Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery

Editor in Chief

Since taking the editorial helm at Mother Jones in late 2006, Clara and her co-editor, Monika Bauerlein, have won two National Magazine Awards for general excellence, relaunched MotherJones.com, founded a now 13-person Washington bureau, won a PEN award for editing, given birth, and forgotten what it's like to sleep. It probably doesn't help she's on Twitter so much.

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Clara Jeffery is co-editor of Mother Jones, where, together with Monika Bauerlein, she has spearheaded an era of editorial growth and innovation, marked by the addition of now 13-person Washington bureau, an overhaul of the organization's digital strategy and a corresponding 15-fold growth in traffic, and the winning of two National Magazine Awards for general excellence. When Jeffery and Bauerlein received a PEN award for editing in 2012, the judges noted: “With its sharp, compelling blend of investigative long-form journalism, eye-catching infographics and unapologetically confident voice, Mother Jones under Jeffery and Bauerlein has been transformed from what was a respected—if under-the-radar—indie publication to an internationally recognized, powerhouse general-interest periodical influencing everything from the gun-control debate to presidential campaigns. In addition to their success on the print side, Jeffery and Bauerlein’s relentless attention to detail, boundless curiosity and embrace of complex subjects are also reflected on the magazine’s increasingly influential website, whose writers and reporters often put more well-known and deep-pocketed news divisions to shame. Before joining the staff of Mother Jones, Jeffery was a senior editor of Harper's magazine. Fourteen pieces that she personally edited have been finalists for National Magazine Awards, in the categories of essay, profile, reporting, public interest, feature, and fiction. Works she edited have also been selected to appear in various editions of Best American Essays, Best American Travel Writing, Best American Sports Writing, and Best American Science Writing. Clara cut her journalistic teeth at Washington City Paper, where she wrote and edited political, investigative, and narrative features, and was a columnist. Jeffery is a graduate of Carleton College and Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. She resides in the Mission District of San Francisco with her partner Chris Baum and their son, Milo. Their burrito joint of choice is El Metate.

 

Detained Writer's Mother Jones Piece Now Online

| Tue Aug. 11, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

This morning, Mother Jones published a major investigative article by Shane Bauer, a journalist who is one of the three American hikers detained in Iran after accidentally crossing the border while hiking in Kurdistan. The story, in the magazine's September/October issue, was reported earlier this year and went to press before Bauer was detained on July 31. But with the issue arriving in subscribers' homes this week, we decided, in consultation with Bauer's family and the families of the other hikers, to release it simultaneously online. We felt it was important to avoid speculation and mischaracterization about the story, and to showcase the kind of top-notch journalism Bauer has been producing.

Based on numerous interviews and government documents, Bauer's article, “The Sheikh Down,” finds that millions in reconstruction funding have been used to award inflated contracts to Sunni sheikhs to keep them and their followers from taking up arms against US troops. “The program was a major part of the Awakening, which the Pentagon has touted as a turning point in reducing violence and creating the conditions for an American withdrawal,” Bauer reports. “It was also a reinstitution of a strategy started by Saddam Hussein, who picked out tribal leaders he could manipulate through patronage schemes. The US military didn't give the sheikhs straight-up bribes, which would have raised eyebrows in Washington. Instead, it handed out reconstruction contracts. Sometimes issued at three or four times market value, the contracts have been the grease in the wheels of the Awakening in Anbar—the almost entirely Sunni province in western Iraq where Fallujah is located.”

The program has had little oversight from Washington—battalion commanders are allowed to hand out contracts up to $500,000 without approval from their superiors. In one case Bauer examines, a clinic described by his military sources as a “patronage project,” a Sunni sheikh was paid $488,000. “Yet Hastings estimates that it will cost around $100,000 to build,” Bauer writes. “’That's, you know, a pretty good profit margin,’ Hastings says—close to 80 percent. In comparison, KBR, the largest military contractor in the country, cleared 3 percent in profits in 2008. Halliburton scored around 14 percent.”
      
While some officials defend the “make-a-sheikh” program as business as usual in a country rife with corruption, many experts warn that it could destabilize Iraq in the long term. Peter Harling, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group, tells Bauer, “The pillaging of state resources is not a particularly good strategy. It creates a culture of predators and a lot of resentment from those who don't take part in those contracts. You might lavish one tribal leader with contracts but alienate 10 others.” Sam Parker, an Iraq programs officer at the United States Institute of Peace, is also concerned that the strategy could backfire. “Contracts are inflated because they are only secondarily about the goods and services received,” he tells Bauer. "It's very problematic. You are rewarding the guys with the guns.”

You can read Shane's whole story here. Our thoughts are with him, Sarah Shourd, Josh Fattal, and all of their families. We won't be discussing their case publicly at this time.

Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein are Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can read more of their articles here and here and follow them on Twitter here and here.

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Justice Comes to Alberto Gonzales

| Sat Aug. 8, 2009 2:16 PM EDT

Not enough justice, mind you. Still, in tomorrow's New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon has a satisfying interview with Bush's former attorney general, who resigned in disgrace over the attorneys generals firing scandal. Upshot: Gonzales has had no law firm job offers, has no book publisher, hasn't talked to Bush, who isn't helping out with legal bills, and a considerable portion of Texas Tech's faculty signed a letter protesting his appointment. Read the whole thing. It'll make you feel somewhat better. (H/T @GregMitchell)

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones and a Twitter newbie. You can follow her here.

American Hikers Moved to Tehran, Pre-Trial on Sunday

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 8:17 PM EDT

Breaking Friday Evening: ABC News's Martha Raddatz is reporting that Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer, his girlfriend Sarah Shourd, and friend Josh Fattal—who apparently strayed into Iran while hiking in the Kurdistan region of Iraq—are being moved to Tehran. ABC characterizes this as a sign that the negotiations over the fate of the three Americans will drag on.

Yesterday, Mother Jones printed the account of a fourth American hiker, Shon Meckfessel, about how Shane and his friends came to be detained. " I hope that people understand my friends’ presence in the area for what it was: a simple and very regrettable mistake," he concludes.

Shane has a piece in the upcoming issue of Mother Jones on corruption among Iraqi contractors. In accordance with the wishes of the families of all three missing Americans, we plan to post the piece early next week.

Update: On Saturday, PressTV, an English-language news agency funded by the Iranian government, reported that the a commission of the Majlis (Parliament) will meet to discuss the fate of the three Americans tomorrow. Since the US has no formal diplomatic relations with Iran, the Swiss are acting as an intermediary. Things got odder on Saturday when Iraq (an age-old enemy of Iran) also pressed Tehran officials for details surrounding the hikers' arrest.

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Details on Mother Jones Contributor Shane Bauer, Missing in Kurdistan

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 2:36 PM EDT

On July 31, three Americans went missing while on a hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan. They are presumed to have been detained by Iranian authorities. One of them is Shane Bauer, a freelance journalist who has a piece on contractor corruption in Iraq in the forthcoming issue of Mother Jones. The piece had nothing to do with Iran, and Bauer was not on assignment for us when he went to Kurdistan. Below is a statement by Shon Meckfessel, who was traveling with Bauer, but was not with him at the time of his disappearance.

I’m writing this statement to help people understand what happened to my three friends, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal, who went missing by the Iran/Iraq border. I have been close friends with Shane and Sarah for years, and
recently met Josh, a longtime friend of Shane. Shane is a language student and freelance journalist; Sarah is an English teacher; and Josh arranges student exchange trips. All of us have done some writing about our travels, and all of us share a deep appreciation for Middle Eastern cultures.

In late July the four of us decided to travel from Damascus, Syria to Iraqi Kurdistan for a short vacation. Sarah had to return to work in a week. While going there might seem strange to Americans, the Kurdish territory is actually very beautiful and quite safe. Since the Kurds gained autonomy in 1992, no American has ever been harmed there. The city of Sulaimania is increasingly popular with tourists, and a friend of ours told us it was the most beautiful area
he’d ever seen.

We arrived in Sulaimania the night of July 29th and stayed at the Hotel Miwan. Walking around town the next day, we asked a number of people--taxi drivers, hotel staff, and people on the street--for good places to experience the mountainous terrain in the area. Every one of them told us to visit a place called Ahmed Awa. Not one of these people mentioned that Ahmed Awa was anywhere near the Iranian border. In fact, on the wall of our hotel there were three photos of tourists standing near the Ahmed Awa waterfall.

Ahmed Awa seemed the clear choice for appreciating the stunning natural beauty around Sulaimania, far from any sort of risk. However, it may have been unclear to the people who encouraged us to visit Ahmed Awa that we intended to go hiking in the area, rather than simply visiting the waterfall.

There is no Lonely Planet Iraqi Kurdistan, and Ahmed Awa was not on the map we’d printed out. My sense--wrongly as it turns out--was that Ahmed Awa lay northwest of Sulaimania, in the direction of Dokan Lake (and Dokan Resort), another scenic area we’d considered visiting during our trip through Kurdistan.
On the evening of July 30th, Josh, Shane, and Sarah set out for Ahmed Awa with the plan to camp out. I stayed behind at our hotel because I was coming down with a cold, and wanted a night to recuperate. We agreed to meet up the next day near Ahmed Awa. I purchased an Iraqi SIM card for my cell phone to make sure we could find each other the next day (providing the area had a signal,
which very luckily it did).

