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Liberty + Leadership Podcast – Stephanie Slade, Novak ’16


This week we have another amazing TFAS alumna on the Liberty + Leadership Podcast: Reason Magazine senior editor and 2016 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship recipient Stephanie Slade. In addition to being a regular contributor to the U.S. News and World Report, Stephanie is also a fellow at the Acton Institute. In this week’s episode, Roger and Stephanie discuss the separation between church and state, libertarianism, integrity in journalism, and the future of political parties. The Liberty + Leadership Podcast is hosted by TFAS President Roger Ream and produced by kglobal. If you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org.

Episode Transcript

The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.

Emily Schroen [00:00:02] I’m Emily Schroen, the program coordinator for International Affairs and law programs at TFAS. I’m a 2019 alumna of the TFAS D.C. Summer Programs, and you’re listening to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast.

Roger Ream [00:00:14] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream, and this is the Liberty + Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni who are making a real impact in politics, public policy, government, business, philanthropy, law and the media. Today, I’m joined by Stephanie Slade, senior editor of Reason Magazine and a recipient of The Fund for American Studies Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship in 2016. Stephanie has worn many hats throughout her career, including as a screenwriter, a pollster and a regular contributor to U.S. News and World Report. At Reason, she currently covers the intersection between religion and politics, writing groundbreaking pieces on abortion, foreign elections and libertarian politics. She was recently named a Liberal Studies Fellow at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Stephanie remains dedicated to unearthing the truth, one of the multiple reasons she was named a finalist for the 2013 Frederick Bastiat Prize for Journalism. I’m excited to discuss with Stephanie some lessons on liberty and leadership that she has learned over the years. Stephanie, thank you for joining me and welcome to the show.

Stephanie Slade [00:01:30] Thanks so much for having me, Roger.

Roger Ream [00:01:31] Perhaps I’ll begin with a very simple question. Reason magazine is a libertarian publication. You were formerly the managing editor, now senior editor – could you tell us what Reason magazine is all about?

Stephanie Slade [00:01:49] Sure. We’re a monthly print magazine and a daily minute-by-minute website that covers the news from a libertarian perspective. I always specify that means small ‘l’ libertarian, which is to say that we’re not in any way affiliated with the Libertarian Party. Some people I work with are members of the Libertarian Party, many of us are not, but our ideas are libertarian. We believe in individual liberty. We believe that the highest political value is limited government and individual freedom and freeing people up and giving them space to live their lives and pursue the good life on their own terms as much as possible, and that the government has a very limited role to protect our fundamental rights and liberties, but leave us free to do the rest and do that individually and in association with each other. It’s not a hyper-individualistic or atomistic philosophy that says every person for themselves. We believe very much in voluntary communities that form and pursue that good life. But we think that it ought to be done as much as possible at our level as opposed to at the state level.

Roger Ream [00:02:55] Well, that philosophy of limited government and free markets is probably why you and a number of your colleagues have received Robert Novak Journalism Fellowships. You got yours in 2016. Can you speak a little bit about your project and perhaps whether that Fellowship offered you some advantages in terms of your career as a journalist?

Stephanie Slade [00:03:17] Absolutely. I got the Fellowship at such an interesting moment in our country’s history. I applied in February of 2016 and was accepted a few months later. My project was basically about religious liberty and making the case for the importance of having laws that protect religious liberty and protect the rights of people of faith in this country. During the Obama years, when I started at Reason and prior to that, when I was writing for U.S. News and World Report, I did a lot of writing about religious liberty. These were very live issues during the Obama era because of the controversy around the Obamacare contraception mandate, which initially required all employers, including religious employers, to pay for the full cost of contraceptives and even abortifacient drugs for their employees. That was part of the Affordable Care Act, the Obamacare law. Over time, many people of faith registered objections to this on conscience grounds. There were a lot of negotiations, there were legal challenges. I was writing about that issue and similar religious liberty issues during the Obama years. But I applied for this Fellowship to do religious liberty right at the end of the Obama era, and when Donald Trump ran for president and eventually was elected, that was during my Fellowship year, and suddenly the issues were very different. In the years since then, I’ve done a lot of writing that’s still at the intersection of religion and politics and still definitely is informed by my belief in the deep importance of religious liberty, but also has now expanded over time into other aspects of how religion and politics intersect. And in some cases, how are the ways that people of faith can look at politics and use politics in ways that I’m not so comfortable with? In the last few years, I’ve done a lot of writing, for example, about the Catholic Integralist movement, which are folks who think that we ought to have less separation between church and state. And that’s not something that I’m comfortable with at all. But being a Catholic and a political journalist, it allows me to continue to do work at this intersection of religion and politics, writing about the importance of religious liberty, but doing it from a different perspective or hitting these issues from a different angle because of the way the world has changed in the last four, five, six years since I did the Fellowship.

