Clark Hoyt and Mark Whitaker discuss the changing nature of journalistic responsibility in an era of new media, including the shifting parameters for sourcing and reporting, and the subsequent implications for national security and foreign policy.
This meeting was inspired by the work of NPR journalist Daniel Schorr.
RICHARD N. HAASS: If I could ask everyone to please take their seats. Well, good evening. Good evening, one and all. I'm Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and I want to welcome everyone to tonight's special meeting. Just to be clear, I'd like to think that every meeting we hold here at the Council on Foreign Relations is special, but some are arguably a tad more so, and tonight's surely qualifies, and let me cite four reasons.
First, partnering with National Public Radio and its president Vivian Schiller. Yeah, come on. (Applause). NPR personifies, exemplifies quality journalism. It's smart. It's global. It's not limited to sound-bites. It entertains, it educates, and it's a bit of a throwback to the era of broadcasting rather than narrowcasting.
Secondly, we are here to honor Dan Schorr. Lee, welcome. Most of you think of Dan as a distinguished journalist, first with CBS and then with NPR, and you're -- it's understandable that you do -- you would do so. But we here at the Council on Foreign Relations like to claim Dan as one of our own, as he was a member of this organization for no less than one half a century.
Third, the subject of tonight, as you will hear at some length, deals with new technology, the digital era and all that. And for us at the Council on Foreign Relations it is a priority. It's inherent in our two websites, foreignaffairs.com, as well as cfr.org, which if you haven't bookmarked, I don't understand why you're here. It's inherent in our Facebook and Twitter technologies.
In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, there's an important article by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen on the entire question of digital disruption, and the geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences of the new technology. We have now a senior fellow working on these issues. We have another working on cyber issues more broadly. This is now part and parcel of the international intellectual, political, economic agenda.
Last, tonight's meeting could hardly be more timely. The title is "New Media, New Standards," and it raises all sorts of questions. Who edits? Where does quality control come from? How do we know whom to trust? How do we -- how do we ensure that quality journalism is feasible? Can it be done for profit? What's -- what, if any, role does government have? Do we have to look to nonprofits to step in? And by that, let me be clear. I mean intentional nonprofits. (Laughter.) Work with me here.
One issue sure to arise is the long-standing tension between national security and the open press. As someone who's part of the Council on Foreign Relations, which we think of as an important example of civil society, I'm obviously mindful of the well-known comment of Justice Brandeis that sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. And it's necessary to have this openness if we are going to carry out the oversight, to fulfill the obligations of citizenship.
But I'm also a former government official. I'm equally mindful of the need to balance any concern or considerations of openness against the need for secrecy and confidentiality, be it to protect intellectual and diplomatic sources, to fight a war, to negotiate. Now Woodrow Wilson's ideal of open covenants openly arrived at is a prescription for diplomatic failure. So what to do about this tension is unclear.
We can agree to prosecute leakers, but what about publishers? Do we really want to have an American version of an official secrets act? Do we distinguish between The New York Times and NPR on one hand, and WikiLeaks on the other? What sort of new rules do we need for this era in which digital technology is so ascendant? Well, these are just some of the questions that one could ask and one will ask. And with Mark Whitaker and Clark Hoyt and Scott Simon, I expect we will explore these questions with intelligence and sophistication.
And speaking of intelligence and sophistication, let me now turn the floor over to the president and CEO of NPR, Vivian Schiller. (Applause.)
VIVIAN SCHILLER (president and CEO, National Public Radio): Thank you. Thank you, Richard. It's -- glad to be back at the Council, and thank you to the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this event tonight. And I want to recognize Lee Schorr, Lisbeth Schorr, who's here with us at the lead table. We are so pleased, I am so pleased to see you here tonight as we remember in this session her incredibly wonderful late husband and my former colleague, the great Dan Schorr.
The subject, as Richard has -- says, laid out of tonight's panel is really about the changing nature of journalistic responsibility in the area -- in the era of new media. And this is very top-of-mind to me at the moment at -- because at NPR we are about to undertake our first top-to-bottom review of our new standards and ethics since 2004, in part to address the changing media landscape.
And during this process, we're going to put together a task force of people from inside NPR, inside public broadcasting, and completely outside public broadcasting, including some citizens. We're going to be asking a lot of questions during that process. Some of them are, what does it mean to practice journalism with integrity in the digital age? How are old-fashioned -- old fashion, you see me here -- virtues of accuracy, fairness and balance represented in a tweet?
