As featured guest for the 2019 Bolin Family Public Life Personal Faith Scholarship Luncheon, Judy Woodruff shared how her personal faith informs her work in the public arena, as anchor and managing editor of PBS NewsHour.
“I don’t talk about my faith on television; it’s not part of my job, but it does inform who I am, and it certainly does inform my work,” Woodruff said.
Woodruff was interviewed by Peggy Wehmeyer, former religion correspondent for ABC World News Tonight, at the February 8 event at SMU.
The Public Life Personal Faith series, inaugurated in 2010, is a fundraising and outreach event of Perkins School of Theology in service to the larger community. The lecture provides an opportunity for guests to hear prominent people in the public sphere on topics related to how and why personal faith shapes public life. This luncheon is a major fundraiser for student scholarships.
The Public Life Personal Faith Scholarship Luncheon is sponsored by the family of Pat and Jane Bolin. Pat Bolin, chairman and chief executive officer at Eagle Corp and Eagle Oil & Gas Co. in Dallas, is a graduate of SMU (B.A. ’73) and a 2010 recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the SMU Cox School of Business. Jane Bolin is a member of the Perkins Executive Board.
Woodruff talked about growing up in a military family and attending seven different schools by the time she was in the 7th grade. When a professor encouraged her to consider journalism covering politics, she said, “I could ask people questions, I could be nosy and get paid for it.”
She also shared her personal faith journey. Her mother came from a strong Freewill Baptist background; her father’s family was Baptist and Methodist; her childhood caregivers were a family of Pentecostals who took her to church services. After a period of searching, she met her husband, who grew up “high church Episcopalian,” and together they joined a “regular Episcopal church,” St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
While work keeps her from attending regularly – “It’s constant; all of us put in long days” – St. Columba’s is an important part of her life.
“When I do go to church, I come away with my faith restored,” she said. “It’s the place that brings me the strength I need.
She also expressed her worries about the current state of the media in the U.S.
“I can’t overemphasize how dangerous it is,” she said. “If we get to the point in this country where we don’t have a robust news media, a robust press, to ask questions, to hold public officials accountable … we can’t make good decisions as American citizens.”
With newspapers downsizing and many reporters losing their jobs, she added, “We are in a tough place. The bleeding continues, and I really do worry.”
Noting that trust in the media is at an all-time low, Wehmeyer, asked, “Are we as journalists responsible for that?”
“Yes, we are, but it’s also bigger than that,” Woodruff replied. “The country is so polarized. Some of us in the press have clearly played into that polarization by giving people what they think they want to hear. At the NewsHour, we’re trying to cover the news and let the viewers decide.”
While on campus, Woodruff also spent time with Meadows School of the Arts journalism students, and was interviewed by SMU TV.