June 25, 2024

America’s at a crossroads. Where do we go from here? With Judy Woodruff

Journalist Judy Woodruff spent the last two years “reporting on America” by traveling the country to speak to people and try to find out why we’ve become so polarized. Today on Transition Lab, she tells us about how politics has changed since she arrived in Washington, D.C., during the Carter administration, how these changes inspired her current series, “America at a Crossroads,” and what she’s learned from it. Spoiler alert: the problems are as big as you imagine, but so are the ideas of Americans working to solve them.

Judy is a senior correspondent and the former anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for more than five decades at five major news networks. Since leaving the PBS anchor chair at the end of 2022, she’s been working on a new series, America at a Crossroads, where she speaks with Americans across the country to understand what’s driving our current political environment and what might be done to bridge the divide. Judy has won numerous awards during her career, including the Partnership for Public Service’s 2023 Spirit of Service Award and 25 honorary degrees. She’s also a dedicated philanthropist, championing causes including disability rights and women’s equity in the media.



Valerie: Today, we’re beyond thrilled to welcome the one and only Judy Woodruff to Transition Lab. Judy is a senior correspondent and the former anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She’s covered politics and other news for more than five decades at five major news networks, and since leaving the anchor’s chair at the end of 2022, she’s been working on a new series, America at a Crossroads, where she speaks with Americans across the country to understand what’s driving our current political environment and what might be done to bridge the divide. Judy has won numerous awards, including the Partnership for Public Service’s 2023 Spirit of Service Award. She also holds 25 honorary degrees and is a dedicated philanthropist championing causes, including disability rights and women’s equity in media. 

During her illustrious career, Judy has interviewed subjects from schoolteachers to every one of the last eight presidents, and we’re so excited to interview her today. Judy, thank you so much for being here.  

Judy: Valerie, it is great to be with you. Thank you.  

Valerie: We’d like to start by asking. In your decades long career, you’ve experienced eight presidential transitions. 

What have you learned about how journalists should engage with the new administration?  

Judy: Well, since I’ve been doing this, going all the way back to the Jimmy Carter administration, when I was a fresh new correspondent at NBC News. Had only been there, just barely two years. And frankly at a time when Washington was brand new to me, I had visited Washington. 

But when I arrived in Washington in January of 1977, at the beginning of the Carter administration, as you know, President Gerald Ford had served in office only for a few years succeeding President Nixon. It was an upheaval, from the Republicans to the Democrats. And I, to be fair, it was new enough to me that I was in my own professional upheaval and that I had just moved from being based in Atlanta to moving to Washington, that I didn’t even begin to understand what it meant. 

To make that most significant transition from one administration to a completely different one. Republicans had been in power at that point for, for eight years. And then moving to Jimmy Carter, to a Democrat, different team, different White House, different team in the agencies. 

I was very much on my own learning curve, but if you ask, if you’re asking what I learned, I learned that there’s, it’s just a lot more complicated than anybody expects. I was covering, I will just tell you, I was covering the transition period from Plains, Georgia, where the Carter team, many of the folks working for Carter were, were in Atlanta or already in Washington, but Carter himself was primarily in Plains, so they would come to Plains to have meetings with him, where decisions were made about cabinet secretaries, and he would hold a press conference, in Americas, Georgia, or in Plains to announce, you know, who the Secretary of Commerce was going to be.  

I mean, I remember vividly when he announced Juanita Kreps was going to be the Secretary of Commerce. He announced several cabinet secretaries before inauguration day. So that was my first, I will, I will say that was my introduction to the transition over the years, Valerie. I’ve come to understand there’s a whole lot more involved. 

It’s you’re naming the people at the top of the agency, but there are many, many others who have to be chosen for those political positions inside the agencies. And not to mention, Jimmy Carter had talked about reforming government and changing and improving the way government works. So, there was a potential for a lot of change.  

Valerie: I appreciate how you emphasize for our audience, the complexity for the government players and how much is involved. And I’m also really curious about what it was like for you as a journalist and trying to understand, what was happening? Did you already have the strong relationships to get the news firsthand or was there a, a growing process?  

Judy: Well, I knew the Carter team. I had covered Jimmy Carter. In fact, as governor of Georgia, as a local reporter for the CBS affiliate state TV station in Atlanta, I covered him as governor for four years. He was term limited. And it was after that that he announced he was running for president. 

