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A Conversation with Network News Executives

Introductory Speaker: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
Moderator: Gideon Rose, Editor and Peter G. Peterson Chair, "Foreign Affairs"
Panelists: Stephen A. Capus, President, NBC News, Ken Jautz, Executive Vice President, CNN, David Rhodes, President, CBS News, and Benjamin B. Sherwood, President, ABC News
May 7, 2012, New York
Council on Foreign Relations



RICHARD HAASS: Well, good evening. I'm Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and I'd like to welcome all of you to the Council for tonight's conversation with many of our leading television news executives.

I'm pleased to welcome the news presidents of NBC, CBS and ABC, as well as the executive vice president of CNN. For the record, I should -- I want to note that an invitation was extended as well to the president of Fox News. (Laughter.)

We'd like to thank the Ford Foundation for its generous support of this event. And this is the second time that we've convened a group of network news executives. The first was in 2009 as part of the 60th anniversary celebration of the Council's Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship.

Now, usually these busy gentlemen are competing with one another, so it is good of them to give us their time and to appear together here to share their insights with you, our members.

Ours is an age defined in no small part by globalization, by flows both vast and fast across borders of just about anything and everything you can think of. There's no escaping this. The world is not Las Vegas; what happens anywhere does not stay there. And "there" now encompasses 96 out of every 100 people on the planet and more than three-fourths of global economic output.

Alas, the American public is in many ways unprepared for this new world, for either its threats or its opportunities. Americans can no longer assume they will prevail in economic competition, nor can this country be confident it is producing the talent our government and private sector will require. Nor can it be confident whether we'll know enough about the world around us to meet our obligations as citizens.

I hope my friends on the stage, as well as the vice president of ABC News, who is in the audience and, unless I go too far in the next minute, will be at home later -- (laughter) -- will bear with me as I prod a little.

There's a disconnect between what broadcast journalism is providing and what Americans need. Television news is arguably not doing enough to inform and educate the American public. Coverage of world events by the morning shows and evening news is modest, by any yardstick. A good many foreign bureaus have been closed.

That said, we appreciate that broadcast media is a business and these gentlemen are fighting for ratings and sponsors and face pressures from corporate bosses who expect them to turn a healthy profit. They also face a dynamic and ever more complex media environment, one that includes cable news, radio, the Internet and social media.

So the question is real, for them and for us: How can network news do good and do well at a time Americans need to better understand what is going on in the world and are not as concerned as some of us would argue they ought to be?

And with that not-at-all-simple question, I want to welcome tonight's presider, "Foreign Affairs" Editor, Gideon Rose. Like these gentlemen, Gideon faces the challenge of overseeing a valued and venerable media property in an age of changing technology and lifestyles. And as anyone who has read the magazine or visited can tell you, this is not your father's magazine. Yet it still manages to be the single most respected space for thoughtful and authoritative discussion of American foreign policy and international relations.

With that, Gideon, over to you.

GIDEON ROSE: Thank you very much, Richard. You know, I'm going to do it from here, since we're all on the same level.

I'm delighted to be able to be here tonight with you guys, and we have a wonderful session lined up for all of you. We think of it as "Real Network News Executives of New York," the reality show from the Council. (Laughter.)

Let me first by -- first say that everybody should completely turn off, not just put on vibrate or silence, their cellphones, BlackBerrys, wireless devices, anything you may happen to have that's electronic -- (or mute ?) -- in order to avoid interference with the sound system.

I would like to remind everybody that the meeting is on the record. Hopefully, the network news executives will make news. And I'd also like to inform everybody that CFR members around the nation and around the world are participating in this meeting through a password-protected teleconference, and we actually have a tablet with their app -- an app with their comments coming up right away, which I will incorporate into the Q and A. The Council is extremely 21st centry.

With that, let me get right to it.

You have a very distinguished panel of people here tonight. Of course, Steve Capus, the president of NBC News; Ken Jautz, the executive vice president of CNN; David Rhodes, president of CBS News; and Ben Sherwood, president of ABC News. Their bios are in your programs, and I don't want to take too much time. Suffice to say that all of them have extraordinary careers and their being in the spots they're in professionally is no fluke, so they really are well equipped to answer the questions that we all have posed to them.

So let me kick it off. Fifteen years ago, in "Foreign Affairs," Garrick Utley wrote a piece called "The Shrinking of Foreign News from Broadcast to Narrowcast," and it was basically about the decline in foreign coverage, the declining news hole and so forth. And in that he had a line: "More than the other news media, television is caught between the declining interest in international affairs among the American people and rising costs and competition." And that was the sort of crux that -- of the dilemma which led to sort of ever-decreasing foreign affairs budgets and space on the shows.

So I guess I would put it to you guys. After a decade of engagement abroad -- foreign wars, the war on terror -- is foreign news coverage -- international, rather, news coverage, because nothing is foreign anymore -- is international news coverage still a vibrant part of your business? And has it gone down, and what are its prospects for the future?

We can just take it in order.

STEVE CAPUS: Well, thanks, first off, for the forum to talk about this. I think it's incredibly important.

The answer is we're still heavily invested in international coverage, and it's a big part of what any world-class news organization is going to do these days. And it's been 10 years since September 11th, and I think you've come through and seen a tremendous amount of investment in it.

We have bureaus in places like Islamabad and Cairo and Beijing and Tehran and places where, back when Mr. Utley wrote that piece, I don't think we necessarily had international offices. So we've actually been growing. We haven't shut back -- cut -- dialed back, shut down or done anything like that in quite some time.

We invest in it. The results of that investment are seen every night on "Nightly News," on -- you know, we launched a news magazine in prime time six months ago. That's been a big part of what that magazine represents. It's still a big part of the other networks' programming. So look, I think in this -- in this era, there is a tremendous amount of interest. I think it's up to our producers to continue to make those stories interesting.

But I kind of quibble a little bit with the introduction that there is no serious investment being made, because we spend an awful lot of money and we have a successful business in part because of that investment.


KEN JAUTZ: So I would say yes for CNN, foreign news, international news is a vibrant and essential part of our coverage. We think it's a key part of our legacy, our DNA, our journalistic mission. We -- just to back up a sec, let's give you a little anecdotal approach, what we've done.

About five years ago we adopted a change in philosophy about foreign news coverage. A key component of foreign news for all of us for decades is a reliance on international agencies. So you get a lot of video and picture materials and a lot of information from, in large part, Reuters and the Associated Press.

And about five years ago we decided to reduce our reliance, or eliminate our reliance -- or the extent we were relying on, rather -- the international agencies. Instead, we decided to invest. I would agree with Steven, quibble a little bit with the introduction, because we decided to invest over several years many millions of dollars in building up our international newsgathering apparatus, for really -- for two reasons.

Because we think at CNN it's a principal differentiator for us. We have a lot of airtime. We don't have the constraint that my colleagues here have about, you know, airtime. We've got so much more air time to fill, I don't have to balance quite -- the balance -- the questions of balance aren't quite as extreme.

And secondly, we are a global news organization. There's about 20 branded CNN products around the world. We have five international English language television news feeds. We have local language feeds around -- and products around the world. We have multiple websites around the world. So by building up this infrastructure we could amortize that cost across all these outlets.

