Hill Climbers: Journalism Refugee

Posted February 5, 2010 at 2:36pm

Even though Amanda Carpenter just left journalism for a job with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), she doesn’t see it as a big change from her previous line of work. “I don’t feel like I’m going into politics,” Carpenter said. “He’s not like a ‘Republican’; he’s a strong conservative and that’s always where I’ve been.”

Last week, Carpenter, 27, became DeMint’s senior communications adviser and speechwriter.

[IMGCAP(1)]Carpenter joins Capitol Hill from the Washington Times. For nearly a year, she wrote “The Hot Button,” a daily column that investigated politics, culture and generally anything wacky in Washington.

But the chance to work for DeMint was just too good for this journalist to pass up. “I really like Sen. DeMint. I always have,” Carpenter said. “I’ve written about him. I’ve interviewed him several times. I knew he had a top-notch staff. I knew they were all really great people.”

And Carpenter doesn’t plan to leave her old line of work behind. “It just seemed like the perfect fit more than anything because I get to keep writing,” she said. “They like a lot of research so I really think that I can bring my journalism skills to this.”

And with a week on the job, so far, so good. Carpenter had already written an opinion piece for the lawmaker and has planned several long-term projects. “He’s definitely had an elevated role over the past year,” she said. “They realize that he needs to be speaking on a national level and that’s something

I’ve been doing for a while with the TV and my column. Hopefully I can figure out what’s going to work in the press and make the right kind of arguments and help him hit the news cycles.”

Carpenter, who hails from Montrose, Mich., didn’t always identify as a conservative or even care much for politics. After high school, Carpenter headed to Tri-State University (now Trine University) on an athletic scholarship.

But the small Indiana university would take a toll on her. Carpenter would eventually become an All-State softball pitcher, earning the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics season record for the most innings pitched, but at the expense of wearing out her arm with a shoulder injury.

So in 2003, Carpenter transferred to another Indiana college: Ball State University.

Even though Carpenter would thrive at Ball State as an All-American debate champion, the school failed to meet her expectations in one regard: university spending. Carpenter, who was unable to gain many of the loans available to students, launched an investigation into the Freshmen Connections reading program, a program that used tuition dollars to bring authors to the school and purchase their books.

[IMGCAP(2)]”I was combating ‘Fast Food Nation,’ which I really didn’t have a problem with,” she said. “It was the whole program around it,” she said.

On the day of the mandatory lecture with the book’s author, Carpenter handed out McDonald’s hamburgers to attending students. Carpenter also launched a Web site that investigated administrative spending.

Inadvertently, Carpenter turned herself into a “conservative journalism kid” with some pretty important connections. The work allowed Carpenter to meet people doing the same thing on a larger scale. The office of Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), whose district includes Ball State University, reached out to the college student.

After earning a communications degree in 2005, Carpenter headed to Washington for her first job as a Capitol Hill reporter for the conservative magazine Human Events. “It was kind of a leap, straight from college to Capitol Hill,” she said. “They were like, ‘Would you be willing to take a tape recorder and walk up to Hillary Clinton and ask her something?’ I was like, ‘Sure.'”

Although Carpenter would stay at Human Events for only a year, she made a splash during her short time. Regnery Publishing, which owns Human Events, commissioned Carpenter to write a book. The result, on a very short deadline, was “The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’s Dossier on Hillary Clinton,” a 2006 work covering Clinton’s time since leaving the White House.

In 2006, Carpenter headed to the conservative publication Townhall.com. “I went over to Townhall mainly because there’s more opportunity to do multimedia there,” she said. “I really wanted to become a multimedia communicator.”

And the opportunities came. Carpenter blogged for Townhall.com, wrote long articles for the magazine and, more than anything, took off as television commentator.

“I always tried to be really approachable, always available and always prepared, and so they just kept calling and I just kept showing up,” said Carpenter, who has appeared with cable television all-stars. “I like the pressure of it more than anything. It reminds me of debate in college.”

She also blogged about the 2008 election for Glamour magazine.

When the 2008 campaign cycle came to close, Carpenter transitioned to her third journalism gig, at the Washington Times.

“There’s few opportunities for conservatives to work at a newspaper, which they knew I was,” she said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to work in a newsroom. I really wanted to go somewhere where I could bat around ideas, work for an editor, where there were copy editors and where there were people at the top notch of their game.”

In addition to “Hot Button,” Carpenter also got to flex her investigative muscles in a series investigating lost claims in veterans’ health care.

“I’m really proud of that,” she said. “Being able to write that series was totally worth it.”

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