As journalists, we have greater opportunity than ever before to express ourselves as individuals, to have a voice. But what new responsibilities come with those opportunities? And perhaps to me most interesting, how can new media help us be more transparent than ever before? How can digital media help us to form direct relationships -- as we have begun to do at NPR and many news organizations have begun to do -- with our audience in ways never before imagined; to have conversations with our audience about how a story is reported, about the challenges, the limits, the corrections, the unanswered questions, the unattainable source?
This is really, really interesting stuff, and I am counting on our panel to answer all of these questions definitively tonight. (Laughs.) And there is no one better to get us to those answers than Mr. one million-plus Twitter followers himself, Scott Simon.
How many Twitter followers are you up to? You're like a million, two (hundred thousand) or three (hundred thousand)?
SCOTT SIMON: Something like that, yeah.
SCHILLER: Something like that.
SCOTT SIMON: I know them all by name, though, and they're all close personal friends.
MS. SCHILLER: Oh, I know. They're your close personal friends. So in addition to these seven figures worth of Twitter followers, Scott also recently celebrated his 25 years as the host of "Weekend Edition Saturday," the show that -- don't tell anyone -- I probably listen to more than any other on NPR, myself along with 4 million other Americans who listen to the show religiously every Saturday morning.
Scott, as I don't need to tell you, is an extraordinary journalist, a great storyteller, an author of multiple books -- including his most recent book, "Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other" -- a super dad and a super colleague. Scott Simon. (Applause.)
SIMON: Thanks to President Schiller and to President Haass. And to Lee Schorr. Always so good to see Lee. Let me try and set up this conversation this way as a testament to Dan by reminding people here who knew him and people who may be watching who certainly knew of him for so many years, Dan Schorr was not a fuddy-duddy. He is not a shrinking violet, but he was not a fuddy-duddy. He was not somebody who necessarily said that things were always better in the old days. He understood that the old days in journalism included a lot of inanity and mendacity and cluelessness and simple deception.
When he began his extraordinary career, an amazing 70 years ago, Dan often noted he couldn't be hired for several jobs because he was Jewish. And women were typically relegated to the home and garden pages. And African-American and Hispanics were -- employees were rare.
He liked to tell a story about -- I guess he was filing from Indonesia, and the Indonesian leader then was named Sukarno, and he was stringing for a great news organization. I was actually torn between -- I couldn't remember which one it was, so I'll leave it out, but the most esteemed one of its time, I'm sure. And he cabled that the leader of Indonesia was named Sukarno. And the foreign desk cabled back and said, Schorr, everybody has a first name in this news organization. What's Sukarno's first name?
And Dan said, he's Javanese. Javanese people typically have just one name. And then they said, need Sukarno first name for story. And thinking quickly, Dan said, Ahmed. (Laughter.) And when I checked last night in Wikipedia, he is Ahmed Sukarno. (Laughter.) Desperation is sometimes the mother of invention.
And, you know, in the old days, in the '30s and '40s, people in newspapers would wonder, what's this new thing called radio going to do to journalism? Can responsible journalism survive when news can be reported instantaneously without the chance for seasoned and sagacious reflection by esteemed journalists? Will mere events be considered with news?
And then in the '50s and '60s, the people in radio wondered, what's this new thing called television going to do to journalism? Can responsible journalism survive when the emphasis is on pictures, not ideas and reasoned analysis? And today, I think everybody's wondering what's going to happen now that people can report the news around the world themselves, with their own cameras, with their own phones, and their tweets and messages.
So I set the ball up this way to remind us Dan Schorr's not a fuddy-duddy. When NPR's director of social media platforms came to us and talked about Twitter, Dan was one of the first ones to sign up and he loved it. He said it was like -- he compared it with the cacophony of the Roman town square, and he saw that new technologies were first and last a way to reach more people. They were an inspiration, sometimes a caution, but first and last a challenge.
So with that, let's turn now to Clark Hoyt, who is the editor-at-large of Bloomberg News, and former public editor of The New York Times; and Mark Whitaker, senior vice president, Washington bureau chief of NBC News.
Shall we talk about WikiLeaks first?
CLARK HOYT : I bet that's on a lot of minds in this room.
