Union in the News for February 11, 1999
By Online Edition - The New York Times
By Richard L. Fox Almost a thousand students, faculty members and administrators packed Union College's largest lecture hall to hear the Rev. Jesse Jackson give an address on the first day of Black History Month. This was quite a turnout for a college of only 2,000 students. The local press was there, as were the Albany affiliates for the television networks.
Mr. Jackson spoke with great passion about the dilapidated condition of inner city public schools, the high number of children living in poverty and the expanding prison population. He noted that the civil rights movement is now stalled along economic, not racial, lines. One thing Mr. Jackson did not dwell on was the impeachment trial of President Clinton.
By all accounts Mr. Jackson gave a masterful performance. His oratory was powerful, and he was interrupted numerous times with applause. Whether they agreed with him or not, members of the mostly white, middle-class audience responded to his passion -- not an easy task in this cynical time. After the speech, Mr. Jackson first took questions from the press.
The members of the press asked only six questions. The first was whether Mr. Jackson would run for President in 2000. The next reporter asked, "What do you think about what is going on in Washington?" The next question was, "Do you think the President should be removed from office?" The next: "Have you and President Clinton gotten closer since the Lewinsky scandal broke?" And then: "How would you like to see the scandal in Washington resolved?" And finally: "What team did you cheer for in the Super Bowl?" The journalists in attendance were clearly taking their cues from the national press corps. Not one of them asked about the substance of the speech. They did not seem to care what impression they made on the audience.
When it was the students' turn, the tenor of the questions changed. The first student asked, "How can we help to bridge the economic gap you spoke of?" The next audience member asked: "Martin Luther King used to refer to a 'beloved community.' What does that term mean to you?" But the highlight of the evening came when the next student spoke. "You just gave a very powerful and moving speech, and the press asked you only about the scandal in Washington," the young man said. "What does that say to you?" The hall erupted in the loudest applause of the evening.
No one wanted to hear about Monica Lewinsky. Everyone wanted to think about serious issues. The message the audience was sending was clear: The press is speaking for itself, not for us.