So we thought by not taking AP, not taking Reuters, we would differentiate ourself from a journalistic point of view, and from a business point of view we'd own our own content and we can build up all these other platforms and all these other outlets around the world.

So frankly, you know, we have, starting in '07, '08, we have -- had a concerted, multi-year investment in international news. We've opened bureaus. We've -- we had, for example, 250 stringers when we started this about in '07, '08; right now we have more than a thousand. We have 250 affiliate video exchange agreements with affiliates around the world. So you can't have a bureau everyplace, so you have to try to have an extended representation everyplace.

So again, just as I said in the beginning, we think it's a essential part of our business, and we want it to be a growing part of our business.

ROSE: OK, so some of you guys are going to say that you've forgotten about international news and you don't do that anymore, right? And it's somebody else's job? (Laughter.)

DAVID RHODES: Well, yeah, because it's apparently Ken's job. But no, we --

Look, at CBS, first of all, we're putting on more international news than our peers, especially in the last -- about 11 months, since we had Scott Pelley take over as the managing editor. We have raised our coverage of -- from international datelines, but also of American foreign policy, including from here in the United States, and we've expanded or are expanding some of our physical footprint overseas. Our story count in all of those areas, when we compete head-to-head, is higher in all foreign coverage.

Now, besides that, you know, why is that? You mentioned 9/11, and it's impossible not to. You know, a generation of reporters who really came up covering Vietnam, covering the Kennedy assassination, is really being replaced now by a generation of correspondents whose coming of age was 9/11. All of the foreign stories that we cover right now, the vast majority of those have some linkage back to that event.

Two weeks ago I was in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, meeting with potential partners out there. We have just put Mandy Clark, one of our correspondents, in Abu Dhabi full time, where she's reporting from a newsroom that our partner, Sky News, has set up for an Arabic service that went on the air on Sunday.

So we are trying to expand our offering. And in all the times and places that we compete, we're trying to make more of an emphasis on international coverage than anyplace else. And we also think that that is actually drawing an audience. And this is, I think, the really good news.

Now, it's true that in our weekday franchises -- and we've long had a competitive challenge there, but since we've gone with this approach, our numbers are up. Pelley's evening broadcast is drawing more people. Last Monday when the Chen Guangcheng story first started breaking, the first four minutes of that evening newscast were devoted to that. We were the only ones to lead with that and to take it that deep into the broadcast. And Scott was up, as a result of that.

In our morning program, obviously, we have been in third for generations -- (laughter) -- but just in this last month we've seen, with this new approach, an inflection point, and even some positive numbers around just last week when the year-to-year comparison included the death of Osama bin Laden.

Lastly on this point -- and I think this is important too -- everybody up here faces this challenge. But in terms of how you motivate people within your own organization to cover these stories and take these risks, it's important to see those risks rewarded. And just this month we have Clarissa Ward, one of our foreign correspondents, coming to New York to collect a Peabody Award for her coverage of the ordeal in Syria, which was a story that she did unilaterally, by herself, without the support of the Syrian government.

And so it was great to have the panel recognize that, but we're very committed and that commitment has to come from the managing editor level and really the management level.

ROSE: Ben, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you guys just went out and got some more foreign correspondents before -- foreign coverage the old-fashioned way, by buying it, right? With Univision? (Laughter.) Why don't you talk about that deal a little bit?

BEN SHERWOOD: So first of all, thank you very much for inviting us. Didn't sound like any of us are defensive at all about international coverage. (Laughter.)

And I just want to say that when you look at Richard Engel's work at NBC News or you look at Clarissa's work or Scott Pelley's work overseas or you look at many of the great correspondents at CNN -- or, for that matter, in our organization, Christiane Amanpour, just to name one -- I think you're looking at an era of truly remarkable international coverage.

And so while I think that Professor Haass makes an interesting point about the awareness of the American people on international stories and I think it's something that we should really engage in, which is why -- what is the issue and the challenge of awareness in our country about international stories? Is it the media's fault? We can talk about that at some length -- I think that this is a remarkable period in international coverage.

Last year, 2011, I think every single one of us up here on stage, after going through what had been some transformation in our business -- some downsizing, some changes -- no one could have possibly imagined what each of these news divisions tried to do on the international stage after the Arab Spring, the earthquake-tsunami and multiple nuclear meltdowns in Japan.

I mean, all the stories that we chased all over the world, including the royal wedding -- (laughter) -- and the amount of international coverage that we all did last year in the face of some of these so-called business pressures that we face, and the excellence of the journalism, I just -- I commend our team.

On the subject of buying international coverage, we didn't do that, Gideon. What we did today, in case you were -- in case you're not monitoring every Twitter feed from ABC News , we announced today a joint venture with Univision, the number-one player in Hispanic media for the last 50 years in the United States.

And effective later this summer, with Univision we will launch online a brand-new channel online aimed at Hispanics in the United States who are English-speaking -- fastest-growing segment of the population. And sometime before the middle of next year we will launch a cable channel aimed specifically with customized, tailored programming at U.S. Hispanics who within 30 years will represent one in three Americans.

We're delighted that the president of Univision News, Isaac Lee, our new partner, is here in the front row -- (audio break) -- the best network news presidents in attendance this evening. And Isaac's commitment to the entire hemisphere is something that we've not just bought; it's something that we embrace enthusiastically.

In the same time that it has taken my colleagues at ESPN -- part of the Walt Disney Company, to build the networks with ESPN, so 34 years -- in that same exact time period going forward, the United States will turn into a country in which one in three Americans is Hispanic. And so we have an opportunity as of this date going forward to build the channel for English-speaking Hispanics that 30 years from now will be their go-to place.

And we were asked today a number of times whether we're seeking to compete with CNN or with Fox News or with MSNBC. And we think that they're doing a fantastic job. We're actually not seeking to compete with them. We're actually seeking a completely different value proposition, which is to tailor our focus on a particular audience. And we actually would expect that NBC, with their great partner, Telemundo, or at CNN, with their already-existing efforts in this space, we'd expect to see them come out into the marketplace and actually compete with us in this empty space where we will be effectively the first movers for this audience.

ROSE: OK. There used to be these things. They would -- they would come to your door every day. It would tell you what happened the day before. Newspapers! That's it! They were these things that essentially seem to have gotten squeezed out by the incredible 24/seven online coverage and the magazine and other kinds of longer-form commentary.

Is network news subject to the same cross-pressures, in terms of trying to deliver a real-time commodity on a fixed spot every day when people can get it online instantly, that is squeezing newspapers? And if so, how are you guys dealing with that and do you consider online news a separate form or a separate division from your regular broadcast, or is it all part of the same operation?

Anybody who wants to.

JAUTZ: We at CNN do think that audiences are increasingly fragmented, and we think technology's causing that. Technology's leading people to be able to access news easier, at their convenience, rather than the producer's convenience.

And what that means is that the importance of the multiple-platform approach, the importance of other non-television platforms is growing and will continue to grow. And so what do we do about that?

