Q and A with Joshua Marshall
BRIAN LAMB: Joshua Micah Marshall, how would you describe what you do for a living?
JOSHUA MARSHALL: I’m a publisher of a news Web site. And I’m also the editor. So, I’m heavily involved in the editorial and publishing side of the operation. But that’s basically what I do. I publish a news Web site.
LAMB: How long have you done it?
MARSHALL: I’ve done it in the site itself has existed for just over 11 years. But, in anything like its current form, it goes back about five years. When I say current form, where we employ a number of journalists. Where it’s, you know, it’s a it’s a full company with everything that goes with that. For the first five or six years that I did it, it was just a one man show.
So, there’s continuity, but a very you know, a radically different enterprise than it is now.
LAMB: Can you remember the first moment you said, I want to do this myself, create this Web site?
MARSHALL: Yes. Well, I, you know. When I I think there were a couple of moments. And there were a couple of moments where I have that. Where I didn’t do it yet. Sort of false starts. When I was in graduate school, I was I was involved in Web design, basically to support myself. And I put together a newsletter that was about things having to do with the Internet and stuff like that. And I liked it. I liked. I think I liked being the publisher. I liked putting something together.
And then when I got into being a political journalist, I had an urge to do something like it. And it only it only really came together at the end of the 2000 election when the place I was working at the time, which was called the American Prospect. I it was it was bi-weekly. It came out twice, semi, yeah, I always get confused. It came out twice a month. So, you know, a very different time pace. And I had a sort of an urge to do something like this. And I was on vacation. What was supposed to be the week after the 2000 election, which as it turned out was still the 2000 election was still going on down in Florida. And I started then. And I just was addicted from the beginning.
LAMB: A quick around your early years. You born, where?
MARSHALL: I was born in St. Louis, Missouri.
LAMB: What year?
LAMB: Parents did what?
MARSHALL: Complicated. My parents my father was a graduate student at the time. He was getting a Ph.D. My mother, when I was born I think was working as like an administrative assistant at the same school, at Washington University in St. Louis. So, they were sort of some mix of hippies and would be academics at the time.
LAMB: And mom died early?
MARSHALL: Yes, my mother died in 1981.
LAMB: You went to something called the Webb School.
MARSHALL: Yes, that is a it’s a boarding school, basically. It’s a private boarding school in Claremont, California. They have a small number of day students. And I was one of those. I was a scholarship kid there. And it’s a it’s a great place. It it was great for me. It was it was a great place for me. It helped me sort of start to become who I was. It was very a very important place to me.
MARSHALL: Why was it important?
LAMB: Yes, what what happened there that made it it made a difference?
MARSHALL: It’s it’s a small place. And it’s, you know. I was lucky, my family didn’t have the means to send me there. And I was lucky to get scholarships and stuff like that. But, small private education, they can. There’s more attention they can they can give individual students. Especially if students who don’t maybe aren’t kind of, you know, cut from exactly the typical mold. And I was very interested in I was very interested in history and politics. Not sort of the politics that I now write about, but political history.
And I think, although I didn’t see it that way at the time, I was. You know, I was only a couple of years away from my mother having died. And there’s there’s probably a, you know, a little more community, a little greater level of attention that was that was important for me. Even though I didn’t. I’m not sure I realized that at the time.
LAMB: School was in Claremont, California.
MARSHALL: It’s like 40 miles east of Los Angeles. It’s what they call the Inland Empire out there.
LAMB: And where was your dad, then?
MARSHALL: At the time he had left being a academic botanist; plant, you know, basically sea plants, marine biology. And he was in photography. And he was actually for most of that time, he was actually working at and then owning a photography store in that, you know, in that little in that little area. So, that was he was doing then.
LAMB: Why? First school, Princeton?
LAMB: Why Princeton? And how did? You know, what did it take to get in there?
MARSHALL: You know, I’m not sure. I it was. I think I think when I was in. When I was in high school, I grew up in, you know, grew up in Southern California. And I think I had this thing with that you should go to one of these East Coast schools that have been around for a long time. That that was something. And I had never been to the East Coast, literally never been to the East Coast. I don’t think I’d ever been. I’m not sure I’d ever been east of the Mississippi River. Maybe been to West Virginia once.
I think as often is the case with colleges, you the reasons you go there have very little to do with. It may turn out to be a great thing. And it may turn out to be a disaster. But you kind of don’t know what you’re getting into. I was very ambitious. I wanted to I wanted to go to the best school that I could. In schools like that, sort of prep school kind of things, there’s a lot of, you know, there’s a lot of push and emphasis on that. I think I was. I think I was beguiled by the image I had in my head of the East Coast school with ivy on it and stuff like that, and.
LAMB: How did it turn out?
MARSHALL: I really enjoyed it. I think it was. I think it was great for me. I think it’s a great school.
LAMB: What did you study?
MARSHALL: I studied history history. I sort of everything. I remember that Princeton was one of the schools that you could actually on your application put down like I want to be evaluated. That I’m going to I’m going to study history. Why they do that, I don’t I don’t know exactly. And but, yes, I studied history. And that was kind of for the until I was in like my mid 20s. I wanted to be a history professor.
