Kara Swisher Interview

During the online boom, Swisher was known as the number one reporter on that beat.

She calls me Wednesday morning, Sept. 6, 2006.

Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

Kara: "A lawyer. I didn't think about marriage. I knew I was gay since I was four. I was superior, as though I didn't have to worry about all that crap. I always knew I'd have kids."

Luke: "You felt superior to what?"

Kara: "To everybody. I didn't have to worry about if boys liked me..."

Swisher grew up in New York and Princeton. "My dad was an anesthesiologist. He died at 34 of a cerebral hemorrhage when I was five. My mom was a homemaker and did a lot of stuff in fashion. I'm second in the birth order. I have two brothers. My oldest brother is an anesthesiologist. My youngest brother is a lawyer."

Luke: "What's your opinion on the nature vs. nurture debate regarding your sexual identity?"

Kara: "Nature. Totally. It just seems obvious to me that people are the way they are when they are born."

Luke: "When you look back on your life, how much freedom of choice have you had?"

Kara: "I've had complete freedom of choice. By nature, I'm bold. You have to be if you're gay."

Luke: "What did your mother want from you?"

Kara: "A huge wedding with flowers and a big beautiful dress and the whole nine yards. It's been her biggest tragedy that she can't put me in kitten heels."

Luke: "What do you have against kitten heels?"

Kara: "I'm not a kitten heels per se but lately I've been dressing up more. She's beside herself as she enters her seventies. It's been her greatest dream to get me dolled up constantly."

Luke: "How did you dress as a kid?"

Kara: "Preppy. I still have Izod shirts and Fair Isle sweaters and clogs. Not a lot of make-up. I don't look gross. I'm not a typical dyke.

"I still have a lot of the clothes I wore in eighth grade. I'm the same size."

Luke: "Were you a happy kid?"

Kara: "I had a great childhood except for my dad dying, which set the tone for my entire life. I have a do-it-now personality."

Raised Catholic, Kara was confirmed at age 13 and hasn't been inside a church since. Kara has a vague belief in God.

Luke: "Do you hate the Catholic church?"

Kara: "No. They hate me. It's hard. They're attacking my family. I understand why all those religions do that... I am not angry at them for their beliefs but some of their beliefs are ridiculous."

Swisher graduated from Princeton Day School in 1980.

Luke: "When did you start telling people you were a lesbian?"

Kara: "After college. I told my mother in a spectacular way over the phone on my birthday. She said she wouldn't speak to me again and then wouldn't stop speaking to me for the rest of my life.

"I went to Georgetown, one of the more homophobic universities. It's a Catholic university. They were doing a lawsuit against the gay people while I was there."

Luke: "What's a 'lawsuit against the gay people'?"

Kara: "That they didn't have to give them a meeting hall and $25, meanwhile priests..."

Kara got her BA in Comparative Regional Studies in June 1984. "I had been mildly interested in being in the foreign service except for the diplomacy part. I'm not very diplomatic and I love telling secrets. And there was the gay issue. They were like, 'You could be blackmailed.' If I'm out, how could I be blackmailed? They said, 'You could be blackmailed.'"

Luke: "Can you pinpoint the time when you changed from a girl to a woman?"

Kara jokes: "The first time I slept with a man.

"I went back to my 25th highschool reunion and some of the guys told me that I was the best girlfriend because I wasn't clingy and I would sleep with them. Apparently lesbians make great girlfriends for straight men.

"I was an adult from an early age. My mom was lovely but teenage in her outlook. Having your dad die makes you grow up quickly. I never felt young. I was highly competent and highly functional, which is a hallmark of people whose parents die at a young age.

"My grandparents left some money to us. We were always in charge of our own money. I paid for college."

Luke: "What was it like to sleep with a man?"

Kara: "I love it. I just don't like it as much. I've always liked men. I've always found them attractive. I think that's a big canard about lesbians. I love the old Roseanne Barr joke -- why would lesbians hate men? They don't have to sleep with them."

Luke: "Is there a husband and wife in your marriage?"

Kara: "No. There's not a husband and wife in anyone's marriage anymore. I live in San Francisco where often the husbands are wives and wives husbands. Megan is more maternal than I am. I had Louis first. Then she had Alex. We used the same donor. I hated breast feeding. I do most of the housework and logistics. She does the laundry."

Luke: "How much anti-lesbian discrimination have you faced?"

Kara: "Less than you might think. It's subtle.

"One of my southern relatives says, 'Kara, 60% of people don't believe in gay marriage.' I say, 'How did you lose that 40% so quickly? It used to be 100%. Soon it will be 50% then 40% and 30% and you'll be some crazy old crank like the people who insult Jews and blacks.'

"Everywhere I go, somebody will stand up and say, 'I don't know what I think about gay sex.' Then don't have any.

"My profession doesn't care. I write about an industry that doesn't care. Here in San Francisco, we got into preschool because we're gay."

Kara worked for her highschool and college newspapers. She began freelancing at the Washington Post during college. "I called up the editor to tell him that a story was done badly. He invited me to come down and tell him that to his face. I did and he hired me as a stringer.

"I went to Columbia Journalism school which was a gigantic waste of time. They didn't even have computers. You don't need school to go into journalism. That's ridiculous."

"I worked for John McClaughlin and testified against him in a sexual harassment suit. He wasn't a very creative sexual harasser. That old run-around-the-desk crap.

"He settled and continues on. The father of modern screamfest on cable tv.

"He was funny. A guy wrote an article about the whole thing and nobody would put their name to it and so I did. He came up to me at a party and said, 'Everyone else stabbed me in the back and you stabbed me in the front. Thanks.'

"I thought, 'Anytime, you pig.'"

Around 1990, Swisher began covering technology and AOL, which was headquartered in Virginia."

Luke: "Which of your personality traits have helped you succeed in journalism?"

Kara: "I've always spoken my mind. My family is not always honest but we're always forthright. My mother loves the media. She was always taking us to the theater and exposing us to TV and newspapers."

"[Circa 1990:] I was covering a famous retail family in Washington, the Hafts. They owned Crown Books. They got in a big fight. It was like King Lear. I got well known in Washington for writing about this family. I got really sick of them. Dysfunctional families are fun to cover for a while and then they start calling you at home and want to be in the news. It's horrifying.

"I went off to Russia to visit a friend. I was contacted by my editor, David Ignatius. He's like, there's this internet thing happening and there's little company AOL and nobody's been covering it well. Would you come back and do this?

"AOL became the most important company of the decade.

"I'd initially been contacted by publishers to write a book about the Hafts. My editor guided me to focus on AOL. As they grew, my reputation grew. I got to meet everybody in the Internet space early on because they were all interfacing with AOL.

"The parties were great [during the Internet boom] and the public got this amazing communications medium for free, paid for by speculation."

Kara says the Treo is the best relationship in her life. 

Luke: "Do your kids suffer because you are not married to a man?"

Kara: "Not in San Francisco. My brothers are an important part of my life. There are a lot of men in my life. I grew up without a father. It was not good.

"My kids have two loving parents. They're the luckiest kids on earth. They have this beautiful house in San Francisco. They get whatever they want."

Luke: "Were there any blacks at the forefront of the Internet revolution?"

Kara: "Not enough. There aren't enough women. It's a white geeky guy world. But the industry's trying to diversify."