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Posts Tagged ‘MU School of Journalism’

Politics & Religion- God in the White House

Posted by Laura Kebede on September 11, 2008

The small room in Reynolds Journalism Institute was quickly filled with people as well as excitement for such an important topic in the 2008 Presidential Election.  Not only were the chairs occupied to capacity, the floor and the sides and window sills were brimming with people representing more than one generation.

Dan Gilgoff, editor of the beliefnet blog God-O-Meter (http://blog.beliefnet.com/godometer/) and author of The Jesus Machine spoke first to the intimate crowd.  He compared the 2004 Bush campaign’s strategy of boldly reaching out and appealing to the 4 million white Evangelicals that stayed home during the 2000 presidential election and John Kerry’s lack of foresight in this area.  For the first time in a long time, faith played a major role in closing the gap and determining the outcome of a presidential election.  Bush managed to gain a record-breaking 70% of the white Evangelical vote.  He even was able to take 55% of the Catholic vote from his former alter boy opponent.  

Gilgoff went on to say that this year, the Democrats have learned their lesson and the Republicans are taking their long-time Evangelical partners for granted.  When Obama’s campaign was launched last year, among the first hires were religious outreach directors aimed at establishing grassroots much like the Bush campaign in 2000.  McCain on the other hand, has repeatedly refused to speak openly about his faith with big Christian outlets such as Christianity Today and Dr. James Dobson, claiming that is a very personal matter. 

Cathleen Falsani (falsani.blogspot.com) was also rejected by John McCain to talk about his faith.  At the time, she was compiling religious profiles of celebrities and politicians in a way that they could be open and honest about their values and beliefs.  As she was communicating back and forth with the McCain campaign, three of his staff repeatedly pleaded with him to take the interview but he refused saying again that it was too personal to talk about.  “I’ve never said this publicly before…” Falsani told the crowd.

One of the profiles in her book, The God Factor was Barack Obama who was then running for Illinois’ senator.  She said that most other politicians she featured brought several campaign advisors with them to the interview.  But Obama came by himself and met her in a coffee shop on March 27, 2004, took off his jacket, loosened his tie and threw his arm around the chair and said “Ask me whatever you want”.   She went on to say that there were no hesitations in his answers and he frequently went back to previous questions to clarify himself and his beliefs.

Though scrutiny has come to both sides of the fence and how candidates appeal more to the “lowest common denominator” rather than take a stand on issues important to the faithful, both campaigns know that faith can have a large impact in the battleground states and the undecided voters.  The Republicans have tried to balance their ticket with the addition of Sarah Palin and the Democrats (according to the God-O-Meter) have begun to attract the black Christian community.

Both speakers mentioned how religion sections in newspapers have lost fervor and have begun disappearing from print.  Yet, with the developments of online media, colleagues of Falsani and Gilgoff have a larger voice and are better able to inform their readers about the influence of religion in the government and in turn, their daily lives.

Gilgoff and Falsani address the questions of the crowded room in the new Reynolds Journalism Institute building. Courtesy of Taylor Combs

Gilgoff and Falsani address the questions of the crowded room in the new Reynolds Journalism Institute building. Courtesy of Taylor Combs

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Pulitzer Prize Panel

Posted by sjbutterfield on September 11, 2008

Wow, what a group. Thursday morning saw former Pulitzer winners Jacqui Banaszynski, Steve Fainaru, James Grimaldi, Jeff Leen, Mike McGraw, James Steele, Seymour Topping and author and Pulitzer researcher Roy Harris discuss their personal stories as well as the sustained significance of the Pulitzer, journalism’s most hallowed honor.

Harris, author of the book “Pulitzer’s Gold” may have hit it best when he quipped “if you’re humbled to be in this company, you’re not alone.”

Banaszynski kicked off the panel by relating the story behind her Pulitzer, which she won for covering AIDS in the heartland in the late 1980s. She revealed how the story had touched even her highly conservative rural Wisconsin mother, showing the power a personally touching story can have on even obdurate hearts and reflecting how journalism can transcend bias.

The large Fred Smith Forum in the new Reynolds Institute was packed with attentive listeners of all kinds, as dozens of foreign dignitaries joined students and professional journalists in lending their ears to the seasoned panelists. Five of the panelists were MU grads, including Washington Post writers Fainaru and Grimaldi, who serendipitously both graduated in 1984. All had clearly earned their merit as reporters, as they casually tossed around first hand reports of covering stories from the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal to exposing the cocaine trade.

Further, all of the panelists presented an optimistic picture of the future of journalism. Topping, the former Managing Editor of the New York Times and clearly the statesman of the group, himself a ’43 MU grad, gave parting words of encouragement, telling aspiring journalists that with hard work and diligence they can achieve great amounts, despite the difficulties journalism is facing in the modern era.

Steele, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair perhaps spoke best to the lasting meaning of the Pulitzer, saying “it’s a message to other people that these are the things you should be doing and the things that you should keep doing.”

Harris, for his part, spoke to the progression of journalism as it relates to the Pulitzer, explaining that the founding of the prize gave journalists some much needed legitimacy in a time where they were considered to be yellow scam artists. Harris described the establishment of the prize as “elevating the profession,” and elaborated that “you can really trace the advancement of American journalism through the advancement of the Pulitzer prize.”

At the end of the panel, the audience was certainly wowed. Two themes to take away: yes, we should be humbled, there was some serious star power in that room, but also, more importantly, the ability to make a difference is within our grasp, most of that panel was at one point very much in the shoes of a freshman journalism student, it’s all happening.

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