This is the second and final part of my interview with Connie Schultz about her new book
on spouse Sherrod Brown's 2006 Senate campaign. The first half of the interview is here
Yellow Dog Sammy: The morning after the election, Sherrod had a press conference and he was asked what was the turning point in this race. He gave two [turning points], and one of them was when you and he made the decision, in the very beginning, that the two of you were going to be true to yourselves, and not “move to a mushy middle …”
Connie Schultz: Right. We were going to be progressives, running a progressive race in Ohio.
YDS: Tell me about that. When did that happen, how did that …
CS: Well, it’s a pivotal scene in the book, as you can imagine. Because I really resisted, as I said, his running. I was really scared about what it would do to us. I was scared as well what it was going to do to him. I was scared about my career. So, I was having discussions with people who are very close to me. Understand that those who were close to me as well as Sherrod also had real concerns about his running. But there was real pressure on Sherrod from [then Senate Minority Leader Sen.] Harry Reid and [Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chairperson Sen.] Chuck Schumer. They wanted him to decide in July. That’s the thing that a lot people who supported Hackett don’t understand. Sherrod wasn’t saying that he was not going to run ever, he was saying, “If you need to know in July, the answer is ‘No,’ because we’re just not ready yet.”
And Sherrod’s family really wanted him to run. They’re a political family. This is what they do, they care deeply about the country, and this is the way that they express it. They get involved in these races.
We moved [that summer]. We were in two separate homes, because my daughter was a senior in high school and I did not want to uproot her more than her life was already changing. So we waited until she graduated in June of 2005 to move. … At that point we thought we needed to move to Sherrod’s Congressional district. And so there was an awful lot of change going on, if you can imagine. My daughter leaves for school, I move out of Shaker [Heights] where I know everyone in my community, to a development [which is] the first all-white neighborhood I’ve lived in in my life. And we picked it because it was close to the freeway. And, my daughter changed schools really quickly, it wasn’t working where she first went, so we had that going on.
The thing is, though, we moved into a really nice house. And I remember Sherrod saying, “I haven’t had a house like this since I grew up.” And I said, “I have NEVER had a house like this.” … I remember just standing one day in what they call the “Great Room,” and we had just built floor-to-ceiling bookcases, because we have 4,000 books and there were no bookshelves in the house. And Sherrod and I started talking about how we were really risking getting too comfortable. We had not worked this hard to stop working. And, I had a very generous book deal already, the first one. Things were going well.
And then … this sounds so corny … we watched the first two episodes of season two of [NBC drama series] “The West Wing.” I loved West Wing. Sherrod always says they talk too fast, so he never watched it. Besides, he could always see the errors. Are you a West Wing fan?
YDS: Oh, yeah!
CS: Do you remember, this was where they get shot, and they flash back to when they first decided to run. And there’s this scene where [First Lady Abigail Bartlet, played by] Stockard Channing, yells at Josh [Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford], because [President Jed Bartlet’s] not ready yet, he’ll get there but he’s not ready yet. And that’s what part of what the problem [was] for Sherrod, he wasn’t ready yet. You know, it’s kind of like having kids, you’re never completely ready. But you’ve got to make the leap. And we sat and we watched it, and at the end of the second episode Martin Sheen’s character [Jed Bartlet] turns to Josh after Josh had just found out that his father died … and [Bartlet] had been so brutal with the staff, he had been just irritable, because he wasn’t ready. And, I had seen that in Sherrod.
And I looked at him when it was over, and I said, “You’ve got to run, don’t you?” And he said, “I really think I do,” and I said “I think you do, too.” And that’s how it happened. And we thought, “Whew! Everything’s good now!” [Laughter.] It was just beginning. We did not know what [was about to happen]. [Sherrod] called, you know, Paul Hackett, right away. And Paul had not announced yet.
CS: Which people seem to forget sometimes, but Paul had not announced. He was saying that he was going to, and Sherrod said, “I wanted to let you know, I’m going [to run].”
YDS: The part about, “we are who we are …”
CS: Well, and that discussion is what we had then. We said, here are the conditions. You’re going to be the progressive that you’ve always been or you’re not running. We both agreed to this. We’re both progressives. We believe that we speak for the majority of the people in Ohio. Because, as progressives, we really fight for working men and women. That’s one of the things Sherrod and I always had in common, that’s one of the reasons why we fell in love in the first place. It’s our shared values. And, we weren’t going to go to the middle.
