WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wake up at 4:40 a.m. Call Bloomberg bosses to see where he is needed for the day. Get dressed (blue shirt with white collar, navy suit, red tie, and brown dress shoes with monk strap) and Uber to Bloomberg Washington bureau where he arrives by 5:50 a.m.
Fix coffee. Make-up artist applies powder to his face to remove on-camera shine. Studio technician mics him and connects him to control room.
Talk on-air for one minute and 50 seconds for Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance” about Elizabeth Warren’s jump in polling numbers (known in broadcast journalism as a “hit”).
Walk to get coffee at Wawa, 10 blocks away. Sneak in a breakfast snack, typically a banana or fig bar.
Hit for “The Open,” a Bloomberg program dedicated to trade, from the White House six blocks away at 9 a.m. to talk about the implementation of phase one of the U.S.-China trade deal for one minute and 38 seconds.
Coffee with source at 10:30 a.m.
Hit for “Balance of Power,” a politics and global business program, over on Capitol Hill at the Russell Senate Building at noon to dissect the competitive gubernatorial races in Mississippi and Kentucky for two minutes and 10 seconds.
Taxi back to studio for interview with Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez at 2:30 p.m.
Run home to grab gym bag.
Meet with producer at Trump International Hotel five blocks south of the studio at 3:30 p.m. for live radio show at 5 p.m., including an interview with Donald Trump Jr., who confirms he will not be running for Senate in Wyoming.
Walk seven blocks north to total body workout class at Cut Seven in Logan Circle at 6:30 p.m.
Home by 8 p.m.
And this was a “slow day” for Kevin Cirilli, Bloomberg Television’s chief Washington correspondent.
It was Tuesday, Nov. 5, Congress was in recess, and the entire town was waiting for House impeachment investigators to release transcripts from closed-door testimony from former Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and former special envoy Kurt Volker, who would later become key figures in the House impeachment investigation.
As if there wasn’t enough news going on, it was also Election Day. Strategists, pundits and correspondents like Cirilli were collecting results and information to gauge the attitude of the nation and start predicting implications for the 2020 election.
“It’s like he’s the mayor” Shannon Pettypiece
Cirilli, who celebrated his 30th birthday just three days earlier, is, in many ways, a throwback – a journalist who relies on old-fashioned shoe leather reporting to succeed in what is now a multi-faceted digital media landscape. He prefers to be in the heart of the Washington action, seeing newsmakers face-to-face.
“He’s not the kind of reporter who sits at his desk, picks up the phone and tries to make calls,” said Steve Scully, a host of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal.
Shannon Pettypiece, a former Bloomberg colleague-turned-close-friend, compares Cirilli to a 55-year-old who’s lived in D.C. for decades rather than a mere seven and a half years.
She said Cirilli has the ability to develop relationships that “go beyond the brief, casual cocktail party chat or texting-someone-when-you-need-something-for-a-story types of relationship.”
“It’s like he’s the mayor,” said Pettypiece.
Cirilli says the key to succeeding as a Washington correspondent is discipline, something he learned while growing up in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, a suburb southwest of Philadelphia, what locals call “Delco,” short for Delaware County.
But his rise required more than mere discipline, though it surely could not have been done without it. What truly defines Cirilli is something he had long before graduating from Penn State in December of 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in digital and print journalism: energy and an affinity for building relationships, both personal and professional.
Running after Trump
Cirilli calls himself a “kinetic learner,” often preparing interview questions and story ideas while on runs and taking walks to clear his mind before going on air.
“It’s hard to imagine him sitting on a couch,” said Bob Cusack, Cirilli’s former managing editor at The Hill. “I mean even for five minutes. He’s kind of a blur. He’s always in motion.”
Cusack, now The Hill’s editor-in-chief, calls Cirilli one of the most persistent reporters he’s ever worked with, recalling the time he landed an interview with then-candidate Donald Trump in the summer of 2015 when he was actually assigned to report on financial policy.
