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Kimberley Strassel '94, journalist and author

Kimberley Strassel ’94 became a household name on Feb. 13, 2016, when she appeared with CBS anchors John Dickerson and Major Garrett to host the CBS Republican Debate in Greenville, S.C.Strassel explained that when the camera turned to her so she could ask the first question, she realized the gravity of what she was doing.

“There was a moment when my brain was screaming, ‘Oh my god, there are 13 million people watching,’” she said.“For about five seconds I struggled to remember what I was supposed to be asking Donald Trump."

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According to Strassel, CBS contacted her couple of months prior to the Republican Debate in February and asked if she wanted to moderate it.Strassel noted that the media outlets have been looking for outside voices to ask the questions, and she agreed to moderate.

“I was very flattered to be asked,” she said. “The debate was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done.”

She went to South Carolina a few days prior to the event to practice asking and writing questions focused on domestic policy in order to steer the conversation away from unrelated topics. Her goal was to get more concrete answers from the candidates about how they would actually govern and what they would propose as future presidents, she added.

“In a presidential election that has been too much about personality, I was really hoping to ask tougher questions on policy,” she explained.

Strassel asked one question to all the candidates except Jeb Bush, since they were running short on time. She asked Trump about spending policies, Ted Cruz ’92 about immigration policies, and Marco Rubio about his tax policy.

Strassel, a member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, writes a weekly column for the paper, titled “Potomac Watch.” She is also a frequent host on the “Journal Editorial Report,” a weekly show on the Fox News Channel.

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She has appeared on “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation,” and “Fox News Sunday” to give her insight on domestic politics, and currently, the 2016 Presidential campaigns.

Strassel was also the recipient of the 2014 Bradley Prize, which annually recognizes innovative thinkers and individuals of extraordinary talent and dedication.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board member Joseph Rago said Strassel is an extremely thorough reporter and that she is able to stand up to political power.

“She always brings new information to the news of the day, as opposed to, ‘Here’s what I think,’” Rago said. “It’s a pretty rare quality among opinion journalists.”

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Strassel grew up in rural Buxton, Ore., which was the center of the burgeoning logging industry at the time. Her father was an auto mechanic, and she explained that she and her family would often drag race on the rural roads.

“I even did demolition derby driving with my mother,” she said. "It was really fun."

Katherine Hobson '94 noted that Strassel's unique upbringing was a benefit to the University and her classmates. She noted that Strassel's background was the kind of diversity that is really good to have on a college campus. She added that Strassel's unique perspective on the world came from growing up in the rural West, and compared her with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"To me, her perspective was like O'Connor's, in that people in the West were not used to having big government in their lives, and had to get along with the help of their families, their friends, and their communities," Hobson said.

When the time came to apply for college in her senior year of high school, Strassel said that she wasn’t banking on getting into any of her top choices. No one in her family had ever gone to college, so she wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I ended up applying to a bunch of Ivy League schools, hoping just one would pay attention,” Strassel said. “I was remarkably surprised when I got into Princeton.”

She explained that she had decided to apply for early admission to the University largely because of having read novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who entered the University as a member of Class of 1917.

“I had this vision in my head of what a great campus this was, and it was just like that when I got there," she said. "When my parents and I arrived, I walked around for days with my mouth hanging open, sort of unbelieving that I was there."

Strassel graduated from Banks High School in 1990 and then attended the University, where she majored in Public Policy and International Affairs at the Wilson School, and obtained a Certificate in Russian Studies.

During her freshman year, she joined the crew team, intending to be a rower. She noted that because she wasn’t tall enough, she ended up being the coxswain, or the person calling out instructions to the rowers.

She wrote for The Tory, the University’s publication for conservative issues and ideas, and joined Cottage Club in her junior year. She also worked in the Reserve Room at Firestone Library.

Regan Fletcher '92, who was the student manager of the Reserve Room, noted that he and Strassel connected because they both came from working-class backgrounds. He noted that they would have lively discussions about politics, since they were both on opposite ends of the political spectrum.He explained that their friendship is similar to how Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were best friends, despite being polar opposites.

"When I learned that Scalia and Ginsburg were best friends, the first thing that came to mind was that this is the kind of friendship Kim and I have always had," Fletcher said. "We can talk about anything and still be completely civil, even though our political views are completely the opposite."

In the classroom, Strassel enjoyed taking classes with European Literature Professor Emeritus Robert Hollander on Dante’s Comedy. She noted that she took the class because Hollander was the master of Butler College, where she lived for her first two years as a student.

