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'Has the press become, less skeptical, less insurgent?' (Part two)

SHOWCASE | October 17, 2008

A transcript of a panel discussion held Oct. 7 in conjunction with the presentation of the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence. (Part two of two.)


Tom Rosenstiel: Okay, you've mentioned a few really interesting ideas. Pick your stories strategically, for impact, more documentation and transparency to establish that they've been verified and are true, aggressively market them into the commentariat media after publication, and go to great lengths to defend them. I'd add Michael's idea about limiting other reporting, the sort of access reporting, and doing more to contextualize. Putting a lot more effort into the what we used to call the, 'Nut Graph,' the 'So what graph.'

Florence Graves: And I have one more thing that I want to throw out there. I've started to put together a team of lawyers who are willing to -- because we don't get our FOIA's answered. Two or three years later, they are still working on them. Can't find them. Don't know where the documents are. We're putting a together a team of lawyers who, pro bono, are willing to sue the government to get the documents for us. We certainly cannot afford to do that. But we have found that there are some civic-minded business type lawyers that want to do this type of work.

Tom Rosenstiel: Okay, John, you are both a boss and somebody who is winning awards for this type of stuff. What are the solutions you would suggest?

John Walcott: Well, I think the first boss responsibility, is to try to defeat the cynicism that has invaded the profession. It got as far as, I'm sad to say, Nieman Reports, sort of saying it didn't matter that no one covered the run-up to the Iraq war, because they were going to do it anyway. And that is a very tempting way to dispose of this burden. To say that nobody listens, and the message machine is too powerful. Why should I continue to work 16 or 18 hours a day to do stuff that doesn't matter? When it doesn't get traction. Without that, we're going nowhere. The second thing, which maybe is a little different than what Chuck and Michael are talking about, is I have tried to break down the wall between “investigative reporting” and what everybody else in the bureau does. There is a tendency to think that investigative reporting is what those three or four or ten people do, they write one story every three years, its 11,000 words when they get done with it.

Tom Rosenstiel: Hey! I worked for the L.A. Times. Stop making fun of that.

John Walcott: 12,000 words, sorry. And that's investigative reporting. Every reporter in every bureau should be an investigative reporter. In our bureau, for example, we have a national staff, and they are the ones who are assigned to State, Defense, Justice, the environment, economics. But, we have a big staff of regional reporters, who report, each one, for each of the 30 papers we own. Now, you know, the guys who are reporting for papers in Idaho, or Alaska, or Washington state, ought to be the ones investigating the agriculture department, the forest service, et cetera. And they are. Everybody ought to be doing investigative work. We have seen, over the past 7+ years, regulatory changes that are mind-boggling. And now, the evidence is starting to come out that this was largely political. Everybody should be a regulatory watchdog in that sense. And the last thing, somebody mentioned earlier, and I'm afraid that it's right, that we, we as an industry, the news media, have lost an awful lot of public support. And I think there are a couple of reasons for that that can be remedied. One of them is that we have got to stop screwing up. That would help. But the other one is that we have lost touch with most of America. We write for each other, we write for the Sunday talk shows, we write for the elites in New York and Washington. And the average person picks up a newspaper, even the best, maybe especially the best newspapers, and says, 'There is nothing in here that helps me live my life.' And I'm sure that there are millions of Americans out there who are watching their 401ks evaporate, and wondering why no one told them that their retirement was at risk, that their chance of retiring was at risk, and we were too busy covering guys who made hundred million dollar bonuses. We were too enamored of that world. Just this week, I've got a reporter and a television crew from the American News Project, which is another of one of these independent video outlets. We have no video talent whatsoever. In addition, as you can see, to not having too many people who are videogenic.

Tom Rosenstiel: Hillary, you are likable enough.

John Walcott: Harpy, shrew. But they started this little journey in Greenwich, CT. And, among other things, went through a house that is in foreclosure, where the family had to leave so quickly that the kids' sports trophies are still on the bureau. But they are in Newark today. And then they're going to go on to, I think maybe, the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. And look at how what's going on in Wall Street affects Main Street. Different kinds of Main Streets. And I don't think we do enough of that kind of reporting. I think we've kind of lost touch with what matters to people across the country living their daily lives, and I think we need to rededicate ourselves to that.

