(upbeat music) - Welcome to InFocus, I'm Jennifer Fuller.
A special guest on the SIU Carbondale campus this spring is Carl Hulse, the Chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, and he stopped by to have a conversation with us.
Carl, thanks for coming in.
- Thanks for having me.
- It's a busy time.
I'm surprised you're even able to get away for a short period of time.
- Well, I always make a special exception for Illinois as a native so when I got the invitation, I thought, okay, I'll do it.
It's always fun to come to a college campus.
- Your conversation that you're having with students and community members focuses on really what's happening now and kind of looking ahead to 2024.
Is that something that as you gaze into a crystal ball, there's any clarity on right now?
- Well, I think Joe Biden is definitely running for president.
I know that everybody thinks that he hasn't publicly made his announcement, but he's ready to go and then of course, the Republicans have to fight it out, but they have to fight it out with the master fighter who is not showing any signs of backing down, even though he's in some serious legal trouble with more likely to come.
So that'll be interesting.
I think you see Republicans sort of trying to inch into the fray against Trump and he wax them around and then they step back a little bit.
- How will this compare, do you think, to the 2020 contest which pitted Donald Trump against Joe Biden?
- I think that the interesting thing to me is gonna be the Republican party.
So the Republican party in 2020, Trump was the incumbent, there was no sense there that they weren't gonna be fully behind him.
There's some elements of the Republican party, including in the Senate where I spend a lot of time, who really would like to see the end of Donald Trump.
And so how that's all gonna work out compared to 2020 when everybody was pretty all in, it sort of remains to be seen I think.
- That's the interesting question that a lot of people are asking, what does the Republican Party look like and that question is still very much unanswered.
Does it depend on who actually jumps into the race against Donald Trump?
- Yeah, I think so.
And the Republican Party is trying to figure itself out.
Are they the Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican Senate Minority Leader Party, which is a little more of the conventional conservatism, supportive of business, he's very supportive of the war in Ukraine and sort of more politically cagey or the MAGA wing, which is increasingly super conservative, hard right conservative.
You see a lot of pulling back from Ukraine.
Some of the biggest voices in the wing of the party are really saying, we shouldn't be over there.
And of course, in some of the state legislatures around the country, you've seen what's going on in Tennessee, so are you gonna be that party too, which sort of portrays itself as a more populist party than the old style Republican party that kind of aligns with the US Chamber and Commerce.
So they have an identity crisis and I don't think we know how it's gonna work out.
And I do think the primaries will help them figure that out.
Do they end up with Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who's doing a lot of MAGA things, for lack of a better word, but also is trying not to be Trump.
- How much do you think the 2024 election will be issue-based versus personality-based?
- Yeah, I'd like to think it was gonna be issue-based, but our politics are so personality driven now and people just align themselves so quickly with one person or another.
Although there's really big issues out there and I think abortion is probably...
Abortion access, abortion, probably the biggest issue and will be the biggest issue and was probably the biggest issue in 2020 as well.
And right now that plays to the Democrats.
I think that republicans who continue to push some pretty tough restrictions on abortion are out of the mainstream of American thought on this.
Every poll shows that.
And so how they handle that issue itself is gonna be a big...
It's gonna be a big indicator in the election and the Democrats really think they have the upper hand on this, and you can see it in what's going on today and I think that as it goes on, more and more Democrats are gonna emphasize this.
Republicans haven't really settled on a good abortion message yet, a more general mainstream message.
I think you'll hear them talk more about Democrats are for abortion at any point in a pregnancy.
They've tried that, it kind of hasn't really caught on, but this is the big cutting issue and as I say to people, I go, as it turns out, women who aren't even... Would never consider having an abortion don't being like ordered what to do about their healthcare and it was a big backlash and will continue to be.
- We saw that in 2022.
Now there's a lot of talk about the Republicans.
What are the Republicans going to do particularly about the abortion issue or whether it comes to former President Trump versus whoever decides to run against him.
Is that allowing the Democrats to kind of fly under the radar, or what are the challenges that they're facing?
- Well, age is gonna be an issue with President Biden.
A lot of people point to that.
A lot of people think it's time for a generational change.
Just the general state of the economy.
This is what drives races, presidential races.
Even though the president can't really do that much about the economy, and the Fed has more to say about the economy.
So the state of the economy is going to probably determine Joe Biden's fate, but I did a story on this earlier this year.
Democrats actually had a really productive period between 2020 and 2022, and were able to run on some real accomplishments, including infrastructure, big changes in healthcare that really didn't get a lot of attention, but they really expanded healthcare and also climate change.
