Perks of the Parks As superintendent of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Sula Jacobs ’00 enthusiastically promotes the virtues of the National Park Service, which turned 100 years old this year.
“To me, every park has this magic. They are really unique and special, and they were designated as National Park Service units for a reason.”
Sula Jacobs ’00 loves national parks so much that she jokingly refers to it as a “sickness.” It doesn’t look like she’ll recover from this obsession anytime soon — as superintendent of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, she gets a fix nearly every day.
When she isn’t overseeing operations at the park, which covers just under 25,000 acres and straddles Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, Jacobs spends her days off hiking its 80-plus miles of trails with her yellow lab, Eva, or visiting other national parks around the country.
“I love to go to national parks. They each have their charms,” Jacobs said. “To me, every park has this magic. They are really unique and special, and they were designated as National Park Service units for a reason.”
This year marks 100 years since President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the park service on Aug. 25, 1916. Since then, the National Park System has grown to cover more than 83 million acres of parks across the U.S. and the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and Saipan.
Jacobs, who is one of more than 20,000 NPS employees, said the only place that has captured her affection as much as national parks is her alma mater. She remembers the day she and her father arrived on the W&L campus after an exhausting tour of potential colleges.
“I remember just taking a few steps up that path that goes to Lee Chapel, and looking at the Colonnade,” she said. “Everyone seemed so relaxed. I turned to my father and said, ‘I think I could call this place home for four years.’ From that point, I was desperate. I really wanted to go to Washington and Lee.”
Jacobs graduated from W&L with degrees in economics and East Asian studies, then worked as a strategic consultant before going on to earn a master’s degree in public policy from the University of California at Berkeley. During grad school, she interned at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She worked for a time as a management analyst for the Office of Comptroller in Washington, D.C., but she kept thinking back to how much she enjoyed that internship.
In 2006, she began work as an administrative officer at the George Washington Memorial Parkway in McLean, Virginia. She then worked as assistant superintendent at Biscayne National Park in southern Florida before being named superintendent at Cumberland Gap in 2014. Along the way, she also had temporary detail assignments at other parks, including Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas National Monuments in St. Augustine, Florida.
Jacobs, who grew up in New York state, says that moving to Cumberland Gap felt like a return to her rural roots.
“It’s mostly the community feeling you get,” she said. “It really reminds me a lot of where I grew up. You feel like you are in a place you can call home.”
Jacobs’ days on the job vary extensively. One day might find her walking a creek bed with biologists to talk about a threatened fish species. On another day, she may analyze the park budget, interview prospective employees or attend meetings. She especially enjoys working with partner agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or various state parks.
“You never know who you are going to meet as part of the job,” she said. “You never know who you are going to form those partnerships with to solve a problem and come up with a solution that’s going to benefit everybody.”
While it may not seem as if degrees in economics and East Asian studies naturally lend themselves to a job in the National Park Service, Jacobs says her entire learning experience at W&L has had a positive impact on her career.
“The ability to think and be analytical while also taking in the full picture is definitely something that both majors taught me. Whether it is an endangered species or whether or not to open a road at sunrise to allow photographers to take pictures, all of that forces you to be both analytical and think broadly,” she said. “Even the general education requirements at W&L, forcing you to take classes outside of your major to expand your palate for learning, really pushes your area of expertise and understanding.”
One of Jacobs’ favorite projects as superintendent of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park was planning the massive celebration they held there in April to mark the park service’s 100th birthday and the release of Kentucky’s America the Beautiful coin, which features an image of the park on one side. The event took two years to plan, stretched across three days, and featured hundreds of history reenactors, special guests from parks across the country, and a special film made by a park service employee.
Best of all, she said, more than 2,500 children crowded the event tent and took the Junior Ranger Pledge. “It was absolutely one of the most amazing things I have ever seen,” she said.
As part of her aforementioned “sickness,” Jacobs sometimes asks people which national parks they’ve visited, a conversation that segues into recommendations for other parks they might enjoy. She is enamoured with so many aspects of the park system, including the people who work for it, its beautiful hidden (and not-so-hidden) gems, and the amazing stories one can find at any park unit.
“I think that’s the great thing about the park service. We tell these really deep stories, as well as historic stories,” she said. “So I love the combination between paying attention to cultural and natural resources and not forgetting about the recreational aspect. You have to take into account all three things.”
As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial, we’d like to also recognize other alumni who have dedicated their careers to the NPS:
Tim Clark ‘91 has been the marine ecologist for the National Park of American Samoa for six years. His job is to preserve and protect the corals, algae, fish and invertebrates that live in the park, which is spread over three islands in American Samoa. His program monitors the health of marine life in the park, manages problems, and conducts research on how to best manage the park’s marine ecosystems. They also do educational programs. “Hopefully this work will keep the coral reefs of American Samoa healthy and vibrant for future generations of visitors and local Samoans,” Clark said.
