White House briefing

NPR correspondent addresses Chico audience

Ari Shapiro waits to greet his audience up close and personal after delivering a talk in Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium.

Ari Shapiro waits to greet his audience up close and personal after delivering a talk in Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium.

Photo By tom gascoyne

Ari Shapiro, the National Public Radio correspondent who has covered the White House for the past three years, delivered an insightful and at times humorous talk to a nearly full house in Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium on Tuesday (Oct. 22).

“I am Ari Shapiro, and you all look nothing like I thought you would,” he began, reversing the role of what radio audiences often think of the faceless reporters they listen to on air.

After that ice-breaker, Shapiro localized himself by announcing he has an aunt who lives in Willows and his uncle was once the principal of Gridley High School.

Early on in his career, he covered the Justice Department, he said, and “with the excitement of being a kid, I called my mom and told her I’d just talked with [Supreme Court] Justice Anthony Kennedy. And she said, ‘Couldn’t you talk to a liberal justice?’”

Shapiro expressed the importance of maintaining a politically neutral posture as a reporter, particularly one covering the White House. When asked later in the evening if NPR is “liberal,” he said he didn’t think so.

“Of course, if you listen to Rush Limbaugh all day, NPR will come across as liberal,” he said. “But then there’s the very idea that there could be a nonpartisan media. We are human after all, and therefore not perfect.”

Shapiro, who is transferring to London to serve as an overseas reporter, said that early on in his White House coverage he was approached by President Obama.

“He said, ‘You’re pretty new. What do you think so far?’ I said, ‘My mind has never been so focused on a person as I am with you. Frankly, I’m a little obsessed with you.’ He said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’”

Once while flying with the president on Air Force One, Shapiro said, he was in the back of the aircraft eating a plate of pasta covered with marinara sauce.

“The president comes to the back of the plane, which was unusual, and I have a plate of red sauce on my lap and I can’t get to my microphone. So I’m in a position where I can either soak the leader of the free world with red sauce or not do my job.”

He said the current political divide in Washington, which led to a government shutdown, is due in part to changing demographics—namely the shrinking influence of white America, which by 2043 no longer will be in the majority. Congressional districts, as redrawn, he said, are dominated by either a hardcore conservative voter base, or a more progressive-leaning demographic. As such, he said, the art of political compromise, the willingness to reach across the aisle, is disappearing.

“In February, the debt-ceiling debate is coming again,” he reminded his audience. “Of course, by that time I’ll be in London.”

He said he recently spoke with a political reporter in Britain who told him that Scotland is looking to secede from the UK. He said the reporter told him that politics in Britain “are crazy.”

“Then he looked at me, paused, and said, ‘Well, not that crazy.’”