LAMB: I’ll come back to- You I know you got a PhD. And I’ll come back to that in a minute. But, your Web site, Talking Points Memo. Where did you get the name?
MARSHALL: You know, it’s funny. The name the name actually came from for people who remember the late ’90s, and the Lewinsky scandal. They’re part of the part of the arcana of that scandal. Was that there was supposed to be this Talking Points memo. That make sure I get the get get the history right here. That again, the allegation was that Bruce Lindsey, one of the president’s lawyers. And sort of his confident. Had written this Talking Points Memo sort of a list of sort of instructions for how to respond to questions. And and that Monica Lewinsky had given this to Linda Tripp when she was deposed in that all that legal whatever that was.
And through that scandal this was always the sort of the great white whale for the people who were trying to find the thing that would finally bring the president down. Because if it had existed, that would have been the connection that someone directly tied to president was trying to interfere with that investigation, suborn perjury, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And it was never found. And I think it’s probably fair to infer that it never existed. But, it was at a minimum never found.
You know, you you don’t always you don’t always know what you’re naming when you name it. So, when I first came up with it, it was sort of an arch reference to that. As sort of, you know, my take on my take on answers to important questions of the day.
LAMB: Had Bill O’Reilly started calling his opening monologue Talking Points Memo?
MARSHALL: You know , I don’t know. I didn’t know anything about it. I kind of I only realized that a couple of years later. I think he may have started using it a short time before I did. I I even now I don’t know.
LAMB: Does it cause a problem for you?
MARSHALL: No, it it’s no. It it kind of hisses on T.V. It’s a this is a Web site. It’s never. It’s never been an issue.
LAMB: How long were you the only person at the Web site?
MARSHALL: I was the first employee that we hired was in I think the Spring of 2005. So, that’s five or six years. I had a couple of unpaid interns before that. Who were who were incredibly helpful to me. But were unpaid and there was no office. So, they were just sort of people who agreed to do, you know, little research projects for me basically.
LAMB: How many people come to your Web site on a daily basis, different people?
MARSHALL: In in Internet terms the phrase that the metric they use is unique visitors. On a on a on a average weekday we get about 200,000 unique visitors to the site.
LAMB: How many a month?
MARSHALL: Upwards of 3 million. Sometimes it’s been over 3 million. It’s probably probably an average at this point is 2.8, 2.9 million. But it’s growing pretty week. The the audience, site audience grew by about a 40 percent last year, so.
LAMB: And how many people work for you now?
MARSHALL: I believe at this moment we have 28 full-time staff.
LAMB: Based where?
MARSHALL: Our headquarters is in New York. About two-thirds of the staff is in New York. And the rest is here in Washington, D.C.
LAMB: Back in 2002, we had a camera in a room on Capitol Hill. We were the only camera there that I know of. But after we showed this, a lot of things began to happen. And I think it may have had an impact on your life. Let’s run this clip and see what you can tell us about it.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today. And I know that you’re enjoying every minute of this. And I knew that the previous remarks would be just as they were. I mean, after all, Bob Dole received the Republican party nomination. And dang near was elected president of the United States telling Strom Thurmond jokes.
If he had just gotten some new material toward the end there, he would have done it. And I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of him.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t had had all these problems over all these years, either.
LAMB: Strom Thurmond was 100 years old there. Trent Lott was in the leadership in the Republican party, Bob Dole was saying that none of them there anymore. Strom Thurmond is dead. What impact did that event have on you?
MARSHALL: It had a pretty big impact on the on the evolution of the Web site. That just to the brief background is that that snippet was picked up, I believe by Overnight on ABC Radio. And then that was basically it. It kind of, you know. One of the million things that kind of go through the news. And are never heard from again.
LAMB: And by the way we carried it live in the afternoon. It wasn’t even on an evening. It was in the afternoon
MARSHALL: Right, OK. So so, it was. You know, there were there were a few times. There were a few times where it was it was it was no secret that it had happened. It was out there. But it was one of these cases where what he said right there, just the background. Is that in 1948, the the election that he that Strom Thurmond was that Trent Lott was referring to. Strom Thurmond ran as a presidential candidate of the Dixie Crap party. Basically the part of the the southern Democrats succeeding from the National Democratic Party to run on segregation, Jim Crow. The the sort of the the racial system of of the old south.
And in the 20 to 30 years after that, Strom Thurmond, maybe 25 years after that. Strom Thurmond continued to be the person who was most strongly identified with racial segregation. And basically, was the bridesmaid ushering the southern Democratic party into the Republican party. So, the implication of that remark was that if Strom Thurmond had won, that segregation would have won. And we wouldn’t have had all these problems that we that we have today.
Now, if you if you tease it all out. And say that if this guy who was the who was the champion of segregation had won in 1948, what are all those problems? Well, it’s hard it’s hard not to infer that the problems have to do with racial equality. And sort of everything that’s stemmed from it.
