White House Correspondent President Hosted on Campus
“Every audience likes to feel that you’ve pulled back the curtain a little bit, let them see something you wouldn’t otherwise see,” said White House Correspondents’ Association President Olivier Knox as he spoke to members of the Marist community on Mar. 4.
The event was organized by the Center for Sports Communication and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) on Mon. evening to a turnout of approximately 60 students and faculty in the Admissions Theater.
“I think that speakers like Knox are great to have on campus,” said Harry Parette ’21. “Not only do they speak from a position of experience, but they also are very aware of current events that can give students the context of what it means to work in the field of journalism during a time when journalists are facing a kind of extinction in the face of digital news and direct media.”
Knox was inducted as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association in July of 2018. Aside from serving in this role, he is also the Chief Washington Correspondent for SiriusXM. He previously reported for Yahoo News and Agence France-Presse, an international news agency headquartered in Paris.
In his time as a journalist, Knox covered the George W. Bush administration, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, and the 2000 election.
Jane McManus, director of the Center for Sports Communication, led the conversation in a Q&A style which later transitioned to Knox taking questions from students and faculty in the audience.
According to Kevin Lerner, assistant professor of journalism and faculty advisor to SPJ, McManus approached the members of SPJ with the idea of bringing Knox to campus.
Lerner said, “[Knox] didn’t take an honorarium. He didn’t profit at all, it was just this public service. It was because it was something he wanted to do for the students. I thought that was pretty cool of him.”
Knox began the discussion by describing what his role entails, saying it is one of “less glamourous” logistics that the public will not see unless they, too, work behind the scenes.
“It’s a constant negotiation with the White House for the ability to get reporters to have eyes on the president at work, have eyes on the administration at work, to perform their constitutionally protected function of helping to hold an administration to account,” said Knox.
Aside from narrating the details of his position, Knox also spoke candidly about anecdotes during his time in Washington D.C. Laughs arose from the crowd as he discussed his five-chinned facial reaction to a reporter hurling shoes at President George W. Bush and when he had to convince a Gap store to open early so he may purchase khakis to enter the Capitol.
There were also many more serious stories, such as when his son began to cry on the way to soccer practice because he believed President Trump was putting Knox in jail following his comment on the press being the enemy of the people.
“That’s the reality of what that rhetoric does,” said Knox. “I’m an old guy, I’m hard to intimidate, but it’s also hard to come home to a child who is worried day to day that, despite my reassurances, the president’s going to come at me.”
For Emily Jones ‘19, the most impactful statement from Knox was how, to reporters, facing someone stating they located an error of fact in a news story is scarier than confronting expletives from a senator’s staffer.
“That’s the line that really stood out to me and I wrote it down in my notes because it’s so applicable,” she said.
“We’re 100 miles from New York City and sometimes the journalism we talk about in class feels very distant and the exercises that you do in class feel small stakes,” said Lerner. “I think it’s really helpful for students to interact with the people who are actually doing these things and to remember that the journalists who are working at the highest level are also people.”