Woodruff is no stranger to politics

Jonathan Carlson

On Sept. 11, Judy Woodruff was proud to be a journalist.
“It was one of the finest moments in American television,” said the veteran newswoman, who spoke on campus last Tuesday. “It was also a day of which no one in journalism had ever seen.”
Woodruff, a journalist for over 30 years, now the anchor at CNN’s “Inside Politics,” she spoke about the hardships women have faced in climbing the tall ladder of television news.
“The landscape has changed dramatically,” she said, since she began in the business.
She told a story of how she began her career at a local television station in Atlanta. She asked the news director if she could go on the air, and he told her: “We already have a woman on air.”
Today, women are much more common place on television sets, although, as Woodruff put it, “It often looks like the female anchor is the male anchor’s second wife.”
Woodruff said TV news is notorious for allowing men to grow old on camera, more so than woman.
Woodruff is no stranger to politics, having covered major national campaigns and conventions since 1976. Before joining CNN, Woodruff served as a correspondent for PBS’s “MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour,” as well as anchoring that network’s flagship newsmagazine program “Frontline.”
She was a White House correspondent for NBC News for many years, where she covered the Carter and Reagan administrations.
Woodruff spoke of her coverage of the 2000 presidential campaign, adding that she recently ran into former vice-president Al Gore at the Florida Democratic Convention, which was held this April in Orlando.
“If the beard is gone, he must be running [in 2004],” she joked.
A lot of Woodruff’s speech was dedicated to the state of journalism, and how Sept. 11 changed the field.
“[The news business] saw its most important function since the assassination of John F. Kennedy 40 years ago,” she said.
She quoted CNN executive Walter Issacson: “The months after Sept. 11 helped us regain our focus as journalists, and restore our true mission to hard reporting and analysis.”
Woodruff explained how the Bush administration has made covering the War on Terror difficult for many news organizations.
“This has been the most restrictive coverage of our era,” said Woodruff.
The media has recently publicized the ratings wars between CNN and its rivals, Fox News and MSNBC.
“There is a lot of pressure to make sure those clickers don’t change,” said Woodruff of the demands to stay on top. “We are a business, and profits do matter.”
Speaking of Fox News and the other networks, she said many television journalists endured the debate over how patriotic a newsperson should be on the air. Fox News practically rolled out the red carpet for President Bush; CNN caught some flack for remaining objective. It is a tough line, according to Woodruff, whether to be a cheerleader or a critic.
That dark day in history did not go on without effecting Woodruff, however.
“As the enormity sunk in, I remember [sitting at the anchor desk] and being speechless,” she said. “Having nothing to say is breaking a cardinal rule in television. But I was in tears. We are Americans too.”