And TPM, Talking Points Memo, was one of, I think just a couple of places that said, wait a second. Wait a second. This guy is is one of the most senior people in the U.S. government today, Trent Lott. At the time he was Senate Majority Leader. What is he saying here? He he sure seems to be saying that, you know, we took a wrong turn when we embrace racial equality between the 1950s and 1970s. Now, a lot of people who defended him basically said, he’s at a birthday party for a man who’s 100 years old. This is a throw-away remark. What, you know, what’s the problem?
The problem for Lott was that he himself had a history of identification with a lot of segregationists or neo-segregationist politics. And in a way kind of everybody knew that. But had sort of that’s Trent Lott, whatever. And he’d gotten a pass. And people had known this more, maybe in the ’80s when he was starting out in politics. But by 2002, it was a different day.
LAMB: And he used to be a Democrat. He went to the Republican party.
MARSHALL: He used to be Democrat. And again, he was he was part of that that exodus of southern Democrats. He I believe Senator Eastland?
LAMB: Senator Jim Eastland.
MARSHALL: Right, you know, one of the kind of iconic segregationist politicians of that earlier era.
LAMB: He worked for him?
MARSHALL: Correct. That he was. That he was an aide for, I think in the very late ’60s. And he kind of, you know, kind of, you know, brought him into politics. And it created this sort of TPM saying, this kind of time out. Let’s
LAMB: But, , the dynamics said -
MARSHALL: Right .
LAMB: Well, where were you? And when did you first find hear this? Or did somebody call you?
MARSHALL: I first heard about it from a reader the next morning who just who. Because I believe it was actually also picked up in ABC’s The Note, I believe. This is 10 years ago, so I don’t have I.
LAMB: That’s a written?
MARSHALL: Right, it was actually what Mark Halperin, who everybody knows today as one of the big sort of political pundits of the day. That he was in charge of writing. So, it was sort of like an overnight kind of cheat sheet for politics. And someone sent it to me. And with my history background. I mean, I kind of I got it exactly. You know, it was all kind of clear to me what that all meant. And it went from there. And I think it was it was it was a big thing for TPM. Because we were, you know, we were sort of the site that that, you know, sort of called time out. And made it a story. We weren’t the only ones. I think we had a pretty I had a pretty big role.
But, stories are always, you know, the way that news works. There’s always they’re simplified. And it was simplified as TPM kind of made this story. Started this this this sort of bonfire that that really consumed Trent Lott’s career, I think. So, it was a big thing for TPM. It really, the site had already been around for almost two years. And it had an audience and whatever. But it sort of took it up a big level.
And but I think it was also a big thing for new media. Because one of the things that new media. And when I mean New Media, I mean, the the Internet. And the, kind of all the media today that doesn’t work in the old traditional news cycle, 24 hour or weekly news cycle. Is that a site like TPM, and a lot of sites. They are able to kind of say, wait. There’s something this needs a little more attention. And can really focus in on it in a way that the more ordered and news cycle based media that existed at the time wasn’t quite able to do.
LAMB: Let’s run some video that you put together about this whole story. And then we’ll ask you about that.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: My heart’s on fire, Elvira. Gi di up.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Oom pa pa oom pa pa mow mow.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Hi yo silver away.
MARSHALL: Hi, it’s Josh Marshall from TPM Media. It’s Tuesday, November 27th, 2007. That was Trent Lott along with Senator Larry Craig. Both during happier days when they were members of the group, the Singing Senators. As you may know, yesterday Senator Lott came forward and announced that he would be resigning his seat in the U.S. senate sometime before the end of the year. It looks like probably so he can bag a big lobbying position. Before the new rules come into effect in 2008.
So, in honor of Senator Lott’s departure, we’re going to take a bit of a trip down memory lane today. And as you may know, TPM actually has something of a history with Senator Lott. Back in 2002, TPM, along with a number of other sites was pretty early in flagging the importance of Senator Lott’s comments about Senator Strom Thurmond. You can actually see right here. This was a segment on PBS’s news hour from a few months after that. That was about TPM. And this new phenomenon of blogging.
Now, just so we all remember. Here is that wonderful moment when Senator Lott revealed his nostalgia for the states rights segregationist South. Take a look.
TRENT LOTT, UNITED STATES SENATOR: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. And we’re proud of him.
LOTT: And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t had had all these problems over all these years, either.
MARSHALL: Now, it took Senator Lott about a week to swirl down the drain into complete political oblivion back in 2002.
LAMB: First of all, what did you do the video for? And do you still do that kind of thing?
MARSHALL: We’re actually bringing it back. We did it for two years in 2007 and 2008. And it was a daily, a four days a week, daily Web show. About five minutes a different topic everyday; everything from kind of breaking news of the given day to bringing stuff. You know, stitching together stories that have been sort of moving over over days and weeks. And we’re actually going to bring that back for the 2012 cycle.
