Columnist illuminates secrets of political scandals: Gail Collins discusses Washington gossip, women in politics, and journalism in The Forest

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The Drew Forum presents New York Times columnist Gail Collins, Sept. 27, 2016, in The Concert Hall.

by Dalton Valette

It isn’t entirely known if the timing of New York Times columnist Gail Collins Forum Lecture visit to Drew was just so serendipitously timed to happen the day after, Sept. 27, the first Presidential debate or if this was simply a stroke of luck, but regardless of the how, Collins was ready to talk politics, and more importantly, eviscerate Donald Trump.   

“The most notable thing we learned from last night is that he just doesn’t have a learning curve,” Collins said while speaking in Mead Hall. Collins sat relaxed at a wood table surrounded with wide open windows revealing rolling hills of green and while she may have looked like an otherwise unassuming person, she was far from it. Her wit, intellect, and capability to see individuals for what they truly were (for better or worse) was all on display.

“Trump isn’t going to change in the next debate because he simply can’t. He’s too stubborn and it’s too late in the game for a makeover.” She said the same thing applied to Hillary Clinton too. It’s too late change course and make her as a candidate any more exciting that she already isn’t. Writing just 45 minutes after the debate wrapped, Collins jabbed and poked at Trump showing how badly he lost and how horrible of a debater he was. But, she didn’t ignore Clinton entirely either. “Clinton is not a very interesting speaker” Collins wrote for the Times, “and her failure to say anything stupid made her side of the debate all the more unexciting.” To her, Trump had more than enough stupid things to say.

Collins isn’t just focused on the politics of the modern era. She has penned numerous books dealing with histories of gossip and as well, women’s roles in politics. She’s looked at candidates accused of having opened up brothels to throwing vases in the White House to even being a cannibal. History is one of the things she loves, and loves writing about as, she discovered, it envelopes you with culture you wouldn’t think otherwise of experiencing. When asked about the frequent comparison between Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson, Collins said that Jackson always acted violently and defensively when rumors about his wife surfaced. Meanwhile, Trump, “is the first candidate that is paying tabloids to put his sex life on the front pages!”        

While the majority of her talk in the Dorothy Young Center centered around gossip of the political world and how the current election is one of unbelievable proportions, she did discuss two other major areas of focus–women and journalism. While critical of Clinton, Collins said that she is “bearing all of women’s history on her shoulders to tick off one of the last ‘First woman’ boxes…There aren’t going to be too many ‘First women’s’ left.” Collins herself was the first woman who was the editorial page editor for the New York Times. Collins has written two books on the importance of women in history and is currently writing a book about elderly women.

Her great passion is that of journalism though. It’s a competitive, difficult, frustrating field to be involved in, and one which people consistently claim is going by the wayside, but Collins said, rest assured.

“There’s no question that the Times has and will continue to adapt…The Times is a lot like the ship in “Ben-Hur.” We keep rowing to keep the ship afloat.”

And for those interested in pursuing journalism, she said the best things that you can do are to simply write, a lot, and to write about what you love.

“Writing is about breaking the barrier. It’s like ice skating and once you have your balance you can start doing tricks and flips. If you’re writing about something boring, make it interesting. For years I worked with Trish Hall (the Op-Ed editor for the Times) in state and local legislation. And we would cover their campaigns for $10. Somedays I would write 15 stories a day but I was able to break those barriers down. And we would make things interesting by making things funny and that fed into my passion.”

Collins currently writes twice weekly columns in the Times.             

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