SIMON: I think that's on a lot of minds. Let me -- let me mention it this way, to invoke Dan Schorr once again. Three or four years ago, there was a story that came up, and we were in an editorial meeting, and Dan said something like, you know, if this had been the case back at the time of Watergate, we wouldn't have been able to report that story.
There was a young staff member who came to us and said, you know, you folks in journalism have to come up with something better than Watergate for people in my generation, because, she said, you know, we weren't around for Watergate, and Richard Nixon to us was the guy who opened the door to China. And we now know that he probably did nothing worse than people in any other administration did. He just got caught by journalists and ultimately by other politicians. So if you guys are going to make some of these principles of journalism comprehensible and worth defending, please come up with something new besides Watergate.
So let's turn now to WikiLeaks. In journalism, we like to talk about the chilling effect any kind of a decision can have on journalism. Is there a chilling effect when stories like this get reported from data that's just released? Do the American people have a right to say, look, you are casting a chilling effect on the people who practice diplomacy in the name of my country?
HOYT: Sure. I was having a conversation before this began with someone in the State Department, and there almost certainly is going to be a chilling effect on diplomacy. But, first of all, I don't think this equates in any way with Watergate, which, we remember, brought down a president. I don't think this has that potential in any way. And while it may have a chilling effect and cause diplomats to do their business in some different way, I think you could look at what Wikipedia (sic( has released, and which --
HOYT: Excuse me. WikiLeaks.
SIMON: Wikipedia, too, undoubtedly.
HOYT: At what WikiLeaks has released and how responsible news organizations like The New York Times, with which I have no relationship at this point, how they've handled it. And I think you can look at that, and say it actually reveals some very encouraging things about U.S. diplomacy that are educational for the American people.
And it also -- for those who believe that we can move everything in the world at our will if only we had that will -- I think it really shows the limits of American power and the limits of American ability to control events. And those are good educational things for the American people to have, I believe.
SIMON: Let me follow up with Mark, though.
What if there is a member of the -- to fill in the blanks -- let's say the Pakistani government, who has some information about the insecurity of nuclear weapons, and he is reluctant to talk to someone in the American government about it because he says, look, you can't even keep the fact that Muammar Qadhafi has a voluptuous Ukrainian nurse a secret. How are you guys going to sit on this so that something can be done?
MARK WHITAKER: Well, look, I think the primary reason that he might ask that question right now is not that The New York Times or the Guardian, once they had access to the information, printed it -- and we can, you know, debate the propriety of that -- it was that the U.S. government created a communication system on the Web that allowed a private first class, sitting in Iraq with nothing to do, to take all this information off a hard drive.
You know, so -- you know, I think that, as a citizen, I kind of hope that it sort of does have a chilling effect in the sense that -- as much as I still think that we journalists need to do our job and we need to bring important information that the public has a right to know to the public -- it disturbs me that we have all this information floating out there in the government that made it accessible in that way. So, you know, I think that's -- actually more harm potentially could be done by that, I think, than anything that journalists did.
SIMON: The fact that -- that fact that it's so easy to find.
MARK WHITAKER: Yeah. I mean, you know, and it's obviously an unintended consequence. They thought that after 9/11 by creating more, you know, sharing within the government and all the different branches and the computer systems and so forth, that it would make it easier to go after terrorists, but clearly they didn't do it in a very smart way, if Bradley Manning could sit there and get all this information and pass it on.
SIMON: Yeah. But is that -- is that passing the buck of responsibility along? I mean, if journalists are saying, well, it's really not a question whether or not we can -- (inaudible) --
WHITAKER: Well, you know, then it becomes a question -- look, I mean, the other thing that I think is obviously different about this situation compared with some other situations is that this wasn't the result of what -- the papers and other news organizations that have gone with this, it wasn't the result of their own reporting. It was something being dumped in their lap.
And it wasn't even being dumped in their lap, as was the case of the Pentagon Papers, by a whistleblower, somebody who sort of thought that there was a sort of specific policy agenda that was wrong-headed, that somehow the American people needed to know about because perhaps if the public did know about it, they'd do something to stop it.
I mean, I'm not quite sure what this guy -- well, first of all, we don't really know what Manning's motives are. It strikes me he was just sort of unhappy, disgruntled, a little grandiose, and had too much time on his hands. And it's also unclear what Assange's motives are. I mean, he sort of talks about transparency, but it looks -- if you actually examine what he said, that he has this more sort of anarchistic agenda to actually -- by sort of exposing this massive security breach, to actually get the U.S. and other Western governments to shut down in a way that's going to -- going to actually hurt them.