“He was sort of a mentor to me and encouraged me to apply to Woody Woo, which I did,” Strassel said.

Hollander said that he and Strassel would have long chats after class on topics outside of Dante. He noted that he was very surprised that Strassel became a journalist, but said that she possessed the skills necessary to excel in that profession.

"She was very engaged, and I really enjoyed her as a student," Hollander said. "She is extremely intelligent, and follows her leads, which is a good journalistic trait."

Strassel was inspired to obtain her certificate in Russian Studies because of her cousin, who worked for the CIA. She originally wanted to pursue a career similar to that, and Russia became an interesting topic to study after the fall of the Soviet Union during her second year in college.

She explained that her senior thesis focused on the difficulty of transitioning the Soviet Union’s authoritarian intelligence agency into one that could operate in a democracy. Strassel explored the intelligence agencies of America and other countries and prescribed some advice based on her research.

“Clearly Russia didn’t read my thesis, because there is currently an ex-KGB agent serving as president,” she said.

In order to help pay for college, Strassel became an after-school caregiver for a local couple’s children in Princeton.

Coincidentally, the couple was Karen House, the future publisher of the Wall Street Journal, and Peter Kann, the future Chairman and CEO of Dow Jones & Company, the parent company of the WSJ.

House said that in 1992, she and her husband put out an ad in the ‘Prince’ to find someone to look after their two kids after school. She noted that many students applied, but ultimately, she and Kann chose Strassel because of her unique background.

“My husband said to me that ‘here’s a kid from a place that’s as small as your hometown,’” House said, noting that she grew up in rural Texas.“We were both born without a silver spoon in our mouths."

Strassel was hired, and she traveled with the family all over the world, to places such as Hong Kong and Bali, when House had business trips.

She noted that when she was about to graduate, she originally thought about going to law school, but Kann and House convinced her to try something else.

“They suggested that I spend a year out doing something real in the world before making a decision like going to law school,” Strassel said.

After graduating in 1994, Kann and House urged Strassel to apply for a position at the Wall Street Journal as a little-paid news assistant for the European edition of the paper in Brussels, Belgium. She was accepted, and went to work on the Central European Economic Review, a magazine published by the WSJ, where she helped check facts, set up interviews and copy edit.

She also traveled to Poland, where she conducted an interview with Wojciech Jaruzelski, the former dictator of Poland.

“I also got to do some boar hunting in Poland, which was pretty fun,” she said.

Since she enjoyed the work, Strassel decided to look for a job as an actual journalist. In 1996, she became a staff writer based in London and covered technology for WSJ Europe. She wrote about the development of the Internet in Europe and how the economies adapted to the new technology and business models.

“It was a neat time, because the internet was just coming up over there,” Strassel said.

In 1999, Strassel returned to the United States to cover real estate news. She noted that ever since she joined the paper in 1994, she had always wanted to be on the Editorial Board. Strassel heard from one of her friends that the Editorial Page was looking to hire an assistant features editor, and she applied for the position. She noted that the Editorial Board was surprised, since she had been on the news team.

“There’s a very strict divide at the WSJ between the news side and editorial page,” she said.

After interviewing, she was offered the position and was thrilled. She started out writing a couple of editorials, and, in 2005, was promoted to senior editorial writer and member of the Editorial Board.

Strassel began writing her first signed column in 2005, after repeatedly asking Paul Gigot, the new Chair of the Board, whether she could go down to Washington, D.C., and fill his old position writing “Potomac Watch.” Gigot agreed. Strassel moved to Washington and has been there ever since.

Rago and WSJ Editorial Board Member James Taranto said that Strassel brings a unique viewpoint to Editorial Board meetings, since she is the only member based in Washington, D.C., and is extremely plugged in to whatever is going on.

Strassel explained that the Editorial Board of the WSJ is different from other conservative newspaper boards.For one, the motto of the board, “Free Markets, Free People,” is very different from other conservative board outlooks.She explained that the board is very news driven, and tries to be timely.

“We feel that these days, when news is almost instantaneous, that readers want to know our thoughts on stuff that just happens,” Strassel said.

She also said that it is important to note that unlike other major boards, the WSJ Editorial Board conducts interviews with experts and quotes them in their editorials. Strassel explained that the board does this so they can make good policy arguments in the editorials. She also noted that all the board members are expected to write on any subject, but that each member has a unique niche.

