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Archive for Friday, October 30, 1998

FORMER U.S. SENATOR ADVISES ASPIRING JOURNALISTS AT KU

October 30, 1998

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During a visit Thursday to KU, Nancy Kassebaum Baker enlightened journalism students on press-politics relations.

With sensationalism and cynicism boiling over in America, Sen. John Glenn couldn't have picked a better time to hop on board Discovery, a longtime U.S. senator from Kansas said Thursday to a group of Kansas University students.

"We long for people to look up to today," Nancy Kassebaum Baker said, adding that we yearn for "a sense above and beyond the ordinary."

Kassebaum Baker was in Lawrence to speak at a reception honoring Martha Peterson, a pioneer for women in higher education who was KU Dean of Women when Kassebaum Baker attended KU in the 1950s. The former senator took time during the afternoon to speak with beginning reporting students at Stauffer-Flint Hall.

Be well informed, she told them. Too many reporters who asked her questions about the health care plan she engineered with Sen. Edward Kennedy knew little about health care.

Having a basic grasp of the issues "really on the whole provides a far more substantive exchange," Kassebaum Baker said.

Although the press is generally no more vitriolic today than 20 years ago when Kassebaum began her career as a U.S. senator, reporters are often more concerned about grabbing a headline story for personal acclaim than for public service, she said.

That goes triple for the coverage surrounding the President Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"I think they're writing too much," Kassebaum Baker said. "People are tired of it."

As far as she's concerned, our journey into the modern political gutter began when former presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Gary Hart responded to allegations of marital infidelity by goading a bevy of reporters to follow him. He was caught with Donna Rice.

"When you invite public participation, that's what you get," she said.

In 1992, an audience guest during an MTV forum asked then-candidate Clinton whether he wore boxers or briefs.

"In my mind he just should have said, `That's none of your business,'" said Kassebaum Baker. "At some point ... there has to be a sense of responsibility and respect that you have to earn."

In recent months, her trust and confidence in Clinton waned. She said the president would have been better off resigning in August.

"That could have been a stronger message," she said.

Donato Fhunsu, KU graduate student and columnist for the University Daily Kansan, said Kassebaum Baker's talk was helpful to aspiring journalists.

"Usually we speculate about what goes on in Washington," Fhunsu said. "That does change our perception of politics."

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is mgowen@ljworld.com.

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