One, we have to invest a lot over the years in alternative platforms. We have to continue that. For us right now, about a hundred -- per Nielsen, right? So per the independent measurement agency, something like 110 million different people will use CNN every month. Eighty to 90 of them will be on TV, 40 of them on the Internet and 20 on mobile. So 20 million people touch us on mobile platforms; that adds up to more than 110, because you don't count the people who do in two platforms. But the point is they're big numbers and they're growing. So we have to -- yes, we have to consider alternative platforms as a main part of our business, as essential to our business and the fastest-growing part of the business.

But what we have to do is we have to tailor our products a little bit to each platform. Television, with those numbers, shows you that television for us is still the biggest platform. So we wouldn't want the smaller one, even though it's faster growing, to totally eviscerate the bigger format. So what do you do about that? You have to tailor your content to each one and hopefully use them to be complementary and to drive people from one to another.

ROSE: Anybody else want to talk about their online things and how the (work ?) news relates to --

RHODES: Well, I think you were asking if we're in the newspaper business, or if we're as bad as the newspaper business.

ROSE: Well, both. I mean, are you guys suffering from that same problem that they are, and if so, how are you dealing with it?

RHODES: But this is -- you know, we talked a little bit about this idea, you know, the demands of corporate ownership, running a business even while running a news operation. And this is one where we should probably speak up for corporate ownership.

I mean, if you think about the newspaper business in this country, you know, there's a lot of really good newspapering still being done out there. But where it's been challenged is a lot of it, and especially the regional newspaper business, has been brought low by an assumption -- usually on the part of family ownership of these various newspapers -- that, you know, classified ad revenue would continue in perpetuity and allow them to support the enterprise reporting that was in the paper.

You know, we have made at all these news divisions difficult decisions about how to stay on top of the news while still running a business. And I think actually that's been a good thing in terms of preserving the good work that news organizations represented up here do.

In many cases, I think, in the newspaper business, those decisions were put off and then when they were addressed, it was too late.

SHERWOOD: One thought, Gideon. One of the most interesting statistics I've seen in a long time comes from the world of newspapers. Turns out that the newspapers in America are actually creating and streaming more video than the three network news organizations. So what the newspapers have discovered is that they need to actually try to compete with us, the creators of original video content.

And so now the Wall Street Journal and a lot of the newspapers all across the country are literally, just in terms of sheer number of streams -- they did this a couple of years ago; they actually surpassed us in terms of the amount of video we're putting out there. So they're actually trying to do something online because video is a place where you can actually get a slightly higher amount of money per stream than you can with a display ad on the page.

Our strategy -- and I think that we are all in the same situation, all of us, on the digital side -- our strategy is to look at this from the perspective of a 1,440-minute experience every 24 hours for people, and the knowledge that people in those 1,440 minutes are consuming their news and information in completely different ways. It's no longer just waiting in the morning or in the afternoon for the daily, as you said, Gideon. It's a whole bunch of different ways.

And so what we're trying to do is we're trying to reorganize ABC News around the idea that we simply want to be able to provide high-quality original content to people, 1,440 minutes in a 24-hour period, and push it to wherever you as a consumer want to get it -- which is one of the reasons why last fall we partnered with Yahoo! and we now, as of last month, have generated more than 500 million video streams. That's more than half of all the news and information streams online in the month of March. And our goal in partnership with Yahoo! is to push our content to all of you in all the different ways that you use it.

And that's a business that remains to be defined. We're all in the process of trying to figure out how -- we know how to make money with television commercials, but we're all in the process of trying to sort out how, as things migrate to the digital side and content moves to your mobile device and your iPad, we're all trying to figure out in different ways how we're going to actually make money on that content too.

And that, I think -- I assume my colleagues would agree that's a little bit of a work in progress. We're doing better, but there remains a lot of figuring out to be done.

CAPUS: I think that at NBC, I mean, we look at it as -- and I think where a lot of the newspapers got off track is they had basically one distribution platform, and that's what they were going to continue to ride. I think all of us are saying kind of the same things, that this is an era where you have to be in every single space, whether it's the digital space -- if people want news off of their BlackBerrys, you'd better be providing it.

If they want video consumption, then, you know, we want them to go to and, you know, download. You know, we will do something like 120 (million), 130 (million), 150 million streams a month via in the partnership that goes back 16 years now.

And for the people -- you know, speaking up on the corporate side -- when they made the decision 15, 16, almost 20 years ago now that MSNBC would be the cable home for NBC News and would be the online home, that really -- those were the building blocks for the business model that we have now. And we've grown and there are a lot more outlets, but without having those different platforms, these businesses would be troubled.

And I think everybody -- you know, we're not going to give any ground in that area. I want the infrastructure of NBC News -- which begins with the newsgathering infrastructure, but then all this material that we gather from all around the world that comes in through 30 Rock and can be pushed out so that if at any given time the "Today" show might be on the air, Richard Haass might be on "Morning Joe," you know, all of the journalists who work for are doing whatever they need to with that material as it comes in, and are all throughout the day.

And that's why we can do the broadcast platform and we can do, you know, four hours of the "Today" show. We can do any number of different things with that material. But the fact is you want to be in all those businesses. And this organization is not going to be -- it's not going to go down the same path of a -- of a newspaper.

Ken Auletta moderated the last time the news division presidents got together in this room. Ken Auletta was the moderator, and talked about -- and I reminded him of the book that he wrote that talked about how the evening newscasts were dinosaurs, and it was one-by-one we'd all be going away because the corporate parents would view it as not worthy of investment.

And as David said, I actually think, on the corporate side, we've seen just the opposite. Comcast came in and within a month had increased our newsgathering budget, because it happened to be the month of the Arab Spring and a bunch of -- Japan and everything else.

So, you know, I think we're a -- where there's a big difference from the way we're each set up than a lot of the newspaper industry.

ROSE: OK. Let me take a follow-on question to that in terms of the journalism implications. I mean, these days, unlike in the past, a newspaper is a magazine is website is a TV channel is a tablet. Everybody is competing with everybody else. As you say, the newspapers are streaming. You guys have websites with print content that goes out, the magazines are publishing on a frequent basis and everyone's doing stuff on demand and everybody is on -- trying to be on every platform.

Does that have any implications for journalistic specialization? You know, because 20 years ago would network news have had a certain type of person doing the reporting and the producing and the presentation and is that a different model from the person who is doing it at newspapers or people who're doing -- are writing for the website? And now that everybody's doing everything, how does that result -- what are the implications of that for the journalism that's produced and who's --

RHODES: Well, look, look, look. Let's be honest. Some of it's crap. I mean, there's a lot of people out there shooting, you know? But some of it's not very good. If what we produce isn't any good, then it'll be not any good on seven platforms, right? (Laughter.)

So, you know, I mean, at the end of the day, like, actually the part of these jobs that is the most fun -- which is, you know, what are we going to cover and how are we going to cover it and really getting tactile with what comes back -- ends up being the most important part because of that.

We do have to get all these business things right, but the actual coverage is really important. And ultimately is what -- and look, at least we think, is going to set us free, that we can still do the kind of reporting that's going to draw a large audience. And we do have to solve the business end of that, but it has to be good.

ROSE: Anybody else want to jump in on this one, on the -- now that everybody's competing with everybody, is there any difference in the -- I mean, do you have to bulk up with different kinds of capabilities now than you would have when you were just doing network news?

