Marilyn Walser Thompson is no stranger to breaking news. From being the first reporter who revealed the existence of Strom Thurmond’s biracial daughter in 2003, to editing reporters’ pieces that went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes, Thompson’s background with the major news players led her to being named a Joan Shorenstein fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
As one of eight annual recipients, she’ll research where tax dollars head when taxpayers donate money to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
“It’s highly relevant because of the 2016 race. I’m looking at the financing for presidents put in place after the 1970s,” she said. “The pace of modern campaigning — and to be in an ultra competitive race – means this fund is no longer relevant [to candidates.] No one wants to use it because you have to agree to restrictions.”
Thompson’s fellowship and reporting will look into how candidates who have used the fund spent the money and if the fund should still exist.
“It’s an exciting challenge — and a frightening challenge — moving back into writing because I’m an editor, and I work on other people’s stories. Generating all the information through reporting, it’s a different skillset,” she said. “It’s a great step in anyone’s career to take a step back and say, ‘Can I do that?’ ‘Will I provide anything useful people want to read?’”
Thompson’s reportage started in The Tiger newsroom where she began by selling advertising before jumping to reporter and eventually becoming the managing editor.
“It was the ’70s and The Tiger was this scrappy, liberal, anti-war publication,” she said. “I was this meek little freshman. I was so happy to be at college because I didn’t think I would get to go. I remember vividly being really dressed up — in a dress and heels — and it was like nine flights of stairs to the top of the horrible dorm to get to The Tiger meeting. I get up there in my prissy dress and heels and it’s like a hippy haven. I looked like an idiot because I thought I actually had to dress up!”
Once she kicked the heels and changed her major to English, Thompson settled into the newsroom atmosphere for life. Her career has taken her from local coverage at The Greenville News to national politics with The Washington Post, Reuters and Politico.
“I do look at things differently than most people,” she said about her career. “That probably goes back to my childhood and the influence of my father — the counter-intuitive Archie Bunker type. He didn’t trust anything or anybody.”
Thompson’s fellowship research will be out this May, as well as featured in future Politico publishing.