Addressing issues as wide-ranging as midterm elections and magazine writing, award-winning journalist Todd S. Purdum recently held an engaging dialogue with members of the HWS community during his recent campus visit as guest of the President’s Forum Series.
Titled “The Real House of Cards: A View from Washington,” the forum was moderated by President Mark D. Gearan and featured panelists Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of Faculty DeWayne Lucas, and students Morgan Gilbard ’15 and Will Holstrom ’14. In addition, the event also included a question-and-answer session with attendees.
“Todd Purdum has reported for The New York Times for more than 20 years, and for Vanity Fair and now for POLITICO,” said Gearan during his opening remarks in the Geneva Room. “He is an astute observer of American politics. He is the perfect choice for tonight’s forum.”
A veteran Washington reporter, Purdum is the author of the forthcoming book, “An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” which will be released this spring for the legislation’s anniversary.
Using his book as a launching point, Purdum set the stage for a dynamic conversation about politics and journalism, first by contrasting the Washington, D.C., of today, with the political atmosphere on Capitol Hill during the early 1960s.
“I do think increasingly what we focus on in Washington is often not what people in the rest of the country care about at all,” Purdum said, noting that while one has to be careful about romanticizing the past, there did seem to be a genuine bipartisan cooperation on the most important issues of the day. Purdum pointed out that his work has shown that during that time period political parties often couldn’t get enough support on their own, so bipartisan leadership was necessary.
As the dialogue with the panelists got underway, Lucas asked “Is it really that D.C. isn’t working or is that the American public is giving them what they want?”
Purdum said there are creative bipartisan efforts taking place in politics all across the country. Citing instances in Kentucky and California, he said that leaders in Washington could learn from those examples of collaboration.
“I think that one of the things we don’t do enough of is nurture the parts of the country that are working,” Purdum said. “You’ll see some experimentation now in certain states and counties where people are managing to get things done.”
Included among some of the questions asked during the forum were: which political party has more to gain during the 2014 elections?; how can journalists take a more responsible approach to their work?; when will the public say ‘enough is enough’ with low-approval leadership?; and why isn’t there more of an honesty in journalism and critique of the politicians that people love?
To answer the latter, Purdum set a contrast between traditional newspaper reporting and magazine journalism.
“The conventions of magazine journalism are quite different from the conventions of the daily paper, which is you’re not supposed to have a viewpoint,” Purdum said. “To have a successful magazine article at five or six or 10,000 words, and you’re asking someone to stick with you that long, you really have to have a viewpoint, as you might have a take away, have a point.”
Purdum said there is a great freedom in magazine writing, but there is a great responsibility that comes with it. “That doesn’t mean you substitute opinion for fact,” he said.
During the question-and-answer session, Purdum fielded a number of questions from the audience including a two-part question from Nicole O’Connell ’16 about how does lack of voting effect the integrity of the political system in the U.S. and how will technology, particularly social media, affect the outcome of elections.
In light of technology, Purdum said he believes advancements will change the way in which campaigns and elections play out.
“I don’t think we’ve really even begun to see what’s going to happen in terms of elections,” Purdum said. “The combination of social media and the aggregation of big data that campaigns are already working on will eventually have smart campaigns presumably able to know how to finely target the voters they want without alienating the voters they don’t want to hear that message.”
About the speaker
Purdum joined Vanity Fair in 2006 and recently became a contributing editor. He was formerly with The New York Times, where he worked for 23 years, starting as copyboy and eventually covering politics from city hall to the White House. He also held the positions of metropolitan reporter and city-hall bureau chief in New York, and as correspondent and Los Angeles bureau chief.
He is a native of Macomb, Ill., and a graduate of Princeton University. He lives in Washington with his wife, Dee Dee Myers L.H.D. ’05, the former White House press secretary, political commentator and consultant, and their two children. She served as the HWS Commencement speaker in 2005.
About the President’s Forum Series
Established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, the President’s Forum Series is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty and staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members. The most recent guest of the President’s Forum was Gus Schumacher, executive vice president of policy and co-founder of Wholesome Wave.
Other recent speakers have included Former Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, the first woman in American history to serve in both houses of a state legislature and both houses of Congress; activist speaker Judy Shepard; Mayor of Ithaca Svante Myrick; Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund; and political activist and author The Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle.
Upcoming guests of the President’s Forum Series for the spring semester include: Chris Marvin, managing director of the “Got Your 6” campaign, on Thursday, March 13; Dr. Kathy Platoni ’74, clinical psychologist, author and retired U.S. Army Colonel, on Monday, March 24; and Victor Simpson ’63, Rome Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, on Monday, March 31.