Tom Rosenstiel: Okay, you've talked about a leadership challenge to fight against the cynicism that can wear down your staff, to inspire them, to make everybody a skeptical reporter in your newsroom, by encouraging them to not be stenographers. And to stay in touch with, not the discussion of elites, but the discussion that's going on around kitchen tables. Jane, I'm struck by the extent to which, when your book came out, you had connected dots, and seen a phenomenon that was sort of there in front of everybody, but people hadn't put together before and had done that through deep, deep reporting. What are your, as somebody that had been in daily, and now is doing, is able to take that longer look, what are your thoughts about how we can as a profession, do this job better?

Jane Mayer: I am the luckiest of reporters to work at a place like the New Yorker, where you can take time, which is the ultimate luxury in reporting, or writing a book, also. One of the things that I did in the book, that I think maybe would be useful, if people did more often just generally in daily reporting, was to give credit and follow up on other people's reporting. There is some kind of bias that editors have that if somebody else has broken a story, and you even acknowledge that they've broke the story in your rival news organization, that you can't do your own version of it. And in fact, what it prohibits then, is following up and adding on, and to some extent you can see it in press scrums, when the President comes out in front of the White House Press Corps. When the Press Corps works together, and follows up on each other's questions, they can pin somebody down and get somewhere, but when they are all sort of preening to get their own ten seconds, they don't get very far. And I really think that we probably should have picked up on the reporting that John and his team were doing. And it would have been better if the New York Times and Washington Post said, 'What are these curveball stories?' and ran with it and took it further and in some of the stuff that I have been working on, there has been that dynamic. You, John, you mentioned that it's a very competitive business and obviously they will stay so and that's good in many ways, but in the rarified world of people writing about torture, there has been a kind of an international relay race going on where people have been tossing the baton across national barriers, really. I mean, something will break in Poland about – where it seems to be that there is a secret prison, and people or Dana Priest, who has done such amazing reporting, will have her stories out and then people will go and look for those prisons and there are flight records and plane spotters looking for the rendition planes and it's been a really interesting thing to see. And one of the possibilities of working with computers is that it can be international and it can be accumulative if you are sort of willing to give a little bit of credit. And I think that, especially as we get weaker and weaker, as individual news organizations, if we, you know, have the sort of courage to work a little more collectively, and follow up on each other's work, we might get someplace further. So I think that's one thing.

I have to say my pet peeve is one of the innovations of the '80s and '90s, which are ombudsmen, in-house ombudsmen, I am sorry to say that, but I just feel like, somebody who sees how hard it is to break news and get stories and how hard the good people work. I would like to see Ombudsmen explain to the public what we are doing in a way that makes them appreciate it, instead of constantly piling on, and taking us apart on the inside. It's bad enough to be criticized from the outside, and then to also have somebody on the inside pulling your stuffing out, so I am really sick of that and..

Gilbert Cranberg: Spoken like a true reporter. [laughter]

Jane Mayer: You know, and I mean, I don't really think that reporting has been all bad. I think that there is lots to be ashamed of but there has also been some amazing stuff done at even the New York Times and the Washington Post. James Risen and others and a lot of us. One more thing on the collective aspect of this -- I think on the campaign, we would be so much more powerful if news organizations kind of picked up on each other's demands and for instance, say about John McCain's pathology reports when he has cancer, 'We want to see them,' and if they say no to one organization, the next one should say, 'We want to see them too,' you know, and just keep -- There are ways to have more pressure put on the administration or people in power when they simply sort of diss us. I would like to think that we can be more creative with that.

John Walcott: The biggest example of that is the Sarah Palin interview availability.

Jane Mayer: Yeah! Really! [laughs]

John Walcott: We were all told that we had to show proper deference. That was the word they used. And I couldn't agree with you more, especially on that front.

Jane Mayer: So to be supportive, you know, I think we can be a little more supportive of each other and demanding things like access.

Gilbert Cranberg: Speaking of being supportive, everybody knows the name of her book. “The Dark Side” is well worth reading.

Jane Mayer: Thank you very much.

Gilbert Cranberg: You are welcome.

Tom Rosenstiel: A lot of people say to me that it was the best book they read this year.

Jane Mayer: God! Thank you.

