CMC alumnus and White House correspondent for The New York Times Michael Shear ’90 spoke about his college life and professional experiences with Miriam Farah ’23 on the sixth episode of CMC Conversations: Journalism in Politics.
The live show on Instagram started at 4 p.m. on January 14, and lasted 30 minutes. About 30 people attended the Instagram Live, which was the largest audience CMC Conversations had and retained. The recording was uploaded to CMC’s official Instagram page.
At CMC, Shear received a public policy degree with a self-designed journalism minor while working as a student journalist for The Forum and later The Collegian, a 5C newspaper that no longer exists. During his time as an Athenaeum fellow, Shear invited many professional journalists to campus. Shear also interned for the Los Angeles Times and helped cover the inauguration of George H.W. Bush when he participated in CMC’s Washington Program.
He loved his time in Washington, D.C., and believes that “at some level, the experience at CMC and doing student journalism was kind of what ultimately led me to what I’m doing there,” Shear said.
Before working for The New York Times, Shear worked for The Washington Post and covered the local government in Virginia, and then Virginia’s State House for six years before covering national politics, including both of President Donald Trump’s impeachments.
Shear enjoys reporting news regarding the presidency because he can “travel all over the world on Air Force One [...], and [he] sees the world in a very different way,” Shear said.
“One thing about covering the White House and national politics is that you’re at the heart of stories that are global in nature where the whole world is watching.”
To cover White House news, Shear would be alerted every time Trump tweeted, and one of his colleagues would even be on duty as early as 4:30 a.m. to quickly report news. When asked about Trump’s attack on the press and his constant undermining of public health messages regarding COVID-19, Shear said that his job remains the same — reporting useful and important information.
Farah mentioned that Trump's attacks on the media can lead to huge consequences. In agreement, Shear believes that “there comes a time when you need the media to be putting out these important messages. In this case, it turned out that it was about a pandemic, and you ended up having something like half the country not believing in masks or that the virus is real.”
According to Shear, these are consequences of Trump’s actions. Nonetheless, Shear noted that his “responsibility is not to get into a big fight with [Trump].” He continues to say that he “will never win a fight with the President of the United States. But what I can do is say ‘Okay, that’s fine. You have your opinion.’ But, I will ask you about this policy and what you meant when you said this. I think the more we stick with the news instead of engaging with him in a back and forth, I think we would be better.”
Shear also talked about his experiences writing investigative pieces about the pandemic, including slow COVID-19 testing, missing information, and vaccine development. He said that the duty of journalists is not just about daily news coverage.
“I think that’s kind of a twin responsibility for a journalist: react to the news, cover the news, but then also do some investigative stuff to give people a sense of what’s really going on,” Shear said.
Since the pandemic has caused people to cancel or postpone events, Shear advised the student journalists to “make the pandemic your friend.” Shear believes that the pandemic grants journalists the opportunity to learn about people’s current struggles and lifestyles.
“I would recommend making the pandemic your inspiration for your news,” Shear said. “Do as much as you can to report about how CMC students, faculty, and administrators are managing during this crisis.”