Even as the field of journalism faces financial difficulty and accusations of bias in its political reporting, Princeton alumnus Todd Purdum, the national editor and political correspondent of Vanity Fair, argued for its continuing significance Thursday afternoon in a lecture in McCormick Hall.
Purdum described his experience as a magazine writer in this election as watching events unfold from a middle distance perspective, between this just in and this is history.
His position has given Purdum a unique perspective on the campaign, the candidates and the overall role of the media.
I have come to believe that Republicans are just better at exploiting the so-called mainstream media, Purdum said. Saying that [President-elect] Barack Obama pals around with terrorists or holds socialist beliefs is not the same as poking fun at how many houses [Sen.] John McCain [R-Ariz.] has or forgets that he has.
Discussing his experience getting to know McCain on a long plane ride, Purdum said he was surprised at many of the senators decisions.
[Gov.] Sarah Palin just pushed me over the edge, Purdum said. [McCain] didnt for one minute believe she was qualified ... he liked her spunky, anti-authoritarian, maverick style.
Purdum also took an appraising eye to Obama, noting that Obama was not quite as laid-back as his public persona suggests.
[Obama] is a cool, calculating, deeply ambitious guy, Purdum said. He hasnt been sitting around waiting for [the nomination], he added.
Purdum said he values the power of the public to reach its own conclusions based on its impressions of the candidates during debates, though this ability does not make the media obsolete.
The authoritative reporting of such institutions, Purdum said, referring to The New York Times and The Washington Post, is in fact more badly needed than ever.
Purdum lamented the gradual reduction of smaller newspapers Washington, D.C. bureaus.
[Its] a sad thing, Purdum noted. The Chicago Tribune is reducing its office just as Obama is taking office.
Purdum said that for newspapers to be able to thrive in the future a new financial strategy is needed.
I dont think anyone has figured out what the new business model should be. [It] makes me nervous, Purdum said.
With the future of newspapers so uncertain, Purdum encouraged students interested in journalism to explore all areas of media and to get as much experience as you can.
Purdum also discussed the influence of new media and the undercover blogging responsible for the backlash Obama faced for calling certain parts of the electorate people who cling to guns or religion.
How can we compete as reporters with people committing espionage? he said.
Purdums own experience in journalism began with 23 years at The New York Times. During his time with the Times, he served as a copyboy, a correspondent in Washington, D.C. during Bill Clintons administration and the chief of the Los Angeles bureau. He took his post at Vanity Fair in 2006.
During the question-and-answer session following his speech, Purdum answered questions about a controversial article he penned about former U.S. president Bill Clinton.
In the article, which came out this summer, Purdum wrote about Clintons post-presidential life and suggested he had contributed negatively to the unsuccessful presidential campaign of his wife, Sen. Hilary Clinton, D-N.Y.
Purdum said he was surprised by the backlash the article received, but he dealt with the disapproval by attempting to understand his critics.
They dont want you to be fair. Tey want you to take their side, Purdum said.
In response to another question about the potential for politically-based humor related to the incoming administration, Purdum said he thought that it may be difficult to make fun of Obama.
Hes not very gaffe-prone, he said. But something will come up.
Purdum said that issues will need to come up to lighten the current climate, emphasizing the importance humor has played and should continue to play in the coming years.
Purdums lecture was sponsored by the University Press Club and the Wilson School.