2016 Theodore H. White Seminar on Press and Politics
Wednesday, November 16, 2016,
9:00 – 10:30 a.m.
Nye Conference Center, Taubman Building, 5th Floor, HKS
A panel discussion about the 2016 election and news coverage featuring:
- Bob Schieffer, Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellow; political contributor to CBS News; former moderator of “Face the Nation”
- Nancy Kaffer, columnist, Detroit Free Press; winner of the 2016 David Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism
- Derrick Z. Jackson, Joan Shorenstein Fellow; Boston Globe essayist
- Michael Tomasky, special correspondent, The Daily Beast
- Moderated by Nicco Mele, director, Shorenstein Center
Read a summary of the panel: Journalism in the Age of Trump: Shorenstein Center panelists reflect on the 2016 election and what’s next.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Nicco Mele: All right folks, good morning! We have just wrapped up, I think I can say, the most unusual political campaign in American history. I don’t think there is any real historical precedent; I have been doing some combing through the stacks. The purpose of this panel is really to have, in the spirit of Theodore White, a substantial discussion about the 2016 presidential campaign, and specifically the media’s role in that campaign. And, wow, do we have some rich veins to mine.
I think if I was to summarize five or six of the main issues I’d like to discuss with the panel this morning—which I should do, since the panelists have no idea what we’re going to talk about—I think the first question is about the relationship between the two major candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and the media—the volume of coverage, the quality of coverage, their availability, right? We have Trump at the height of the primary campaign calling into shows—in and of itself, letting a candidate call in is relatively unprecedented. Bob Schieffer has a great story on that front I’m going to ask him to tell, because I think it gets to some substantial questions. I’d say [during] the first part of the campaign, Trump is very available to the press. Almost overly available. And then, in the last 90 days, neither candidate is particularly available to the press. This already looks like it’s continuing. I don’t know if people saw, but last night, the press pool—Donald Trump left the Trump Tower without telling anyone. This breaks a longstanding tradition in the media in terms of knowing where the president is, which, as president-elect—which has substantial questions for, say, continuity of government in the event of attack. I think that the overall availability of both candidates and the way they engage with the press is a significant and important question.
I think Trump’s relationship with the media, in and of itself, is worth some discussion. At the Shorenstein Center, Tom Patterson and Matt Baum have been doing some research on the volume, quantity of coverage. And it reveals some interesting things about both the president-elect and Hillary Clinton, and the way the media treated them. I think the question that’s been under-discussed in this campaign is the role of WikiLeaks and potentially the Russian government manipulating coverage through the drip, drip, drip of WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks becoming almost, in some sense, an intelligence laundering operation for foreign governments. A lesser question, but a significant one nevertheless, is the role of surrogates on cable news. Both Corey Lewandowski and Donna Brazile made news in terms of their both being paid contributors to CNN and yet also, in both cases, having some continuing affiliation with their campaigns in a substantial way. The question of truth and fact-checking is a substantial one in this election. And then two more: One is the role of social media in terms of the filter bubble and increasing polarization, and also fake news. We had yesterday on Buzzfeed a pretty long and well-reported story about the anger in the ranks of Facebook, the kinds of decisions and discussions they were having. One thing I was struck by is that the employees are effectively, through fairly aggressive and restrictive NDAs, not allowed to speak. And then, last but not least is what we might call the under-covered stories of this election, from the role of race to the vanishing middle class. In many ways, the real issues of this election that are starting to look clear a week later were missed for the prior 24 months. So, we have plenty of territory to cover, we have 90 minutes.
I think the question that’s been under-discussed in this campaign is the role of WikiLeaks and potentially the Russian government manipulating coverage through the drip, drip, drip of WikiLeaks.
I’m going to briefly introduce our panelists, and then hopefully we can get into it and engage with each other. Immediately to my left is a man who probably needs no introduction: Bob Schieffer. He is our Walter Shorenstein Fellow. This is his last week on campus, and we are very sad about that and hope we can entice him to return at some point in the future, although he has taken to calling Harvard the TCU of the East. (Laughter) To my right is Nancy Kaffer from the Detroit Free Press, the columnist who last night received the David Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism. At the end, on the left, is Michael Tomasky. Michael is a former Shorenstein Fellow from the spring of 2003. He has a regular column on The Daily Beast. He’s a contributor to The New York Review of Books, and he also is the editor of Democracy, which I think is one of the smartest policy journals out there. In particular, Democracy, for the last, I don’t know, five or six years has been doing a fair amount of heavy lifting, looking at the changing structural issues of the economy, including things like automation and globalization and its impact on the ability of Americans to earn a decent living. It’s really excellent stuff I think has gone under-covered.
Michael Tomasky: Thanks. I’m sorry, we’re thinking of changing our name to Autocracy.
Nicco Mele: Autocracy, yes. (Laughter) And then all the way to my right is Derrick Jackson. Derrick is a current Joan Shorenstein Fellow at the Shorenstein Center. Derrick is writing a research paper on the role of race and environmental justice in news coverage, and has been an exceptional part of our community this fall, especially in the midst of this astonishing and frequently mystifying election. So, with that, I think I want to start by just asking Bob to talk a little bit—you were on the road covering this election for CBS. You had a kind of direct experience of both campaigns and how they managed the press. Talk about the differences you saw in their respective availabilities and how that may intentionally or unintentionally affected the dynamics of the race?
Bob Schieffer: You know, everything about this campaign was different. I think that would be the lead if I were writing a story summarizing this campaign. I mean, we saw things we had never seen before. We heard things we had never [heard] before. One of the moments I will always remember in this campaign—because it just brought out things you never thought you would hear—[was] when John Boehner, in the heat of this campaign, said that Ted Cruz was Lucifer in the flesh (Laughter) and the devil worshipper society put out a press release and said, “He’s not one of ours.” (Laughter) And it really happened, you can look it up. So, when you’re hearing that kind of thing, you don’t know what you’re going to hear next.
I was up here last fall, and a few eyes rolled and there was some coughing when I said that I thought that Donald Trump would probably get the Republican nomination, that it was certainly possible—because I understood that people were really mad and really frustrated and really upset…But I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that he would wind up winning the presidency.
I was up here last fall, and a few eyes rolled and there was some coughing when I said that I thought that Donald Trump would probably get the Republican nomination, that it was certainly possible—because I understood that people were really mad and really frustrated and really upset. I’m not sure I understood exactly why at that point. I have a little different view of it now. But I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that he would wind up winning the presidency. I thought he had made a very accurate catalogue of what people were upset about. But at that point, he had offered no realistic solutions to any of these problems, and I thought by the time you got to the general election, if he did get the nomination, that people would come to understand that he really hadn’t proposed anything very realistic. What I didn’t understand was the people who were for Donald Trump—we took him literally, they didn’t. Just the day before yesterday, I was talking to a young woman and she said, “You know, I never thought he was going to build the wall. But, to me, he was saying he was going to do something about immigration.” And I thought that was important. I remember Mario Cuomo used to say that campaigns are poetry and governing is prose. Well, I think, in a way, that was how his supporters looked at him.
We went to a rally that he had in South Carolina, with my new assistant, Lucy Boyd, who’d been my research assistant up here—she went to one side of the room, I went to the other, and we just asked people, “What do you like about Donald Trump?” And we interviewed 30 people. She did 15 and I did 15—28 of them said, “I just like him because he speaks his mind.” And that seemed to be the core of his support. And to my surprise—and I expect to the surprise of most people at this table—that carried him right to victory.
