Topics: Administrative, Student Affairs, Speakers, College of Communication Information and Media

August 11, 2011

David Axelrod
Jeannette Walls
White House adviser and Obama for America 2012 campaign strategist David Axelrod will discuss leadership amid a historic financial crisis at home and two wars abroad when he stops at Ball State University on Monday, Nov. 14, less than one year ahead of the next presidential election.

His 7 p.m. address in Emens Auditorium, "Witness to History: Leadership Lessons from a Presidential Advisor," highlights a fall speaker series on campus that also features scheduled appearances by bestselling "The Glass Castle" author Jeannette Walls, American journalist and ex-prisoner of North Korea Laura Ling and NBC News correspondent Bob Dotson.

As always, each presentation is free and open to the public.

Witness to History

As many political scientists have dissected the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign to determine just how a junior senator from Illinois with a funny name and little experience on the national stage was able to rise through and past the Democratic power establishment to claim the highest office in the land, much of the credit has gone to Axelrod, the one-time political reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune who served as the campaign's chief message manager.

According to a post-victory profile in the Christian Science Monitor, it was Axelrod, astute enough to realize that America was looking for a fresher, more progressive president, who augmented and innovated upon the "bottom-up" grassroots campaign style first tried by 2004 candidate and later Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. His short television biographies of Obama, casting the candidate as the quintessential face of the American dream, made the virtually unknown Illinois lawmaker more accessible to American voters.

It also was Axelrod, who at one point early in the primary races, with Obama down 33 points in one national poll to presumptive nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton, withstood the enormous pressure building on campaign staff to shake things up and try a different tactic. Instead, the team doubled-down on "change" — sticking to a largely positive message it was convinced would resonate ultimately with the public.

Now back in the Windy City, where he earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago, Axelrod is helping lead the president's re-election campaign. Again, the economy figures to be the major issue on the minds of voters, as he acknowledged recently to Newsweek: "We all know we have fiscal challenges. Those fiscal challenges have been mounting for years. Now we have to confront those in the mid- and long term. But that alone is not going to guarantee America's success; that's not going to guarantee the success of families. In 2012, you'll see competing visions of how we compete in the world today in such a way that we give the best chance to families and businesses across this country to succeed."

Formerly an adjunct professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, Axelrod also has lectured on political media at his alma mater as well as Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. In "Witness to History: Leadership Lessons from a Presidential Advisor," he gives audiences a behind-the-scenes look at life in the White House and shares what he has learned from his experiences on the world stage. His visit to Ball State is sponsored by the university's Excellence in Leadership (EIL) program.


In her former role as the popular gossip columnist for MSNBC, tall and confident Jeannette Walls gave little indication of the extremely poor, nomadic childhood she lived and later chronicled in "The Glass Castle" (Scribner, 2005), this year's freshman common reader at Ball State. The "detailed, appealing and admirable" memoir spent three years on The New York Times bestseller list, and Walls will discuss it and her life since with an audience in Emens Auditorium on Wednesday evening, Sept. 21, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Unknown to Walls' colleagues during her ascent to national network prominence was her greatest fear — that a fellow journalist might uncover the real scoop: that she had lived in near-unimaginable poverty in West Virginia as a child, sometimes sharing cat food with her siblings, and that her bohemian parents had followed her north when she was a student at Barnard College, willingly becoming members of New York City's homeless population.

"We were always supposed to pretend our life was one long and incredibly fun adventure," Walls writes in "The Glass Castle." Instead, the family lived hand-to-mouth, with her father taking occasional electrician jobs and her mother using her teaching degree for a year before giving it up in favor of painting and drawing, a pastime she preferred over supervising or even providing meals for her children.

After earning her degree from Barnard in 1984, Walls went on to pen the "Intelligencer" column for New York magazine and features for Esquire.  She joined MSNBC in 1998. Her first book is "Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip" (William & Morrow, 2000); her latest is "Half Broke Horses" (Scribner, 2009). She appears at Ball State courtesy of Freshman Connections.

From North Korean prison to Pruis Hall

From late March until early August 2009, Current TV reporter Laura Ling was a prisoner of the North Korean regime of dictator Kim Jong Il. She and fellow journalist Euna Lee had been detained at North Korea's border with China and eventually were charged with trying to enter the country illegally. Facing up to 12 years of hard labor in one of the communist country's notorious "political offense" work camps, the pair was freed finally after former U.S. President Bill Clinton intervened during a diplomatic mission to Pyongyang.

Ling will recount her "Journey of Hope" on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. in Pruis Hall, offering details about what sustained her throughout a terrifying period of isolation as well as a rare window into the so-called "Hermit Nation."

As an on-air correspondent for Current since 2005, Ling also has reported stories from geopolitical hotspots such as Sri Lanka and Myanmar and is a witness to the type of tragedy and bloodshed such gritty work often entails. Her exploits in North Korea were an approximate repeat of a clandestine visit to the insular country by her older sibling, Lisa Ling, also a television journalist, who reported undercover in North Korea for National Geographic in 2006.

Laura Ling is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in communications. Her presentation also is sponsored by Ball State's Excellence in Leadership program.

Letterman Lecture

Veteran NBC News correspondent Bob Dotson will be the university's guest for the fall semester's installment of the David Letterman Distinguished Professional Lecture and Workshop Series. He'll reflect upon the "Strategic Choices of a Professional Storyteller" on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Pruis Hall.

A member of the peacock network's national news team since 1975, Dotson's reporting on "the kind of guy who may never run for mayor, or go to the moon, or transplant a heart, but whose story may touch a viewer's heart" is a regular feature on the Today show as well as NBC Nightly News. Those stories have taken him to every state, many times over, and around the world. Along the way, he's also collected more than 100 awards recognizing his work in broadcast journalism including multiple national Emmys and the Radio and Television News Directors Association's Edward R. Murrow Award for best network news writing — a record five times.

He also is an acclaimed documentary producer, his film "El Capitan's Courageous Climbers" for NBC Productions having won one of the genre's highest honors, the CINE Grand Prize, in 1990.  In addition, he's written two books, "Make it Memorable" (Bonus Books, 2000) and "In Pursuit of the American Dream" (Athenaeum, 1985).