At the age of 34, Jay Carson has served as former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s Traveling press secretary, has taught at USC as an adjunct professor, has been called the greatest media mind of his generation and — as if his résumé were not impressive enough — has served as the inspiration for a George Clooney film, The Ides of March.
The film is loosely based on Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, during which Carson served as the campaign’s media strategist. Carson’s close friend, playwright Beau Willimon, also worked as a staffer on the campaign and wrote a play and movie script about what he saw behind the scenes. The script evolved into The Ides of March, which hit screens last weekend. Though Willimon and Carson claim the main character, Stephen Myers, is fictional, many people have said Carson is the inspiration.
“It is a slippery road to go down what is real and what’s not,” Carson said. “I was a young press secretary on a presidential campaign. And Beau watched as I, and lot of people in those positions, were faced with very difficult choices every day.”
The film follows Stephen as he makes those difficult choices, many times failing to make the right one.
Despite all the pressure and contentious situations, Carson still looks back on his political campaign days as worthwhile.
“I very much believe in our system of government and very much believe … in the ability for government to really help people in a way other entities can’t,” Carson said. “I never lost that belief. You can become more realistic about how the process works, but it doesn’t mean you don’t believe in the system any less.”
Carson admits to being the idealistic character portrayed in the film at the start of his career, but said he does not regret a moment of the path he took, even the long hours he spent paying his dues.
“There’s no substitute for hard work,” Carson said. “You have to work extremely hard, especially at a young age. Part of that is not believing you’re too good — I think this applies to every industry.”
For example, Carson said while working his first campaign during college he was asked to reorganize the supply closet. After reorganizing it three times, because his superior was still not satisfied, he finally got his break when an older staffer was impressed with his dedication.
“If you do the grunt work early on, you’ll be given the more senior work,” Carson said.
Wide-eyed and taking Washington by storm, Carson did move up quickly. Pretty soon he was calling the shots while still in his 20s.
But 10 years later, with countless campaigns under his belt, Carson has decided to move on. As the media industry evolves and becomes more fast-paced, Carson saw evolution in his own life as well.
“I actually moved intentionally away from the [media relations] job a while ago,” Carson said. “One of the reasons I moved away from that job was that it was becoming a different job in a way that wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to be doing anymore.”
Now Carson works with city governments around the world to help them with climate change-based initiatives.
“[Working in media relations] is very helpful training, I just wanted to take that training, and apply it to something else — not keep it limited to talking to reporters,” Carson said.
But the mark he made on Washington and his influence on politics will not fade so quickly. For his entire career, Carson stayed behind the scenes; now, thanks to The Ides of March, it is his time to shine.