What I didn’t understand was the people who were for Donald Trump—we took him literally, they didn’t.
Nicco Mele: Bob, I do want to ask you about a moment when you visited us in September for a week, and we had lunch with the fellows at the Institute of Politics. That included two Republican campaign managers, one from Jeb Bush’s campaign and one from Carly Fiorina’s campaign. And it actually is one conversation that has really stuck with me. I’d say they were pretty angry about the mainstream media’s treatment of Trump in the Republican primary campaign. They felt that they couldn’t get on the air—when Fiorina moved from tenth place to third place, they still couldn’t get any attention. And Trump just completely dominated.
Bob Schieffer: Well, what happened was that in retrospect, I think it’s pretty obvious—but, as Sherlock Holmes said, in retrospect most things are obvious (Laughter). Donald Trump figured out early on that if you offer yourself to a number of television programs, a certain number of them are going to put you on television. And that’s what happened. So while these other campaigns were going about it in the old-fashioned way of raising money, trying to develop all these themes and things like that, he was just flooding the airwaves, getting himself on television. I don’t agree with those who say that he got a free pass. He got a lot of pushback, but he got so much exposure it sort of overrode the pushback. And suddenly, before they realized it, here he was rising up in the polls. Well, when the guy’s leading in the polls, it becomes a news story. So, that in itself is reason enough to put him on. I understand their frustration. But I think Trump just figured out something that the rest of them didn’t. I think that’s one of the reasons that Jeb Bush never got anywhere—he spent all of those months raising money for his Super PAC. He didn’t want to declare for president, because once he did that, then he couldn’t raise money for that Super PAC. He spent too much time on that when he should have been out trying to get on television.
While these other campaigns were going about it in the old-fashioned way of raising money, trying to develop all these themes and things like that, [Trump] was just flooding the airwaves, getting himself on television. I don’t agree with those who say that he got a free pass. He got a lot of pushback, but he got so much exposure it sort of overrode the pushback.
Nicco Mele: Nancy, you’re here from Michigan. Although I had predicted a Hillary victory a couple days before the election, the one thing that made me nervous was that in the last 48 hours, they sent both Obama and Hillary to Michigan. And I was, like, oh, wait a minute. What did you see on the ground in Michigan? What were you hearing from your reporting?
Nancy Kaffer: So, I’ve got to be honest. This is not my proudest moment as a journalist. We were blindsided by this. We couldn’t figure out what this strategy was. Why is Donald Trump coming here so much? Why is he going to white suburbs outside of Lansing and talking about how he’s going to help the inner city? Why are they sending Obama? None of this made sense to us on the ground in Michigan, ’cause polling was showing her with a consistent lead. There were one or two polls that showed him within the margin of error, but there was no poll showing him in the lead going into the election. And we’re all, like, well, this is the weirdest campaign strategy I’ve ever seen—which, of course, as you say, in retrospect…Obviously there were a couple people out there—our congresswoman, Debbie Dingell had a great piece in the Post saying what she had been screaming at some of us about, for a year, saying he could win, he could win, they’re being too complacent. I think that she kind of nailed this— I don’t think we expected him to connect with so many rural voters, rural white suburban voters who had not voted before, who hadn’t voted in forever. We had a pollster at The Free Press on election night who thought he had expanded his model sufficiently to accommodate voters—almost like the reverse Obama effect—where you had people registering to vote or voting for the first time in decades to vote for the first African American president. This is unusual behavior. People don’t normally start voting at 60, right? You don’t start smoking at 60, you don’t start voting at 60. (Laughter) Our models just didn’t really account for this. I have a friend who works for Michigan Radio who had been driving up north a couple weeks before the election. She said she saw these clusters of Trump/Pence signs. At the time she thought, “Wow, they’re going to be really disappointed when he loses.” And it never occurred to her, because none of our data—which was based on what we knew, not bad data—showed this. It’s no different in Michigan than anywhere, people who feel left behind by the economy. We’ve lost manufacturing jobs. Trump provided very simple answers. The answers to why these jobs have gone are complicated and have a lot to do with automation, robots, modern advanced manufacturing. But if you say it’s people—low-wage workers in other countries took your jobs—that’s a real easy thing to talk about as opposed to, well, actually, let’s talk about robots.
This is unusual behavior. People don’t normally start voting at 60, right? You don’t start smoking at 60, you don’t start voting at 60.
Nicco Mele: The data shows a real kind of collapse of news organizations in the middle of the country, for the most part, between the coasts. The Detroit Free Press itself has had, I’d say, a rough decade, not unlike Detroit. What’s your sense of the way people in Michigan get their news, the news outlets they look to? The data would suggest it’s something of a news desert.
Nancy Kaffer: In Michigan? We actually have a pretty rich news landscape. Because of the newspaper preservation act, we’re still a two-newspaper town: the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, though—I don’t know. Probably y’all don’t have Michigan news alerts coming in, but this morning or late last night, the news broke that The Detroit News has offered voluntary buyouts to all of its newsroom employees, because they have an unspecified number of reductions to make. So that is really daunting and depressing news. We have a lot of radio stations, TV stations. Free Press has been around for—oh, my math is going to be awful here, 180-something years we’ve been around—185, I think. And historically it’s a very competitive market, because we have three really tough news stations and two really strong dailies. And we’ve always had this constellation of smaller dailies and then really strong weeklies. Those have petered out—smaller dailies kind of went first, and the community weeklies have had serious staff reductions. We’ve had serious staff reductions at the Free Press. The rest of the state is sort of more piecemeal. We used to have bureaus all over the state. We don’t anymore. We used to have reporters covering communities all over metro Detroit. We have now a much smaller number than we used to. This is the reality of journalism. We have had trouble—obviously, everyone has heard of our financial model. That may be breaking news for people. We’ve been saying for at least the last 15 years that we had five to 10 years before we went off the cliff.
Nicco Mele: Are any of the papers home owned?
Nancy Kaffer: There’s a company called M Live, they’ve picked up a lot of the smaller papers. The Flint Journal, some of the Grand Rapids papers. They own some of these papers around the state. That is headquartered in Michigan. It’s an interesting operation that I could talk to you about for an hour and a half and none of you would care (laughs), because it’s Michigan-specific journalism. But it’s rough, and this news from The Detroit News is pretty un-optimistic.
Nicco Mele: Sobering.
Nancy Kaffer: Yeah.
Nicco Mele: On that warm note, Michael, what trends do you see at work in this election?
That is always said after presidential elections—too much horse race, not enough substance, not enough policy, and so on and so on… But it gets a little bit worse every time, and it got much worse this time.
Michael Tomasky: (Laughs) Thanks for the uplifting question. No, I mean, this was a big failure of the media. And that is always said after presidential elections—too much horse race, not enough substance, not enough policy, and so on and so on. It’s always said. But it gets a little bit worse every time, and it got much worse this time. And it got much worse for a number of reasons, partly because of the excessive coverage of Trump, especially during the primary season. There was a study where people counted the number of minutes that his speeches were covered on cable TV and said if these minutes were minutes that he had had to buy in advertising, they would be worth two billion dollars. He would have had to spend two billion dollars. That was all free. I experienced this a few times myself, sitting on the soundstage at a cable channel. My segment was ready to start and then—“Oh, Trump’s speaking. No segment, go home, sorry.” Yeah, this was without precedent. The other Republicans didn’t get the same treatment, Hillary Clinton didn’t get the same treatment. And this has continued, I think—no one has studied this yet, and I’ve been looking for this: I hope someone was counting the minutes up through November 8th, because I have a feeling it continued up through November 8th. At a time when networks were under some kind of responsibility to give equal coverage.