But beyond that, I had not, again, I didn’t have contacts in Washington. My contacts were with, were with the people around him, and they didn’t necessarily always want to be forthcoming, because they were dealing, first of all, with a lot of information that they, of course, wanted to control, and they didn’t want it out. 

They didn’t want the press to have it out before they were ready for it to be out, or they may decide they wanted another news organization. They may have wanted the New York Times or the Washington Post to break a story and not NBC, a television network where I work, but that didn’t stop me or the other, any of the other reporters from working to get those stories, but to answer your question, Valerie, I had relationships with the Carter people. 

I had zero relationships in Washington. I had to build virtually from scratch and, and that was, you know, that took time, and it took a lot of work. And I’m proud to say that over the years, I did build up acquaintanceships, relationships with people, but it, it does take time and it takes building trust. 

It’s not something that happens immediately. But at the very basic level, you need to understand how the system works. And that for me was a steep learning curve. And I will tell you, I came into it feeling incredibly inadequate because I was competing against people who, were based in Washington and had seen the process up close before. 

You know, for years, in some cases, they knew the system, they, they had sources already. And, and it was intimidating for somebody coming to Washington for the first time to be suddenly covering the White House and covering the, you know, the seat of power, covering the person who’s making all these, these decisions that affect so many agencies, so much of government and, and of course, you know, the entire world for that matter. 

Valerie: But you had the relationships with the president and his team, and you had the strength to use that.  

Judy: Well, I tried. I mean, I, I do remember that I, I was able to break a few stories about who some of the cabinet secretaries were going to be. And even after he was in office, when he decided to create the Department of Education, I, I had a lead on that story, and so that made a difference. 

But I will say this Valerie, it’s interesting when you’re covering the White House. There’s so much focus on the White House itself, and I’ve long believed that we don’t pay enough attention to the other agencies. And as you know, over time, news organizations have been strained and resources have been scarce. 

The resources have been scarcer and scarcer as funding has grown more challenging, certainly for commercial broadcasting and, and for print. And so, when news organizations find their stretch, they often turn increasingly to the White House and less and less to the agencies and frankly, less and less to the rest of the country, less to the rest of the world. 

And I don’t think that’s the most satisfactory way of covering Washington. I think you, you need to be, you need to have people who are plugged in at agencies who have good relationships with people in the agencies, if you’re going to accurately and faithfully reflect what’s going on, I think to have soul or principle or main focus on the White House and on the president. 

It’s great to have that. And it’s, it is crucial, but it’s not enough. And so, the, the coverage of Washington, I think it at times has lacked.  

Valerie: As, as someone who started her career in an agency public affairs office at the Department of Homeland Security, as it was starting out, I definitely appreciate that. 

I think agencies want to tell their stories. So, in the first season of Transition Lab, we interviewed, Stu Eizenstat about his experience in the Carter transition. And one of the themes that emerged in that transition was the importance of the relationship between the campaign and the transition team and sharing information across them. 

Is that something that you’ve seen or covered across different transitions or more broadly? Can I ask, what themes have you seen are important about transition planning?  

Judy: Well, and enough to know that it is, as Stu Eizenstat probably told you, complicated because on the one hand, campaigns don’t like to look like they are assuming they’re going to win. 

They want to be confident, to be seen as, um, ready to take over on day one, but they also don’t want to look as if they’re assuming they’ve got the campaign in the bag, if you will. And so, there’s that, there’s that tension. And then over time, there certainly is, is tension in terms of, resources and individuals, because, you know, you want some of your most talented people to work on transition. 

And the campaign of course wants talented people to help win the election in the first place. So, there’s there is a little bit of tension in that direction. But sure, I mean, the campaign at the campaign phase, the candidate is trying to win, and so, trying to present a story or a narrative that is going to get him or her across the finish line.  

A transition on the other hand is about governing and it’s about making some tough calls that may not be, in the best, you know, in the best interest of the narrative that the campaign wants to, to get across. That’s often the case. And so, I would say in most cases, we’re, you know, the campaign wins because that’s the, that’s the immediate imperative. 

The candidate wants to win. The campaign is focused 24/7 on winning. The folks in the transition often have to take the back seat, knowing that, you know, their time will come. Assuming they win, but, but they know that the candidate has to be very careful about what he, again, what he or she says, about issues and positions, but meanwhile, the transition, it’s absolutely critical. 

