Ramesh Ponnuru on Slanted Media Coverage and Facing Off Against Peter Jennings

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review, a conservative opinion magazine. He has covered national politics since 1995 and his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Newsday, and the New York Post, among others. Ponnuru corresponded with us as part of our continuing series of interviews with reporters, editors and commentators covering the election.

Thomas Lang: How would you assess the job the press has done covering the campaign so far? Do you think it has favored one of the candidates so far?

Ramesh Ponnuru: Given that Howard Dean is not the Democratic nominee, I would have to say, Not so hot.

I think the press massively favored John Edwards for veep, and has also displayed a tilt toward Kerry over Bush. See, for example, the treatment of the Joseph Wilson affair.

T.L.: You recently attended the Democratic National Convention. What was your strategy going into enemy territory? How will your approach differ at the upcoming Republican National Convention?

R.P.: The strategy was to grin and bear it. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of critical things to say at the Republican convention, but better sources.

T.L.: In the July 26 National Review you took on the newsweeklies for not providing “reliably non-liberal, or even intelligent” copy. As you note at the end of your piece not many people in Washington D.C. read the newsweeklies. But, many Americans across the country read them cover-to-cover. What’s the newsweeklies biggest problem — fluff coverage or ideological bias? What’s the impact on the American public?

R.P.: Fluff or ideology? Yes and yes. I think the newsmagazines are struggling to figure out what role to play in the new media world.

T.L.: Writing for an opinion magazine with a passionate audience, do you ever feel like your just preaching to the choir? Do you feel like you are changing minds?

R.P.: Sometimes I like to think that I’m changing people’s minds, as when I enter various intra-conservative debates. At other times I assume readers already believe the same general things I do, but provide some information they had not had or an argument they had not thought of.

T.L.: If you were selected to host a bi-partisan talk show, who would you chose as your Paul Begala/Alan Colmes?

R.P.: Peter Beinart, or maybe Peter Jennings.

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.