I spoke with Shane twice that evening. I called him at around 8 p.m. and he told me they’d just been dropped off near a strip of restaurants in Ahmed Awa. A couple hours later he told me they had followed a trail up from the strip of restaurants to the waterfall, and were continuing on the same trail to camp in peace.

On July 31st I woke up feeling better and decided to join my friends. At about 11:30am I called Shane. He told me the weather had been mild all night. That morning they had woken up early and resumed hiking along the same trail. Shane sounded very calm and content, happy to be in a beautiful environment, and made absolutely no mention of any risk whatsoever. I am absolutely certain that they had no knowledge of their proximity to the Iranian border or they would have never continued in that direction. Shane told me they were planning to turn around soon. He thought we could meet up near the waterfall. I sent Shane two text messages, one at 12:50pm and one at 1:22pm, to which he did not respond. At 1:33pm I received a call from Shane during which he told me that they were being taken into custody and that I should call the embassy. I hope that people understand my friends’ presence in the area for what it was: a simple and very regrettable mistake. --Shon Meckfessel

Bauer's story will be arriving in subscribers' homes next week. We will release it online soon.

UPDATE: On Friday evening it was reported that the three Americans were being moved to Tehran.

UPDATE: Shane's Mother Jones investigation is here. The hikers' families have launched a website to build support for consular access to their loved ones.

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery are the Co-Editors of Mother Jones. You can follow them on Twitter here and here.


 

Mad Bitch and Dowd Syndrome

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 7:01 PM EDT

Since I've been spending a lot of time in the last two days blogging about sexism in Hollywood and CAA in particular, you might find it surprising to hear that I largely agree with Slate's Jack Shafer that the Mad Bitch controversy is meh. As Shafer puts it:

Has it really come to the point that you can't call the secretary of state of the most powerful nation on earth a mad bitch in a comedy segment without people becoming unhinged and managing editors running for the exits?

If you're late to the dispute, [Dan] Milbank and [Chris] Cillizza are political journalists at the Post who, since early June, have been donning silly costumes and hoisting stupid props on a cheesy set that's supposed to echo the old Masterpiece Theater set. They make fun of themselves. They make fun of powerful politicians. The segments are short and topical.

Shafer then goes into a long bit about how he doesn't approve of humor "lest he hurts anyone's feelings." You'd have to know Jack to know just how funny that is.* While Shafer doesn't come right out and say it, the main crime that Milbank and Cillizza committed is against the funny. The segment was just lame, which is why, as Nick points out, it was so ripe for this awesome parody (You've been Post'd!). Had Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart unleashed a Mad Bitch/Hillary joke it would come and gone without backlash. And why has there been little attention to all the lame jokes leveled at Republicans?

Partly because of an old comedy truism, the funnier something is, the more offense you can give (see also: The Aristocrats!) In other words, had the sexist bit been funnier, it would have been taken as a joke. But it wasn't so it wasn't. Better delivery might have helped, but frankly the material throughout the skit wasn't good. One lame concept tortured to death. Call it Dowd Syndrome.

So why in gods name has so much bloggosphere consternation been mounted over this weak attempt to make the WaPo seem edgy? What portion of true outrage vs. cynical exploitation for clicks? (Now, if only you could work in Sarah Palin, traffic gold!) And what portion is some really misguided lefty bile leveled at Milbank for (valid, IMO) concerns that the White House was attempting to use HuffPo reporter Nico Pitney to control the pace of a press conference? Or is it just herd mentality. If X is outraged, then I must be outraged too. The retweet writ large.

Dunno. But please make it stop.

UPDATE: Mouthpiece Theater has been killed. In his blog, The Fix, Chris Cillizza issues apology to those who took offense and those who thought a straight political reporter shouldn't do parody:

What did I learn from doing Mouthpiece? That I am not funny on camera (this will not be a revelation to many of you), that name-calling is never the stuff of good comedy, and that the sort of straight, inside dope reporting I pride myself on made for a somewhat discordant marriage with the sort of satire Mouthpiece aimed to create.

And, as Mrs. Fix -- my guidepost in all things -- rightly pointed out: I am better writing about the news than being in the news.

As he points out. Everybody in journalism is having to experiment to survive. This experiment ended badly, but may a hundred flowers bloom!

 

Clara Jeffery (that's me) is the Co-editor of Mother Jones. *Full disclosure: Fifteen years ago I worked for Jack Shafer for a year and have yet to fully recover from his devastating assessments of my (mostly editorial) shortcomings. I long ago gave up trying to kiss his ass. Call me names below. Tweet to me here.

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