Frank O’Reilly ‘87 is lead historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He has been employed with the NPS for 29 years. He spends his days writing, lecturing and leading staff rides and tours focused on the Civil War. He has written several books on the Civil War, including a 2003 Pulitzer Prize nominee in Letters, “The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock.” He also served as the Civil War Sesquicentennial special events coordinator for the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and the Overland Campaign’s 150th anniversary national commemorations, and participated in the 150th anniversaries of the Battle of First Manassas (or Bull Run), Antietam, and Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. “I have spoken across the USA and the UK, even lecturing at Oxford,” O’Reilly said, “but the highlight for me was speaking in Lee Chapel on Remembering Lee in 2013.”
Jeff Driscoll ’72 is a ranger at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park in Middletown, Virginia. Prior to that, he worked in the Education Office at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Driscoll’s job involves giving tours, talks and programs about the Battle of Cedar Creek, as well as other Civil War battles that took place in the Shenandoah Valley. Said Driscoll, “The personal awards are many: meeting people from all over the country — and the world; having the opportunity to learn more about this incredibly important time in our country’s history, then being allowed to share that knowledge and interest with our visitors; and working with some of the finest people you’d ever want to know.”
Did we miss someone? Please let us know by emailing Lindsey Nair at email@example.com.
To learn more about Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, visit the park website.
Journalism in a New Age Alecia Swasy's new book tackles the impact of social media on journalism.
Coverage of the Economy
Media Management and Entrepreneurship
“How Journalists Use Twitter: The Changing Landscape of U.S Newsrooms” (2016)
“Changing Focus: Kodak and the Battle to Save a Great American Company” (1996)
“Soap Opera: The Inside Story of Procter & Gamble” (1993)
Listen to an in-depth interview with Alecia Swasy on her book, “How Journalists Use Twitter,” on the New Books Network.
Q: Your new book, “How Journalists Use Twitter,” is particularly pertinent this election. What is the main takeaway?
A: Social media is an amazing phenomenon that has changed how we do business in an era where anyone with an internet connection can become a publisher. It democratizes the news vs. the days when only the rich could build a printing press. But it’s also quite frightening. Look what it did to this presidential campaign. Trump hijacked the news cycle at 3 a.m. with his tweets, which journalists used to set the news agenda, rather than the normal, thoughtful discussion about what’s most important in all the other domestic and foreign issues of the day. It made the coverage of both Democrats and Republicans lopsided and lacking in depth about what’s really going on in most hometowns, which are a long way from D.C. or Manhattan. And now the pundits and pollsters are stunned by the outcome. There is anger among voters, who feel ignored in the national debate. In the aftermath, I hope there will be calm, peaceful reflection and conversations about where the line is. One of the things that angered me from day one, especially with TV news, was a basic question: What is news? Just because the circus comes to town doesn’t mean we need to cover the clowns every night. Yet that’s what it became. It’s exhausting.
“Twitter” evolved from a project I worked on while I was a Ph.D. student. During the 2012 presidential election, a group of us worked with four metro papers and asked readers to tweet to certain handles about the debates. We captured those tweets in real time for the papers to post on their websites and the next day’s papers. It was fascinating to me. I was never active on social media — I never had the time and much prefer to talk to people on the phone — but I realized that it was a force to be reckoned with. During one of the debates, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, the dean of broadcasting, came on after a commercial and apologized to viewers for using the term “schizophrenic” to refer to voters. He had been called out on Twitter. So what used to be a passive audience is now talking back to you. It would usually take days or the Sunday morning talk-show circuit to critique what Brokaw said. But here, instantaneously, he’d been called out and had to respond immediately. Twitter has changed not only what journalists cover, but how they disseminate that information.
Before Twitter, journalists used to do the best they could right up until the presses rolled. Now they are rolling all the time. What I’ve noticed is that millennials now view their career differently from when I started. I was always Alecia Swasy of the Wall Street Journal. They want to be Alecia Swasy Inc. They are creating and nurturing a brand so they can be more portable, because they don’t know if the news organization they are currently working for will be around in five years.
Q: In your first book, “Soap Opera,” you exposed some unsavory details of Procter & Gamble’s business dealings. The CEO, Ed Artzt, wasn’t happy. What happened?
A: P&G got law enforcement and Cincinnati Bell to turn over millions of phone records of anyone who called me at the WSJ or home. It was a witch-hunt to find out who was talking to me. This was a chilling invasion of privacy way before the NSA made it an everyday event. Ed Artzt, the CEO, used the obscure Ohio trade secrets law, which is supposed to protect the secret formula to Tide or Crest, to get ahold of the phone numbers. He thought he could control the media. My stories, which were confirmed many times as accurate, detailed P&G’s failed food and beverage business. It ticked him off. It was “Shoot the messenger” and “You’re liars.” Because of him, I was the target of a police and phone investigation. I was followed and harassed by the company. It was an interesting time, and that experience became the last chapter of my book, “The Dark Side of the Moon.”
My brother subscribes to the Journal, so I knew I had to warn my elderly mother that I was about to be page-one news around the globe. I explained that P&G was playing hardball with me, but the Journal and Random House stood behind me. She slammed her coffee cup down on the table and said, “No more Tide in this house.” I told her she’d also have to dump her coffee, because “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” I still don’t buy any P&G products.
Q: Your next book, “Changing Focus,” was quite a different experience.
