Michael Federici, Ph.D., is celebrating the Big 1-0-0!
For the first time since he began doing media interviews in the 1990s, Mercyhurst’s sought-after political analyst has crossed the 100 mark, giving rise to reflection, not only on this year’s milestone but on an unexpected public career spanning nearly two decades and, in all, an estimated 1,000 newspaper and television interviews.
His first, while he was teaching at Concord College (1990-93), was on the fall of the Soviet Union. A few other interview requests trickled in before he left West Virginia to begin his career at Mercyhurst. Here, he hunkered down to do what he deems most important, teaching and scholarship.
Then one year, while out of town at a political science conference and engaged in a casual conversation about Right-Wing populist Pat Buchanan’s 1996 bid for the presidency, he glibly told a colleague, “I can’t believe I’m not all over the news. I wrote the book on populism.”
And, indeed, he did: “The Challenge of Populism: The Rise of Right-Wing Democratism in Postwar America.”
What happened next he would not learn of until years later. His colleague, who had no clue about Erie or its media market, researched ABC affiliates and found WJET, which he called to enlighten about Federici’s expertise.
Federici wondered why former WJET reporter Tim Miller called him, seemingly out of the blue, to do an interview about Buchanan’s politics. He would later hear of the impetus, but not before his reign as a political analyst took hold, eventually moving well beyond Erie into regional markets like Philadelphia, Scranton, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, not to mention national outlets like the Christian Science Monitor and C-SPAN.
Over the years, he’s had some big moments, like correctly predicting that George Bush would pick Dick Cheney as his running mate in 2000.
“It was just a guess, but when you are asked to predict the future in politics, which is fluid, dynamic and always changing, you can’t avoid guessing a little,” he said.
He’s made some blunders.
“In 2004, I was convinced that John Kerry would beat Bush. I was wrong,” he said. “I’ve been humiliated enough to be reminded that we don’t know as much as we think we do. And, that’s been humbling – in a good way.”
It’s also been sobering to have people call to castigate you for your analysis, mistaking it for your personal conviction.
“I’ve been at the receiving end of some pretty nasty remarks,” Federici said. “I remember this elderly woman who reamed me up one side and down the other over my answer to the question, ‘Would absentee ballots decide the election?’ My answer was no. She thought I meant that absentee ballots weren’t important and that we didn’t need them. No matter how hard I tried to explain, she wouldn’t listen.”
Federici described the toughest interviews he’s ever done as those live in a newsroom under intense lighting, looking into a camera and not at a human being and fielding a barrage of unknown questions while your earpiece keeps slipping.
One benefit of being a seasoned analyst is that you learn how to retain your composure under less than ideal circumstances. You also get to know the media.
“I’ve seen many reporters come and go,” Federici said. “I’ve seen people like Kiran Chetry go from here to FOX to CNN. For the most part, they are a corps of people that I can trust to treat me fairly and not to put me out there in an awkward situation.”
There virtually are no perks to this aspect of his job, but Federici continues in his public role as service to Mercyhurst and the greater community. He’s never been paid a dime.
“Once,” he said, “Tim Miller gave me a box of donuts.”