And, number two, we were going to fight back. Whenever the Karl Rove machine kicked in, and we knew it would – and we knew that Mike DeWine had a history of really ugly campaigning because of what he did to John Glenn – when that happened, we were going to fight back. We weren’t going to wait. We weren’t going let happen to Sherrod what happened to John Kerry.
We were going to run an 88 county race. That was the other thing that we decided. Because John Kerry … you know, that campaign in Ohio stayed out of a whole bunch of the counties down in Appalachia. We were going to run an 88 county campaign and we were going to have coordinators in every single county, and we were going to campaign in every county. And we did.
YDS: Did you personally get into all 88, do you think?
CS: I got into 66, I think, they figured out. And I don’t know about Sherrod. I think between the two of us, we got into almost every single one of them. … They always had somebody, a family member or somebody. Some Brown family member got to all counties.
Then we decided that … another thing we were going to do is … we decided that we weren’t going to be split up all the time. We were going to have time together. We weren’t going to have much down time, but we were going to have time together. And, that WE would steer that ship. That we would not let consultants, schedulers, anybody trying to manage us, decide they were going to manage our marriage as well. And then Sherrod made one more promise. Whenever I saw him he’d still make my coffee. [Laughter.] And it wasn’t a deal-breaker, but it really helped, and he did. Whenever he was home, he made my coffee in the morning.
We really worked hard to sleep at home, whenever we possibly could. Instead of in a hotel. Sherrod did better, in his home. We have the pets. You have your dogs, we have our dog and cats. And it just helped.
Does that explain that for you? I mean, it all happened that night. That was a very long night for us. But you could just feel the burden lift. I mean we knew how hard it was going to be. Sherrod did not want to believe I would have to leave my job until I felt like leaving my job, just to go campaign. As in, “It’s going to happen sooner than you think.” It was a source of real tension for us. Because he believed in me, and my standards. He didn’t want to think anything could force me out sooner. But, I just felt circumstances were such that I had to.
YDS: You mentioned that you have strong political views.
CS: Mm hmm.
YDS: I have two questions about that. One is, did you feel like they changed at all, as a result of traveling all over the state, talking to lots of people, talking to lots of politicians. And the other is, are you and Sherrod uniformly of the same view on things, or are there flash points where you disagree?
CS: I grew up – I say this in the book – we had Jack and Jesus on the same wall. JFK and Jesus, portraits, on the wall. I grew up in a Democrat’s house. And we weren’t even Catholic! But Dad didn’t care, because, you know ... it didn’t matter. Because he was for the working guy. … I grew up in a different way than Sherrod in that way. The union was our politics. That you fight for the union. The union was the reason we could go to college, that my Dad could afford to health care. So it was a union mentality.
So, what changed I think a little bit … I think probably the better way of saying it is I became more aware. Part of it is Dad dying when he did. It changed how I felt on the road. Because they were sending me down to a lot of small towns with working class [people] – the Home Town Tour, they called it. And I had this moment, right after Dad died. … [T]here’s a big deal often made about my name and how I haven’t changed it. And this man, older man, introduced me to a room of about 150 people down in southern Ohio as a woman who refused to change her name and she became Sherrod Brown’s wife and she’s going to speak to us. And I’d really had it. So I got up and I said, “You know, he’s right, I didn’t change my name, and I’m going to explain a couple of things to you.” And I told them how I’d just gotten married, recently, and we both agreed [about my name]. I said, “Now let tell you about my parents.” So I talked about my mother, who died at 62. She was a hospice home care provider, a nurse’s aide. And I talked about my Dad, [who] just died of a heart attack at age 69, worked for 36 years in a factory job, nearly every day of his life. And I said, “Both my parents wore their bodies out, so I would never have to. So I’m really proud of the name ‘Schultz.’ I’m really very proud of what I come from.” And the man came up, and he had tears in his eyes, and he said “I think Schultz is a wonderful name, and I don’t think you should ever change your name.”
But it changed how I approached the campaign. It made me far more aware of my roots than I had been before. … I really do speak the same language as these people because I grew up with that, and it was something to be really proud of. And here’s the thing. Sherrod Brown, the guy I married? I married him in part because he’s been fighting for the people I come from his entire career. And that really changed how I spoke on the campaign trail. Forget the talking points. [However,] I needed the policy statements. One of the challenges for me as a spouse was, most spouses don’t talk policy. But I was a newspaper columnist. Nobody was going to believe that suddenly I just went blank on policy. So I had to really understand policy.