A: I switched gears for that book. At the end of every year, companies will fire thousands of people, their stock will go up by X number of dollars, and the Wall Street Journal will give them a couple of inches. I wanted to cover the story from the minute an employee got home and said, “Honey, I just lost my job.” I took a long time to troll around the Rust Belt to find my company and ended up at Kodak. At that time, the CEO was new, and he understood how to work with the media. He pretty much gave me free rein.
I spent about 2½ years in Rochester doing more than 300 interviews. It’s always nice, of course, to get a good book review in The New York Times, but for me it was hearing from the people who told me I found the right words to tell their stories. It’s difficult to be just an observer. Often, the couples I profiled would talk to each other through me. And that’s when you go, “Oh, boy, I’m not a trained counselor.” You say a little prayer and hope for wisdom and let them talk. I’m always amazed by how much people will tell you. They told me about their financial situation, their love life, their children, their heartache. You want to do them justice. What ticks me off is when critics try to portray journalists as running roughshod over everything. If they only knew how much we sweat the details. Anyone who has come to an editorial meeting at the WSJ, or any number of papers, comes away going, “Wow, I had no idea there was such debate.” We care. We care so much.
Q: Are you hopeful for the future of journalism?
A: I had someone ask me, given everything that is going on, how do you get up in the morning? My answer: with great exuberance, because I get to teach journalism at a time when now, more than ever, it is essential for our democracy. We must train the next generation how to do it right. I take great pride in that because I am an optimist and the truth will prevail. It’s invigorating to get to teach. I love it.
Changes have been seismic in journalism. There is a fantastic opportunity with the explosion of smartphones and social media and the democratization of the news, where we now can get pictures and news where we no longer have boots on the ground. At the same time, you have this deluge of bad information. That has some serious ripple effects in terms of telling the truth and getting out the message.
Any time I meet a parent who has indigestion about their son or daughter going into journalism, I say, “Wow — I don’t think news is going away, do you? Politics is never going to be tame. And how about Wall Street, and let’s talk about Hollywood and the NFL.” And then they start smiling. Journalism’s business model, the traditional one, is antiquated, and we have to figure out ways to continue to do the investigative journalism, keep the lights on and also try to serve up the whole buffet of information people want. I do not ever want us to become a Kardashian kind of culture, where it’s the lowest common denominator of information. It’s OK to give people entertainment news, but for God’s sake, we’ve got to teach them what is going on in the world.
Q: You’ve got an interesting Spring Term class in 2017. Where are you and your students going?
A: My class is Media Management and Entrepreneurship. I’ve got the Charlotte Observer to partner with me and 12 students, and we are going to parachute in there for a few days and break into teams. Each team is going to come up with a product or a strategy on how to increase millennial traffic to the Observer’s website. It’s a dynamic market with two competing millennial publications in that city already, Charlotte 5 and the Charlotte Agenda. Figuring out how to increase readership is the elusive hunt that has been going on forever.
Q: What’s your next project?
A: I’m going back to an old favorite, which will take me back to a small town in West Virginia. I wrote a couple of stories about 20 years ago on single moms in the Appalachian region, and I’ve been haunted by them. It’s one of those times where I feel a responsibility as a journalist to tell the haves about the have-nots. In America, there is an increasingly big gulf between the two. Everybody should care about that. I know so many people who are one illness away from financial disaster. It is scary.
W&L Announces November Community Grants
Washington and Lee University’s Community Grants Committee has made 10 grants totaling $24,736.22 to non-profit organizations in Lexington and Rockbridge County. They are the first part of its two rounds of grants for 2016-17.
The committee chose the grants from 16 proposals requesting over $96,000.
W&L awarded grants to the following organizations:
- The Community Closet at Christ Church, Buena Vista: Funds to help improve the living conditions of the needy in Rockbridge County
- The Community Table of Buena Vista, Inc.: Funds to assist TCT to purchase food
- Hoofbeats Therapeutic Riding Center: Purchase bitless bridles
- Lexington Lyme Disease Support Group: To purchase educational materials regarding Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses
- Miller’s House Museum Foundation: Establish an interpretive walking trail at Jordan’s Point
- Natural Bridge/Glasgow Food Pantry, Inc.: Funds will be used for food purchase and operational expenses
- Rockbridge Area Relief Association: Help provide heating fuel for at-risk neighbors
- Rockbridge Area Transportation System, Inc.: Funds to assist with the purchase of a new handicap vehicle
- Rockbridge Area Youth Strings (c/o Fine Arts In Rockbridge): Funds to purchase cases for existing instruments and a ¾-size double bass
- Rockbridge Regional Library Youth Services Department: Fund the STEAM after-school program
Established in 2008, W&L’s Community Grants Committee evaluates requests for financial donations and support from Lexington and Rockbridge County. While the University has long provided financial and other assistance to worthwhile projects and organizations in the community on a case-by-case basis, the Community Grants Program formalizes W&L’s role in supporting regional organizations and activities through accessible grant-making.
During its 2015-16 cycle, the Community Grants Committee awarded $50,000. Proposals may be submitted at any time, but they are reviewed only semiannually. The submission deadline for the second round of evaluations for 2016-17 will be: by the end of the work day (4:30 p.m.) on Friday, April 14, 2017. Interested parties may download the proposal guidelines at http://go.wlu.edu/communitygrants.