LAMB: Now, the thing about that particular event that you’re talking about. Our cameras were there. And we were the only camera in the room. And you were the only. I think that Washington Post did a piece on it. But you were the one that sent it viral Trent Lott wouldn’t have had to step down.
MARSHALL: I think that’s true. I think that’s true.
MARSHALL: And how often do you? You mean? How often do you see new media doing that kind of thing today? And how often have you done it?
LAMB: You know, it it’s such a different. The the media ecosystem is such a different world today than it was. It’s it’s hard to believe that’s 10 years ago. I think things like things like that happen all the time now. I mean, I know that there’s there’s certainly many big stories that TPM has had over the last decade, you know, more and more. Now we have an an editorial staff of 20 people. So, we’re you know, breaking breaking stories right and left. I think the thing is it’s almost become. It’s almost become commonplace. And it’s not. It’s not nearly as surprising today as it as it as it was back then.
MARSHALL: I want to show you some video of a man named Henry Copeland.
MARSHALL: And see if you can tell us about him.
HENRY COPELAND, CEO, BLOGADS: As you everybody here knows, blogs have been around since ’98, ’99, 2000. In the early days, blogs were all about authentic, I’m going to write my stuff. No one else is going to read it. Maybe a few friends will read it. Over time, people started to write about stuff that interested them. It interested, hey, 1,000 other people, 100,000 other people, a million people. And some blogs eventually reached 10 million people. And when you get to be that big, you become a media player.
You’re no longer, you know, just some little person writing a diary. You’re a big media player. And so, what we did back in 2000, was we said, well, these guys have these unique audiences. These incredibly excited audiences. Let’s connect advertisers with those audiences.
LAMB: What impact did (Mr. Copeland) have on TPM?
MARSHALL: A big one a big one.
LAMB: And who is he?
MARSHALL: He Henry owns and still runs; it’s very big now. A company called Blogads, which is an advertising network that that places ads on blogs. And, you know, today like I said. We have almost 30 employees. We have offices in two cities. We have a very big presence in in, you know, a big business presence in Washington. We’re we’re we have, you know, all sort of national advertisers. This, you know, kind of highly influential audience. And we’re a full fledged news organization. When I met. I first met Henry back in 2002, or 2003. And at the time I eventually wanted to sort of do with TPM what I’ve I’ve since done. But I didn’t think. I didn’t think it was it was ready. I didn’t think there was the apparatus or the demand to start doing advertising, which again, is obviously our lifeblood today.
And so, the first few times that Henry contacted me. It’s like, hey, we should do. You know, you should. We should do this. I think I kind of blew him off. And I was so focused on building the site. And I was so focused on the stories that I was working on. That it took him some persistence to finally sort of track me down. And get me to focus on what he was proposing. But he finally did. And I’m very glad that he did. Because in pretty short order we went into business together.
You know, I we became business partners. And it started bringing in revenue for for TPM. And the immediate relevance of that is that I could. In pretty short order, I was able to dedicate all of my time to growing the site. And because for the first. When I started TPM, I was still the Washington editor of a magazine called the American Prospect.
Three, four months later, I left the Prospect. And after that, I was freelancing. And if you remember back to early 2001, the the economy wasn’t doing great. And particularly the publishing economy wasn’t doing great. So, it was a terrible time to be to be freelancing. And I was spending most of my time trying to build TPM for nothing, for for no money.
So, I was barely getting by. You know, and and if you do. You know, freelance journalism about politics is not a it’s not a big growth sector. It’s not a way to really make big money. So, you know, Henry allowed me to make TPM into a vital business. And that’s really a critical thing that that that I would have never been able to get it to where it is now had he not kind of provided the apparatus that made it a viable business model for a number of years.
And at this point we still we still do some business with Blogads. It’s not a it’s not a primary part of of what we do. But again, Henry tracked me down. And forced me to pay attention. So that he could, again, sort of set me up with a business model that allowed me to take to make a big leap forward for TPM.
LAMB: Can you give us an idea without giving proprietary information on how much revenue you can generate in a year?
MARSHALL: At this sure. Well, I’m trying to think what what I can say. You know, a company like TPM can can bring in millions of dollars of revenues a year.
LAMB: A private company?
MARSHALL: Totally private company.
LAMB: For profit?
MARSHALL: For profit a for profit LLC, registered in the state of New York.
LAMB: Let me read. I found this in the American Journalism Review in January.
MARSHALL: I’ll say, just to just to be precise. There’s what a company like that can do. I’ll say that we that we bring in multiple millions of dollars. Obviously, that can be a lot of -
MARSHALL: A lot of thing.
LAMB: But it’s growing?
MARSHALL: Yes, it’s definitely growing.
LAMB: And I want to read you just a paragraph from American Journalism Review in January of 2010. And have you break it down. TPM, this is their view of you. TPM’s origins as a left-leaning political blog could effect its credibility for some. Now this is the Journalism Review. ”TPM ” and this is in quotes ”Is really an advocacy operation that has moved toward journalism, says Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.” Let me just stop there. And do you agree with that so far?
