Local Public Figures Discuss Lessons Learned from a High-Profile Life

Posted: May 11, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nicholas Zinzer

Two news co-anchors of local NBC affiliate WRC-TV, a congressman and a former attorney who served as special counsel to President Clinton joined moderator and adjunct English professor Cheryl Butler and more than 50 George Mason students for a panel discussion last week on the highs and lows of being a public figure.

The panel discussion, “American Genius: Carving the Path,” included advice on political dissent, dealing with sensitive media issues and the impact of misconceptions in the American consciousness.

Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, spoke about his career in Congress. “A highlight was being able to play a significant behind-the-scenes role in getting the Democratic Party to come out against the Iraq War,” said Moran.

The eight-term congressman reflected on the past three years of opposition to the invasion of Iraq. “While it has been a very frustrating experience, being able to be in the position where you can speak out on something you care about, that you feel is of consequence, gives me a sense that my life has been of some value.”

Two of the four panelists, Shannon Bream and Eun Yang, were from the News4 Today Weekend newscast and offered personal narratives of their experience in the newsroom.

Public figures in panel discussion
Panelists discuss their high-profile lives. From left, Shannon Bream and Eun Yang from NBC4; Lanny Davis, former counsel to President Bill Clinton; and Congressman Jim Moran. Standing is moderator Cheryl Butler.
Creative Services photo

Yang said the most difficult part of her job is approaching victims of violent crimes. “Part of our job is to tell compelling stories about crime, and unfortunately, part of that story often includes having statements or interviews from the victim’s families. People hate us for that because here is a person … someone who has lost someone very important to them and you don’t want to intrude.”

According to Yang, however, interviews and statements to the press from individuals close to victims of violent crime are potentially beneficial to solving a case. “In an open case, where a suspect is still on the loose, [media attention] actually draws attention to the story so people stay on it.”

Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, warned students about a culture he views as presumptuous. “An accusation repeated enough times becomes a fact,” said Davis. “How many of you read the expression ‘indictment’ and assume the person is guilty? When asked that question, 90 percent of the American people assumed that if the government indicts somebody, he or she must be guilty.”

One of the students who attended the discussion commented afterwards, “Sometimes I think how one can get involved in politics … but these people did it and it makes me think this is possible for all of us.”

Maried Ballister, a junior majoring in economics and global affairs, added, “Politics is really about finding solutions for the issues, and I think this generation should do something about it. That’s the reason [the panelists] came – because they want us to do something about it.”

Butler, who is also a news reporter for WRC-TV, assembled the panel for the benefit of students who will soon be joining the workforce.

Butler said the panelists “were very engaging. They offered inspiring stories, personal narratives. I was really happy to have my colleagues from NBC4 here and have the congressman here as well because these students are political science majors and economics majors, and many of them want to go into careers in public life.”

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