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.”
Sonoma Speakers Series
“Trump’s War on the Press” featuring Brooke Gladstone and Dan Schnur will be held at Hanna Boys Center Auditorium on Monday, April 10, beginning at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $35, $75 for VIP tickets – which include a “meet and greet” reception at 6 p.m. For tickets, visit sonomaspeakersearies.eventbrite.com.
“On the Media” is heard in the Bay Area on KQED-FM (88.5), Sundays at 2 p.m. It’s available online at wnyc.org/shows/otm.
Dan Schnur's profile on USC faculty page pressroom.usc.edu/dan-schnur/