MARSHALL: Not really I think that there’s always been something called opinion journalism. It’s what the New Republic has done for almost a century. I think that you know, I professionally, I came out of opinion journalism. I think that’s what TPM started out as. I don’t think TPM was ever an advocacy organization. I’m sure of it. Because I was the one running it. And that wasn’t what I was doing. But it definitely was rooted in an opinion journalism, which is which is it’s own kind of unique beast.
You where where you are coming from having having certain viewpoints on the issues of of the day. Not putting yourself forward as a as a disinterested observer. We’ve we’re different from that now. But so, I I would quibble a little with with what he’s saying.
LAMB: OK, Tom Rosentiel says. He goes on, ”The amount of shoe leather original reporting is a small part of what they do. He distinguishes traditional opinion reporting from what he calls the journalism of affirmation. Where writers quote, quote, expect to arrive at preconceived notions, unquote.” Pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow quote, see themselves as agents of a movement. And many bloggers feel the same way, Rosenstiel says final sentence.
It remains to be seen as TPM evolves in this space. Further, whether they’re going to be the journalism of opinion or the journalism of affirmation.”
MARSHALL: You know, I I would quibble a bit with that. I I think that if you look at what we if you look at what TPM does. If you look at who TPM is. We the people who who run it are If you look at our. You know, like I said, we have a we have an editorial staff of 20 people.
We we hire those journalists from places like you know, we’ve hired people from places like the Washington Times, the Hill Newspaper, National Journal. We have people who have gone on to work at the Washington Post, at The New York Times, at the Wall Street Journal. These aren’t people who are who are who are professional advocates. They’re journalists. I think that that, you know, we have as many. Like many news organizations, we divide up what we what we publish between a news section and an opinion section.
For us, there’s the news section, there’s the news articles we publish everyday. There’s also what we call the editor’s block, which is kind of what TPM originally was. In the editor’s blog, where much of it is opinion and very openly so. Just as you might find on the Washington Post editorial page, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. The what we produce in our news section, I think is of just as high quality. And just as close in attention to accuracy as anybody else’s journalism.
LAMB: Here’s some video from TPMtv, July 25, 2007. And it’s you reporting on Alberto Gonzales. And I’ll ask you more about this.
MARSHALL: Hi, this is Josh Marshall from TPM Media. It’s Wednesday, July 25, 2007. You know, back on May 2nd in one of our first episodes of TPMtv, we asked the question, Why can’t President Bush fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales? And our answer was, he can’t. And the reason he can’t. The reason he couldn’t then. And the reason he can’t now is because as soon as he fires Alberto Gonzales. Or even lets him resign. He’d have to appoint a new Attorney General. And there’s no way the Senate is going to confirm another Attorney General who’s going to keep all the cover-ups in place like Alberto Gonzales is.
Now, yesterday Alberto Gonzales went up to the Senate for another round of hearings. And it was such a train wreck. So many lies he was caught in. So much ridiculousness. So many things he couldn’t remember. I think it just proves out again, this guy is unfireable. Because no one else could stay in office after a performance like this.
LAMB: How did you get into this story? And what impact did you have on this one?
MARSHALL: This was a story that TPM actually won what’s a POLK award. One of the major journalism awards. I think we were the first online news organization to win one. This was the firing of a number of U.S. Attorneys across the country for an unprecedented firing that was later later revealed to be for political reasons. It it led eventually to the resignation of Alberto Gonzales.
We were we had a TPM had a big role in in breaking and and uncovering that story. It was me, it was a reporter named Paul Kiel who now works at ProPublica. Who did the actual reporting on it. And it was a case where you know, a lot of it was just good shoe leather reporting. It was also a case though. Two things allowed us to do it that I think are sort of that are that are things that are unique to to new media. One is, we were we used our audience as part of our reporting process. One of the ways that we were able to put this together at the beginning.
Because what happened was is there were a number of U.S. Attorneys who just resigned, or seemed to resign across the country at around the same time. I believe there were eight. But no one put it together because there was sort of nothing that seemed, that you would put together. But there were things that were suspicious about a few a few of those cases.
And one particularly was the resignation of a U.S. Attorney who had been involved in a major corruption case in Southern California. Readers started tipping us off to these things. And because we had that relationship with our readers. Because our relationship with the readers always has been and still is. So, core to our editorial process that we were able to see a pattern that others weren’t. And we kept, at the time, again there were there were only two reporters that we had, me and Paul Kiel, working on this. We were able to see patterns that others couldn’t. Because we were using our readers.
The other thing is that we could focus on the story in a way that other news organizations weren’t able to. We weren’t the only news organization on this story by any means. But, we we stayed on it consistently. And what we were also able to do was do our own original reporting. And take nuggets and pieces of information from other news organizations. And stitch them together into one narrative. Where it started to all to kind of come together and make make sense.
So, what we were doing was a mix of original reporting. And where I call intelligent aggregation; which again, which traditional news organizations weren’t and kind of still aren’t able to do. So, it was. It’s one of the stories that I’m most proud of that we’ve ever worked on. So, I you know, I think back on it fondly. But I think it also. Again, it it was important to the sort of the evolution of new media and what new media can do.