CAPUS: Sure. I mean, you know, I think it's -- it speaks to the quality issue. I mean, if you don't have a team of general assignment reporters, you have people who can do certain things, who are specialists in certain things. We can turn to CNBC on the business side. We can turn to the Weather Channel for the experts on storm coverage. We -- I mean, I do think you, yes, there is a value in having specialists and, you know, having a focus in certain areas, no question about it.

JAUTZ: We -- because we have all these different outlets, and around it we have Spanish language -- we have Spanish language networks that are aimed at American Hispanics, aimed at South America, aimed at Mexico. We have all these regional international feeds. I would say too, because we have an international network and a domestic network, I would say that we do have, by the nature of our organization, specialists.

I think a more interesting aspect of the question is when you said competing with everybody, and does that impact on quality. I would say that -- I'd echo what Ben said earlier. I'd say we all represent organizations where people -- where we send people out to report, first off. And secondly, one of -- one of our core values is, we would all say, quality journalism.

But we're in an era where we're competing with tens of thousands of people who are bloggers on various subjects we are covering. So I think when you talk about quality, I would think that what's interesting to me is the technological barrier to entry into people publishing information is so much lower, that the competition that is -- in some manner has increased so much.

And so we have to consider what is our relative vantage vis-à-vis the entire landscape of people who can just get facts and figures, or purported facts and figures. And I think what it is is -- the phrase that Steve just mentioned, trust -- is that you have to continue to ensure that you're producing a quality product.

You have to continue to be focused on quality journalism. Because long term, when there's a big news story and there's all kinds of people all over the world weighing in, be it a two-person operation from somebody's basement or be it a 10-person, you know, all these different regional operations -- why, through all the chatter, are people going to end up with us? Because of the trust factor, and there's a historical legacy of an attention to journalism and spending money and remaining focused on journalism. And that's what I think is important.

ROSE: OK. Let me -- actually, that's a great lead-in to what I wanted to talk about next. Over the last generation there has been this shift towards a kind of partisanship in opinion journalism and even to a certain extent in news journalism. And you know, you talk about trust, but it now seems like there is a much more variegated intellectual environment in the country in which different groups within society trust different organizations or different communities.

And I'm curious. Do you guys feel like you're operating in a different environment than would have been the case a generation ago? You talked about your partnership with MSNBC. MSNBC, in addition to doing, you know, its news stuff, also does very predictable, certain kinds of commentary, as does Fox. Then CNN, of course, has its own issues being somewhere in the middle of those two.

And my would be, you know, why has American journalism become in effect polarized and partisan in the last generation? Is that a worry and a concern to you guys and, if so, what is the future trend in this direction?

CAPUS: I'm not sure that the -- on the broadcast side that any of us begin or end the day trying to push an agenda. And I thought Bill Keller had a very interesting op-ed piece in the Times yesterday along these lines, kind of looking at mandates of news operations.

Look, I think having -- we think that under the umbrella of NBC News, there are a lot of different platforms that have an awful lot of different targeted audiences that we're trying to reach and we're trying to have our -- we're trying to be as relevant as we can to as many different audiences.

But at -- every evening, I don't think Brian Williams is out there thinking in the same manner that somebody who's an opinion talk show host on MSNBC -- you know, there's a completely different approach there. They may use the same feed of video coming in from overseas. Or I see Richard Engel, who, it's been kindly noted, has just done some brilliant international reporting all around the world; his reporting may end up on MSNBC and it may end up on network news. But I think the audience understands that one news organization that can gather this information and report on it is capable of providing a lot of different things to a lot of different audiences.

And so if MSNBC is of appeal to a certain group, that's great, although I wouldn't say that it's predictable. I think you can turn on "Morning Joe" every morning, and I actually think it's an outstanding broadcast where we have a great forum of all kinds of different opinions -- and sometimes even from the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, on our better mornings. (Laughter.)

So, you know, look. I think inside one organization can live an awful lot of different properties.

ROSE: OK. Who else wants to jump in on the partisan issue? (Laughter.)

SHERWOOD: No, I think that there's actually a huge opportunity for some of our organizations that take us straight down the middle, or at least do our best to go straight down the middle. I think that when you look at the public opinion research in this area, about 35 percent of the American people want their information from sources that agree with them, or with which they agree.

And that leaves -- not great at math, but that leaves about two-thirds wanting information that is trusted, down the middle and gives them the whole picture on stories of the day.

We at ABC News are completely committed to that extreme middle, people who are really interested in great journalists traveling around the world telling them the stories straight down the middle, or as best we can do.

And I think that there's actually, in this extremely polarized environment where you just don't know which side someone's coming at an issue from, there's huge opportunity there if we -- and we've recently tried to reposition our news division around this idea of giving people the whole picture so that they can change their futures, seeing the whole picture.

And sometimes we do a great job at that and sometimes, you know, there's much work to be done to give people the whole picture. But I do believe that the polarized environment creates great opportunity for us, for people to want it in the middle and aren't looking for opinion.

JAUTZ: I'll echo that and I'll say all the more so for the cable space. I feel a kinship with my colleagues here because, as Steve said, I don't think anybody in the broadcast news divisions starts or ends their day thinking about an ideological agenda. And that -- sometimes we do better or worse job, or sometimes we could do a better job, but that is our focus.

We are positioning in the cable news space. That's a difference here. We have broadcast colleagues in -- (not dual ?), but broadcast colleague versus cable. In the cable news space we try to position ourselves as independent and aiming at that middle two-thirds, as Ben just said.

I think that there are -- because there's so many more media outlets now, there are more models, and in the cable space t here's clearly ideological models. We feel that long term -- there's cyclicality to the success of that, but we think that long term it's most important for us to remain non-ideological and focused, again, on quality journalism that is good as we can be.

And so we -- you're asking about is there a long-term viability of a non-ideological approach. We say, absolutely, and it's just the core of our -- of our philosophy.

ROSE: OK. With that, we'll turn this over to our other participants in the room and elsewhere. I want to invite members to join our conversation with your questions. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Stand, state your name and affiliation, and ask one relatively concise question. National members, by the way, you can email your questions to And in fact, let's start with a national question.

From Nadim Tukaram (ph). What is the most effective strategy you have used so far to engage your audiences via social media?

Do any of you personally tweet?

RHODES: Yeah, I do. I think everybody does.

ROSE: Ben, you don't tweet?

SHERWOOD: No. About six times in the last three years.

(Laughter, cross talk.)

ROSE: How often do you tweet?

RHODES: How often do I?

ROSE: Yeah.

RHODES: You know, a dozen times a day, maybe.

ROSE: Would any of you sort of use social media --

RHODES: You should check them out. My tweets are pretty good.

ROSE: Hashtag David Rhodes --

(Laughter, cross talk.)

RHODES: -- this other point -- you know, the most effective thing we've done to get engaged there -- again comes back to putting on something of quality first.

I mean, the thing that people end up tweeting about or sharing or that creates some trend is when we've done something really impactful on television. And I think everybody would agree that has been the time that, unless it's generating some controversy that we'd rather not have, those have been the times that we've had the most heat on social media has been when we've done something really impactful on television.

