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Constitution in 222nd year; ASU celebrates

Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012

Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 18:09

constitution day 2012

Paige Walker, Staff Photographer

Journalism professor and former newspaper editor Gary Warner spoke at the roundtable Wednesday morning as a part of Constitution Day. The “Media and Politics: How has political coverage evolved in the various media?” roundtable convened a panel of experts that discussed what is trending in media coverage with special emphases on the use of social media and an increase in opinion journalism.

Thursday marked Constitution Day at Arkansas State University, and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences put together an entire day of panels, along with a guest speaker, in order to celebrate the 222nd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America.

The event began at 9:30 a.m. with an opening ceremony introduced by Dr. Lauri Umanski, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Dr. William McLean, chair of the department of political science, who welcomed all students and faculty to the event before running through a brief itinerary.  
After performances of The National Anthem and other patriotic songs, guests were dispersed around the Carl R. Reng Student Center to attend a variety of different panels, focusing on the Constitution and the upcoming presidential election.

These included “What do you know?  U.S. Government and Constitution Jeopardy.,” which was an interactive panel presented by Hans Hacker, assistant professor of political science, “Presidential power in times of national crisis: You make the call,” and a pair of roundtable discussions focused on the media and gender’s role in politics.

During the “Media and politics: How has political coverage evolved in the various media?” journalism professors Sandra Combs and Bonnie Thrasher, along with Gary Warner, and Roy Ockert, former editor of The Jonesboro Sun, discussed the impact of reporting and social media on the landscape of the political arena.

“In colonial times, Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ pamphlet was read by every single literate American.  After the advent of the printing press, you had the Federalists vs. the Anti-Federalists, and newspapers became advocacy papers for their particular side.  They even wrote their affiliations in their titles,” he said.

He then mentioned that the invention of the Penny Press in the 19th century allowed more citizens to own a paper and become more involved with politics.

Thrasher then spoke on the differences between opinion and news, which can often be muddled in today’s age of social media.

“Reporters generally get an assignment and gather the news by going to other sources, and reporting the facts in a news story.  Opinion, by its very definition, is the writer’s own personal take on the issue, and can allow for personal biases, whereas the news must remain objective,” she said.  “With today’s focus on social media, it can become unclear what is news and opinion, as they have combined somewhat, with people tweeting out things that may not always be considered news.”

Ockert closed by mentioning his concern with the current state of newspapers, the rise of social media potentially damaging the credibility of the news media, and the current state of newspapers, as Associated Press (AP) membership has been on a recent decline.

After two rounds of panel sessions, the main speaker, Professor Haynes Walton, Jr., of the University of Michigan, who also spoke the previous night, as the first installment of the ASU 2012-2013 Lecture-Concert Series, delivered the Plenary Address in a speech titled, “Political participation in America.”

He detailed the factors that lead to Obama’s successful campaign in 2008, as well as how the parties have changed their ideologies numerous times in order to secure support and victory.

“In 2008, Barack Obama’s election didn’t have anything to do with him being black, or a Muslim, or being from Hawaii, a specific number of factors came together, in a way that they’ve never come together before, to make this a rare election,” he said.  “The combination of social media usage, which is something no other presidential candidate has really embraced.  He raised at least $75,000 from online donations alone.  Obama gets an enormous endorsement from Bill Clinton in Arkansas.  This was one of the rare times that an ex-president took an incumbent and gave him a 95 percent bounce after his convention.  The rules have changed.”  
He then mentioned how, in 1960, the Governor of Texas passed a bill stating African Americans could not be delegates at the Democratic National Convention, which was in effect until 1936, as that was a demographic the party was targeting.  He also noted that, “giving money (to candidates) was a form of free speech,” explaining that former president George W. Bush was give a briefcase of $75,000 to run against Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election.

He closed his speech by mentioning that Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama in South Carolina is what tipped the scales and got the African American community interested in coming to see and hear him speak.  The right factors were coming together in a perfect storm, he said.

There were other panels at the event such as an interactive event that allowed students to vote on possible actions that the President might take when faced with various crisis situations, from a terrorist attack at Disney Land in Florida, to how to handle detaining a Canadian national citizen at an airport. Various high school and college students from across the state also attended the event, such as Valley View and Nettleton High Schools.



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