Rarely has a course of study at CMC been such an accurate precursor to a subsequent career. Michael Shear ’90 graduated from CMC as a Government major with a self-designed Journalism/Media minor. He now works for The New York Times as the newspaper’s White House Correspondent.
Talk about a harmonic convergence!
“The two things I always loved as a kid were politics and the media,” he says. “I had been the news editor of my high school newspaper and followed the 1980 and 1984 presidential campaigns as much as a young person could. When I got to CMC and discovered the Washington program, it wasn't even a question. I knew I would be doing it. And I ended up falling in love with Washington while I was in the program -- and eventually moved here permanently.”
Shear participated in the Program during the second semester of his junior year (January-May, 1989) with an internship in the Program as a reporting intern at the Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau.
“It was an amazing experience that introduced me to big-time, political journalism at the highest levels,” he says. “I was frequently on Capitol Hill, covering hearings (I spent several weeks writing about corruption on Indian territories as documented by an investigation by the Committee on Indian Affairs.) I also teamed up with other senior correspondents for the Times on other Washington stories such as the trial of Oliver North and the anniversary of cameras in Congress.”
After I graduation, Shear briefly worked at the San Jose Mercury News as a reporter, but he says the souring economy quickly dashed his hopes of working there long-term. Shear enrolled in graduate school, getting a Masters in public policy from the Kennedy School at Harvard. After that, he resumed his journalism career, going first to the Tampa Tribune and then on to the Washington Post as a local reporter.
In 18 years at the Post, Shear worked through all kinds of jobs -- covering cops and courts, local city councils, state politics and the governor of Virginia, national politics and the 2008 campaign, and finally as a White House correspondent. In 2010, he moved to the Times bureau in Washington, where he covered the reelection campaign and then returned to the White House as a correspondent for the Times starting in 2013.
“In the 26 years since I graduated from CMC, I've mostly covered politics,” Shear says, “at the most local level you can imagine (writing about local zoning issues) and the most global (traveling to Africa, Asia, Europe and South America with President Obama on Air Force One).”
The Washington Program was “fundamental” to the direction that Shear’s life took, he says. “It wasn't so much the classes I took here (though I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Goldstein's classes),” he says. “But the Program introduced me to the political capital of our nation, and made me appreciate how special Washington is.
“I like to say that cities have a certain kind of heartbeat: New York's is financial; Los Angeles's might be celebrity; Washington is definitely politics. “he continues. “It's everywhere. I remember sitting in a pizza joint just off Capitol Hill while I was on the Washington Program, and all of the conversations at the tables around me were about congressional hearings or actions by President Bush, or the latest scandal involving a cabinet secretary. It was catnip for a political junkie like me.”
For Shear, special memories of participating in the Program are plentiful. “One day, I returned home in the evening to my (very small) Rosslyn apartment and turned on the news,” he remembers. “Peter Jennings, the ABC anchor, was starting a special report on the final Senate confirmation vote on John Tower to be Secretary of Defense. I paused a moment before putting my work clothes back on, running to the Metro to go to Capitol Hill and heading for the hearing. I thought: ‘Why watch this on TV when I'm here?’ I walked in as the hearing started and saw Melissa Healy, our Pentagon correspondent, who waved me over to help. After the vote several hours later, when the committee turned down Tower's nomination, all the reporters scrambled to interview the senators. ‘You get Kennedy!’ Melissa yelled at me. I ran to the scrum around Ted Kennedy, interviewing him and sending my notes for the story. It was one of those incredible moments that convinced me later that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. But it also provided a good lesson in how to get the most out of Washington. It's not by sitting passively and watching things happen. When you're on the program, you have amazing access to the nation's laws being made. Jump in!”
In a semester of valuable lessons learned, Shear says his biggest take-away was the chaotic, real-world nature of how laws are made.
“It's not as neat and clean as it sometimes seem sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture,” he says. “It's messy and doesn't always work in a straight line. (And that was before the Tea Party, Donald Trump and the gridlock under President Obama.) To me, the semester I spent in the Washington Program was an eye-opening reminder of what I would later try to chronicle as a reporter here -- that politics is a living, breathing thing that is really about the people who practice it and the relationships they try to develop as they seek elective office and develop policy.”
It’s not an understatement to say that Shear loved his time in the Program, but it wasn’t all politics all the time during that memorable semester in 1989. “In addition, I spent the several months in D.C. going to great bars in Georgetown and Foggy Bottom with great friends,” he says. “It was hard work -- a full-time internship along with a full schedule of classes, but it was among the most rewarding times of my life. I can't speak highly enough of it as a great choice for anyone at CMC.”