On April 28, the Thomas Jefferson Public Policy Program welcomed E.J. Dionne to speak at its seventh annual alumni event in the W&M Washington Office. Dionne has been a columnist for the Washington Post since 1990, and is currently a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. Prior to joining the Post, Dionne was a political reporter and foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He represents thefirst member of the media that TJPPP has invited to their annual event.
Dionne spoke to an audience of 70 professors, students and TJPPP alumni about the role the media plays in public policy. To start the evening, he offered the idea that the nation’s current partisan environment is not far from our roots, and that the remnants of this previously partisan press can still be seen on the mastheads and op-ed pages of many papers across the country.
According to Dionne, the rise of the Internet has allowed many diverse views, and new voices, in politics to have an open platform for expression. Although welcoming the additional forums to the media landscape, Dionne noted that this new environment has allowed for people to isolate themselves in their own ideological world. However he believes this change in the media environment is not adding to the partisanship of the country -- “This [polarization] was baked into the political cake long before.”
When asked about the possibility of newspaper’s succeeding behind pay walls, Dionne offered a realistic, but positive, outlook for the industry. He said that if people are willing to carry more of the weight of the product’s cost, like they do in most other industries, he could foresee a future where a new era of civil inventiveness ensures quality independent journalism.
The interaction between the media and public policy is complex and technology is only increasing that complexity. However, Dionne fittingly ended the night with Churchill’s reflection on Americans, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”