I experienced this a few times myself, sitting on the soundstage at a cable channel. My segment was ready to start and then—“Oh, Trump’s speaking. No segment, go home, sorry.”
Nicco Mele: That is the study the Shorenstein Center has in progress, that should be done in January.
Michael Tomasky: OK, well, tweet me. Nicco mentioned the WikiLeaks situation. I think that was just an absolute disaster for the press. I think the idea of taking this unfiltered—and these aren’t leaked, OK? These are not leaked emails; these are hacked emails. There’s a difference. They’re stolen emails. There’s a big difference. If a source leaks something—we’ve all had stuff leaked to us—it’s a source who’s doing it for a reason. Maybe a good reason, maybe a bad reason. It’s up to us to find out that reason and make a determination whether the material deserves to be heard in public, whether there’s a public interest in revealing this material. And sometimes there’s a story there and sometimes there’s not. Journalism provides that filter. Now here, with no filter—what was the public interest in knowing that John Podesta liquefies his risotto with chicken stock? Which became a sort of running joke on Twitter when that email was revealed. Why do we need to know the most mundane email exchanges between these people? This was a running story for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks. I think they’re still releasing them, as a matter of fact, or—they did some after the election.
These are not leaked emails; these are hacked emails. There’s a difference. They’re stolen emails. There’s a big difference.
Nicco Mele: Mike, can I ask about that? What would have been a way to handle that? Should all of the news outlets have gone dark on it?
Michael Tomasky: I’m glad you asked. Here’s what I would have done. There was some news value to some of them, so I would have run some of them. But if I ran a big paper, every story about those WikiLeaks would have started, “Editor’s Note: These documents were hacked by Julian Assange.” Explain who Julian Assange is—or “hacked probably by the Russians and distributed to the world by Julian Assange with what appears to be the clear intent to favor one presidential candidate, Donald Trump, over the other. Read this story with that in mind.” Something like that. That should have been an editor’s note at the top of every WikiLeaks story. It’s a real fail on the part of the media to do this uncritically, and I think—I know that 98 percent of journalists would disagree with me and that’s fine. But, you know, they’re wrong.
Bob Schieffer: Maybe I’m one of the 2 percent that doesn’t—I mean, I take your point here. Which of the emails do you think were newsworthy?
Michael Tomasky: Bob, good question that I probably can’t answer. I’m having a memory failure.
Bob Schieffer: Did any of the emails, when you go back and think about it in retrospect, did any of them really have an impact?
Michael Tomasky: I don’t know that any individual hack had a big impact. But, I think the fact that The New York Times just kind of ran this on its front page for successive days fed into some idea that there was some funny business going on. Because people just see the words “emails” and “leak” and “Podesta” and “secret,” and they think there’s something fishy.
I think the fact that The New York Times just kind of ran this on its front page for successive days fed into some idea that there was some funny business going on. Because people just see the words “emails” and “leak” and “Podesta” and “secret,” and they think there’s something fishy.
Nancy Kaffer: One of the things I thought was difficult about the email reporting was one campaign had been specifically targeted. There was no balance there. I’m not sure what journalists could have done about that, ’cause you can’t exactly go out and say, “Well, why don’t you hack the other one for me?” But it created, almost, in the reporting the impression that these conversations, these sort of undisciplined, casual conversations that cast the campaign in a certain light were happening on one side. And we all know that if we saw internal communications from the Trump campaign, they would be just as casual, just as filled with nonsensical stuff. But we didn’t have that piece. If you read my diary, you would get a weird picture of me. And if you didn’t have Bob’s here, you would think that Bob was this picture of dignity. And really, his diary would be so much more scandalous (Laughter). Every time I read a story, it was a glimpse that we didn’t have into the other side. So it almost created the impression that there was nothing equivalent on the other side, but we all know there was. I mean, I’m sure the Trump internal emails would have been something else, right?
Bob Schieffer: We should not overlook the fact that Donald Trump had actually encouraged the Russians to look into Hillary’s emails.
From the audience: Hey, Nicco?
Nicco Mele: Yeah?
From the audience: The secret speeches? Certainly newsworthy.
Nicco Mele: There you go.
Michael Tomasky: That’s a good one.
Nicco Mele: The transcript of Hillary’s speeches to Wall Street was one of the things revealed by the email leaks, which was a significant and important news story.
Nancy Kaffer: But I mean, there was nothing really—was anyone really surprised by what was in those speeches? Were they anything that you didn’t expect to see? I mean, they were definitely worth reporting on. But I don’t know, I was underwhelmed by that.
Nicco Mele: Well, the price that she was paid, that was not in the emails, I don’t think? That came from other sources.
Michael Tomasky: Yeah.
Nicco Mele: And she was asked about it and responded.
Nancy Kaffer: Definitely newsworthy and worth reporting on, but I didn’t think there was a big bombshell there. But people might disagree.
Nicco Mele: Derrick, I want to make sure you get a chance to weigh in here on the media cycle. In particular, in one of your recent columns, you were talking about voting rights and [how] the legal framework that has potentially really depressed legal turnout was an underreported story of this cycle.
President Obama will probably be seen, as time passes, as one of the most dignified presidents in modern history, if not all of history. And yet, it is very clear that he could not ever be too strong, too black.
Derrick Jackson: Yeah. I don’t know if you read last Sunday’s Times. There was a wonderful column by Nell Irvin Painter, the great historian, who said that the amazing thing about this election was that for the first time in modern memory, this was a campaign where the heads of it didn’t just happen to be white. They will now be governing as white. I think I don’t need to add to the mea culpas that the press has now been flagellating itself with in the last week and a half. I think the most important thing, looking ahead, is will the media, which is mainly white-led, cover the Trump administration, to a significant degree, as a white administration? I think the more that it overtly covers it as such, the more accountability the press can reclaim. I think that starts with Stephen Bannon. It is inconceivable—those of you who remember—Van Jones had to leave the administration within the first year for comments that that he’d made during 9/11 and so forth, calling Republicans a certain part of the anatomy. And he had to go. Even in a larger historical arc, Democrats have had to jettison black people who were seen as too strong. Lani Guinier, during the Clinton years, her major fault was believing in proportional representation at the local level, something which is right here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So, to borrow from Malcolm X, white America, in the collective sense, couldn’t handle black people who were too strong, too black. President Obama will probably be seen, as time passes, as one of the most dignified presidents in modern history, if not all of history. And yet, it is very clear that he could not ever be too strong, too black. And even with that, I think you see in this election a backlash.
I think the media would be well served to really study the fact that, as the late legal scholar, who was here at Harvard, then finished at NYU, Derrick Bell, shared with me years ago when Obama was first elected, that he was excited and not thrilled, because American history never fully dealt with the institution of slavery. We’ve never dealt with the economic disparities that have persisted for a century and a half now, related to that, discrimination and all that. Trump voters were susceptible to probably the most backward-looking rhetoric in our lifetime. You can take Trump’s rhetoric back to the Know-Nothing movement of the 1850s. So, the challenge for the media is—what Derrick Bell shared with me, and other people have written, of course—is that we’ve had this very sad cycle of a little bit of liberation for black people at various tiny times. Reconstruction. Then, the Civil Rights Movement gains, Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act—which, now the Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act. And then long years of purgatory for African Americans. But now, today, of course, Latinos face it, Muslims face it. And with Bannon, you have a full bringing back of anti-Jewish hate again, right in our face. Those of you who can stomach such things should go to The Daily Stormer, one of the hate magazines, newspapers that endorsed or supported Trump. And when Trump won, the banner photograph on the top was “Make America White Again,” with a swastika right in the middle. And that is now considered legitimate currency among, maybe not all of Trump’s voters, but certainly that was a massive underlying current that he could tap into, because white superiority and white privilege has never been fully dealt with in this country. Trump exploited it, and now it’s on the media. Can it deal with its own biases to avoid yet another massive failure if this administration’s not covered as a white administration?
