What is it like to be a young conservative journalist today? To kick off Liberty + Leadership’s third season, Roger Ream ’76 is joined by Carine Hajjar, Rago ’22, opinion and editorial writer at The Boston Globe, to explore her journalism journey, the challenges she’s overcome and the valuable insights she’s gained. From her formative years at The Harvard Crimson’s editorial board to her impactful role as the 2022 Joseph Rago Memorial Fellow at The Wall Street Journal – a nine-month internship awarded by TFAS and The Journal – Carine shares how her unwavering dedication to free speech and responsible journalism has shaped her career.
Carine is an opinion and editorial writer at The Boston Globe with a broad range of expertise spanning from national security to national elections. Previously, she worked at National Review covering higher education and the Vienna nuclear negotiations with Iran. During her time as a Joseph Rago Fellow at The Wall Street Journal, she worked in the Opinion section.
The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.
Roger Ream [00:00:00] Welcome to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, faculty and friends who are making an impact today. I’m your host, Roger Ream. To kick off season three, I’m very excited to welcome Carine Hajjar. Carine is an opinion and editorial writer at The Boston Globe, with a broad range of expertise spanning from national security to national elections. Previously, she worked at National Review, covering higher education and the Vienna nuclear negotiations with Iran. She is also a proud TFAS alumna. She was the recipient of our 2022 Joseph Rago Memorial Fellowship for Excellence in Journalism, working at the opinion section of The Wall Street Journal. Carine, I look forward to talking with you about your view of journalism today and how your experience with TFAS has helped you in your career.
Carine Hajjar [00:01:00] Yes, thanks for having me on.
Roger Ream [00:01:01] Well, it’s our pleasure and a wonderful way to start off season three. Let’s start at the beginning. I met you when you interviewed for the Rago Fellowship. You had graduated, just prior to that, a year earlier from Harvard, where you studied government and economics. I think you chaired the Harvard Kennedy School Institute Politics Fellows. You were founding leader of the conservative coalition, but you also got your journalism feet wet as a member of Harvard’s Crimson’s editorial board. Why did you decide to try journalism when you’re at Harvard?
Carine Hajjar [00:01:40] Well, it was always an interest and more of a hobby than anything. I liked to argue with my peers and getting to sit down and think through what I was going to write seemed to be a better way to do that than, necessarily arguing in or at the lunch table, though that did happen a lot, but I just really enjoyed thinking through my arguments. I had an experience in National Review, I believe it was my sophomore summer of college and loved that experience. So, the opinion journalism side of things, I just loved the back and forth that came with it, the compromise that you needed to find. It was just fun.
Roger Ream [00:02:26] You wrote a brilliant opinion column for the Harvard Crimson called “I Was at Odds,” when you were a student there, and you talked about the challenges you faced as a conservative at Harvard and the valuable lessons you’ve learned. Talk a little about that column and how being a conservative impacted your experience there?
Carine Hajjar [00:02:48] Well, I found it deeply frustrating that what was supposed to be the foremost institution of education, that there were just basic questions that I couldn’t ask or conversations that people were too scared to have in the classroom. At that time, it was around Covid, I believe I wrote that column, my senior spring semester and I felt like that was the time to leave it all on the table and leave my impact, if it would have an impact on the institution. I was just hoping to point out that it’s just hard to have conversations in the classroom and it’s just difficult to talk, ask questions about race and equality and justice, and it wasn’t that the whole point of what we were trying to do at Harvard. So, I was not yet trying to tear down, assumptions made in DEI institutions and anything crazy like that, but just asking the obvious questions like: “Why can’t I ask a question in class? Why is it socially so costly to have these kinds of conversations?”
Roger Ream [00:03:51] So, you felt firsthand this idea we hear about at a lot of universities of students who have to self-censor?
Carine Hajjar [00:03:59] Oh, yeah. There was a high social cost, and I think that’s sometimes lost in the conversations or there’s this stereotype about the liberal professor and the communist ties of the institutions and all those jokes that exist around higher education, but I think that a real problem is the social pressure that students face, being socially rewarded for being more progressive, part of more progressive causes. I think that people have seen that play out, especially this year, in the wake of October 7th. There’s a line drawn in the sand on where you stand on Israel, for example. But that line exists for so many other issues on campus.
