CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer and CNN senior producer David Bohrman ‘76 spoke to Stanford students and community members in the fifth annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture in Dinkelspiel Auditorium on Sunday night. Entitled “The War on Terror: From the Headlines to the Back Pages,” the talk focused on the progression in America’s focus from terrorism to the Iraq war to the economy over the past 10 years.
Pulling examples from elections and exit polls, Blitzer discussed the ebb and flow of optimism and fear in American politics. The speakers used video clips of CNN’s election coverage to illustrate the change in voters’ values following 9/11, which Blitzer called “the most important story of the new millennium.”
“Following the 20th century, which was the most horrific century in the history of the world . . . I was convinced that as we’re moving into a new millennium, things [were] going to be better,” Blitzer said. “Now we have the first 10 years to reflect, and I’m not exactly sure things are a whole lot better.”
The personal experiences of the speakers carried plenty of material for reflection. Blitzer, host of “The Situation Room” on CNN, has served as a CNN reporter for the past 20 years. Bohrman has worked closely with Blitzer over the past 10 years as CNN’s senior vice president of programming. Looking back over the past decade, Blitzer offered his own insights on causes and effects of political change.
Despite the profound change 9/11 enacted on American society, Blitzer said, Americans cast their ballots based on whatever issue most affected them personally at the time of the elections.
By the 2006 midterm elections, CNN’s polls showed corruption replacing the war and terrorism as voters’ first concerns. But even corruption’s import lessened in the face of the failing economy during the 2008 election.
“The country [was] getting so caught up in their lives and in the economy,” Bohrman said, “but what was being given up was focus on the ‘war on terror’ and on war itself.”
Despite the somber subject, the speakers focused on hopeful moments as well, showing video clips of cheering voters on the night of the 2008 presidential election.
“It was a national moment, and it was a rare global moment of unity that was pretty exciting,” Bohrman said.
“It was one of those moments I knew would be recorded forever,” Blitzer said.
While the pair cautioned against taking the recent midterm elections as strong indicators for the 2012 presidential race, they said President Obama may need to enact further reform in order to be re-elected.
“Over years, over decades, the economy is always the bread-and-butter issue that voters are most concerned about,” Blitzer said.
“All these big companies are doing well, relatively speaking, but they’re not hiring,” Blitzer said in response to an audience member’s question, describing the “new normal” that hinders America’s economic growth.
Though Bohrman and Blitzer did not speak much on journalism, the reason for the talk, an annual remembrance of Daniel Pearl, remained in audience members’ minds in the form of a large photograph of Pearl projected on the wall behind the stage.
Pearl, who graduated from Stanford in 1985, was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002 while investigating the link between shoe bomber Richard Reid and Al Qaeda.
Following his death, Pearl’s family founded the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which sponsors programs on journalism, Judaism, music and peace across the country. University President Hennessy sits on the honorary board of the foundation, along with Bill Clinton, Eli Wiesel and others.
“While Daniel’s story makes us afraid because of the horrors of our time, it also forbids us from fear because of what Danny represented when he was alive and what he continues to represent after his death,” said Pearl’s father, Judea, in an introduction to the talk.
“By honoring Danny, we honor the whole community of journalists and media pioneers who dedicate their talents to helping us see the world through prism of truth and understanding,” he said.
The fifth annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture was sponsored by Hillel, the Office for Religious Life, the Office of the President, the Daniel Pearl Foundation and the ASSU Speakers Bureau.