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PBS Correspondent Ray Suarez Discusses Challenges for Reporters, Audiences

Ray Suarez, the Washington-based senior correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour,” told a Washington and Lee University audience Monday that rather than talking about things that matter to the American people, too much of the national election was spent obsessing about “what Joe Biden might call ‘malarkey.’ “

Suarez was W&L’s Fishback Visiting Writer for 2013. The Fishback Fund for Visiting Writers is the result of a generous gift by Sara and William Fishback Jr., of the Class of 1956, in memory of his parents.

In addition to his public lecture, Suarez spent the day meeting with W&L students.

A member of the “PBS NewsHour” team since 1999, Suarez said that both politicians and the media have a hard time leveling with the American people about the difficult issues that we face.

“If something’s got to give, should we be telling people about it? Or should we just keep pushing those problems and what’s difficult about solving those problems down the road, down the road, down the road?” he said. “It’s a challenge for the news business; it’s a challenge for our political class, locally and nationally. And so far, both institutions have not risen to that challenge.”

For candidates, he said, “the range of what’s sayable, the range of what’s discussable, the range of what you can level with people about gets very narrow.” That, in turn, leaves media, including Suarez, in the position of being “bad-news tellers.”

When the public is already turning away from news, he said, “it’s counterintuitive inside the editorial meeting to say, ‘Let’s give it to them right between the eyes. Then they’ll come back.’ “

Part of the challenge, he added, is breaking through “the tremendous clutter of modern life” to get Americans to think seriously about policies and issues. “One of the biggest challenges of governing with consent of the governed is getting the governed to pay some kind of attention,” he said. “I’m not saying you’re dumb. I’m saying you’re busy. Life throws up its challenges day by day.”

In addition, the media face an increasingly difficult task. “My job has gotten nothing but more complicated over the last 20 years,” he said, “because the kinds of things I have to explain to people day after day have gotten nothing but more complicated during that entire time.”

Previous Fishback Visiting Writers have included New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, author and journalist Steve Coll, author and legal scholar Stephen Carter, political scientist Larry Sabato and columnist and Brookings Institution Fellow E.J. Dionne.

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