Nicco Mele: So, Derrick, in my own, you could say, Columbus-ing moment—in September, I read this novel, the Colson Whitehead novel, The Underground Railroad, which is an exceptional novel. I’m not going to give it away, but at the end of it, I said, wow, that is a pretty grim take on race in America. If that’s where we’re headed, I’m a lot more hopeful than that. And the first thing I thought of last Wednesday morning was that novel, right? When you talk about covering the Trump administration as a white administration—we had Jose Antonio Vargas speak on campus a couple weeks ago. He did a documentary this summer on MTV called White People, about what it’s like to be white in America as a minority. The 2014-2015 academic year was the first year in the United States that white school-age children, 5 to 18, were the minority in the United States. So, talk a little more about what it would mean to cover this presidency with race at the heart of it? And compare that to Obama’s first year of coverage.
Derrick Jackson: Let me just start with the notion that I don’t buy, very much, the economic arguments that people put forth. “I’m voting for Trump because”—you know, the sort of simple narrative being that a huge subset of white Americans felt forgotten and lost during these years. I’m from the Midwest. I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m sure you heard that we had a few issues last summer. My response to that was to remind readers that a lot of the segregation in Milwaukee was voted on and legislated. There was a big debate on light rail, to connect downtown Milwaukee, the city, with the suburbs, where almost all of the job growth had been in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, and actually where Scott Walker’s from now. And the suburbs vociferously said no. So, I think what the media missed is this sort of angst. There was a reporter—the only black reporter to cover the Trump campaign—several white Trump supporters were very honest with him. [They] said, “I’m very worried about my status as a white person.” And a Pew poll in the summer, about August or so—Trump supporters—the majority said they thought life in America was worse than in the 1950s, whereas, of course, people of color said, “Life’s great—really better!” You know? So, I’m sorry, Nicco just re-read—
Nicco Mele: I was just wondering about what it means to cover the Trump presidency as a white presidency, and do you feel like the press covered the Obama presidency as a black presidency?
Derrick Jackson: Oh, yeah. Absolutely not. I think Obama, himself, depressed the notion of being a black president. In fact, he actually kind of bristled when challenged by African American leaders that he wasn’t doing enough for black people. He said, “No, no, no, the Affordable Care Act helps everybody.” He was very, very insistent on this point, that his presidency, his policies, were supposed to help everybody. He knew from day one he could not—even though various groups of people in this country suffer disproportionately from problems, he knew he didn’t have a chance, a prayer, of proposing disproportional solutions. And especially with this Supreme Court, which has basically gutted affirmative action. But that said, you could actually also say that’s part of the dignity that Obama ran the White House with. That he really tried hard early in the administration to reach out to Republicans. He got his hand bit off on carbon taxes and all kinds of stuff. Trump comes into this—and I don’t want to put it on one person, because certainly Giuliani is no picnic, and some of the other people. I mean, Newt Gingrich? Come on, really? But I think as long as you have Steve Bannon, the likes of that, as your right-hand person, you must cover that administration as a white nationalist administration. If you don’t, the media will be more derelict tomorrow than it was covering the election itself.
As long as you have Steve Bannon, the likes of that, as your right-hand person, you must cover that administration as a white nationalist administration. If you don’t, the media will be more derelict tomorrow than it was covering the election itself.
Nancy Kaffer: And not as a contradiction, but as an add-on to what you’re saying—it’s not just white supremacy, it’s white male supremacy. Another thing I was stunned by was the number of women who voted for Trump, the percentage of white women who voted for Trump. There’s two pieces of misogyny in this campaign: Whether or not misogyny influenced anyone’s feelings about Hillary Clinton. And for every living person, misogyny influenced from zero to 10—they’re somewhere on that scale. But then, there’s also overlooking the horrible, rampant, textbook, vulgar stuff coming out of the Trump side. Bannon, white nationalist, awful, racist—also Breitbart.com has featured articles like “Why Birth Control Makes Women Unsexy,” because it makes us like men and jiggle in the wrong places. How so many white women were unable to parse out this piece. Yeah, there’s this economic excuse. I think there’s got to be a lot of digging. As a white lady columnist, I feel like this is something I have to try to get to the root of, how so many white women could vote for a guy who essentially has said he doesn’t think he should be involved in raising a child. He thinks it’s inconvenient when a woman works for an employer, when a woman gets pregnant. In 1950, life was also not so great for women. How so many women were able to look past all this stuff and say, “That’s my guy.” It’s white male supremacy victory here. Between the two of those things, I don’t know how there’s an argument against either one of those pieces.
There’s two pieces of misogyny in this campaign: Whether or not misogyny influenced anyone’s feelings about Hillary Clinton…But then, there’s also overlooking the horrible, rampant, textbook, vulgar stuff coming out of the Trump side.
Nicco Mele: In this discussion of race and gender in this election, and the media coverage of it, I wonder: One, if we hypothetically imagine a Jeb Bush or a Paul Ryan or even a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio as a candidate, or even as a president-elect, it seems like many of these issues are then off the table. Or not off the table, but are of a different intensity and importance—because Steve Bannon was not a part of those campaigns. And those campaigns, some of them are much more diverse than the Trump campaign. None of them said the kind of inflammatory things Trump said, in the same way. But I also wonder about the way we think about and talk about the country, and what role the media can play in having discussions about race and gender that are honest and don’t further balkanize or inflame where we’re at.
Derrick Jackson: Just a brief jump-in on that, Nicco. The really challenging part of that is that with the buy-outs and the collapse of the newspaper industry, diversity has gone out the door. In fact, American Society of Newspaper Editors just this summer announced they are no longer going to have a detailed accounting of diversity in newspapers. So, essentially, the industry is giving up on that, in my view.
With the buy-outs and the collapse of the newspaper industry, diversity has gone out the door. In fact, American Society of Newspaper Editors just this summer announced they are no longer going to have a detailed accounting of diversity in newspapers.
Michael Tomasky: I’ll take it a slightly different direction, just for a couple of minutes, and then we’ll get to questions. So, to answer Nicco’s question, I think that the media can do thoughtful and reasonable explorations of racial and gender questions, and I read a lot of them. They just can’t do it in the context of a presidential campaign. A presidential campaign dumbs things down. And that’s something that we have to confront and discuss. But it just does. Now, quickly—we’re more than halfway through this, and we haven’t really talked at all about Hillary Clinton. There’s a gender element there in the way she was covered. How much? It’s hard to wrap your hands around. It’s hard to know. Is it her, is it the fact that she’s a woman? Is it the kind of woman she is? I mean, I have a lot of experience covering Hillary Clinton. I covered her 2000 senate race. So, I’ve spent many hours standing around waiting for her to give a press conference where she says nothing, you know? So, I know what it’s like to try and squeeze water out of that stone. But that said, I think she got a lot of unfair treatment and had a lot of unfair presumptions thrown at her by the press in this campaign. The emails business she did bring on herself to some extent, and I wrote very critically of her. I generally supported her. I thought she would have been the best president of the available choices. So, I said that. But I also wrote critically of her, and with regard to the email thing. But I think she got some unfair hits, too.