Proposals should be submitted as electronic attachments (Word or PDF) via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please call (540) 458-8417 with questions. If an electronic submission is not possible, materials may be faxed to (540) 458-8745 or mailed to Washington and Lee University Community Grants Committee, Attn: James D. Farrar, Jr., Office of the Secretary, 204 W. Washington St., Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450-2116.
Standing Up for LGBT Rights Leading the Fight for Equality for All Americans
“When marriage equality was resolved, there was a vacuum in discussing LGBT issues. Now that is changing.”
When legislation focused on LGBT issues works its way through the U.S. House of Representatives, there is a very good chance that Roddy Flynn ’12L has been involved behind the scenes, crafting strategy and educating members of Congress.
For the past year, Flynn has served as executive director of the LGBT Caucus, a group of 87 representatives engaged in strategy to turn issues of concern to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people into legislation or executive action.
“My job is to give shape and strategy to LGBT legislation,” he said. While the job is self-directed — “I can plan my own initiatives” — he tries to be responsive to what House members want. “We focus on policy development and ask what we can do to help.” The answer might be to draft legislation or ask the executive branch to act.
Flynn discussed his job and the issues he tackles on the national level at a recent Embracing Diversity symposium on campus.
He is proud that during his first year with the caucus, he was able to organize a landmark congressional forum on violence against the transgender community — the first time transgender issues have been the sole focus of congressional testimony.
The forum was set up much like a formal congressional hearing. “I reserved a hearing room and had 12 House members on the dais,” said Flynn. He recruited witnesses to discuss transgender issues in such areas as employment and housing discrimination. “It is a multi-faceted problem.”
News outlets from around the world covered the forum, which Flynn said successfully raised transgender issues to high levels of government, such as the departments of Justice and Education.
Flynn has also helped create and serves as managing director of Equality PAC, a political action committee that works for the election of openly LGBT candidates and strong allies to federal office.
Flynn received his undergraduate degree from American University, where he majored in interdisciplinary studies in political communication and economics. After graduating from W&L School of Law, he clerked for Justice Henry DuPont Ridgely of the Delaware Supreme Court and then spent two years practicing commercial and intellectual property law with Richards, Layton & Finger PA, in Wilmington, Deleware.
While in Delaware, Flynn helped form an LGBT bar association, which now is a section of the Delaware Bar. He also coordinated LGBT pro bono efforts in such areas as family court and insurance. Through those activities, Flynn got to know his congressman, Rep. John Carney.
Through Rep. Carney, Flynn learned of the House caucus job, and although the job “was completely unplanned,” he saw it as an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. “I’ve learned not to plan too much,” he said.
Flynn thinks the caucus is making progress. “When marriage equality was resolved, there was a vacuum in discussing LGBT issues. Now that is changing.”
He has worked hard to develop strategy for the House’s Equality Act, which amends the Civil Rights Act. “It is a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill that creates more awareness of how LGBT issues reach into areas other than marriage,” he said, citing employment, housing, public accommodation, jury duty and other areas
While at W&L, Flynn was the head Kirgis Fellow, which gave him the opportunity to run orientation for the 1L class. He also was a Burks Scholar, a position that allowed him to teach legal research and writing to 1Ls.
He fondly remembers Ann Massie, professor of law emeritus, who taught bioethics and constitutional law. “She pushed everyone to think through issues, such as assisted suicide and surrogacy.” Brian Murchison, the Charles S. Rowe Professor of Law, taught him administrative law and is someone Flynn continues to consult when he wants another opinion. He also credits professors Sarah Wiant ’75L and J.D. King with influencing his career path.
Flynn acknowledges some frustration that Congress moves so slowly. “I’m goal oriented and like to accomplish things,” he said. What makes him happiest in his work is “when I can get a member who doesn’t understand the urgency of an issue to become a full activist or co-sponsor.”
He doesn’t have much time for hobbies these days. “My job is my entire life,” he said. However, he likes to cook and says baking relaxes him. Cooking Italian or American comfort food “provides satisfaction and makes me feel good.”
His path toward his current work on behalf of the LGBT community might have been set at his graduation from W&L Law School, when he received the Calhoun-Bond Award for exceptional service to the university. He believes it was an acknowledgement of the work he did on campus on behalf of the undergrad LGBT population.
W&L’s Strong Reflects on Somalia’s 1992 Thanksgiving
“Memories of the Black Hawks being brought down make people think of Somalia as being a U.S. foreign-policy failure. It wasn’t.”
The following opinion piece by Bob Strong, William Lyne Wilson Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee, appeared in Newsweek on November 23, 2016, and is reprinted here by permission.
Somalia’s 1992 Thanksgiving: Reflections on U.S. Humanitarian Intervention in the Horn of Africa
On the eve of Thanksgiving in 1992, then-U.S. president George H. W. Bush, in his final weeks in office, approved a major military intervention to relieve a humanitarian crisis in Somalia.
After losing his bid for re-election, Bush was not expected to make any dramatic foreign-policy decisions; lame ducks rarely quack or take unexpected steps. But the first president Bush did.