The only thing that Sherrod and I really disagree on is the flag burning amendment. And, I’ve been very clear with anybody who’s ever asked about it. You know, he’s very sensitive to veterans, and how they feel about the flag. I feel very strongly about the First Amendment. I’m a purist about that. So there you have it! We agree to disagree. …
[Also,] I’m less partisan than Sherrod. It’s probably the journalist in me. I’m always looking for the bridges. Especially the columnist in me, I’m always looking for the bridges. I want to get people to listen to what I have to say.
YDS: Well, specifically the thing that was hard for me was when Sherrod voted for the Military Commissions Act late in the campaign. And, I’ve heard his explanation, that the process had to move forward …
CS: He regrets the vote. He’ll tell you that. Frankly, … he should have thought it through himself instead of relying on the advice he got. So much was going on in the campaign. [Still,] I agree with him that if [Congress] hadn’t passed [the Millitary Commissions Act], then [the detainees] would have just languished for two more years with nothing. And the thing that convinced him is that the soldiers were telling him, “Look, it’s the same standard we’re held to for court martial, and why should they have any higher standard than we get?” But, he regrets the vote. And he’ll tell you that. He wishes that he hadn’t.
YDS: Did you talk about it before it happened, or …?
CS: No. The thing is, I really don’t think he was as knowledgeable as he could have been on it. And he knows that now, I mean. No. None of us were. I’m usually pretty aware of the stuff he’s got coming up. In part because as a columnist I always wanted to make sure that I wasn’t accidentally writing about something that he was going to be voting on. In general I have to be really careful.
I’m not going to blame anyone else, because, bottom line, the responsibility, you know, is with Sherrod, but it wasn’t the best advice.
YDS: I should ask him that.
CS: You should.
YDS: How about campaigning, did it teach you anything about yourself?
CS: I think it taught me that I’m really meant to be a writer. [Laughter.] People keep saying to me, “Did you enjoy it?” No! I enjoyed parts of it. But, I’m not a crowd [person]. I don’t mind giving speeches. But, it’s people taking pictures of you. I just joked the other day, I’ve never had so many bad pictures of me posted on the internet. I’m not comfortable in front of the camera. I don’t like people coming and … and they’ll say, like, “Oh wait, I’ve touched her hair. It’s hers! That’s her hair!” That’s just kind of weird! [Laughter.]
YDS: I’ve never campaigned, but I did work in retail, for a while, when I was very young. And the worst part was having to smile all the time, even when you’re not in a good mood.
CS: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I’m told that I didn’t always pull that off very well. There was this one moment when a woman came up to me. It was the sixth or seventh event of the night. And, I have chronic asthma. Most people don’t know that. I take regular meds, and I’m really affected by heat and humidity. So I’m down in southern Ohio and this woman comes up to me and she kinda … she just does this to me [adjusting hair] and she says, “Can I give you a little advice?” And I said, “No!” [laughter] And I heard all this talk around me, people saying, “She’s had a very long day, and she’s been …” And I’m like, “No! I don’t want your advice about how I look!”
But you know what most got to me about campaigning? It’s all the suffering that was out there. And all the hope they were investing in Sherrod. It was so sobering. …You mentioned the day after the election, that news conference. When Sherrod got up that morning, I said, “How’re you feeling?” And he says, “Overwhelmed.” Because we knew what it meant. Now the work begins. … I didn’t go down with him [to the press conference] because we had been photographed together a lot that night, I wanted him to just go down and do his thing. And he came back up and we talked about it a little bit and he said, “We had more down there than I expected.” He hadn’t expected so many reporters. Isn’t that funny? We did not know how much life had changed immediately. Because he had just been elected to the Senate. We had no idea. We’re still adjusting to what it all means.
Um, so, [about] watching people suffer. [There was] this moment [when] we were in a room, and all these people … [Are you] near-sighted? Oh, you’re far-sighted. I’m near-sighted, with contacts. When I have glasses on, they’re really thin lenses, [even though] I have really bad eyes. I didn’t know that I have really thin lenses because I can afford the better glasses. [But] we went into a room, full of people, our age, and they all had these really thick glasses on, because they don’t have any money. And, they weren’t asking for second homes, they’re asking Sherrod, “How did I lose my pension? How did this happen, that I could have lost my pension?” And they’re trying to figure out [things like] how much of her insulin she can survive on. And, you know, you’re having these kinds of conversations with people, you can’t leave that. It just hangs with you. At least now I can talk about it without tearing up, because at times I would think about it and … Sherrod and I both would just …
People have no idea how much this affects you, if you care about it. And I don’t want anybody’s sympathy, I don’t mean that, it’s just you think of campaigning as rallies and polls and research. It’s all of that. But it’s these moments when you realize how much hope they’re investing in you. And like the war in Iraq, you know, look at what Bush is doing, despite what everyone is saying that they want. And Sherrod, it’s just bringing him down, because he voted against this war.