Roger Ream [00:04:42] You probably didn’t anticipate that in your professional career so soon after joining The Boston Globe last year, you’d be writing about Harvard again, and these issues in higher education. We saw the recent exit of Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay. You’ve wrote several columns about what’s been happening on campus, and they’ve been excellent columns., but one recently was about the need to reform the DEI policies: the diversity, equity and inclusion policies at universities, not just Harvard, but elsewhere. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Carine Hajjar [00:05:19] Yes, absolutely. I think the world is seeing the issue here. We had been hearing about it. It was coming from mostly from right leaning outlets about the problem with free speech on campus, but at the root of it was the these DEI institutions and offices that choose favored narratives, favored groups, and when you when you’re a student, you don’t want to come across as hateful or if there’s inclusivity and this is what inclusivity is, you don’t want to come across as exclusive. I think people forget a lot of times that these are young adults, and they want to learn, but they also want to make friends. They want to be well liked. I think that if you have an institution like Harvard telling you: “Here are winners and losers, you’re right and wrong,” you want to listen to that and you want to go along with it. For people who are forming their opinions and don’t come into college knowing that that’s not necessarily true, that we all bring opinions to the table that merit to be shared, I think that it has a lot of impact on discourse. And that was the big issue for me. I think that an institution like Harvard can’t reform itself, can’t kind of break this DEI trap without having open discourse, and that was the root of it. We saw it at the Harvard board, but we also see it in the classrooms to the DEI offices where people aren’t willing to hear opposing viewpoints and say: “Hey, maybe this ideology doesn’t work, maybe this isn’t how education and free speech flourish on campus.”
Roger Ream [00:06:54] Shortly after the horrendous October 7th terrorist attack by Hamas, we saw this outburst of support for Hamas on campuses. We saw at Harvard, a letter signed by some 30 organizations blaming Israel for the violence, and you wrote a column about it then, and I recall it was a great column from the standpoint of you spoke out clearly for free speech and said universities need to protect free speech, even speech that often is disgusting or speech we don’t want to hear. I think you said they’re the adults in the room and they need to step in and make have a clear signal about what’s acceptable. Can you comment some more on that as it relates to Harvard or higher education in general?
Carine Hajjar [00:07:57] Yes. This question always makes me think about “The Coddling of the American Mind,” which is one of my favorite books, and the concept of safety. How institutions want to put the safety of students before everything else, but often that bleeds into emotional safety. What is emotional safety? I think for a very long time, or at least in the last couple of decades, universities have ceded more and more control to students in order just not to upset them. So, you have certainly students can hold whatever opinion they want, but radical opinions shouldn’t steer the narrative on campus. I think it’s a failure in the moral education of the student, which should be a part of the college experience for students to be out here pointing fingers at Israel just days after innocent civilians have been slain. I think that there need to be adults in this case and students go to school to learn. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have their say, they should be able to speak out, but they should also be taught right and wrong to some extent, and that’s again comes back to free speech. You find right and wrong through open discourse and testing opinions against each other, and that wasn’t happening at Harvard, and it’s not happening at a lot of universities.
Roger Ream [00:09:16] I think you’re writing on this topic has been brilliant and no doubt you’ll have more occasions to write columns about higher ed and Harvard. I want to stay with Harvard for a minute longer, because one of the things that I recall very vividly from your interview for the Rago Fellowship was that you’re in the midst at the time of travels in Europe that were the result of the Findlay Fellowship that you were awarded through the Eliot House at Harvard. I recall, you put together a proposal for a purposeful travel through Europe, focused on Italy and France and probably elsewhere. Could you talk a little bit about that trip and kind of what it might have done in terms of shaping your experience or been the value to you now looking back on it?
Carine Hajjar [00:10:05] Oh, yes. Absolutely. It was it was a great year and, I think that this is an example of where institutions like Harvard really a lot do have to offer in terms of, moral education. If they put the resources there and they put the time there, and I’m very grateful to the university and to Eliot House for funding this year of travel. My proposal was for kind of, a year of religious revival. I had gone to Ursuline school in high school. It was it was an all-girls Catholic school, and I was raised Melkite Catholic, and these were important parts of my identity that in a very secular university like Harvard, there are things that you don’t get to explore as much or take as much time, having that at the center of your education. So, I thought that this fellowship would be a great opportunity to travel Europe and do, I called it basically an extended pilgrimage. I visited various monasteries across countries in Western Europe, but I ended up going everywhere. I did a lot of a lot of stays in monasteries, but a lot of hostel hopping. I think the grand total was 14 countries at the end of it. It was such an experience and, a great confidence builder to be able to solo navigate all those experiences, even the mundane travel parts of it. But also, an important religious experience, getting to be in some of Europe’s oldest monasteries. Especially I really loved staying with Benedictine sisters and seeing the purposeful routine of their day and how anything can be devotion to God, but that part really stuck with me the most.