LAMB: Did do you remember where you got your first tip on that story?
MARSHALL: Yes, I remember because I was I was driving back with my with my with my family from Long Island. Or, no I was driving to. I was driving out to Long Island. And I got a call from a long-time reader who who referenced the firing of Carol Lam down in San Diego.
LAMB: She had prosecuted Duke Cunningham.
MARSHALL: Right. And we talked about it. This was this was a source a reader and a source who was knowledgeable on this. And when I we had also been pretty involved in reporting the Duke Cunningham story. And I knew something wasn’t right about that. It just and that was the first thing that made us focus. That was where it started for us.
LAMB: You appeared at the New York Public Library. And we were questioned by John Darnton, who used to be with The New York Times. And it looks like. And you can tell me if it was or wasn’t. A little testy here. The old journalism versus the new journalism. Tell us what you think?
MARSHALL: It’s it’s opinion journalism. So, I there’s an element of advocacy to what I do; and an element of journalism. And I and I like to think I do it in a way where there’s not a strong contradiction between the two. But, there is definitely trying to make a point. You there’s no pretense of being a disinterested observer to a lot of debates. And there have been various times over the course of, I guess six years, that I’ve been running the site that I do. That I’ve moved further into the the direction of what’s basically activism or advocacy on a particular question.
LAMB: Actually, John Darnton was a nurse . I got it confused in another clip. But have you found along the way that people in the traditional mainstream journalism have been opposed to what you’re doing? And has it changed any?
MARSHALL: Yes, I mean, it it. There’s definitely there’s definitely some of that. I would say by and large I’ve been surprised at how much support there’s been. And not always public support. But but support nonetheless. I mean, there was a there there was a point at which, right after I got I got. After the 2004 election, I got very involved in one story, which was when President Bush was trying to privatize. Made a big push to privatize social security. And that was the that was probably. I I think this was around around then, or maybe not; maybe 2005 2006?
LAMB: Yes no, that’s actually. It was ’07.
MARSHALL: OK. I think that was probably what was in my mind at that at that point. Because that was probably the furthest I got in the direction of sort of something like advocacy. It it was that topic was something that was so important to me. That was also at the time when I was trying to kind of think. Like what direction am I going to am I going to take this. And it was not long after that that I basically set (TP) up TPM up as a company. Started hiring people. And since then, we’ve been our focus has been on, you know, hiring reporters. You know, kind of anchoring in in in journalism.
LAMB: Do you make a major decision, back in was it, 2005 or so? To increase the size of your company. And if you did, or whenever you did, where did you get the money?
MARSHALL: I did make that decision. I in 2005, and 2006, the initial. I mean, I had as I said, I was I was, you know, a freelance journalist. So, I had no excuse me.
LAMB: And yet , did you have a family then?
MARSHALL: I had a I had. I just had a wife. And I was starting a family.
LAMB: And you?
MARSHALL: I have a family now.
LAMB: How many kids now?
MARSHALL: I have two sons. I have a five-year-old and a three-and-a-halfyear-old son. I did make that decision. Up until that point, TPM was just sort of my Web site. It had no it had no legal existence. It wasn’t like a corporation and incorporated anywhere. I did make that decision. And what I did was I went to readers to raise money. I went I three times I went to readers. And I basically said each time, I want to do X. I want to build this new part of the site.
And I asked people to send small contributions, which they did $20.00, $50.00. And the three times that I did that was what gave me the money to first launch TPMCafe. Then TPMMuckraker in at the end at the beginning of 2006; and then finally, TPM Election Central, which evolved into our into our political coverage.
After that, TPM was. You know, we it we grew it out of just its operating revenues. And then in 2009, for the first time, I brought in outside investors. And we’ve done two investment rounds. The second, we’re just finishing up right now. So, we have outside investors. I’m still by far the majority investor in the in the Company.
LAMB: Back to, and define TPMCafe and Muckraker, and Election.
MARSHALL: TPMCafe was a group blog. Still is a group blog. We’re actually about to relaunch it. Outside basically outside contributors blogging for the site.
LAMB: Will you pay them? Or, are they just do it for nothing?
MARSHALL: They they were they were all doing it. Doing it for nothing. Some in some cases they were. We were reprinting their stuff. In other cases, they just wanted a place to write short, you know, short updates on the on the news of the day. TPMMuckraker was our first news site. A a site dedicated to investigative journalism. It’s done over the years it’s sort of it’s sort of always been the one that’s closest to my heart. TPM Election Central was the site the campaign coverage site we launched for the 2008. I’m sorry, 2006 election cycle. And it has gone through different permutations. It originally became TPMDC after it for the for the for the 2010 cycle. And now we have two TPM2012, which is our current election site.
LAMB: Here’s some video that you put together for the 2008 TPM election coverage.