CAPUS: I think the more interesting angle to social media as it relates to our businesses is how we're using it as a newsgathering tool, which is -- there are some great things about that, but also some tricky things to navigate in that space as well. But there's no question that, you know, that time gets condensed. The world seems suddenly a lot smaller when all of a sudden you can find out what's going on in Syria or you can hear what's going on in Tehran, based on what somebody is sending out via social media.

It's tricky in that it's tougher to verify some of these things at times, and I think responsible journalists will get antsy about that sort of thing and they want to know that what you're -- what is being reported or what is being shown is actually that.

But there's no question that it's -- you know, you look at -- look at last week in China, you look at any number of events and now social media has become a big factor in everything that goes on.

SHERWOOD: Well, you know, it's pretty amazing that a year ago on a Sunday night the very first eyewitness report of helicopters flying away from Abbottabad came in the form of a tweet, as you all know. What was interesting is that, as some of our colleagues reported, the technology on the stealth helicopters was such that they gave off a sound that made it sound like they were leaving when they were actually coming, which I guess is a good tool when you're engaged in a stealth mission. (Laughter.)

So to Steve's point, the social sentiment value of the social layer of the Web is hugely valuable to us, and I think that we're all -- I'm sure my colleagues, we're all in the process of talking to all kinds of different outfits that purport to measure social sentiment on the Web. They claim to be able to spot trends ahead of assignment editors. They claim to be able to see things happening in the news before anybody's even aware that something's happening, whether it's a disease outbreak or an attack. They can monitor something unusual happening in the social layer that pops up and gives you a sense that there's something going on.

So that's very promising for us as almost a kind of assignment editor when we're trying to figure out, literally -- that question that we've all asked every day we're in the newsroom is, what are people talking about?

The flip side is sort of what's your strategy to engage in the social layer of the Web and let people know about what we're doing in our programs and on our -- in our reporting. And our strategy at ABC News was very simple, just that we studied how social referrals take place on the Web and we know that the number-one referrer of links on Facebook, which would be the most powerful force in the social Web, is Yahoo! More links are referred on Facebook through Yahoo! than any other place.

So part of the reason that we aggressively went and partnered with Yahoo! on this huge content distribution play was we knew that if we crated the original content as Yahoo!'s premier news partner, we would then become the number-one linked source on Facebook, over time, in terms of social referrals.

So it's -- to David's point, which is you've got to create great content, people want to sort of say check this out, and then through a partnership with Yahoo! where people get so much of their news information, suddenly it turns out that that becomes the social link that people are putting out there.

ROSE: How much of that content deals with -- (inaudible)? (Laughter.)

SHERWOOD: I know it's a -- I know you're joking, Gideon, but it's -- this is no longer a day when -- I mean, just look and we can -- we all know what gets -- what gets linked the most. I mean, what broke all the records for all of us at every single one of our websites on the social layer of the Web was Osama bin Laden getting killed. Off the charts in terms of the social layer.

ROSE: David --

RHODES: We used to talk about a 24-hour news cycle, and I think social media's made it a one-minute news cycle. The unemployment figures came out last week, and I think within three minutes the Romney campaign had tweeted a response to it. I'm not sure that makes for the most reasoned and considered discourse, but it does speed up things for our business a lot.

And I -- and the barker channel, the promotional aspect of it is impactful, or potentially so, for our business. Because there are CNN Twitter accounts, different talent, different shows, and there's about 24 million followers. And on big nights we can measure the activity and we postulate a connection to ratings.

Nielsen also did an analysis of this very recently and they came up with the conclusion that activity on social media does have a positive impact on television ratings, though a small one that they presume will grow.

ROSE: Excellent. OK.

Yes, up here.

QUESTIONER: Lucy Komisar. I'm a journalist.

Decades ago there were fabulous investigative journalism documentaries on television, and that seems to have largely disappeared. When you get a really good documentary like "Inside Story," that's done by an independent and it's in the movies.

Whatever happened to investigative journalism? You guys are good when something happens; you send your people in there and you cover it. But you're not very good to tell us before it happens what's percolating around the world that we ought to know about.

SHERWOOD: Can I take that one?

ROSE: Yes.

SHERWOOD: So I beg to differ. I think that Brian Ross and the ABC News investigative unit have done more to -- and done more serious investigative work in the last 12 months than at any recent time. I think that if you were to look, for instance, at ABC News reporting last week on the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the potential of a terror threat, ABC News and Brian Ross broke that story and reported ahead of time that the United States was marshaling resources to fend off the possibility of an attack on the anniversary of the killing of bin Laden.

As you all probably know, coming over here tonight, late in the afternoon a story broke on the Associated Press that in fact U.S. security forces had interrupted an attack that was going to happen on an airplane bound for the United States with a modernized version of an underpants bomb. And we were on that. Our investigative team was on that a full week before that story broke and, in fact, I think the United States national security apparatus would have preferred that that story not get out.

To your question, to your point about hours and just sort of sheer volume, I think that our investigative unit has grown in size in recent years and our commitment to great original investigative reporting is quite great.

Do we do hours the way they were once done? We don't call them an investigative hour, like a white paper once upon a time or a special report. But we do in our "20/20" program and some of our other prime-time programs; we do commit an entire hour to that kind of investigative piece.

Most recently, for instance, Brian Ross and his team were awarded virtually every medal in the business for their report on sexual abuse in the Peace Corps and murder in the Peace Corps, that led to the president's signing legislation named in memory of one of the Peace Corps volunteers who'd been killed and it had been covered up. So that was an hour on "20/20." It was a very serious investigative piece in which a dozen former Peace Corps workers came forward, talked about abuse in the Peace Corps and what they had been through and how it had been covered up.

So we are totally committed, and I think that my colleagues -- you know, I know -- I can name -- not that we're competitive, but I can name the investigative teams and the work that they're doing and we're constantly exhorting our organizations to do as well if not better than our friends at CBS and CNN and at NBC.


Yes, over here.

QUESTIONER: Garrick Utley. Let's look ahead.

(Laughter, cross talk.)

JAUTZ (?): (Say ?), Garrick -- do you think that your -- do you think that your piece still holds up?

QUESTIONER: It does, if you go back and read the whole thing, because basically it's where we are now. But let's look ahead.

We've moved now -- it's good to have the network chieftains and CNN, which established itself in the 1980s -- from the era of what we called network news. We never called it oligopoly news, but it's a wonderful environment that we had, because the market was carved up and we had financial support. Then in the '90s we moved big-time into the splintering of network -- of cable news. Now the Internet.

Now we're on the verge, it seems to many people, of the next phase with some of the big, digital technology companies getting into the television business. And I daresay three years from now when we meet again we'll need three more chairs -- a representative from Microsoft, from Google and from Apple, along with you guys.

OK, let's imagine there are three chairs. There are three guys here. What are you guys going to be saying? Start, you know -- Steve? (Laughter.)

CAPUS: Look, I absolutely agree with the prediction that there will be more chairs up here. My question would be, what do you want to do with the power? There's an awful lot of money in those businesses right now and a lot of eyeballs being attracted. And I guess the question is what do you want to do with it?