Roger Ream [00:05:46] While issues changed from Obama to Trump in terms of religious liberty, were you surprised at the attraction that Donald Trump had among religious evangelical conservatives?

Stephanie Slade [00:06:00] Yeah, I’ll tell you that I wrote a lot of things in 2015 and 2016, predictions about how the primary election would go and how the general election would go that did not end up being true. Now, I’m not alone in that. Many political journalists were wrong, our instincts were wrong about how that election would go. I’ve certainly been humbled by it and have tried to make a point of not making nearly as many predictions on the record about how elections will turn out since then. It was certainly a surprise to see the political right, the Republican voters, conservative voters, the religious right, and especially evangelical Christians to whom, if you go back 20 years to during the late 90s and the Bill Clinton era, the idea that morality matters, that morals matter, that character counts – it was such an important part of what folks on the right used to say and how they used to say that they approached politics. That seemed to go right out the window with the candidacy and election of Trump, who is certainly not somebody who embodies or lives out the idea of character counts. Now if you talk to people on the right, they would say we’re facing an existential crisis and some things are more important. In this case it was more important for us to support the guy who we thought would have our back. But it was a surprise to me, and I definitely had to eat my words a little bit because I did not think that Donald Trump was going to win the Republican primary or the 2016 election, in part because I didn’t see the rallying around him from the right from folks who had been talking about morality and character, which is what we ended up seeing happen.

Roger Ream [00:07:47] Why do you think there’s such strong disagreement, or such a divergence among, Catholics, Protestants, people who call themselves Christians, and among people of faith generally when it comes to their views on politics, on the role of government, on capitalism? I’m a Protestant, and certainly there are a lot of clergy in the Protestant church who seem to denigrate capitalism and view it as antithetical to Christian values driven by greed or whatever. We all read the same Bible, but we come out with such divergent political views. Do you have some thoughts on why that is?

Stephanie Slade [00:08:28] Yeah. I definitely think that there is room within the Christian faith to be a faithful believer and a good Christian and to disagree about questions of public policy and to have these different orientations toward the role of government in society and toward the morality of markets. I think there can be good faith disagreements, and I try hard not to ever say that if you want to be a good Catholic or if you want to be a good Christian, then you have to be on my side of this debate. I’m sympathetic to those who are skeptical of markets. I think they’re almost always motivated by good intentions, by a sense that there are people who are suffering from poverty. There’s so much inequality. The system that we have has produced these outcomes that are certainly flawed in various ways. But I think there’s a really strong argument to be made – and a big part of my career has been making these arguments – that actually if you care about poverty, if you care about which system does the most for the least among us and gives us all sorts of material benefits, the greatest material benefits, that there has never been a system that’s done any better, that’s done anywhere close to as well as a free-market capitalist system: free trade, global trade, minimal regulations, unleashing the entrepreneurship of people to find ways to serve each other through the markets. There has never been a system that has produced better outcomes, including and especially for the least among us. That’s just an empirical fact. In which countries and in which places in history have the poorest people had the best lives? It certainly has been today, you know, in the Western industrialized capitalist countries. And that doesn’t mean that these systems are perfect or these countries are perfect. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t still ways that we can improve them. It doesn’t mean that we don’t individually, as market actors, have moral obligations to each other. But I don’t think that anybody has been able to either invent or even posit a system that could do a better job than what we have at helping reduce poverty. If you care about inequality, and it just seems wrong that some people have so much more than others, I think the further back in history you go, the more backbreaking, abject poverty you find on the ground. That’s real inequality, when you had kings and you had paupers. And the paupers, it was a struggle just to have enough food to survive another day. That is true inequality. I’m not saying it’s not a problem at all, but I’m saying we’re moving in the right direction.

Roger Ream [00:11:21] You brought to mind, some 10 or 15 years ago, I was sitting in my church and the associate minister was offering a prayer and included the words, may we put people ahead of profits. I sent her a note, I probably should have just let it go, trying to explain to her the role of profits and losses in a free-market economy and that they direct resources to their most valued use, and it’s not a conflict between profits and people. And when I saw her a few Sundays later, she said, “Oh, thank you for your letter. My husband tells me I need to learn more economics. And I just bought the latest book by John Kenneth Galbraith.” And I thought, “Oh no, she’s going the wrong direction.”

