This just in: Jonathan Capehart is one dapper fellow.
The Today show was his dream, Bryant Gumbel his idol. Ten-year-old Jonathan Capehart absolutely lit up the minute the NBC morning-show banter began. At first he watched to spot his uncle, an electrician, whom Capehart recalls seeing entering the cohosts’ camera shot during a broadcast on the plaza. Soon it was to bear witness to a sanctified version of what the self-proclaimed tattle-tale did every day as a child: Tell everyone in the family what everyone else was doing. “Oh, I was a big nerd,” says Capehart, 44, blogger for The Washington Post’s PostPartisan blog and a frequent MSNBC contributor on shows like Morning Joe and The Brian Lehrer Show. Capehart has established himself as one of the most prominent left-leaning political commentators in DC. He is young, black, and openly gay—a disarming mix of all the nontraditional heritage elements of television journalism complete with a refreshingly different perspective.
Because things have changed since the early days of the Today show. In Capehart’s world, news is now mountains of information moving at warp speed across the Web. “There is no set schedule anymore,” says Capehart, who rises early to sift through newspapers, Twitter, and TV in time to have a handful of tweets and the first of his three daily blog posts up by 10 AM. “The appetite for news and commentary is constant. The challenge I face is whether to come in at the start, in the middle, or at the end of the conversation.”
During his senior year at Carleton College, a fortuitous meeting at the Nightly News offices at 30 Rock—while that same uncle was doing some work there—placed Capehart in his dream internship, on Today. He created meticulous pre-interview notes that read like stories, eliciting glowing reviews from his idol, Gumbel, and Katie Couric. Those notes helped earn him a spot on the New York Daily News editorial board in 1993. “It was the best training ground for learning how to write an opinion column,” says Capehart. “I had fewer than 500 words to say some really important things. Every day felt like I was trying to land a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier.”
In 2007 he received a phone call from Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of The Washington Post, inviting him to move to DC to fill a vacancy on its editorial board. “I had written about national politics from afar, but being here—living it, breathing it, being around congressmen and the administration—it was an osmosis that made my writing more vivid and informed because I saw for the first time how the city works.”
With the ramp-up to the 2012 election, Capehart is excited and—he doesn’t mean to sound hokey—honored to have a voice in it. “These are people who say they want to be the next president of the United States. If that’s what you want to do, then I will view you as a serious contender. If you do or say something that betrays that seriousness, well, thank you very much: You have just given me something to write about.”