I think that the media can do thoughtful and reasonable explorations of racial and gender questions, and I read a lot of them. They just can’t do it in the context of a presidential campaign.
Nicco Mele: So we have the Shorenstein Center study by Tom Patterson that looks at 8 to 12 major media outlets, television and newspapers primarily. It was every article or segment about the campaign in all of 2015 and in the 2016 cycle. We’re only about halfway through the data, so we released in September, all of 2015 and the first half of 2016. [There are] three notable items on Hillary Clinton. One is that on any piece of news about Hillary Clinton, Trump is quoted more often by an almost three-to-one frequency than she is. Now, it turns out, that’s also true of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, of any of his opponents. Trump is quoted almost three times more often than they are in stories about them. Even in a story about Hillary Clinton’s family leave policy, Trump is quoted more often than Hillary is. I don’t think that’s about Hillary. I think that is about Trump and his impact on the race. The second observation comes out of the data about Hillary is that in all of the media mentions of her, it mentions her husband’s history more often than it mentions her qualifications. It’s significantly more likely, even in major media outlets—we looked at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NBC, CBS, Fox. It’s more likely to say, “Hillary Clinton, whose husband was president,” and ignore or not mention she was a U.S. senator and secretary of state. Then the third issue is that the coverage of Trump in the calendar year 2015, the pre-primary time, is overwhelmingly positive. And it’s overwhelmingly positive, not in a way that’s necessarily about Trump, but it’s because he’s winning. It’s a surprise. He’s rising in the polls, he is astonishingly—even after his comments about John McCain—he’s rising, he has this momentum that leads to a positive sounding story. Whereas the coverage of Hillary is overwhelmingly negative. We’re talking 2015 up to the conventions. Overwhelmingly negative, by a much, much greater degree than any other candidate. So, those are three observations out of the study. We have some questions here.
From the audience: Yes, Chuck Cogan from the Kennedy School. I did a blog yesterday for The Huffington Post. The title was, “The Glass Ceiling, the Empty Factories, and the Non-Aspirational Candidate.” I thought they were going to object to what I said about the glass ceiling. Let’s face it, I think that a portion of the electorate just recoiled at the idea of a woman in her 70s with her hands on the nuclear football. At any rate, that’s part of what explains this vote by women in favor of Trump. Secondly, Hillary never went to Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s a post-industrial state. It isn’t just liberals from Madison. Thirdly, The New York Times once referred to Hillary’s flatlander accent—she can’t come across as aspirational in the way that Obama did. Everything about her is very competent, but it’s flat. It’s non-aspirational. And I think that helps explain this terrible shock that Trump, with all his vulgarisms, is president.
Nancy Kaffer: I’m sorry, can I just interject that she might be aspirational for women and young girls who hoped to see a major female presidential candidate? I know a lot of people who found her aspirational in that way.
From the audience: I have a question about what we can do now about outlets like Breitbart and other organizations that think it’s OK to say “make America white again.” They’re protected by the free speech amendment. So where do we, as journalists, but also as active, aware members of the public, draw a line and prevent this hate speech from spewing?
Bob Schieffer: I think by identifying it as hate speech and by continuing to question and continuing to give another point of view. You know, we’ve had this for a long time in America, all the way back to the founders. But it’s presenting the better argument. I think that is the answer, short answer.
A lot of folks ask how they can support journalism because it’s now more important than ever. Subscribe to local papers. They’re the people who have reporters at your state legislature, at your statehouse, and at your city councils observing the decisions that most impact your life. Subscribe to national papers. They have the resources to do these big investigative projects and give a national perspective.
Nancy Kaffer: I find a lot of folks ask how they can support journalism because it’s now more important than ever. Subscribe to local papers. They’re the people who have reporters at your state legislature, at your statehouse, and at your city councils observing the decisions that most impact your life. Subscribe to national papers. They have the resources to do these big investigative projects and give a national perspective. Pledge to your public radio stations. When you’re going to share an article on social media, share the original story, not an aggregation. And disable ad blockers from your computer. I know ads are annoying, but they’re our revenue model. If you don’t look at our ads, you’re reading our work for free, which—information wants to be free, but reporters like to get paid, right? I’m sure everyone in this room is a savvy consumer. But don’t post stuff from a partisan blog, whether it’s your leaning or someone else’s. And also try to differentiate between reliable—traditional and new media— and unreliable sources. Educate yourself and tell your friends and family. You can all go out and share this information with people who aren’t as savvy as the folks in this room. [Those are] just some suggestions.
Derrick Jackson: And this is very old school, but it’s still effective within newsrooms: letters to the editor. If there’s coverage you like, let the editor know. As someone who had been a columnist for The Boston Globe for 27 years, and the final years were on the editorial board—if a lot of people wrote in with a certain point of view, that caused the staff to listen to that and mull it over in the editorial board. When you become the consciousness of a newsroom’s thinking, that’s important.
If there’s coverage you like, let the editor know…When you become the consciousness of a newsroom’s thinking, that’s important.
Nancy Kaffer: And we rely on you for tips. There’s fewer of us than there ever have been. If you see something you think we’re interested in, reach out. Let someone know. Maybe we’re not interested, maybe we are. It’s five minutes, five seconds of your time.
Nicco Mele: I also believe that there are essentially five, maybe six major digital platforms that substantially shape the public sphere: Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. We had 75 years of newspapers figuring out standards for ethical reporting and for sourcing material. These digital platforms—because the bulk of their revenue is derived from advertising, because they have disproportionate power to shape the public sphere—we have to demand of them, as a consuming public, as a citizenry, that they take a more active role with fake news. I think freedom of speech is a trickier issue for those platforms—and part of our Salant Lecture earlier this year.
From the audience: Hi, my name is Jonathan, I’m a member of the public. There are a lot of controversies in this election with regard to say, the Russian hacks or hate speech. What responsibility does the Republican Party have in terms of what they should do to address this? Did they do it properly? And does the press have a responsibility to hold them accountable for how they respond as a party to these issues?
Michael Tomasky: There’s no entity to hold them to any kind of standard. I mean, they’re a political party. They want to win the election, and they’ll do it by hook or by crook. And the only entity that exists to hold them to a standard is us, collectively. The press—I think a very poor job was done of it. I also think that the other team has to push back, you know? The Democrats could have done a better job of pushing back. A lot of times, people ask me in the middle of a campaign, “Why isn’t such-and-such a story?” And the answer is often, well, it’s kind of up to the Democrats to say it, and up to the Democrats to make it a story. That’s just how it works, the way our journalism is structured. Politico is not going to start an anti-Trump controversy on its own most of the time. It’s up to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to say it and make reporters go to Republicans and say, “They’re saying this. What do you have to say for yourself?” And the Democrats could have been better at that.
I do not think the Clinton campaign was a well-run campaign. It was slow off the blocks on almost everything. In all these stories, there was no response from Hillary Clinton. But there was always a response from Donald Trump.
