Getting the Facts: Simpson-Mineta Leaders Series Panel Shares Insights on the Media’s Role in Politics

Getting the Facts: Simpson-Mineta Leaders Series Panel Shares Insights on the Media’s Role in Politics

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July 18, 2014

With the pivotal 2014 midterm congressional election quickly approaching and commentators already handicapping the 2016 U.S. presidential tilt, The Washington Center’s Simpson-Mineta Leaders Series shifted its focus to money, media and messaging with an outstanding panel featuring three leading political journalists.


Mark Murray, senior political editor at NBC News; Nia-Malika Henderson, national political reporter at The Washington Post; and Dave Levinthal, senior reporter at The Center for Public Integrity shared insiders’ takes with summer 2014 students at the Residential and Academic Facility in NoMA.


Murray, Henderson and Levinthal highlighted and analyzed recent trends in the political landscape and how those issues will impact campaigns in 2014 and beyond, including the recent Supreme Court ruling in the controversial Hobby Lobby case, President Barack Obama’s declining approval rating and the impact the media’s short attention span can have on public understanding of current events.


After opening remarks, moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN invited students to ask questions, and their queries prompted a thoughtful dialogue and reflected many issues on which many Americans seek answers.


Dustie Smith (Institution: University of Central Arkansas; Internship: U.S Marshals Service), who has a relative in Hobby Lobby’s executive leadership and is a Hobby Lobby employee, had a personal interest in the impact of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling. The Court’s decision exempted businesses with limited numbers of shareholders from the Affordable Care Act’s regulations requiring them to cover certain birth control methods. Smith asked how the decision might impact campaigns in the coming years.


Levinthal: “You can’t raise money when people aren’t agitated, when people aren’t excited, when people don’t feel passionately about something. This has been an absolute goldmine for both Republicans and Democrats. Both sides have tried to seize the opportunity. Both are guilty for letting hyperbole and half-truths filter into the messaging in a bid to raise money and rally their base.”


A.J Rojek (Institution: University of Mount Union, Alliance, Ohio; Internship: Viva Creative) sought the panel’s opinion about the proliferation of strongly opinionated political cable news shows, and whether those channels or the mainstream media are better sources of information in an election cycle.


Murray: “It depends how you define media. In the last 10 years we have seen the proliferation of partisan media, with many informative sources on the left wing and on the right. As a political junkie, I love it all.  But if you only watched MSNBC in 2010 you never would have known that Democrats were about to lose 60 seats in the House. If you only watched Fox News in 2012 never would have known that Mitt Romney was about to lose the election.” Murray argued that the mainstream media serve the public interest more effectively, providing more balanced and accurate information about key issues and the dynamics of the election.


Dainius Simpkins (Institution: University of Florida; Internship: Ayuda) turned the conversation toward presidential politics. He asked the panel why Democrats have seemed to embrace top tier women candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, but the Republican Party often limits viable female candidates to vice-presidential consideration.


Henderson: “Republicans always mention women like (New Mexico Governor) Susana Martinez and (New Hampshire Sen.) Kelly Ayotte as vice presidential choices, but if you look at the top 10 Republicans, there isn’t a woman in that bunch” despite the Republican Party’s significant struggles to attract women voters. “There is a hurdle that all potential women candidates face, which is the idea that their time isn’t now. Somehow Ted Cruz’s time is now, and he hasn’t been in the Senate as long as Ayotte has. It’s up to conservative media and mainstream media to put her out there and talk about Ayotte like they talk about other candidates. It’s also up to Ayotte to put herself out there.”


To view photos from the event, visit the Flickr gallery.

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