You know, we started dating when I was writing against the war and he [had] just voted against the war. That was one of the things we really had in common, by the way. But what do you do then, if you’ve got a president who’s so belligerent? You start paving the way for 2008. You’ve really, really got to figure out how you are going to change the direction of the country. You’ve got to change it from the top.
YDS: That was in 2003, right? I love the story [in the first book], about [Sherrod’s] email comparing you to Barbara Kingsolver.
CS: What a suck-up! And he denies it was, but swear to God it was. [laughter] He always says, “Well, it worked, didn’t it?”
YDS: Well, you rubbed elbows with politicians a lot. Like, you did the statewide tour with the statewide candidates. Did your view of politicians change at all, over the course of this?
CS: I’d never been very cynical about politicians. But, that probably is in part because I interned in ‘79 with Mo Udall. So I thought they were all like him! Ah!
YDS: “Second Place Mo.”
CS: Yes. Poor Mo. But he was such a good progressive, and he worked so hard. And I saw a lot of members who worked really hard.
YDS: I loved him.
CS: Well, I did too.
YDS: His best line was, “The only cure for presidential ambitions is embalming fluid.”
CS: [laughter] I’m in a profession that is so cynical about politicians, as you know. And I’m not a cynical person, so that’s probably part of it. But, I’ve also seen really hard [workers]. But I see a lot of people get in politics because they want the attention. They’re not all [like] that. But I meet so many who do care. … It’s like any other profession, Jeff, you meet those who really mean what they say and they work hard, and those who have all kinds of ulterior motives, and you learn to tell the difference between those two. … Sherrod has always said that he could never get way with that kind of stuff anyway because there I am, and I’m just looking at him like this and he just knows … don’t even try! [laughter]
YDS: How about your colleagues – journalists. Did the experience make you look at journalists differently?
CS: I’ve said this before. There were moments I was really proud to be a journalist, watching journalists do their job, and then there were moments that made me crazy. Um … I’m sorry to say this because you are a middle aged white man and I have nothing against middle aged white men. I was stunned, though, to see how politics is being covered mostly by middle aged white men, who have been doing it for too long. They’ve become very cynical. On Sherrod’s announcement tour, I think we saw two women, total.
Two reporters on the Columbus paper, [had] this theme that Sherrod is an “angry man.” And I didn’t know where they [got that]. He isn’t an angry man! I didn’t know where they were coming from. He’s angry about the state of the nation, but he’s not an angry person. And it finally dawned on me as I was watching some of these guys and how cynical they were toward Sherrod and how they were hammering him on stuff and I said to Sherrod, “You know what? You’re the same age as a lot of these guys. They could never imagine doing this with their lives. Giving up a safe House seat, a job you love, risking it all, to run for an office that most people think [you] can’t win.” [So the reporters think,] “He must have an ulterior motive! It can’t be because he cares about the country.” And once I figured that out, it kind of freed me.
[T]here’s such a difference [between] male reporters who called me, as opposed to women reporters who called me, often. Not all of them. Like Peter Selvin of the Wahington Post – I loved him. He started following us around and he said, “Wow! You’ve really given up a lot. I think you’re a story.” But some of these guys, their anger thing!
I got Sherrod a ping pong table for our anniversary, because he needed to work off stress. And I said, I will put it in the living room for the duration of the campaign. … And we’d play a lot. So this reporter asked, “What, do you guys get up, run off a lot of steam?” And I said, “Well, you know, we get home at midnight sometimes, we’re really kind of wound up, and we just play and we talk, [and] we work things out.” They led the story with this whole scenario that’s never happened. “He thinks about Iraq. Bam! He hits the [ping pong ball]. He thinks about Medicare Part B. Bam!” I thought, where did they get this? [laughter]
CS: I never said this! And it was just interesting to watch. Overall, I thought the Plain Dealer – their coverage is what I watched most closely – was very fair. After I left. I did not think they were fair when I was there, and they know that. [It was] part of the reason I left. [Such as,] the plagiarism thing [i.e., a letter sent by Brown to DeWine criticizing Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito parroted language posted on DailyKos.com by blogger Nathan Newman]. They were the only ones who bit on that. You know, four stories on it before it was over, in a week, and I thought, “Okay.”