We just had a question about should there be more investigative journalism. What are going to do with this? I mean, you have -- you want to stay relevant to your audience. You want to present something unique. You want to present enterprise reporting. You want to attract, continue to attract and grow audiences. I don't know --

I do think there's a value in the work of journalists. I don't -- I think that a raw feed coming in from a -- anywhere around the world can be very powerful, but I think, given some sort of reporting and some sort of context and some sort of analysis, that then that raw video becomes something important.

So the question is what do you want to do with it, and are you going to take the next step, which is not just build the pipelines that allow you to get those raw feeds in there, but are you going to employ journalists to do that kind of work? And I hope that there -- will always be, you know, big, loud, noisy, busy newsrooms for all of our companies, and those others that you listed, in the future.

RHODES (?) : I don't think it's three years from now; I think it's now. Like I was saying for us, we are very much a multiple-outlet, multiple-platform company. And so what you should do is you adhere to principles. Just because you've moved to another platform -- and there's going to be more that we don't even know exist -- doesn't mean you suddenly have a different principle for that. You may have to -- maybe information is consumed on this platform somewhat differently in this platform. Or linked is often an issue in video, right? But it doesn't mean you should -- you should alter your principles.

And again, these are quality journalism and independence and, you know, speaking to authority and accountability and the things that you think, you know, our organizations have stood for for the decades before us, they should continue to do so. There shouldn't be a change just because there's new platforms or new competitors.

But right now I'd say, speaking for us, we -- the competitive set isn't just one another. It's much broader, and it will be broader.


SHERWOOD: Over the next eight years, 3 billion more people are going to come online. So, you know, we've all seen this book, "Abundance," and there's all kinds of interesting ideas. I mean, we live in this era where the abundance of information is a good thing. There is a line in the book about how a Masai warrior in Kenya with access to a mobile phone that has Google on it has access to more information than a president of the United States did 15 years ago.

So we're, I think, Garrick, the -- I completely agree with Ken. This dais -- dais? -- this dais could be filled with --



(Laughter, cross talk.)

This stage could be -- there are lots of other folks. I mean, our friend Isaac Lee, from Univision. There are lots of people with lots of interesting perspectives on what's happening in news and information.

I think it's interesting that you're saying that a technology company like Apple could conceivably be here. And I'm -- of those that you mentioned, Microsoft and Google, YouTube, Yahoo!, I'm sure -- I believe that hose companies are in the content business too and are moving in that direction. I'm very curious; really interested to know whether Apple will go from just building cool, great, amazing technology to trying to get actually into creating content, or whether they just prefer to create a smarter television set, a more useful television set, a television set that solves all of those incredibly frustrating problems that we don't even know we have with our televisions, and then sell them to every single person in the world. (Laughter.)

That's -- that, I think we know, is what's going to happen. They'll do that, but then would they then want to come here and engage in the messy business of where we sent people to cover stories and can we really make that much money when -- I'm not so sure. I think they've got a really great business and they're incredibly focused on their product.

ROSE: OK. Let's start pairing questions so we can get even more people in. Over here, and over here.

QUESTIONER: Evelyn Leopold, a journalist at the United Nations, a former Reuter bureau chief and executive, Mr. Jautz. (Laughs.)

I did something very old-fashioned yesterday. I turned on the television at 2:00 -- I have a very large screen -- because I wanted to see the hoopla around the French elections. I wanted to see the Tricoleur and whatnot. And I could only find that on CNN International and Al Jazeera. So I'm just curious of where, you know, after surfing the television, of where you rated news like that, breaking news.

ROSE: We'll get you in too --

QUESTIONER: Thanks. Ann Cooper, Columbia Journalism School, and somewhat related to that.

You all spoke very eloquently about your commitment to foreign news. But I have to say, when we have guests at the Journalism School and students say where do you turn for international news, it's not your companies. And Al Jazeera English is very often these days the answer that people give. It's not the only state-funded, global operation out there. Your companies have lost some journalists to CCTV, which is starting to do very targeted programming for an American audience.

And I wondered what you see -- what is your strategy for dealing with this, you know, much more complex world of global media?

ROSE: (Off mic) -- take those two?

CAPUS: Well, when I said yes to Ted Koppel going to France to cover the French elections a couple weeks ago for "Rock Center," many in my own newsroom thought I should have my head examined. Not exactly the stuff of traditional network newsmagazine fare, nor is it the kind of thing that is going to pop a number, but we did it. And I was proud of the work that Ted did for "Rock Center."

And, you know, we covered it; covering it again tonight on "Nightly News." We covered the story, and I -- and as deep as you'd like to go online, you know, there's a lot of different places that the reporting of NBC News is going to live, whether it's on "Today" or "Nightly" or MSNBC or and so forth.

Look, I think we all have to make decisions about what the audience -- you know, Richard, you began with a point about saying we were doing a disservice to our audience. You know, I would say that that's not how we begin the day either. We're not -- we don't push an ideological agenda; we're not looking to underserve our audiences. We make decisions about where to go.

And we all make big, expensive decisions, whether it's sending Ann Curry to Sudan or, you know, Richard Engel all around the world. He's just back from North Korea. I mean, we really do try to pick our spots, and the journalists who are doing this work are dedicated and trying to do great work, and we try to present very large platforms, making connections to sizable audiences for this reporting.

And the audience, the marketplace and -- what will have the final word on all of that. We will be doomed to irrelevance if the audience decides that we're never going to be the home for quality reporting that matters to you.

ROSE: Anybody else just want to jump in on that?

JAUTZ: I think, to Ann's point, I can give a defensive answer about the correspondent from Paris, one in -- (inaudible).

But to Ann's point, I think the average person understands that the world is an -- we feel our audience understands, I should say. We feel our audience understands that the world is an increasingly interdependent place. The old saw about nobody gives a damn about anything past their neighborhood or their town just is not true.

People go down and they -- they understand that the price they're paying at the pump has something to do with Middle Eastern politics and Chinese growth. And I think it's a disservice to our audience not to give them that credit, which we do.

Now, should we increase -- I mean, we could always do a better job, but -- I'm being a little repetitive, but in fact we have increased our expenditure on international news and we think that we have increased the amount, on a regular day-in-day-out basis. You know, the way to push back on that is to say, oh, you just do the big news stories, Fukushima or Arab Spring, and that's when you do international news.

And we're trying at CNN to make a concerted effort not to just do it at those times, but to include a global perspective as a regular part of our offering.

ROSE: Quick.

SHERWOOD: Quickly, on the consumer side, just as a news consumer, I think that it's fantastic that we have so many choices and we can, on -- 2:00 on a Sunday when ABC News is not on the air, but on 2:00 on a Sunday there are a variety of choices on, with our thousand-channel universe and with the infinite number of channels on the Web, that we can get the information that we want.

As a -- as leader of one of the news divisions and one of the choices, our focus is on quality, not quantity. We don't -- we don't do this in a quantitative sense; we look at the quality. If you were to look at three of the biggest newsmakers in the world last year -- Hosni Mubarak, Moammar Gadhafi and Assad -- those interviews, when those three men gave interviews last year, they gave interviews to ABC News for journalists in the United States.

