John McCain’s pick for his running mate, Sarah Palin, is the governor of Alaska, a former mayor and a beauty pageant contestant. She’s also a journalism major, with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho.
Palin didn’t work for the campus newspaper or TV station, but she worked in broadcast news after graduation. You can watch a sample of her work here.
Upon reading more about Palin, I recalled that Pat Buchanan, who was the Reform Party’s nominee in the 2000 presidential race, also studied journalism, earning a master’s degree in that subject from Columbia University. Buchanan’s journalism career includes work as an editorial writer at a St. Louis newspaper.
I asked my colleagues at the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill whether they knew of any other journalism majors who went on to contend for the White House. Chris Roush, who teaches business journalism, pointed to President Warren G. Harding, who studied journalism at Ohio Central College. Others mentioned politicians, including Dan Quayle and Adlai Stevenson, who didn’t major in journalism but had newspaper connections and experience.
Is a journalism degree a pathway to the White House? My colleague Donald Shaw offers this: “I hope that the new candidate, with her journalism education, like all the candidates, can do what we educate our students to do so well: Listen … and then communicate clearly and responsibly. A journalism education is an excellent background for all citizens and leaders.”
UPDATE: Since she was selected as McCain’s running mate, Palin has fallen into a “blame the media” mindset. Certainly she must have learned in her journalism courses that the press serves as a watchdog on government and powerful institutions. That scrutiny includes candidates for vice president. Perhaps Palin’s political ambition has overtaken her journalism education.