MARSHALL: Hi, it’s Josh Marshall from TPM Media. It’s Friday, October 31, 2008, four days before the November election. Today we want to give you an overview of our election coverage, which we’re actually going to kick off at noon on Monday. The first thing we want to tell you about is in partnership with Google, we’re going to be featuring an interactive election results map. Where you can follow all of the election results live on election day through through election evening.
Now, you can watch the presidential results as they come in state by state. The House races and the Senate races. You can see what it looks like right there. And we’re going to be putting that up on Monday afternoon. So, you can familiarize yourself with it, how it works, and so forth. And be ready for election night when the results start coming in. Starting on Monday, we will also have our TPMtv crew. That’s David Kurtz and Ben Craw in Chicago to bring you live reports from Obama headquarters and the results on election night. So, on election day and night we’ll be having both video, normal TPM T.V. shows. But also live video reports that we’ll be featuring on the front page right here at Talking Points Memo dot com.
LAMB: Was there a reason you didn’t have a camera at the John McCain headquarters?
MARSHALL: Purely resources. In in 2008, we still had. I think we probably had seven employees. And it was it was a it was a major capital investment to send people anywhere outside of outside of New York City.
LAMB: At this time in your existence -
LAMB: And doing all of this. How expensive was either doing those videos? And how did you do them? What kind of equipment did you need? And how many people were involved in them?
MARSHALL: You know, we were. We did. At the time, we were doing things really by the skin of our teeth. We we had a basic ProAm, you know, video camera. And it we were doing it in in our office in New York City. We we were editing it on final cut on a on a Mac computer. And we were doing something similar to that when we sent people remote to to Chicago. So so, we were, you know. I’m looking right now at this at this, you know, big professional video camera, which at the time probably. The you know, at the time would have been vastly more than we would have been able to purchase. We we were we were able to we were able to do a lot with fairly little money. Some of it showed in the production quality. But it was good enough to get across the basic, the basic information we were trying to do.
LAMB: Anybody ever complain to you about your video quality?
MARSHALL: There were many comments about our video quality. I’m not sure I’d call them complaints.
LAMB: Would you think it matters to the people that follow you? What what does matter to them? Why are they following you in your opinion?
MARSHALL: I think they follow us because of the the core quality of what of what we do. We’ve evolved a lot as an organization, though. We are we now are. For many of our readers, we are one of their primary sources of political news at hard national news. So, as we’ve grown, we are actually much more attentive to production quality, the aesthetic quality of the site. We always try to keep pretty focused on on that it’s it’s a set of values. It’s a it’s a fundamental honesty with readers that really keeps our audience tied to us.
MARSHALL: But you’re still packaging is important.
LAMB: On your TPM Muckraker site, you say the kind of reporting is more honest. Is more straight than a lot of things you see. Even on the front pages of great newspapers like the Times and the Post.
MARSHALL: Yes, what what I what I mean by that is I think one of the great problems in journalism as it evolved into the late, in the 20th century. Was that frequently balance got. There’s a there’s a war between balance and accuracy, with balance often winning. I think it’s many journalists will tell you they have they report stories where it’s pretty clear that one side is. One side’s telling the truth. And the other is is obfuscating.
But the canons of journalistic objectivity as they evolved didn’t give journalists a lot of ability to say that. And our motto, again, what we think about again, and again, and again is fundamental honesty with readers. We don’t want there to be things we know. Things we know are the case. But we’re not able or willing to share with readers. Now, that’s a that’s a different that’s a different approach to to journalism. But, I think in many ways, it’s a it’s a better one.
LAMB: When did you decide to get a Ph.D. from Brown? And what’s it in?
MARSHALL: It’s in Early American History, basically the colonial period of American History and the Revolution. I think I I decided like when I was in high school. That, you know, that that was what I wanted to do. I went to Brown because the my my advisor there, Gordon Wood, who was a very famous Colonial and Revolutionary war historian. I went there to study with him.
I actually ended up studying a period a little distant from his kind of core area focus; which, what I was what I my dissertation was about, 17th century New England. And the relation relations, economic relations and violent interactions between the Indians and settlers in in what’s now Southern New England.
LAMB: When did you finish your Ph.D.?
MARSHALL: I actually only finished it in 2003 after a lot of the story that we’re talking about happened. I I was basically full-time graduate student until ’97, ’98. And I I had gotten most of most of the dissertation written by the time I had gotten my first journalism job. And then it kind of just sat for, I guess, four years or so. What seemed like an eternity at the time. And eventually I realized that I that if I didn’t do it soon, I would never do it.
So, I set aside a basically year to kind of focus on it, and finish it. And get it done for myself, for my for my father. Who’s who has since passed away. It was that was. And he wasn’t. He was already not healthy at the time. So, I set aside that year. And not too long after the Trent Lott thing happened. So, I kind of lost the first half of the year. But I got it done. And I and I’m very glad that I did for many reasons.
LAMB: Did did you ever talk to Trent Lott about what happened to him?
