Q&A: Mara Liasson
Mara Liasson is a veteran journalist who has spent most of her career at National Public Radio, where she currently serves as national political correspondent. The 61-year-old native of Scarsdale, N.Y., also is a contributor at Fox News. The mother of three and brand new grandmother of one is a member of the Sixth & I historic synagogue in Washington, D.C., where her youngest will become a bar mitzvah next year. We caught up with her by phone after she had covered both the Republican and Democratic conventions and was taking a brief respite before the hectic lead-up to Election Day in November. The interview was edited for clarity.
You’ve been covering politics for a long time—this is your seventh presidential election since 1992. How would you describe this election compared to all others?
It’s indescribable. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever covered in about a million and one different ways. We’ve never had two candidates this unpopular; we’ve never had a candidate who’s broken so many rules and blasted apart so many norms and defied conventional wisdom so many times as Donald Trump.
Jim Rutenberg recently wrote in The New York Times about the challenge for journalists to stay objective in this election season. Has it been personally hard to stay objective?
I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult covering this campaign is for a journalist because we have to be evenhanded and fair and straight down the middle. But no, I’m not finding it hard. In the end, it’s about the voters and there are only two real choices.
NPR is sometimes criticized for being too liberal and Fox News for being too conservative. It’s unusual for someone to be associated with both. How does that help and/or hinder your performance and your credibility as a reporter?
I’ve done it since 1998, and even with various eruptions of controversy, NPR has allowed me to do it. There are certain rules that NPR has about how we should comport ourselves when we are on other networks. The rules are just common sense, including I don’t say anything on Fox that I wouldn’t also say on NPR. I think it has helped me; it’s made me seem like I’m right down the middle. That’s what I’ve strived for my entire career—to be down the middle and to be a fair analyst.
What has been your reaction to the sexual harassment scandal at Fox?
It’s very hard for me to speak to that. I have had no personal experience with any of the things that have been reported so I’m going to just leave that one alone. I have nothing to add to it.
It seems that Israel has been pretty much a nonissue this election, which is kind of unusual. Why do you think that is?
It became an interesting issue in the primary when Bernie Sanders felt comfortable criticizing the Israeli government and didn’t seem to suffer for it. I think it is pretty interesting that that isn’t taboo anymore. But in terms of the general election, both candidates are staunch supporters of Israel and it just hasn’t been an issue. Israel has been receding as an election issue for some time, I think, because it’s a bipartisan issue.
What do you think President Obama’s most important legacy will be? And what was his biggest failure?
His biggest failure was Syria. I understand why he made the decisions he did, but I think in retrospect, he could have done more to stabilize the situation there, which might have prevented ISIS from getting the reach that it has today. His biggest accomplishment? I would say his health care initiative, the Affordable Care Act, and getting the country out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
Lisa Hostein is the executive editor of Hadassah Magazine.