And so they're out there now, and I'm sure you see it in Illinois stressing, hey, look, we got you this bridge, we got you this road.
So they're really gonna push that, that they were able to accomplish some things, even with Republican opposition.
Not gonna accomplish a lot right now with the Republicans in the house so you kind of have to go back to what you did before and then also say, well, here's the few things we're trying to get done.
But the economy is always gonna be it.
- It's hard to look 18 months out and say, well, the economy will look like this or it will have come through this.
- If you can go to the market.
- Sure, sure, but there are a lot of people talking about the potential for a recession in the next 12 to 18 months.
What impact would that have, do you think, on the 2024?
- It would be very bad for Joe Biden, I think if people were really hurting, but we're in such a strange economy because people keep saying, oh, we could have a recession, but everyone who wants a job pretty much can go get one right now and because of COVID and the shutdown and the way people responded to that, I don't think we've ever really been in this kind of economy.
And I read the same things you do.
It's like, well, maybe it'll be a soft landing.
Maybe it won't be a recession at all.
It's hard to predict what it's gonna be, but if it's a mess, that will really hurt Joe Biden and open them up to no matter who the Republican nominee is, even if it isn't Trump.
- So often when you have these conversations, I'm sure with students, with community members, they talk about what's happening in Washington and how it's going to impact me, but how much of a stake should they have in making sure that they're making the changes in Washington?
- The local folks, a lot.
I mean, civic participation to me is such a huge thing and we just don't do well at it in this country.
People don't pay attention, they don't go vote.
And then you have this movement to make it even harder to vote, and especially college campuses.
There's the Republicans in states around the country, I think Idaho was one of them recently, are really trying to make it hard for students to vote.
They wanna make it so you can't use your student ID as identification.
They don't want polling places on college campuses.
So here we already have this low voter participation, though it was pretty good in 2022 and then people are trying to make it harder because they think it works against them, but I always tell people, don't complain, vote.
You need to get involved.
- You see a lot of young people saying that they're disenchanted with the political system.
That may in fact be a challenge for Democrats in 2024 in terms of moving the Democratic party a little bit even further left in some issues.
Do you think that there will be a ground swell of young people back at the polls?
- The Republicans are worried that that's gonna be...
I saw Kelly Ann Fitzpatrick, who was Kelly Ann Conway, I have known her too long I guess, saying this is a big problem for our party.
We need to take care of the kids on climate change, on abortion, on gay rights.
That party is up against it with younger voters and they're losing them and I think she warned about, a young voter tsunami or something that could wash them away and I think you're gonna see Republicans try and appeal to that group, but I think it's gonna be tough for them.
If the dominant voices in the party are Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia, who's a very outspoken, hard right conservative, or is it gonna be a more normal pitch, but I think young voters have a real chance here to make a difference.
- Certainly, what about the coverage of what's happening in Washington?
And this shines the spotlight a little bit on you, a little bit on journalism in particular, the splintering, the polarization, is there something being lost here in terms of covering the substance of what's happening in Washington versus these personalities continually?
- Yeah, and also just the quick hits, right?
And quitter and yeah, I mean, our business has really evolved.
I've been a reporter for, I hate to say it, 40 plus years, and it's a totally different business.
And of course, we're all gonna be driven by clicks and things that can get more attention.
But at the times we really try and do both.
We're gonna do the stories about the personalities and Biden and what he's up to that way, but also like, okay, healthcare, climate change, we're gonna dig in, we have the resources to do that.
But unfortunately we're rare in the business right now that have those kind of resources, but this is the constant tug and hopefully we can give people both sides.
- It's easy for people to say what can we do and the answer is, well have more subscribers, or get more money into these media engines, but that's not always realistic.
Is there an answer that creates this journalism that is accessible to everyone, but also profitable for those who need it to be?
- That's the model, right?
How do you find that?
We're trying to do that and help with local news outlets.
There's some other people, but this is the biggest concern that I have in journalism.
It's not about covering Washington.
There's a lot of people covering Washington.
In fact, there's too many people covering Washington, and we're all kind of doing the same thing.
What I worry about is somebody who came up in local journalism is who's covering Springfield where as it turns out, a lot of stuff's going on there.
And who's covering Tallahassee, Florida, or Knoxville, Tennessee, where there's a lot happening and so do we do that?
There's a lot of efforts underway, nonprofits, which used to be... We wouldn't even discuss that.
Why would you have a nonprofit news organization and that might be the answer, but it is very, very hard to figure this out.
Axios, which is a digital startup in DC, they're doing a lot in that area, in some big cities where they can set up news organizations.
