by Abigail Stiltner, Class of 2022
The Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School hosted a Fast Forum with NBC News National Correspondent, Peter Alexander, for students this past week. Alexander is the host of “Weekend Today” and is one of the top National Correspondents for NBC News. At this forum, he took questions from students detailing topics that varied from the teetering temperament of the Trump administration to how humanity should be found through the media at this time of mass panic.
Alexander opened with his background and mentioned why he wanted to become a reporter in the first place. “I saw these correspondents signing off from all parts of the world, I’d never seen anything like those parts of the world”, he stated, “and just the opportunity to try to do something that would give me a chance to see the planet like that was what drew me to it.” He has gone on to cover the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Mitt Romney campaign for the presidency in 2012, and even the Olympic Games in Beijing and Vancouver. He was hired 16 years ago by NBC and was the White House correspondent form 2012-2014 and still frequents the White House press briefings.
In response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Alexander mentioned that each member of the press has their temperature checked before stepping into the White House briefing room and that they will place a sticker on your phone giving you proof that you were tested and are safe. He also expressed a burnout with the volume of breaking news that the media has been dealing with these past few months. Starting with the Impeachment Trials and the Iranian threat in just January and February alone, now the pandemic has taken over every headline leaving little room for other stories. He mentioned how President Trump was speaking about Mexican Cartels and Border Security but this didn’t make the news because it was overshadowed by the COVID-19 stories.
A few weeks ago, he asked President Trump “Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope?”, concerning the COVID-19 Pandemic. After some debate between Alexander and President Trump, The President called Alexander a “Terrible Reporter” after questioning him again. When asked about that moment in this forum, Alexander mentioned the fact that the President is in a high-stress environment right now and that he was probably frustrated. He also added some humility to the situation and talked about how it isn’t about the reporter, it is about the truth.
In regard to the truth, He pointed out that misinformation has been a big challenge for the media. The Trump Administration has often labeled situations as “fake news” while at the same time will provide baseless claims or statements. He reminded the group that you need to be careful with where your facts come from and should be transparent with the source of your facts.
Alexander took the time to point out good qualities that a journalist should carry in order to best represent a story. He went on to state that “Journalism is not about being popular, it’s not about being cool, it’s not about being a star; Journalism is about providing information, challenging authority, and getting to the facts.” He added that you have to find humanity as a journalist, especially in times of grim circumstances. He added that its a good journalist’s job to add hope and a sense of control to the situation.
On a much more personal note, I have long watched NBC News in an episodic light. NBC Nightly News is my favorite television program and the reporters are much more than correspondents to me, they have become characters on a show. I’ve been following Peter Alexanders’ career on NBC for some time, and you can often see him filling in for Lester Holt on Nightly. I was very excited to see him answer some questions in a much more relaxed environment. I encourage any readers of this piece to try to deliver facts in circumstances and that humility is the key to success.
The full video record of the “Fast Forum” with Mr. Alexander can be found HERE on the Harvard Institute of Politics’ Facebook page.