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Bucknell Forum participants, from left, David Chalian, ABC News; Nedra Pickler, The Associated Press; John Harwood, The Wall Street Journal; Dean Chris Zappe; David Greene, National Public Radio; Karen Tumulty, Time Magazine; Roger Simon, The Politico.com.
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By Tom Evelyn
LEWISBURG, Pa. – A panel of national political correspondents from some of the country's most influential print, broadcast, and online news sources discussed the role that media play in shaping the presidential election and the issues affecting the race before a packed Trout Auditorium at Bucknell University on Thursday night, Oct. 18.
In the panel discussion, "Media and the Citizen's View of the Presidential Campaign," the six journalists said that the Iraq war and national security will continue to be the key issues of the campaigns, which are being managed and reported differently because of the growing influence of the Internet.
The panel was David Chalian of ABC News, Nedra Pickler of The Associated Press, David Greene of National Public Radio, Roger Simon of The Politico.com, Karen Tumulty of Time, and John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal. Bucknell Dean of Arts and Sciences Chris Zappe was the moderator.
National speaker series
Their discussion was the second event in the University's national speaker series, "The Bucknell Forum: The Citizen & Politics in America."
Asked what would be the over-riding issue of the campaigns, Simon, who is the chief political columnist of The Politico.com, agreed with the consensus of the panel that the Iraq War would continue to be the dominant issue, though both parties now consider the war to be a mistake. Where they disagree, Simon said, is over how to get out of it.
"The big issue in the next election, I feel, will be about strength, and which candidate will be the one who demonstrates the most strength, in terms of security and confronting terrorism," he said.
Harwood, who is the national political editor for The Wall Street Journal, agreed: "If you look at the Republican race right now, Rudy Giuliani has to be considered the favorite, and security is far and away the calling card of his campaign. … And the chances are that he's going to be facing someone who would be the first woman president (candidate Hillary Clinton). And I think that is a significant fact, and something that is going to cause a serious debate about commander-in-chief and who can keep us safe."
Greene, who is the White House correspondent for National Public Radio, said he was surprised that in this long campaign other issues hadn't become more prominent.
"I just was waiting for a moment when people started to talk to voters after events on the campaign trail and they would say, 'Well, I wish, you know, the candidate talked more about health care, more about education,' but that hasn't happened yet," Greene said. "You talk to voters after speeches are done, and if the Iraq war is not a big part of it, people say, 'I wanted to hear about it.' "
Issue of security
Tumulty, who is the national political correspondent for Time magazine, said the issue of security takes different forms and provides an opportunity for candidates to define the question. Looking at exit polls during the last election, it was clear that the election then was dominated by foreign policy and national security concerns.
"But if you broke those numbers down and looked at what voters said was their top concern -- if they said their top concern as a foreign policy issue was the Iraq war, the chances were overwhelming that you were talking about somebody who voted for John Kerry," she said. "If they said their top concern was terrorism, then the chances were overwhelmingly that this was somebody that had voted for George Bush."
Asked how coverage of the campaigns has changed as a result of Internet technologies such as blogs and YouTube, the panel agreed that media and candidates have both felt new pressures to be more careful about what they say on the campaign trail, since everything can show up online.
"We've already seen YouTube have a pretty big impact. … Blogs, too," said Pickler, who is a national political correspondent for The Associated Press. "(But) I think their impact is still being judged because a lot of times it seems like there's not a lot of middle ground on the blogs, that it's people from one perspective or another that are talking to each other."
"But they definitely had an impact on their individual parties," she added. "For instance, John Edwards is completely catering to liberal blogs in this campaign. It was something he didn't do four years ago. But you can see him tailoring his message to them. For instance, when he became the first candidate to decide he wasn't going to participate in a Fox News debate, that was a direct response to a call from the blogs."
Chalian, who is the political director for ABC News, said the video element of the Internet is amplified by television news.
"The fact that when this became video -- as soon as a video element was entered into this world of viral Internet life in the form of YouTube, it became irresistible for folks in television because that's our medium," he said, adding that ABC has instructed its reporters to do daily searches for Internet video that might be of interest.
"(But) we have to guard against in making sure all of our reporting standards from all our excellent news organizations remain as high as they are, because I think there's going to be a tendency that you want all those eyeballs so quickly, and you want to get linked on Matt Drudge's site, which brings tons and tons of eyeballs to your story," Chalian added.
During the opening session and questions from students and other audience members, the panel also addressed bias in the media -- agreeing mostly that it exists but can be minimized by reporters being aware of it -- and the difficulty of getting younger voters more involved in elections, saying that youth turnout has remained low each election cycle despite announcements it would be otherwise. To get more involved, like they did when the voting age was lowered to 18 and there was a draft, young voters have feel like they "have some skin in the game," Tumulty said.
XM Satellite Radio
XM Satellite Radio aired part of the discussion this morning and plans to air additional segments throughout today, Oct. 19, and this weekend on its new POTUS '08 Channel 130, which is devoted to news about the presidential election.
In the Lewisburg area, the panel discussion will air on the program Roundtable on Sunday, Oct. 28, at 6 a.m. on Eagle 107 (107.3 FM) and The Valley (100.9 FM), at 9 a.m. on WKOK-AM 1070, at 11 a.m. on WMLP-AM 1380, and at 11 p.m. on 94KX. Audio prepared for that broadcast is available now.
A Brown Bag Forum was held at noon Monday, Oct. 22, in Arches Lounge in the Elaine Langone Center. The forum, titled, "Student Media and Citizenship at Bucknell," featured Bucknell student editors and reporters.
"The Bucknell Forum: The Citizen & Politics in America" is a national speakers series exploring major issues in the 2008 presidential election, notably those at the forefront of today's national discourse. The series will feature nationally renowned leaders, scholars, and commentators exploring these issues from multi-disciplinary perspectives and offer opportunities for campus and community conversations.
Later this fall, internationally renowned democracy scholar and commentator Benjamin Barber will speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 5, at Trout Auditorium. His talk, "News as Commodity in an Interdependent World: Can Citizenship Survive?" is free and open to the public.