BEHIND THE BYLINE
Who Is Marc Lacey? Meet the Times Editor Moderating the Democratic Debate
Interview by Lara Takenaga
Oct. 14, 2019
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Over his 20 years at The New York Times, Marc Lacey has worn many hats: a White House correspondent, a foreign correspondent who has reported from dozens of countries, the editor of the weekend news report and, now, the National editor.
But on Tuesday, he’ll try on a very different one. Alongside the CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, Marc will moderate the fourth Democratic debate — the first that The Times has hosted in more than a decade.
[Read our coverage of the fourth Democratic debate.]
Here, Marc shares how he learned about his latest gig, the career path he almost chose and his surprising hobby.
What was your path to becoming the National editor?
I still remember when I got the call from New York in 2011 asking whether I wanted to be an editor. I was the first-ever Phoenix bureau chief for The Times and was in my home office gazing out at the man-made lake I lived on. My pontoon boat was docked nearby, with my fishing rod at the ready.
After more than a decade of adventurous reporting posts, I thought editing would be another adventure. I have not been wrong. I have edited some of our finest foreign correspondents, run The Times over the weekend and, since 2016, overseen coverage of the country. Regrettably, though, I no longer catch fish in the middle of the day.
What do you enjoy most about the role? What is most challenging about it?
I’m part conductor, part coach. I no longer pick up the French horn and blow out notes. But I can tell when someone is off key. And if I wave my arms the right way, beautiful music will result.
As for the coaching part, I have an amazing team of correspondents scattered throughout the country. I call plays, together with my top-notch editing staff, and we watch from the sidelines as they carry them out. I put people in the positions that bring out the best in them and help us win, journalistically speaking.
As for the challenges, the hours are long but nothing like those in the field.
[Read how our National desk covers the United States ahead of a pivotal election.]
What did you learn as a former correspondent — in Kenya, Mexico and the United States — that has informed your work as an editor?
I learned how to go from a deep sleep to a state just alert enough to understand that the editor on the other end of the phone was sending me to a coup attempt in a place called N’Djamena, which is the capital of Chad.
“Were you asleep?” I used to be asked back then. If I had had the vocabulary at the time, I would have responded: “Bruh.” Now that I’m making the calls, I apologize to correspondents for waking them at ungodly hours and then mention someplace they never thought they’d go.
How did you find out that you would be co-moderating the next Democratic debate? What was your reaction?
My phone rang one recent night. I ignored it. It rang again. I ignored it again. The same call and no response continued a few more times right in the middle of the last presidential debate, which I was watching from home.
It turned out that it was Patrick Healy, our political editor, who had just learned that The New York Times would be co-sponsoring the next debate with CNN. Apparently there had been a meeting among the top Times brass in which various people were proposed for the Times moderator role.
When Pat asked me, I chuckled. It turns out he wasn’t joking.
[Meet the 21 reporters covering the election for our Politics desk.]
What’s something that readers would be surprised to learn about you?
I ride a motorcycle — not a particularly mean one, but a motorcycle nonetheless. This is very much counter to my image, which is why I don’t sell it.
If you had to choose another job, in journalism or not, what would it be?
I majored in biology at Cornell and believe that if the stars had aligned differently, I might have made a fine surgeon.
Journalism can be messy work just like medicine, but we, much like those in operating rooms, try to suture all the wounds and wipe away any mess before we finish.
How do you spend your time when you’re off duty?
I have a dog named Sandy who greets me at the end of each workday with so much enthusiasm that I forget all the hostile tweets I might have received that day. The debate’s going to be great, I have no doubt, especially to my labradoodle. To her, no matter what happens onstage, I will have won.
Marc Lacey’s labradoodle, Sandy, living the life.Credit…via Marc Lacey
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