By Betsy Rothstein - 12/07/05 12:00 AM EST
It’s classic Carl Hulse. On the morning of the interview, we talk to arrange a time to meet. He says he’s sick and at the vet — it’s the only doctor he can afford. In reality, he’s there for a checkup with his pooch, Max, a border collie who has an itching and scratching problem.
A few hours later we meet at Cups and Co. in the Russell Building. Hulse, a political reporter for The New York Times, guides me into a back room, “so people don’t have to listen to me blather.”
Hulse is not warm and fuzzy, although he has endearing qualities. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) spokesman Philippe Reines lights up and says, “I love him. He’s a class act.” Earthy and gruff, Hulse is unsure “whether that’s a good thing.”
The first thing the reporter talks about is the way people mispronounce his name. “It’s pulse with an H,” he says, explaining that some think his name is “Holzy.” In the case of his first name, people often ask if it is Carl with a C or Carl with a K. “Does it matter?” he grouses. “It’s a hard-C sound.”
At 51, Hulse has been a reporter for much of his life. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ill., a small farm and river town, he is the fourth of six children in a large Catholic family. As a teenager he worked in construction — “that was actually hard work.” His father was a plumber, his mother a housewife and his grandfather the county treasurer.
Hulse began writing while at Illinois State University, where he worked on the school’s daily newspaper. He landed a job right out of school with The News Tribune in LaSalle, Ill., where he covered the town of Peru and went to his share of school board meetings, which he describes as “secretive … where a bunch of guys whispered around a table so I could hardly hear them, somewhat like Appropriations subcommittee meetings.”
From the Tribune, his r�sum� meanders through The Daily Journal in Kankakee and the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to the Times’ D.C. bureau, where he was in charge of coverage for regional editions, then night editor working the 3 p.m. to midnight shift.
Hulse enjoyed being an editor but says, “It’s more fun to be out of the office.”
In May 2002, Hulse’s beat switched again, to covering Capitol Hill. “People think we have a lot of advantages because we are The New York Times,” he says, “but there are a lot of people who want nothing to do with you. It’s fun. It’s a lot of pressure; we compete with everyone.”
Although Hulse says he tries to avoid “really boneheaded mistakes” at all costs, those who don’t like his work don’t fluster him. “The blogs beat up on me a lot,” he says. “You’ve got to keep your cool.”
So if the Times reporter weren’t a reporter, what would he be? “I always thought a lawn mower at the Library of Congress,” he deadpans. “You can see what you’ve done.”
He mentions a screenplay that is being script-doctored in Hollywood. The film is a historical adventure set in Washington. Hulse grows vague about it and says things are still in development.
The reporter lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Kim, a geographer for National Geographic, and their two sons, Nicolas, 11, and Benjamin, 8. Their next-door neighbor is Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), whom he sees every so often in the yard.
“He’s never told me one thing,” Hulse says in mock anger.