Tom Brokaw and Luke Russert discuss media and politics

Luke Russert '08, along with Tom Brokaw, returned to campus Tuesday Oct. 9 to talk about politics, the current presidential campaign, and how journalism is changing.

The event was structured as a conversation between Brokaw and Russert. Russert asked Brokaw about social media, the presidential debate, how to prevent biased journalism, and the polarization of politics in Washington.

“If at this point, you've been written up by your RA, don't fret, you can still have a very successful post-graduate career. I hope to be living proof of that." Russert said jokingly about his time at BC.

Russert and Brokaw discussed the presidential debate in a historical perspective. Brokaw said that history is not always a good comparison to how debates can affect an election. Brokaw was stunned by Obama's performance.  Obama was out of his league, Brokaw said, drawing on an analogy of the NFL replacement refs.

Because support for both candidates during this election has not been very passionate, it could help Mitt Romney win over voters in the middle, according to Brokaw. He said that this debate was great for the country in that it will force the candidates to focus on big ideas that voters want to hear about.

During the presidential debate, Russert (@LukeRussert) was tweeting consistently and giving a play-by-play account of the debate, while Brokaw (@tombrokaw) preferred to tweet less frequently but made sure his tweets had a conclusion or punch line. Brokaw said there was a need for more discussion and dialogue about the philosophy of the Internet.

"It's tough being president. But that's why we have debates and campaigns. It's not going to get any easier. It's probably going to get harder,” Brokaw said of the scrutiny media coverage has had of the president.

Brokaw and Russert represent two generations of journalists. Among his coworkers, Russert said has one of the biggest Twitter following despite having the least amount of air time.

Although there are drawbacks to Twitter, Russert said, there are still positives. “It allows everyone to be a reporter,” Russert said. He gave the example of the man who did not realize he was live-tweeting the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. Brokaw said that his biggest problem with social media and blogging is the anonymity; people can hide behind their words without having to back up their opinions.

Brokaw and Russert also addressed the attacks that the mainstream media receives for perpetuating a certain opinion. Although there is more opinion out there in the media and there are many more places to go to, the tension between political bias and the media is not new, according to Brokaw.

He said that even Franklin Delano Roosevelt was at war with newspapers and the press was deeply partisan during the Civil War. The difference now is that news is on a 24/7 cycle."Everyone has access to a wide range of not just opinions, but sources and it's tough to sort out," Brokaw said.

It is now much more difficult to be a media consumer because we must discern what is true and what is biased, according to Russert. "Speed and opinion distract the public from the enormity of these issues [the U.S. deficit and foreign wars] and what they really mean," he said.

"You have the opportunity with a keystroke," Brokaw said, "to go anywhere in the world that you want to get information and from some of the best editorial enterprises in the history of our business."

Brokaw said that some of his sources include the Financial Times of London and AlJazeera. His daily news sources include Politico.com, Real Clear Politics, along with blogs from the left and the right. "You can't be a couch potato any more. You've got to work harder and sort out what holds out over time, what works for you, what is reliable," he said. It is now up to the viewer to find the news.

Russert said his generation is apathetic and is going through tough times with the economy. Brokaw called this time a test for the young generation. "The test is whether or not your generation has within it the determination to change the world to suit their needs and the greater needs," he said to Russert. Young people should be less apathetic, Russert said. Shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report tell young people to "wake up, no matter what side you're on," he said.

Brokaw, referred to by Russert as a “living legend”, was the anchor of NBC Nightly News for more than 20 years and has reported on major events like the Vietnam War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the September 11 attacks, and numerous presidential elections, over the past 50 years. Brokaw was awarded an honorary degree from Boston College in 1990.

Russert graduated from BC in 2008 with a double major in History and Communications, which he said was the perfect preparation for a career in journalism. It was great to be back on campus, since this was his first time back other than attending athletic events, Russert said. He reports from Capitol Hill for NBC News and covers everything from presidential politics, Congress to youth issues. Russert said he was honored to be back at his alma mater. Brokaw mentioned Russert's deceased father, Tim Russert, was one of his closest friends.

The event was part of the Chamber Lecture Series, put on by the Carrol School of Management's Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, which brings high-profile speakers to campus.

Photos by Meghan Smith/Gavel Media

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