NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith ’99, M.J. ’01, was recently elected president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. Between the pandemic and her early campaign announcement, “It wasn’t exactly a hotly contested election,” she admits. So, which comedian is she going to choose to skewer the president at the next WHCA dinner?
“It’s a secret,” she says.
Her main goal for her tenure is to debunk conspiracy theories by explaining White House reporting to the public.
“We’re actually bipartisan. No matter which administration, there’s always a feeling that it’s us against them. I don’t care if it’s Kayleigh McEnany or Karine Jean-Pierre; if the press secretary is being evasive, it’ll be not just one reporter but every reporter in the room asking the same question twelve different ways,” Tamara explains. “Yes, we are competitors; but we’re also in this together.”
Different administrations deal with the press in different ways. Obama only gave favored reporters scoops, while any well-sourced reporter could get intel from Trump.
“One thing people don’t know about Trump is he came back on Air Force One to talk to the press and hold court a lot. He just wanted to chat or run things by us. A few days later, out on the lawn in front of the White House, he’d confirm it. He degraded the press in public, but in private he was clearly seeking approval.”
It’s been a long way since high school, when Tamara was writing music criticism for her school newspaper. At Berkeley, she wrote for the Daily Cal, and after graduating, she enrolled in the journalism school and interned at KQED public radio on the 5 a.m. shift.
“I was the only intern crazy enough to show that early. I worked from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and ended up sleeping in class. But I got a lot of experience and met a lot of people who became my mentors.” They include professors Bill Drummond and the late Susan Rasky at the J-school, Scott Shafer at KQED, Scott Simon and Robert Siegel at NPR, and the late political journalist Cokie Roberts. “These people gave me a chance. It wasn’t a big deal to them, but it was to me. And my goal is to do that for others.”
After J-school, she started doing environmental reporting for KQED’s Fresno bureau. She then followed her now husband, veterinary oncologist Ira Gordon ’00, to Washington, D.C., where NPR hired her for a temporary job that became permanent. She was promoted to congressional reporter in 2011, and three years later moved to the White House beat, where she’s been ever since.
“I don’t think there are many beats more intense than mine. It’s rebels in Yemen one day and baby formula shortages the next. You just have to jump in and get up to speed as fast as you can. If I’m not working on something, I feel like I’m not really alive.”
When she’s not holding the president’s feet to the fire, she plays catcher for the Bad News Babes, a softball team of women members of the Washington press corps that plays the Lawmakers, a team of women members of Congress, in the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game.
Alas, the Babes lost a heartbreaker this year, in a 6–5 walk-off when Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Florida, drew four balls with the bases loaded in the bottom of the final inning. But as they say, “Wait ’til next year!”
Have you heard the old joke about how veterinarians are the best doctors in the world because they can’t ask the patient, “Where does it hurt?”
“It’s true,” says Leah Isaacson ‘00, a doctor at the Walnut Creek Veterinary Hospital. “We’re like pediatricians. When you’ve been doing it long enough, you get a feel for what might be the problem; but it’s a bit of a crapshoot. You have to look at it, assess it, make a guess, and hope you’re doing the right thing.”
She gave the example of an old basset hound who, despite having normal bloodwork, wasn’t eating or walking. Then, she noticed something off in his eyes.
“They were darting back and forth. That’s a sign of nystagmus, a condition in which the eyes make rapid, repetitive, uncontrolled movements. His whole world was spinning, so naturally he didn’t want to walk or eat.”
Often, she is forced to make decisions and hope for the best. When a pit bull mix came to her with a basketball-sized tumor on her shoulder, she operated on it. “It’s been over a year now, and the tumor has not come back, and she’s doing great,” Leah said. “She looks at you and smiles with her eyes squinted, a very happy tail, and the best freckles I’ve ever seen.”
But the sad truth about veterinary medicine is that no matter how hard you fight, you’re eventually going to lose every one of your patients.