And so our feeling about it is we -- David makes the point that they did more international coverage than the competitors. You can -- you can add it up in a certain way. We like to think that when we're going out there covering big stories, we're doing the kind of quality reporting that will differentiate us. But we also know that we can't really compete with Al Jazeera. That's actually not our competitive set. That's not -- we're not in that business as a network and a -- and a website.

RHODES: One thing you're suggesting is that credibility has changed. So credibility used to be one thing, which was, you know, when we came on that what we said was credible, accurate, balanced out. But credibility in an environment where more consumers like yourself know a bit of what's going on and you're coming for a little bit more information about that, is different.

So you're sort of saying, you know, I knew that the French election was being called and I knew -- look, we knew two weeks ago who was winning it, right? So you knew that, and you came and someone wasn't covering that at that moment, and you're, like, well, it's not credible. I mean, I know about it and these guys, they don't seem to know about it.

So that's the credibility proposition, is somebody just -- I just noticed socially, somebody told me about a plane crash, and I turn on a channel. Well, if there's no plane crash, I'm, like, don't these guys know about the plane crash? I've known about this for, like, 10 minutes. That's credibility now. So, you know, we're all susceptible to that.

I think what we need to be careful about -- and this goes to the Al Jazeera English point -- is you can't be everywhere at all times. And I don't mean from a newsgathering perspective. It is actually not a fact that everybody is getting their news from Al Jazeera English. There may be thin slices of the audience that are engaged with them or with other broadcasters, some of them state-supported, who are doing interesting things.

But let's face it. If you take our available audience, which is a mass audience in the United States, there's very little crossover between that audience that CBS is targeting and people watching Al Jazeera English.

So the mistake we could make -- and it's also the mistake that you can make paying too close attention to social media. Oh, my God, I've got to drop everything because Al Jazeera English has X. Hey, yeah, we could do that, but you've got to focus on a few things and do those really well.

And they're doing that; they've just chosen a couple of different things than we have. You have to make good decisions, do good coverage and have that be credible and not just drop everything because over here somebody else has got something that we don't have.

OK. Raghida Dergham, and then over here.

QUESTIONER: Raghida Dergham, of Al Hayat. And also I've had the honor of serving all of your networks as an analyst, including eight years at NBC, MSNBC.

And I must say that I have felt recently in the last couple of years a decrease of the interest in the global policy approach. Yes, you do have wonderful programs such as Fareed Zakaria's, which is very smart analysis and yes, you do have on MSNBC the likes of Richard Haass coming in and really giving us a very, very important point of view.

But you've scaled back a lot on that debate on policy. There's been so much politics, and you do not invite the point of view that -- I have been doing American television since 1979, and I have not seen any such decrease in the analysis; it's not myself, but others as well. And I'm wondering why. I'm wondering why is it politics more than policy?

And you do have great correspondents; yes, I give you that. But it's become sort of a more clubbish approach. It's the correspondents and the hosts sort of revisiting each other all the time. Can you please take a look at that?

ROSE: OK. And over here.

QUESTIONER: My name is Herbert Schlosser. I was CEO of NBC in the 1970s. And one comment about what Richard said I think was unduly pessimistic. I can remember when they bicycled black and white film from 'Nam and you couldn't get it on for two days. The technology has changed completely, and it permits us to get coverage we never could get.

But most importantly, the content. You can't judge how the American people are being served by concentrating on NBC or CBS. There's a whole range of things that these gentlemen do, plus the people who are not here, I think give the audience greater information than ever before.

Now, my question. I was at a presentation by Magat and Company research organization. It dealt with the use of mobile devices -- cellphones and iPads. The conclusion was this: Broadcasting executives know that it's really growing, but the point of it was it's growing much more rapidly than you know.

Now, "Nightly News," for example, and news traditionally attracts an older audience and advertisers to older audiences, the iPad and the mobile phone with the increases in speed, Wi-Fi and so forth, are going to grow enormously. Are you thinking about programming that is not streaming, not repurposing what you have, but developing something that would be aimed at these other devices which get to much-younger people that you want to inform?

Now, Murdoch started the Daily, but that has a print sensibility, no matter how much streaming you put into it. But in terms of the fellow from Apple sitting up there or the fellow from Microsoft, they're going to think about how they feed the devices they make.

ROSE: So the new devices require --

QUESTIONER: (Inaudible) -- something different than what you're doing today to feed them.

ROSE: The new devices and new technology require new content.

CAPUS: Yes. I would say that we are thinking about that. We do do that.

But two points you made; the first one, I'll disagree. Because I do not have the sense that we underestimate the growth potential -- or, if you want to look at it that way, the threat from other --

QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)

CAPUS: I -- (chuckles) -- yeah. I -- in fact, it is -- our mobile properties are fastest growing. Of course, it's easier to grow in a higher percent from a small base, but nonetheless, they're the fastest growing. We fully expect that to grow tremendously in the years ahead. And that's why we're devoting resources to it, and that's why we have content creation that is tailored to those --

It's not just an extension, as it used to be. Here we create a TV program; we'll slice a little bit of video out of it and stick it on this platform. No, you're absolutely right, is that -- is that usage patterns will be different. Audiences will be different.

We -- the audiences that we have on our mobile and our Web platforms are considerably younger than our television platforms and therefore not only is it different usage style, but it's going to be a different type of content.

Now, are we doing enough? Are we going fast enough? Are we doing as well as they would be at Google? That's probably open to debate. But no, we recognize that this is a big and growing area, and that's going to be a large impact on the future of our business.

SHERWOOD: Mr. Schlosser, can I just add one quick thing? Our colleagues at ESPN who are pioneers in many, many ways of communicating news and information, they recently announced that one of their core priorities for 2012 was -- and each year they announce their priorities and they commit their entire company to these, set a small number of priorities. They were putting mobile as their first screen.

So one thinks of four screens. There's mobile, there's the tablet, there's the computer and there's -- the television. (Laughter.) It is a -- it is a radical proposition for a company that produces 70,000 hours of live television every year -- 70,000 hours of live television on six different networks. It is a radical proposition to say that they're going to put mobile as their first-screen strategy.

But what is the reason for that? The reason, in their view, is that if you can do it on a mobile screen, you can go all the way up to the television set. They've actually completely reversed the way we all -- I can't speak for my colleagues here, but I've worked with some of them, and the way we were all trained, which is we take the television and we shrink it down to the mobile and we take the television content and shrink it that way.

And our friends at ESPN have flipped that completely around, and they're going mobile first and pulling it out. So I think that we're all very much aware of the importance of mobile and how we're going to deliver on mobile.

RHODES: Look, people in this business have been worried about getting younger viewers, you know, since the carrier pigeon, right? (Laughter.) This is not, like, a new obsession. But it's actually misplaced, in a lot of ways. I mean, our own viewership, for instance, in broadcast television, is younger than cable.

And for all the hand wringing about cable news and worrying about polarization, and that question came up before, you know, the median age of cable news audiences is older than us, median age. And that's the other thing --

ROSE: Nothing is older than the median age of the Council. (Laughter.)

RHODES: Methuselah didn't meet the age requirement, did he? (Laughter.)