Bob Schieffer: I think they could have been a lot better. I mean, just to put the cards on the table, I do not think the Clinton campaign was a well-run campaign. It was slow off the blocks on almost everything. In all these stories, there was no response from Hillary Clinton. But there was always a response from Donald Trump. During the campaign, I was doing a story about Trump and why he was getting so much publicity, and I called Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. And I said, “You guys, you have Trump on all the time. You let him call in. Why don’t you have Hillary on?” And Mika said, “Getting an interview with Hillary Clinton is like getting an interview with Mother Teresa.” She said, “You know, we called, we asked for an interview. We’ll call, we go through several levels of officials, and finally, three weeks later, somebody calls back and said no, she’s not available.” And you saw that over and over in this campaign. I mean, Trump was hitting here, he’s hitting there. He’s almost like a light infantry, you know? Like George Washington fighting the British. You never had a set battle with him. He just hit ’em here, hit ’em there, while the Clinton campaign was more like a World War I artillery, where mules were pulling the big guns, and it took ’em a week or so to get wherever it was they were trying to get to. And they just never caught up. I think that’s the main thing that happened here. Just another point on the role of the press—and there are different views on this. My view is that it’s not our job to run the campaign. It’s our job to cover the campaign. We have to be fact-checkers, we have to be talking about the issues that aren’t being talked about. But basically, and to Michael’s point, it’s the campaigns, it’s the Democrats and Republicans that make the campaign. And the fact is, Democrats didn’t run a very good campaign this time out.
Derrick Jackson: Yeah, Bob, I agree with that, and I think one of the stories the media really ought to look into is young voters, because Hillary Clinton never had a really good response to Bernie Sanders stealing that segment from her. And on election night, the exit polls—this is the one thing that stunned me the most—Obama won the white 18 to 29-year-old group by 10 percentage points in 2008 over McCain. Trump won that segment by five percentage points.
One of the stories the media really ought to look into is young voters, because Hillary Clinton never had a really good response to Bernie Sanders stealing that segment from her.
Joe Nye: Could I take this back to Michael’s answer to your question, Nicco, about the role of the Russians and WikiLeaks, because this is probably the first occasion since Citizen Genêt where we’ve had this much interference by a foreign government in our domestic political process. So, it raises a very interesting question of who does what to deter it. David Ignatius has a good piece in the Post today in which he says that the administration didn’t want to escalate it before the election, because there is a problem, which is that it changes the frame. It’s not whether you get people to believe all this. It’s that the focus is not on Trump’s locker room stories or not on, heaven forbid, a real policy issue like climate change—it’s on WikiLeaks. The point is that the focus is on something which is against Hillary. And the question is: If the press puts a disclaimer at the top of each story saying, “This is leaked by Assange, and originally it came from the FSB and the GRU,” nonetheless, the frame is still the frame of WikiLeaks or the frame of hacking. Then you also have the question of the false news stories, like the so-called suicide—an FBI agent in Denver, which never happened—but which, again, means the news is focused on something other than Trump. So, I liked Michael’s answer, but I wonder: How far can the press go on this? And ironically, if you just keep printing the stories with the disclaimers, aren’t you falling into the trap anyway?
Nicco Mele: Joe, can I ask you one question before we invite the panel to answer that? Do you believe this is going to embolden other foreign powers to try and exert some influence in U.S. elections?
Joe Nye: I think it can. I’ve just written a piece for International Security called, “Deterrence in Cyberspace.” It’s going to be absolutely crucial, to my mind, that Obama does something before January 20th to indicate a proportionate punishment. Biden said it on TV, but it has to be clear that we are not going to tolerate this. The danger is, since we don’t understand escalation in cyberspace, if you do something that’s too big and they escalate, it’s beyond where we want to go, because we’re simultaneously trying to develop rules and norms for limiting offense in cyberspace. So, the right level of proportionate response, to my mind, would be to name and shame the key people who did it, by publishing the detailed record of what they did, and to put selective sanctions on their bank accounts and visas, and to make that very public, and do it before January 20. But the press has still got to play a role with this. The government trying to develop deterrents is important. But if we keep falling into the trap, I’m not sure how you get out of it.
Nicco Mele: Well, I think the idea of deterrence, and the danger of escalation is a very real and present danger in the proliferation of the internet of things. Granted, I’m kind of a nerd and technologist, but in my own home, we have—I have the smoke alarm, my Nest thermostat, both of our cars. All of these are devices connected to the internet, really without any security—even voluntary security standards. And I think people don’t understand the potential risk of internet-connected devices in any kind of cyber-warfare scenario.
Michael Tomasky: Yeah, thanks, Joe. It’s a complicated subject that deserves a long conversation. We still have a lot of people lined up in 20 minutes. So, I’m going to try to be really brief, but maybe news organizations just shouldn’t have covered those hacks at all, you know? I’m more open to that than I am to what actually happened, which is this completely uncritical coverage. I don’t know of a major news organization that made the decision and announced to its readers or viewers, “We are not going to cover this, and here’s why.” Now, of course, if one or two had done it, everybody wouldn’t have. Fox News obviously wasn’t going to not cover them, and a whole lot of other people. So, it still gets out there. I do completely agree with your point that even my editor’s note still buys into that frame. But I think it helps—and then, doing stories that explain to people how this happens: Who Assange is, how this happens, what the KGB or Russia’s agenda is here. Those stories were done, but they were so outweighed, you know? That’s one thing that has to happen, is that news organizations have to do a better job of balancing. It’s not enough to say, in the twelfth paragraph of another Hillary Clinton email story, that these State Department emails came out as a result of a Freedom of Information request by Judicial Watch and leave it at that. No, explain what Judicial Watch is. Judicial Watch has been trying to put her in jail for 25 years. Put that in the fourth paragraph. Better balance.
Cris Russell: Hello, I’m Cris Russell, I’m a science journalist, former Shorenstein Fellow, and still here at the Belfer Center. I think we’re all in a hand-wringing period, and yet there’s not a lot of time to get ready for the next phase. The blurring of the lines in terms of language, in terms of emotions, and in terms of facts has been really, really crucial. And so, three questions, three thoughts. Language. Just listening to this distinguished panel, a lot of the language—for the first half, at least—was the media, the media, the media, as if there is this monolithic group. And even the Shorenstein Center’s change in name says “on Media,” not “on the Media.” So, I started to hear people then saying journalism, news organizations, and such. I think some qualifiers [are needed] in language by everyone, myself included—because we fall into that “the media,” which fits into the popular vision that the media is plotting. The emotion story was missed, and the idea of perception as reality was hard for a lot of people to recognize. So, I think the psychology of the electorate was under-covered as a phenomenon. But finally, on the troublesome thing that facts were not facts and we had false stories—rather than simply doing more hand-wringing about the fact that we can’t get fact-based reporting or journalism, is there a way going forward? I think fact-checking has been fairly abysmal as a kind of industry, and we need to get beyond Pinocchios and that kind of thing. Everyone has tried, no doubt. Is there a role for a collaborative fact-checking effort—maybe young people in several universities—to actually get a hotline for fact-checking among reputable sources? I was on the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press where there was a hotline to get a lawyer when you were in trouble. So, I think the facts are really in trouble, and I’m just wondering, besides looking back at what went wrong, to think proactively [about] how could we push forward on fact-based reporting by the news media or news organizations?
There was more fact-checking in this campaign than there has ever been. But the fact is, every survey shows 20 percent of the American people still think Barack Obama is a Muslim. About 40 percent of Republican voters think Barack Obama is a Muslim. How much more fact-checking do we have to do to turn that around?
Bob Schieffer: Can I take that? Because this is something that is really of interest to me. Number one, on the fact-checking—there was a lot of fact-checking this time. There was more fact-checking in this campaign than there has ever been. But the fact is, every survey shows 20 percent of the American people still think Barack Obama is a Muslim. About 40 percent of Republican voters think Barack Obama is a Muslim. How much more fact-checking do we have to do to turn that around? And we saw over and over in this campaign that facts didn’t matter, especially to Donald Trump’s core supporters. They were interested in his attitude much more than they were interested in taking literally what he had to say. That’s, to me, one of the problems—I wish I knew how we’re going to do that, but right now I don’t know what the answer to that is.
