Purdum and McCurry to deliver Seline Lecture April 25

Tuesday, February 13, 2024 - 3:15pm

In a pivotal presidential election year, two distinguished veterans of politics who played at the highest levels will share their insights on campus in April.

Todd Purdum, who covered the Clinton White House for The New York Times, will face off with Mike McCurry, who served as press secretary for President Clinton.

Their talk, “Navigating the Nexus: Journalism, Public Relations and American Politics,” is part of the Seline Memorial Lecture Series for the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications. They were invited by Shari Veil, the Jane T. Olson Dean of the College.

In nearly 25 years at the Times, Purdum went from copy boy to White House correspondent and Los Angeles bureau chief. He later was a staff writer for Vanity Fair, Politico and The Atlantic. He is the author of three books, most recently Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution. He has taught at the University of Southern California and is at work on a biography of Desi Arnaz.  

Purdum met his future wife, Dee Dee Myers, while covering the Clintons. She preceded McCurry as White House press secretary. (Todd and Dee Dee’s relationship inspired a plot line in the television show “The West Wing.”)

Before joining the White House, McCurry served as press secretary for Sens. Harrison Williams and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as well as presidential candidates John Glenn, Bruce Babbitt and Bob Kerrey. He was communications director for the Democratic National Committee from 1988 to 1990, and then joined Public Strategies Washington as a consultant. He is also a former co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, and he taught at the Wesley Theological Seminary for eight years before retiring in 2023.  

In accepting the invitation to speak, McCurry noted the timeliness and relevance of the issues he and Purdum will address. 

“I look forward to wrestling with Todd on the relationship between the press and politicians,” McCurry said. “It’s a subject deeply important at a time when a majority of Americans mistrust both. But like we did at the White House, when I briefed and he reported, we will tangle with great respect for each other and, I hope, an amusing anecdote or two.”

“Americans need more civil dialogue,” he added, “and I'm so happy to be a part of the Seline Lecture's effort to encourage and sponsor exactly that.”

Purdum also welcomed the opportunity to talk about practicing and covering politics in the digital age.

“Together, Mike and I have covered a lot of ground in politics and journalism and seen a lot of changes over the past 40-plus years,” Purdum said. “I won't argue that things were necessarily better when we started our careers, but it's a special challenge to practice and write about politics when so many politicians, journalists and readers don't seem to be able to agree on the basic realities.”

He added: “As one of Mike's old bosses, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, liked to say, ‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.’ That seems a quaint notion today, but we have to remember it.”

Purdum and McCurry will speak at 12:30 p.m. on April 25 in the Swanson Auditorium in the Nebraska Union on the UNL Lincoln City Campus. The Seline Lecture is free and open to the public. After their remarks, Purdum and McCurry will take questions.

The Seline Lecture Series, which began in 1992, engages journalism innovators and thought leaders to discuss, explore and debate challenges facing the industry.

In announcing the lecture this year, Veil cited the college’s mission, which includes the “ethical pursuit of truth to uphold democracy.”

“This will provide our students with an incredible opportunity to view politics from distinct perspectives,” she said. “This collaboration exemplifies crucial dialogue between the fields of journalism and political public relations, and highlights the need for transparency, integrity and mutual understanding in today's complex media landscape.”

The lecture series was established in honor of S. Allen and Kathleen D. Seline, who were dedicated to helping future generations of Nebraskans and who were devoted to their children, Steve, Nancy and Rex.

“My parents believed in giving back to the community,” Rex said. “We’re simply following their model with this fund. They also believed in civic engagement and the robust discussion of current events and issues. We’re honored that Todd and Mike have agreed to share their insights and stories in memory of our parents.”

Rex graduated in 1978 from the college, where he also met his wife, Becky Brugman Seline. Steve’s daughter Libby graduated from the college in 2021.

Veil thanked the family for its investment in Nebraska journalism.

“The legacy of the Seline Family continues to inspire and empower the next generation of media and communication professionals,” Veil said.

The Seline Lecture will be streamed live on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/@UNLCoJMC.

Todd Purdum (left) and Mike McCurry
Todd Purdum (left) and Mike McCurry