Raising His Voice
It’s an exceptional person who can combine his three great loves—history, politics and writing—a career of his own devising.
“When I was at Washington College I didn’t even know I wanted to be a writer,” says Jack Bohrer ’06. “I thought my senior thesis would be the last thing I’d ever write.”
But after graduating with a degree in political science and plunging into the steamy politics of his native New Jersey, Bohrer started blogging— constantly. Incredibly prolific, his work eventually appeared everywhere from Politico and The New Republic to USA Today and Esquire.com. He is now under contract with Bloomsbury Press to write a book about Robert Kennedy.
Blending an historian’s appetite for archival gleanings with a reporter’s gift for getting people to talk, Bohrer has debunked a number of contemporary myths—from the much ballyhooed “secret meeting” Robert Kennedy is supposed to have had with Lyndon Johnson about the Vietnam War, as reported in Ted Kennedy’s memoir, to the oft-reported claim that George Romney was a more principled politician than his son. The latter piece, which appeared this fall in BuzzFeed, went viral. “Historian challenges George Romney Story,” announced The Washington Post, and the Daily Mail blared: “Revealed: George Romney DIDN’T walk out of GOP convention in protest against conservative nominee despite long-running myth which Mitt has used on campaign trail.”
Bohrer has also done a lot of sassy—and, at times, highly entertaining— commentary. In a 2010 piece for The Awl on why New Jersey’s flamboyantly combative Gov. Chris Christie would not run for president, he wrote: “It was about four months into his term when Christie scolded a columnist at a press conference for asking about his ‘confrontational tone.’ And in doing so, he basically gave the gubernatorial equivalent of, Wha-wait, I’m the a–hole? No, buddy, YOU’RE the a–hole! (This is how we usually settle our disputes in Jersey.)”
Bohrer subscribes to author Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule,” that it takes about 10,000 hours to truly master just about any skill. All of his blogging and tweeting (he tweets about five times a day) has been practice, he says. “I do a lot of rewrite. By the time I turned in my proposal for the RFK book, I had filing cabinets full of drafts. I’d written about 200,000 words that I actually liked.”
Bohrer says he learned to do historic research from Adam Goodheart, the distinguished journalist/historian who teaches history and runs the College’s C.V. Starr Center, and who became his mentor. “Adam taught me respect for archives, to leave them as you found them—I see people in libraries making mistakes all the time, things I learned not to do from Adam—and he taught me to follow the footnotes, to just go back and back and back to the root of it all.”
This fall he collaborated with Goodheart in creating a series of Starr Center-sponsored lectures dissecting the presidential race—“The Anatomy of an Election.”
“I remember when Jack practically lived on the third floor of the Custom House as one of the Starr Center’s first student research associates,” says Goodheart. “He was already at work on the project that would grow into his RFK book. The first time that Birch Bayh visited Washington College, in 2005, I invited Jack along to join us for coffee. He and the senator were soon chatting happily away about the intricacies of Washington politics in the 1960s. You might have thought they’d known each other since the Johnson Administration.
“Jack is an exceptional and versatile talent: both a journalist who’s ready to take the long view and an historian with an eye for present-day connections. He is making a place for himself in the front ranks of the rising generation of political writers.”