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Faculty opinions in demand amid Comey hearing spectacle

As millions watched former FBI director James Comey testify before Congress Thursday, GW’s legal and political faculty were fielding media questions and helping to lead the conversation online.

Updated: June 12, 2017 at 2:32 p.m.

As millions watched former FBI director James Comey testify before Congress Thursday, legal and political faculty were helping to lead the conversation online.

The hearing gave the University a chance to show off faculty in its highly ranked law school and political management programs as professors provided insight through a live analysis on GW’s official Twitter account and in dozens of media interviews. Faculty said it was important for the University to have a presence in major news events, especially in D.C., to boost GW’s visibility and allow faculty to provide historical context and analysis in political events.

GW hosted a live Twitter analysis, similar to ones held for the State of the Union address and last year’s presidential election, retweeting Interim Graduate School of Political Management Director Lara Brown, GSPM professors Michael Cornfield and Michael Cohen and Public Interest Law Professor Jonathan Turley during the hearing.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said officials wanted to highlight GW’s proximity to the happenings on Capitol Hill and faculty scholarship relevant to the hearing.

“National news events and breaking news present particular opportunities to highlight the University’s expertise,” she said in an email.

GW’s external relations team promotes faculty to the press, highlights experts on social media and uses the University-run news outlet GW Today to show how faculty are involved in current events, Csellar said.

Turley, a professor of public interest law, participated in the live twitter analysis, providing legal insight into Comey’s hearing, including questions surrounding the legality of leaked memos from Comey about his conversation with President Donald Trump.

“Comey admits that he leaked the internal memo through a Columbia law professor in order to force Special Counsel. Yet, that raises questions,” Turley wrote in a Twitter post.

Turley said law professors are in demand because they have a reputation for basing their analysis on the law rather than politics.

“Law faculty are often called upon during legal controversies because they not only have expertise in the area but they have a commitment to objective analysis,” he said.

Turley has been quoted in dozens of news articles since Comey’s firing last month as news continued to break regarding the investigation into Trump’s relationship with Russia and possible obstruction of justice. His insight has been included in articles from news organizations like the Washington Post, New York Times, Fox News and NPR.

“When I watch White House briefings, I often see two or three of our graduates among the reporters.”

Turley has told reporters that there isn’t a strong case for impeachment or obstruction of justice against Trump even amid bombshell reports about Trump’s relationship with Comey and his reported request that the FBI drop its investigation of his former national security adviser and campaign ally Michael Flynn.

The law school highlighted faculty quoted in the media during last fall’s presidential elections, creating a website tallying media mentions. Turley has been quoted in news articles six times since June 7, arguing opinions on the ethical grounds of Comey’s memos and suggesting that there may be no legal grounds of a case of obstruction of justice against Trump, according to the law school’s website.

The law school – the oldest in the District – has had a long relationship with Capitol Hill and the media, Turley said. Professors are frequently called to testify in front of Congress for their expertise and some law school graduates, like Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., are members of Congress.

“When I watch White House briefings, I often see two or three of our graduates among the reporters,” Turley said.

Cohen, the director of GSPM’s political management program, said Twitter was the perfect medium to facilitate conversation in big moments like the Comey hearing because it provides users with a faster-paced feed than other social media like Facebook.

“On Facebook you expect even from your craziest uncle that they are going to post once,” he said. “Whereas for Twitter you can react for every bit of the conversation that’s going on on Capitol Hill and it’s not discouraged.”

As the largest university in D.C., Cohen said GW should be at the head of the pack when political news breaks.

“Strong Comey move. Opens not with what we read but with a memorized defense of the FBI and himself. Says they were defamed, a lie @GSPMgwu,” Cohen tweeted as Comey began the hearing attacking Trump and his allies for claiming the FBI was in disarray when Comey was fired.

Cohen said having faculty be a part of the conversation extends GW’s brand beyond Foggy Bottom and increases the visibility of the program.

“It gives other people an idea of who we are and that we take this stuff very seriously and we’re not just spouting off in the moment,” he said.

“Faculty can provide a bit of measure and some depth in historical and political context to what we’re seeing in real time.”

Cohen said he and several of his colleagues within GSPM had also been contacted by media outlets for comment on the hearing.

Cohen works on the Public Echoes of Rhetoric in America Project, which connects public opinion to social media analytics by studying how Twitter users react to events and shape conversation. He said the faculty’s live tweeting was a “perfect PEORIA moment,” which blended a current event with social media conversation.

Matthew Dallek, an associate professor of political management, participated in a Yahoo live blog, providing historical context and analysis of the Comey hearing.

Dallek said political management and law faculty should play a role in major national news events, like the Comey hearing, because they work in a hub of political activity and can help create an informed discussion on divisive topics.

“I think one of the roles of the University and faculty can be obviously to provide scholarship and depth and thoughtful analysis, and understanding of important contemporary and historical issues,” Dallek said. “Faculty can provide a bit of measure and some depth in historical and political context to what we’re seeing in real time.”

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