Veteran Journalists Discuss Politics at Harvard Kennedy School

Bob Schieffer, Ann Compton, and moderator Nicco Mele discuss the 2016 election. Photo by Sarah Toy, BU News Service.
Written by Sarah Toy

By Sarah Toy
BU News Service

Celebrated journalists Bob Schieffer and Ann Compton spoke at the Harvard Kennedy School on Tuesday about this year’s election, one that many are calling “unprecedented.” They spoke at length about the future of the GOP, voter frustration and social media’s impact on campaigning.

Schieffer, a former long-time CBS Washington correspondent and “Face the Nation” moderator, was not optimistic about the future of the Republican Party.

“I think the Republican Party may fall apart,” he said, noting the schisms in the party over Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Schieffer doesn’t think the GOP today is the same party he covered during his political reporting years.

“If it wins, it won’t be a win for the Republican Party. It will be a win for the Trump party,” Schieffer said.

Both he and Compton painted a grim picture of the state of politics in general.

“We have two major party nominees whom the majority of Americans do not hold in high esteem,” Compton, a 41-year ABC News veteran, said.

Schieffer said that politicians in Congress are expected to spend a large chunk of their week asking for money, and “serious people” are no longer motivated to go into politics.

“Our political structure has basically collapsed,” Schieffer said. He brought up government inefficiencies, citing how Congress still has not acted on the President’s February request for emergency funding for combating Zika.

“This is one of the worst stains on our government,” he said.

Moderator Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy, which co-hosted the discussion with the Harvard Institute of Politics, asked Schieffer and Compton what they thought was pushing people to a candidate like Trump.

Both journalists agreed on this point: the answer is voter frustration.

Schieffer and his assistant interviewed a group of Trump supporters in South Carolina. Most said what they liked most was that he spoke his mind. They felt like he reflected their own frustrations.

“This was and remains the core of his success,” said Schieffer.

Compton and Schieffer also discussed how social media has changed the game when it comes to politics.

Schieffer noted that people now have access to countless left-leaning and right-leaning news sources. They can choose which ones they want to use, depending on what side they identify with. He thinks that’s why people find it so hard to come to a consensus on anything nowadays. They don’t make choices based on one set of facts.

Compton added that social media has created a new form of outreach for campaigns. Candidates can tweet and put up their own YouTube videos, and voters can go straight to the candidates themselves without going through any sort of news filter.

“We’ve also put the tools of journalism into the hands of the candidates’ themselves,” Compton said.

The journalists gave advice on what they thought viewers should watch for in the presidential debates.

“Watch to see if the candidates stick to the talking points,” said Compton.

Schieffer, who has moderated several presidential debates, goes back to one question time and again.

“How do you propose to pay for that?”

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