Cirilli, only 25 at the time and feeling a little restless covering Senate banking policy, noticed Washington wasn’t taking Trump, who had recently announced his candidacy for president, as seriously as the people in Delco were, and, he figured, as many voters across the country.
Remembering he had contact information of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen from a 2012 story on the hacking of Trump’s Twitter account while he was at the breaking news desk at Politico, Cirilli reached out.
Cohen connected him to Hope Hicks, the Trump campaign’s press secretary, who gave him 15 minutes with Trump. That 15 minutes turned into 80, within which Trump threatened to run as a third-party candidate if the Republican National Committee didn’t treat him fairly, a decision that would surely hand Hillary Clinton a victory, or so Cirilli was thinking.
The next morning, Cirilli woke up in his Arlington apartment, his first one out of college, to dozens of missed messages.
“I had never seen my phone blow up so much,” he recalled.
That day, he and Cusack were on television a “combined 12 or 13 times,” according to Cusack, discussing Trump’s third-party threat.
Cirilli’s reporting generated so much news that Fox News Anchor Brett Baier opened the next Republican debate in Cleveland by referencing his scoop when speaking directly to Trump.
“Mr. Trump to be clear, you’re standing on a Republican Primary debate stage,” said Baier. “The place where the RNC will give the nominee the nod.”
The week of his Trump interview, Cirilli also broke financial policy news for The Hill on the crux of the Dodd-Frank reform replacement designed to loosen banking regulations. These breaks put Cirilli on Bloomberg’s radar, he said.
Bloomberg hired Cirilli in 2015. He has since moved from print to television and radio, a transition he describes as making a very big jump in the major leagues when you’re already in the majors.
“Not every journalist has that,” said Cusack of Cirilli’s skills in print, television and radio. “So, I’m not surprised, but I do think it’s unique at his age that he’s gotten that title [of chief Washington correspondent] in a very competitive field, by the way.”
As the chief Washington correspondent, Bloomberg News gave Cirilli his own radio show, “Sound On with Kevin Cirilli,” every weekday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. – drivetime. Hating to be the story, he wanted the show to be panel-driven in which he would invite guests into a discussion of the day’s news. He even got to choose one of his favorite songs as the theme song: “Elevation” by U2.
Every weekday during his show, Cirilli can be found on the 9th floor of the Bloomberg Washington bureau – overlooking 11th and K Street in a 10-foot-by-10-foot sound booth with two walls dark with soundproofing panels and two glass walls – standing up and silently gesturing and quietly mouthing to guests who will speak next: talk slower, talk faster, wrap up what you’re saying, and of course, you’re doing great.
The Bloomberg offices are surrounded in floor-to-ceiling windows with the First Amendment etched into white stone at the base of the windows, one letter per square foot, encompassing Bloomberg’s entire news operation, designed to symbolize transparency and a commitment to a free press
Running on Lessons from Home
Kids skip class all the time, and Kevin Cirilli was no different growing up. Not many kids, however, skip class to attend political rallies.
A dozen years ago, during the 2008 presidential primaries, Cirilli was a senior at Malvern Preparatory School, an all-boys private Augustinian Catholic school. Pennsylvania, being a swing state, attracted presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. Cirilli skipped school to see all of them.
He remembers talking to the reporters in the venues’ press areas, asking them how they got their jobs.
“I thought they had the coolest jobs in the world,” he said. Yet, Cirilli still wasn’t considering journalism as a potential career. He was simply a news junkie from a family of news junkies.
The news was a dominant topic of conversation in the ideologically diverse Cirilli household, which ate dinner together every night.
“You were expected to be well-read on what was going on because Mom and Dad were definitely going to be talking about it,” said Cirilli. “I mean it’s an Irish-Italian Catholic family. Sometimes it can be hard to get a word in edgewise.”
Cirilli’s oldest news memory is meeting his mom at the bus stop after Kindergarten, going home and watching Greta Van Susteren, now a close friend and mentor, on CNN talking about the O.J. Simpson trial.
