The President’s Analyst

Portsmouth native Bill Schneider’s personal journey through politics

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It’s always been hard to tell if Bill Schneider is a Republican or a Democrat.

The veteran TV personality, author and educator likes it that way. “I take pride in the fact that people are always saying to me that they aren’t sure what my political views are,” says Schneider, a Portsmouth native.

During his 19 ½ years as CNN’s senior political analyst, Schneider won a Peabody and an Emmy, among other awards, for his thorough and nonpartisan television reporting. His ability to read deep into polling data and to forecast voting trends spurred The Boston Globe to call him “the Aristotle of American politics.” The bespectacled analyst has a new book coming out next year that charts his own personal journey through politics while documenting what he calls an emerging new coalition of American voters.

“I got the heat from both sides when I was at CNN,” he says, telephoning from his office at Third Way, a Washington D.C. political think tank. “I would get complaints whenever I would say anything critical of President Bush or of President Clinton. I would get complaints from one side or the other that I wasn’t being fair. When I got complaints from conservatives, they called me a rotten, filthy scoundrel, and if the complaints were from liberals, they would say, ‘Oh, it just breaks my heart to hear you criticize Bill and Hillary Clinton.’”

Schneider helped the nation make sense of the socio-political shifts that accompanied the first and second Iraq wars, the ascendancies and scandals of presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama, the unprecedented 2000 presidential recount and so many other modern political touchstones (Schneider also hosted his own show, “Inside Politics,” that was required viewing for D.C.-watchers).  In 2009, the same year he left CNN, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems gave him a special award that commemorated “his extensive coverage and keen insight of the 2008 United States presidential election.”    

“I can’t be certain of this but I think I was the first person on television to describe himself as a political analyst,” he says, adding that in those days, there were three basic on-air roles in TV news. “It was the anchorman, the reporter and the commentator, who told you what he thinks. That was not my job. My job was to say, ‘this is what it means’ and to have facts behind whatever I was saying. All of those jobs have now kind of blurred… I mean, what is Chris Matthews? Is he an anchor or a commentator or an analyst?”

It’s a mid-November day, and Schneider—whose TV punditry can now be found on the international Al Jazeera network—is pouring over the polling data from the recent governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia. He mentions the two Republican candidates.

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