Terry Moran’s “Republic of Noise

Dylan Reed-Maxfield

Lawrence Class of 1982 graduate Terry Moran brought his nationally recognized face and voice to the Lawrence Memorial Chapel Thursday, May 22, giving the address for the annual Honors Convocation.
Moran, who was once an English major at Lawrence, has since gone on to serve as ABC’s chief White House correspondent and currently co-anchors the network’s news show “Nightline.”
Throughout his career as a journalist, Moran has covered many of the nation’s top stories, including high-profile criminal trials. He has received many awards for his work.
The title of Moran’s talk was “The Republic of Noise: Civic Intelligence and the Campaign of 2008.” The “noise” refers to the way modern political campaigns operate and to the dumbed-down, amped-up style of coverage the news media — especially television — gives them.
Moran observed that political ads often do nothing but attack opponents over irrelevant points, and that what we are accustomed to seeing on news stations is the same 10-second clip from a politician’s stump speech being played over and over.
“Volume is considered a form of eloquence,” he lamented.
Though he acknowledged that American politics have always been dirty — he cited the mudslinging that took place in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates — Moran still suggested that campaigns seem to be at an all-time low for intelligent discourse.
As he pointed out, “At least Lincoln and Douglas didn’t have a moderator cutting them off after 45-second answers.”
Moran’s message was not, however, that we should abandon all hope for our political system or lose faith in the ability of the American electorate to make wise choices.
“Your fellow citizens aren’t stupid,” he insisted before the crowd of Lawrence students and faculty that had filled the Chapel.
Moran credited U.S. citizens with effecting many positive changes throughout the nation’s history by exercising their votes. He claimed that ending legal segregation, winning the Cold War and beginning an environmental movement were all more or less direct achievements of American voters.
Moran said he believes in a kind of “civic intelligence” that most citizens have. He claims to have seen it repeatedly in his experiences covering criminal trials.
Although juries are comprised of ordinary men and women, “something changes when the doors close on the jury room,” he asserted. Moran’s claim is that when jury members explain themselves to their peers, they are forced to employ the civic intelligence that usually leads them to make reasonable decisions.
Moran then drew a connection from the jury box to the voting booth, and called on citizens to use the same civic intelligence when engaging in political dialogue. The same process of ordinary men and women explaining themselves to one another is what is required if Americans are to keep voting wisely, even in today’s “Republic of Noise.”
“American patriotism has always been strangely bound up in words and ideas,” Moran commented during his final remarks. He encouraged his audience to continue to evaluate ideas and keep the conversations alive.