With his dad in the rocking chair and Cirilli on the sofa, they watched “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert every Sunday morning while they ate eggs and bacon.
Cirilli recites these memories as if he’s told them a million times, but the significance is not lost, his fondness of that time in this life is undeniable.
He attended public school in Wallingford-Swarthmore School District until 9th grade, when he was granted a partial scholarship to Malvern Prep in neighboring Chester County, 45 minutes from his home.
Today, the school’s yearly tuition for the “upper school,” or high school, costs $34,600. The school attracts students from a mostly higher socioeconomic status.
“There is a privilege that guys have,” said Richard Roper, who is in his 44th year teaching at Malvern. “There can sometimes be a feeling of entitlement, but I work really hard to break that down rather quickly,” emphasizing the Augustinian spirit of service to provide students a sense of balance.
“I always thought of Kevin as a throwback.” Richard Roper
“I learned a lot about how to navigate Washington during my time at prep school,” said Cirilli.
When asked to elaborate, he said to come back to him. A week later, after thinking about how he wanted to answer this question on a run, he said, “Disciplined consistent hard work will outlast entitlement every damn time.”
Roper, since his first days teaching English at Malvern in 1976, has noticed a shift in the demographics of the school. In the beginning of his career, he said, there was a strong West Philly, Delaware County contingent of solid, tough, middle class, blue-collar students, who came to school every day, did their jobs, and had perspective.
“I always thought of Kevin as a throwback,” said Roper, Cirilli’s high school Honors British Literature teacher, theater director and counselor. “Kev’s really from Delco.”
And Kevin Cirilli really is from Delco. It’s a part of his identity.
Every morning, Cirilli gets coffee at Wawa – a Greater Philadelphia-based convenience store chain which came to D.C. in 2017 – located a mile from Bloomberg’s Washington bureau, even though there are 19 coffee shops within a shorter walking distance (eight of which are Starbucks). Why?
“It reminds me of home,” he said. “It keeps me grounded, as weird as that sounds.”
And every morning, Cirilli, a former barista, fixes himself a large half-caf (half regular, half decaf) coffee with a mix of vanilla, hazelnut, and Irish cream creamers to “sweeten it up.” He waves hello to the Wawa staff, whom he has gotten to know from frequenting the store every day.
“If you’re going to go someplace every single day and see the same people, you should see them,” said Cirilli. “That’s how I was raised and that’s where I come from.”
Cirilli and his three older sisters – Maura, Eileen and Susie – grew up playing soccer. But to Eileen, who is four years older, Kevin always did his own thing, referencing his involvement in theater, specifically his role as Spanky in The Little Rascals at Strath Haven Middle School.
“He took that role very seriously,” she said. “Looking back, he had that drive at such a young age.”
This drive, however, isn’t unique to Kevin within the Cirilli family. “All four of us have that drive in different ways,” said Eileen, a pre-Kindergarten teacher in inner-city Baltimore. “It was just instilled from our parents – the hard work, the never-give-up kind of attitude.”
When asked to answer questions about his former student, Roper, in true English teacher fashion, fished for the right word to describe Cirilli. Instead, he came up with two: “controlled frenzy,” because despite his consistent energy and excitement, he could remain in control.
“I admired that about him,” said Roper, remembering a production of Fiddler on the Roof in which Cirilli played Motel, the tailor. “Which is why I liked him so much on stage because he wasn’t just trying to emote and talk loudly. He became the character first, then brought that energy to whatever scene he was doing. It was pretty cool to watch.”
Roper can remember Cirilli singing “Sunrise, Sunset” with the entire ensemble during an impromptu performance in the lobby during a power-outage.
“I could pick his voice out of the group and I could tell just how much he was into what was going on,” he said.
Running Toward the Story
Even in Washington, Kevin Cirilli is one of the popular kids in the cafeteria – the one in the underground tunnel system beneath the Senate office buildings in a town often described derisively as high school.