And we’ve learned this more and more over time, Valerie, the, the transition has to be working really hard and taking seriously the fact that the day after the election. Now, you still have, you know, a couple of months before you take office, but you are, you are, you have a big responsibility on your hand to get the best people into those jobs, to make sure you’ve done your research. 

You know what the issues are that you’re going to need these people to be familiar with. And that it doesn’t become just a who’s lobbying in the most clever way to get those jobs. You want to make sure you’re picking the right people. And so those transition decisions are huge. They, they can make the difference between, I mean, if somebody is chosen who ends up having either something in their background, or they end up making a decision for the, for the new administration that turns out to be a problem that reflects on the new president. 

So, all those decisions, all the, the personnel decisions make a huge difference. And I think I’ve, you know, it took, because I didn’t cover transitions exclusively, I know it took, it took a while for me to understand that. And I think it’s fair to say now that most campaigns recognize this as something they have to take seriously. 

Valerie: Yeah, and I think the way you described it is something that a lot of people don’t understand, that on campaigns you make promises and you’re, of course, seeking to be elected. And then as you enter the governing phase, as you said earlier, resources are constrained, and you have to make hard decisions about how to implement those promises. 

And as you said, personnel is the most important aspect of, of how you go about implementing those decisions.  

Judy: And there are so many, I mean, you, you have on the tip of your fingers, I can’t remember how many thousands of decisions have to be made. And of course, they, we all know who the cabinet secretaries are, but there are so many positions in each agency under that, not to mention the White House positions.  

Valerie: 4,000 political appointments more than most other countries and, more than 1,200 of which need to be Senate confirmed. And in fact, we’re coming out with, with updated numbers. It’s hard to get a handle on how many need to be Senate confirmed because of challenges and getting all of the data in one place, but it looks like it’s actually much more than 1,300 needs Senate confirmation. 

Judy: And that number changes depending on what Congress decides. And then of course you add on top of that the politics of it all and, and getting some individuals confirmed, which is another, another conversation.  

Valerie: Well, I want to ask you one more question about covering new administrations and it’s really what they can do on their end to build trust with the press. 

Judy: I’m a big advocate, Valerie, for transparency, as much transparency as possible, and I know, you know, every, the instinct of, of anyone who’s been running for office and has just been elected is to put forward the most positive possible story. That’s the, that’s the goal of their communications team. Their press team is to put forward the most positive picture narrative of what’s going on. 

And I get that. And I also believe that it’s a big mistake, not to be candid about, about some of the challenges, that a new administration is dealing with. If, if you discover there is a problem of some sort with an appointment, with a decision, with a statement, to get that out there as quickly as possible to number one, to be available to the press, to answer questions. 

And then second, to be as, as clear and honest goes without saying. Honest and transparent as possible. And, you know, I’ve dealt with administrations and individuals who run the gamut from, you know, being, being very helpful, very forthcoming, to being totally unforthcoming and unhelpful. And needless to say, I prefer the former. 

And I don’t think it serves administrations well, to think that they can manipulate the press and avoid the press. I know campaigns and presidents have good, what they think are good reasons for doing that. But in the end, the press is here to represent the American people and the, the president, and all of his team are there to serve the American people. 

And so, I think keeping in mind, that your, you know, your audience is not just going on a TV show or doing an interview with a newspaper or print reporter, digital reporter, it’s the American people. You will be in a much better position if you’re, if you lean in the direction of openness, transparency, candor. 

Valerie: So, speaking of representing the American people and being there to serve them. That’s a good segue to your recent work on “America at a Crossroads.” And one reason we were excited to have you on today was to kind of ask about what you’re, what you’re seeing and hearing. So, in the last few “America at a Crossroads” episodes, you’ve profiled some local efforts to create cross partisan, discussion and solutions, what you often refer to as bridging efforts. Could you share about these groups and what lessons and themes you’ve heard in their work?  

Judy: Happy to do that. You’re right. These are, these organizations are part of a so-called bridging movement across America. There are literally thousands of them. 

Many of them are very local at the neighborhood or the community level. Some of them that were national names people may have heard of like Braver Angels. Common ground, they have names like Listen First Starts With Us, and groups like this. And there are many, many more like that. We have reported on the efforts of a few of them. 

