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CNN Washington Bureau Chief Discusses Election Coverage

By Bonnie K. Bennett, Contributing Writer

Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief and senior vice president, defended the state of mainstream media and coverage of the current presidential election at the Harvard Kennedy School Tuesday.

At the event, which was organized by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Feist described the American public’s growing interest in political news, and stressed the importance of maintaining neutrality in the media’s coverage of the presidential election.

“Our job is to put as much information out there as we possibly can, and let the voters decide what they want to do with it,” he said.

Feist added that there has been a “remarkable” increase in the number of viewers of the presidential debates. During the 2012 election, 7.6 million viewers tuned into the Republican presidential primary debate on ABC, while a record 23.9 million watched the debate on Fox in 2015.

“There’s something happening out in the public,” he said. “A fascination with this campaign, an interest in the candidates, and that’s a great thing.”

According to Feist, CNN made a strategic decision to invest significant resources into its political coverage in order to meet the increasing demand. To that end, the organization hired 45 new employees to cover the current election.

Feist said he hopes increased public interest in the election, which may be a result of the public’s “dissatisfaction with Washington,” will translate into a greater voter turnout.

When asked by an audience member about the relatively heavy coverage of Donald J. Trump’s campaign, Feist said Trump is more responsive to the media than most other candidates.

“There’s something interesting about Donald Trump that I have never seen,” he said. “This is my seventh Presidential election. When it comes to interviews, Donald Trump says yes. And that is unique.”

Feist said that even though journalists are currently “not terribly popular” in America, they conduct their reporting with a “remarkable level of integrity.”

“In 25 years at CNN, I have never once heard a colleague describe or even suggest whom they’re voting for,” he said. “And that’s a good thing.”

Michaela B. Morrow ’18, an audience member, said she appreciated the chance to hear from an insider of the media industry.

“I think it’s a really unique opportunity,” she said. “After class, you can come and hear from the person in charge of CNN’s coverage of the election. It’s neat to get the behind-the-scenes perspective.”

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