Judy Woodruff of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer spoke of today's partisan climate, the changing face of the media, Ronald Reagan's command of the press and of working a summer job as a teenager in Augusta, during a lunch meeting with the Kiwanis Club of Augusta on Monday.
That bitter partisanship that has dominated Washington politics for two decades is not news to many. But, as a 30-year veteran political journalist, Woodruff has seen the change from a bird's-eye point of view.
In the '70s and '80s, politicians stayed in Washington, brought their families, and socialized across party and ideological lines, Woodruff said, and it helped them govern together later. Today, they fly home on weekends and, when in town, associate with those who hold similar views.
"What's troubling and even corrosive (today) is the assumption that the other side is wrong, no matter what," Woodruff said. "That there's something fundamentally flawed, even illegitimate in the belief structure of the other side. That compromise or a solution is not desirable and is to be avoided at all costs, because it's really selling out on principles and capitulation to the enemy."
Opinion journalism and the introduction of ever-shorter news sound bites have exacerbated partisan politics, but are not the source of it, she said.
On a lighter note, Woodruff, who was a White House correspondent through two administrations, recalled the differences between the Carter White House, which was very open with the press, and the Reagan White House, which ran a tight ship.
Those shots of Reagan waving as he boarded the helicopter were sometimes as close as the press got that day, she said. After John Hinckley's assassination attempt, Reagan granted reporters a 40-minute interview and spent the first 35 minutes telling stories about Hollywood.
"We looked at our watches and saw we had 5 minutes left ... so we just kind of limply asked him one question each and got up to leave," she said. "That was classic Ronald Reagan."
Woodruff, who graduated from the Academy of Richmond County in Augusta, got her start in the '70s at an Atlanta TV station and credited her coverage of candidate Jimmy Carter as the break that propelled her into national political coverage.