Monday, September 17, 2007

Where's the Line?

Katherine Prudhomme-O'Brien. It's not exactly a household name, but this mother and resident of Derry, New Hampshire was able to grab the attention of the media and a certain presidential candidate, all because of one question. According to an article in the Union Leader dated September 9, 2007, Prudhomme-O'Brien asked presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani the following question, "[my nephew] wanted to know how you could expect the loyal following of Americans when you are not getting it from your own family." Of course this created a bit of a stir and people from various media outlets made comments. The Union Leader sites "ABC commentator and Sunday-Morning show host George Stephanopoulos who called her a professional heckler.
So is this woman what
Stephanopoulos and others have suggested, a nuisance? Or is she on the right track - asking the candidates tough questions no matter what they are. A precedent has been set in our society that public figures such as the former mayor of New York have less privacy then ordinary citizens. So why not, if they are running for the highest office of our country, with power to shape and form our government and social policies, should we shy away from asking the tough questions?

In the article from the Union Leader Prudhomme-O'Brien defends her question.

"I was simply asking a question that people were thinking anyway. When did that become wrong?"[She] said the home lives of presidential hopefuls are relevant. If someone has trouble at home, she reasons, his professional work suffers.

Her response in the article really resonated with me. In fact, it reminds me of a book I am reading by Fred Greenstein. In the book The Presidential Difference, he evaluates former presidents on a number of different criteria including "emotional intelligence." Greenstein describes this as the "president's ability to manage his emotions..." It makes sense to me that a man - or woman now - who is campaigning to become the CEO of our country should be evaluated and questioned on all levels as Greenstein points out; there are many less obvious factors that make a difference in a presidency. So was this woman a trouble maker going too far? Or was she simply a citizen exercising her right to speak her mind?

Sometimes, You Just Have To Dig

Recently I traveled to Nashua, New Hampshire to cover a supposed protest on the Iraq war. Some fellow journalism students and myself caught wind that there was going to be a peace group organizing themselves outside of city hall. We had our video equipment with us, excited for some great shots of signs and crowds and maybe a few good sound bites from the angry citizens of Nashua. Being the dedicated students we are, we got up early on a Saturday morning and the five of us traveled an hour to Nashua only to be greeted by a deserted and very wet city hall plaza. It was practically a deluge with fairly strong winds - not exactly great protesting weather. The town wasn't exactly lively as there wasn't much traffic - everyone was probably spending their Saturday afternoon in their homes, staying dry. We weren't so lucky. Not willing to go home empty handed, rain or no rain, we did what every savvy reporter does in that situation - we used our resources to find another story. All five of us sat cooped up in one car, reading local newspapers to see if there was something, ANYTHING that was going on that day that had something to do with politics. Not much luck. Then, after a few phone calls and some research, we found a place called the Nashua Historical Society. So we switched gears a little bit, but ended up doing a great piece on the political history of the town. The people we met there were local and interesting and they gave us some great sound bites about their town and the craziness that goes on during primary season. Beth McCarthy, the curator of the museum, told us how busy the town can get. According to McCarthy, there are crowds of people on the streets, the restaurants and other service business are booming and after a long day of work, she comes home only to be bombarded by messages on her answering machine asking her to vote for certain candidates. I can imagine Nashua gets like that considering it is a town in New Hampshire; the state that has traditionally held the first of all the primaries in the country. This upcoming election will be interesting, as most states are racing to hold their own primary before other states do. I wonder what kind of madness will ensue in Nashua, a town in a state that already gets so much national attention in regards to primaries. As I interviewed the people from the museum, they told me about past presidents and other historical moments in politics. According to the staff at the museum, John F. Kennedy had his first ever campaign stop outside of city hall in 1960. There is a statue in front of their city hall commemorating just that. A little under a century before that, New Hampshire saw one of its own elected to the White House; Mr. Franklin Pierce in 1851. In light of all this history, I wonder how these upcoming elections will be remembered and recorded. Maybe 100 years from now, there will be a wall in the Nashua Historical Soceity with old ballots and pictures of today's political events on display, and there will be a new generation of reporters and students traveling through the building who will tell the story of today, tomorrow.