Tom Rosenstiel: What's intriguing to me about that, Jane, is two things. First of all, that's very much the model that scientists use in trying to investigate a problem, who do not work in large institutions but really sort of work as singular researchers in collaboration with each other. Yes, they're in universities, but you are not part of the Harvard team; you are part of the group of biochemists who are studying a certain problem and you see each others as colleagues and across competing or across different institutions. But the other thing about that I think we have to remember is that there is a kind of meta-narrative that goes on in the commentariat media, where you know, one booker is watching a TV show and says 'Let's have that guy on'. But what do we have in our collaborative discussion about, is it journalism of empiricism, that you were talking about John, or is it whatever the buzz of the moment is? So if we are going to collaborate, we need to be picking the right subject, it seems to me. Gil, so what are your solutions and we've got time for questions.

Gilbert Cranberg: The underlying reason we are here today is that there has been a massive journalistic failure. And we are celebrating the exception.

Panelist: The maverick.

Tom Rosenstiel: Pardon me?

Panelist: The maverick.


Gilbert Cranberg: We are celebrating somebody who wasn't a failure; they did a wonderful job. So where has there been the institutional self-examination as a result of this failure? The New York Times had a fairly modest mea culpa. The Washington Post didn't even have that! They did not speak in their own voice about their failing. This was a piece written by their media critic, Howard Kurtz. So as an institution, they have been silent. That is not good enough. My own former colleagues in the editorial writing business -- they had a massive failure. And they have not said anything institutionally about what they did. I read some forty editorials. I am going to go back to Colin Powell because that was the crux of the failure. There were 40 editorials. He spoke on February 5th. 80% of those editorials appeared on February 6th. How could that be? They could only have watched the thing on television and then swiveled their chairs around to their word processors and banged out an editorial saying, “Yeah! Yeah! Let's go to war!” That's essentially what they did. And they were way off base. Now what have they done about it? Zero! They have not responded as an organization. There is an organization of editorial writers, and they have never touched this. And this, it's going to happen again. I predict it's going to happen again. Because journalism has simply not gotten to the bottom of the problem. And they need to get to the bottom of the problem. They need to have a lot of self-examination about what they did wrong. And they did massively wrong.

Tom Rosenstiel: Okay, I want to invite members of the audience to come up and ask questions at the mic, if you don't mind, so that people can hear, because in the back of the room you can't hear. I would just -- while you are coming here, I would just -- go ahead -- say one thing that's interesting to me about all the things that you said is that you steered us towards some things in journalism can be found out to be true. There are some questions that are matters of fact. And there are some questions in journalism that are matters of opinion or discussion. And if we focus on the things that are matters of fact, and that are questions of empiricism, and there are things that are in the past. Is Al Qaeda in Iraq? Did this person do what he said he would do? Can those tubes be used to make weapons? That's not open for discussion. That is something that we, as journalists, can find out whether it's true or not. And that's good ground for us.

Jim Snider: So you have spoken --

Moderator: Identify yourself if you would.

Jim Snider: Jim Snider, President of iSolon. I was a Shorenstein Fellow in the spring semester at the Kennedy School. So you have spoken a lot about the institutional failure of journalism often, the indifference to the truth, media outlets. But all your examples come from the national media --very high profile institutions, basically. What about at the local levels? It is my perception that however bad it might be at the national level, it is ten times worse at the local level. Incomparable. Maybe there are offsetting institutions so that if journalism basically is completely broken at the local level, it doesn't matter as much. But what is your take about the relative importance of the breakdown you are talking about at the national versus the local level? I mean when I say local, I am talking all the way down to school boards and town councils, not metropolitan local, which is the way most people will, you know, San Diego, New York City. I am talking about real local.

Charles Lewis: Well, AJR and others have done systematic analyses in the last 6-7 years, about the breakdown of local coverage. One thing I have noticed was state capitals, of course, most news organizations no longer have reporters in the state capital. There are 25,000 laws passed every year in the fifty state capitals. Health insurance is actually regulated at the state level and not the federal level. The canary in the mine shaft about the Enron could have been detected in the states because 22 states deregulated Enron not coincidentally... There are 40,000 lobbyists in the state capitals, 30,000 here in Washington. Is anyone watching them? Basically, no. Not really, not in a systematic way. And if you do cover it, it's for your state and not the next state. And so there's this insular element. Local coverage, even the micro kind of granularity you're talking about at that level, I've got to think is not good but I haven't studied it. But, I think, although there has been an increase in small and mid-size weekly papers, and some of them are the giveaway types with lots of advertising.