YDS: This was a staff member wrote something …
CS: Took a blogger’s thing. With the blogger’s permission. But, Sherrod knew nothing about it. He never blamed staff, he never did. But they said he did. And it’s not true.
YDS: That happened and at the time I knew all about it, and I just [had forgotten the details] …
CS: Yeah. Well, I can’t forget it because there was a cartoon that compared him to Nixon, and he was compared again to Nixon again by somebody who had been a family friend for twenty years. So, it was time for me to go.
YDS: Okay, one more question about campaigning as such. Having done that … two questions. What’s the bottom line, do you think people vote for someone because of the issues, or because of the person?
CS: I think it depends on which voter you’re talking to. … I’m serious. I’ve sat in too many focus groups this past year. A lot of women liked how Sherrod looked in that denim shirt. And a lot of workers loved that he walked out of that factory with these guys who, you know … I think it’s a real mix. I think there’s a reason that when you compare the commercials of the two candidates, Sherrod did really well on TV.
YDS: Well, I’ve heard both things. I’ve heard Sherrod won because he hammered economic populist issues, that people responded to …
CS: I think that’s essentially true.
YDS: … and I’ve heard that he won because people like him.
CS: Well, part of the reason they could like him is because he is the real deal. I mean, who you see in those commercials and who you meet on the street is exactly the same guy who I get home [to] at night. He really is real. And that came across very clearly. But the thing is, most people didn’t know who Sherrod was, no matter how much hard campaigning we did, until the TV commercials went up. That made a huge difference. So, that, you’re talking about image.
Issues did matter. We know that from our polling, we know that from the focus groups, the workers issues mattered a lot. But they also just felt that they could look at Sherrod, and they trusted him. He looked real to them. And, that matters to people.
YDS: Last thing. You were exposed to a lot of campaign fund-raising on Sherrod’s behalf. Are you more of an advocate for public campaign financing?
CS: Yes. Are you kidding? Do you know how many fund-raising calls he made a week? He had a goal, and he exceeded it by one every week. He’s such a good sport about it. Never less than 201 calls a week. Two hundred and one calls! That’s in addition to voting, campaigning, speeches, all the other stuff … letter writing. He did 201 fund-raising calls a week.
We traveled the country, raising money. A lot of red-eye flights. It’s insane. You look at the money they’re talking about now for the presidential race!
And one more thing about the media, I’d just like to point out. Sherrod got the endorsement of only one major newspaper in Ohio and he won by almost thirteen points. I’ve argued for a long time that the papers should not endorse candidates because it makes the reporters’ jobs so much harder. Because they get hammered by people then, because most readers do not make the distinction between [the] editorial board and the reporters. And we keep arguing that we’re doing fair and balanced coverage? And then we pick one? The readers don’t make a distinction. And, [editorial endorsements are] clearly irrelevant.
YDS: Let’s turn to your future as a writer, and your plans. Well, first of all, do you think that your approach to your column is going to change, now?
CS: I’m going to write the column I always wrote. … I think I’m changed by my experiences just like any experiences would change me. I don’t know how that will translate into words for me. I’m calmer than I was before, as a writer. I mean a campaign like this [involved] constant triage. So there is nothing, no matter how frantic things seem right now, you know, news room deadlines and all that … [laughter] it’s nothing! So, I’m calmer.
And, I have the long view more. And I certainly feel I’m really ready to start expressing my opinion more. It feels really good to do that. But I also really want to listen [more].
What I’m trying not to do is put so much pressure on myself. … There were letters to the editor [reacting to] my first column [after returning,] announcing “She should resign.” … And then the WCPN [Cleveland public radio] interview, where I finally just said, “This is an insult wrapped in a question, and I’m really getting tired of answering it.” (I got a lot of great reader mail from the interview, so I’m really glad I did that.) But, what I’m trying to do right now is remind myself [that] there are journalists around the [world] who are dying, just because they express views that are unpopular with governments, and they’re dying for their work. If the worst that I have to put up with is some people accusing me of motives I don‘t have, I’m not going to let it trouble me.
You know, I’m appreciative that [former Plain Dealer editor in chief] Doug Clifton believes in my integrity. [He] has definitely stood by me on this and I really appreciate it. And he was right to, because I ... you know, Sherrod never sees a column I write, until it’s already been turned in. He never has any input on a column. He never has. But he loves getting it before it appears in the paper, because he is my husband.