Roger Ream [00:11:40] Yeah, there’s been not much but a little written about the fact that surveys which have been done in the past, I know of journalists, working journalists today in the mainstream media, religious observance is very low. Very few journalists attend church regularly. No doubt it must impact coverage, especially when it comes to coverage that involves religious issues or religion. Do you find that your experience on that trip or your religious beliefs impact your writing in some way?
Carine Hajjar [00:12:16] I think faith can be a strong check on bias and I try to be purposeful about the truth of the matter. That’s what journalists should do, and certainly journalists who I know that don’t go to church or aren’t religious, there are many that do this as well. But I guess for me personally, I think a lot about what the truth of this situation is. How can I convey it? Being able to pray about those things as well and think about them purposefully in that way, I think has been helpful in my career and might also sometimes push me to cover issues that I’m scared to be on the record about, or maybe I don’t want to go there. My faith sometimes kind of gives me the push to say: “Well, you should cover that. This is important and this is wrong, and it needs to be uncovered,” or this is right, and it needs to have some light shined on it. So, I think in that way it does have an impact.
Roger Ream [00:13:20] When you were at National Review as an editorial intern, you covered foreign policy and national security. What prompted your interest in those fields?
Carine Hajjar [00:13:29] I’ve always been interested in those fields. There was a big focus of my studies at Harvard. It took a lot of national security base classes and worked for Senator Cotton on the Hill, I think in my second year of college and was a defense intern there and really loved those issues. Those are kind of my bread-and-butter issues. I think I have a lot of family who grew up in unstable parts of the world, like my mom is from Venezuela, and both of my parents’ families have roots in Lebanon. So, these were just issues that we talked about at the dinner table all the time, like Iranian influence. That was something that from a young age was something that I heard about in my household a lot. My dad’s done some advocacy for Middle Eastern Christians and persecuted minority groups in the Middle East, and so it was always a passion issue of mine. When the Iran deal was going on under this administration, those negotiations playing out in Vienna, it just struck me as so, misguided in terms of the incentives that we were putting on the table. Iran doesn’t really respond to appeasement. If you give them an inch, they’re going to take a mile, and that’s exactly what happened. Sadly, we had servicemen die recently from, a missile strike from Iran. I think that this just all goes to show that if you’re going to give them the space to misbehave, they’re going to misbehave. So, it’s just an issue that I feared would unfold this way and sadly has. And I think it’s important that the U.S. has a revival of wanting to show strength in the Middle East, wanting to show strength elsewhere. I don’t think that strength necessarily leads to conflict. I think it prevents it, and that’s missing from our foreign policy right now.
Roger Ream [00:15:17] Well, you’re writing at National Review and Harvard Crimson and elsewhere impressed us, impressed The Wall Street Journal and the Rago family, and you were awarded our Joseph Rago Fellowship, which is a program for listeners who don’t know. We will pay the fellowship for a young journalist, usually coming out of college to work for nine months in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. You excelled there. You had the opportunity to write a lot. You probably wrote as much as any of our fellows did during that fellowship period. I know you did a lot of editing and then used that and went on to now be at The Boston Globe, writing opinion columns there, which is exactly what we want to see from the Rago Fellowship. We’re thrilled that three of our fellows now work full-time in journalism at major publications. I think some of the others will as well. Tell me about that fellowship. What was the experience like? Did you gain skills at The Wall Street Journal that you found valuable in what you do now?
