Journalists on politics

With only five days left in the 2008 presidential election, Yale students and faculty got the inside scoop on journalistic scandal and the political press at a Jonathan Edwards College Master’s Tea Wednesday afternoon.

New Yorker Senior Editor and Staff Writer Hendrik Hertzberg, Harvard Kennedy School of Government Lecturer Maralee Schwartz and former Radar Magazine blogger Charles Kaiser recounted their own stories of journalism before roughly 30 students and Yale community members, touching on everything from high school newspapers to Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Journalists from the New Yorker, Washington Post and Radar Magazine discuss the media’s role in politics.
Charlie Croom
Journalists from the New Yorker, Washington Post and Radar Magazine discuss the media’s role in politics.

“We want to look at how it is that there is a certain class of public figure who tends to almost always get favorable coverage in the press,” said Kaiser, author of both “1968 in America” and “Gay Metropolis.”

Schwartz used Sen. John McCain to explain Kaiser’s thesis. The former national political editor of The Washington Post, she has known the Republican presidential hopeful for 20 years, she said, adding that McCain used to be very good at making reporters feel in-the-know. But now, Schwartz and McCain are not quite as close as they once were.

“I could spend the next hour criticizing the campaign he’s run,” she said.

Talk then turned to McCain’s running mate, Palin. Although not a presidential candidate herself, the Alaska governor has received more press coverage than any other figure in this election cycle, other than the candidates themselves. Schwartz, the visiting Murrow lecturer in the practice of press and politics at Harvard, drew on her time at the Post to explain Palin’s popularity in the media.

“The press loves a narrative and she has quite the narrative,” Schwartz said, laughing. “She’s done a lot for the press. We like Sarah Palin.”

Kaiser, who has worked for The New York Times, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, was blunt in expressing his low opinion of Palin.

“I don’t think there has ever been a political candidate of either party that is so under-qualified,” he said.

The journalists agreed that the best way to gain favor in the press’s eyes is to do something out of the ordinary.

“When reporters see candidates doing something they could never imagine doing themselves, then they’re impressed,” said Herzberg, a former New Yorker executive editor and speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter.

Jonathan Koch ’12 was among those who attended the tea

“I really enjoyed their background stories,” he said. “They didn’t come to their positions in the way you would think. It’s more about the circumstantial things.”

Another attendee, Dan Williams ’11, said he enjoyed having the opportunity to get a different perspective on politics.

“It was a good view on the election process from the perspective of the insiders,” he said. “You don’t always get that from reading the articles.”

Kaiser, Hendrik, and Schwartz also presented a panel on the role of the media in the current election later in the evening, addressing such issues as why Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 failed to secure the Democratic nomination and the factors that have led to Obama’s current success despite his limited experience.

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