He’s never, ever asked me not to write something. In fact, I worry about him, [concerning the new book.] He feels I gave up so much for this campaign, he’s not going to say “no” to anything. I keep saying, I need to make sure you’re comfortable with this, I need to make sure you’re comfortable with that. As I said to Anna Quindlen, “You know, I can’t write everything that happened in our marriage during this campaign, it would be an invasion of our privacy.” And she said, “You don’t have to. You just need to say that you’re not going to.” And that was really sound advice, I thought.
But as far as the column, I’m just glad to be back in Cleveland. Readers have been unbelievable. I can’t get over the amount of mail I’ve gotten already, and calls. You know, it’s really been quite touching. And I think that a lot of people were quite surprised by my first column [about my Dad and winter weather]. I don’t know what they were thinking I was going to be doing.
YDS: I think you had been saving that one up.
CS: That’s actually not true. What happened is that week I saw a story in the Plain Dealer about how people should quit complaining about winter, because it finally came, and I said to Sherrod, “Of course we complain about winter! That’s what Clevelanders do!” And then I started thinking about my Dad, and winter, how much he hated winter, and then I was sitting in my office, and I looked at the lunch pail, and the hard hat that I have now, and I thought, “Aw, Dad, I wonder where you are.” And what it’s like there. And I thought, that is what I always used to say when I called him, “What’s it like where you are?” And I thought, there’s my column.
YDS: So! Future plans. You got a novel in ya? A screen play? A short history of oatmeal?
CS: [laughter] Random House asked me to consider fiction writing, but I don’t really … real life has been so interesting! So rich in material. And, I’m not one of those five-year plan kind of people. I mean, look what’s happened in my life in the last five years. I’ve gone from [being] a single working mother, trying to figure out how I was even going to pay all my bills, just really trying to do the best that I could, to, you know, the Pulitzer finalist in 2003, I met Sherrod on New Year’s Day of that year …I was a Pulitzer finalist three months later, which he likes to take credit for (nice try) … we were engaged by that Thanksgiving, we get married the following year, I win the Pulitzer the year after that, Sherrod runs for the Senate in 2006, and wins. I mean, talk about ... who could have scripted that, right?
So, who knows what’s coming? I just know that I’m meant to write, I know it now more than ever. It’s kind of nice to know. … You know, a lot of people expressed surprise that I came back, but I love what I do. And I don’t share the inferiority complex that so many Clevelanders have about Cleveland. I love this town. I love being a progressive writer in the Midwest.
YDS: What was the occasion for meeting Sherrod? You said you met him in January …
CS: He sent me that email [comparing Schultz to Barbara Kingsolver.] We corresponded for a bit, and we finally made plans to have dinner on a night when he wasn’t in session.
YDS: Oh, okay, well, I read [in the first book] about that dinner. I just … so you had never met him in person?
CS: No, I wouldn’t have gone out with him if I had ever covered him. He hates when I say that, but it is true. If I ever covered him, if I had ever quoted him, I probably would never have gone out with him. But I had never met him. I knew who he was. And I loved that in his first email he just said “Sherrod Brown, Lorain, Ohio,” he didn’t say Congressman, and I thought, “Oh, I know who YOU are.” And on our first date he brought two pages of his favorite quotes. [laughter] What’s not to love? We’re such dorks!
YDS: Well, since I’m a blogger, I have to ask [for your] thoughts about the future in terms of print media [and] online media, what do you see happening?
CS: I think the biggest mistake that newspapers made was they didn’t charge for their online content right away. Because, now they are going to have a hard time recovering. And, online is where we’re going, there’s no question about it. I mean there will always be people who will want to have hard copy in their hands, right? But the internet is so fast, so immediate. Unfortunately, though, the down side to that is it’s much easier to make mistakes that go off into perpetuity, do you know what I mean? We don’t have the same check systems that you have in place, and we’re still trying to figure that out even in newsrooms.
I love that blogging gives every individual a chance to express him or herself. I hate the way that it abuses people. I really do. I think the only thing that is probably going to stop it is when you have to start abiding by the same libel laws we have to. You know? I don’t know how else you stop that. It doesn’t sound like conscience comes into play for a lot of people.
YDS: I’m pretty sure we do. Libel doesn’t apply just to journalists.
