Center for Politics hosts U.Va. alumni from "Face the Nation"

Panelists speak on 2016 presidential election

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Thursday, the University Center for Politics hosted a panel of University alumni from CBS’s “Face the Nation” to discuss their coverage of U.S. politics.

The panelists included “Face the Nation” Host John Dickerson (CLAS ‘91), Executive Producer Mary Hager (CLAS ‘87) and Broadcast Associate Tim Perry (CLAS ‘13). Politics Prof. Larry Sabato moderated the event.

The panel quickly moved into an analysis of the logistics of the show. Dickerson discussed the difficulty of asking the right question to guests to get the answers that they want.

“We spend a good time crunching down questions,” Dickerson said. “They don’t answer the questions you’re often asking. You ask two questions to lay the predicate to ask what you really want.”

The event continued with an examination of Dickerson’s involvement in the Feb. 13 Republican presidential debate where he corrected presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). While noting that he made a mistake, Dickerson said he wanted to find Cruz’s answer.

“I made a double mistake because I wasn’t prepared for the attack [from the candidates] and I corrected Ted Cruz,” Dickerson said. “I was genuinely trying to find out what [Cruz’s] answer was. This is when [the audience] booed me because [Cruz] was wrong about something.”

Dickerson also voiced his frustration about the audience during the debates. He said he thought the Republican National Committee wants a louder audience.

“The Republican National Committee wants people in there excited,” Dickerson said. “It’s all about party fundraising. They want the crazy ruckus to make [the debate] seem like a party, but the problem is when the audience gets out of control.”

Perry said presidential candidate Donald Trump’s supporters were out of control during focus groups “Face the Nation” created.

“We did a Trump focus group and if you asked question about [former Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] or [Ohio Gov. John] Kaisch, they [went] out of control,” Perry said.

In regard to the debates, Hager said she was not sure if they would have done anything differently because breaking news changed the program they originally planned.

“[I’m] not sure if we would do anything differently,” Hager said. “The breaking news [of the Paris Terror attacks] changed everything. We threw our entire game plan out.”

The panelists discussed the large amount of media coverage of Trump and how many people say the news networks use Trump for better ratings.

“You say ratings, we say interest,” Hager said. “It was very clear early on that the viewers had a great interest in Donald Trump.”

Hager and Dickerson also talked about the number of phone interviews they have given to Trump.

“I’d rather get Trump on the phone than not get him at all,” Dickerson said. “If it had been only phone [interviews], that’s one thing. I think the trickier thing is when you put him on for 90 minutes.”

The show has spent enormous resources to get face to face with Trump, Hager said.

“It’s not like we’re not asking other candidates,” Hager said. “Cruz has been very unavailable and Clinton is very unavailable, too.”

The event also featured a question and answer session in which the panelists were asked a question about political correctness and media coverage.

“Political correctness means we have to watch [what we say],” Hager said.

“We don’t want to use language that will be an impediment to hearing,” Dickerson said. “Your story is now blocked to [the audience] because they’re reacting to what you say, but you want to ... not be so fuzzy that you don’t deliver the news.”

Dickerson noted the differing conceptions of the use of speech today.

“One person’s political correctness is another person’s protection of rights,” he said.

Sabato ended the event by awarding the panelists with a slice of a Magnolia tree that used to be in Garden IV and was known as “the peace tree.”

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