David Gregory discusses politics, journalism and faith as part of Distinguished Speaker Series

Former moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press and author of "How’s Your Faith?: An Unlikely Spiritual Journey," David Gregory talks with the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service Dean Alan Solomont as a part of the Tisch College Distinguished Lecture Series on Feb. 18. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily

Television journalist David Gregory spoke about the intersections of media and politics as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series last night in the Coolidge Room. Gregory also talked about his new book “How’s Your Faith?: An Unlikely Spiritual Journey,” an exploration of his personal relationship with Judaism.

At the event, sponsored by the Film and Media Studies program and Tufts HillelGregory answered questions in an interview format by Alan Solomont, Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. Gregory drew on his own personal experiences while serving as NBC’s former Chief White House Correspondent during George W. Bush’s presidency and as former “Meet the Press” moderator.

In his discussion in front of a large audience, which included Tufts students, faculty, administrators and prominent members of the Boston media, Gregory expounded upon what he described as Americans’ collective frustration with traditional institutions of authority — the media, political parties and other established avenues of power. Gregory said he believes that, like the elections of 1968, 1980 and 1992, the current election surpasses the typical back-and-forth between establishment and movement candidates, and uniquely speaks to long-running trends in American movement politics.

“Elections are really a snapshot of where the country is and what the country hopes to do,” he said.

Gregory said that the great test is whether the political system can put the United States on track, finally saying that “at the moment, there’s a real question as to whether that’s possible.”

Solomont asked Gregory, whose first foray into national news coverage was covering the 1997 trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, what Gregory thought of the nation’s response to the terrorist attacks that have taken place during his professional career, including the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and most recently, the San Bernardino shootings.

Gregory said that while the American response to the first two terrorist attacks displayed an innocence and togetherness in the face of horrible circumstances, the San Bernardino attacks instead evince the degree of politicization of anti-Muslim and nativist sentiment among certain political groups in America.

Continuing on to questions about his faith, Gregory then spoke about his book, noting that the title was inspired by an encounter in the Oval Office with former president George W. Bush, who prompted him with the question, “How’s your faith?”

While describing his book, Gregory explained the discovery of his own faith. Gregory said that people only turn to faith in times of struggle, rather than under normal circumstances. He addressed the fact that he personally thinks Jewish people like himself do not talk about God enough, and said he explicitly tries to do so when giving talks to a more Jewish audience.

Gregory said the experience of marrying outside of his faith has become a source of inspiration in deepening and exploring his roots and relationship with Judaism. He said that one thing millennials and young students can take away from an exploration of faith, even if they may not be initially interested, is the need to develop oneself outside of solely building one’s resume, referencing fluctuations in his own sense of self during his early career.

In an interview with the Daily, he also expressed the importance of allowing ones’ sense of self to develop, especially as a college student. He said students should constantly challenge the ideas they encounter, while being respectful of where others are coming from.

“[With] the sources and material that we get, [it’s] a great time to open your mind and [learn] kind of how to honor [different] approaches and learn from them before putting your chips down and saying ‘I’m with this team,’ because I think it can really close off a lot of doors to real learning,” Gregory said.

Gregory commented that the current media landscape allows consumers to easily block out opposing viewpoints.

“Through social media and the internet, cable news, you can really choose whose side you’re on, and that can be satisfying, but I would still argue that it’s not the best thing for the country,” he said.

Gregory noted, however, that having one’s ideas challenged is fundamental to growing and learning. He said that being exposed to new perspectives from other parts of the country and world on a college campus can and should be enlightening for students.

“For me, I remember feeling like that during the Rodney King beating when I was at school in Washington D.C,” he said.

Gregory added that he gained racial consciousness after the King incident. He also drew a parallel between this experience and the emotions present on university campuses now with the Black Lives Matter movement, and the challenges students are raising against the forebearers of many institutions across the country.

“Challenge yourself, and challenge what you believe with different points of view, and learn to do that with the kind of respect for where other people are coming from,” he advised.

In his interview with the Daily, Gregory said he hoped that through the lecture, he would encourage students to keep “an open mind about the political process, about the role of the press and about engagement in politics…and hopefully try to cultivate enough respect for the process and from different points of view that we can end some of the polarization.”

Justin Krakoff contributed reporting to this article.