McCurry shares lessons learned

Former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry told GW students in a lecture Thursday that the relationship between politics and the media has changed drastically in recent years.

We are in the midst of a transforming moment in political communications, said McCurry, who worked for the Clinton administration from 1995 to 1998. Every tool used for communication has been literally recreated overnight.

McCurry’s lecture, entitled The Political Media Dialogue, was part of the once-a-semester symposium for students in the University Honors Program.

McCurry, whose former position made him the intermediary between politicians and the press, said both government and the media need to be reformed.

Washington is seen as filled with self-interest and corruption, McCurry said. But it’s really better than the conventional wisdom.

The old concept of the journalist with a `noble purpose’ is tarnished, he said.

News today is sufficient to draw up one or two conversations at dinner, but it doesn’t clarify anything, McCurry said.

McCurry said journalists who cover politics have been errant in their ways, and he openly criticized his former position.

The way a story reaches America is where we have the problem, said the former White House insider. One person standing at a podium at the White House briefing on the news is a lousy way to get information.

The loss of relevant content in journalism is a prime concern for McCurry. He said only 13 percent of campaign stories deal with an issue that will impact voters.

The information swarms us, he said. Cute quotes and sound bites are what get noticed.

McCurry said journalistic duty means making important stories interesting, not to just print interesting stories.

McCurry indicated that politics and political journalism are getting a necessary overhaul via the Internet.

The Internet is a market for better news, he said. Politics and the press are awakening to the changes around them.

In his lecture he expressed the hope and probability for the return of hard news and less analysis. The sex, action and other spins that have become so popular in journalism lately have led him to believe that journalists need to get back to the basics, he said.

Enough is enough of that, McCurry said.

McCurry, who is now president of the Public Strategies Group LLC, noted some ways the Internet has altered political campaigns.

The 30-second TV commercial is going the way of door-to-door campaigns, he said.

McCurry said potential presidential candidates John McCain and Al Gore are Internet experts but have not emphasized this in their campaigns.

McCurry also spoke briefly about his role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I preferred not to know, he said of the president’s affair. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about Bill Clinton’s sex life in public. There’s more to my work than Monica Lewinsky.

McCurry also discussed the line between private matters and the public’s right to know.

McCurry said he was an advocate of dumping more information out, but because of national security issues sometimes information had to be protected.

Students who attended the event gave McCurry rave reviews.

It was interesting to hear him talk about the Clinton administration and his views on the Internet and media, freshman Naomi Hackenberg said.

Dr. David Alan Grier, director of the Honors Program, said the program tries to get speakers who share a life of personal experience.

This year’s political elections and news made McCurry an obvious choice.

Lance Bennett, a professor of political science at the University of Washington, also spoke at the symposium. Bennett held separate lectures Friday and Saturday and held a joint discussion session with McCurry Saturday.

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