While eating his chicken Caesar salad wrap, his go-to lunch, he says hello to people he knows and people he doesn’t, who recognize him from TV.
He spots and approaches Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), one of the few senators who steps foot in the cafeteria, populated with reporters and congressional staffers. Cirilli wants to ask about Trump’s new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada – a deal that has since replaced NAFTA.
“What do you think of USMCA?” he asked after the formalities.
“I think it’s not nearly where it needs to be, it doesn’t stop the outsourcing of new jobs,” replied Brown. “But this is lunchtime, man.”
“It’s always work, Senator,” said Cirilli with a grin on his face.
When Cirilli started at Bloomberg, he was asked to help cover Donald Trump and Ben Carson, two of the 18 Republican candidates running for president in 2016 – six weeks, his bosses said, until they fizzle out. Then you can go back to cover financial policy.
Except, Donald Trump didn’t fizzle out.
The only campaign Cirilli had covered before 2016 was the student government election at Penn State.
“It was baptism by fire,” he said.
But Cirilli refused to disappoint, recalling his first international trip as a reporter in July of 2016 to Trump’s golf course in Turnberry, Scotland. It was also Trump’s first international trip as the nominee, so it was twice as important for Cirilli to bring something home for Bloomberg, to make his editors feel it was worthwhile to send him.
So, that’s what he did. He secured a lunchtime interview with the nominee in the clubhouse of the grandiose golf resort, asking questions about the Brexit vote that had occurred just hours before, while Trump ate fries from Cirilli’s plate.
But for Cirilli, his interview with Trump was not the most important thing to happen that day. Back home in the United States, his nephew, Peter, was being born.
That dynamic – of Cirilli’s nephew being born and getting that interview with Donald Trump – is “the most personally important illustration of balance in my life,” said Cirilli, who recognizes the importance of family, even in the biggest moments of his career.
Cirilli got his start in journalism based on his dad’s encouragement to try out for The Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper.
He did so the summer before his freshman year in 2008 without telling anyone, thinking he wasn’t going to make the cut, that the other kids were smarter than him.
He was wrong.
Before long, Cirilli was the Collegian’s campus editor, the recipient of the Damon M. Chappie Award for investigative journalism, a Pulliam Fellow for Journalism at The Arizona Republic, and, in a ranking by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, the No. 1 undergraduate news writer in the country.
Still, Cirilli wasn’t planning to make journalism his career. He had even paid the initial deposit for Penn State Dickinson Law School.
Then during Cirilli’s final semester, devastating news broke, rocking the Penn State community. Jerry Sandusky, a former longtime assistant coach for the Nittany Lions’ football team, was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation, 45 of which he was later convicted.
Cirilli covered the Sandusky story as a freelance journalist for Newsweek, the Daily Beast and Philadelphia Magazine.
It was a definitive time in Cirilli’s career, the first time he saw a national story up close. Upon reflection, he said he wouldn’t call it a break in his career.
“How could I consider something so horrific to be a break?” said Cirilli. “It’s uncomfortable for me to characterize it that way.”
Shortly after the initial Sandusky trial, Cirilli moved to Washington to write for Politico’s breaking news desk. When a position opened on the financial services team, a beat he was introduced to while at The Arizona Republic, he jumped at the opportunity.
“It was like alphabet soup,” said Cirilli of covering the complex and complicated jargon of the financial world – FCC, FTC, SEC, CFPB. He’s now fluent in the language, but it was another baptism by fire.
Soon enough, with the help of his theater background and some television and radio training, Cirilli was representing Politico as a frequent guest on MSNBC, NPR and C-SPAN.
Scully, the C-SPAN host, met Cirilli when he was a guest on the Washington Journal to discuss the impact of the Dodd-Frank financial regulations law that had passed three years prior.
Scully said he enjoyed having Cirilli, who he described as a “happy warrior,” on the Washington Journal, both when he was a reporter at Politico and later at The Hill, where he covered financial policy. Scully said Cirilli would always share new information, a product of his “tremendous Rolodex” of sources.
