Politics, Foreign Policy and Media Discussed Under a Familiar Roof
A near capacity crowd turned out to last night’s panel discussion on foreign policy as part of Turn Out The Lights.
Politics, foreign regimes and the state of the media were just a few of the topics discussed by adults last night in the same place where they learned about those topics as teenagers.
As part of the Turn Out The Lights commemoration of the closing of the old Wellesley High School building, four accomplished WHS alums served as panelists for a discussion entitled “U.S. Foreign Policy: Making it, Executing It, Analyzing It and Covering It.”
Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, Sean Carberry, foreign desk producer for National Public Radio, Jeffrey Fager, chairman of CBS News, and Aneesh Raman, speech writer for President Barak Obama, rounded out the panel, whose discussion shifted often toward the importance of the ever-changing world of media, especially as it pertains to foreign countries.
“You have an era where people with a cell phone at the right place and the right time become a reporter,” said Carberry.
Craberry was making a slight reference to Raman, who began his work as a journalist for CNN after a gunman broke into a congressional office building. As former teacher Gerry Murphy told it, Raman “whipped out his cell phone, called CNN and volunteered to be their reporter on the scene.”
The more than 90-minute long conversation wound toward early Gulf War reporting and how reporters, editors and diplomats struggled to publish and broadcast accurate information quickly.
Fager, who is also the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” talked about how the media seems more ratings-driven than ever, and how he feels good journalism should combat this trend.
“I think that’s a weakness,” he said, referring specifically to the lack of coverage on foreign wars and affairs. “I’m not sure what it says about our country right now that we’re avoiding important issues that are more difficult.”
Sometimes those issues are too difficult to explain to the public, Raman said. Working as a speechwriter for U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Raman said that despite his extensive experience as a journalist and war correspondent, he had trouble understanding Geithner when it came to explaining the state of the economic crisis.
He said Geithner, who spoke technically to begin with, was confounding because if he spoke too simply, Wall Street would lose faith in him.
“I had no idea what he was saying,” Raman said. “I constantly struggled when I was in Treasury…[Geithner] erred on the side of specificity…I would sit in meetings and I would say, ‘I don’t get it.’
“And if I don’t know it, and I think I’m a reasonably smart guy, no one out there is going to understand it. And everyone out there is who we need to be concerned about,” he said.
Moderator Alan Henrikson, director of diplomatic studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, asked Burns generally how, as a diplomat, he would address speaking to the various audiences at the same time.
“We live in the era of globalization,” he said. “When they write our history, they’re going to say, ‘That was the time when finally the fate of 7 billion people…became intertwined.”
He gave the example of how climate change must be looked at globally.
“Seven billion people, 193 counties. If we don’t face it together, we all fail,” he said.
Burns then provided an opinion regarding the world economy which underscored the discussion.
“We’ve got to be informed citizens,” he said. “It’s no longer good enough to say, ‘I’m not really interested in what happens when Europe,’ when they may hold the fate of our recession in their hands."