But, you know, that's the other thing. You cannot get -- in how you're preparing this content, you can't bunched up about that. And you can't have those considerations make it into the editorial meeting. Well, you know how many 40-something white women in Chesterfield, Missouri, are going to watch this story. I mean, once you start thinking about that, it's the Apocalypse.

I mean, you have to be -- what is the story that we're going to tell, how are we going to tell it, and with what? If we do that effectively and we get the business end right, we'll find audiences. You know, some of the frontiers of what's happening in technology and cable and elsewhere is not being defined by the use of the user.

ROSE: OK, we're coming close to the witching hour.

QUESTIONER: Could somebody answer that --

ROSE: That's right; why have things gotten so bad in the last 20 years? (Laughter.) Somebody answer Raghida's question.

RHODES: I don't think there's -- I would actually just -- I don't think there's a shortage of debate. I think -- you know, frankly, I think a lot of the debate on television, you know, is -- I mean, annoying. (Laughter.) And there's too much of it and it's too predictable.

ROSE: I knew you'd say that.

RHODES: You know, if there's one real problem with the -- with the debate format on TV, it's, you know, I know that this person's going to say before they say it, and then there you go, he just said it! And then he said it. It's, like, too predictable.

What there's not enough of is storytelling. Go out and tell me something that I did not know, and that's going to inform debate. Debate could take place even in some of these other platforms that we're talking about, but we're not doing enough storytelling. We should do more of it. There's going to be no shortage of debate.

ROSE: OK, we're going to ask two more questions from the back of the room, which we haven't really tapped as much. Who wants to go from the back? OK. Yes, there's one.

QUESTIONER: Thank you for what you said about -- I'm Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation magazine. And I appreciate what you said about how debate can be often too predictable. But I'm --

ROSE: So now you're going to make it unpredictable?

QUESTIONER: No, but I think some of it is -- there are too many strategists, as we saw in a recent sort of moment where --

But I wanted to ask you, this is a question from Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, who are in many ways centrist barometers of political science and thinking about government. And they wrote last week that it was high time for the press to stop just presenting even-handed, unfiltered, opposing views and ask which politician is telling the truth. It speaks -- it speaks to the sort of false equivalence which I think has afflicted some of our journalism.

And also, if I might add, there's always been commercial pressure on journalistic integrity, but there is a kind of ideologically driven misinformation which has afflicted across the board. Some of it emanated from Fox, but why at this perilous moment in our country's history are we afflicted with Obama is a Muslim, Kenyan Socialist? I work at The Nation; I know he's no Socialist.

I mean, you know -- or the debates about global climate crisis, when 97 percent of scientists believe that there is evidence that the climate crisis is manmade. So I speak to a different form not of debate, predictable debate, but of accountability, watchdog journalism calling people out in terms of truth telling.

ROSE: OK, and one last question from the back to pair with that? (Applause.) OK. Yes.

QUESTIONER: Scott Helfstein, with the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point. Thank you all for your remarks today.

Cuing on WikiLeaks and the Abbottabad tweet that was discussed a little while ago, I'd love to get your thoughts on issues of privacy, secrecy and discretion in the evolving technology and media landscape.

ROSE: OK. Wow. (Laughter.) (Aside off mic.) I'm pointing to you, Steve.

CAPUS: Well, I want to start with Katrina's point, and what -- I'm going to sound defensive, but it doesn't matter. I would say that's what MSNBC tries to do every single day, which is to try to put some sort of context into what's going on. And you might as well have a staff ID card, you're on MSNBC so much.

But, you know, there's -- you know, it's not that anybody's -- MSNBC was not set up to push one specific agenda. MSNBC is there trying to be not just provocative by making noise with predictable debates. If that's all it was, it would be doomed to shows in the past that used to be focused around that, like "Crossfire," you know? That kind of thing has gone away, and I think shows like "Hardball" and others have evolved. But at --

Watch Rachel Maddow at 9:00 and I don't think you're going to know where that broadcast is going to begin and where it's going to end, and you're going to see smart discussions, well-reasoned arguments coming at it from all different points of view, respected -- respect given to people who have different points of view, which is not what used to go along with predictable debate, and MSNBC stands for something. And there's no question that I think that that has been one of the reasons why it has continued to grow for the last five years straight.

But the point you made about the people questioning Obama's faith and so forth, you know, those issues came and went and were dealt with, I think, in a responsible manner by responsible journalists. People who want to get the story right didn't snicker at and suggest that the birth certificate was false. You know, you saw that kind of accurate reporting that came from responsible news organizations, and we all take that responsibility seriously.

Somebody can have a different point of view, but I do think at some point those, you know, people -- some of us have to wear referee shirts and say, no, that there's just simply no proof to that point. And you know, Keller, in his piece yesterday, talked about not always giving every issue equal weight, or every point of view equal weight. And I do think that that is an act of a journalist, is to think and look and make decisions about all of that.

ROSE: Anybody want to talk about privacy and secrecy and things like that?

RHODES: Well, I think privacy and secrecy are different. And look, over time, we are not an ally of secrecy. And it's not really our job to preserve secrecy around certain facts that are knowable. And that puts us in a difficult position on a story like a year ago, because, you know, just speaking as a private citizen, you'd hate to do anything that would potentially disrupt something like that.

So those are difficult -- those are difficult issues, but if facts become knowable, as that one did, there's really not much that you can do about it professionally when what you're set up to do is convey knowable facts.

As far as privacy goes, there are always questions about how we confront that issue in terms of speaking with subjects, but I don't think that we're on the leading edge of that in terms of --

I think the biggest thing going on in the privacy debate right now is actually the degree to which people have made their own choice to forfeit so much of it. And so to the degree that people are submitting themselves to, you know, I checked in at Jose's; I -- you know, I flew over here; I -- you know, I met two people. Here's a picture of me at the pool in Las Vegas. I mean, you know, so much -- so much social media is basically me just telling you everything about myself and then being surprised when somebody tries to sell me an ad against that.

So I think that the sands are really shifting on privacy, but I don't think we're really in the lead in terms of deciding that. I think people are deciding that for themselves, how much they want to reveal.

ROSE: You know, our other nickname for this event was Foursquare. That's OK.

You know, you may not know how Rachel Maddow is going to end, but one of the things you do know at the Council is when events are going to end, and then it's -- (inaudible).

I just want to close by saying, you know, Tom Wolfe did a great book many decades ago called "Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers." It was a great piece. And, you know, you guys are in very tough jobs. They're great jobs, but your job is in part to catch flak from lots of different people -- from people who you're not making enough money for, for various --

CAPUS: Constructive feedback. (Laughter.)

ROSE: (Inaudible) -- constructive. And, you know, I think that we -- as much as everybody wants you to do more, as much as everybody has criticisms of what you're doing, we all owe you, and we know we owe you, a great debt for trying really hard to actually improve public discourse and be responsible servants of American democracy, which is really key.

And an informed citizenship is crucial to the functioning of a democracy, and what you four and your organizations do is key to an informed citizenship. And so for all the flak that you catch, we want you to know that, A, we like having you here. B, we want you to come back every year. And C, we really appreciate having you be so open in our discussions with us.

So on that note, thank you very much. (Applause.) And now, to the cocktail hour!

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