One, Braver Angels. They put together for us last year in 2020 through three, a group of four Democrats and four Republicans in Cleveland, Ohio. And we sat down with them to talk to them about the divide between the two parties, the differences in their thinking, how they’re able to even have a conversation with one another, what they, how they see the motives of people on the other side. 

And it was, it was interesting. And, and we recognize these are people who wanted to have these conversations. It’s not the case that everybody on either side of our political divide wants to engage in a conversation. So, part of what braver, a big part of what Braver Angels is doing is trying to get people just to sit down and, and talk and listen, and begin to respect the views of others. 

There’s another group, we came across in our reporting in Tennessee, we went to Tennessee to look at efforts to lessen gun violence in the aftermath of a terrible school shooting in Tennessee a little more than a year ago.  

And, this group, they invited in a group called Starts With Us to pull together Tennessee residents from across the political spectrum, all the way from people who are very much pro-gun rights, very much believers in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, that Americans have a right to bear arms, all the way to those who think there should be much more gun control, individuals who’ve been impacted by gun violence. 

They put, they’ve narrowed it down to a group of 11 Tennesseans. They met over the course of three days. They came up with and hammered out five recommendations that they could all agree on. Including, recommendations around educating young people, educating citizens around gun safety. One of the recommendations had to do with access to guns, only one of them. 

And that recommendation had to do with being able to take a gun away from someone who could potentially pose a risk because of a prior diagnosis, either because of mental or emotional illness or having committed a crime. And so, what happened was they, the group took their recommendations to the state legislature. 

They wrote them in the form of legislation, and they attempted to brief members of the Tennessee state legislature. They could not even get enough of a, of a group of legislators to come together to listen. And we interviewed several members of the Tennessee 11, they call themselves. And they spoke to us about how disappointed they were that they had done this work. 

They had hammered out this agreement, which was barely controversial. I mean, it was, it was something all, all their recommendations were things that the people of Tennessee, the polls show support that there’s majority support for each one of those five recommendations, but still they could not get, and in particular, Republican members of the state legislature. 

I think that, I think they said four or five showed up at a briefing, and the measure that they had proposed never made it out of committee. It was, it was tabled. And they spoke to us about how disappointed they were. And the gentleman, I’ll just say the gentleman, two gentlemen, we interviewed, very strong believers in the Second Amendment. 

One gentleman even owns a shooting range. It’s his livelihood. And he spoke to us about how deeply disappointed he was. And he also worried about his own work, about his job because he said, I fear that even talking to the group is going to affect, you know, whether people are willing to, to come and come to me for, for shooting lessons anymore. 

Valerie: I was following this story with this burgeoning sense of hope thinking, yes, this is what we need to do across the country, come together across divides and build solutions together. And, it is, it is disappointing that, that these recommendations were not taken up in a more serious way. I, I often describe myself as a naive optimist and wanted to ask you what lessons we could learn in D.C. for working together across divides. 

And I, I’m not sure what positive lesson to draw from that.  

Judy: Well, when it comes to solutions, I think of them in different buckets. I think one, one thing that I think clearly needs addressing is our political structure, if you will, our primary process, the fact that so many primary elections in this country are closed or meaning that you only, that only people who are in the, either the Democratic Party could run in the Democratic primary. 

Republicans run in the Republican primary and, and only people who are members or who are registered members of that party can vote. Those, that closed system has led to a more partisan representation in Washington because the tendency has been for the candidate who leans farther to the left to win the Democratic party primary, the candidates who lean farther to the right to win the Republican primary. 

And the reason for that is the most committed Democrats and Republicans are the ones who turn out for the primaries. So, you have people who already have very, generally have strong views about issues. And so, the people who get elected in the, or get chosen in those primaries tend to be the farthest to the edges. 

And that’s what we see in, in our Congress right now, it used to be that we had a Congress not so long ago, 20 years ago, a Congress where we had moderate Republicans who were even more moderate to the left of even some of the most conservative Democrats, so called blue dog Democrats, many of them from the South. 

And the converse was the case with Democrats. You had, as I’m saying, conservative Democrats, more, more conservative than the more moderate or more liberal Republicans today that you don’t see that at all. Both parties are, you know, quite separated. So, at the primaries and there are, there is an attempt now to reform our primary process. 

I just came back from Alaska a couple of weeks ago where we reported on there. They changed the law to open up the primary process so that people from either party or no party can run for office in the primary. And then the final two can run in, in the election. And so, and yet now there’s an attempt to repeal that in Alaska. 