Strassel said that the editorials she is proudest of include the ones she helped write. She noted that some of the most impactful have been ones about the IRS Scandal, electoral participation, and campaign finance laws.

Strassel's column “Potomac Watch” is specifically focused on current domestic events, domestic politics and an in-depth look at how certain policies are implemented. For example, she noted that when the Editorial Board writes about a certain tax policy, her column focuses on the goal of the policy and the deals being made in Washington to make the policy happen.

“I like to explain this kind of politics to people outside of Washington,” Strassel said. “Most of America has a day job, and I do what I can to explain politics to them.”

One of her most controversial pieces was related to the IRS Scandal of 2012. She wrote a column on Frank VanderSloot, who gave money to a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, and noted how the Obama administration posted his name on a website and wrote insulting things about him.

“I made the case that presidents shouldn’t do such a thing, because it puts a target on the back of private citizens who are taking part in elections,” Strassel said.

Taranto noted that the columns Strassel wrote on Vandersloot and the IRS have been the most important of all her columns, since they highlighted a scandal that otherwise went unreported in the media.

"We had an administrative agency hijacked by a political movement, which is terrifying and outrageous," Taranto said. "And yet we keep reading in other newspapers that the administration has been scandal-free."

Rago said that another column Strassel wrote that was particularly important involved an investigation into the finances of former New York Governor and Attorney General Elliot Spitzer ’85. He noted that Spitzer was enraged when Strassel began writing these articles, but she refused to stop writing them despite receiving complaints from Spitzer.

“Kim’s not afraid to challenge political power even when she’s being threatened,” Rago said.

Strassel said the best part of her job as a journalist is getting to learn new things every day and being able to meet new and interesting people.

“I get the opportunity to talk every day to some of the smartest people out there who educate me,” she said. “I then pass the information on to the readers.”

She noted that one of the most difficult parts of her job, and of anyone on the Editorial Board, is having to stand up to criticisms from people who disagree with her point of view. She explained that it is particularly important for columnists to have a very thick skin, and noted that it is not a job for sensitive people.

“You’re going to go out there and give your opinions on things, and people are going to give their opinions on you,” she said.

Strassel started appearing on the “Journal Editorial Report” in 2005, and explained that since journalism was becoming more personality based, it was important for the Wall Street Journal to have a significant television presence.Each week, she and Gigot interview people connected to a recent political or economic development.

“It’s very different from reporting, where you’re the one asking questions,” Strassel said. “When you go on TV, you’re the one the questions are being asked of.”

Strassel is also the author of two books. Her first published book was “Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families, Outdated Laws,” which she co-wrote with Celeste Colgan and John Goodman. The book is about how free-market policies help women in particularly useful ways.

Goodman noted that he and Strassel were motivated to write the book due to outdated laws, such as Social Security, tax law, and health insurance laws, that were written with the idea of a working husband and a stay-at-home wife. He noted that these institutions are out-of-step with the way modern life is being lived, and that no one else had ever noticed these issues before. Goodman explained that he chose Strassel as his co-author because she is a very good writer and thinker.

"She was a perfect match for me," Goodman said.

Strassel's latest book “The Intimidation Game” will be released in the summer of 2016. She said the book is about how people are using intimidation tactics to keep their opponents out of office.

Rago said that Strassel is extremely generous and has a great sense of humor, and is extremely committed to her job. Fletcher noted that one of Strassel's greatest strengths is her energy and her willingness to talk to anyone.

House explained that Strassel hasn’t changed over the years, noting that she is still engaging, self-confident, open-minded, and curious. She noted that Strassel has always had a penchant for learning, which explains her rapid rise through the WSJ.

“There was nothing pretentious about her,” House said. “What you saw was what you got, and my husband and I really liked that.”

Hobson said that even though she spent only a year in London, she remembers it very fondly because of Strassel's generosity and welcoming nature. She noted that she and Strassel would have spirited political debates, but that these debates were very civil and full of humor.

"I look back on that time very fondly because I'm not sure how common it is these days to sit down with someone who has very different views, and still be funny, and civil, and friendly with each other," Hobson said. "That's the kind of person Kim is."

Staying true to her rural roots, Strassel lives with her three children in the smallest incorporated town in Virginia, outside Washington, D.C. She loves spending time outdoors with her family, often sitting around the fire pit in their backyard at night, camping and skiing.

 

 

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