CS: Well, so far there haven’t been any successful … there are a couple pending now, but there have not been any successful libel suits against bloggers, to my knowledge, in this country. So they’re getting away with a lot right now, some of them. The thing is – I’ve said this to you before, and [to Scott Piepho and] Chris Baker – you work so hard on what you’re doing, to be fair and be balanced, but you don’t get the traffic the ones who don’t care about any of that do, sometimes. You know, people want to get worked up, people want to get mad, they want to get outraged. [It’s] pretty interesting to watch. It’s human nature, I guess. You know what it is? It’s codified gossip. It used to be it would go out there but you couldn’t look it up and cite the reference. Now you got gossip and you can look up exactly when it happened, and it can really get trashy.
YDS: I have a question about the Pulitzer. You were nominated for one piece of work and didn’t win, and then you won I guess for one piece of work, although I don’t know off hand …
CS: It was for ten columns.
YDS: Okay. Did it surprise you what you won for?
CS: I thought my best shot was [when I was a finalist in 2003 for] the series, “Burden of Innocence.” So when I didn’t win [for] that, I thought, “Oh, that was my best shot. That was all I had in me.” [In 2005,] I knew [the Plain Dealer] had submitted me, but I thought, “No way.” I’d only been writing a column for two years, for two and a half years.
About a week [or two] before [the Pulitzers were to be announced,] Doug Clifton sends me an email, this was in the morning, telling me to stop by when I get in. It was [already] a big year [for me]. I won the Scripps Howard award for commentary, which we didn’t expect, and I had won the National Headliners award. And Doug called me in and said, “You’re a finalist.” And I said, “For what?” He said, “For the Pulitzer,” and I said “Who else is?” I already knew it was [New York Times columnist Nicholas] Kristoff, and I said “Kristoff is going to win.” I’d been saying all year that Kristoff is going to win. And he said, “Well, he’d better not win, because we’d like you to win.” I never thought, you know. And, can I tell you how we found out?
Sherrod and I had flown to New York that day, to surprise Emily, our daughter, for her birthday. We were having dinner with her fiancée. She didn’t know. We had just checked into our hotel, after we had landed, and my cell phone rang, and I could see that it was a Plain Dealer number but I didn’t know who it was. So I answered and it was Doug Clifton. And I said, “What’s wrong?” And he said “’What’s wrong?’” And I said – and Sherrod is standing right in front of me – and I said, “Well, yeah, do you have bad news for me?” And he says, “Well, is it bad news to win the Pulitzer prize?” So Sherrod is going like this: “Did you win? Did you win?” And I’m trying to talk. And I finally nod at Sherrod and said [in a whisper] “Yes,” and he looks at me and he starts to cry! [laughter] And I’m trying to have this conversation with Doug and I’m crying. It was so unexpected. It was SO unexpected.
So, it was on ten columns, it was on the tip jars [“Here’s A Little Tip About Gratuities,” Apr. 1, 2004], it was about this whole “Merry Christmas” thing [“Merry Christmas everyone – or else,” Dec. 16, 2004], I did a thing on voter registration, taking on Blackwell, when he wasn’t going to let us run a voter registration form [“Start right here to register to vote,” Jan. 19, 2004]. And it was on “Eyes Wide Open,” the exhibit for peace [“A soldier salutes her fallen friends,” July 1, 2004]. So it was all those topics I was constantly warned to stop writing about, because I was just an Arts & Life columnist. But I figured, I want to write about the art of life!
So, I couldn’t have predicted it, it was really stunning, and I cannot tell you it doesn’t change your life, because it does. Random House called me the next day. I had twenty-two literary agents call me, leave messages, or send emails. I didn’t return any of their calls, because Kate Medina from Random House called and she is second in command at the largest publisher in the world. And I knew that she was an opinions publisher. So I went with Random House. And it just kind of went from there. And I’ll tell you something, it made it easier to do what I did, to leave and come back. It gives you credibility.
YDS: Granting the credibility and everything, is there any level at which you ever get sick of it? Of always being the Pulitzer Prize winner? “Connie Schultz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.”
CS: Um … no. [laughter] Sorry!
YDS: Nah. Good answer.
CS: What, you want me to say, ”Oh, Jeff, it’s so hard …”?
YDS: On my blog I noted your first column, and the only comment I got was some anonymous commenter who said, “What, she won a Pulitzer Prize? Who knew!”
