Veteran of political journalism criticizes America’s ‘bloodless’ presidential contest

Abbie VanSickle

Political journalist Jack Germond is notorious for his candid commentary on Washington politics, and his speech Monday at Northwestern lived up to that reputation.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” said Medill Dean Ken Bode. And Germond did.

Germond, a 40-year veteran of political journalism who has worked for CNN and The Baltimore Sunday, spoke to about 80 people in Fisk Hall 217 as part of the Medill School of Journalism’s Crain Lecture Series. He covered everything from his views on Al Gore and George W. Bush to the role of the press in government.

Germond was sharp in his criticism of the presidential candidates. “Gore did so badly,” he said. “He had everything going for him. He lost the election to a guy who doesn’t know Slovenia from Slovakia.”

He also derided the public’s loyalty to Gore and Bush. “You couldn’t find anybody who would want to walk through a wall for Al Gore,” he said. “Bush was even more superficial. His candidacy was based primarily on the money he raised for his campaign.”

He described Bush and Gore’s campaign strategies as being based on sound bites. “They’ve learned that if you say something over and over, we’ll start to believe it,” he said.

For example, he attributed Bush’s success in the primaries to repetition of the phrase, “I’m a reformer with results.”

But Germond did have some kind words for Bush. “I don’t think of George W. Bush as a hater or a nasty,” he said. “His old man could be nasty, and his mother’s very nasty, but I don’t think of him as nasty.”

Germond later stated his belief in the legitimacy of Bush’s presidency: “He’s certainly a legitimate president. Clearly Gore got the most votes, but I’m one of those who says, ‘Get over it!’ He’s the president, and we have to live with it.”

Germond was quick to point out his belief that Bush won’t take direct action against abortion, citing the first lady’s public endorsement of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Germond then switched gears, downplaying the power of the press in the 2000 campaigns.

“Successful candidates this year stiffed the press,” he said. “They don’t trust reporters at all anymore. In the past we’ve always gotten close to the candidates, but not now.”

He also expressed doubt in the media’s ability to reform politics.

“Politics has become so bloodless,” he said. “Candidates are so contrived. We’re not going to change it in the press. It’s going to take a candidate who will risk being different to make changes.”

Despite his skepticism, Germond was positive about journalism as a career. When Chris Baltimore, a Medill graduate student, asked what advice Germond would have for students who want to pursue political journalism, he smiled broadly and said: “It’s a wonderful way to make a living. You don’t have to sell anything.”

But he advised ambitious journalism students to start at a small newspaper.

“It’s more fun,” Germond said. “If you start out at a small newspaper, you get thrown into situations. You find out you can handle it and gain confidence.”