So, again, look, you know, I think that -- I do think that if you actually -- certainly The Times, and from what I understand, The Guardian, I think -- once they had access to this information -- did proceed with some caution. They vetted the information carefully. They've -- they talked at length with the government about what might actually cause harm to national security, and didn't reveal some of the stuff they've done. The Times -- I think we've been talking about this before -- I think, did a very good job actually presenting it and laying it out and explaining it.
But I still think it's -- look, I think we also have to look at sort of what the sources of our information are. In this case, the sources of the information disturb me at least quite a bit.
SIMON: Well, I think that's going to segue nicely into the -- two of the major areas we want to talk about before we turn to questions. And one is what I guess I'll refer to as the de-professionalization of the news industry. When earthquakes occur, the first word out is from people who were sending it over social media networks, e-mail, and obviously cell phone pictures.
The uprisings in Tehran were more or less all covered through that kind of social media platforms and cell phones, without benefit -- I think very rare benefit of seasoned reportorial talent on hand.
What are some of the implications of this?
HOYT: Well, one of the implications is speed and public service. I was in the newsroom at The Times when Sully Sullenberger set that US Airways flight down in the Hudson River. And the first photographs that went up on the website of the newspaper were taken by someone with a cell phone who happened to glance, and see this strange site of an airplane about to land in the river and snapped off some very good shots, that in fact were not equaled by professional photographers because they weren't there to see it.
Now, if that's all a news organization does is rely on amateur eyewitness accounts, I think that's an abdication. In that simple case, a full news staff was scrambled immediately and with photographers, reporters who then supplemented and verified information that was coming to them via the Web and via the ability to talk to the newspaper.
SIMON: But you can pretty quickly verify that an airliner has come down in the Hudson.
HOYT: You sure can. (Laughter.)
SIMON: What about -- what about a demonstration in a part of the globe that is remote from us, where somebody sends out a tweet saying, they've opened fire, and sends a picture of crumpled, wounded bodies?
WHITAKER: Yeah, look, I mean, there's no question that social media is going to give us access to things that are going on, particularly in countries where those countries don't want us to know what's going on, and that can be a very good thing. But to the degree that responsible news organizations are going to want to vet that information, it becomes very difficult. It becomes very difficult not just because we don't always know the sources of those information, but we also don't know whether the information has been doctored, you know.
And there's this convergence of social media with digital tools that make it a lot easier for people to take what -- or to make what is not genuine information look like genuine information. So, I mean, that's the thing that sort of disturbs me, is that -- you know, I mean, I think that in a situation like the Green Revolution in Iran and so forth, there's absolutely no question that we should try to rely on those sources of information if we don't have our own sources of information. But how we can tell whether, you know, that piece of footage or whatever, that's -- you know, that has been uploaded on a cell phone is genuine, and hasn't been doctored in some way, that's a tough one.
SIMON: Does it -- if you find out, let's say, in the course of an hour, that 100,000 people, 200,000 people have downloaded video that purports to be of a significant event, a demonstration somewhere, does it -- does it create a pressure on news organizations to follow through, and report that themselves, and thereby amplify a story that they can't really be certain of?
HOYT: Yes, it creates the pressure --
SIMON: I mean, when you say, look, we can't keep this secret. Two hundred thousand people know.
HOYT: Absolutely. But, you know, news organizations in a sense have always faced this kind of question. There are rumors out there. Shouldn't we just report the rumors, even if we can't verify them? Because after all, people are talking about the rumors. And I think most responsible news organizations would exercise some serious restraint on that, and say, without verification, depending on the nature of it, no, we should not.
So -- but it's unquestionable, I think, that technology increases that pressure and makes it greater. And I think some news organizations fall into a kind of a trap of saying, well, we'll put it up there, and because of the speed, we can quickly come back and fix it and correct it if we're wrong, which, I think, is a real trap because you can put it up and it can be wrong, as I -- there was one case that I experienced at The Times in this -- in this regard. You can put it up there, it can be wrong, and then you can fix it later. But what about all those people who came, saw the incorrect report and left, and did not come back to find the corrected report later? I think it's a -- it's a real credibility issue.