MARSHALL: No. It’s I it’s just never come up. I mean, I it’s funny, we’ve. I’ve often hear TPM referred to as like, you know, that we got Alberto Gonzales fired. And we probably contributed to it in a real way. I never said that that he should resign. Or that he should or that Trent Lott. And and that’s not just. That’s not just reticence. I I don’t really take, you know. Certainly in general, I don’t like the idea of people losing their jobs. Or lose or and it’s never something. I don’t think you’ll ever. I don’t think if you look back through TPM, you’d ever see, we’ve we’ve pursued many corruption stories extremely aggressively.
Because we think they should be pursued aggressively. But I don’t take any pleasure in in people going to jail. And people losing their jobs. Or people’s careers getting up-ended. But, no, I never talked to him about that.
LAMB: Here you are on the in 2009, on the (Steel And Cobra Show).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: But if you are one of America’s most, you know, preeminent bloggers, why aren’t you wearing a bathrobe?
MARSHALL: We’ve we’ve upped our game in the last few years.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Yes.
MARSHALL: No, we we, you know, .
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Now, you really look like an Iranian politician.
MARSHALL: Yes, yes, this is. I’m going to a non the non-tie thing.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: OK.
MARSHALL: No, look, we have. We run a news site. We’ve got the quarters and we got a staff of 12 people.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: What do you mean news site? What do you mean news site, OK?
MARSHALL: A news site, we’ve.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Is this just you? Like, I think this is important. Tippity-top, -
MARSHALL: No, that’s not what it’s like.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Tippity, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. What do you mean news sight?
MARSHALL: We well, we have professional reporters who work for us. We have a staff of 12. We have an office. We cover the news every day. I I call that a news site.
LAMB: At the time, you had a staff of 12. And now you have a staff of 28. And that was just literally two-and-a-half years ago or so.
MARSHALL: Right, Right, Right.
LAMB: How far are you going to go with this. And what’s the goal now?
MARSHALL: We want to go a lot further than we are now. We want to be one of the country’s preeminent news organizations. We have a very ambitious growth plan. We don’t we’re not trying to move into everything under the sun. Our basic focus is hard news and political news. We think we do it well. We want to keep refining it. We want to keep breaking news. We want to, you know in the last two years, we’ve doubled in size. The next two years, I think we’ll double in size again. And we don’t want to stop then.
LAMB: You started with what? And the very beginning what was it? It was just you. But what did you have in the way of? How much expense did you have in the first year?
MARSHALL: You know, what was great about it was that it cost me almost nothing to start. I had a a Web, you know, a Web site account. That I think cost me 50 bucks a month. Maybe not even that. And that actually got me. You know, now there’s all of these. There’s Tumblr. There’s all these different services that you just. It’s turnkey. You just, you know, to set up a site. And there’s even like, you know, templates for, you know, to have this there.
And there was a little of that then. I didn’t know anything about it. I had some experience doing Web design, though. So, I started it for basic . Even in my even in my primerius state, you know, it was still nothing. You know, 30 bucks a month or something like that. And that really got me through the first couple of years. I really didn’t have to spend much more than that.
So, it was just me and a laptop. And that was one of the that’s kind of one of the great things about the Internet. And what’s happened to journalism. And and not just journalism, but communications over the last 15 years or so. That, you know, I had no money to invest. And luckily I didn’t need it at the beginning.
LAMB: Where did you meet your wife?
MARSHALL: You know, I met my wife in college. And then I didn’t see her again for a dozen years. And then we reconnected in 2002. And at the end of 2002. And then we dated for a year and a half, or something like that; or, two years. I was in D.C. She was in New York. And then when we decided to get married, I moved to New York.
LAMB: What’s she do?
MARSHALL: She, at the time, she was a securities a securities lawyer. She worked for Dow Jones. Now, she she left Dow Jones after they were bought out by News Corp. a couple of years ago. She worked for TPM as our general counsel. And just a year ago she went back to school to get an MSW. So, she’s going to become a a therapist. And I think that’s.
LAMB: MSW stands for?
MARSHALL: Masters in Social Work; and it’s it’s the degree that many people who do counseling and and talking therapy. That’s the degree many of those people have.
LAMB: I have to ask you about her last name. How did she get the name (Israeli)?
MARSHALL: She got the well, she actually is born Israeli. She was born in Israel. Her her parents were both born actually in Palestine, pre-state, you know, pre-Israel Palestine. Her father’s her father’s ancestors were from Russia. And I think that their Russianized name was something like (Israelieve) or something like that. As as you know, many Jews who immigrated to Palestine, sort of Hebrewized their names. And this one was a pretty easy one to Hebrewize, so that’s that’s how she has the name (Israeli).
LAMB: Joshua Micah Marshall, Editor and Publisher of Talking Points Memo, that’s TPM dot com.
MARSHALL: TalkingPointsMemo dot com.
LAMB: Not TPM.
MARSHALL: Not TPM dot TPM dot com is owned by a is owned by an industrial firm down in South Carolina. So, I don’t think we’ll be getting that domain anytime soon.
LAMB: And thank you very much for joining us.
MARSHALL: Thank you, I really appreciate it.