It turned out that the many, a number of the conservative Republicans in the state, after a Democrat won the one congressional seat from the state of Alaska, there was a reaction to that. And even though they had elected a conservative Republican governor, they elected a Republican to the United States Senate. 

They still didn’t like the fact that Democrats were able to pull off a win in the, in the congressional seat. Other states are trying other kinds of other forms of primary. Reform and we’ll see what happens. They’re going to what they call rank choice voting or experimenting with it at the state level, sometimes at congressional level. 

Beyond that, gerrymandering the way districts are drawn has certainly led to a more polarized Congress. The parties themselves, where money is so important, the parties have so much power to determine who gets money for their next race, to determine who gets a committee chairmanship, subcommittee chairmanships, and those decisions are made based on party loyalty. And for members who try to work across the party, across the, the divide and work with people in the other party, you’re often punished for that. 

You may not get financial support from the party for your next race when you want to be reelected, or you may not get that subcommittee chairmanship. So those are systems here in Washington that I think need to be changed. And I told you there were several buckets. I’ll keep my answer short. 

I think the message from the top matters. The way leaders speak about the other party, not demonizing the other party and people in the other party, can make a difference as well. And, and I think the media plays a role in all this. Happy to talk about that too.  

Valerie: I, I did want to ask you about the role of the media and, and also don’t want to overlook how many good solutions you have just proposed in terms of the need for a different primary system, a better primary system to look at gerrymandering. 

This is all really good advice. And, one thing that we’ve been looking a lot at the Partnership for Public Service is trust in government, and the levels are shockingly low. As we look at the level of trust in presidential transitions, they’re shockingly low. 44 percent of Americans in our last survey said they did not expect a peaceful transfer of power in, in 2024 if a new candidate wins. 

And I did want to ask you about the role of journalists and interest in government and what are the, what are the best practices for building public confidence in the stability of the transfer of power and of the effectiveness of government more broadly?  

Judy: Happy to answer that, but I have to respond to what you just said about 44 percent of Americans saying that they are not confident in a peaceful transfer of power. The sad truth is that right now we have so many public figures who are not willing to say they are going to respect the results of the election, including one of our candidates for president. It’s deeply dismaying to me. 

There is no evidence whatsoever that the last election was a flawed election. Sure, there are small mistakes here and there, but nothing that rises to the level of making the election result illegitimate. It’s been through multiple court cases. We know this, and yet that belief persists and it’s deeply dismaying to me. 

But we have to keep telling that story because the word has somehow not gotten to many Americans who are convinced because of what they’ve heard from political leaders and what they’ve heard in the news or a part of the news media that they can’t trust the system. And your question about the media I have to first say, you know, it depends on which part of the media you’re talking about. 

I mean, I represent what I consider the legacy mainstream news media in this country. I started out in local, local news in Atlanta, working for an ABC affiliate, then a CBS affiliate. Then I went to work for NBC News and PBS. I later worked for CNN before coming back to PBS. So, I’ve worked in what I call mainstream media, the traditional media. 

I have not worked for a newspaper, but my husband worked for the Wall Street Journal for 39 years before going to Bloomberg News. So, we are a two journalist family. I have enormous respect for the news media, for journalists. So many of my closest friends are journalists. Having said that, journalism isn’t perfect. 

Journalists aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. But by and large, this is a group of people who deeply love this country, who love democracy, who believe in the rule of law, who believe in facts, who don’t believe in conspiracy theories. And so, what I’ve seen happen to the media over the last 20 years or so, and that we now have outlets that are fully engaged in repeating mistruths, inaccuracies, in reporting the quote news, it just breaks my heart and makes me angry.  

And I, but that’s what’s happened. We now have entire news channels on cable, on radio and certainly on the internet and social media, they call themselves news that are all about just conveying theories that are not true and, and repeating stories that are not true. 

And so again, I don’t think all of us in the, in the mainstream media, get it right all the time. We can be accused of, you know, our own foibles and mistakes. But, by and large, we’re there to try to get at the facts, and constantly trying to improve. And so, I would hope that as many people as possible, would, would continue to rely on a mix, of a mix of news sources, if you will. I think it’s fine to listen to sources on the right and the left and the middle. 