Gilbert Cranberg: --get the dinner afterwards?

Panelist: That probably a good thing, but I've got to think it's not great but I, I don't know if, Tom, you have probably studied this. I'm sure you have.


Tom Rosenstiel: --my burden. John, you want to weigh in on this?

John Walcott: Yeah, well, we own 30 newspapers across the country, literally from Miami to Anchorage -- and point one, you're right, the cutbacks in staff that have been forced by revenue declines. And we're looking at revenue declines year on year of fifteen, sixteen percent.

Tom Rosenstiel: --could get worse in the fourth quarter.

John Walcott: Well, yeah, that--that's where this recession that's staring us in the face can really hurt. So yeah, it could get worse. We can only hope it doesn't. The '09-'08 comparisons ought to be a little easier than the '08-'07 comparisons were. But nevertheless, the cutbacks in staff have been huge. And there has been a huge loss of institutional memory. One of the things that McClatchy has done, that I think makes a lot of sense, and I think somebody alluded to it earlier: in North Carolina, for example where we own both the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer -- they've combined their capital bureaus, so as not to lose that. But it has required getting over what Jane's talking about -- the traditional rivalry between the two papers. But it has I think, helped guarantee a better level of coverage for the readers throughout North Carolina. And you're going to see more of that kind of thing, sometimes reaching beyond one company. I think you're going to hear, in the near future, some more about those kind of arrangements -- in which traditional competitors are now collaborating, to try to protect exactly that kind of reporting. But it is extremely difficult to do under these financial circumstances.

Tom Rosenstiel: I would say, just based on the information that we have, that as newspapers make cutbacks, and they're throwing a lot of things overboard. Let's not be -- you know let's not sugarcoat it. But most editors believe that watchdog journalism is a franchise operation that is good for their brand, good for their business. And they claim, whether they live up to it or not, that that is not an area that they're cutting back. It is an area, however, that they're going to make more local. So the notion you're going to do a regional or state investigation is less likely. The idea that you're going to do something locally -- There's a concept that you're going to hear about in the news business of the distinction between commodity news, which isn't news about commodities. It's news that is a commodity that you can learn from lots of different places -- and franchise news, which is news that only my news organization is going to produce -- and the way that people imagine they're going to compete with smaller newsrooms is focus more on the franchise news, news that people cannot find anywhere else. And they think that investigative reporting is part of that. I would say that's their aspiration at this point. Skill levels and things like that is a big challenge. If you, I mean, the fact is -- not everybody is as skillful as Jane Mayer. It's not just about having the luxury of time.

Jane Mayer: I've just been doing it for a long time. I started at the smallest weekly newspaper in Vermont. So, and It was cheap to start it, I actually started one, too, after college. So I kind of thing maybe the blogosphere, the web will be able to cover local news to some extent.

John Walcott: Well, the web does one other thing for us. We collect, for example, on the McClatchy DC website -- McClatchyDC.com for those of you who haven't bookmarked it --
-- these kinds of stories from all our papers. We've done it now on the economy, specifically. We've got an “Economy in Turmoil” page. And we're collecting the stories that the Kansas City star and the Sacramento Bee, and the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer and the Lexington Herald-Leader are doing about what's happening in their areas. And a lot of that is investigative work. And you can find pretty much all of it on our web page, linked back to the individual papers, so that they hopefully get some traffic out of it because their sites are monetized better than ours. So I think the web offers some possibilities for enabling some of that work to get more traction that it could have even five years ago.

Tom Rosenstiel: Let's go to the next question.

Nonna Gorilovskaya: Hello, my name is Nonna, and I'm a researcher for the Nieman Watchdog project. My question is about -- I was wondering if you had any suggestions on whether there needs to be anything done in regards to revamping the way the presidential debates are run -- and, if there was some questions that you thought should have been asked during the debates that haven't been?

Tom Rosenstiel: Anybody want to play debate critic?