So going forward, I think it's a challenge and hopefully we're up to it, but this worries me a lot because Washington, there's plenty of coverage coming out of there, but we have to be able to say, hey, what's going on around the rest of the country?
I saw Joe Khan, the executive editor of the Times, recently said we have too many people on the coast and we gotta get more people in the middle.
And so you'll see us do that, but it does take money.
- What should people know when they're looking for good journalism?
When you see all these startups, nonprofits, and it's hard to tell about any sort of political bent that they might have, how does someone, do you think, judge-- - It's hard and there's phony ones, right?
There's a lot of digital news organizations and this is an actual concerted effort to make it look like they're a real news organization, but they're not.
So you have to sort through it and look at who they're quoting.
We do a lot of things that we never would've done in the past, including publishing, like the documents that we get for a story.
It used to be you would write a story and that was it, and everybody, you just take it on faith that we actually have this stuff.
Now we put that up.
We're trying to be much more transparent.
So I would look for transparency.
I would look for people using names with quotes instead of anonymous quotes.
We've really tried to get away from what we call blind quotes.
And there's a whole effort to educate people.
And there's various groups starting up, like to teach in school kids how to recognize fake news, if I can.
I hate to say that term, and I think it's evolving.
How do you do that, tell people, but I think people also have a pretty good sense for themselves, that sounds like BS, and try and stay away from those things, but you have to learn to sort through it.
It's just like we're deluge with all these scams.
How do you figure out on your phone, oh wait, is this really Amazon or is this someone trying to get my credit card number?
You have to do that with the media.
- Sure, in Illinois, there is a law that requires high school students to have some media literacy and take some classes.
- That's a great thing.
- Do you find when you are out on the road on events like this, you probably wake up every morning and know fairly certainly what you're going to cover from one day to the next, but do you get questions when you're out on the road like this that make you go, oh, that is something I hadn't considered before.
- Yeah, I do actually and excuse me, I think growing up in the Midwest actually really helped me as a reporter.
It really did because I worked construction jobs.
I kind of get what people here might think about something as opposed to growing up on the East Coast or California, but you do hear, and it sort of opened your eyes sometimes like wow, I hadn't even really thought about that.
So I like being out and talking to people.
I spent a lot of time in the US Capitol, and trust me, that is a bubble, kinda shaped like a bubble, but you can really get lost in there.
Too insider-y so it's good to get around.
- Outside the beltway, so to speak.
A lot of people have talked over the last several years about those flyover states and the fact that perhaps, they had been forgotten for so long that that's how politics really took, in some cases, a big right turn or a big left turn because people weren't paying attention to what's known as the middle.
Is that something that you see the two major parties coming back to?
- I think that they're trying to.
I think Democrats realize they've lost a little bit of that working class appeal, and I think they're trying to get it back.
But you see what happened in Michigan in the last election, Democrats had a tremendous election in Michigan where they'd been struggling.
And I think you're seeing them going, we need to reconnect.
We thought we were gonna... President Obama had a great coalition of young voters and African-American voters and high income white voters and the Democrats I think thought that was gonna be their future and that we can just build on that and they will admit this too, they forgot a little bit of their labor working class origins and I think they are trying to get back to that.
Now the Republicans of course have kind of gone the other way from big business in some ways and energy, although energy's still a big supporter though, to the more working class voters.
So they're big competition there, but the real competition, honestly, is for suburban voters.
- Those purple areas, little bit red, little bit blue.
So what are the key issues, you mentioned abortion.
Are there other issues in those kind of middle of the road?
- Climate change continues to be a big one there.
These storms really worry people and basically suburban women are a key voting block.
It's like what are my kids gonna have in the future?
What are our schools like?
And that's why you see in Virginia, the Governor Glenn Youngkin went on this, hey, we need to be responsible for our kids' education issues.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat who ran in that race, made a fatal error in a debate where he said, parents shouldn't have that much to do with what their kids are learning.
I think we all recognize that immediately as a big problem for the Democrats in Virginia, they lost that race.
And so education is a big thing.
I think just basically the future.
This is what women voters, in the suburbs of Philadelphia for instance, are looking at and are worried about.
It's like, what's gonna happen with my kids?
- Obviously-- - Crime, I mean public safety as Democrats like to refer to it.
I think that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker who barely lost the majority, was actually a fairly good showing for the Democrats, mainly cause of abortion, but said, if we would've had a better message on public safety in New York, we would've held onto the house.
Everybody's gotta figure that issue out because it's scaring people.
