Simpson endorses Clinton, sparks debate

by Beacon Staff • November 7, 2007

After Oct. 16, the whole world knew, and Simpson said it was a spur-of-the-moment accident, one she wishes she hadn't made.

The journalism department's Leader-In-Residence, who spent 15 years as the weekend anchor of ABC World News, said she was determined to catch Clinton's attention that day at a rally in New Hampshire, and introduce her students to the Democratic front-runner.,Before Oct. 16, Carole Simpson's students in her "Road to the White House" course knew that Hillary Clinton had her vote.

After Oct. 16, the whole world knew, and Simpson said it was a spur-of-the-moment accident, one she wishes she hadn't made.

The journalism department's Leader-In-Residence, who spent 15 years as the weekend anchor of ABC World News, said she was determined to catch Clinton's attention that day at a rally in New Hampshire, and introduce her students to the Democratic front-runner.

When Simpson finally did catch Clinton's attention-and loudly, she said-she realized she didn't know what she wanted to ask. So she said the first thing that came to mind:

"I endorse you for president of the United States."

Later, in an interview, Simpson said it was an honest mistake.

"It was all for the students," she said. "I hadn't thought of what I would actually say if I was called on. In retrospect, I should not have done what I did when I did it."

Soon after her outburst, the merits of her endorsement began to make waves in the blogosphere. Commentary appeared on tvnewser.com, a blog covering television and news personalities.

Simpson said she met with members of Emerson's administration to discuss her decision. At the meeting, Simpson, who in 1992 bcame the first woman and the first black person to moderate a presidential debate, said she offered her resignation, which the department declined.

She said she planned to discuss the incident with her students, and listen to any comments or concerns they might have.

Simpson has followed Clinton's career since the 1970s, and was among the press corps that accompanied the First Lady to Africa during Bill Clinton's presidency. Hoping to use her connection with Clinton as an in for her students, Simpson stood up when Clinton was taking questions, and got her attention.

Simpson said professor Jerry Lanson, who coteaches the course with her and was at the rally, told her the statement was inappropriate and could jeopardize their student's journalism careers.

The students had a photo opportunity with Clinton, but Lanson suggested that they pass it up, in light of the endorsement. Simpson said her support for Clinton could signal to potential employers that her students are supporters as well.

If photographed with Clinton, Simpson said she feared a misunderstanding could affect those students professionally in the future.

Phil Milnarik, a senior who attended the rally, said he hardly noticed when Simpson made her endorsement. However, he also said that he was taping the event, so he was more focused on shooting than on Simpson's words.

"I didn't think twice about it [the endorsement] until Jerry recommended that we get off the stage and not have our photo taken," said the broadcast journalism major.

Simpson's endorsement could have put her students in an awkward position, said Jeffrey Seglin, an associate professor in the writing, literature and publishing department, and the author of a syndicated weekly ethics column. Students pursuing a career in journalism do not want to be associated with supporting a particular political figure, he said.

Vice President for Public Affairs David Rosen said the administration had no comment, and the propriety of her endorsement was for Simpson and the journalism department to decide.

"She has the right to endorse who she wants," Rosen said. He added that all college professors are allowed to express their own political preferences.

Junior Lily Yuhas said she does not believe Simpson's actions at the Clinton rally were inappropriate.

"I think it's okay [for Simpson to give a candidate support], as long as she makes the distinction that she isn't an active journalist," the broadcast journalism major said.

After decades of remaining objective as a working journalist, Simpson said she enjoys being able to express her views as a teacher. While she admits that her endorsement was inappropriate in that context, she does not believe she did anything wrong as a college professor.

"I didn't do anything unethical or immoral," she said. "I'm a public citizen again."