Michael Massing: Well, I certainly think one question. The debates are heavily formatted in terms of what the two parties or candidates will agree to. If you want to get specific, the last debate, I thought the sort of lack of follow up question by the moderator. And the fact that, in some cases the questions were rather blatantly ignored and, and not answered. I think I'm not alone in speaking for a sense of frustration among people about that. But that's just one observation. There's going to be a--

Florence Graves: But she wasn't allowed by the rules. To, to--

Michael Massing: She couldn't even do anything?

Florence Graves: That's my understanding. That's the way the parties wrote the rules -- for the debate.

Michael Massing: I would have ignored them.

Florence Graves: Well--

Tom Rosenstiel: There is an argument to be made that -- not to excuse anything a moderator does -- but that, the effect of a debate is to really get the cut of the candidates' jib, and that the questions may be less important than whatever the answers happen to be. That may be, that may be too glib.

John Walcott: I don't think there's been enough holding the candidates feet to the fire. And I'll give you one example, a nice bipartisan one for those in favor of fair and balanced. John McCain proposes to remove a fair number of troops from Iraq and save money that way. Barack Obama wants to transfer a fair number of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. I just checked the website; there's a limit to what I can say about this. I was hoping that Jon and Warren would get back to work faster than they did, but. You will see shortly, inshallah, a story that raises serious questions about whether the United States can remove any significant number of troops from Iraq any time soon, given the conditions there. And you've heard, if you pay attention, Secretary Rice yesterday, interestingly, said she didn't think victory was assured in Iraq. And General Petraeus has been very careful about what he's said about conditions. And the most recent Defense Department report is very cautious. Much more cautious than those who say we're on a path to victory. And I didn't see any of that follow up, they just said those things, they were accepted and nobody said, 'Wait a minute, are you sure we're going to be able to do that?' How--you know? And so I think the debates have lacked that kind of feet-to-the-fire element, and some of that is because people have accepted rules that were dictated by the political parties. The bottom line is, I don't know about you guys, but I don't think I've heard what I would call a debate yet.

Jane Mayer: No, I mean on the area of the war on terrorism, whatever you want to call it, both candidates say they want to close Guantanamo, but nobody's explained what are they going to do then. There are so many questions that we've haven't heard answers to. We haven't even heard the questions asked, basically. And again, I don't know if it's partly a press failing. It's also as people were saying earlier, a failure of the opposition parties on both sides of these candidates. People aren't sort of pushing them.

Gilbert Cranberg: For what it's worth, I think the debates are a terrible idea; the things they measure have absolutely nothing to do with the ability to be a president or vice president. If you can have a snappy comeback, or your personality comes across, that's all irrelevant to governing the country. I think they're a waste of time and I don't watch them.

Gareth Porter: I'm Gareth Porter. I'm an independent investigative journalist though I write for Inter Press service most of the time. And I'm interested in the discussion you had on the question of why there is not more investigative journalism, why there's not more watchdogging by the media, particularly in national security issues, and particularly on the point that Michael Massing made on the suggestion that this might fluctuate depending on the poll numbers of the president, of the administration, and I wanted to bring up an issue that might be a test of this and I'd be interested in the panel's explanations for this. I'm interested in the question of the administration's explanation, the administration's political line, if you will, on the story of the so-called Iranian EFPs in Iraq. It was a fairly controversial issue in that the evidence that was promised by the administration was really never presented; they never came up with, really, any evidence to support what was the bedrock of its position on the Iranian so-called meddling in Iraq. And this was at a time when the administration's numbers were plummeting, really, at a fairly low point in terms of certain support for the war in Iraq and the administration's policy and I'm interested in whether any of you would have any thoughts about why there wasn't more investigative journalism on that question which, seemed to me, cried out for debunking by the media. It seems to me that was a missing story and at a time you would have expected, perhaps, more energy on this.

