Posts Tagged ‘Miller Center’

There’s a big Georgian building in Ivy I’ve mentioned before, it’s an offshoot of UVA that offers free and open forums to citizens every month with leaders on the world stage. Its mission is to decode public policy for the rest of us, and its “American Forum” can be viewed on PBS – if there is still a PBS in the future:

“At the Miller Center, we strive to illuminate presidential and political history accurately and fairly. To shine a light on all the ways our democracy has worked—and all the times America has struggled. To inspire America’s leaders with unbiased insights, especially on the presidency, that advance democratic institutions and the public good.” https://millercenter.org

Because I felt like I needed some illuminating, I bid farewell to Bob, who was waiting at home for painters, and drove into town to hear Gerald F Seib (Wall Street Journal’s Executive Washington Editor and Chief Commentator) pontificate on presidential power at the Miller Center. As makeup artists powdered their faces, and the lights dimmed for filming, American Forum’s host, Douglas Blackmon, prepared to interview Seib about Donald Trump. The room was so packed I was squeezed onto a pew sitting sidesaddle. Seniors and students alike, we were all eager to understand Trumpland.

Seib told us that reaching out directly to US citizens is nothing new, that President Obama actually liked to cut out the main stream media and talk to real people. Utilizing Twitter however is a new phenomena.  Labeling media the “…enemy of the American people” is not just new, it’s dangerous. He called Trump a “Master at Communicating,” in that he creates bright shiny objects (Tweets) every day in order to control the media.

Seib also told us time and again that we must take everything a President says seriously; when his aides tell us not to take his statements – like the wiretapping charge against Obama – literally, we the public and the media must still consider his words seriously. The surveillance charge is a diversion, it puts the others (his media enemies) on the defensive.

And although I like to think the purpose of journalism is to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted (Scotty Reston), Seib told us that reporters need to explain and put into context a leader’s words. His job is to analyze in depth, to find the meaning and illuminate facts. He emphasized the one thing journalists have is our credibility, ditto for presidents, then he asked us how will we know when to take Trump seriously – if everything he says isn’t?

I thought of Peter and the Wolf.

He did acknowledge that Rupert Murdoch bought the WSJ years ago, but insisted that his editorial pages have been critical of Trump. And he told us about some memos that had been circulating; saying it’s fine to call certain statements “False” but not “Lies,” not until they are proven to have come from a person’s conscious intent…“and nobody has skirted around facts like Donald Trump.”

Seib warned reporters not to let their attitude substitute for the facts. In other words, don’t become the story you were covering. Harder and harder to do these days I imagine. With UVA Communications majors sitting in the orchestra seats, Blackmon asked what one piece of advice he would give to a young journalist today. “Be honest!”

Seib went on to say he would tell Mr T he must be careful not to devalue his currency (ie credibilty) and to understand and accept that a free press is good for democracy and he should not diminish it!

In short, the Bully Pulpit is still real, it exists and it’s easier than ever to get everybody’s attention. And today, similar to Nixon’s Watergate era, we reporters must be willing to, “…suspend disbelief”…one story at a time. In order to write about the news today we must  “temporarily accept as believable, events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/suspension-of-disbelief.html        Yes sir, that’s the best definition of Trumpland so far!

Let’s hope Mr T doesn’t lay his hands on Angela Merkel while he’s talking trade with Germany. No shoulder rubs for the President who grabs you know what. Seriously. And let’s also hope Tillerson does no harm in Asia. Although he refused to bring the press with him, so how will we know? Not to worry, Andrea Mitchell is on the job.  This is the season to lay mulch at the feet of Buddha, and have faith that North Korea doesn’t take Tillerson seriously.


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This morning I climbed the stairs to my aviary to write about the mating rituals of birds and how they compare to a Chinese internet dating site, and then I heard about Brussels.

Instead of listening to conjecture and panic about terrorism, Bob and I set off to the Miller Center in Charlottesville to listen to a taping of American Forum TV, to see what an ex-diplomat and policy advisor to presidents had to bring to the table.

His name buzzed in my head. I knew this man. A long, long time ago, when I was a Rumson-Fair Haven School Board member, I was given the honor to write about him from my friend Bobbie VanAnda (Hi Bobbie!!). We were creating a “Hall of Fame,” a wall near the cafeteria which would permanently show our current students the places our alums had traveled, the numerous avenues to success they walked to get there.

I was assigned Eric S Edelman, an ex-diplomat to Finland. Here is my copy:

Thirty years after his graduation from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, Eric Edelman was sworn in at the State Department as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Finland. Amidst friends and family on July 20, 1998, Mr. Edelman said that he hoped his parents would finally be convinced he did the right thing by not going to law school. On August 27, 1998, he presented his credentials to President Martti Ahtisaari in Helsinki.  http://www.rumsonfairhaven.org/about/hall-of-fame/2001-inductees/

I vaguely remember a phone call, and some research back in the day when the internet wasn’t easily available. I loved writing biographies. Many times I would write a “split-page” bio for the newspaper; digging out the qualities and eccentricities of someone who may not have been a celebrity, but may have been infamous nonetheless.

Edelman retired from the US Foreign Service in 2009, and is currently the Hertog Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. That’s a mouthful right?

Today he really didn’t say much about terrorism. It seems he is part of a Republican group that would like to deny Donald Trump the nomination. I know this type of Republican, very Christie Todd Whitman. Someone who is thoughtful, conservative and reasonable; they are a dying breed.

Edelman spent his time, unfortunately, delivering a critique of our President, saying that Obama has an “…ideological aversion to American power.” And that in his two terms in office, Obama tended to prioritize relations with our adversaries, and not with our allies. There was a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, even though it’s Tuesday. He is a bit hawkish, wishing we had been more aggressive in Syria from the start. Saying that our policy, or lack thereof,  has allowed “…a major region (the Mideast) to descend into disorder.”

Edelman’s interview will be on our PBS stations this weekend. http://millercenter.org/americanforum

Bob thought he drank the Kool-Aid of the GOP, I thought he was more of a Kissinger-era policy wonk. But I did connect with him afterwards, he told us he was a Democrat in the beginning. He said his parents sold their Fair Haven home in 1980, and that he’s never been back. I wonder if they moved to Florida. He said he’s not on any social media sites, which makes getting national security clearance so much easier!

I wonder if he can succeed at keeping the Donald out of the White House. These are serious times. Good Luck Mr Edelman, and Godspeed. Here is a picture of RFH High School.


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