NPR reporter to speak at MU

Monday, February 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:37 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Linda Wertheimer gets recognized by strangers all the time. But it’s not her face that’s familiar; it’s her voice.

“I was standing in line at the airport one time and saw a blond woman across the room,” Wertheimer said. “I asked the woman in front of me whether she thought it was Sissy Spacek. The woman said, ‘I don’t know if that’s Sissy Spacek, but are you Linda Wertheimer?’ She recognized my voice.”

Wertheimer is National Public Radio’s senior national correspondent and has been with NPR for three decades. For 13 years she hosted “All Things Considered,” one of the top-five shows on U.S. radio.

She will be in Columbia today to give a lecture titled, “Here It Comes: Another Presidential Election” at 8 p.m. in Cornell Auditorium. Her presentation is part of the Lloyd B. Thomas lecture and performance series and will kick off MU’s Arts and Science Week.

“The purpose of this series is to memorialize a colleague who was interested in all subjects taught in the university,” said Ted Tarkow, associate dean of arts and sciences. “Politics and journalism are certainly some of those subjects.”

With four presidential elections, eight congressional elections, 10 presidential nomination conventions and 12 election nights under her belt, Wertheimer has had her share of ups and downs covering elections.

“One time, I was sitting in Reagan’s hotel suite waiting to interview him. Nancy Reagan came in and started making a list of things to do for her,” Wertheimer said. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘How am I going to tell this woman that I am not help?’ Then, Governor Reagan said, ‘Mummy, Linda’s a reporter; she doesn’t work for us.’ ”

When Wertheimer started covering politics, few women reporters were on the campaign trail. During the 1980 campaign, she and another female reporter were the only women on Reagan’s plane except for his wife and the candidate’s secretary, she said.

In 1976, Wertheimer became the first woman to anchor network coverage of a presidential nomination convention and election night. She was also the first person to broadcast live from inside the U.S. Senate chamber.

In 1998, Vanity Fair named her one of America’s 200 most influential women.

Wertheimer was inspired to pursue a career in journalism by another legendary woman journalist, Pauline Frederick, a reporter with NBC who later worked for NPR.

“I was a teenager watching TV and a woman came on reporting on the invasion of Hungary,” Wertheimer said. “I was stunned; I had never seen a woman doing that kind of work.”

Wertheimer could have followed her mentor’s footsteps into television but decided radio was an outlet she could relate to.

“For me, radio was a medium I grew up paying attention to,” Wertheimer said. “You can tell so much about people from listening to their voices; it adds such dimension.”

She has stayed with NPR because of its consistency.

“NPR is the only radio of its kind that’s left,” Wertheimer said. “The world has changed around us and we haven’t changed that much.”

After covering politics for 30 years, Wertheimer has had no trouble remaining objective about politicians.

“I don’t fall in love with politicians and stay in love with them. I usually fall out of love just as fast,” Wertheimer said.

Wertheimer predicts a long presidential campaign for the coming election.

“It’s going to be a very long general election campaign,” she said. “The leading figure in the campaign is not the Democrats; it’s the president. The real question is going to be whether we want to keep the president or not keep him when we get down to the end.”

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