Carine Hajjar [00:16:24] Oh, absolutely. I think, the first thing I think about, funny enough is split infinitives and just getting to edit next to Matt Hennessy and he’s just such a pro. When I write now, I literally have his voice in my head, if there’s ever a split infinitive. So, I must thank Matt Hennessy, who works on the feature side of the opinion page. It just was such a wonderful educational experience overall and really such a joy to get to be with writers that I had read and looked up to my entire life. These were just kitchen table names in my family. I remember saying that in one of the interviews, how kind of starstruck I was and how grateful I was just to get to speak with folks from the editorial board. I really loved every aspect of it. The editing side of things was such a skill builder, beyond just the split infinitives. Getting to help an author take an idea and push it out in a way that’s clear to readers of all knowledge levels really helped me reflect on how I could do that in my writing and especially with complex issues like immigration law or national security. It’s important to know how to start from the basics and explain a complex idea from there. So, on the editing side of things, you’re helping experts in their field communicate a concept that sometimes you yourself as the editor don’t understand and helping them get to the place where you understand and can get the reader to understand was a great intellectual exercise. Beyond that, getting to be in the editorial meetings and hearing my intellectual heroes go back and forth was such a treat and really formed by opinions further. The editorial board has always been one of my top reads in the morning. So, getting to be a part of those conversations was huge. The reporting was my favorite part. I loved writing there. I loved being edited by James Toronto and Matt Hennessy and having them push me on the issues I was covering and the angles I was taking. I got to go to Nevada to cover the midterm elections there in 2022. One of my favorite pieces or series of pieces was on immigration and how that was unfolding in New York, right when that was unfolding. So, I got to do a lot of street reporting, which is my favorite thing. It was it was just such a fantastic experience, a great skill builder.
Roger Ream [00:18:59] Well, I think one characteristic of The Wall Street Journal opinion pages that I really like, and it’s reflected, I think, in the writing you’re doing now at The Boston Globe is these are opinion columns, but you do reporting for them. I much prefer to read an opinion column that isn’t just a person’s opinion of an issue, but where they go out and report and give me information I wouldn’t otherwise have, and that’s what’s I think so great at The Wall Street Journal. I see it in your columns now. You’ve been in New Hampshire for, I don’t know how long you’ve been up there during the leading up to the New Hampshire primary. Was that a first-time experience for you covering the primaries in New Hampshire?
Carine Hajjar [00:19:47] Oh, yeah. I just was thrown into it, and I loved it. Luckily, I had a little bit of election experience going and covering Nevada, so I’m grateful that the editorial boards on the Journal’s editorial board sent me there because I got a taste of how campaigns work, who you want to talk to, how the events unfold. The New Hampshire is like on another level. At the time when I started covering it, there were various candidates going around New Hampshire doing the diner circuit and I followed Chris Christie for a while and interviewed Vivek Ramaswamy, saw Nikki Haley various times. I went to a Trump rally. So, I had been up and down from New Hampshire, I think August onward, and then the past couple of weeks leading up to the primary, where the final sprint and you learn so much about elections and how the most interesting part for me was seeing, I read about candidates all the time, I think journalists are really informed about elections generally, but then you get to see how effective communication works. When I’m talking to a voter at a diner who is busy with their day job and doesn’t really have time to read every detail of somebody’s platform, what does this Nikki Haley speech? What part of this sticks with them? What part of Trump’s platform is negating that and making them think otherwise? That was really fascinating to see how information reaches the voter and what certain people believe and don’t believe.
Roger Ream [00:21:25] I don’t want you to talk out of school now, Carine, but at The Boston Globe, what’s it like? Are you just kind of a free to write about what you want and go where you want to? Do you pitch it to an editor? Do you have meetings of opinion writers to try to divide up what you’re going to cover? How does that work?
Carine Hajjar [00:21:46] Yeah, it’s, honestly pretty like The Journal and has been an equally fulfilling experience in terms of just the conversations that happen and getting to see. I do write editorials sometimes, but for the most part, I’m doing signed essays and I work directly with my editors on pitching those ideas and fleshing out the angles. They’re pros and they’re great. I’m still a young writer, so it’s great to have the direction of people who have been in the field for decades and have been fantastic editors for decades, so I really enjoyed working under James Dao and Alan Wirzbicki there, and I also participate in the editorial board meetings. Another joy has been getting to see local opinions play out and the dynamics of the Boston City Council and how that impacts state politics. These are real on the ground issues that it directly impacts people in Boston, around Boston. I grew up in Boston. So, it’s great to see those issues play out and get to do some reporting with the City council or state reps and get to know these people a little better than you would on the national stage when you’re covering national politics or international politics. So, that’s been really fulfilling. I’ve loved covering immigration in Boston specifically, because you’re seeing the impacts and places next to where I went to high school or the shelter where I used to volunteer at. Getting to see local organizations step up and help this situation has been interesting. So, truly been a joy to work there and get to learn so much from my colleagues who are pros on state politics and kind of know it inside out.
