Pulitzer prize-winning author discusses media and politics


Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian Jon Meacham explored the idea of media’s role in politics and encouraged a WKU audience to differentiate “partisan” and “news” media.

“Trust me, knowing the difference between the two will help lower your blood pressure,” Meacham said.

Meacham appeared as the second guest in Potter College of Arts and Science’s Cultural Enhancement series. The presentation took place Monday evening in Van Meter Hall at 7:30 p.m. A book signing and meet-and-greet followed.

David Lee, dean of Potter College of Arts and Letters, introduced Meacham, saying his topic is “about as timely as you can get with the presidential election only a week away.”

Meacham’s speech was peppered with plenty of historical facts and self-deprecating humor.

“You’ll have to forgive me for a moment to do some Jefferson and some Hamilton,” he said as he introduced a point. “I’m a lot of fun to hang out with as you can see (laugh). If you’re lucky, you can get some John Locke later.”

Meacham said political partisanship is “oxygen to the democratic flame,” and that those differing opinions are found in every aspect of democracy, not just the media.

He stressed the importance for media consumers to differentiate between partisan media – “those with opinions to express that are predictable along party lines” – and news media – “reported facts expressing analytical points of view that aren’t necessarily partisan in one way or another.”

“I think the bias of the bigger part of the media – the news media – is less ideological… but really toward conflict and novelty,” he said.

Meacham said in a technology-steeped world, news consumption of both kinds is “like extended Star Trek episodes,” constantly at warp speed, “a cultural case of ADD.” Because of this rapid news consumption, media consumers aren’t evaluating where their news is coming from, he said.

“What has happened, I think, is that now that everyone has the capacity to express an opinion and weigh in on the issues of the day, there’s a certain obligation of ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’” Meacham said. “The fact that we’re lucky enough to live in a country where this is possible imposes a certain burden on us to think through what we say.”

Sophomore history and Spanish double-major Shelley Spalding and sophomore history and organ double-major Sarah Fox both dined with Meacham before his presentation at Van Meter.

Spalding called Lee “a great humanitarian” for inviting her and Fox to the dinner, and she said talking with Meacham was an incredible experience.

“He’s got an opinion on everything,” Spalding said. “But he’s not one of those people who has an opinion on everything in a bad way. It’s an informed opinion.”

Fox said she was fascinated by Meacham’s depth and range of knowledge.

“Anything you talk to him about, he takes the time to think about it and then he expounds upon the subject,” Fox said. “He and I started on religious history, and then we got to journalism and then we got to the Presidential debates. It seemed like we talked about everything.”

Both Spalding and Fox said they were inspired by their dinner with Meacham and his speech that followed.

Meacham’s presentation concludes the Cultural Enhancement Series for the fall 2012 semester. It will begin again on March 4, 2013 with the Ailey II dance company. According to the Cultural Enhancement website, seating vouchers will be offered beginning Jan. 1 to reserve free seating for both the Ailey II and writer Garrison Keillor’s performances.