John Drescher

Drescher: Time’s Joe Klein road-trips across the South

Joe Klein, political columnist for Time magazine, was researching a book on counterinsurgency when he came to the conclusion that he knew more about the Middle East than the Midwest.

So four years ago, he started annual driving trips across parts of the U.S., what he calls “a crowd-sourced road trip.”

Klein is finishing a two-and-a-half week journey across the South that started at The News & Observer on Sept. 19, when he met with the newsroom staff.

Klein said at The N&O that while elected officials in Washington, D.C, are polarized, the rest of the country is more moderate. “That is a serious structural problem we have,” he said.

He calls himself “a flaming moderate” and likes to write about solutions. He said “there are plenty of things that work” across the U.S. but that liberals and conservatives in Washington “conspire to find a way to not make things that work happen.”

Klein, 68, has been a national political writer for decades. But he’s perhaps best-known for his 1996 novel, “Primary Colors,” about a Southern governor who strongly resembles Bill Clinton. The best-selling novel was published anonymously, unleashing a media firestorm about the author’s identity. Klein, who was a columnist for Newsweek then, eventually acknowledged writing the book.

After spending an hour with us, Klein headed to Pittsboro to meet with residents of the Galloway Ridge retirement community. The next day, he attended events in Charlotte and Greensboro, including a rally for U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis.

Klein wrote about the Pittsboro event and GOP rally in his column in the Oct. 6 Time. “Politics is now a virtual activity,” he wrote. “It happens, mostly via ads, on television and the radio. That makes it a lot easier for most people: nothing is expected of them but a vote.”

He shot me a quick email Thursday after his visit to New Orleans. “I feel much more in touch with people and what they care about – and the subtleties of how that computes politically – than I did two weeks ago.” Then he was on to Shreveport, La.

McClure, Gressette retire

Two of the best members of our team have retired.

Jim McClure started with The N&O in 1974 in advertising. He spent his career here and rose to be vice president for advertising.

Often there is tension between the ad department and the newsroom. Journalists sometimes make advertisers unhappy. But it always was a pleasure working with McClure. He understood our journalistic mission and appreciated that news and advertising should remain independent of each other.

As he recently pointed out, he was with The N&O for a third of its 120 years.

Felicia Gressette wasn’t with us for that long but left her own mark. She joined us as features editor in 1995 from The Miami Herald, where she had spent 15 years.

Gressette was a brilliant editor with a mind both creative and exacting. She helped make our features sections among the best in the country.

She left the newsroom in 2003 to become our vice president for marketing, often serving as The N&O’s ambassador to the community. She played other vital roles. She was the first publisher of Walter, our magazine about Raleigh, and also served as the publisher and top editor of our 10 community newspapers.

McClure and Gressette have more than earned a slower pace and time with families and friends. But we miss them already.