These days, Cirilli is rarely at his desk in the Bloomberg news room. Instead, all of D.C. is his office.
To survive in this profession, he said, you have to be in constant contact with people – texting them, calling them, emailing them – but merely surviving is not enough for Cirilli.
“Kevin also knows that you’ve got to get in front of people’s face, you’ve got to form relationships, you’ve got to make sources,” said Cusack of The Hill.
In between hits, Cirilli does just that. He’s at the White House, on Capitol Hill, attending evening political functions, getting lunch or coffee with sources, texting and calling them – sometimes even seconds before going on air.
“We’re in the business of making relationships,” said Audrey Snyder, a Penn State football reporter for The Athletic, who worked with Cirilli at the Daily Collegian. “You’re only as good as your sources.”
That is evident on “Sound On with Kevin Cirilli,” the longest he is in the building all day.
“I am constantly amazed and impressed at the guests he is able to get,” said Pettypiece, who is now at NBC.
But Cirilli’s relationship-building isn’t restricted to sources. He extends his generosity to competitors, too.
Kayla Tausche, a Washington correspondent for CNBC, one of Bloomberg’s top competitors, regularly crosses paths with Cirilli at the White House, on Capitol Hill, around the country and overseas when traveling with President Trump
“In addition to being an indefatigable journalist and formidable competitor, he also just happens to be a really nice guy,” said Tausche, recalling a “marathon week” during the GOP’s second attempt to overturn Obamacare in which she and Cirilli were “running on fumes.”
“Every time Kevin stepped away from the camera, he offered to get me a cup of coffee,” said Tausche.
What’s remarkable, says Scully, is how “people view his work with such high regard.” Scully mentioned that Sarah Sanders, Trump’s former White House press secretary, respected his work.
“There’s no claim to fake news with Kevin and what he’s done at Bloomberg,” said Scully. “Now maybe he doesn’t have a target on his back like The New York Times or The Washington Post, but my point is that he is enormously respected at such a young age. That’s a great attribute.”
“Even in this climate of polarization, I know how to report just the facts" Kevin Cirilli
Two weeks after Scully shared his thoughts in November, Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, announced his candidacy for president.
This put Bloomberg News in an awkward position, forcing it to navigate journalistically ethical muddy waters.
In a staff memo, John Micklethwait, the editor in chief of Bloomberg News, outlined some organizational changes.
The most controversial, and largely the reason for Bloomberg News’ criticism in recent months, is that the news organization said it will no longer investigate any Democratic rival of Michael Bloomberg, a policy already reserved for Bloomberg himself, his family, and his foundation.
However, Bloomberg News said it will continue to investigate the Trump Administration as it is “the government of the day,” a policy Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, says is unfair to the president.
Interviewed just weeks before his boss announced his run for president, Cirilli said, “Even in this climate of polarization, I know how to report just the facts, and that’s what I will always do. I will never go in a different direction, no matter where I am.”
Greta Van Susteren agrees with Cirilli’s philosophy. She said she wouldn’t risk her reputation and invite him onto her show if she didn’t.
“If you look at the people I’ve put on my show for 25 years,” said the former CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC host and current host of Gray Television’s “Full Court Press,” “they’re all there in earnest and they’re smart. Kevin is that. He’s earnest, he’s smart, he’s curious.”
Cirilli met Van Susteren, years after watching her cover the O.J. Simpson trial on CNN, when he appeared on her show.
One time, Van Susteren, as a tribute to her friendship with Cirilli, refused to let him down when invited onto his radio show, despite having “the worst flu you could imagine.”
She described having to leave the radio booth in the middle of the show – which was live – to vomit in a trash can in the hall.
“I’ve never done that before,” she said. “But I did it for Kevin.”