Today, we vividly remember the chain of events during the Bill Clinton presidency that led to the American withdrawal from Somalia in 1994—the shot-down Black Hawk helicopters, the body of a U.S. soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the angry crowds taunting American military personnel. We sometimes forget that those tragic events were preceded by a successful mission that saved lives in a war-torn nation on the brink of self-destruction.
In the early 1990s, a bitter civil war freed the people of Somalia from a brutal dictator, Siad Barre, but failed to re-establish order and stability when clan leaders and their militias fought over succession. A combination of civil war, clan conflict, refugee dislocation and drought left the nation unable to feed its population. The emergency generated a routine international response with shipments of food, medicine and relief workers making their way to the country. But continued fighting, particularly in the south and the capital Mogadishu, was so pervasive that the effective distribution of aid was impossible.
When then U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, visited refugee camps on the border with Somalia in the summer of 1992, he described his visit in a memo to Washington titled, “A Day in Hell.” In Somalia, hellish starvation and malnutrition were rampant, and as with every famine, the first to die were the young, the old and the infirm. An estimated one in four children under the age of five years old died in the famine, according to some estimates.
In August 1992, the U.S. began an airlift of food and medicine to the southern regions that were inaccessible to relief convoys. These supplies made a difference, but far too often food was captured on the ground by armed groups, who hoarded it and used relief packages as a currency in the crippled Somali economy. Journalists who were able to get to the refugee camps and remote locations within Somalia came back with harrowing stories and pictures of desperation.
The pictures made their way to television screens, first on CNN—where more resources were devoted to the Somalia story—and then more broadly across the media landscape. Two days before Thanksgiving, on the night before President Bush made his decision to send over 28,000 US troops, NBC broadcast heart-wrenching black-and-white photographs of starving Somali children. Tom Brokaw told his viewers: “In Somalia, children under the age of five have all but disappeared…. It’s a place where a thousand die today, and a thousand will die tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.”
The vivid media coverage gave rise to what came to be called the ‘CNN effect’—the theory that widespread media coverage can influence foreign-policy decisions. With this came the suggestion that the U.S. military intervention was the product of excessively emotional public and presidential reaction to images of suffering and starvation.
There is some truth to that conclusion, but less than many commentators recognize. The wheels of government move slowly and it was not a sudden and surprising presidential decision the day after the NBC broadcast that turned everything around. The staff planning in the Pentagon for possible military action began weeks before the final presidential decision. During those weeks, State Department memorandums made the case that only a U.S. intervention could quickly end the famine. Members of Congress and newspaper columnists lobbied for action.
Bush had a long-term interest in the Somali situation and a consistent desire to do something about it. He ordered the airlift in August, then a full-scale intervention in November after the election. Those who knew him well thought of him as a humanitarian who would surely offer U.S. assistance if the risks to our military forces were deemed acceptable.
When the marines landed in Somalia, there were television cameras on the beach and no serious resistance. Explicit diplomatic warnings and the arrival of an overwhelming military force cowered the clan leaders and allowed for the rapid distribution of food and medicine. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger later told me that the U.S. helped the people of Somalia because it was right, and because it could.
Memories of the Black Hawks being brought down make people think of Somalia as being a U.S. foreign-policy failure. It wasn’t. Tens–perhaps even hundreds–of thousands of lives were saved by the American protected distribution of aid. For Somalia in the final weeks of 1992, there was a very real reason for Thanksgiving.
Robert Strong is a professor of politics at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
W&L’s Rush Shares a Thanksgiving Prayer
“I would encourage angry observers to look to another American tradition that transcends and predates our politics: Thanksgiving.”
The following opinion piece by Mark Rush, Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law and director of international education at Washington and Lee, appeared in the The Roanoke Times on November 24, 2016, and is reprinted here by permission.
A Thanksgiving prayer
I served as dean of a college in the Middle East for three years. It was impressive to see and hear the United States discussed so frequently in critical terms by denizens of a part of the world in which anti-western sentiment is common.
Questions about the USA frequently focused on our politics. Over there, it didn’t matter if the president were a Democrat or a Republican. American military presence in the region had endured under both parties and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bore the imprimatur of Democrats and Republicans. From this perspective, it was never difficult for an observer to identify the contradictions in our political rhetoric, to find reason to cast aspersions on the performance of our political system or, simply, to be angry with the United States.
This same sort of visceral anger has rendered this election year perhaps the most regrettable, divisive, dangerous, ominous… (the list of adjectives goes on) in our history. The tenor of presidential debates was debased as the candidates spent as much time trading insults as they did addressing the pressing economic problems and growing economic inequality that generate fear and anger among voters of all races and walks of life.
In retrospect, it is horrifying to see that our political system is now as adept at generating anti-Americanism at home as it has been abroad.
It was, at first, a great challenge to try to explain the beauty of the USA to people whose views of our politics and culture are shaped by the same media that has taken sides in this election. As long as an observer focused on our contemporary politics, it was difficult to convince him or her to look further or more deeply.
As an antidote to this outlook (or perhaps, as a distraction), I would encourage angry observers to look to another American tradition that transcends and predates our politics: Thanksgiving. No, not Christmas or the 4th of July…no presents, fireworks, flag waving or gifts that had to be returned. Instead, I encouraged folks to look at the holiday on which Americans put aside politics, join hands in thanks and share a meal that symbolizes the celebration of the harvest.
