Photo: Nick Donner
Scott Thuman

Politics & Pups Meet ABC7’s Scott Thuman

Scott Thuman isn’t just ABC7’s Emmy Award-winning Chief Political Correspondent, or a regular participant in animal and women’s rights fundraisers around town. He’s also the owner of an eight-year-old Chihuahua named Olive, a quirky little pup that he’s “semi-inseparable” from. On Tap caught up with Thuman to chat about his impressive career in broadcast journalism, his favorite things to do in the District when he’s not traveling for work and of course, what he loves most about Olive.

Thuman says he knew he wanted to become a broadcast journalist on the first day of his internship at the NBC station in West Palm Beach, Fla. when he was sent out on a story with a reporter covering a hostage situation at a hospital.

“I watched, wide-eyed, as the reporters all quickly amassed any tidbits of information they could and then lined up in a tiny, cordoned off area to all talk over each other live during the noon news,” Thuman says. “There was an instant adrenaline rush and the challenge of reporting the news so calmly and with such an intense deadline was highly impressive – even to watch.”

The Fairfax County native moved to Florida during his formative years, where he attended Florida Southern College and later worked for Jacksonville’s First Coast News and Orlando’s WFTV. Whether it was heading to Cuba to examine the conditions at Guantanamo Bay or covering a Super Bowl in San Diego, he says he was fortunate to be overwhelmed with options during those years, especially at WFTV.

“That’s where I truly cut my teeth and considered myself not just a reporter, but a journalist. There’s a big difference.”

It was also during his years in Florida that Thuman “caught a full-fledged case of political fever.” During the 2000 presidential campaign, he received a call from his boss telling him to get to Tallahassee – there was going to be a recount.

“Thirty-seven days later, I finally got to go home, and the country had a new president. I learned more about hanging chads and butterfly ballots than anyone should and also learned politics was now truly a passion.”

The journalist also developed a strong interest in international affairs during the Iraq War in 2003 while working on stories at Parris Island and Fort Stewart, where he watched Marines and soldiers prepare for combat.

“They were even learning how to inject themselves with antidotes in case of a chemical attack.”

Though intimidating, he says he knew he wanted to witness and report on the invasion firsthand.

“Eventually, I said, ‘I’ve got three weeks of vacation, a bullet proof vest and a camera,’ and off I went to freelance in Iraq. [I’ve been] hooked ever since.”

In 2005, he returned to his Northern Virginia roots and took a job with ABC’s DC area affiliate, WJLA. Thuman says the TV station seemed like a natural fit to him, with its mantra that “national news is local news.” Since then, he’s received the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism, as well as multiple Emmys and honors from the Edward R. Murrow Awards.

“I feel my work is well-respected by my colleagues, which is a pretty great honor, but the memories are much more fulfilling.”

The journalist says that over the years, he’s covered political unrest, terrorism and other major international stories in Beirut, Brussels, Berlin, Johannesburg, Paris and Port-au-Prince, among countless other locations.

“There’s nothing like witnessing history unfold with your own eyes and having the responsibility of sharing that with the world.”

On the national front, Thuman was notably the only local broadcast journalist to land and conduct consecutive interviews with President Obama during the 2012 campaign. He says these interviews stand out to him, but being on the front lines of conflict and history top all of his other professional experiences.

“I’m especially proud of some of the pieces we’ve put together on the refugee crisis from a camp called ‘the Jungle’ in Calais, France, and the unrest and bombings in Beirut last November – followed up by the attacks in Paris,” he says. “I truly believe we’re doing what no other news team is – and that’s the kind of journalism you dream of. I’ve got great bosses and I’m very grateful.”

Most recently, Thuman has been covering the presidential campaign trail. He also just returned from a trip to Estonia, “where NATO troops are increasing in number.”

“They’re concerned that Putin and Russia could cross the border like they did in Ukraine. It’s almost like we’re looking at a Cold War 2.0. We’re just scratching the surface on that story, and I’m anxious to keep digging.”

Though the Alexandria, Va. resident isn’t home too often due to his demanding work schedule, he’s a huge fan of Union and Eastern Markets as local spots to unwind with “great food, people-watching and conversation.” Plus, he loves Union Market’s old-school drive-in movie theater showings: “nostalgic and fun, [a] solid way to spend a Friday night.”

For fine dining in the city, the Source and Rural Society are his top picks. Thuman can be found at Off the Record across from the White House for a nice drink, and Black Jack for a casual beer. When he’s back in Virginia, Carlyle in Shirlington or one of Del Ray’s hidden gems are his go-to spots. This summer, he’s planning to see Billy Joel at Nats Park in July, and may catch Fitz and the Tantrums at the 9:30 Club in June.

Thuman’s also a big supporter of local fundraisers, from On Tap’s Running of the Chihuahuas in May to the Washington Human Society’s Fashion for Paws in April. Of the latter, he says, “I mean, dogs in fancy outfits walking the runway to raise money for their less fortunate four-legged friends – you know you want to see that.”

He also attends the Tahirih Justice Center’s annual gala, which he says is a huge success every year. Of the center, he says, “They do amazing work for women in some of the most dire situations.”

Above all else, the journalist prefers to spend his free time with Olive, who he inherited from a past relationship. Though initially skeptical about owning a nine-pound Chihuahua, the two are now best pals. Olive’s charm is evident in her favorite activities: “burping after every meal, having ‘relations’ with a wool sock every night and destroying every bit of mail that comes through the slot.” Thuman says she’s also the most loving dog he’s ever met.

He now fully anticipates the odd reactions he gets from people when they ask what kind of dog he has, and enjoys their funny and candid responses. He tells them how he came to be a Chihuahua owner, and how he’s unashamedly enamored with Olive.

“I can’t count how many people tell me they hate little dogs, and a half-hour after meeting her, they’re asking if they can dog sit. She’s a winner.”

Follow Scott Thuman on Twitter: @ScottThuman.
Photo: Nick Donner