Running on What’s Important
Life on the campaign trail is fast. There is little time for exercise and fast food is often the only viable food source. It’s even hard to say hello to your parents when they try to see you at a Philadelphia-area Trump rally, remembered Cirilli, who only had time to give his dad a fist bump through the window of a van filled with reporters in early 2016.
By the time the Republican National Convention in Cleveland rolled around in July, Cirilli was exhausted but unaware of how exhausted he actually was.
Nick and Chickie Cirilli would be in attendance again to see their son. This time, there would be time for a meal together and even a tour of Bloomberg News’ designated area inside the Quicken Loans Arena.
In recalling this meal, Cirilli concedes he wasn’t mentally present, only physically. And his dad noticed.
“You aren’t a Trump. You aren’t a Clinton,” Nick Cirilli told his son over breakfast. “You’re a Cirilli from Delco, and don’t you ever forget it.”
Only his parents could have snapped him back into reality, said Cirilli.
When the campaign ended four months later, people told Cirilli he needed a vacation. Cirilli’s mom, though, told him, “You don’t need a vacation. You need to run a marathon.”
“She was absolutely right,” he said. “I needed something to do to keep moving.” So, he started training for a marathon.
Cirilli started running in his final year of high school when he joined the cross-country team after being cut from the soccer team – the same one for which he had played varsity for two years – for being too short, he recalled.
Now, Cirilli runs anywhere from four to six days a week, six miles on weekdays, longer on the weekends.
And when he travels with Bloomberg News, instead of collecting mugs or keychains, he collects runs, going on a run in every country he visits, even if it’s only 10 minutes long.
Scotland. Vietnam. Saudi Arabia. Israel. Italy. Finland. Singapore. Mexico. England. – Cirilli’s been to all of them.
Once, at Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, the North Koreans decided to hold a rare press conference just after midnight while Cirilli was on a run. His pants in the laundry, Cirilli got his top half camera-ready, still wearing shorts and running shoes on bottom, and rushed to cover the press conference.
“I don’t like it,” said Cirilli of running. “It’s not fun. It’s so boring.” Instead, he likes what it does for him. Running is his way of winding down and resetting.
On days he doesn’t run, Cirilli attends workout classes at Cut Seven, an exclusive team-based gym in Logan Circle.
“You give him a challenge, he’s going to take it.” Mere Chambers
Unlike most gyms, Cut Seven has black walls, black turf, loud music, and no machines. When athletes walk in, they are greeted with a giant saying on the wall, “The hardest shit we do in life cannot be done alone.”
“We go above and beyond to make people feel connected,” said Cut Seven coach Mere Chambers. “I want to know who you are. I want to know your story. I want to know your struggles so that I can help you on the turf, and with that, I feel like I can help you off the turf.”
Cirilli, says Chambers, is one of Cut Seven’s strongest athletes. He’s the epitome of their team mentality, she says, always high-fiving people.
Comparing Cirilli to the Energizer Bunny, Chambers described a scene within the walls of Cut Seven.
“It’s the last station,” said Chambers. “Everybody else is already gassed, they have nothing left in them. I sit in front of him and I say, ‘Kevin, you’re not quitting on me,’ and he bangs out more reps in those last 15 seconds than anybody else had in the entire class.
“You give him a challenge, he’s going to take it,” she said. “He will not shut it down, and he’ll do it with a smile on his face.”
Cirilli seems to have mastered something Cusack advises all of his reporters to do – advice that exceeds political journalism.
“You’ve got to have something else in your life other than work,” he said. “You have to have escapes, to get away from the grind” or you’ll run the risk of burning out.
But Cirilli does more than just work out to escape the daily grind. He also cooks and plays guitar – a skill he taught himself after the campaign. He often grabs coffee or dinner and takes short weekend road trips with friends, and watches reality TV – Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of New Jersey are his favorites.
Cirilli, or “Chef Kev,” as his friends call him, enjoys cooking for friends on Sunday nights, a feeling that reminds him of home. “Cirill’s Grills” is another cooking rhyme of his. His favorite dish?
