Historian Jon Meacham Visits Lesley

When I first arrived at the Jon Meacham talk that was recently held in Marran theater, I was relieved to see that some of my other classmates were also attending the event.  I took a seat next to friends, and we waited for Mr. Meacham to arrive. While we waited, I decided that it would be a good idea to look him up on google, for I hadn’t really ever heard of him before. All I knew was what was advertised to me: he was a Pulitzer prize winning author, and a well established journalist. From the brief research I did on Wikipedia, I found out that not only did he win one of the highest honors an author can receive; he is also the current executive editor and executive vice president at Random House, a contributing editor to Time magazine, a former editor-in-chief of Newsweek; he also is a frequent guest on TV news shows.

By this point, I was truly stunned that Lesley got him to come here and speak. On paper he seemed like the kind of guy that would only speak in front of larger crowds, at bigger events. I immediately messaged my dad, a secret political science junkie, and my best friend Syd who is currently studying political science at American University in Washington D.C. Just from the name alone, they instantly knew who he was and were both admittedly a little jealous that they were not the ones waiting to hear him speak. After my brief research session, I was beyond excited to listen to what he had to say, and was eagerly awaiting his ascent to the stage.

When he finally got there, Mr. Meacham was introduced by Steven Shapiro, dean of CLAS, and opened his talk with the statistic that only 19% of Americans claim they fully trust their government. Throughout his presentation, he talked about the status of our country’s political climate, and how President Donald Trump makes everyday feel like Christmas for a political science reporter through his crazy, unfiltered antics. He walked us through just how Trump managed to get into the White House, and made it to the top by understanding the “vernacular of reality T.V.” He explained that Trump understood how to use social media to get what he wanted, and how useful that is to a politician in this day and age.

The Harry Potter fanatic within me nearly jumped out of my seat when he compared the president to Voldemort, as he expressed how Trump has officially blurred the line between entertainment and politics. The way Trump toys with the media by continually denying reality and just shoots the messenger instead led him to the topic of the recent “fake news” scandal that surrounded his election. He talked about the difference between what is considered bias in journalism and what is considered fake. He highlighted the fact that when journalists fact check the White House or point out the fact that Trump often spews out false information (see the “climate change is a Chinese hoax” tweet), that is not considered biased.

After he spoke to all these points and more, he began taking questions from the audience, which was mostly filled with professors and people much older than my classmates and I. As he was wrapping up a question one student asked about how to write about history without being biased, I prepared myself to ask my own question, looking for advice for an aspiring journalist. Just as I was about to raise my hand, the dean stood up and told us that that was the last question of the session, and that Mr. Meacham had to leave. To be honest, I felt a little cheated: the talk only lasted about a half hour. I wanted more; I could have sat there and listened to him talk for hours.

Despite the fact that I didn’t get to ask my question, Mr. Meacham’s talk still taught me a lot about how to navigate the world of politics through a journalism lens in this particular climate. He referred to journalism itself as being the “first rough draft of history.” This quote  really resonated with me, for I believe that it is true. Journalists are the first people to document breaking news stories and to tell history as it is happening. He also spoke about “embracing the complexity of situations rather than trying to simplify them.”  Not everyone is going to be pleased with the things that you write about all the time, but that shouldn’t keep you from documenting your own thoughts and opinions in their purest form. He also claimed that it is natural to write with a sense of bias, and to not be afraid of that. Tackle stories head on, and don’t shy away from how you feel.

Jon Meacham’s talk truly inspired me. The idea of doing what he does excites me, and hearing him talk gave me another small push into the direction of pursuing journalism as a career. I’ve been getting a lot of these pushes lately, and feel myself slowly moving in that direction as far as my academics at Lesley go. Next semester I am taking an Intro to Journalism class that I am beyond excited about. The idea of doing the things that he does – working at Random House publishing and being an editor for Time magazine – are things that I would kill to do. Hopefully one day I can achieve those dreams. I would love to someday hear Mr. Meacham speak again, and get the chance to ask him my questions. What I would love even more would be to steal his job, but that goal might  just take a little bit longer to achieve!

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