Stephanie Slade [00:11:59] You should send her some Henry Hazlitt instead.

Roger Ream [00:12:03] Exactly – economics in one lesson. More recently, you’ve been covering what I guess is loosely called or often called the national conservative movement, the follow up of the Trump administration. They’ve held several conventions; I know you’ve gone and written about them. There’s been a fracturing of sorts among the coalition that held together people who opposed big government during the Reagan years, at least the old Frank Meyer fusionism as it was labeled. You’ve written some great pieces on this that have been published in many places, not just in Reason. Do you think there’s hope for a fusionism among conservatives and libertarians or should libertarians, those who oppose expansive role of government, look to the left and try to find the old fashioned liberals who still believe in free speech and oppose cancel culture? Is there more opportunity for fusionism there for libertarians?

Stephanie Slade [00:13:10] There’s an eternal debate within the libertarian world about whether we should be trying to ally ourselves with folks to our right or to our left. There’s always disagreement. I think it’s not an either/or proposition, that on issues where we agree with people on the left, when it comes to criminal justice reform issues, immigration issues, where we lean more to the left, I think we should work with them. When we have issues where there is more of an opportunity to work to our right, to build alliances, to try to get to good outcomes that we think will make the world a better place, then we should build bridges to our right. Generally speaking, that’s my approach. The idea of fusionism, I think, is actually often misunderstood. This is a term that is often used somewhat mistakenly to describe a coalition that formed during the Reagan era of different types of people on the right. You have your economic libertarians, you have your social conservatives. Maybe you also have your Cold War hawks or military defense hawks. They come together and they get Reagan elected and they help to defeat the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. But actually, fusionism was always, as it was laid out by Frank Meyer, a senior editor at National Review, who is sort of the godfather of the idea of fusionism, he was always very clear that it was never supposed to be just an alliance or a coalition of convenience between disparate groups, but rather a coherent philosophical orientation that said, we as Americans believe that both virtue and liberty are non-negotiables. We must have them both. And if you sacrifice one to try to get the other, you’re undermining the whole American project. He believed that this is what informed the American founding. Certainly as conservatives, the thing that we were trying to conserve is this great principle of the American founding, this fusionist idea that liberty and virtue need each other, and we must be committed to both of them. This is fusionism: instead of thinking about these disparate groups who each have their own priorities and are vying with each other for who can have the most power within the coalition, instead you can say, “Hey, if you believe in liberty, you should also believe in virtue, and you should work with people who care about virtue to make this a more virtuous society and vice versa.” We’re now all on the same page and we’re all working towards the same goal. That idea of fusionism and of a shared worldview, a philosophical worldview, has sort of been lost, unfortunately, in the last few years. And that’s what I’m hoping to try to help us recover.

Roger Ream [00:15:49] The founding president of The Fund for American Studies was David Jones. We had his portrait done after he died holding his favorite book, which was “In Defense of Freedom,” by Frank Meyer, and it hangs in the entranceway of our building. He turned over to me a file full of articles by Frank Meyer and his old, tattered, underlined copy of “In Defense of Freedom.” Meyer’s had a great influence not only on David Jones, but I think on the development of The Fund for American Studies and what we try to do, which is to reach young people who we think will be leaders in the future who may not have a political philosophy at all. They may identify as libertarian or conservative or middle of the road or left. But they’re persuadable. And we’re trying to introduce them to some of those ideas that you mentioned, the founding ideas of this country that are worth preserving, and at the same time make it clear to them, as you said earlier, that it’s through free markets that you can most promote human flourishing and give people the opportunity to better their lives. Do you see much of a hope or a plan that could move us more toward the kind of political institutions, the kind of guiding political philosophy that libertarians believe in of less government, limited government. I mean, the Constitution lays out some very important functions for government, national defense, you know, policing, the establishment of justice and court systems. Those are very limited and narrow functions. They’re very important functions. They’re essential functions, and they’re very difficult to do. Yet today, government is just involved in every aspect of our lives. You touched on how they even want to push values onto religious institutions that might be against the beliefs of those institutions. Is there a pathway to get back to the kind of system that libertarians believe in?