This is, I would argue, American culture at its best. It was not an exaggeration, I would tell them, that even mortal enemies’ hearts would soften if they knew that someone was spending Thanksgiving alone. Better to share a meal and fall asleep watching football than to expend energy on divisive politics. Life is better if enemies pause occasionally to find common ground (and acknowledge that it exists). It was amazing and heartwarming to see that even the most visceral critics of our politics would soften at the thought of our Thanksgiving tradition.
It is serendipitous that Thanksgiving comes just a couple of weeks after Election Day. This year, more than ever, the country needs to rediscover its common ground in the wake of an election that has exposed and rubbed salt in virtually every political wound imaginable. Despite occasional acknowledgments of accord (Kaine and Pence agreed that our communities and police need to heal wounds and work together) and respect (by God, Donald Trump is a good father and Hillary Clinton is a tenacious fighter) our presidential candidates have done little to suggest that the country can move forward together to solve the economic problems that divide it.
Despite the damage done to the electorate by the septic rhetoric of the presidential campaign and the fallout of the election, Thanksgiving looms once again as a chance to demonstrate to ourselves that there is more that unites the nation than divides it. In ancient Greece, city-states would pause wars and put down their weapons to celebrate the Olympics. Maybe the country can put this election behind us in a spirit of Thanksgiving … Amen.
Journalism Professor Alecia Swasy on Media Coverage of Rural America
“We must teach rigorous, critical thinking so young reporters will be more skeptical and dogged to find the best sources, unpack promises, reveal hidden agendas and follow the money trails.”
Alecia Swasy, Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism at Washington and Lee University, wrote about the media’s coverage of rural America on the Poynter Institute’s website.
Swasy, who has spent seven years studying the topic, analyzing thousands of articles over a fifty year period, argues that “despite the criticism of the biggest newspapers as being out of touch, the best coverage of serious issues facing rural America has been delivered by the New York Times and The Washington Post. Both look for stories that put a face on what really happens when policies made miles away in Congress hit small towns.”
Acknowledging that today’s news media face real challenges in providing consistent coverage of America’s heartland, Swasy points out that the problem is also one of politics. “Just like the problems that vex rural America’s poor, there’s another thing that doesn’t change much — politicians don’t show up in these parts. The reason is quite simple: the back roads of Kentucky and West Virginia do not attract $10,000 a plate fundraiser dinners of filet mignon and haricot verts.”
You can read the full essay below or on poynter.org.
Actually, journalists aren’t failing rural America
By Alecia Swasy • November 28, 2016 • Reprinted by permission
A striking miner sat in a tin-roofed picket shack, whittling a long branch into the shape of a baseball bat. Here in Southwest Virginia’s coal towns, hundreds of union miners like him had walked out of Pittston Coal’s mines in 1989 to protest cuts in health benefits.
As a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, I visited the shack to get the miners’ side of the story. When I introduced myself, the miner leapt from his seat and screamed: “Go home, bitch!”
Being young and, well, rather stupid, I argued with the bat-wielding man. Don’t assume that I write only for CEOs, I told him. I’m a farm kid from Pennsylvania coal country. My brother-in-law, Ben Hill, is a roof bolter and shuttle car operator for R&P Coal and a proud member of the UMWA, Local 3548.
The miner smiled, and invited me to sit down and talk. He helped me tell a far richer, more nuanced story of the older miners on strike, men who watched their college-educated sons cross those picket line to work as engineers and managers inside the Pittston office. They were proud that their backbreaking labor meant their children didn’t have to work in dark, dank mines.
Fast-forward to 2016, and much of the post-mortem election discussions focus on whether journalists spend enough time talking to the folks in places like Southwest Virginia.
The pundits, politicians, journalists and academics are scrambling to figure out what happened. The “peasants” rose up. The wage gap fueled anger. Main Street is fed up with Wall Street. In short, nobody is really listening to one another.
Part of the election autopsy has been a predictable “blame the media” refrain that naturally follows when the polls and front pages missed what was really happening in the heartland. In reality, the ebb and flow of coverage of “the haves and have-nots” has been the same for 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the “War on Poverty,” a pledge to create better schools, jobs and highways to connect Appalachia with the prosperity enjoyed in the rest of post-World War II America.
LIFE magazine’s black-and-white photo essay in January 1964 showed Delphi Mobley and her daughter, Riva, who was sick with measles in a family that couldn’t pay for a doctor. Other news reports followed, but soon vanished as the media and politicians focused on Vietnam — LBJ’s other war, which got more funding and ink.
The next five decades repeated the cycle of political and media interest in rural America. The U.S. economic picture was a story of boom and bust for the bulk of Americans: “greed is good” turned into overleveraged consumers. Then all news focused on America’s most frightening and unexpected war — the war on terrorism. Next was the Great Recession in 2008. Once major cities shook that off, the ongoing financial woes of small-town American life remained an occasional story.
So, do we just “shoot the messenger?” It’s not that simple. To understand Main Street America, journalists now must explain the global marketplace, including the meteoric rise of China and India, and the geopolitical stakes of instability in North Korea, Pakistan and Syria.
