Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent and a close friend of late former President Gerald Ford’s family, spoke to a packed audience at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library last night.
Students and Ann Arbor residents congregated to listen to Mitchell’s speech — a celebration in honor of the library’s 30th anniversary. Mitchell discussed the importance of the media in conveying accurate, detailed information to inform citizens about political happenings and shared personal stories about her time with the Ford family.
Susan Ford Bales, daughter of the late former president and late former First Lady Betty Ford, introduced Mitchell, recalling memories of their friendship over the years. Bales said the two have known each other since Mitchell worked on the congressional beat for NBC News in 1988.
The women remained friends during Betty Ford’s battle with breast cancer and Mitchell’s more recent encounter with the disease. Bales recalled Mitchell’s visits to her family’s home in Beaver Creek, Mich. During these trips, Mitchell and her husband, economist Alan Greenspan, would engage in lengthy discussions with Bale’s parents.
“During the many, many Beaver Creek stays with my parents, discussions among the four of them were lively, and I mean very lively,” Bales said. “No matter what, whether during the day or evening, there was an image that never changed. It was an image that I have always remembered and hold dear. The image of the ever-present smiles of mother and dad whenever they were with Andrea and Alan.”
During her speech, Mitchell spoke fondly of her time spent with the Ford family. She talked about a visit to their home in which Betty Ford helped Mitchell pack her suitcase as she prepared for a last-minute trip to Havana for a breaking story on Fidel Castro. Moments like this, Mitchell said, exemplified the compassion the Fords extended from their Michigan home and into the White House.
“(The Fords) created a climate of normalcy in the White House,” she said. “I say that with so much admiration. When you think of the pomp and circumstance, and security and everything that goes into being in that house … they did it with such grace and humility.”
Mitchell lauded Ford’s presidency, particular his global awareness and consideration of other countries in his foreign policies.
“He so understood the importance of global integration,” she said.
Mitchell compared the difference in political climate between the time of Ford’s presidency and today. Mitchell said she traces the argumentative atmosphere of today’s Congress back to modern media.
“Think of the contrast of politics then and politics now,” Mitchell said. “What would Gerald Ford … say of the deliberate and accidental miscommunication of this summer’s debt ceiling crisis?”
Mitchell said that beginning with the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 — in which the U.S. Supreme Court justice was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma — broadcast networks began operating with a “new velocity of information.” Mitchell urged those in attendance to demand more analytical and comprehensive coverage of politics from their media sources.
From sparring with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to covering the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit, Mitchell said her diverse journalistic experience stems from having a broad-based education focused on the merits of reading and writing. She said these skills are crucial for students aspiring to have careers in broadcast journalism.
“Writing is the most undervalued talent,” Mitchell said, naming journalists like NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor, Brian Williams, who exemplify the power of writing in the broadcast journalism industry.
LSA sophomore Andrew Craft, an aspiring journalist, said Mitchell’s lecture was a window into the life of a broadcast journalist.
“I like hearing reporters tell their stories,” Craft said. “They get to meet famous people and travel the world.”
LSA sophomore Molly Mayer said she enjoyed listening to Mitchell’s lecture since she is an avid viewer of her work.
“I grew up watching her,” Mayer said. “Getting to know the other side is definitely exciting.”
— Daily News Editor Bethany Biron contributed to this report.