Nancy Kaffer: And can I say, when he came to speak in Michigan for the first time at the Detroit Economic Club, he made some claim about the number of jobs lost in the Michigan coal industry—like 50,000 jobs or something. We’re all scratching our heads, because Michigan doesn’t have a coal industry (Laughter). So our fact-checkers start—they have to contact the campaign. “Where are you getting this number from?” Then they had to call the energy companies in Michigan. It turns out that there’s some partisan report that said that if we had been able to go forward with building new coal plants, there could have been up to 50,000 coal and associated jobs added. But [it took] three days before the poor woman who had to fact-check all this could get this answer out there. In the meantime, he says this on Monday—on Wednesday, we come up with the refutation and no one cares. Not only does no one care because people don’t care about facts in this campaign, but you say a thing on Monday, it’s a big thing, it’s a big speech being covered. On Wednesday, we come up with a little story going, “Well, actually…” You’re swimming upstream at this point.
We’ve always had it—this fake news…We began to notice this on 9/11, when we realized that our job was not just to try to report the news as we could find it, but to knock down false reports.
Bob Schieffer: Let me just add one other thing. I guess we’ve always had it—this fake news. Those of us within journalism understand what a serious problem this has become. But it’s there, and now, because you have the internet, this stuff can go around the world and back before you have a chance to do any fact-checking on it. And we found that over and over again. We began to notice this on 9/11, when we realized that our job was not just to try to report the news as we could find it, but to knock down false reports, because if you let them stay out there, you ran the risk of setting off pandemonium and riots in the street. I can’t tell you how many times we would get this report, “There’s another plane headed toward the Sears Tower in Chicago.” There was no plane. We would check it out, then we’d get another report. We would check it out and report it again, and as you know, the tradition in journalism used to be you make a mistake, you correct it. Your competitor makes a mistake, you just ignore it and wait for him to correct it. We can’t do that anymore, because you run this risk of setting off panic. So, I mean, and you’re absolutely right about what is the media? Marty Baron, the editor of The Washington Post, said, “I like to say I speak for journalism.” He said, “I can’t speak for all of these various things.” And I feel exactly the same way about that. But I think responsibility of the mainstream media, as we know it now, is not only to try to get the truth as best we can, but to knock down the false reports. And sometimes, we spend more time knocking down the false reports than we do reporting the straight story.
Cris Russell: Could I add one caveat—all of that is true, and this is part of the hand-wringing. Nonetheless, he is president and there will be a whole raft of new false truths coming forward. And mainstream media is not monolithic, and these news organizations that we all worked for are not necessarily where people get facts or can get a fact checked. Many people ignore facts. But thinking creatively and collaboratively and proactively about how to get fact-checking of sources saying, “No,” the 10 most repeated falsehoods in—
Bob Schieffer: Well, I absolutely not only take your point, I endorse it, and I welcome your help. And I think we need all the help we can get, because this is really, really serious. What’s happened now is we’re not basing our opinions anymore on the same sets of facts. When I was growing up, there were three television stations and every town had a newspaper. Maybe you didn’t agree with their editorial policy, but you presumed that what was on the front page was the truth, that they had checked it out. And we based our opinion on those—that same data, the same set of facts. Now we’re basing our opinions on totally different sets of data and so-called facts. So, God love you. I mean, help us in every way you can think of, ’cause we need it.
What’s happened now is we’re not basing our opinions anymore on the same sets of facts….Now we’re basing our opinions on totally different sets of data and so-called facts.
From the audience: Bob, when you saw the Access Hollywood tape, did you think Trump was down and out?
Bob Schieffer: I couldn’t imagine how he could get past that. I’m the father of two daughters and three granddaughters. I was personally offended, and I said on “Face the Nation” that day—they were saying it’s locker room talk. I said this is not boys being boys. This is pigs being pigs. And I still believe that. But it didn’t seem to matter.
Nancy Kaffer: As the mother of a son, I was offended, because I think men are better than that. I don’t think that’s normal locker room talk. So, give yourself some credit, not just as the father of daughters, but as a man who isn’t gross.
From the audience: A lot of the confidence around the Democrats was around Hillary Clinton has this many field offices. The Democrats have this ground game. In a digital era, is this election the end of the ground game? And, if so, is the press and social media the only path left between the voter and the candidates now?
Derrick Jackson: I don’t think it’s the end of the ground game. I actually want to connect your question to what Cristine asked, because I had a strong reaction, like Bob, that the fact-checking was abundant in this election. I think the focus of the media is now really, at the state and local level—which is really challenging, because as Nancy says, many local departments and state bureaus have been cut. But I think the real story, looking ahead to the 2018 mid-terms, is the gerrymandering. We have 33 Republican governors in a nation that is going to be majority people of color in 2043. I hope it’s analyzed by the media. One of the other things is voting rights, and coverage of voting rights now is absolutely crucial. So to me, that’s the most important fact checking that I would like to see.
We have 33 Republican governors in a nation that is going to be majority people of color in 2043. I hope it’s analyzed by the media. One of the other things is voting rights, and coverage of voting rights now is absolutely crucial.
Nancy Kaffer: To cosign on that, gerrymandering and bipartisan redistricting—if there’s something like that going on in your state, get on that.
Michael Tomasky: She did lose quite narrowly. It was a very close election. I don’t think it’s the end of the ground game, of all those traditional things. It’s just people were lying to pollsters about, not wanting to admit they voted for Trump. Obviously more people were uncomfortable with her as president than said.
Bob Schieffer: I think there’s going to be a lot of reflection. I’m not in the business of running campaigns, but there are a lot of people who make a whole lot of money, and I think that’s one of the things that’s wrong with the system. What happened this time [with] running campaigns—it didn’t work. The old ways didn’t work this time. And any time things don’t work, people start trying to figure out new things. So, I think we’re going to see a lot of reflection and revision, but I don’t know exactly what and how.
Maralee Schwartz: Hi. I’m Maralee Schwartz. I was a political editor at The Washington Post for a long time. And I went into work every day thinking that what we did was important and could make a difference. And so, picking up on what all of you have talked about, yes, there was a huge amount of fact-checking. The Washington Post had one reporter gallantly looking at Trump, the fraudulency of Trump’s foundation, his charities. Hillary Clinton picked it up in speeches. And yes, it made very little difference. I agree with Larry Wilmore last night when he said his people just didn’t care. The Post had stories on how his people didn’t care. But what I’m worried about is the people who didn’t vote. How do journalists reach those people? Turnout was lower than ever. You have these extraordinary stories all across the media—putting aside all the things about Trump getting too much coverage and too much TV time—there was a constant drumbeat of the fraudulency and the racism of his campaign. And young people stayed home, black people stayed home, white women stayed home, Hispanics stayed home or voted for Trump. So with all this pressure on the media to reveal these candidates’ characters and policies and plans, what are we doing wrong that we’re not reaching voters?
Nancy Kaffer: God, if I could answer that—if I could figure out how to get everybody to read what I’m writing, I would totally be doing it. We’re in this polarized environment, where if you don’t like what I have to say—I mean, I’m a columnist, I have opinions. Obviously, some people aren’t going to agree with me, they’re not going to read me. But my colleagues on the news side who do straight reporting —if they don’t like those facts, we’re in an environment where they cannot just go opinion shopping, but fact shopping. And that’s terrifying.
Maralee Schwartz: But I know that Trump people didn’t care. But why didn’t the rest of America care? The rest that didn’t vote for her or stayed home.