WHITAKER: Right. And the fact that, as you know, in the old days basically if you had one edition of The -- of The New York Times that had something wrong, there were a limited number of those editions, and, you know, most of them were thrown away the next day and you could correct it the next day. Now, you know, if The New York Times has something wrong for an hour, you may correct it the next hour, but what was out there for the hour lives on forever in cyberspace.
SIMON: Not to mention that there are a lot of people who assume it wasn't corrected, but so much as it was changed.
WHITAKER: You know, it's interesting, this whole issue of --
SIMON: Nefarious powers intervened -- (inaudible) --
WHITAKER: -- but this sort of competitive -- you know, on the one hand, there's absolutely no question that 24-hour news, the Web -- everybody has a Web site now and so forth; everybody's a journalist; you're competing not just with other news organizations but with all these other amateur journalists and bloggers and so forth and so on -- on one level increases the sense that, you know, in order to be first or be competitive you have to get it out; there's less time for vetting and so forth.
But actually I think we've sort of reached a point, frankly, where I think certainly for sort of really big, powerful -- still-powerful news organizations, it actually cuts the other way, which is it's very hard to be first, I mean, unless you've really been working on an investigative report that's all your own, but once you get in these competitive situations.
So the trade-off between chasing that idea and somehow being first versus maintaining your credibility by making sure you get it right, I think, has become a lot easier argument internally for us to have because it's -- you know, it's futile in this day and age to think that, you know, you're always going to be first. But the one edge that we do have is this idea of credibility, that when we finally decide to report it, we've checked it out enough, we really are confident that there's something there.
HOYT: I think sometimes it isn't -- first isn't the issue so much as someone else is first, and then someone is second and third. And at what point do we feel like, uh oh, we look clueless, even though we're not able to verify what's out there? I think that is a serious problem.
SIMON: Let me raise this finally before we go to questions.
Mark, one of your predecessors -- your -- I think, your immediate predecessor -- and he was actually a colleague of mine briefly -- the great Tim Russert used to say -- I remember him saying once, "Beware of the pamphleteers." And he felt something a lot of people have expressed, I think, very keenly as a concern, that the news industry is getting politicized.
Is it the news industry anymore? Do we now have sources of information in this country that are left-of-center, that are right-of-center? And do we have news organizations? Are we becoming maybe a little bit more the way the old Western European press used to be that way?
I'm going to press you on that, Mark, because you're in the perhaps unique distinction of perhaps presiding over both, between NBC and MSNBC. Let me put it, this, bluntly. Was it a -- is this -- on MSNBC, is it a deep-seated conviction? Or was it a market choice to go in that direction, demographic choice?
WHITAKER: Well, first of all, I mean, I think -- I think the thing, you know, in this whole debate about are we getting so politicized and so forth, to remind everybody of it, is what the size of the audiences are, okay? So the highest-rated show on MSNBC is Keith Olbermann, "Countdown" at night, who has 1.5 million viewers, you know, on average. His major competitor is Bill O'Reilly, who has less than 3 million. So both of them have less -- fewer viewers than you have listeners on NPR --
SIMON: (Off mic.) I point that out -- (Laughter).
WHITAKER: -- on Saturday.
You know, O'Reilly has about a third of the viewers that Brian Williams has sort of on the "Nightly News." So sometimes when you listen to these arguments, people kind of suggest that only people are watching this politicized media, and they're not watching kind of the more straight media any more.
SIMON: But to be fair, you would not be unhappy if 9 million people were watching suddenly, right? I mean, you're in that business. The business idea is a given.
WHITAKER: Well, no, actually, I'm -- look, I mean, the thing about cable television is that it's not -- you know, it is almost sort of intentionally, not just in the news but even in entertainment, sort of niche, you know. I mean, that is sort of how cable has evolved, and I think it's evolved for good reasons, both because more choices mean that people can kind of look for the more sort of specific kind of program they're looking for.
It's worked financially partly because advertisers will pay a premium to reach a smaller audience, but actually of people who have a defined profile. So in the same way that, you know, in entertainment, you know, Lifetime and ESPN and the Food Network and so forth sort of speak to very sort of specific audiences, I think cable news has -- it turns out, you know, the same thing is true.
