90 Minute Series: Charlie Savage

OU students welcome New York Times reporter Charlie Savage

ATHENS- Ohio University (OU) welcomed reporter Charlie Savage on Wednesday night, to discuss his career as a journalist covering both President Barack Obama, and former President George W. Bush’s administrations, and the importance of unbiased reporting regarding political controversy.

As a part of its “90 Minutes” series, where prominent journalists from around the nation engage in conversations regarding social, political, and racial topics, OU’s Scripps College of Communication invited Pulitzer Price winning New York Times reporter Charlie Savage to confront such topics, and discuss their prevalence in this November’s election.

Savage was greeted by nearly 200 hundred students in attendance at OU’s historical Morton Hall, accompanied by student moderator Connor Perrett, who acknowledged Savage’s long list of journalistic accomplishments.

Perrett addressed Savage’s credentials as a Washington D.C. correspondent for the New York Times, and his career covering presidential power, civil liberties and the rule of law during both Obama and Bush administrations.

Savage reflected on his origins in Fort Wayne, Indiana, working as a news clerk under the tutelage of OU assistant professor Justice Hill, an experience Savage believes helped him garner summer internships, giving him an opportunity to perfect his craft. Initially, however, he didn’t believe he would pursue a career in journalism, much less one with his level of success.

Savage said, “I didn’t want to write about other people doing things … I wanted to be the person they wrote about.”

Though he didn’t know then he would become a journalist, Savage felt he was genuinely doing something he loved, and would continue throughout his college career. It’s important, Savage said, to provide information to people who don’t have access to it.

Especially within the political realm, where Savage said was the inspiration for his best-selling book, “Take Over,” which unveiled former president Bush’s efforts to expand his political power during his term in office. Perrett directed the conversation toward Takeover, and asked how different it was to publish a 700-page book, rather than a 700-word article dissecting political subject matter.

“It’s not that different … it becomes a more doable task … there’s a certain method to it,” Savage said.

Savage described the process of writing his book, as an experience filled with dividing segments into conceptualized sections, rather than directing his readers straight to the point. Savage felt that his book needed to be written in a structured way, especially given the complex subject matter.

Savage said, his desire to provide detailed information for readers, eventually led to him winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, as he wrote a series of articles that shined light on Bush signing provisions extending his political power, that allowed him to disregard prior laws and regulations set by U.S. Congress, and instead base decisions on his own judgment, which led to the practice of torturing individuals involved in terrorist groups.

Savage also compared Bush and Obama’s terms in office, admitting each of them had their distinct strengths and weaknesses, but pointed out that they were more alike than many thought. Obama, however, often took a different approach when analyzing tough political decisions.

Savage said, “Obama is, I would argue, the most lawyer-driven … much more likely to look at how others would view his decisions.”

He described Obama’s approach as an exercise in flexibility, offering the President more options when faced with complex decisions.  However, Savage suggests, Obama often couldn’t establish concrete resolutions, a reality that ultimately disappointed a lot of Obama’s early campaign supporters. He explained that many of these individuals were on board with the change Obama promised, but when he failed to alter certain Bush policies, his supporters felt deceived.

“Expectations created by his presidential run … was about Bush’s end. He’s been a normal president … but he did set the standard … there was a sense of betrayal,” Savage said.

Savage said he’s yet to consider a third book, but is anxious to see who, between presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, will win November’s election. Savage concluded that he believes Clinton will be elected, but believes her presidency will be a difficult one.

“Clinton will have a very enclosed presidency … she’ll weather what she can … but it’ll be messy,” Savage said.

Savage continued, hypothesizing the obstacles Trump would face if he were elected president, underlining the lack of respect government officials would have toward his often controversial bureaucratic style.

Savage said, “They won’t respect him … the roadblocks Obama faced, Trump would a thousand times more.”

He believes our government is changing, and the rules have evolved particularly in context of the drone technology. These technological advancements allow the military to go places they couldn’t before, in turn, blurring the lines of federal regulation. However, Savage doesn’t feel he should express whether the decisions the government makes are legitimate, but instead focus on reporting objectively, informing the public on the political issues within our society.

Savage said, “I do not think if you think something’s outrageous, to say it’s outrageous … there is a line between news analysis, and bias.”

This is a principle, Savage said, his career has been built upon, and one he attributes to his success as a national news reporter, a platform he hopes will allow him to continue servicing the people of this country.

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