I think it goes back to a choice of two people that a majority of the American people neither trusted nor even liked. And I think the larger question hanging over all of this is how did that happen? My own theory is our electoral system has basically collapsed. I think it’s in worse shape than our roads and bridges.
Bob Schieffer: You know what I think, Maralee? I think it goes back to a choice of two people that a majority of the American people neither trusted nor even liked. And I think the larger question hanging over all of this is how did that happen? My own theory is our electoral system has basically collapsed. I think it’s in worse shape than our roads and bridges. I think the whole system has been so overwhelmed by money and the process has become so odious that serious people just want no part of it anymore. One of my missions when I come up here was talking to these students—and saying you’ve got to start thinking about whether you’re going to run for office. When I was a little boy, my grandmother thought I was going to be a president of the United States when I grew up. And you know why? Because every grandmother thought her grandson was going to be president of the United States. How many people have you run into lately that say, gosh, I sure hope my kid grows up to be a politician? It’s a job that nobody wants their child to do anymore. I think our whole talent pool has changed. Look at Olympia Snowe. A fine senator, would have been reelected had she run. Yet she said, “My time is better spent doing something else.” This is giving up a Senate seat in the most powerful country in the history of the world, and you think your time there is not well spent. I think the chickens have been getting ready to roost, and I think they roosted, and we’re reaping the results.
Nancy Kaffer: I’ve been telling people for a long time that the system is broken, and that everyone’s for sale and that big money runs the whole thing. I have a friend who had never voted before, and I was really trying to get her to register and vote in this election. She hated Donald Trump, she liked Hillary Clinton. But she said, like, “What can I do? Why does my vote matter? I just feel like the whole system is so messed up that if I vote it’s not going to change anything.” And we had the presidential election, but we also had a regional transit millage that was hugely important that failed in southeast Michigan. We had people going to the State Board of Education who are just nightmares. Even if you don’t see your role in a national election, that was a very narrow margin in Michigan. I talked to her over and over again, but she’s been hearing for so long that the system is broken and that she doesn’t matter, ’cause it’s all for sale to the highest bidder. And if we let that be true, it will be true, right? I couldn’t convince her. She texted me on Wednesday morning saying, “God, I’m so sorry.”
Derrick Jackson: I just think the media, editors, have to really think about not being distracted from the real business. I think the biggest travesty of the debates was that there was never a question from a moderator about climate change. That’s a simplistic example, of course, but four and a half hours of debates, and not once. The media allowed itself to get distracted by the entertainment piece of the election. So that is on the media not to get distracted from the massive collateral damage that this administration can do. And that goes with my concern about voting rights coverage, where the sausage is made coverage.
I think the biggest travesty of the debates was that there was never a question from a moderator about climate change…The media allowed itself to get distracted by the entertainment piece of the election.
Nicco Mele: I want to ask each of the panelists a closing question. There were many norms and standards of journalism and political campaigns that were broken this cycle. If you could identify one thing you believe is going to be essential to political coverage in 2020, what, in terms of the norms and standards of reporting and journalism, what would that be? And I’m going to give you 30 seconds to think about it while I say—what Bob just said about public service, I believe that’s the purpose of the Kennedy School in many respects—to inspire young people to pursue careers in public service and to instill in them a deep and compelling understanding of what is the public interest. I don’t want to lose sight of that. It’s an important moment to say that. So, in terms of looking to 2020, what is something about the practice of journalism that you believe is essential and important?
I think news organizations have to figure out some way to do real time fact-checking and real-time contextualizing so that news consumers can learn a little bit more.
Michael Tomasky: I don’t need 30 seconds, I already know. I’ve thought about this question a lot. It’s a very nuts and bolts answer that I have, and we’ve already touched on it here. Real time fact-checking of what these people say. Not the following Wednesday, you know? That minute, on cable TV, especially on cable TV. This is going to cost them money, they’re not going to like to spend this money. They’re probably not going to do it, but it would be nice, in my dream world, if they would hire a staff of people to sit around and watch—not just Trump, obviously, all of them—give their speeches and say—run the Chyron along the bottom that says, “No, actually this is not true. The truth is this.” Especially cable. Newspapers, too. The New York Times—again, in my ideal world, The New York Times runs the news story, and then below it—you’re reading it on your iPad or whatever—it fact checks the statements that are made by the people in the news story, so that it says, “Actually, this quote from the president in paragraph four is untrue. Here’s what’s true. This quote from the Senate majority/minority leader in paragraph seven isn’t quite right. Here’s what’s right.” So, that’s an added layer, it’s an added expense. It’s something that they’re not going to do. But I think news organizations have to figure out some way to do real time fact-checking and real-time contextualizing so that news consumers can learn a little bit more. There’s always going to be that percentage of the American public that doesn’t care, obviously. But make as many people care as you can.
I think [this election] exacerbated the problems of the country rather than making them better. But I guess one of the things it did do is it helped us to understand how many differences there are between young and old, between black and white, between rich and poor. We have great differences in this country right now, and we’ve got to begin to start figuring out some way to bridge those differences.
Bob Schieffer: Well, this is nothing new here—I think our job will be what it’s always been, Nicco. And that is to hold those in public office accountable for their actions, point out when they have broken promises. I said before the election I thought this was the worst election of my lifetime. I think it exacerbated the problems of the country rather than making them better. But I guess one of the things it did do is it helped us to understand how many differences there are between young and old, between black and white, between rich and poor. We have great differences in this country right now, and we’ve got to begin to start figuring out some way to bridge those differences. But most of all, our job is to hold them accountable.
Nancy Kaffer: I think we have to help people understand. I think policy seems really abstract to people. I think it’s very hard for people to see how policy impacts their lives. We have to do a better job of helping people understand what policy means to the way they live every day. Once we get past some of this inflammatory rhetoric from the campaign—building a wall, deporting people, overturning Roe, overturning same sex marriage—what we have here is an administration backed by a Congress that is ready, willing, and eager to privatize Medicare and Social Security and block grant Medicaid, and change our public education system into an all-voucher system—this dramatic reshaping of American life—and not just the social safety net, but our basic building blocks of our society. I don’t know that people really understood that through the election, because policy’s kind of hard to get people excited about, you know? It’s dry, it’s not exciting. Hillary Clinton was like Hermione Granger. She did all the homework and had all this preparation, but it’s called Harry Potter, right? So we have to do, I think, a better job of helping people understand that policy is hugely important, and it impacts your life even more than inflammatory statements, as distasteful as they are, from gross candidates.
We have to do a better job of helping people understand what policy means to the way they live every day.
Derrick Jackson: As a Harry Potter fan, I fully agree that Hermione did not get enough credit for bringing down Voldemort. I think the media would be well-served to remember that this election was won, to quote James Baldwin, “by a fantastic system of denials, evasions, and justifications.” And also won under the mentality, as expressed by W.E.B. DuBois nearly 100 years ago, that every great deed that was ever done was a deed done by a white man. Getting back to what Cristine gets at in her question—I think it goes beyond fact-checking. In the next presidential cycle, and I think also in local elections, in the upcoming mid-terms, the media owes it to the truth that when it sees a trend based on evasions, delusions, and denials, that there is counter-reporting that begins to tease it out—are these people believing in something that is real? That’s one of the pieces I thought was missing in this election—as Bob said and everybody said—the idea that people didn’t care. We never had a thorough reporting of why the people didn’t care. That’s the starting point for the 2020 presidential campaign.
Nicco Mele: I want to thank the panelists for their time and thank you for your attention. (Applause)