And the one cable news network that sort of stood for being more sort of middle-of-the-road, or at least in its -- in its promotion, CNN, over time has lost -- has lost viewers. Now that doesn't mean that there aren't people who aren't interested in non-ideological news, but, you know, they're going to -- you know, they're sticking with network news, which still has pretty big audiences. They're going to NPR. They're going to PBS. They're going to other sources.
So now MSNBC and NBC, look, you know, I mean, we run into this all the time. We -- you probably heard about the little episode with Mr. Olbermann a few weeks ago. Look, there's no question that MSNBC, once it took on more of a political flavor, partly in kind of contrast with Fox, that the ratings did pick up.
And it developed, not only that, beyond just sort of pure ratings. It -- for the first time there was this phenomenon, which it became sort of the default channel for -- not a huge audience, not a network audience, but, you know, a real audience. There were people out there -- there may be people in this room who basically they will turn on "Morning Joe" in the morning, and basically they'll watch MSNBC all day, and maybe they'll check something else out, but that's their channel now. And that never existed before.
And I think from an audience point of view we like that. From a -- you know, from a commercial point of view it's worked out pretty well. But the idea that somehow that we can't keep that separate from NBC News, I think is kind of disproven by the fact that if the people who wanted the less ideological treatment of the news on our network were really disturbed by the fact that it was within the same company as MSNBC, we wouldn't have the ratings success. I mean, we're number one in the evening, in the morning and on Sunday.
And by the way, we also have within our company another cable news network, CNBC, which hires a guy named Rick Santelli who some people think started the tea party movement. So, I mean, it's not as though there is, you know, a deliberate corporate strategy here of going left, right or center.
SIMON: There might be a deliberate corporate strategy in terms of creating niche institutions to serve a niche audience.
WHITAKER: Yeah, yeah. That's true. That's true. Oh, absolutely. But that's true throughout cable, though, right now.
SIMON: So are journalists just stuffed shirts and sanctimonious? Do you get worried about that sort of stuff? I wasn't calling you either, but -- (laughter) -- knowing journalists as you do, Clark.
HOYT: I appreciate that.
You know, this isn't uniquely a broadcast or a cable problem, by the way. In my time as public editor of three years at the Times, I came to believe that for a certain segment of the readership, the masthead was really "The Liberal New York Times" and there was this strong sense that the newspaper was edited ideologically among a certain set of readers.
And I think that what happens with MSNBC and Fox sort of bleeds over in the sense that, well, they do it; you're doing it. And the first public editor of The New York Times famously asked the question, is The New York Times a liberal newspaper? and answered it, of course it is.
And my answer to that was somewhat different. It certainly is a liberal newspaper on the editorial page. It is certainly by design a liberal newspaper on the op-ed page, and you could say that there is a liberal sensibility in sort of the broad, liberal arts sense in the -- in the newspaper.
It reflects a market where it's published, and a readership. It does not take intelligent design or creationism as serious alternatives to Darwin. It -- many people believe it gives too much attention to skeptics about global warming. It publishes same-sex marriages and unions in its Sunday Style section, which many other newspapers in this country would not do.
But at the same time, I think the Times does an excellent job of professionally reporting the news with a -- I can't use this term "fair and balanced." It's simply a term that's been destroyed. But I think that the newspaper strives to be fair, accurate, fact-based in its news columns and to reflect as many aspects of a situation as are warranted.
I've often asked people, I've said, if you're persuaded that it's a liberal newspaper in the context of Fox News, how do you explain winning a Pulitzer Prize for Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York? How do you explain that the newspaper was really the catalyst and the agent for the downfall of Charlie Rangel, the Democrat who was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee until the Times exposed his ethics problems? How do you explain the problems it created for Richard Blumenthal, a great hope of Democrats in Connecticut, who exaggerated his military service, which the Times reported? And there's --
SIMON: Senator Blumenthal, now --
HOYT: Senator Blumenthal now, attorney general then.
But I think there's quite a list that would suggest that the Times is not ideologically selective in where it goes in terms of appropriate investigative targets.
We're going to open it up for questions now, and I guess we'll just call on people. I see that gentleman has a raised hand. (Scattered laughter.)
QUESTIONER: If I may --
SIMON: Oh, sorry, the microphone.
QUESTIONER: If I may go back to the WikiLeaks, when I first heard about it I actually was kind of a bit in shock. And I thought, oh, this is another nail in the coffin of American super power. And then I started to think about it and read actually what The New York Times and others wrote about it.