Stephanie Slade [00:17:56] I think that this is a live debate happening right now in real time that we’re living through. We live in interesting times. We often in America tend to think of politics in terms of a left-right spectrum. I always try to introduce a second dimension, which is the liberal versus illiberal dimension. I think that there’s a way that you can be on the left and liberal or illiberal. And by liberal, I don’t mean left. I mean believing in these classical liberal values of individual liberty, limited government, personal responsibility. You can be on the right and you can be liberal or illiberal. The schism on the right between the illiberal right, the folks who are saying we tried this whole individual liberty, libertarian-ish kind of thing, and we don’t like where it got us, and it’s time for us to embrace a big government that can impose a conservative way of life on the country. That schism that has opened up between those folks and people like me who still really believe in the importance of classical liberalism and individual liberty, it’s an intellectual war that’s playing out right now over what is going to be the future of the Republican Party, the conservative movement, and the country as a whole. I don’t know how it’s going to end. I know that I have one side that I’m hoping will win, and I don’t think it’s hopeless. That’s the thing. At this moment in the last few years, it has been easy to, I think, fall into despair over the future of the country. There’s certainly a lot to look at and be despairing of in our politics right now. I think the main thing that’s wrong with our politics is this turn on both the left and the right towards illiberalism, the illiberal factions, those who reject individual liberty, and the idea of a sort of pluralist world in which even those we disagree with have rights and that we have to respect and we have to be willing to share our society with them, even if we don’t like the way they use their freedom. The illiberals have a lot of the energy on both ends of the spectrum right now and in the last few years. That’s the thing that I think is broken about our politics. But I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that either of those factions, the left illiberals or the right illiberals, if I can oversimplify, that either of those factions are going to win in the end. The reason for that is ultimately, I think the American public is deep down at an intuitive level, quite liberal. The American founding was a triumph of liberty in this way. I think we have in our bones and in our DNA a desire to live in a free society and a recognition that that means sharing society with people, that even if we don’t agree with them, we don’t share their values, we don’t like what they’re going to do with their freedom, as long as they’re not infringing on our rights and our ability to live our lives and pursue a good life as we understand it, we want to be able to live in peace for the most part. I think there’s a very strong instinct in the American public. So I’m hopeful. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that I’m optimistic, but I’m hopeful that in the end, we will return to those values that are so deeply rooted in the American founding and in the American character, the spirit of what it means to be an American that says we believe in freedom. We are a liberal country, again, not in the term left-right sense, but in the liberal-illiberal sense.

Roger Ream [00:21:24] I appreciate what you said. That’s a very interesting analysis and insight. I also think that the power of those ideas that our country was founded on, that you say are in our bloodstream as Americans, the interesting thing now is that on the left, the illiberal left, the 1619 project, for instance, there’s an understanding of that, a recognition of that. They are trying to bring forward a different narrative to change the narrative of the founding of our country in order to promote their agenda. I don’t know whether you’ve studied that or written on that at all, but what are your thoughts there that young people today… I haven’t got any conclusive evidence, but I worry that young people coming to our programs have been educated in the 1619 narrative and don’t have a clear understanding of that founding idea of liberty that you just touched on.

Stephanie Slade [00:22:21] It’s a really legitimate fear, and I don’t want to ever understate the threat or ignore or assume away the threat because having those shared values is the bulwark against the illiberalism that I see coming from the left and the right. If we lose that, that’s really scary, that’s a really scary prospect. And it’s true that the illiberal forces, especially on the left, in many ways they have control of many of the commanding heights of our culture. They run the departments at elite universities, for example. They’re the folks who run mainstream media. They’re in Hollywood producing movies and TV shows that are influencing the next generation’s perception of what it means to be an American and what America is all about. On the other hand, we’re seeing this play out in real time, a backlash to some of this stuff that’s happening around us. There are so many people in this country who recognize that this is just crazy, this idea not only that we should perhaps rethink whether we have schools and roads named after a Confederate War general, but whether we need to tear down statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. People say this has gone too far. We don’t accept your premises. We are not buying what you’re selling. There’s been this pushback against it. We’re seeing this happen in informal ways at the cultural level. People just say, no, we’re not okay with you tearing down the statue of George Washington. It’s also happening at a political level when you see these school board recall elections or people running for school board in their local communities to say we are not okay with what you’re telling us you want our children to learn about American history. So the good thing about living in a free society, a democratic society, is there’s all of these self-correction mechanisms, that there’s no one person that gets to decide what the narrative is or what the history is, and so people can say, I’m not okay with what I see happening and I’m going to do something about it in these various ways, pushing back, changing the culture, resisting these efforts. I just think it’s really important to recognize that every single one of us 320, however many million Americans have agency, and we’re not just at the mercy of what these illiberal forces are trying to push upon us.

