It turns out there’s a reason why David Ignatius, the associate editor and columnist at the Washington Post – an entrenched figure at the highest echelons of American journalism for three decades, confidante of presidents and Middle East potentates – is also one of the country’s most commercially successful and enduringly popular spy novelists. Mercifully for the rest of us, it has nothing to do with Ignatius’s literary talent or the thousands of hours of hard work he’s put in over the years.
Ignatius has published eight spy thrillers since 1987, with the latest – "The Director," published in June by W.W. Norton & Company – focused on the damage done by an Edward Snowden-like mole who goes undetected within the U.S. intelligence apparatus. It was a theme the author was already developing when Snowden burst onto the international stage. The “secret” to Ignatius’s success in the genre of John le Carré and Graham Greene – Ignatius’s personal literary hero – resides, according to the columnist, in the similarities he observes in the work of reporters and spies.
“The funny thing about what intelligence officers do in real life,” Ignatius said in a recent visit to “The Foxhole,” “is that it’s so much like what, say, journalists do. You know, it’s the human interactions: the ability to establish trust – the term of art in the CIA is ‘rapport’ – with somebody whose secrets you’re trying to pull out of him. And much as you or I have to be faithful to our viewers or our readers, the intelligence officer has to be faithful to the agency that sent him.”
Ignatius’s 2007 novel "Body of Lies" was made into a box-office smash directed by Ridley Scott and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. From that low-level immersion in the fringes of the motion picture industry, Ignatius came away with an extraordinary appreciation for how differently novelists and actors – tackling the same fictional character – go about their jobs. In his visit to “The Foxhole,” Ignatius recalled a hilarious encounter with DiCaprio in the columnist’s home. We won’t spoil it here – you’ll have to watch the interview to learn about it – but it involved the multiple Academy Award nominee training his body to perform the most basic of tasks.
Ignatius also commented on a recent cover of The National Interest magazine that pronounced President Obama “lost,” and offered advice about how the commander-in-chief can save his presidency. Asked if he agreed that the president appears lost, Ignatius likened the Obama administration to a football team facing a huge scoring deficit in the fourth quarter. “I always hesitate, when there are two years left on a presidency, to declare it over, to call the score,” Ignatius told me, before adding: “Right now, as of today, looking at him you’d have to say that he is – you know, his presidency is lost.”
James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show "The Foxhole." His latest book is "A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century" (Crown Forum, October 4, 2016).