Three panelists from national news organizations discuss journalism on a stage with program director Doyle McManus
News Story

El-Lozi Lecture Brings National Journalists to Campus

April 9, 2019 — The Georgetown College Journalism Program hosted the fifth annual Salim El-Lozi Lecture, a panel discussion on issues surrounding the freedom of the press. The event is named for an eminent Lebanese journalist who was murdered in 1980 and whose family endowed the event series in his memory.

This year’s panel featured CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, NPR Weekend Edition host Lulu Garcia-Navarro, and Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan (C’79), moderated by the Journalism Program Director and Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus.

The title of this year’s lecture, “Journalism & the War on Truth,” prefaced a discussion that focused heavily on complex debates over the responsibilities of journalists in the modern media age.

“This [lecture] was inspired by the current political battles over the nature of truth, over President Trump’s charge that the media are ‘enemies of the people,’ over his opponents’ charge that he is engaged in a war on truth, and the debates within journalism about whether the media are doing their job well,” said McManus.

McManus began the discussion by reading “Is the media making American politics worse?” an essay by Vox editor-at-large Ezra Klein.

“We are being manipulated and we are not keeping up,” Klein wrote. “We are being used to fracture American democracy and I don’t think we know how to stop it.”

Each panelist then offered their own perspectives on the role of journalists and the recent wave of distrust they have felt.

“We are caught in a very divisive time,” said Sullivan. “We can only do what we can do — we’re not diplomats, we’re journalists. We can go out and do the story. I don’t know that we know how to heal the wounds of a divided nation.”

McManus also asked panelists about what they thought about a recent poll finding that 40% of the country distrust the media.

“I hate the term ‘media,’ because when you’re asking that 40% if they trust the media, they’re talking about the other side of the media,” Garcia-Navarro said. “They’re talking about CNN or NPR or The Washington Post. And if you talk to people who watch CNN, listen to NPR and read the Post, they’re going to say ‘the media’ is that, and Fox and Sinclair and all those other people are the other side.”

Acosta emphasized the people who had approached him encouraging his work.

“I think that the public has a lot of faith in us,” he said. “You hear from Republican folks and folks on the left, coming up and saying ‘Thanks for what you’re doing’ and ‘Hang in there.” It is tough, but at the end of the day, I think the public does have confidence in us.”

All the panelists made a point to discuss how presenting the truth in certain difficult situations can provoke allegations of bias.

Acosta cited his coverage of the 2017 white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Va., in which he labeled participants as “Nazis.” While this was a factual statement — some of the protesters were avowed neo-Nazis, and Nazi insignia was present — his refusal to couch the description of events in softer language led some to see his reporting as biased.

“In some cases, I like to tell people, there aren’t two sides to a story when it’s a matter of right versus wrong,” said Acosta.

During the audience Q & A, the panel also discussed the topics that they felt the press had failed to cover sufficiently. Both Sullivan and Navarro pointing to climate change, and Navarro noted the unconscious ethnocentricity of many newsrooms.

“I think we’re particularly bad at reflecting communities of color,” Navarro said. “I think we’re particularly bad at talking about issues in communities that are not like the communities that tend to populate the media: overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male. We’re struggling to shift to a changing demographic.”

Journalism minor Margo Snipe (C’20) appreciated Navarro’s perspective.

“I thought for her to just put that in the conversation was a really important thing. It’s good to know that journalists aren’t forgetting about that and that they’re thinking critically about who and what they’re covering.”

The panelists provided career advice for students, emphasizing that the early years of a modern journalism career are often difficult, but that passionate and hardworking journalists are more necessary than ever. Sullivan encouraged journalism students to take advantage of the range of courses the College offers.

“I was an English major at Georgetown, and I think I got a very good grounding in the liberal arts,” Sullivan said. “Something I recommend to all journalists is not to necessarily focus too narrowly in college, but to really get a grounding in history, political science, economics, writing of all kinds. Georgetown gave me a great grounding in that, one that has served me really, really well.”

— Darcy Palder

Humanities Initiative