a moving, effective speech, well delivered. I don't think anyone will remember it in a week, much less in a year. Can you remember anything he said at his first inauguration? I can't.
Dankois: Which is your favorite flavor of Fresca? Original citrus, black cherry citrus, or peach citrus?
David Plotz: Original. The black cherry is gross. The peach is vile.
Komputerwelt: What’s your stance on the elections in Israel today?
David Plotz: Incredibly depressed. My wife is Israeli and has lots of relatives over there, and it has become harder and harder to visit. I don't see how Israel backs away from the settler-driven, expansionist, occupationist path it is on.
UVdogastrophe: Other than your fellow Gabfest panelists and your wife, who is the most enjoyable person at Slate with which to argue/discuss political and societal issues?
David Plotz: Love this question! I have the great good fortune to share a hallway with the following murderer's row: Josh Levin, Bill Smee, John Dickerson, Will Dobson, Matt Yglesias, Dan Kois, Will Saletan, Dave Weigel. It is heaven for argument!
For pure office BS-ing, I would say Yglesias. I love economic thinking applied to noneconomic problems, and Matt does that better than anyone I know. But really, every single person at Slate is someone I would happily squabble with.
Mcfors: Who is you favorite vendor at the Dupont Farmer’s Market?
David Plotz: Heinz (sp?), the Swiss guy who sells amazing, unfashionable vegetables. I love his uncompromising ethos, and the kale kills. What about you?
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.