Roger Ream [00:23:32] When you’re working on a piece, is there a voice in your head saying: “This is going to be read by my family and my friends,” because you are from the Boston area? Are you writing for kind of this audience of people you knew when you’re living there?
Carine Hajjar [00:23:46] It’s funny because, I often get emails after writing something. Your interaction with readers is much more personal, which I really love. I often get an email from somebody who went to college with my grandpa, who hadn’t seen his last name in decades and suddenly wants to say: “Hi,” and I get that a lot. So, I really do love that part of the job and getting to go over and show my grandpa: “Here’s your old classmate.” It feels great to be at the hometown paper and explore issues that impact the community I grew up in.
Roger Ream [00:24:24] Well, we take great pride that you were one of our Joseph Rago Fellows and you’re doing so well now in your early part of your career. I’m thrilled also to announce that this year we’ll be selecting two young people to be Rago Fellows, two Rago Fellows at The Wall Street Journal. We have a strong applicant pool, so I’m confident we’ll find two outstanding people to follow in your footsteps in the footsteps of Elliot Kaufman and Faith Bottom and others who’ve been fellows. Let me ask you: what do you think the future is of journalism? It’s been a tough profession, for young people to go into. Papers have closed and we’re working hard here to make sure there is a strong pipeline of independent minded young people who want to go into journalism, and we do that through the Rago Fellowship and our Novak Fellowships and the work we do on campus with newspapers. Are you hopeful you’re in a career that will have a great, bright future for you?
Carine Hajjar [00:25:27] I am, I think, especially, I can’t speak so much about the future of news with AI. I know everyone’s kind of bringing their hair and trying to figure out what’s going to happen there, but people are always going to want an opinion and people are always going to want to react to opinion. So, I feel quite secure, on the opinion side of things. I have a lot of hope seeing the amazing things that organizations like TFAS are doing on campuses and in your work with conservative papers like the Salient at Harvard. I’ve been so impressed and happy that that’s become a space where people can share different opinions. I really do think that we’re at a time now where more efforts like that are going to be what keeps journalism afloat. If young people see that this is an area where they can disagree with each other, where they can go back and forth and test ideas on paper, I think it could be a part of the revival of higher education. So, I do really have a lot of hope there. I’m meeting and speaking to some of the folks on campus who reach out to me, students who want advice. There’s a lot of interest and there’s no shortage of interest on campus. So, I have hope there. On the opinion side of things, like I said, there’s always going to be opinions, and it’s been interesting seeing, I guess, new ways that opinions are delivered. I think that papers, legacy papers like The Boston Globe are adapting to them. Well, like newsletters, people love getting newsletters. We recently rolled out a newsletter for the primary called The Primary Source and condensing the way in which you have like a central article that is usually shorter in format and then various. We call it the rumor section, various shorter reported tidbits about what’s going on in state politics and in the national election and getting news straight to people’s inboxes and in a digestible format like that. I think it’s important that we adapt in that way and deliver a product like that. So, there’s an interesting evolution going on in an opinion journalism, and it’s been fun to be a part of it.
Roger Ream [00:27:36] Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Carine. As I said, we’re proud of what you’re doing. I would continue talking with you, except I want to give you your time back so you can go out and report and write some great columns. Anyone listening today can find your columns at The Boston Globe. You also probably still have the Substack from your travels in Europe that people can find if they put your name into Google. What was the name of that? You had a clever name in your blog.
Carine Hajjar [00:28:06] Oh, it was “Girl on the loose.”
Roger Ream [00:28:08] Girl on the loose. So, Carine, congratulations on the great work you’re doing at The Boston Globe. Thank you for being, tremendous Rago Fellow, and it’s really been a pleasure to chat with you today about your career.
Carine Hajjar [00:28:22] Likewise. Thanks for having me on and thanks to TFAS for getting me here. It was invaluable. I appreciate it.
Roger Ream [00:28:32] Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership podcast. If you have a comment or question, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org, and be sure to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five-star review. Liberty + Leadership Podcast is produced at Podville Media. I’m your host, Roger Ream, and until next time, show courage in things large and small.
About the Podcast
TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.
Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.
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