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.

 

Mad Bitch and Dowd Syndrome

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 6:01 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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CAA and the Actress Over 35 Problem

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 3:36 PM EDT

Ageism in Hollywood is, groan, an age old problem. It's gotten a bit of attention in the last couple of days after the co-creator of HBO's Hung, Colette Burson, was quoted in the New York Times Magazine as saying:

“We auditioned a lot of people,” says Colette Burson, the co-creator of “Hung.” “It is incredibly difficult to find beautiful, talented, funny women over 35.”

Whoa! That's no way to treat the ladies. I ripped her. Jezebel ripped her. There was a Twitter storm. Upshot: Burson sought out blogger Melissa Silverstein of WomenandHollywood.com, who had interviewed her before, and gave a long impassioned clarification (you can read it and my original blog post here).

Jezebel, I think unfairly, chose to excerpt only the parts of the post which make Burson look like more of a jerk. And in so doing missed the juiciest part of what Burson had to say, namely how the all-powerful Creative Artists Agency (CAA) views actresses. Which is to say, useless unless young and famous (and in which order, unclear). In addition to repping the famous, agencies like CAA also represent work-a-day character actors. Unless they happen to be women over 40 who don't look like poster children for cosmetic surgery and extreme dieting. According to Burson:

Just to illustrate: Dmitry (Lipkin her husband and co-creator of Hung) and I went into CAA and we were talking about all the different roles and I said what we are really going to be looking for is an actress around age 40 who is talented and funny and yet can really act.  They seemed to not want to address my question so I brought it up again and they said what about x? (a well known 45 year old film actress)  I said no, we don’t want to cast celebrities.  We want to cast real women and this is a rare opportunity.  We don’t want you to send us your beautiful starlets.  Send us real women with real bodies who can act and who can be comedic.  And he looked sort of sheepish and said I’m really ashamed to tell you we don’t have anyone like that on our list. 

I said you mean to tell me that you this huge agency can’t send us a woman who is 40 and they said no. [emph. mine] And he said I know it’s horrible but it’s the state of the business that they really aren’t a lot of roles for them.

Surprising that Jezebel didn't make hay of this part of Burson's comments, since unrealistic portrayals of women by the entertainment biz are the bread and butter of that blog (which I happen to love). Maybe another Gawker enterprise, Defamer, will get on it (oops, that's just an aggregator now).

And I still want to think what CAA client Oprah says about this.

Update: Upon further reflection, perhaps the real story is how Burson, having pissed off actresses/women everywhere, clarified by alienating Hollywood's most powerful agency. Guessing HBO will assign flack to shadow her henceforth.

Clara Jeffery is Co-editor of Mother Jones and has fallen under the sway of Twitter's dark powers. You can read her tweets here.

HBO's Self-Hating Ageism

| Sun Aug. 2, 2009 10:09 PM EDT

I've never seen HBO's Hung. Long hours, new baby, refusal to give Comcast one more dime of my money. But I've heard it's good, one of those things that, like The Wire, or Mad Men, or Weeds, I'd have to content myself with getting to a season (or three) after everybody else, but be extremely psyched to rent.

That is until I read this NYT profile of Anne Heche, the star of Hung, which was clipping along in its Anne Heche weirdness, until I got to this doorstopper of a sentence:

“We auditioned a lot of people,” says Colette Burson, the co-creator of “Hung.” “It is incredibly difficult to find beautiful, talented, funny women over 35.”

Um...WTF? No secret that ageism against women in Hollywood is rampant, ridiculous, repugnant. But so naked? And from a woman? Who is herself 40? What form of self-hating do you even call that? Plus were we not just subjected to 18 months of cougarmania from Hollywood?

I can think of a ton of actresses over the age of 35 who are beautiful, talented AND funny. Let's start with Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Christina Applegate, Jane Krakowski, Mary-Louise Parker, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who had a poignant (and of course, hilarious) discussion of ageism in the entertainment industry with the Hollywood Reporter (see clip here). Like being cast as a mother of someone you're only 8 years older than. Or being told, as Christina Applegate was, that at 35, she was too old to be on the cover of a glossy mag (ladies, my offer to put any or all of you on the cover of Mother Jones still stands).

But back to Colette Burson. Shame on you. [She's issued a long clarification, see below.] As for the rest of us, ponder these facts when you go to buy your next ticket, or pick your next rental. Guess I won't be renting Hung after all. [I'll take her at her word and give it a shot.]

Actresses over 40 account for 9% of movie roles. Actors over 40 account for 30%.

Anne Bancroft was 36 when she played Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. Dustin Hoffman was 30.

Chances that a Best Actress winner portrayed a prostitute, a nun, or a mute: 1 in 8.

UPDATE: Burson gave a long impassioned clarification to Melissa Silverstein at WomenandHollywood.com, who'd interviewed her previously. I'm reprinting it here in its entirety, because a) only fair b) while it may let Burson off the hook, it goes to show just how deep the problem is:

I do think it’s always hard to find pretty and funny.  It’s a difficult combo and it’s something that’s talked about in Hollywood.  Blonde and funny.  And that is definitely true with Anne.  She’s very funny and real and she’s blonde and she’s pretty.  And this role happens to be for a beauty queen who needed to have serious emotional acting chops and at the same time was funny. [stay with her, people...Though also: Meg Ryan anyone? Roxanne Arquette?]

