Keynote by Eleanor Clift

At a June 3 event and photo exhibit at the National Press Club honoring ICFJ's 2008 World Affairs Fellows, Clift spoke about the latest in the U.S. presidential campaign. Alumni of the program also reported the results of their international reporting projects.

By Michelle Mathew, Program Officer, ICFJ

Washington, D.C. - The International Center for Journalists, in conjunction with the International Correspondents Committee of the National Press Club, welcomed Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift to the National Press Club on Tuesday, June 3.

The evening also served as a welcome reception for eight journalists in the 2008 World Affairs Journalism Fellowship program, administered by ICFJ. The fellowship—sponsored by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation—sends U.S. journalists from small and medium-sized circulation newspapers abroad to report on topics that relate to their communities.

Laura Ungar was one of two former World Affairs fellows who shared her experience in India with the audience. Ungar, reporting for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., traveled to Kolkata to research cervical cancer screening and available vaccines.

Ungar spoke about the cervical cancer screening camps in villages she visited and also the grave conditions under which patients waited for medical attention. Because vaccinations used in the U.S. to prevent cervical cancer are too expensive for Indian women, researchers are using a Kentucky tobacco plant to develop a much more affordable vaccine.

“These people are thankful, humble and full of spirit,” she said.

Ungar is returning to Kolkota on her own to follow up on the women she met last year.

“I felt an awesome responsibility to give a voice to women who didn’t have a voice in the media,” she said. “I saw myself in them as a [fellow] wife and a mother.”

Eric Hand, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in St. Louis, Mo., traveled to Uganda, Malawi and Kenya to research cassava, a plant that is essential to the African diet. During his three-week fellowship, Hand visited a research center in Creve Coeur that is attempting to develop a genetically modified, virus-resistant version of the cassava plant.

He told the audience he felt fortunate to go to Africa, especially right after the World Cup and before Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya.

“I felt like East Africa was my oyster,” Hand said.

Clift then took to the podium and shared her thoughts on topics that ranged from Cuba’s relationship with the U.S. to climate change. Entitled “America in Flux: How the U.S. Elections are Changing Perceptions Abroad,” the event welcomed over 80 guests who were largely there to listen to Clift’s thoughts on where the 2008 U.S. Presidential candidates stood on international affairs.

Clift noted that the world is “on hold” for this election. She said so many people are fascinated with Obama but have some “nervousness about McCain.”

“The world wants the respect for them restored,” Clift said.

She drew parallels between former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Sen. McCain and former President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Obama due to their generational differences and differences in policy. Clift said Obama has “created an excitement that has not been seen since Bobby Kennedy in 1968.”

When asked about rumors that Obama is a Muslim and how they affected his campaign, Clift said he needs to quickly and forcefully say who he is.

“He’s got to raise the comfort level,” Clift said. “Hillary [Clinton] pushed it a bit far but that is what this campaign is about.” Clift said she is confident that Sen. Clinton will “do the right thing” with her political future.

Commenting on the idea that the world’s view of the U.S. is negative because of the war, Clift clarified the world does not have an “anti-American attitude, but an anti-Bush one.”

“Promises of a democracy were met with skepticism,” Clift said in reference to the war in Iraq, the country’s third longest-lasting war.

She said that whoever becomes the next president will repudiate the “go it alone” mentality the Bush administration has insisted upon. “There will be an effort to have a clean slate,” Clift said.

“We have a chance to play a bigger, different role, not an arrogant one.”

Clift invited questions from the audience at the close of her talk. One audience member asked why Obama is referred to as black instead of biracial. Clift answered that Obama sees himself as black and the media has therefore taken to referring to him as such. She also mentioned the country’s 18- to 29-year-old demographic is racially blind and gender neutral.

Another audience member asked Clift how much importance there is on the vice-presidential candidates. Clift said the vice-presidential issue is very important, due to McCain’s age and anxiety over Obama’s personal safety and his lack of experience.

The evening concluded with a cocktail reception.