Skip to main content

April 10, 2024

Journalist Judy Woodruff Offers Hope for a Divided Country

Journalist Judy Woodruff closed out the 2023-24 Guilford College Bryan Series at Tanger Center.

Judy Woodruff has been around a while – nearly a half century – in broadcast journalism. So when the former anchor of “PBS NewsHour” tells you she’s never seen America so divided as it is today, believe her.

At Tuesday’s season finale of the 2023-24 Guilford College Bryan Series, Judy told a Tanger Center audience of 1,400 that divide, almost entirely politically driven, is tearing apart not just family and friends but the country.

“I have never seen America as divided as we are today, at least not in my lifetime,” she said, in a 50-minute talk about her reporting for a two-year NewsHour series entitled “America at a Crossroads.” “It used to be when you met someone and you’d get to know them by asking where they went to college. Or what kind of music they like or ask them about their family or where they vacation.

“Today if you figure out somebody’s an R or a D, you pretty much categorize them. At that point you decide either you're willing to hang out with them and talk to them or you decide that’s somebody I don’t want to be around. More often than not it’s the latter.”

Judy was one of the leading television journalists of her generation, establishing her bona fides in the 1970s covering Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign for NBC. She held many broadcasting positions at PBS and CNN. She anchored the NewsHour for nine years – including a period as co-anchor with Bryan Series alumna Gwen Ifill – before stepping down at the end of 2022.

Only she wasn’t retiring. “I wanted to explore why we are so divided, so at each other’s throats,” she said. “Why can't we talk to neighbors or even have a relaxing Thanksgiving meal with family?”

“America at a Crossroads,” which will run through the end of this election year, hopes to answer that question by examining the divisions fracturing the country.

In the series and again in her Bryan Series talk, she pointed out a 2016 Pew Research Study that showed 35 percent of Democrats believe Republicans are immoral. Today that number is 63 percent. Republicans’ disdain for Democrats has spiked as well, from 47 percent to 72 percent.

Judy says the reasons for the division are many – religion and economics certainly – but just as big a cause is today’s media.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that cable television, talk radio and the internet have played a huge role in this split,” she says. “We’re now able to surround ourselves with opinions all day long from the time we wake up in the morning until the time you close your eyes at night and if you want to you can listen to only those sources of information that confirm what we already believe. It’s very easy for all of us to shut out other points of view.”

“It’s up to us to remember to be not just civil but to be respectful of other different points of view. Do we really want to be a country where half of us don’t want to have anything to do with the other half?"

Judy closed her remarks saying Americans won’t begin to work their way out of this divide until they adopt some of the values upon which Guilford College was founded nearly 200 years ago.

She said the College’s teachings are “shaped by a progressive belief in all people’s spiritual equality and the importance of taking socially responsible action in service to the community’s greater good.”