nancycordesannenberg

Last week, Nancy Cordes spoke at the annual Annenberg Lecture.

Credit: Isabella Cuan

CBS congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes has a hectic schedule. On any given day, Cordes wakes up as early as four or five a.m. to prepare for CBS live-shots and then spends the rest of the day working for CBS Radio, preparing additional live-shots for CBS’s new digital channel CBSN and writing pitches for the CBS Evening News — sometimes while traveling.

On Tuesday, Cordes took a break from her busy routine to deliver the 2015 Annenberg Lecture entitled “Chasing the ‘Scooby’ Van and Tracking Trump to the Border: Covering the Wild Ride that is the 2016 Presidential Campaign.”

Cordes, who graduated from Penn in 1995 with a degree in communication, spoke to an audience of Penn students, Penn alumni and members of the Philadelphia community about her experiences as a political reporter.

Cordes emphasized one of the lessons she has learned over the course of her 15-plus years in politics: during a campaign, “crazy things are going to happen,” and reporters have to be prepared.

The lecture detailed many unanticipated moments in Cordes’s career, from watching Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live" imitate Sarah Palin while Cordes was aboard Palin’s campaign jet, to traveling to the U.S. border to cover Donald Trump.

For Cordes, one of the pivotal moments of this campaign season was her unanticipated, if not serendipitous, run-in with Hillary Clinton’s campaign vehicle, dubbed the "Scooby" Van because it reminded Clinton of Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine.

Cordes recalled working on an assignment in Iowa when she spotted what looked like the Scooby Van parked outside of a restaurant. Upon entering the establishment, Cordes found “the Clinton campaign’s inner sanctum" inside.

“This is the kind of unexpected discovery that political reporters dream of,” Cordes said.

For Cordes, the encounter was more than just a chance occurrence; it was an example of “how stage-managed campaigns really are these days.” According to Cordes, Clinton’s staff was visibly horrified by her appearance at the restaurant. It was one of Clinton’s first days on the campaign trail, and there was already a reporter on her tail.

“It is our job as reporters to try and pull back the window or the curtain” on these kinds of campaigns, Cordes said.

Students seemed enthusiastic about Cordes’s lecture. Barry Johnson, a College junior studying Communication, was especially pleased with Cordes’s personal anecdotes.

“Typically what we come to, the lectures, they’re more academic,” Johnson said. “She was very personal.”

Annenberg graduate student David Larochelle echoed these sentiments. “I enjoyed hearing all of the stories,” he said.

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