Alumni Weekend ends with political discourse panel

School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno, right, moderated a panel on political discussions during Alumni Weekend. Ivonne Rodriguez | Hatchet Photographer
School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno, right, moderated a panel on political discussions during Alumni Weekend. Ivonne Rodriguez | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Meredith Roaten.

About 100 alumni ended an event-filled weekend on campus with a brunch immediately followed by a political discourse panel in Jack Morton Auditorium Sunday.

Frank Sesno, the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, moderated a conversation among panelists about the current election.

“Politics are boring,” Sesno joked. “The candidates have nothing to say about each other certainly. And there are no outsides forces exerting any influences.”

Sesno posed questions to the panelists before taking questions from the audience of alumni. The audience was also asked to participate in polls using electronic clickers to facilitate the discussion.

Here are some of the highlights from the panel:

1. Clinton’s emails

Bill Press, radio host of The Bill Press Show, brought up recent developments in the FBI’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails. Press said he felt that FBI Director James Comey made a mistake announcing the investigation of the emails found on Anthony Weiner’s phone between his wife, Huma Abedin, and Clinton.

“If anybody here wants to start a crowdfunding campaign to send Anthony Weiner to Siberia with his computer, I’m in,” Press said.

Lara Brown, the interim director of the Graduate School of Political Management, said that Comey was trying to save his reputation after the pushback he received from his decision not to pursue prosecution for Clinton earlier this year.

When the audience was polled, more people in the audience thought that the next election would be nicer than this one, but panelist Howard Opinsky, the executive vice president and corporate advisory practice leader at Hill + Knowlton Strategies, disagreed. Opinsky said the media the public consumes is personalized, leading people to easily avoid conflicting opinions.

He said he believed that this would add to the nastiness of future elections because of its influence in polarizing Americans.

“You can live in your own universe and you’re only looking at the facts that support what you’re thinking,” Opinsky said.

2. Facts don’t matter

When asked if facts mattered in politics anymore, the panelists had mixed replies. Paul Waters, a program assistant at the Democracy Fund, said that facts did absolutely matter in politics, and the solution for getting people to pay attention to them was for the media and government to rebuild trust with the public.

A poll taken during the conversation showed that more than half of the audience didn’t believe the election was covered fairly during the election.

Brown, the GSPM interim director, said she thought the election wasn’t covered fairly because all coverage, good or bad, is still exposure which can increase name recognition. She added that Americans fight over facts because the country is polarized by the political system and does not interact with others of differing opinions.

“It is true that in most polls you can get somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Americans to pretty much say that they agree with anything,” Brown said.

3. The future of politics

In their questions, alumni were interested in where the government was heading as well. One alumna asked if the whole election process couldn’t be shortened so that politicians would have more time to lead, and less time to campaign.

Sesno said that leaders in media have the power to retrain the public to not want the election coverage so early in the season.

The audience was also polled on whether or not they would encourage students to become public servants, with most of them responding positively. Waters said that local and state levels of government need good people and are important to the success of the country.

“Our democracy works only when we become a part of it,” Opinsky added.

Press also talked about the importance of being an engaged citizen in either the private or public sector, citing his own experiences.

“I studied for the priesthood for 10 years, but since then it has been my work in politics that I have found so fulfilling,” Press said. “I remain an optimist that we will survive what happens on Nov. 8.”

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