Michael Massing: Well, let me -- I have some number of thoughts about the coverage of Iran. I had a chance to go to Iraq in May and the Iranian question was the one that kept coming up, I mean, you didn't even have to bring it up, and I have to tell you that the sense that I got out of Iranian involvement it was pervasive in all aspects of Iraq, and so I actually sort of went somewhat skeptical as you were about -- we're talking about these highly explosive devices that can pierce armor even of the most highly protected US vehicles and were being blamed by the pentagon for causing a lot of deaths. I was also skeptical – is this a dog and pony show type thing? I came away feeling that almost every claim about what Iran is doing there is accurate, including that one, and so I say that as a skeptic, where I thought the coverage of Iran is on a much broader level and it has to do with -- and this gets to this broader question of how we've become prisoners of preconceptions here and of the conventional wisdom, which I see as such an overriding problem. The Bush administration and the whole foreign policy establishment, I feel had demonized Iran, in a way, and the coverage follows that now Iran has a terrible regime and Ahmadinejad, if you heard his speeches at the UN, was horrible, but it's just been missed by so much of our press, the way in which Iran has been hungry for some sort of normalization with the United States and particularly after 9/11, they were helpful with us in getting rid of the Taliban and gave signals that they wanted to cooperate with us to get rid of Saddam Hussein. After all, he was one of their great mortal enemies. And the Bush administration, because of its 'axis of evil' view of the world, basically has walled off Iran, and well, this has obviously become an issue in the campaign now. If we're talking about the media, I feel that the problem with Iran is not the narrow one of this particular explosive device. I feel that it's a failure to really step back out of Washington out of the Beltway and look at this broader context and see things from the Iranian side. This also happened with the Georgia-Russia struggle. I felt a lot of press fell back and did some Cold War reflexive coverage. Although it's improved, I think that, you know, the press actually, when they had more time they began looking, but I've been very frustrated with the coverage of Iran and as I've said before if the new administration came in and started beating the drums, going, 'We've got to take out the Iranian nuclear sites.' How's the press going to perform? Will they do better or not? I don't know.

John Walcott: You know, we did look into the EFP story and came to roughly the same conclusion that Michael did. Iranian influences everywhere in Shia, Iraq, especially in the south, their relationship with the two main Shia political parties, Dawa and Siri, is like this. Some of the EFP technology is in fact traceable back to Quds Force people in Iran and beyond that back to Hezbollah in Lebanon. It doesn't mean they're importing them wholesale, but the Iranians, again to Michael's point, if you try and look at this from the Iranians' point of view, given their history with Iraq, given their casualties in the war those two fought, of course they want influence. That is one of the biggest things the administration failed to consider when they went charging into Iraq. On the nuclear front, what puzzles me in this argument of conventional wisdom is the idea that deterrence cannot work against Iran. If they get a nuclear weapon, they're going to fire it at Tel Aviv or Jerusalem the minute they get it – well, the fact of the matter is if they did that the entire country of Iran would be turned into a skating rink in no time because that's what a nuclear weapon does when it explodes over sand; it turns into glass. Somehow, deterrence can't apply to Iran. The only explanation for this I've ever read is from Norman Podhoretz, who literally wrote that deterrence can't work against Iran because their Shiites, they're crazy, they want to all commit suicide to hasten their arrival of the Twelfth Imam. That is probably the nuttiest foreign policy argument I have ever heard in my life, and I've been doing this for a long time. And yet it sort of becomes conventional wisdom that if the Iranians are close to getting a nuclear weapon, we have to attack them because deterrence can't work. And I agree with Michael completely; the power of that kind of conventional wisdom – unchallenged, unchecked, unexamined -- can be a really dangerous thing.

Tom Rosenstiel: We have five more minutes, if we could have another --

Michael Massing: If I could just follow up for ten seconds? You're absolutely right, of course; the broader context is one of conventional wisdom that really takes us in the wrong direction, but my point was really that, on this rather narrow issue, the evidence was never produced. They never produced any evidence to support it, and the one point that they made in support of it was that there is this technology that only be done in Iran. It turned out that these were being produced widely in Iraq -- that was the main point they were making, but that point was never covered by the media. It was a point that I thought cried out for debunking, that's all.

Tom Rosenstiel: Okay.

Andrew Craig: Hi, my name is Andrew Craig, and I'd first like to thank you all and the institutions you represent for the fantastic insights that you're sharing. I've got a mini-question: is any of this available, and when, so that each of us in the audience can try to bring these insights to a larger audience … ? [inaudible response]

Okay, well, a bit larger question: I'm concerned, rightly or wrongly, that the means of electronic surveillance of journalists, of sources, is growing much more rapidly and my question is, are you seeing concerns among your sources about this, and is there any pushback the journalist community can undertake, if the problem I mentioned is accurate, in the face of lessened judicial review of these kind of matters?