CS: Yeah, I know. [But,] I don’t talk about it. I can’t help it that everyone else talks about it. But, I’ve got to tell you something. When I won, I got more than 4,500 emails in the very first twelve-hour period, after I won. And my phone only holds 90, so it kept filling [up] and I had to keep [deleting them]. But I felt that I was everyone’s daughter, sister, and best friend when I won. People were so proud that I had won, that I was from Cleveland, that the Plain Dealer had won it. I really felt that it was the Plain Dealer’s award, I really did.
I don’t go around saying, “I’m a Pulitzer Prize winner!” I don’t ever do that. It doesn’t matter, everybody knows it anyway. Although, my favorite introduction during the campaign was in Dayton, at a labor event, when I was supposed to introduce Sherrod. And this guy got up … and said, “Connie Schultz is Sherrod Brown’s wife. She’s won the Pulitzer Prize. I have no idea what that is, but I heard it’s really important.” I love that! I just thought that was great. And I just looked at Sherrod and we started laughing. I mean, most people, they don’t [know]. People keep saying that I won the Nobel Prize. A lot of people care, but most people don’t.
YDS: Do you remember that fundraiser at Al Gray’s house in the summer, when [James Carville] did this hair-raising thing, [predicting] nasty things [that Karl Rove and the GOP] were going to say [about Sherrod and his personal life], and you had this look of abject horror on your face, and you said, “I don’t think I like this guy!”
CS: That’s exactly right. Was I that transparent?
YDS: Did you believe what he said?
CS: Uh, first of all, no. It didn’t happen. What I didn’t like was the liberty he took to use me as his … what’s the word I want? When you have the comedian use you as the fall guy, to make the point he did. And several women got that, they came up to me afterward and said, “I don’t blame you for being teed off about that, it was inappropriate.” I’m not there to help him entertain. And I don’t think it’s funny to make jokes about my husband, about [supposedly] having these illegitimate children, as far as that’s concerned. Because you’re talking about my marriage. And I have a sense of humor about it. [But,] you know, ask my permission before you do that.
But, that happens to women all the time, on the campaign trail. That happens to wives all the time. They’re just props – “You’re props or problems,” is what I say in the book. … I’m really hoping to re-write the rules somewhat. Because, [they say] you have to toe the line, you have to use discretion. There was a whole book of my opinions out there! And Sherrod won by almost thirteen points. I’m not saying that I helped him, but I sure didn’t hurt him.
YDS: At the time that Carville said that, Sherrod actually was starting to pull ahead, at least in most polls, and [Carville] was saying that to overcome people’s complacency, to get them to write checks. They needed to be afraid. But, I believed him at that point. I thought that there was going to be a parade of horribles, all false accusations and so forth. But it didn’t quite work out that way.
CS: But we were ready for it. See, that was part of it, we were ready for anything. Including Sherrod’s ex-wife and me, with our daughters, we had a spot in the can if we needed it. I mean, we were ready, because we had heard that they were going to dredge up some really old stuff, that was not true.
YDS: Were you prepared for marijuana bananas [i.e., in the final campaign debate, DeWine accused Brown of running a “scandal-ridden office” as Secretary of State, exemplified by an employee allegedly having to go to the hospital due to eating a marijuana-laced banana]?
CS: The bananajuana scandal, as we call it now? I’ll never forget when that happened, because he said it and Sherrod looks over at me, he’s up on stage and he went [makes quizzical facial expression] like this. And I’m sitting with [former Congressman] Dennis Eckart, and I turned to Dennis and I said, “Was there a banana?” And he said, “Connie, you can’t lace a banana with marijuana.” I wouldn’t know about this stuff. It was just so desperate.
I knew at that moment … earlier in the debates, when DeWine comes out and just tries to slash and burn Sherrod, and Sherrod gets up and says, “You’ve just watched a two-term incumbent morph into a desperate candidate.” That’s when I knew that that debate was over for Mike DeWine. And I just knew it. And Dennis did. I mean, Dennis was Sherrod’s main debate coach, and we had gone to all the debate preps together. He got better with every debate. But we didn’t know that Sherrod was going to say that. He got up and just kind of hesitated. Dennis and I both at the same time said, “Sherrod …?” We were just kind of wondering. And then he says that. And I knew it was over.
And you could feel it in the room. And then the bananajuana thing happened. There were Republicans who were just shaking their heads. It was embarrassing.
YDS: I wasn’t there but the thing that I heard about it, I remember, was DeWine said [the race was] “about Sherrod and me,” and Sherrod said, “No, it’s about the voters.” It was such a clarifying moment.
CS: Right. And he believed that. Sherrod really believes that.
Labels: Connie Schultz, Mike DeWine, Sherrod Brown