Tribune columnist Clarence Page talks politics, polarization

Maria LaMagna

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Before his speech in the McCormick Tribune Center auditorium late Wednesday afternoon, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page spoke with many audience members as they walked into the auditorium.

“You’re seeing everyone I’ve ever known in my life here tonight,” he said jokingly.

Despite this self-proclaimed humility, Page spoke as part of the Minow Lecture in Communications series in front of a packed audience of professors, students, friends and colleagues. The speech began at 4 p.m. and was open to the public.

Although Page’s lecture was originally titled “The Age of Obama and its Post-Racial Promise,” he said during his speech he picked the title in a hurry and thought “Obamaland and Fox Nation” might be more appropriate as he spoke extensively about racial politics and the polarization of current media.

“Our nation is still divided, even though Obama said, ‘We are not red states or blue states, we are the United States of America,'” Page said. “But now I think we have two Americas divided in a different way. Everybody focuses on liberal or conservative, or black and white – and we’re more complicated than that.”

A former NU professor and father of a 20-year-old son, Page referenced contemporary mediums, including Twitter, his blog, and adding Facebook friends, or “pals” as he called them. He cracked jokes often, leaning into the microphone and changing his intonation to audience laughter. He added that he has about 3,500 friends on Facebook, though he said he’s trying to catch up to the more than 900,000 Facebook friends of NU alumnus Stephen Colbert.

The Minow series features about one speaker each year, and began as a gift to the University by Newton N. Minow and his wife Josephine Baskin Minow, both of whom are alumni. Previous speakers include high-profile journalists and communications professionals such as Walter Cronkite, Nan Robertson, and most recently, Jim Lehrer in 2007.

Newton N. Minow, a life member of NU’s Board of Trustees and professor emeritus, said he selected Page as this year’s speaker because of his career experience and his personality.

“We try to get leading figures in journalism and communications, and Clarence is a nationally-read columnist,” he said. “He’s also on TV every week, cable as well as broadcast. He’s a thoughtful speaker and I hope he will serve as a role model to Medill students.”

Medill first-year graduate student Da Yan said she came to hear Page speak after seeing an advertisement flyer about the event.

“I liked his explanation of how he saw America as two divided views,” Yan said. “Also, as an international student, I saw it as a really good opportunity to look into one of the most important issues in America.”

Page said students considering careers in journalism should pay attention to current events in the media and take every opportunity possible to practice reading and writing.”History is important, too,” he said. “Pay attention to history and don’t be turned off by it if you just had a bum teacher.”

Page said he was more than happy to return to speak, especially with an invite from Minow.

“For one thing, I love Northwestern students,” he said. “(And) I’ve known (Minow) for years and I was touched, honored, humbled, all these emotions I’m not that intimately familiar with, by the invitation.”

MariaLaMagna2013@u.northwestern.edu

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