As a journalist-turned-Ph.D., I’m still chasing stories that matter, especially in this growing gulf between “the haves and have-nots.” I’ve spent seven years studying how the news media cover rural America. For this research, I analyzed thousands of articles spanning 50 years from 1964-2014. The stories were collected in 2009 and again in 2014 from the nation’s largest newspapers, news weekly magazines and the leading Southeastern U.S. papers, largely because they cover most of Appalachia.
The research shows reason for optimism: Reporters and photographers given the chance to travel to remote areas have done a terrific job of putting a face on the plight of the poor. The coverage is guided by what scholars call “frames” to tell the stories. According to media scholar Robert Entman, the frame determines “whether most people notice and how they understand and remember a problem, as well as how they evaluate and choose to act upon it.”
From this review of 50 years of stories, I found the following dominant frames: The rural poor lack basic necessities, such as housing. They don’t have access to good jobs and suffer a disproportionate share of chronic health problems. Federal programs have failed them and politicians only pay attention to them when it’s time to run for office. And, finally, the folks in rural America commit crimes, usually involving moonshine, marijuana, meth and opioids.
The research shows that, despite the criticism of the biggest newspapers as being out of touch, the best coverage of serious issues facing rural America has been delivered by the New York Times and The Washington Post. Both look for stories that put a face on what really happens when policies made miles away in Congress hit small towns.
Times reporter Diana Jean Schemo traveled to Alabama’s so-called “Black Belt” to gauge the impact of the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” mandates to raise test scores. Inside the John Essex School, she found bare electrical wires dangling from the ceiling and antique textbooks that don’t cover the outcome of the Vietnam War and whether a man ever walked on the moon. This remains true in many rural school districts.
Likewise, the Post sends reporters well outside the Beltway to chronicle a hidden economy of selling moonshine when no other jobs are available. Reporter Jerry Markon wrote in 2008 about Rocky Mount, Virginia, where agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives staked out a distillery in the woods. The story was presented without judgment of the locals. Rather, it showed how the rural Franklin County actually prides itself as the “Moonshine Capital of the World.”
“People try to portray us as country bumpkins, but we’re proud of being rednecks and we’re proud of the craft of making liquor,” said Linda Stanley, Special Projects Coordinator for the Franklin County Historical Society, in the Post story. “Around here, people still talk about the war between the states, they still talk about making apple butter and they still talk about moonshine.”
Just like the problems that vex rural America’s poor, there’s another thing that doesn’t change much — politicians don’t show up in these parts. The reason is quite simple: the back roads of Kentucky and West Virginia do not attract $10,000 a plate fundraiser dinners of filet mignon and haricot verts.
The autopsy of the 2016 election must include some tough choices by news organizations on how to do a more consistent job of covering America’s heartland. And those of us now teaching future journalists need to work harder to reinforce the basics of quality reporting. We must teach rigorous, critical thinking so young reporters will be more skeptical and dogged to find the best sources, unpack promises, reveal hidden agendas and follow the money trails. We must teach them that Twitter is not a replacement for knocking on doors and going to the picket lines.
But Americans need be more critical and ask their Washington representatives, senators and president: Are you listening? The W.K. Kellogg Foundation did an anonymous survey of members of Congress to gauge why rural America is ignored by D.C. lawmakers. The research was done 14 years ago, but still holds true today. Only those causes supported by big money get attention.
Rural America is far behind General Motors and Carnival Cruise Lines in getting politicians to listen. Even cats and bunny rabbits have more advocates trying to keep them out of shampoo research labs.
Many unemployed workers in rural America voted for Trump, thanks to his pledge to bring back coal jobs. But energy experts and miners themselves will tell you that the Appalachian coal industry isn’t coming back. Coal’s death knell was lower global demand, the move to cleaner alternatives such as natural gas and renewable energy sources. Indeed, Ben was laid off in the late 1990s when R&P closed the mine. UMWA Local 3548 is now shuttered, too.
Alecia Swasy is the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism at Washington & Lee University. Previously she worked as a reporter and editor of The Wall Street Journal and The Tampa Bay Times. She earned her Ph.D. in Journalism Studies from the University of Missouri. She is working on a book about rural America.
Interns At Work: Michael Sullivan Michael Sullivan spent his summer interning at the Cultural Heritage Institute of the Netherlands in Amsterdam
Hometown: Laurel, MD
Minors: Poverty and Human Capability Studies
Organization Name: Cultural Heritage Institute of the Netherlands
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
What attracted you to this internship?
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to study medicine and be a doctor. When you follow the Pre-Med track, however, it can feel a bit rigid in expectations. Many of your courses are selected for you, and there are certain kinds of extracurricular activities you feel obligated to pursue, such as spending summers shadowing doctors or volunteering at a hospital. When I heard about the opportunity to study art conservation in Amsterdam, I was thrilled about the prospect of doing something outside the normal “Pre-Med” experience. I have always wanted to study abroad, which is hard to do for a semester as a biochemistry major. This internship has allowed me to spend 3 months abroad in the Netherlands, giving me the chance to have that experience.
How did you learn about it?
