Major Garrett’s homecoming

The Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News spoke about his book, Trump’s presidency and the state of journalism Thursday.
Major Garrett came to MU on Oct. 18, 2018, and spoke about his new book “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride.” Courtesy of Twitter via @MizzouAandS

Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent for CBS News, appeared on Thursday at an event hosted by Pi Sigma Alpha, MU’s Political Science Honor Society.

At 7 p.m., students, faculty and members of the general public gathered in the Rhynsburger Theatre to hear Garrett speak and answer questions about his recently released book, “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride.” Following this, there was a book signing in the lobby area outside of the theater.

Garrett graduated MU in 1984 with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science.

Because of Garrett’s ties to MU political science and his participation in previous events with the department, Bill Horner, director of undergraduate studies for the political science department and faculty advisor of Pi Sigma Alpha, was able to organize the event by reaching out to Garrett via email.

“I had already read the book,” Horner said. “I knew it was a compelling piece of work. I've talked to Major on a lot of occasions, and he is a compelling, interesting person to listen to, so it seemed to me that as long as we could get the word out and get a crowd, it would turn out really well.”

Laura Miserez, junior and dual degree in journalism and political science, moderated the event, asking eight questions to Garrett before the audience got a chance to pose their own questions. Though Miserez was initially reluctant to take on this role due to a fear of public speaking, her desire to meet and get to know Garrett eventually won out over her fear.

“Dr. Horner asked me if I wanted to moderate about a month ago and I originally said no because I was so nervous,” Miserez said. “I didn't want to be in front of people, but then I figured that I would regret it someday if I didn't.”

Miserez was able to appreciate the event’s importance for both disciplines that she studies.

“Because I'm in journalism, I want the audience to take away that good journalists still exist and they're still doing good work,” Miserez said. “Also, I think it's important to take away that, whether you like or hate Trump, a lot of the stuff that is different now because of him is going to stick around and so it'll be about deciding how as a country we're going to react to that.”

A central goal of “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride” is to anticipate what from the first 18 months of Trump’s presidency will be most important in the long run.

“There is a point in the book somewhat early on where I say the great challenge is answering the question with certainty, ‘Am I really focusing on what matters?’” Garrett said. “That's the goal of the book. When you say these are the things that are going to matter five or ten years from now, are you going to be right about that? Just because I say it doesn't necessarily mean it's true. It's my best analysis.”

Because of his current role as White House correspondent in addition to his over 30 years of covering four different presidencies, Horner said that Garrett has a unique perspective on Trump’s actions as president thus far.

“I think he offers a unique position,” Horner said. “He is at the White House every day. So, he's got a perspective that not very many have. He has really lived and breathed the Trump administration from campaign time to presidency. I think that he gives an insight that is valuable.”

“Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride” is Garrett’s fourth book. However, unlike the previous three, Garrett worked his day job at CBS while developing the book and only had a combined period of about two and a half weeks off to commit himself solely to book writing.

“That's no amount of time to properly under normal circumstances write a book, but these are abnormal times and the book writing process was in every way abnormal,” Garrett said. “The only way I can compare it in a way that The Maneater audience might appreciate it is it’s like three midterms a day for 12 weeks in a row. That's my best way of sort of giving some sense of the enormity and the pressure.”

The book starts with a prologue titled “What I Should Have Learned,” where Garrett breaks down the first words that Trump spoke to him and reflects on what he wished he had understood from them. With this choice, Garrett wanted to be forthcoming with his own fallibility as a journalist.

“I wanted to make sure that anyone who might be curious about this story knew that I was coming to them as a journalist eating some of my own crow and saying I missed some things and I should have been smarter than I was,” Garrett said. “I tried to approach my readers with a sense of accountability and humility because if they don't believe I have either one of those things, I don't think we can have a relatable conversation, and every writer wants to have a relatable conversation with his or her reader.”

In his talk, Garrett emphasized his pursuit of focusing on the important over the interesting in his book.

“There's a tremendous fascination, and it's not misdirected, about all the fractiousness inside the White House and the rivalries and the contentiousness, and that's interesting,” Garrett said. “But along with that comes this sense that nothing's happening, and that's not true. That's not the only story.”

According to Garrett, he tried to emulate the principles that he learned at the MU School of Journalism in his book.

“My only aspiration as a graduate of the school is to live up to what I learned here, and I’m very proud of my book in that sense,” Garrett said. “I believe it is the embodiment of everything I’ve learned here: to be neutral, to be curious, to be creative, to keep an eye on every aspect of the story, to not get in the way of someone’s own reaction to it, to be a fair and credible arbiter of what happened, and stay out of the way of what should or shouldn’t have.”

To both the audience of his book and the audience of his talk, Garrett emphasized a message of optimism.

“I’d like people to take away that the arc of journalism and the arc of democracy is long,” Garrett said. “As turbulent as these times feel, we’ve had worse, much worse. We’ve had hard times, but we’re a strong and capable people. Don’t lose hope.”

Edited by Morgan Smith | mosmith@themaneater.com

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