Someone just recently did a study and, I wish I could remember who it was, where they found that the people who listen to just one side of the news had, you know, they, they were accepting beliefs or theories that were not true, whereas the people who were listening to news sources across the spectrum, mainstream media, but a mix of everything, were much that their attitude, their beliefs were much closer to, to what’s real. And so, I, I think we can’t do enough to stress the importance of that.  

Valerie: You’re reminding me of an event you did two years ago at UVA’s Miller Center with our friend, Bill Antholis. And I think he asked you about how to be civil around a topic like January 6th that’s surrounded by so much uncivility. 

And I think at the time you spoke about how the media needed to go out and get a better understanding of the feelings, the resentment that, that many Americans were feeling. And was that a, a genesis for your, for “America at a Crossroads” project? And do you feel like you’ve succeeded a bit more? 

Judy: It was a genesis. I would say that the main reason that I wanted to, have this, this project for this year and last year, 2023 and 24 is because I wanted to understand why America is more divided, at least it seems to me to be more personally divided than in any time since I’ve been covering politics, which is now 53 years, a long time going back as we’ve discussed, to the seventies. And I’ve never seen Americans as, some Americans, not all, feeling as hostile toward people on the other side, either looking down on them, not respecting them, thinking they are not people, who are not doing the work that they should to understand what’s going on and, and not respecting people on the other side, to people having the attitude that the other side is elitist, is know it all, is, um, frankly, not giving all Americans credit for being smart. 

And, and so the ill will exists on both sides. And I think it’s been easy for us in the press. And I can say this as someone who’s lived in Washington for more than 45 years, that, and as much as I love this city, I love living in D.C. and love working here certainly and think it’s an important place to report on government, of course, that we have to get out in the country and talk to Americans. 

I mean, it’s just essential. And so that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to spend, once I stopped anchoring, I wanted to spend all of 23 and all of 24 leading up to the 24 election getting out in the country. So, I’ve spent the last year and four months, we’ve now reached, I think, 20 states and the District of Columbia, we have reports. 

And each one of them has been an attempt to understand the division. But I wanted to understand why it is that we are so divided. What’s at the source of that? What’s driving it? And are people comfortable with it? Do they like the fact that, you know, the families can’t even get together around Thanksgiving dinner table? 

In many instances, you have fathers and daughters disagreeing violently or disagreeing, I should say, vehemently over politics. Sisters and brothers, cousins, neighbors not speaking to neighbors, people unfriending others on Facebook and on down the list. I wanted to understand that.  

And I wanted to understand, as you said, you know, what is it going to take to heal? And I will tell you, Valerie, the, the longer I’ve been at this reporting project, the deeper I understand the division is and the more complicated it is, the more many layered that it is. I’m now convinced it’s, if I wasn’t already, that there’s, there’s no chance it’s 2024. 

These are attitudes that are settling in. And, I think it’s going to take reform, the kinds of things you and I have been discussing. It’s also going to take different messages coming from our leaders. People need to hear from leaders who are modeling goodwill toward the other side and the one person I’m going to cite right now, and I know there are others is the governor of Utah.  

His name is Spencer Cox. He’s a Republican. It’s a very Republican state. Spencer Cox is spending his year as governor, as chair of the National Governors Association with a project called Disagree Better.  

He’s trying to, and he has persuaded a number of governors to model, to try to model working across the aisle, respecting the other side, uh, saying I’m going to respect the results of the election no matter what they are, even if I lose, that I’m going to talk about the other side as if we disagree, but, but I’m not going to demonize the other side and say they are unpatriotic or they’re, I don’t know, satanic, if they have a different view. And so, the line that he, when I interviewed him this year, one of the things he said, I sat down with him and a democratic governor from Maryland, Wes Moore. 

And Governor Cox said at one point, it’s not American to hate other Americans. And that has stayed with me, but that’s what’s going on. There’s a lot of hate going on right now and it’s not going to go away by the end of this year. I think it eventually, let’s pray that it will dissipate, but we’re going to need all hands on deck for that to happen. 

Valerie: It strikes me that, that a big part of your philosophy is respect for, for your viewers, for your subjects, for everyone that’s a part of your work. And I, it sounds like that might be part of your advice for governing leaders as well, that, as you described the approaches of Governor Cox and Governor Moore, that respecting each other, respecting everyone across our divides is what our leaders need to model.  

Judy: No question. It’s listen, but it is also respect. And Valerie, I don’t underestimate the difficulty of this. 