Roger Ream [00:24:54] Well, Stephanie, I’m not going to ask you how you voted in 2020, but I am going to ask you about a Reason piece that was published at that time, asking just about everyone associated with Reason how they plan to vote in 2020. You mentioned that while you didn’t disclose how you were going to vote, that you had a temptation to vote for Joe Biden because it would indicate a rejection of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Probably in hindsight, it doesn’t look so much like Biden’s election was a rejection of the progressive wing. They seem to have pretty powerful influence over the White House. What are your thoughts on how this administration has gone so far?

Stephanie Slade [00:25:36] Yeah, I think that Biden’s election, the fact that he won the Democratic Party’s nomination against Bernie Sanders and many, many other contenders and his election in the general in 2020 tell us something about the country’s appetite for radical ideas. It was in many ways a repudiation of the radical, illiberal ideas coming from the left and people saying, no, we don’t want socialism, are you crazy? Or we don’t want this stuff. We want somebody who’s a tried and tested legislator or somebody who’s worked in government, who understands the system and whose rhetoric at the time suggested that he was interested in trying to bring the country together, rather than be divisive, be a unifier. I completely agree with you. I’ve been very disappointed with what his administration has actually looked like in terms of what policies and agenda items they brought forward and pushed for since he’s come into office. I don’t think he has made good on his promises. I’m very disappointed that he said, “I want to run as a unifier, I want to bring the country together.” And instead, he has embraced the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party in terms of pushing for these policies. Government spending is at historically, mind boggling levels, no sense of the ways in which that might be contributing to our inflationary woes today and many other problems that our economy. I have not been pleased by the Biden administration’s record so far.

Roger Ream [00:27:05] Let’s shift gears a bit. You recently gave up the role as managing editor of Reason magazine and took on a new role as senior editor. It’s giving you the opportunity, I think, to step away from kind of that day to day pressure of putting out a magazine every month and to be able to do some work on longer articles and pieces. I just want to hear a little bit about this new role as senior editor. Could you talk a little bit about your focus?

Stephanie Slade [00:27:37] Yeah. Thank you for asking. I’m very excited. It was an incredible privilege and honor to be the managing editor at Reason for about five and a half years and be responsible for putting together our magazine each month. But I’ve handed over the reins to some new blood who have taken over that responsibility so that I can do more writing of my own and specifically covering what is going on with our politics and what has gone wrong with our politics. Why does it feel so broken? What is the future going to look like and what can we do about it? I’m in the process of finishing the issue of the magazine that will be out at the end of next month. I have a big article tackling this large question of what’s broken in our politics, what’s gone wrong. I make the case that I’ve been making here, which is that ultimately I think what you’re seeing is that on both the left and the right, as opposed to thinking of our politics as being more polarized than ever with the two sides further apart than ever (that’s the way we tend to think about what’s going wrong with our politics), I argue that there’s actually this convergence that’s happening where both elements on the far left and on the far right have embraced illiberalism, has said we no longer accept your liberal premises of the country in which we share society with those whose values we disagree with. We want to seize political power and we want to use it to destroy our enemies. That’s the thing that’s happening on both sides right now. And so that’s what my big article next month is going to be about.

Roger Ream [00:29:06] Looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see it. And for any of our listeners who also agree with me that that sounds like a fascinating article, you need to subscribe to Reason and it’ll come to your doorstep. And what, you said that’s the October issue?

Stephanie Slade [00:29:20] It’s going to be the issue that has October on the cover. So it’ll actually be several weeks before that because our magazine comes out, it’ll basically be out at the end of August, beginning of September for subscribers.

Roger Ream [00:29:31] And do you think you’ll continue to keep that focus for now on looking at splits in the political movements and the topic of fusionism that we touched on and cover those issues as well as the religious liberty issue?

Stephanie Slade [00:29:46] Yeah, that’s the goal. So again, if you think of fusionism as being the idea that both virtue and liberty are non-negotiable, they’re so important and we can’t sacrifice either one of them, that’s the thing that ties together all the things I write about. I’m both making the case for the importance of virtue in our society, and that includes, of course, the freedom to practice your religion and the importance of individual liberty and limited government. When I talk about liberalism in that liberal-illiberal sense, I’m making the case for that side of the two sides of the fusionist coin. These are both non-negotiable. I really believe that Frank Meyer was right when he said that they need each other and we can’t have one without the other. Trying to bolster both sides is my project, if I were going to try to boil it down.

