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Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014

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Michael McCurry speaks on politics and journalism

at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School Wednesday, former presidential press secretary Michael McCurry decried the state of political journalism, lamenting that "we lurch from crisis to crisis, and that becomes the story of our national life."

"Information crushes us, surrounds us like a swarm of bees," McCurry said. "The answer to the clutter of information is to be the loudest, because the press loves conflict, and there is an economic imperative now in the way news organizations work."

McCurry's talk, the Robert Stuart '37 Lecture in the Media in American Culture, had an air of homecoming. McCurry is a 1976 Princeton graduate and former president of Princeton's Press Club.

Before the end of the Cold War, he said, "you couldn't afford to diminish the stature of the president, who would lead us against communism. But when the Iron Curtain fell we took off the shackles on the bitterness of political debate."

Referring to what he called "the soap opera that is Bill Clinton," McCurry spoke pointedly of how profit-oriented news organizations, which are losing market share to internet news outlets, "hold on to whatever story they can keep going, day after day of the same scandal, until something (else) stings you and you change the channel."

Despite his acid comments on the current state of political journalism, McCurry ended his talk with an upbeat message. While the ongoing information explosion has had a negative impact on the quality and depth of political discourse, he said he believes future technological advances would create a market for subtler analysis "where you can stop Peter Jennings in mid-sentence and go to a fact."

McCurry served as press secretary to President Clinton from 1995 to 1998. He also has been spokesman for the Department of State, director of communications for the Democratic National Committee, and spokesman on political campaigns of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Sen. John Glenn, Gov. Bruce Babbitt, and Sen. Bob Kerrey.

He is now chief executive officer of Grassroots.com, a company that makes computer software to support political groups' Internet-based communications and mobilization efforts.

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601

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