Ole Miss Students Ask, and Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International Answers

Posted: September 26, 2008 in News

Earlier this morning Fareed Zakaria gave the keynote address at the FedEx Access Forum held at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at The University of Mississippi. Dr. Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International and host of “Fareed Zakaria GPS” which airs Sundays worldwide on CNN.

My students have prepared some questions to ask Dr. Zakaria prior to the Presidential Debate that is taking place tonight on our campus. The students who are enrolled in the Debate Internship Class submitted the questions to me and I, in turn, sat down with Dr. Zakaria and asked him the questions.

Do you feel that the media has actually been biased in its coverage favoring one candidate over the other?

I think there is no such as thing as the media anymore. I never quite understand what people mean with the disaggregated nature of the media right now. Has Fox News been biased in covering the candidates? I leave it to you to answer that question. I think if you take the media as a totality, no, I don’t think it has been biased, but any individual player in the media that you happen to have a particular gripe with, you will probably always find that true. I will say with some sincerity and honesty that the two organizations that I represent, CNN and Newsweek, I don’t think we are particularly biased. I think there are some ways in which coverage takes place which reflect certain institutional biases of neutral media. When you spring a completely new candidate on the scene like Sarah Palin, there is going to be a feeding frenzy to try to figure out who she is. That would have happened whether she were left wing or right wing. Other than that, no, I think in general that CNN and Newsweek, at least, have been pretty balanced.

How do you try to keep Newsweek from being bias toward one of the candidates?

I don’t try particularly, to be honest. I think what people want more, particularly from places like Newsweek, are interesting analysis and news reporting that there is value in it; that in some way tells them something they don’t know. If you can do interesting research and interesting reporting, have interesting analysis, sometimes it is going to point in one direction and sometimes it is going to point in the other. I don’t lose a lot of sleep if one week there are two articles that seem to aimed at McCain and another day there are two articles aimed at Obama. We don’t consciously try to make life easy for one candidate or the other, but if it turns out one way or the other, so be it. We are not the Pope. We are trying to run an interesting magazine.

Does Newsweek allow its staff to be a part of a political party?

We certainly allow them to identify as republicans or democrats, but as you know, that is a very basic form of identification. But, no, they cannot join a campaign and I think even there, one should distinguish between columnists, who are very clear about their opinions. It would come as no surprise for someone to discover that Bill Crystal would like for McCain to be elected. The crucial issue is if people are reporting on a campaign, they should not, in any way, be part of that campaign or another one. We do not allow people to join campaigns.

How different is when you make a decision what will go in Newsweek International as opposed to the Newsweek?

About 70 percent of Newsweek International is unique content. It is not in Newsweek USA. The difference is we are a smaller magazine but we are more up market, for lack of a better term. Our readers tend to be more educated, more affluent, more traveled. What we try to provide in Newsweek International is a kind of bulls-eye view of global trends, of global events, global analysis, so that it will be of equal interest to businessmen from Singapore, a journalist in Munich and head of an NGO in Brazil. The trends have to be the ones that link us together in some way, that those ones are in some way or another effect all of us as citizens of the globe. It has very global aspirations. Newsweek USA is different. It is a larger magazine which very much occupies an important place in American culture and politics and tries to fulfill that responsibility.

If you were moderating the panel here, the first debate between Obama and McCain at The University of Mississippi, what would be the first question you would ask them?

I think the first question to really ask the candidates is how would you rebuild American power, because they can have a debate about foreign policy all you want, but the reality is that the United States is in a position where its power has just been hollowed out. We are financially in bad shape. We are economically going into a recession. We are not going to have the money to pay for all the elaborate schemes that people will want. We are challenged rebuilding our influence around the world. That would be the real question. How do you rebuild American power and influence before you can start having various grand designs around the world.

Ole Miss and Oxford will be in the eye of the hurricane because the debate is here. Do you think the location of the debate is going to be of any importance or do you think the history of Ole Miss and Mississippi will be a factor in this debate?

There is no question that there is some meaning to the location, whether it was intended or not. When the rest of the world suddenly looks at the United States, this is the great central drama of American history—the drama of race. To have it happen in one of the most important cities and to have the first African-American nominated, I think it is a very big issue, but I think one of the ways we have moved forward as a country is that I very much doubt it will be mentioned by either candidate. That is how is should be, because Barack Obama is a candidate for the American presidency who happens to be an African-American, not an African-American candidate for the American presidency. That itself is a sign of huge progress.

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