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National Agenda 2020

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Prominent speakers, Delaware Debates announced for election year

Young woman at voting machine

This year's National Agenda speaker series will be all virtual.

Each year, the National Agenda speaker series, hosted by the University of Delawares Center for Political Communication (CPC), takes on a new theme, and this year has been a lively one, organizers say.

Even before the country saw protests over police brutality, before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation, before we knew who the presumptive Democratic nominee would be (a UD alum, indeed) ...  before all that, the team at the Center for Political Communication decided on We Are the People as the theme.

The emphasis is on the Are, said Lindsay Hoffman, associate professor of communication, who has directed the series since 2015. We wanted to focus not on just the strategies and moving parts of campaigns and elections; we wanted to focus on the citizens of this nation, and what they can do to take part in this great American experiment that is democracy.

Like so many other events at the University this semester, the 10th annual National Agenda speaker series will transition to a virtual speaker series. Fortunately, Hoffman said, that will allow her to invite more speakers, including speakers who may have ordinarily been unable to make the trip to Delaware.

Weve got a really exciting line-up, and even a few surprises that we might throw in, she said. Ive been really pleased with the speakers being flexible, and I know that we can provide important discussions during this major election year.

From the economy, to the COVID-19 virus, to debates about masks and quarantining, there is a lot to talk about, Hoffman said.

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National Agenda 2020 banner

The series will use Zoom technology to facilitate a Q&A session, much like the one the in-person series has traditionally featured. Since all events are free and open to the public, the CPC anticipates getting a more diverse audience from different parts of the country.

The series jumps off on a lighter note, featuring the founder of the satirical news website The Onion. Scott Dikkers started the humor website in 1996 and has served as the editor-in-chief, on and off, for the last quarter century. As many who are familiar with The Onion know, it is a funny, and sometimes dark, take on the days news written from a satirical perspective. One recent headline stated Undecided Voter Looking Forward to Learning More about Donald Trump During Campaign, explaining that this voter had seen a few episodes of The Apprentice but didnt really know much about Trump. Dikkers will provide a lively presentation and talk with Hoffman about the state of satirical news, fake news and reality on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

The focus on how media portray politics continues Wednesday, Sept. 30, with a panel of producers and writers (and some surprise guests) who will discuss Fact versus Fiction. The panel will include writers of Homeland, 24, House of Cards and other political programs. Audience members who catch up on these programs can ask a question about their favorite character or plot twist.

The National Agenda isnt just about the speakers, though. The CPC also hosts the state of Delawares only official set of debates. This years debates will take place over two nights on Tuesday-Wednesday, Oct. 13 and 14. The founding director of the CPC and former director of National Agenda Ralph Begleiter will be moderating the debates between candidates running for U.S. House and Senate and Delaware governor.

The discussion continues Wednesday, Oct. 28 with the co-host of National Public Radios All Things Considered, Mary Louise Kelly. Kelly launched NPRs intelligence beat in 2004 and went on to write two espionage novels based on her experience. Before the pandemic was the main news story, Kelly was famously berated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who demanded she point out Ukraine on an unmarked map (which she did). Shell talk with Hoffman about what its been like to cover this White House administration and how that compares to the past, plus what role the media play in an era of spreading misinformation and how consumers can distinguish between real and fake news.

Julia Ioffe, a Russian-born American journalist who covers national security and foreign policy, will speak on Wednesday, Nov. 11. Ioffe often appears on national and cable channels as a Russia expert. She is also the author of the forthcoming Russia Girl. With the election taking place just eight days before this talk, there should be a lot to discuss around Russian interference in elections as well as national security.

Finally, on Wednesday, Nov. 18, National Agenda will round out the discussion with a post-election panel featuring the senior executive producer and political editor for C-SPAN, Steve Scully, who also hosts its morning call-in show, Washington Journal. Joining Scully will be PBS NewsHour White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor. Both speakers have had experiences dealing with uncivil dialogue from citizens, and even the president, and will discuss how to talk about politics after this tumultuous year and election process.

For the full line-up with links to each event, visit the National Agenda website.

Article and illustration by College of Arts and Sciences communications staff; photo by iStock

Published Aug. 21, 2020

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