There are, there are some issues that it may be easier to find middle ground on. There are some issues for which it’s very difficult. I’m thinking right now of immigration, although quite honestly, I think it’s, it is possible to find middle ground on immigration. We saw that effort in Congress not so long ago this year, and yet they still were not able to come to, to, to reach a vote on it. 

But there are other issues, upon which people are deeply divided, have, have personal views, and it’s hard to get to the middle ground. And I, I think people just have to keep trying because the alternative is, is not healthy for our country. It’s not good for the American people. It’s not healthy that we can’t reach agreement on issues like, uh, government spending. 

I mean, how do we, you know, are we going to, are we going to spend money on this program or that one? And when you can’t reach a decision and then you end up with a government shutdown because there isn’t, they can’t agree on a vote to raise the debt limit or whatever they’re going to, whatever the vote is. Some people are going to be caught in the middle of that. 

So, the American people are not well served by gridlock, the country isn’t well served and, you know, and we’re dealing with a more complicated world than ever. Technology is changing dramatically. And I haven’t even mentioned, I know we alluded to it, the news media is part of, I think our, our, deep divide right now because I think so much of the media promotes conflict and, and profits from it, frankly, and I don’t think that’s healthy. And so, there’s real work to be done. And as long as we are at each other’s throats and unable to have even a conversation or to work through some of these tough issues, the American people are the losers. 

And, so that’s why I feel so strongly about it. And I think the news media clearly has a role to play in that. Far be it from me to give advice to public officials. They’ve got a hard enough job, and I haven’t, I haven’t sat in their chair or walked in their shoes, but I, I have covered them for a long time. 

And I, I do believe that there’s room now for more of our elected leaders and appointed leaders, to, to listen to the other side and respect the other side and look for common ground. Compromise shouldn’t be a four letter, it’s not a four-letter word. It shouldn’t be a dirty word. 

It should be something people can at least sit down and think about. I know people say, well, I have my principles. I don’t want to give in. There’s a way to have your principles, but then understand that in the moment, if, if one side or another doesn’t give in, in some form or fashion, more people are going to suffer as a result. 

And that’s not a result we want. 

Valerie: I know we’re almost out of time and it’s, it’s very sobering to discuss the challenges. And I always want to end on a high note and ask, what gives you hope looking ahead this year and beyond?  

Judy: I do see hope in the American people. I have to, you know. It gets kind of corny, but when I think about the history of this country and I think about what we’ve overcome in our young life, I mean, when you compare the United States of America to other, most other countries around the world, most of them are older. 

Many of them are a lot older. We’ve, we’ve been at this, what is it? Almost 250 years, and we’ve got a lot of things right. We’ve got a number of things wrong. Mainly we’ve gotten it right. We’re still standing as a democracy, as a country that still believes in the rule of law, still has freedom of the press. Thank goodness we still have those cherished freedoms that are spelled out in our, in our Bill of Rights. So, I put my faith in the American people. We’ve come through a civil war. Hopefully we will never, ever, ever go through anything like that again. We’ve gone through disagreements over wars overseas, and like the Vietnam War, civil rights movement, certainly the women’s rights movement. 

And we’re, we’re still fighting our battles over race and the history of race in this country, slavery, that’s some of the dark, darker parts of the American past, but we are working toward solutions. We keep working to improve ourselves. I love the phrase a more perfect union. We keep trying to get to that place where we have a more perfect union. 

We’re certainly not there yet. But the fact that we keep on trying is what makes it, is what makes it worth it. And so, I put my faith in the American people. As I said a moment ago, Valerie, I don’t believe this is going to, this division is going to go away with the snap of our fingers, it’s not going to go away by the end of 2024. 

But let’s all hope that we’re moving in the right direction, in the right direction. That we’ll listen to each other, respect each other, and that the voices of some Americans that haven’t been heard will begin to be heard and that those will be a voice of reason.  

Valerie: Judy Woodruff, that is a high note to end on to think about how our country has gotten through challenges before and we keep striving to be better. Thank you for sharing your perspective from your travels around the country and the time you’ve spent talking to Americans. And thank you for your advice about how leaders can treat each other with respect. You’ve done an outstanding job of outlining solutions for all of us to take seriously.  

Judy: Thank you very much. I’ve so enjoyed talking to you and I’m such an admirer of what the Partnership for Public Service does. And I, I wish you all the best with everything you’re working on.