Cerabino: Robinson at FAU to talk about life in political spin cycle

Feb 20, 2018
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson smiles during a taping of "Meet the Press" at the NBC studios November 23, 2008 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

The way Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist and frequent TV pundit Eugene Robinson sees it, we here in the media world let a good thing slip away.

“It used to be you’d get to work in the morning, and not early in the morning, and you’d work on one story all day and then at 6:30, you went to the bar.

“Now we pretty much work 24 hours a day,” he said. “How did we let this happen to ourselves?”

Robinson will be in Palm Beach County this week, speaking on the topic, “Covering the Presidency in the Modern Media Age” at the Boca Raton campus of Florida Atlantic University on Thursday and on the university’s Jupiter campus on Friday.

Robinson writes two columns a week for The Washington Post and is a regular political analyst on MSNBC and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” There are some nights when he’s appearing in the 11 o’clock hour on Brian Williams’ show on MSNBC, and then is up at dawn to appear on that network’s Morning Joe show at 6 o’clock the next morning.

“There are times when I think I would pop if I didn’t have an outlet to vent about this or that,” Robinson said. “But I don’t think I’m under the illusion that this sort of instant reaction is as valid or reasoned, as say three days from now, when you’ve had time to think about it from various angles.

“But the crazy thing is that three days is beyond the shelf life of a story.”

The frenetic pace of President Donald Trump’s Twitter bursts combined with the constant drip-drip of incremental advancements on long-fused political dramas makes Robinson’s task of being an up-to-the-minute opiner a near-impossible task.

Robinson, whose column is syndicated in more than 250 newspapers, writes on Mondays and Thursdays. But political news has its own schedule.

“We don’t have slow news days anymore,” he said. “As an editor once asked me, ‘Which fish in the barrel are you going to shoot today?’”

There’s a downside to this brimming barrel of fish.

“The column I write on Monday is in the paper on Tuesday, but by then, some holy-s—- story is breaking that I would want to comment on,” he said.

“But the chance is very low that I will still want to write about that on Thursday, because it will be ancient history by then.”

Robinson, 63, began his newspaper career writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. Before he started writing columns for the Washington Post’s Op-Ed page in 2005, he served as a city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent, foreign editor and the assistant managing editor of that newspaper’s Style section.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2009 for a collection of 10 columns he wrote about the election of President Barack Obama. The judges lauded his columns for “showcasing graceful writing and a grasp of the larger historic picture.”

Robinson laments that as the country has grown more divided, political columnists are routinely pigeonholed into “left” or “right” opinion silos on newspaper op-ed pages.

“It’s just an invitation for anybody on the outside not to read it,” he said. “People will say, ‘That’s liberal stuff, I don’t have to read it.”

“There is no such thing as perfect objectivity,” Robinson said. “We are who we are. We bring baggage to our work and try the best to be fair. Is that understood widely? I think it is not.”

Many people view the media as master manipulators, he said. But the media are more often the ones being manipulated.

“The theory, practice and technology of spin and obfuscation has raced way past the technology of accountability,” Robinson said. “Every moment I am trying to triangulate, ‘Why am I being told this now by this person?’”

And it’s just plain wrong that good journalism and fairness means that readers and viewers are handed the conclusion that blame is equally shared, he said.

“Yes, there are times when you can legitimately say that both sides are equally to blame,” he said. “For example, if you want to talk about the ballooning national debt, it’s absolutely true that both Republican and Democratic administrations have added to the debt. That’s objectively true.

“But there are often many situations that you can’t say both parties are equally to blame. And we give a false impression when we insist on saying, ‘On the other hand …’”

Robinson will be speaking Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at FAU’s Carole and Barry Kaye Auditorium on the Boca Raton campus, and Friday at noon at FAU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Complex, on the Jupiter campus. 

For tickets and more information, go to fauevents.com or llsjuponline.com