"Democracy in Crisis" series taps award-winning journalists for insights

September 16, 2022

U.S. democratic institutions are under attack. While law enforcement agencies and a Congressional committee still work to investigate the January 6, 2021, attacks on the Capitol, a wave of subsequent efforts have continued to seek to undermine the norms and structures that have given Americans basic confidence in elections and in the peaceful transfer of power. Meanwhile, from state houses to the Supreme Court, bitter debates rage over voting rights, access, and security. 

A recent report issued by the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy noted that in Michigan, 53 percent of local officials have been harassed while on the job.  

To dig deeper into the causes and cures for the current situation, the “Democracy in Crisis” series will again bring together award-winning journalists who will share their insights into the forces threatening and protecting American democratic structures and systems. The series is a partnership between the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Wallace House, and U-M Democracy & Debate, co-hosted by the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation.

The series explores the current state of journalism and the role of the press in upholding democratic institutions at a time of demagogic attacks on the media and dramatic shifts in media ownership and independence.

On November 1, Wallace House will present Jelani Cobb in conversation with Ford School Dean Celeste Watkins-Hayes, and in 2023 a special event featuring Chris Wallace will take place on March 8 at Rackham Auditorium.

Watkins-Hayes notes the timeliness of the series. "As we approach the midterm elections, many people feel democracy itself is on the ballot. The important role that journalists have in chronicling current events, and putting them into a broader perspective, has never been more important. This series taps into those insights."

When the series was launched, LSA Dean Anne Curzan commented, "Strong, free and open, ethical journalism is essential to a well-functioning democracy. This series offers all of us an opportunity to hear from award-winning journalists not only about the state of democracy in the U.S. and around the world, but also about the state of political journalism from an insider's perspective."

"Diminishing the role and work of journalists is a key tactic in undermining democracies. Bringing visibility to the work of journalists is a necessary antidote to those efforts. We look forward to giving our community a chance to engage with these experienced reporters in a way that cuts through the noise to prompt thoughtful civic engagement," Wallace House director Lynette Clemetson added.

The series began with events in spring 2022: Molly Ball of Time magazine, interviewed by veteran political reporter Craig Gilbert; Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Barton Gellman of The Atlantic, moderated by Michigan Law professor Barbara McQuade; and Sarah Kendzior, author of “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America”, in conversation with Ford School lecturer Jonathan Hanson. Anne Applebaum, author of “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism”, closed the initial series. 

Check the Ford School website Events pages for details of the talks. In-person and online options will be available.

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