Tom Rosenstiel: Jane, I think you'd be the perfect person to answer that …

Jane Mayer: Wait, I didn't hear because we had a cross-conversation. I'm sorry. What was the question? I'm really sorry.

Tom Rosenstiel: Ask it really quickly again, if you would.

Andrew Craig: Warrants for surveillance used to be taken very seriously by the courts. I think in the national security environment, there's much more of a sense – we can, we have the means to find out who people are talking to without going through the courts and putting bugs, and so forth. Have you seen this as a worrisome factor to your national security sources who certainly know all about these increased methods and is that a factor in reporting and can there be any pushback from the journalism community on this?

Jane Mayer: A bunch of questions. Well, is it a worry -- I mean, one of the people I know who knows the most about the NSA Program was worried, in particular, because he said to me that they have not gotten a single piece of useful information out of the Warrant List Wire Tapping Program. So they have gone, you know, roughshod over all of those checks and balances for no returns at this point, which I think is a story that doesn't get a lot of attention.

But as far as -- you know, I worry as a reporter that people I know and have interviewed are under leak investigations. And that's related and I think it creates a chilling atmosphere. And, certainly, I'm not alone as a reporter in this situation. There are people I can't call on the telephone without causing them legal problems. So that's been a real problem.

Tom Rosenstiel: It's probably an area we should have talked about. We've got about one more minute? One more question?

Lew Wolfson: I’m Lew Wolfson from American University and in an entirely different context, I thought of what Chris Matthews said when he said a chill ran up and down his leg. [laughter] I sort of had a chill. If somebody was sitting here and didn't know a lot about the press and listened to this eminent group and said, 'My God, it's right. What Rush and Bill O'Reilly and all those guys are saying. The New York Times and the Washington Post are terrible.' [laughter]

Obviously, we're focusing on a specific thing that they were terrible on and they deserve to be pasted. And thank you for what you did say about this, John. It was just marvelous. But I wonder if there's an absent member here, which is the public. And if we have news staffs being cut, if we're going to lose investigative journalism, if we're going to lose the main street stories, do they realize how much they're the ones who suffer? And is that because we have failed a great deal in journalism, in getting across to them how important all of this is to them and that we'd better not lose The New York Times and the Washington Post and the investigative reporting?

Michael Massing: Can I just -- one quick thing? I mean, I totally agree with you that we have lost sight a little bit - and Jane did allude to some of the good reporting, obviously, on many things. I mean, people like Dana Priest and Jim Risen with the NSA story and all the torture in Guantanamo, and so on.

I do, though, have a little bit of a worry, this idea that we are somehow going to find ways to make ourselves popular with the public. I don't know how that's going to happen. I don't know if journalists --I think with Woodward and Bernstein, there was a period where-- again, as Florence was saying -- it might be the exception that proves the rule.

Journalists usually have not been very popular and what they do often is not going to make them popular. And it is something that we wring our hands over because we feel it's so important, what we're doing, and the public will be diminished if we don't. And yet, I don't know if the public's ever going to appreciate that and I don't know if we can do anything about it.

Lou Wilson: Well, my point was that not that we need popularity, but we need to recognize that we are needed.

Michael Massing: Yes. OK. I'm with you on that. [laughter]

Tom Rosenstiel: Well, I would just say that we were asked to take on a very large topic here and I'd like to praise the panelists for coming up with some concrete techniques that I think, I hope even, we'll catalogue because I think there are some ideas here that are doable and useful.

Bob Giles: Well, thank you. First, let's thank the panel very, very much.


Bob Giles: The Nieman Foundation anticipated that this would be a rich and productive and very useful discussion and we've made an audio recording and a video recording, which we're going to edit and make available on our websites. And the points of suggestion that you have brought forward are going to be put together and made available widely. And we hope this is the start of at least an annual conversation in conjunction with presenting the I.F. Stone Award for Journalistic Independence.

So, to our audience, thank you so much for being with us and for staying for this part of the program. We do have some refreshments left and we encourage you to stick around and chat a bit with one another or our panelists. And again, thank you very much and thank you for being with us.


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