In terms of the quote: it is such a shame that I was either too tired to express myself correctly on the issue or part of my quote was left out because it is something that I think about a lot and I actually consider myself a warrior on front lines of this issue.  It’s something I am actively involved in on a daily basis in a way that most people are not.  Nevertheless I do think that the part that I would have added or the part I hope I did add was that it is difficult to find an actress over 35 or over 40 who is funny and talented and is still working and has not quit the business.

And by difficult I mean harder than you think.  There are not hundreds of people who show up for the auditions because you need someone who has been working, and you need someone whose agent sends them.  In my personal experience I know five actresses off the top of my head if not 10 who are around the age of 40 who no longer go on auditions anymore because they are too fucking bummed out by how few roles there are.

Just to illustrate: Dmitry (Lipkin her husband and co-creator of Hung) and I went into CAA and we were talking about all the different roles and I said what we are really going to be looking for is an actress around age 40 who is talented and funny and yet can really act.  They seemed to not want to address my question so I brought it up again and they said what about x? (a well known 45 year old film actress)  I said no, we don’t want to cast celebrities.  We want to cast real women and this is a rare opportunity.  We don’t want you to send us your beautiful starlets.  Send us real women with real bodies who can act and who can be comedic.  And he looked sort of sheepish and said I’m really ashamed to tell you we don’t have anyone like that on our list.

I said you mean to tell me that you this huge agency can’t send us a woman who is 40 and they said no.  And he said I know it’s horrible but it’s the state of the business that they really aren’t a lot of roles for them.

It’s such a bummer.  When you cast a role, casting agents will send you who has been working.  My friends who haven’t had a job in five years who quit because it was such a fucking bummer they are not sent out because they don’t have managers anymore.  They are not in the game anymore and it’s not because they aren’t talented.  Of course they’re talented.

So what I am saying is that it’s hard and the situation is more complex than you would think.  Because we are one of the few shows that frequently has these types of roles open…like the role of Tanya.  How often does that type of role occur?  Jane Adams is this gem and people say why don’t we see her working more?  And the answer is because there haven’t been that many roles for her.  We actually wrote a role for a failed poet who is over 40 and she is not ms fabulous.  She doesn’t wear clothes from Neiman Marcus  or Fred Segal.

So I hope the message will get out there.  Maybe I was tired, maybe I was a dumb ass but I feel so passionately about the issue.  But that aside our actions on a daily basis is that we fight this issue.  We conceive of characters that are women over 35 of all body types.  We debate them and we fill them out in the writers room.  So please forgive me for the asinine quote but look at what we are actually doing because we passionately care about this issue.

Wow, CCA doesn't represent one comic actress over the age of 40 who has a real body? What does Oprah (client) say about THAT!

Update II: More on CAA here.

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones. You can follow me on Twitter here. That's how Melissa Silverstein contacted me, you can find her here.

 

 

Now You HAVE to Love Wedding Dance Couple

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 3:43 PM EDT

Surely you watched this week's viral sensation, JKWedding Entrance Dance. The funky-as-you-wanna-be nuptual entrance of Jill Peterson and Kevin Heiz to Chris Batterer Brown's Forever led to a bizillion downloads, lining the pockets of YouTube and the girlfriend beater himself. Which is not what this St. Paul couple had in mind, so they've created their own site, jkweddingdance.com, where you can watch the video and make a donation to the Sheila Wellstone Institute, which fights to end domestic violence.

Sheila, as you may know, was married to Senator Paul Wellstone, an old college professor of mine. Both were truly inspirational advocates who died when the Senator's plane went down in a snowstorm. I don't know if they knew Jill and Kevin or their families, but I'm sure they'd find this to be a pretty cool wedding gift all around. Bravo. Now, will Chris Brown step up and donate the money he's made off the downloads? (H/T the always interesting Jezebel.)

Update: The inevitable, but still funny, divorce parody.

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

 

Props to Our Bad-Ass Interns

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 7:14 PM EDT

The staff at Mother Jones knows it couldn't live without our interns, who fact-check our stories, blog, research, and generally work their butts off. But you, dear reader, may not know how cool these folks are. So, via our friends at the Village Voice, here's a sampling, in an article entitled, "You Just Graduated from Journalism School, What Were You Thinking" [emphasis mine]:

"I grew up with doom and gloom," counters Sonja Sharp, 23, who was paralyzed at eight and, despite being told she would never walk again, is now ambulatory. "So you can doom-and-gloom until you're blue in the face, and I'll yawn." She knows things are "apocalyptic" now, but believes journalism will emerge all the stronger for it. "I decided when I was nine—and in a wheelchair—that I would write," she says. "I still want to be a journalist because I'm stubborn, and dropping in on total strangers and having them open their lives to you is addictive, and I'm not a 'just say no' person."

Sharp turned down an education beat at a Los Angeles weekly in favor of Columbia, and started in the newspaper concentration. "Journalism marries the two things in the world I'm actually good at—being nosy and writing for money," she says. After graduating, Sharp landed a six-month internship at Mother Jones. "I don't know where I'll be next year, but I'll be somewhere," she says, adding that uncertainty is fine "when you're young and you don't mind living hand-to-mouth."

Sonja puts all of our woe-is-me impulses to shame, and her cohorts: interns Ben Buchwalter, Andy Kroll, Stephen Robert Morse, and fellows Steve Aquino, Taylor Wiles, Nikki Gloudeman, and Sam Baldwin are just as great. Follow those links to learn more about them and read their clips. Learn more about our awesome (and paid!) fellowship program here.

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones. You can learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @clarajeffery.

 

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