“That’s a hard part of being a doctor, something I can compartmentalize to a degree. But hopefully I’m there at the end to help them leave this world in a peaceful and dignified way, and that’s a huge gift I can give them.”
Her commitment to care has resulted in loyal clientele. After the hospital she had been practicing at was sold to a corporation, some of her clients followed her to her new hospital.
Next, she wants to start her own family-owned hospital with her husband. “Everything has become corporate-owned now, and it breaks my heart. It’s destroying the heart of veterinary medicine. It’s all about the bottom line now and nothing else, and that’s a tragedy,” Leah said. “I’m not just a cog in the wheel.”
Christopher Yu’s father, Cliff ’84, began inculcating him in all things Blue and Gold the day he was born.
“He told me all about the Nobel Prize winners, and the NCAA basketball championship, and Joe Kapp and Joe Roth and Ron Rivera,” says Chris. “Since we lived in northern Virginia, Cal games on TV were few and far between, so he’d take me to a local sports bar and we watched the games there.”
It worked: Chris had his heart set on going to Cal. But shortly after he turned 9, he was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a life-threatening disease that could only be cured by a bone marrow transplant. Luckily, despite just a 25 percent chance, his sister Alyssa turned out to be a match.
Soon after, Chris got a call from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He told them, “I want to go to the Big Game.”
“Although my post-transplant therapy was rough, I remember how looking forward to the game motivated me to stay healthy so we could make the cross-country trip,” he said.
Chris, Alyssa, and their parents were met at Memorial Stadium by Coach Jeff Tedford, who ushered Chris into the locker room while the rest of the family found their seats in the VIP box.
“The players couldn’t have been nicer to me,” Chris remembers. “We sat and listened while Coach Tedford ran through the plays they were going to run, and my favorite player, Isi Sofele, let me sit on his lap the whole time! They asked me to say something to the team, and all I could think of was ‘Bring back the Ax,’ and they all went wild. Then Coach Tedford ordered me to lead the team onto the field, and I stood on the 50-yard line for the coin toss.”
From that moment on, his enthusiasm for Cal knew no bounds. All through high school, his bedroom wall was festooned with posters of Aaron Rodgers, Keenan Allen, Jaylen Brown, and Jared Goff. But it was a reach: His high school counselor told him that he should concentrate on Davis or Santa Barbara instead.
Then came decision day. All the other UC campuses turned him down except Davis, which put him on the wait list. Then he opened the email from Cal.
“It began, ‘We are happy to inform you… ’ and I didn’t need to read any further. I was stunned,” he recalled. “I went outside and ran through the streets, screaming ‘I got into Cal! I got into Cal!’ at the top of my lungs.”
Flash forward to the beginning of freshman year. The first home game was against Nevada, and Chris went crazy in the student section, yelling chants and jumping in the stands.
“A few days later, I ran into Kunal Dutta ’22, one of the Mic Men, the guys who stand in front of the student section stirring up the crowd. He recognized me from the game and recommended I try out for the rally committee,” Chris said. “I had my tryout at the Washington State game, and they announced after the game that three new Mic Men had been chosen, and I was one of them!”
It’s probably too late to see him on the sidelines this season, unless the Bears make it to a bowl game. But you can still see him at Memorial Stadium for the next couple falls, as well as “any place the Cal athletic department thinks will have a big enough crowd,” he said.
“My main job is to have fun, no matter what. The crowd will feed off whatever your vibe is. If the Mic Man is deflated, showing any crack in confidence, they’re not going to follow you. You have to make the energy out of nothing. Lots of time the crowd is going to be bored; you’re down two touchdowns, and you need to describe the game like it’s the most entertaining thing in the world.”
Chris will graduate in 2025 and hopes to attend the Haas School of Business after that. He gets tested every five years for transplant complications, and has been in complete remission for the last ten years, which is a good sign and a happy ending, if you will.
Reach Martin Snapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.