GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Students and boosters of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey's Hellenic studies program on Sunday heard from a Greek-American who rose through journalism's ranks to join the White House press corps, where he tries to "do something for the (Greek) community" when he can.
Fox News correspondent Mike Emanuel also described how his work environment changed when the White House changed hands from former President George W. Bush - a longtime acquaintance who called him "Mikey" - to President Barack Obama, who regarded conservative-leaning Fox News as a political foe.
"It wasn't pleasant," Emanuel told an audience of hundreds at the Presidential Ballroom of Seaview/Stockton College. "A member of their communications team thought it would be a good idea to declare war on Fox News, and all it did was boost our ratings, quite honestly."
However, Emanuel expressed no hatred toward Obama himself and said the current president remains the person he most wants to interview one-on-one.
The Interdisciplinary Center of Hellenic Studies at Stockton raises money every year to fund scholarships and study-abroad opportunities. Three students who studied in Greece addressed the annual scholarship luncheon audience before Emanuel did, thanking the attendees and describing their experiences. Two of them elicited applause for speaking alternately in Greek and English.
Tom Papademetriou, executive director of the Hellenic center, said the students demonstrated the benefit of the donations: "My job just got a million times easier from their being here today."
Even in a poor economy, donations - mostly from the region's Greek residents - have not flagged.
"I think when it comes to education and the Greek community, there's always a response," Papademetriou said.
The center had no trouble enlisting Emanuel as Sunday's guest speaker. The 42-year-old northern New Jersey native and Rutgers University alumnus is a childhood friend of Greek culture professor Katherine Panagakos.
Emanuel joined Fox News in 1997, after covering Bush's 1994 run for governor for a local station in Texas. He described his friendly relationship with Bush - even doing an impression of his laugh - and said a high point of his career was witnessing the then-president meeting Greek Orthodox leaders in Bethlehem, Israel, in 2008.
Emanuel questioned Obama about his health care program's prospects during a news conference Wednesday but has yet to land a private interview with the president, he said.
The feud between the president and Emanuel's employer seems less intense than in the months after Obama's inauguration, Emanuel said: "They had a tough election last Tuesday. I don't think they're so focused on us right now."
Responding to an audience member's question about the White House's approach to foreign policy, Emanuel said, "If I quote got out of here that I was critical of our foreign policy, I'd be fired. I'm not supposed to have an opinion."
Emanuel questiond why MSNBC pundit Keith Olbermann would be suspended for making political donations when he, in Emanuel's view, is not politically objective.
"In my book, Keith Olbermann doesn't pretend to be a journalist. I was surprised he got suspended, because I don't think he tries to play it down the middle," Emanuel said.
Emanuel himself is barred from making political donations, he said, and he considers it important to keep his reports objective.
"I'm not Sean Hannity, I'm not Glenn Beck," Emanuel said, naming two Fox News colleagues who convey conservative opinions on their shows. "I do the news during the day."
If Emanuel has any bias in his coverage, it is in favor of more exposure for issues important to the Greek community.
"Some (efforts) have gone better than others," the reporter said, recalling that Greek troops in Afghanistan were prohibited from doing press, although troops from Turkey, a rival of Greece, were more than willing to take reporters on helicopter rides and other media-friendly endeavors.
"I really couldn't do anything to help the Greek troops on that trip," Emanuel said.
Emanuel remains active in the Greek Orthodox Christian church in suburban Washington, D.C.
"Without faith, you're nowhere," he told the audience.
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