NPR’s Ari Shapiro Tells Tales From the Campaign Trail at UCR

Award-winning correspondent spent most of 2012 covering Mitt Romney's presidential campaign

Ari Shapiro

National Public Radio Correspondent Ari Shapiro makes a point during his UC Riverside Presents event at the Highlander Union Building on November 12. Photo by Ross French

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — If anyone in attendance at National Public Radio correspondent Ari Shapiro’s talk at UC Riverside on November 12 thought that covering a presidential campaign was a glamorous job, the award-winning journalist quickly disabused them of that notion.

“Literally, in the final days of the campaign, we, and our counterparts covering President Obama, were visiting five states a day,” he said. “We would get going at 5 a.m., go from Florida to Colorado to Ohio to Wisconsin to Iowa. We’d finish at 2 a.m. and then start again the next day at 5 a.m. The plane would pull up to an airplane hangar that had been converted into a rally with lights and flags and thousands of people. We’d run off the plane, plug in our equipment. Romney would give his 20 minute stump speech and we would unplug our equipment and run back to the plane.”

The 90-minute talk, co-sponsored by UC Riverside Presents and KVCR 91.9 FM, was Shapiro’s first public speaking appearance since the election and allowed him to “take a step back and describe the forest” after spending the better part of a year reporting on the campaign. More than 300 people attended, forcing organizers to open up more seating in HUB 302 a few minutes before the scheduled 7 p.m. start.

Having traveled extensively with the former Massachusetts governor, Shapiro described Romney as a man who was warm, friendly, and funny while chatting with reporters off the record, but who turned into an a “automaton” when the cameras were on him. One staff member said that they should tell Romney that an on the record conversation was off the record to allow the candidate’s genuine personality to come through.

Shapiro said what he enjoyed most about covering the election was that it gave him a unique opportunity to talk to a variety of people across the country and tell the story of America.

Ari Shapiro and crowd

National Public Radio’s Ari Shapiro takes questions from the audience at his appearance at UC Riverside on November 12, 2012. Photo by Ross French

“The election was a frame in which all of these stories of America were unfolding,” he said. “This was my first real opportunity to immerse myself in the variety and diversity that is America. And the most compelling things that I heard usually had nothing to do with politics.”

Shapiro shared some of his more diverse interviews, including a chat with a realtor in Elko, Nevada, a booming gold mining town with three-percent unemployment where people are struggling to find houses to buy, a controversial interview with a woman who criticized Michelle Obama for not “acting” like a first lady, and a visit with motorcycle aficionados at Willie’s Tropical Tattoo in Daytona Beach, Florida during the annual Biketoberfest.

“No one person can represent the entire American experience, but every voice is like a dot of paint on a canvas that collectively, over the course of a year, paints a picture of the United States,” he added.

“The evening was delightful.  As a regular listener to NPR, some of what he said was not new to me, but Ari was extremely likeable and made the stories and people seem real,” said Jan Wildman, associate vice chancellor and CFAO for Finance and Administration at UCR, adding that she was struck by Shapiro’s “pointillism” message.

Professor of Chemistry Eric Chronister found Shapiro’s talk entertaining.

“He’s a charismatic extemporaneous speaker,” Chronister said. “His work demonstrates an affinity for engaging with a wide variety of people, and that came across in his talk, and was further reflected in the poised and direct way he handled the Q&A session. During the meet and greet he was quite gracious, engaging and eagerly posed for pictures.”

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