Former White House staff visit FIU, debate press and politics (includes video story)

The values on which America was built are at risk if Americans can’t agree to be more civil in their disagreements about policy, two former presidential spokespeople told students and professors at an open forum Tuesday, April 9.

“I think everything is at stake, the beauty of our country is that we have the freedom and the right to have those discussions,” said Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary for the Trump Administration. “Too often right now we’re actually shutting down those conversations, and that actually is not good for our society.”

THE speakers in the realm of media and politics took the stage to have an open discussion on the role media plays in politics in this current election year. Spicer, the former White House press secretary for the Trump administration, was the more familiar name. Johanna Maska, former White House Director of Press Advance for the Obama administration and a well-known podcaster, was the other.

Spicer is a somewhat infamous figure in the world of politics perhaps best known for falsely – according to the Washington Post –  inflating the crowd size at President Trump’s inauguration. 

Six-time Emmy award-winning journalist and former NBC 6 Miami news anchor Willard Shepard moderated the debate. Shepard, an FIU law alumnus, is the president of Willard Shepard Law and a Gulf War Air Force veteran.

One of the main talking points throughout the debate was the importance of having a conversation with those who hold an opposing viewpoint.

Despite being on two different sides of the political spectrum, Spicer and Maska strongly agreed on this topic. They urged the journalism students in attendance to have these sorts of conversations and most importantly to listen.

Both speakers spent time discussing the need for reliable, trustworthy reporting. They tackled some of the discourse surrounding the lack of trust in media, due to biased programming. 

The debate, which was attended by about 60 people was one of the results of a bill passed by the Florida legislature passed in 2023 that requires state universities to create a public policy office

The law outlines the office’s responsibility to stage  group forums that address “public policy issues widely discussed and debated in society at large” from “multiple, divergent, and opposing perspectives.” The university’s office was established in August 2023.

Four events are required every academic year and must be open to students, faculty and staff, and the general public. 

Spicer and Maska’s chat was the fourth gathering organized by FIU’s Office of Public Policy Events. Previous presentations have centered on immigration, foreign policy and climate policy, according to Dr. Mireya Mayor, the office director. She also said, in an email, that she had contacted Spicer and Maska in January. 

Natalie La Roche Pietri worked on the video story and reporting. Jason Harrow collected video. Sebastian Cuervo worked on the print story and reporting.

Managing Editor

Natalie is a senior double majoring in journalism and English. She interned at the Miami Herald and was an NBCU Academy fellow in Washington, D.C., where she reported on national issues that affect South Florida. Natalie has an interest in political reporting and gender issues.

Sebastian Cuervo is a senior majoring in digital journalism with a focus in sports journalism. After his studies, he wishes to pursue a career as an on-air sports analyst.

Jason Harrow is a junior at Florida International University who is majoring in Digital Journalism. Jason plans on using his voice to create insight and keep the public informed on what is taking place within their state