Michael Powell is a national reporter for the New York Times. As his bio says, he covers issues related to “free speech and expression,” and writes stories “capturing intellectual and campus debate.” This is a very, very dangerous beat, in my view. He tells me, “I joke with my wife that I feel like the guy running around the Transit Authority rail yard, putting his hand on third rails.”
I have done a Q&A podcast with Powell, here.
He has had a diverse career. He has been a sports columnist; a city columnist; an economics writer; and a political reporter. He is indeed a generalist of a journalist. Before the Times, he worked at the Washington Post and elsewhere. He says that he likes to visit other people’s lives. (So do I. It is a joy of the job. And a privilege.)
About two weeks ago, Powell published a blockbuster piece headed “Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College.” The subheading: “A student said she was racially profiled while eating in a college dorm. An investigation found no evidence of bias. But the incident will not fade away.”
In my view, this piece belongs in an anthology on this age. Generations from now, if people ask, “What in the world went on in American higher education, circa 2020?,” this piece will tell them. In eye-popping detail.
Naturally, Powell and I discuss the campus (not just Smith’s, but the American campus at large). We also discuss the media — who reads what, and why? — plus some political issues. Powell once covered Rudy Giuliani. Did he ever think the mayor would become what he is today? (No.) Also, Powell was part of a team that covered the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal. (They won a Pulitzer Prize.) At the moment, New York’s governor is embroiled in a similar scandal. Déjà vu all over again?
Michael Powell is not only an outstanding journalist but also an outstanding conversationalist. You will enjoy him a lot — again, here.