David Gregory, the political journalist best known for his work on NBC’s “Meet the Press” (1947 – present) and CNN’s New Day (2013 – present) will be teaching a political science course at Tufts next fall about the race to the White House in the modern media environment. He spoke with the Daily about his plans for the course and his perspective on the current presidential race.
Tufts Daily (TD): What is the projected outline of what you hope to cover in the course?
David Gregory (DG): I’m just beginning to work on that. I think my thought is it will look at how campaigns are built and how they’re constructed around ideas and mechanics…but also how they’re covered. So it kind of looks at the modern presidential campaign in the modern media environment. You have a news cycle that’s…dominated, as we’re seeing in this race, much more than before, by social media, and [by] how those two things interact [to] give voters a sense of who candidates are and what they believe. I think ultimately this is a test of leadership and how an individual will lead the country, so I’m interested in exploring how the modern mechanics of politics and media come together and give voters a real sense of that question.
TD: To what extent is the curriculum being shaped by the current presidential race?
DG: I’d like to look a little bit historically…probably more the modern history of campaigning, to chart some of the differences. I think it’s a gold mine to look at the [polling and demographics and the electoral map] current presidential race, for a course that starts in September and runs through the end of the campaign. It’s ideal to be able to do that. The only other great piece would be if Massachusetts were a swing state, which it’s not. But nevertheless, looking at the presidential debates, for one thing, will be really interesting.
TD: What do you hope to teach students that you wish that you knew when you entered the realm of political media?
DG: Well, I think history is so important. I really do think that there are patterns that people follow. There are patterns in campaigns that are worth paying attention to. My experience is that experience teaches — going through the rigors of the campaign, seeing the ups and downs of them. I’ve seen presidential campaigns and candidates, and I’ve also covered the presidency, so I think it’s really interesting to see people close up and to have that experience. I want the students to take away a sense of how important the individual pieces are. How you look at trends, how you look at demographics, how you look at history, how you look at not just what we’re talking about, but what we’re not talking about, both in the course and in the presidential campaign, so that both media and politics can be viewed with a critical eye … Being able to think critically is so important. I feel very strongly about this in education generally, that the building blocks of a good education are to be able to hone those skills of critical thinking, about what you’re reading, about what you’re seeing, about what a politician is saying to you, about what you’re reading on various news outlets, seeing on television. You’ve got to be able to think critically about them and how they all fit together and really understand why certain trends are being done, why politicians are emphasizing certain things the way they are. Why the press and how the press comes to cover campaigns and provide weight to certain candidates over others, or issues over other issues, or controversies over other controversies — what drives all of that? I guess what I’m looking at is kind of developing some critical thinking and giving students a chance to look inside this process, not just outside, but having a sense of how it operates on the inside of the media and inside these political campaigns.
TD: Do you have any ideas about what the setup of the course will be like, considering that it’s a little different from the conventional political science course?
DG: I think the hope is to have some speakers who are in the arena to flesh out what we’re talking about. I would certainly like to have some materials that we’re working off of and discussing, whether it’s books or articles that I think are important, or even multimedia exercises. I think even spending time analyzing social media could be interesting. So I guess my view is [that] I’d like it to be really discussion based. I’d like for there to be a lot of learning through question and answer and discussion with each other and [to] be able to take on certain projects that are about using real current events to grow our understanding of how the process works.
TD: How has your role as a political journalist changed during the current election cycle, given the emergence of social media as a dominant factor in the political process?
DG: It’s so much more interactive. You’re really in more of an ongoing conversation with the audience you serve than ever before, because there’s so much response to what you’re doing and what you’re saying … Your audience is more dynamic and they’re interacting with you in a way that I’ve never experienced before. A lot of news is shared by social media, and a lot of awareness and attitudes and opinions are shaped by the conversation on social media. That in and of itself is a kind of compressed space, and it’s kind of an echo chamber, so it can get very loud and very nasty very fast. I don’t think it’s always as thoughtful, but it’s definitely a major piece of community. So I think that’s kind of a major change, and I just think that there’s a difference in the way that media operates today. There’s some traditional stuff, [such as] doing television interviews the way they’ve always been done. But you just have campaigns that are meant to be a little dynamic and are meant to move past any media filter that’s available to them, to kind of eliminate all filters and reach directly to their core audience.
TD: How do you feel that those changes are impacting the current election cycle?
DG: The phenomenon of [Donald] Trump is in part a phenomenon of social media. He’s a showman; he has a knowledge of the way to manipulate media in a way we haven’t seen in the modern presidential campaigning era. We live in an age of really fast information and of social media competing with traditional media sources. I think the media…is a lot more diffuse, so it doesn’t have the same kind of center. Television and cable are something of a center, but then you have this wider landscape and different platforms that politicians can kind of take advantage of. This media cycle is being defined more rapidly by the phenomenon of the televised debate and the kind of insult machine that kind of plays out over social media.
Interview transcribed and edited by Kendall Todd.