Salon to tackle ?President vs. press
Dan Schnur’s path to the Hanna Boys Center stage for next week’s Sonoma Speakers Series discussion of the media and Donald Trump is different than most of the guests heretofore in the six-month old, home-grown intellectual salon.
For one thing, he comes not from inside the media, but from inside politics. He has been one of California’s leading political and media strategists, having worked on four presidential and three ?gubernatorial campaigns – all for Republicans, from Ronald Reagan to Pete Wilson, George H.W. Bush to John McCain.
But when the subject of his political allegiance comes up, he’s quick to set the record straight.
“Just to clarify, I am not a Republican: I’m a No Party Preference voter,” he told us. He shed his party loyalty in 2011, and in 2014 ran for California Secretary of State without a party preference. “I found that most of the progress in politics and government comes in between the 40-yard lines; and as the two parties retreat into their respective end zones, I made the decision to become independent of both of them.”
The football metaphor reveals one of his current roles, as a professor in USC’s Annenberg School of Communications (where football is big); he’s also an adjunct at UC Berkeley among other advisory roles. “I tell my students that politics is too important to be left to the politicians,” he said, encouraging them to understand politics even if they pursue other career goals.
Schnur will be taking the stage of the Hanna Boys Center Auditorium on Monday, April 10, with Brooke Gladstone, former NPR reporter and host of the weekly radio program “On the Media.”
The pair will grapple with a central question in both politics and media in the present era: How should the media cover Donald Trump? Press coverage of politics, let alone a new administration, is always a work-in-progress, but it’s never been one so fraught with pitfalls, potholes and roadblocks as this year.
After all, the President has used words like “lying, dishonest, corrupt, disgusting, scum” to describe the fourth estate, though most of those terms were used in his flame-throwing campaign. More troublingly, he referred to the press as “the enemy of the people” less than a month into his presidency, a phrase that evoked harrowing memories of dictators from Mussolini to Mao. And the press responded with comparisons to Richard Nixon, one of the most press-beleaguered chief executives in history.
Of the phrase, “enemy of the people,” Gladstone observed, “Well, you have to have one.” But she pointed out the difference between Trump’s use of the words and Nixon’s. “What Nixon said was, ‘We must always remember, the press is the enemy.’ But he meant the enemy of him and his administration, not of the people.”
Gladstone began her journalism career a few years after Nixon with Current, a journalism trade magazine based in Washington, D.C. Reporting on a $9 million shortfall from the National Public Radio budget in the early 1980s, she met Scott Simon, hired by the network to cover their own scandal. In 1986, he asked her to come on as an editor for his radio program, “Weekend Edition.”
“I always thought that working at NPR would be the coolest thing ever,” she told the Index-Tribune earlier this week. “It turned out to be the right thing for me.” Soon she moved over to the network’s flagship news program, “All Things Considered,” then went to Russia as the Moscow correspondent and, in 1995, became NPR’s first media correspondent – covering the media itself, which she still does with the weekly “On the Media.”
Gladstone, who has co-hosted the program since January 2001 (her co-host is Bob Garfield), estimates it takes about 45 hours for her and her staff to create each week’s one-hour show. “It’s very difficult to do a show about the media that is not an insider show,” she said. “Every single topic that we talk about has to go through rigorous interrogation. ‘Why should we care?’ being the number one question. ‘What are the stakes for a regular person?’ This kind of thing is really crucial.”
Since the election of Trump, of course, he’s been Patient Zero for many of their stories, including how the media got the election predictions so wrong. “We did a full hour called ‘Predicile Dysfunction’,” she said in her familiar cozy voice.
Though initially an NPR program, last year the hosting station WNYC decided to produce and distribute it independently, along with other programs including "Radiolab" and "Freakonomics."
Like Gladstone – and Sonoma Speakers Series hosts John McChesney and Alex Chadwick, both former NPR reporters who will join the guests on stage – Schnur is very concerned about the impact of a politician like Donald Trump on public discourse, if not the intellectual integrity of the country, its voters and its press.
“On the last day of every semester, I give my students a final assignment: I ask every conservative in the class to commit to watching Rachel Maddow once a week, and I ask every committed progressive to commit to reading George Will or David Brooks.”
Though he said the reason for such an assignment is “to remind them that there’s really smart people on the other side who just happen to have come to different conclusions than you have,” it’s telling that neither Brooks nor Will are in any way supporters of Trump, both having distanced themselves from the President. For Will, that meant leaving the Republican Party altogether, just as Schnur did six years ago.
“It’s not as if I’m unique in this,” said Schnur. “No Party Preference is the fastest-growing voters block in California. Both Republicans and Democrats have been losing voter shares over the past election cycles- the growth has been in the No Party Preference voter.”
But for people in media, or education, or the public at large, the issue of how to deal with Donald Trump can’t just be avoided with a change in party registration. Of Trump’s so-called war with the press, his denial of information from the Congressional Budget Office or NOAA or whoever disagrees with him, Gladstone characterized it as “the ultimate apotheosis of Colbert’s ‘truthiness’ as a political position.”
Gladstone has just written a book (“a pamphlet actually, in the 19th century sense”) called “The Trouble with Reality: A rumination on moral panic in our time.” She describes its theme, if not its motivation, as being that people don’t feel the need to pay attention to inconvenient information anymore.
“We seem to have been given license to simply dwell in our own reality, in smug complacency, no matter what’s going on in the rest of the world, thinking you can outrun it – that the world, the real world, won’t catch up with you eventually,” she said.
“Though of course it will.”
Contact Christian at email@example.com.