Watching the Watchers: Politics and the Press

Three Wednesdays, October 13, 20, and 27, 6:00–7:30 p.m. | The Briar Club, 2603 Timmons Lane at Westheimer (Parking lot across Timmons Lane from the club)

October 13: American Politics: Funny or Unfunny and Why?
One of the healthiest aspects of American politics has been the press’s ability—and the people’s willingness—to laugh at political leaders, thereby keeping our democratic roots refreshed. But what kind of political humor is healthy and what kind dangerous? When does joking about the nation’s leaders become an idle pastime rather than a stimulus to better governance? Professor Roderick P. Hart will explore this theme and enable us to examine the effect of infotainment on our own political outlook.

October 20: Scandalous Presidents: Scoundrels or Strategic Penitents?
If reports in the media are any indication, political scandal is ubiquitous. But, how common are political scandals and are all scandals alike? Do politicians accused of scandal react the same way to each scandal or do they vary their strategy? Although presumptions abound that politicians all lie to the media in such events, not all scandals cause the president to “stonewall” the public—in many instances, presidents “come clean” and admit all they know about the details of an alleged untoward event. In this lecture Professor Brandon Rottinghaus will focus on presidential scandals and discuss the personnel, duration, and strategy of a White House confronted with accusations of wrongdoing.

October 27: Are the News Media Biased? Does It Matter?
The news media have tremendous power in setting cultural guidelines and in shaping political discourse. Professor Daron Shaw will examine the political science literature for insight into the potential for bias in the news media—conservative bias (corporate ownership) and liberal bias (the personal partisanship of reporters). He also will examine how the rise of cable television has affected political reportage in the U.S.

Roderick P. Hart is the dean and the Allan Shivers Centennial/Cronkite Chair of the College of Communication at the University of Texas, Austin, and also director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation. He is the author of twelve books and has lectured at more than seventy colleges and universities. His published works include Political Keywords: Using Language That Uses Us (Oxford University Press, 2005). Professor Hart has been elected to the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at the University of Texas.

Brandon Rottinghaus is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Houston. His work on the media, public opinion, executive-legislative method, and the presidency has appeared in several academic journals. His book, The Provisional Pulpit: Modern Conditional Presidential Leadership of Public Opinion, is forthcoming from Texas A&M University Press in May 2010.

Daron Shaw is an associate professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin. He serves on the editorial board for American Politics Research and on the national decision team for Fox News. Professor Shaw is a member of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the National Election Studies Board of Overseers, and the Advisory Board for the Annette Strauss Institute. His books include Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters (Oxford University Press, 2008).



Registration for fall 2018 is ongoing. You may register online, by mail, or by phone with a credit card. 


If you are interested in traveling with the Houston Seminar to Natchez October 26-29, 2019 you may access the itinerary, trip cost, and registration documents here.

If you are interested in traveling to Virginia in the spring of 2019, please call the registrar at 713.666.9000 to place your name on a list. Please see Terms and Conditions for "travel list" policy. 


Please note a date in the Mid-term Elections course has changed from that published in the brochure. The course will meet the first two Mondays, October 29 and November 5 as planned, but will meet Tuesday, November 13 instead of Monday, November 12. 


Also note Art Underground: Carlos Cruz-Diez at the Cistern on Wednesday, November 14 is FULLY SUBSCRIBED. A second session has been added and will meet Monday, November 12 from 2:00-3:30 P.M. Registrations are being accepted for November 12. You may register online, or by phone.


Who Gets to Vote: Challenges for the 2020 Elections?
Speaker: Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voter Rights Project
Monday, November 19, 6:30-8:00 P.M.
Location to be announced


Register today!


For additional information about any of our courses, to register offline, or to add your name to our mailing and/or email lists, please contact our adminstrator at  or phone 713.666.9000.