- And those are certainly things they've already started talking about in those closed door meetings and political strategy groups and things like that.
When people are watching the polling as we get beyond the primaries and whatnot, and they're starting to look at how they think states are going to go, they're always looking at states like Florida, states like Ohio, but there were new states in 2020 that surprised people.
Do you think you'll see the same in '24?
- I mean, Florida is a Republican state now.
I spent a lot of time working in Florida.
It's a different state, home to both Trump and DeSantis.
So Ohio, pretty Republican state, used to be a big swing state.
Missouri, used to be a really big swing state, that used to be the one that everyone watched.
Well, they're not watching that anymore.
So it's the West, right?
Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, I mean, those are where people are looking at.
That's the new kind of battleground and Georgia.
Georgia has two Democratic senators right now and a very effective Republican governor who's broken with Trump.
So Georgia's sort of this great battleground, which way is it gonna go?
So those are the states that we kind of look at.
Now, Illinois of course, pretty solidly in the blue column overall, although not so much everywhere in the state as you know.
So I mean, I see the fight, Georgia, North Carolina to some degree, but mainly in the west.
- So as we record this in the middle of April, there is a lot to be paying attention to, but you mentioned Georgia and there's some talk that there could be federal charges for former President Trump coming out of his involvement in the election from Georgia.
Is that something that people need to be paying attention to?
- I think that if you talk to Democrats in Washington, the New York case, they were happy to honestly see Trump indicted and be held accountable, but they're much more interested in an election related investigation of Trump, what his attempt to overturn the election, I mean plain and simple, and what he did then to stoke January 6th.
So I do think that you're gonna see a lot of focus there.
It does look like something's gonna happen.
And the federal investigation, that's a state investigation in Georgia, the federal investigation into January 6th and the falsehoods around the election and now some fundraising related to that.
I mean, that seems very, very serious.
So there's a lot to come yet on Donald Trump.
- There's certainly a lot to watch there.
There are a lot of Republicans, however, saying if you're going to hold Donald Trump accountable, why haven't we seen a more thorough investigation they're saying into Hunter Biden.
- There is an investigation ongoing there and we'll have to see what that turns up, but I don't know that the two are comparable, honestly.
There's been an awful lot of looking at Hunter's laptop and so far really hasn't produced anything.
- Are the two comparable in terms of people being held accountable for their actions?
- That's a fair question and I think we'll have to see.
I think that the Justice Department, Merrick Garland is a fairly square, to use the old term, straight shooting guy.
I think if they do, I don't get him as the kind of person who would cover something up, honestly, if they do produce something.
- In your conversations, as you go and talk to community members on your visit here in Carbondale and elsewhere, I'm sure you talk to a lot of people who want to be more civically minded, but what about future journalists?
What do they need to know that perhaps they're not being told in classrooms or even working on student journalism projects?
- Be ready for anything.
That's always my advice.
Learn to code, which seems funny to come from me like a dinosaur in this business, but it's so changing.
It changes all the time.
So for somebody like me who's been at it so long, but I do TV, I do digital media, the Times is so moving away from the front page of the print edition that they've kind of conditioned us not to even pay attention what's going on the front page of the paper now, which is really a shock to me.
I had a story on the front page the other day that I didn't even know it was on the front page.
So that's a big change in journalism, but you just have to be adaptable, but you still have to write.
- If the readers then are looking for top stories, should they be looking to the front page or should they be looking to social media or elsewhere?
- I would be looking at the digital version of the New York Times, although the paper is still great, we're moving so fast during the day.
When I started out, you would write a story and get in the paper.
Now you're writing all day and it's pretty constant.
But I do think the key is you still have to be able to write, you have to synthesize information, you have to be fair.
Everybody talks, oh, there's false balance.
No, there's false balance, it's not a great thing, but you have to be fair, everybody needs to have their shot and I do think that's a tougher thing now because people are so partisan or like they're so opinionated.
It's hard for them.
I think it'll be hard for people coming up in the business to separate their own opinions from what they're writing about.
You can have opinions.
I have plenty of opinions and I've shared a few here, but you have to kind of still keep that out of the copy and I think that's tough.
And I do think there's a push with Fox News or say Health Post on the other side, a more old school kind of journalism where it had a partisan tinge to it.
Well, I'm still not comfortable with that.
- An entire show could be had just on that topic alone.
But for now, we're out of time.
Carl Hulse, thanks so much for your time.
- Yeah, it's great, good questions.
- Thank you for joining us.
On InFocus, you can find this and all of our episodes online at wsiu.org and via our YouTube channel, I'm Jennifer Fuller.