I approached Dr. Uffelman about internship opportunities back in September, and he mentioned he might be able to get me a spot interning under Dr. Bill Wei at the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (Cultural Heritage Institute of the Netherlands).
What gave you an edge in landing this internship?
Dr. Uffelman’s recommendation was the only thing that allowed me to land this internship. Without his help, I would never have been able to get in touch with my advisor here, and I am very thankful to him for his help throughout the whole process. I am also thankful for the Washington and Lee community that allowed me to form a relationship with my professor where I can get that kind of help. It has truly opened up the opportunity of a lifetime for me.
Describe your daily duties.
I typically come into work and do some combination of literature reviews, research for my projects, and writing reports for my boss. Every week, I am given a half day off and asked to go to a museum and write a report about my experience as well.
What are some tasks/projects you’ve been workmen on?
For my first project, I am using Photoshop to retouch a painting that has been discolored, and then I am trying to use a digital projector to “fix” the discoloration in the eyes of the viewer. My second task involves another painting that is experiencing crystal growth in the paint layer. I am trying to recreate this crystal growth so we can better understand what conditions lead to this problem.
Have any courses and/or professors helped you prepare for this internship? Which ones?
Dr. Uffelman’s courses have been integral in my preparation for this internship. Taking CHEM 156 during the winter and ARTH 356 for Spring Term Abroad, both with Dr. Uffelman, have given me the necessary introduction to conservation science that I need for this internship. In addition, my chemistry courses, especially Analytical and Organic Chemistry, have proven to be extremely useful for my internship.
What do you hope to learn by the end of your experience?
I hope to better understand how different colors on a painting appear to the human eye when shone with different colors of light. I also hope to learn more about what causes crystals to grow in paint, and what we can do to slow down this process.
What was your favorite part or perk of the internship?
The Cultural Heritage Institute of the Netherlands shares a building with the Rijksmuseum conservation labs, and we often work closely with Rijksmuseum conservation staff. As such, I have gotten to meet and work with international experts in the field of art conservation science.
What did you learn from living in the city where the internship was located?
Living in Amsterdam has taught me how to bike. Every day, my commute to work involves biking along the canals of Amsterdam and right through the middle of the Rijksmuseum. I have learned how to always appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. Amsterdam is a gorgeous city to live in, and sometimes I will go for a bike ride with the intention of getting lost just to see more of this amazing place.
What key takeaways/skills will you bring back to W&L?
I am learning a lot about how to reconcile science with the arts. For example, just because we can fix a discoloration with a digital projector, does that mean we necessarily should? Is the discoloration now a part of the artistic value of the object? An ability to grapple with these questions will be a key take away of my internship.
What advice would you give to students interested in a position like this?
My advice would be to use the W&L community to your advantage. Despite being a smaller school, W&L is boundless and by utilizing the connections I made through the university, I was able to land the internship of a lifetime.
Has this experience influenced your career aspirations? How so?
While I still intend to study medicine, I am interested in looking into the possibility of a gap year or two. I think it would be fascinating to live abroad in the Netherlands for an extended period of time and really get to be immersed by the culture here.
Describe your experience in a single word.
W&L Magazine, Fall 2016: Vol. 92 | No. 3
In This Issue:
- “A Good Place to Spend a Career” Ken Ruscio ’76 Reflects
- “Kim Ruscio’s Tapestry”
- Letters to the Editor
4 – Along the Colonnade
- Consider Yourself at Home: The New Third-Year Housing
- Show Me the Money: The Endowment Explained
- Ward Briggs ’67 donates a James Dickey collection
- Professor Gwyn Campbell trains a service dog
- Geordy Johnson ’05 joins the Board of Trustees
18 – Generals’ Report
- The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees
19 – Lewis Hall Notes
- Linda Klein ’83L named ABA president
28 – Alumni Profiles
- Founder Ingrid Easton Wilson ’06 Celebrates Campus Kitchen’s 10th Anniversary
- Perks of the Parks: Sula Jacobs ’00 Promotes the Virtues of the National Park Service
30 – Milestones
- Alumni president’s message
- Beau Knows
- Alumni news and photos
- President Ruscio’s column
New Yorker Website Features Film by Lorena Manríquez ’88 A short film by Manríquez has been featured on the magazine's website.
Lorena Manríquez, a 1988 graduate of Washington and Lee University, has landed her work on The New Yorker’s website — her short film, “Hopewell,” accompanies an article about a Nov. 1 arson fire that gutted a Baptist church in Greenville, Mississippi.
Manríquez, the director and producer, depicts the destruction of the church, which has a mostly African-American membership, with three evocative minutes of somber images, music and interviews.
She created the film under the aegis of Field of Vision, which describes itself as “a filmmaker-driven documentary unit that commissions and creates original short-form nonfiction films about developing and ongoing stories around the globe.”
Readers of the W&L alumni magazine first learned about Manríquez in “Finding a Hidden Truth,” a profile in the Summer 2013 issue. Author Ann Burton Gerhardt ’13 detailed the trail that Manríquez blazed from a 16-year engineering career to a new calling as a documentary filmmaker. Her first effort, “Ulises’ Odyssey,” explores her uncle’s exile during the Pinochet regime in Chile, her home country.