NEW YORK-Boston College and Fordham University professors debated the hottest issues of the 2004 presidential campaign during an Oct. 26 panel discussion on the Lincoln Center campus. Before an audience of alumni, students and guests from both schools in McNally Amphitheatre, the faculty members spent two hours discussing everything from media coverage of the campaigns to Supreme Court justice nominations to foreign policy-strategies to keep America safe.

The media have always played a role in presidential campaigns. But in 2004, newspapers, network and cable television, Internet news channels and blogs, have not only covered the election, they have become part of the story. Media scandals and partisan programming—CBS News and President Bush’s National Guard service, Sinclair Broadcasting and the anti-Kerry documentary, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, the Swift Boat ads—are as easy to tick off as each candidate’s platform issues.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” said Paul Levinson, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Communications and Media Studies at Fordham University. “The media have begun shining the light on itself and is quick to react as news stories break, providing checks and balances on one another. I think Jayson Blair [who left the New York Times after it was found he fabricated stories]represents the last time the media can do something so wrong and get away with it for so long.”

R. Shep Melnick, Ph.D., the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Professor of American Politics at Boston College, had a different take on the media, saying the proliferation of news outlets has done more harm than good.

“People tend to listen to media they agree with, so it only reinforces what they believe,” said Melnick. “And because people flip around between stations, it puts a premium on people who yell and talk in simplistic sound bytes.”

Regarding the cost of the war in Iraq, what it means for us here at home and when it might end, Robert G. Murphy, Ph.D., associate professor of economics at Boston College, said the financial tally will continue to skyrocket.

“[The cost of the war] is upwards of $140 billion and running,” said Murphy, who added that another allocation of $30 billion to $40 billion is expected after the election. “It’s estimated that the cost will be in the $100 billion to $150 billion range per year throughout the reconstruction. I’m pessimistic and don’t have a good handle on when this might end.”

No matter how long the United States is engaged in Iraq, a foreign policy that is more multilateral than has been practiced over the past four years is inevitable, according to Thomas Lee, J.D., associate professor of constitutional and international law at Fordham University.

“The United States can’t maintain the current operational tempo. On top of the issue of costs, as a practical matter we’ve exhausted our reserves and will need more boots on the ground to deal with issues, including and beyond Iraq,” said Lee, who added that a multilateral foreign policy would also help repair the country’s international reputation and ultimately, keep us more safe. “In 30 to 40 years time, major devastation of an American city is a distinct possibility due to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to non-state terrorist groups who recruit followers on the image of the United States as an evil empire. We’ve got to try and rehabilitate our image now to make our country safe for the future.”

Another issue that could have repercussions during the next presidential term is the nomination of Supreme Court justices. The panelists agreed that the next president will nominate at least one and possibly as many as four new Supreme Court members during his term.

“This Supreme Court is very old,” said Melnick. “They are closely divided on a number of issues, including abortion, capital punishment and vouchers.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that controversial issues such as Roe v. Wade will be revisited over the next four years. Approval hearings in the Senate for Supreme Court nominees are notoriously brutal, and the 60 votes needed for approval make it likely that more moderates judges will end up on the court.

The Election 2004 event was co-sponsored by the offices of alumni affairs at Boston College and Fordham University.