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Communication studies class thrives on expert visitors

Students in the Communication Studies spring political communication class finished their quarter May 28 with a lecture from Mark Halperin, TIME Magazine editor-at-large and senior political analyst and the author of the best seller Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.

Halperin was the final speaker in a series of guest lecturers who included Jefrey Pollock, a pollster for Global Strategy Group; Carol Marin, political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and reporter for NBC5 Chicago and PBS Chicago; Kathleen Strand, communications director for Giannoulias for Senate; and Andrew Bleeker of AKPD Media, formerly director of internet advertising for Obama for America.

Last year, the class’s speakers included David Axelrod (White House senior advisor), Joe Rospars (director of Social Media for Obama for America), Brett O’Donnell (debate coach for President George W. Bush, Republican Presidential nominee John McCain and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin), Michael Sheehan (speech and debate coach for President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama), Peter Slevin of the Washington Post, and Larry Grisolano (media advisor for Barack Obama).

“Halperin’s visit was the bridge between the political realm and the media — he really helped to bring [the class] lessons full circle,” said senior communication studies major Matt Spector, who was the undergraduate teaching assistant for the class taught by senior lecturer Jason DeSanto and adjunct lecturer Pete Giangreco, a political communications strategist who lives locally. “Addressing the gulf between the media’s responsibilities and its changing role in the political landscape, Halperin drew upon his experience in the core of writers and producers with the most access to the halls of government to present his perspective on what the media is and what the press could be.”

In addition to sharing insights about his book, which was required class reading, Halperin gave students the “fundamental rules” to which both political reporters and the politicians they cover should adhere in order to protect democracy.

“Never lie to a reporter,” Halperin told the class of potential budding politicians. “If political figures lie to press, they undermine the trust of the public, not just trust of the press.  The press needs to be seen as surrogates for the public.”

Halperin discussed how the relationship between the press and politicians needs to be professional and well understood by both sides in terms of expectations and deadlines, in order to produce factual and well-covered information for the public.

“It was most interesting to hear his personal views, specifically on how the media is failing to do its job in fairly and accurately reporting politics and campaigns,” said senior communication studies major Robert Gardner. “Considering he’s a reporter himself, I found that a little bit shocking.”

Halperin stressed the importance of the press covering politicians’ agendas so constituents can make informed voting decisions. “Policy should matter more than it does, and the press should cover it,” he said.

The second half of Halperin’s talk addressed themes presented in his book Game Change. Halperin said that controlling one’s public image is of utmost importance in a presidential candidacy, and that is something Barack Obama did well, while Hillary Clinton and John McCain fell short.

“Obama knew his narrative, and he projected it every single day,” Halperin said, adding that Obama’s image correlates with “who he really is” and in what he really believes.

Halperin acknowledged that Obama was the press’s “favored candidate” during the 2008 election, enjoying much less scrutinizing coverage than McCain or Hillary Clinton.

“Mark Halperin’s appearance in our class was generous and exceptional,” DeSanto said. “His talk not only provided a peek behind the curtain of campaign communication, but challenged our students to improve our political dialogue and political culture — with specifics on how to do so. We were delighted to have him here.”

DeSanto explained that the goal of the course is two-fold:

“First, we investigate, from the inside, how campaigns actually develop and disseminate messages, by using a candidate’s values, background and story and fusing that information with raw data and a host of constantly evolving communication technologies,” he said. “Second, we take a little bit of a step back from that process and assess it, asking whether it serves the end of public debate in our country. In this way, we connect the practical with the aspirational. And, oh, we also have a little fun along the way.”