Comedian and political satirist Mo Rocca, a correspondent for the television program CBS News Sunday Morning, discussed “Fake News vs. Real News: Just How Fine is the Line?” in a live interview with Vassar senior Louise Dufresne on February 5, as part of the Krieger Lecture series, which annually brings American humorists to Vassar.
Dufresne, an American culture major, interned this past summer for the Washington, D.C., bureau of the CBS News program Face the Nation, and later worked for CBS at the Democratic National Convention. Dufresne has also interned with CNBC, and she chairs the Youth Advisory Committee of the News Literacy Project, a nonprofit that brings professional journalists into public schools to help students sharpen their critical thinking skills.
You recently interviewed political satirist and comedian Mo Rocca for the annual Krieger Lecture. Were you nervous?
I was terrified when I first got on stage. But as Mo and I began talking, I eventually forgot all about the audience. He’s a brilliant conversationalist and immediately put me at ease. I’ve also benefited from working with some marvelous interviewers. Bob Schieffer is a big role model in my life. He told me once that his strategy is to ask the important, probing questions and then give the interviewee space to tell his or her story. CNBC anchor Tyler Mathisen once advised me to treat interviews like being at a dinner party with new friends: be engaged, but not rude; speak clearly, but don’t dominate the conversation. These two perspectives guided my approach to the interview and also calmed my nerves.
What was your favorite part of the interview or the most surprising?
Whether he’s on CBS News Sunday Morning, or on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, or learning to cook on his show My Grandmother’s Ravioli, Mo Rocca always seems to be playing the same character: a lovable nerd with a big, inquisitive voice and thick glasses. When I asked Mo about his development of this “persona,” he said it was less a “persona” and more the end result of a long journey of becoming comfortable with his own voice. He recalled his first appearances on the radio, when he tried to put on what he thought was a “radio voice” and ended up feeling totally disingenuous about it. This moment really resonated with me because I’m still trying to become comfortable with my own journalistic voice.
Do you plan to pursue a career in broadcast journalism after you graduate? And do you see yourself focusing on the political arena?
Absolutely. I’m still waiting to hear back from a few different opportunities, but my plan is to move to Washington, D.C., after graduation and do something related to politically-oriented broadcast news. I loved the work I was given at CBS last summer and—perhaps more importantly—the people I was doing it with, so I’d ideally like to end up there. In the past year, I’ve gotten to know two dynamite Vassar grads—Chip Reid ’77 and Missie Rennie Taylor ’68—both of whom have made a terrific impact on CBS and the field of broadcast news. I’m eager to build upon the great work they’ve done and make contributions of my own.
I hear that you are an avid letter writer and have had five letters to the editor published in the New York Times. What did you write in about?
I’ve written mostly about higher education and the future of journalism. My latest letter in the New York Times Sunday Dialogue was about how colleges should create a greater role for internships within the liberal arts curriculum. The last line of my letter was: “Let’s force the philosophy major to apply her critical thinking skills to something other than an analytic essay.” That line got me in trouble with my mother, Cary (Bachelder) Dufresne ’81, a philosophy major turned corporate banking executive.
But, in all seriousness, my letters haven’t always been received well on campus. My sophomore year at Vassar, I published a letter to the editor, arguing that laptops should be banned in Art 105. Though banning these devices is not a particularly popular position, the distraction of technology in classrooms—particularly when it leads to students browsing the Internet during class—remains one of my favorite topics to write about.
What makes a successful letter writer? Can you share a few tips?
I always tell my friends who want to submit letters to the editor that they must explain why readers should care about what they are saying. For example, you could say, “As a humanities major, I disagree with...” or “As a first-time voter eager to fight global warming...” It’s also important to keep letters short and to the point. Sometimes, letters with the fewest words say the most.
Photos © Vassar College-Buck Lewis