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Wartime Media Consults Harvard Professors

By Stephen M. Marks, Crimson Staff Writer

Being hounded by reporters is nothing new for Harvard professors.

But as the war in Iraq progresses into its second week, major media outlets are turning to Harvard experts for analysis with increasing frequency.

Foreign policy experts at the University are descending from the ivory tower in record numbers to weigh in on one of the largest news stories in a generation.

With the unprecedented amount of war coverage, many Harvard professors have sounded off on television news programs and on the front pages of the nation’s top newspapers.

Many look to the Kennedy School of Government (KSG), which boasts four former senior members of the Department of Defense, two former army generals, a former associate secretary general of the UN, and countless other leading public intellectuals among its faculty.

“We have a good number of people whose expertise is directly in this area...so it’s not surprising that television and newspapers have been calling them,” said KSG Dean Joseph S. Nye. “Whenever you have a crisis like this, the media turn to places they can get good responsible commentary and criticism, and we’re one of those places.”

Professor of History Cemal Kafadar cautioned against professors seeking media attention at the expense of their students.

“I think our priorities are to our students and our communities,” he said. Public visibility “might make it possible for one to lose one’s perspective.”

But Institute of Politics Director Dan Glickman said KSG professors have an obligation to share their insights on the war, adding that such public engagement adds, rather than detracts, from their teaching.

“When you have this kind of experience, you are almost required to share your thoughts and views,” he said. “It’s part of the teaching process.”

The media’s unprecedented focus on the story has created this insurgent demand for academics, according to Alex S. Jones, director of the KSG’s Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy.

“This is the most intensely covered news story in my memory,” said Jones, who noted that he has received dozens of calls from reporters since the war began. “You can’t find anything else on cable news.”

And networks such as CNN and MSNBC that provide 24-hour war coverage have more airtime to fill with expert analysis.

“There seems to be more actual programming since the last war,” said University spokesperson Joe Wrinn.

Various Harvard schools have made lists of experts available to the press, he said, adding that faculty interviews are self-perpetuating.

“Once you’re on, it breeds even more appearances,” Wrinn said.

Media interest in Kennedy School professors soared in the days leading up to the war in Iraq and remains well above average, according to Jesus Mena, the school’s director of communications. But the attention has decreased slightly in recent days, he said.

“The level of participation was a lot higher prior to the war, in large part because this is a school of public policy,” he said. “Since the war has actually started, the volume has begun to taper off—we are not a military institution.”

And some experts across the University seeking more than a sound byte have written op-eds for national newspapers. Nye and former KSG Dean Graham T. Allison each published op-eds in The Boston Globe this week alone.

And professors running the gamut from war hawk to peacenik have continued to sound off since the war began—ranging from retired Brig. Gen. John Reppert, executive director for research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, to Lecturer on History and Literature Timothy P. McCarthy ’93. Reppert advocates stronger military action in Iraq, while McCarthy is a vocal opponent of the war.

Glickman said the media continue to seek KSG professors interpretations to offset government spin.

“I think there an awful lot of people in the world of journalism looking for a broader base of thinkers [than the Bush administration],” he said.

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at marks@fas.harvard.edu.

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