Roger Ream [00:30:32] Let me ask you a little bit about your insights on the future of journalism. I mean, you work for a print magazine that also has a very active and daily website with new information going on it. But a lot of magazines have abandoned the print magazine business. A lot of young people, we sense, are turning away from going and pursuing careers in journalism. It’s changed very much. There are probably fewer opportunities to be a true journalist who covers stories and reports on things and more and more that are just pontificators in 250 characters or less. What advice would you have for young people who are interested in journalism, about pursuing a career in something that has a questionable future?

Stephanie Slade [00:31:19] It is definitely an unstable industry, and I don’t want to misrepresent that to anybody who’s trying to decide what path to follow with their career. There are a lot of really talented writers out there. There’s a lot of outlets that are going under all the time and layoffs happening. It can be pretty disheartening to watch the state of the industry. On the other hand, I believe very deeply that there will always be a market demand for good reporting and writing and good, honest coverage of what’s happening in the world, both objective journalism in the news-gathering and reporting sense, and opinion journalism. Reason magazine is an ideological magazine, of course, as we’ve been discussing. That means we have a perspective. We’re open about that. We cover the world through this lens. That still can be good, honest, ethical journalism as well. Just because you’re bringing your opinion or analysis or a perspective to bear doesn’t mean that you’re not doing good journalism. I think there’s room for, in a healthy media ecosystem, both of those things. You have objective news reporting, people who are not trying to change your mind on things, they’re just trying to tell you what’s happening in the world as it’s happening. And you have folks who are providing analysis and perspective. Both of those things can be done well or badly. We are trying to do it well. If you can do it well, if you are a strong writer or editor, if you have that sort of ethical instinct and that desire to get to the truth and bring it to your readers, I think there is a future for you in journalism. It’s highly competitive, but we’re looking for the best. If you’re the best, come talk to us.

Roger Ream [00:32:51] Well, before we wrap things up, I’d like to ask one final question, and it is a broad question, so give me whatever thoughts you might have, but what advice would you give to young people in terms of how to be a courageous leader in their careers? What kind of things does it take to be a strong leader with courage, especially in this environment where there’s this cancel culture and expressing an opinion about your thoughts about whatever’s happening in the world can get you canceled or get you into a lot of trouble?

Stephanie Slade [00:33:25] Yeah, this is such a great question. I mean, part of it is recognizing that our job is to do more than have opinions. I see this in journalism all the time when I’m talking to young writers or aspiring writers, even if you’re looking to write op eds, which is an opinion form of journalism, you cannot just show up with an opinion. You have to be ready, prepared to teach your readers something that they don’t already know. That means you need to have gone out and collected some facts. You need to have done the work to understand the issue, to make yourself an expert on the issue that you’re writing about so that you can teach your readers something new. If you just come with an opinion, then the answer is going to be, why should anybody care what your opinion is? Everybody else has an opinion too. So the thing that you’re bringing to the table is a value added. It’s new information. You’re able to explain a complicated subject. You have gone out and found information that other people don’t have, whatever the case may be. That’s the key to good journalism, even opinion journalism. And I think that that translates, especially early careers as you’re working your way up and working your way into positions of leadership, knowing that we all have opinions. You may not always agree with everything about the way the institution is run. You need to be willing to stand up on principle when you think something has gone wrong and say that. But you need to know that you think things should be different or demand that things be different, is not going to get you anywhere. You have to be prepared to build the case for your views and sometimes to say, okay, I’ve expressed my opinion on this issue. I lost that battle. My institution has decided to go a different direction. I’m going to accept that loss gracefully and live to fight another day. These are the types of things I think that separate good employees and good leaders from everybody else is like, are you a team player? Are you principled and ethical and honest and forthright? But also, are you willing to take your losses sometimes and say, okay, I did my best, I lost that one, let’s show up tomorrow and keep working together towards our shared mission.

Roger Ream [00:35:27] Well, it’s fitting, Stephanie, that you received a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship because it sounded like you were channeling him there. That’s something he impressed on our Novak Fellows when he was alive, the importance of providing information, even in editorials and opinion pieces. That’s what readers want and that’s what you provide them in your writing. It’s just been great having you as a guest today. Thank you for sharing your story and your keen observations. It’s very much appreciated.

Stephanie Slade [00:35:56] I really appreciate you having me on.

Roger Ream [00:35:57] Thank you for listening to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download, like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it, and if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org. The Liberty + Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal Studios in Washington, D.C. I’m your host Roger Ream, and until next time, show courage in things large and small.

About the Podcast

TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.

Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.

If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.

View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.


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