Newsweek March 1, 2001
By Jessica Grodstein
How's He Doin'? Al Gore shows up at Columbia for his third class with a marching band and Rupert Murdoch in tow. A journalism student provides a midterm report card on the former vice president
March 1 . - Round one was a mass of cameras, lights and angry reporters. Round two brought a reading list. And this Wednesday, round three of Al Gore' s class kicked off to the tune of "Roar, Lion Roar," the Columbia University fight song.
PERENNIAL ENTHUSIASTS of losing causes, the marching band greeted Gore like one of their own. And the former vice president, familiar with his route to the journalism building' s third floor, stopped and waved as he was serenaded across the campus. After a rough start, it looks as if the new professor is finally finding his place in Morningside Heights. Four weeks ago, the former Democratic presidential candidate appeared at the journalism school amidst a media frenzy. He entered the building with an entourage in tow, including daughter Karenna and several Secret Service agents. With an array of beverages on carefully folded napkins, a handheld microphone, the over-the-top outfit choice of New England tweed and a gag-order imposed on all in attendance, the environment was about as far removed as you can get from a classroom setting. No one knew quite what to expect as Gore introduced his topic, "The Press, Politics and Policy in the Information Age." While some students were dazzled by the overwhelming publicity surrounding the class, others thought the intense media scrutiny and controversy over the lecture's off-the-record ground rules only disrupted the integrity of the classroom. Two weeks later, Karenna was absent, replaced instead by Gore&s chief environmental adviser, Katie McGinty. Billed as a special guest for the day, McGinty joined Gore in a discussion on the "Coverage of the Complex Issue of Global Climate Change." The only remaining prop from the first class was a large dry-erase board centered in the front of the room that Gore used to repeatedly to emphasize the words "truth," "balance," "objectivity" and "fairness". major themes that the former vice president applied to the press's coverage of "complex issues" such as global warming. Yes, the security guards were still outside the journalism building, and yes, I still had to present my ID card before entering the classroom, but I was now allowed to keep my backpack, and all its potential contraband, by my side. Before delving into the issue of global warming, Gore began with some housekeeping. He revoked the "off the record" policy and even complimented Josh Noel, a student who wrote an article for The New York Times, saying that he liked his piece. When asked for his own opinion on the media coverage of the first class. or rather, event. Gore said, "I'm used to it. I got used to being in the public eye." Gore finally seemed ready to inject some personal perspective into the class discussion. In the first class, when questioned on how the press covered him as a news subject, Gore replied, amazingly, that he wasn. t qualified to answer. By the second class, he provided more insightful, and much less guarded, comments. He discredited, for instance, the idea of balance as a copout used to avoid mastering a subject and argued in favor of having more knowledge-based reporting. But the most valuable change in the second session was that his class actually contained content. We were assigned readings to do before the next session, including the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We even had a functioning Web site, a staple of any modern classroom. Just as the fanfare surrounding the Gore's class at Columbia was starting to wane, a timely performance by the undergraduate marching band sparked another scene outside of the journalism building. Then again, Rupert Murdoch, Gore. s guest of the day, was hardly someone prone to anonymity. Back to his blue suit and red tie, Gore introduced Murdoch by saying, "We. ve been political opponents but personal friends." The two seemed quite cordial, sharing sandwiches and Diet Coke while the rest of us filed into our chairs. The topic, "The Role of Corporate Ownership and Market Structure in Shaping the Content and Distribution of News," was immediately addressed by Gore, who spent the first half hour of the class grilling Murdoch on his role as an owner of major media venues. Seated next to Murdoch at the front of the room, Gore enjoyed the role of an interviewer. He asked whether Murdoch had ever been tempted to use parts of his conglomerate to influence politicians. The response: "I might have tried, I never succeeded." Their conversation eventually turned to Bill and Hillary Clinton, with Murdoch defending Fox's coverage of "Pardongate." He argued that many people are politically motivated and activated by the Clinton's behavior and that they "want a station that. s not completely apologetic." To which Gore said: "It's a hell of a story."
In an almost press-conference scenario, the rest of the class was devoted to student questions, mostly addressed to Murdoch, concerning his dealings in China, India and Australia. When asked why the unabashed conservative would come to the journalism school, a perceived bastion of liberal news media, Murdoch replied, "I thought it would be a interesting education for me." And for us.
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore (R) laughs
as he and News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch (L) are welcomed to the campus of
Columbia University in New York by the Columbia marching band, (not seen)
February 28, 2001. Murdoch was accompanying Gore as a guest lecturer to the
course Gore teaches at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.