“Pizza,” he said without hesitation. “Or my special meatballs with my special marinara sauce.”
What makes it special?
“I made it,” he said, followed by a burst of laughter at his own joke.
Cirilli made those special meatballs for Pettypiece and a handful of others on a Sunday night a few months ago. Pettypiece, a single mom, said Cirilli always includes her 5-year-old son, inviting them both over for a home-cooked meal with the Philadelphia Eagles game on in the background.
Last June, Cirilli turned another casual dinner night into a birthday party for Pettypiece, whose birthday was the next day, by baking cupcakes for her.
“He really prioritizes his friendships and relationships,” said Pettypiece. “Those are the people you come across in life who you know will always be there for you.”
His dad’s words of wisdom during the campaign must have resonated with Cirilli because to his sister, Eileen, when her little brother is with family or friends, “he’s 100% all in,” not forgetting when he took an extra day off work to hang out with her before her wedding last summer.
“He recognizes that he wants to be there for his sisters, he wants to be a really strong part of his family, he wants to be there for his friends,” said Jackie Plunkett, an attorney and Cirilli’s friend since childhood. “As a working professional with context, that’s a really hard thing to do because your job can feel like your whole life, especially when you love it.”
Plunkett, who shared the stage with Cirilli in middle school, also attended Penn State. During the time of Cirilli’s Sandusky coverage, she would go to his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, to vent about the stresses of the LSAT and applying to law schools.
“During such a huge moment in his life and kind of the start of his career, he’s the kind of friend who wanted to make time to talk to me about, in retrospect, a silly test,” said Plunkett, now an associate director of admissions for Temple Law School.
Cirilli’s close friend and former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother, Mark Donovan, said Cirilli even drove to attend the Ph. D graduation of another close friend and former fraternity brother.
“It’s a small gathering, but Kevin drove from D.C. to go,” said Donovan.
After Cirilli graduated from Penn State, his high school art teacher, Kate Plows, reached out to him – the only student she could think of who had gone into journalism – for advice on her new role as the student newspaper adviser for Malvern’s Blackfriar Chronicle, a position that required “a lot more responsibility and craft knowledge than what I knew,” she said, recalling the panic she felt.
Cirilli offered his help from behind the scenes, recommending she create an editorial board and explaining how it would work, mimicking the structure of Penn State’s Daily Collegian.
“He was a huge help and support for that paper for the first couple years,” said Plows, who was recognized as the 2017 Pennsylvania School Press Association Journalism Teacher of the Year. “I credit him with the paper being as successful as it was pretty quickly.”
When asked about his involvement, Cirilli simply said, “She would ask me questions and I would answer them. I was helping a friend.”
“Kevin is pretty humble,” said Plows. “So, when I would thank him profusely for helping me… he wouldn’t take any of the credit, but I am giving him all the credit for it now.”
A few years later, two of Malvern’s student journalists reached out to Cirilli seeking a profile of the Malvern alum. Hating to be the story – something that continues to be true – Cirilli hesitantly agreed, on the condition that Plows came along to the Trump rally. They would meet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about an hour west of Malvern.
Plows watched from the middle of the crowd as rally attendees hurled insults at the table of reporters where Cirilli was sitting.
“I got this real sharp taste of what it was like to be a journalist covering that campaign,” said Plows.
Afterward, Cirilli answered the high-schoolers questions about his job and his life.
“Those two student journalists are now involved in political action and journalism in college,” said Plows. “I sometimes wonder if the perspective he shared with them had something to do with that.”
More than a decade ago, Cirilli was in their shoes. Now, he has what his high-school self thought was “the coolest job ever.” But he doesn’t take his job lightly, referencing journalism’s impact.
“Every word matters to investors, to Wall Street traders, to small businesses,” said Cirilli. “If you get a word wrong, that’s someone’s bottom line. That’s someone’s job. That’s someone’s reputation. That’s someone’s vote. I would never go on air unless I did my homework and then some because you’re talking about lives.”