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With A Country Divided, Judy Woodruff Still Has Hope

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Emma Atkinson

Honored with the 2024 Josef Korbel Award, Woodruff spoke about her new reporting project, “America at a Crossroads,” at the Korbel Honors ceremony.

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Judy Woodruff speaks with Dean Fritz Mayer at the 2024 Korbel Honors event.

In her time reporting on politics in Washington, D.C., broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff has covered the administrations of eight presidents. And now, she says, she sees the United States as being more politically divided than ever.

“In all my years of covering Washington and of trying to understand American political decisions, I've never seen the country this divided,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff spoke at the 2024 Korbel Honors event, the University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies’ end-of-year awards ceremony. She accepted the Josef Korbel Award, an honor bestowed upon notable figures like U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth and, most recently, the late former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright—the daughter of Josef Korbel.

In a conversation with Korbel School Dean Fritz Mayer at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Woodruff explained how her new investigative journalism series, “America at a Crossroads,” seeks to understand the division that is so pervasive in the United States today.

Judy Woodruff speaks with Dean Fritz Mayer at the 2024 Korbel Honors event.

Woodruff recalled an interview she did with a group of Republicans, during which a moderator asked if the participants thought it was possible to be both a faithful, religious person and a Democrat.

“Everyone at the table said no,” she said.

Woodruff explained that her series focuses in part on school board meetings across the country—meetings that she called “formerly sleepy.”

Now, she says, those meetings have become “angry shouting matches with people storming out of the meeting, fighting over what books should be on the shelf and what should be taught about race history.”

“The question I have is—how do we bring people together when they have a different set of facts?” Woodruff said. “How do we even begin to come together as a country, as a people, when we don't agree on a basic set of facts?”

Woodruff said her team interviewed people across the country and found the same sort of division in every corner of America.

“What we're talking about is something that is affecting small communities, rural communities, suburban communities across America, in ways that will just break your heart,” she said.

But there are bright spots, which gives her hope for the future, Woodruff said. She mentioned “bridging groups,” or organizations that seek to bring people together to talk out their differences, as one of those bright spots.

And, she said, she has hope that young people—Korbel students—can make a difference.

“I believe in you,” Woodruff said to the audience. “I believe in the American people. I put a lot of faith in the younger generation. I think they are looking at what my generation—the older generation—has done, and they're thinking, ‘We gotta do better than this. We can't remain this divided.’ And so, I have to have hope.”

2024 Korbel Honors Awardees

Korbel Lifetime Achievement Award: Edward Thomas Rowe, Dean Emeritus of the Korbel School and Director of the International Career Advancement Program (ICAP)

Korbel Outstanding Teaching Award: Professor Marie Berry

Korbel Distinguished Alumni Award: Minsun Ji