Newsweek                            March 1, 2001  

National News

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.
REUTERS/Mike Segar