Wednesday, April 1, 2009

5th annual Schieffer Symposium

The national media is not giving President Barack Obama less scrutiny or reporting on him with less veracity than his predecessors, panelists told a crowd of about 700 at the fifth annual Schieffer Symposium tonight in the Brown Lupton University Union's third floor ballroom.

"For all the adulation, I think that there's been a level of scrutiny" on the stimulus package and examination of his Cabinet choices, said The New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks.

"Obama and the Press: Is the media doing its job?" was topic of the evening, with Bob Schieffer '59 once again moderating the discussion, this time with guests Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of the PBS show "Washington Week;" Mark Shields, a commentator on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Leher and a nationally syndicated columnist; Trish Regan, co-anchor of CNBC's "The Call" and correspondent on "NBC Nightly News;" and Brooks.

Brooks acknowledged that the press has a mostly liberal-leaning bias, but it is unconscious - in framing the issues to which America pays attention.

"Most reporters are motivated by a desire to get on page one" and not any political leanings, he said.

Any bias the media has is toward "winners," Shields said, especially an unexpected one.

Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's advisor and campaign strategist, was hailed as a genius after the Republicans won the White House in 2000 and 2004, yet few view him as such today, Shields said. Obama was an underdog went the election season began, he continued, and his meteoric rise fueled much exposure.

"But I don't think he's getting a free ride," Shields said.

The media has been "completely overwhelmed" in covering Obama during his short time in office, Ifill said, but the expansive reporting is a result of the numerous challenges the administration faces.

Although the new president had been on television every day last week, Schieffer said he ran out of time to ask Obama all the questions he had prepared when he interviewed him at the White House for "Face the Nation" last Sunday. "It underlines just how many problems he faces right now," Schieffer said. "He had a 55-minute press conference days before and the topics of Iraq and Afghanistan were not even mentioned."

Schieffer asked the panel if Obama is attempting to address or fix too many problems at once.

The public and the business sector agree that while their is respect for Obama's ambition, there is great skepticism about the effectiveness of the stimulus package, Regan said.

"The attitude is that it's not enough to make a difference," she said. "He should tackle one thing at a time, and the most important problem he can address is solving the financial crisis and loosen up credit flow."

Much of the evening's discussion centered on how Obama was handling the financial and automobile industry crises, the war and the early returns on Obama's decision-making.

Earlier in the afternoon during an informal session with local media, Brooks said, "Obama certainly does not feel he is getting sweet press."

Ifill added that news coverage is largely influenced by events.

"I'm not certain I would call it bias as much as intensity," she said. "I sometimes think our coverage is being driven by the intensity of voters for whether you call it change or whether you call it reversal of direction. Whatever, they are hanging a lot on the outcome of everything he does and says and everything he wears and says. You name it - there is just this obsession. And so we just try to keep up by covering it."

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