Not long ago, Marc Rod ’20 was writing the first draft of his senior thesis at Pomona College.
Now he is writing what is sometimes called the first rough draft of history as a journalist covering the momentous events in Washington—the breach of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters that left five people dead, the second impeachment of President Donald Trump, and the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, not only the first woman to be elected vice president but also the first Black and the first Asian American.
“There’s definitely a level of stress and anxiety, but it’s also very exciting,” says Rod, the Capitol Hill reporter for the news website Jewish Insider. “When else can you say that you're going to be covering three historical events in the course of two weeks?”
Reporting from inside the Capitol during the insurrection on January 6, the most terrifying moments as he fled rioters were when he found himself alone in the underground tunnels, Rod says.
Separated from the group of congressional aides he had evacuated with at the urging of Capitol Police, he had no idea which way to go and no idea whether rioters might be behind him or around the next corner.
Rod ultimately found safety in the cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building, but not before passing injured police officers.
“One was clutching her arm and asking a colleague, ‘Can you see where I’m bleeding from?’” he wrote in his first-person account published the next day. “Another’s face was stained completely red, as if splashed with paint. It took me a few moments to process that he was covered in blood.”
Throughout the siege, Rod kept reporting, filing a story with reaction from members of Congress as they took shelter in the same office building, still carrying their emergency gas masks.
He remained on the job until 4 a.m., tweeting at 3:40 a.m. as Congress finally certified Biden’s electoral victory after returning to chambers.
Only later did Rod consider how much his safety might have been at risk because of the press credential he wore. He hadn’t been close enough to see the anti-Semitic slogans on some rioters’ clothing—something he says he found disturbing but not surprising considering the conspiracy theories embraced by extremist groups such as QAnon about Jews, the media and politicians.
“By the time when I was sheltering in the Longworth cafeteria, I did start to see some of those sorts of things, like the Camp Auschwitz shirt,” Rod says. Later, he read about a New York Times photographer who was cornered by the mob.
“Some of the rioters were beating her up when they saw that she had a New York Times credential,” he says. “I imagine that depending on who I had come across, I would have faced something relatively similar with a Jewish Insider credential, if not worse.”
From TSL to Capitol Hill
Rod’s path from a managing editor role at The Student Life to credentialed Capitol Hill correspondent has been swift, paved by his coursework as well as a series of internships that included not only CNBC and CNN but also the Claremont Courier.
“I was an international relations major, so obviously a lot of the work I did studying the Middle East as well as just studying international relations more broadly has been very helpful in my understanding of the foreign policy process and of a lot of the different events that are going on,” says Rod, whose reporting includes a focus on U.S.-Israel relations.
Rod started at Jewish Insider as an intern during his final semester at Pomona last spring, and the work he did ultimately helped launch him toward the job on Capitol Hill. His first stories were aggregating news about notable Jewish figures in business and politics. But he soon expanded to original reporting on upcoming congressional races, interviewing about 60 candidates across the country. His reporting intensified after he returned home to the New York suburbs when campuses closed because of the pandemic in March.
“Right around graduation, they offered me the opportunity to come on with them full time, which I very gladly accepted,” he says. “And just in conversations with my editors there, I mentioned that I was interested in potentially working in D.C. and they said that they were looking for someone to cover Congress. So that was very fortuitous, and around the end of June I moved down to D.C., got my congressional press credential and I've been I've been doing this work ever since.”
A Commitment to Journalism
The stories he has written have buffed Rod’s resume, and his on-the-scene reporting from the Capitol has given him a rapidly growing following on Twitter. Rod’s tweet after he saw Lauren Boebert—a newly elected Republican congresswoman from Colorado who has been outspoken about carrying a gun—refuse to go through a metal detector outside the House chamber on January 12 went viral.
“I was in the Capitol just hanging out outside the door to the chamber waiting to interview some members who were going in and out for voting on some resolutions related to the 25th Amendment,” Rod says. “I just tweeted that out because I saw it happening and I figured it would be interesting and it was this dramatic confrontation.
“My phone just started buzzing and buzzing and buzzing and buzzing. And I was honestly just stunned.”
Within days, his tweet had garnered nearly 135,000 likes and almost 10,000 retweets.
“I shot from something like 400, 500 followers to 4,000 followers in the course of three days,” he says. “It was just really bizarre. At the end of the day, it just comes down to being in the right place at the right time, and just doing my job and observing and informing.”
With coronavirus restrictions and massive security to protect the inauguration limiting the number of media on site, Rod wasn’t credentialed to be at the Capitol for the swearing in. Instead, he covered the day’s events from elsewhere in the heavily fortified city.
“As terrifying as everything that happened was, it's just a privilege and an honor to be able to cover these things,” he says. “It reinforces how important journalism is and how important it is that reporters like myself and all of the other members of the Capitol Hill press corps were there and that we were continuing to report even as everything was going on, because that's how the American people knew what was happening when the seat of our government was literally under siege.”