And more and more I began to think, what's the big deal here? In the sense that -- I mean, this is the kind of stuff that really, here at the Council on Foreign Relations, we hear about all the time, and why we come to the Council on Foreign Relations or Brookings. It's the kind of things that are habitually leaked to journalists like you. And so I wonder, is it such a big deal?
What I came away with was two conclusions. One was basically people in the State Department are a lot better writers, a lot funnier and a lot smarter and lot tougher than sometimes they are made out to be. I thought that was very reassuring, personally.
And second of all I thought, in terms of our intelligence services -- and there are probably here from the intelligence services -- the number of people we have on the ground to report things like in Georgia was abysmal.
But for the rest there was nothing, at least that I read, that was revealing.
SIMON: Let me --
QUESTIONER: So the question is, is it a big deal?
SIMON: Is it a -- well, let me point out, then ask our two guests, there's also another story where, I believe, one of the leaks -- I'll have to paraphrase it, but it mentioned 50 what are considered to be high-security targets in the United States.
I mean, that's -- there are a lot of people that worry -- that worry about that. Now, are these high-security targets that foreign intelligence agencies had probably figured out on their own? I suppose so.
But there certainly are a lot of people in government, in the State Department, people who have been in government, people who've served in diplomatic service, that do think this does have a chilling effect. Even if it was not news to you, they think it's going to make it harder for them to do their jobs in the future.
WHITAKER: I think it's a big deal. And I think that this is an audience that probably has a much deeper, more nuanced sense of foreign policy without WikiLeaks. But the general public, I think, has had maybe only a dim understanding of some of these. And it brings a lot of it into very high focus, and it's very educational.
I mean, we've -- there has been plenty of reporting that the Arabs -- the Arab states are very unhappy about Iran, but now you've got something quite concrete that gives you a much deeper sense of that. Or that China is concerned about the Internet, but yet now we learn about specific operations that were targeted on U.S. government computers.
HOYT: Let's also not --
QUESTIONER: (Inaudible) -- the Council on Foreign Relations.
HOYT: Right. But let's not also forget that by the count of the news organizations that have actually published this material, there's a lot of stuff that they didn't publish, but that they still had access to and they could have published. So if you're a diplomat or you're, you know, a source for an intelligence agent abroad, just the very fact that there was extra information that didn't get published has got to, you know, inhibit you.
And also, look, I mean, the sources for our best diplomats and our -- and our best spies are sort of like the sources for journalists. They're people who are -- they're not out there actually talking on behalf of their governments, you know? And some of that -- but sometimes they are sort of giving you extra information. They're not violating a trust and so forth, but basically they're telling you a little more than they're sort of officially supposed to tell you. And that's what a good diplomat or a spy will get out of them.
But those are the very kinds of sources that if they really think that that's not going to be kept in confidence, all of a sudden they're going to say it's not worth it. It's not worth the risk and, you know, I'm not going to say more than I'm paid to. And that would be too bad.
SIMON: I wonder about this, because whenever we journalists get subpoenaed, we say we're not going to -- most of us say we're not going to share our sources of information because it's important that our sources on a news story know they're talking to us and they're not talking to the United States attorney.
So now when somebody talks to a U.S. diplomat, do they think that they're talking to the press?
HOYT: Look, I mean, I think eventually it will wear off, you know? Because, I mean, I think -- look, I do think that this is going to -- and it should, actually -- cause a major review of the sort of Internet information-sharing protocol within the U.S. government. I mean, that's sort of inevitable.
To the degree that sources shut down a little bit and are less forthcoming, I think that's going to last for a while and then it's going to go away, because I think it's kind of human nature, frankly -- (chuckles) -- to want to blab a little bit.
WHITAKER: You know, one last thing on this point, Secretary Gates last week said that this has been going on forever -- he quoted John Adams complaining about this quite a long time ago -- and said that governments deal with us because it's in their interest to do so, and they know that it's the nature of the United States to leak information. (Scattered laughter.) And yet they continue to deal with us, because they need to.
SIMON: I don't know where the microphone went, but -- wherever the golden baton has landed, any other questions?
QUESTIONER: Yes. Hi, my name is Mercedes Fitchett, with the U.S. Department of Defense. I'm hoping that you can lay out for me what transpired from a few months ago when the first leakage of information took place that concerned DOD and military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was actually surprised that there wasn't a more forceful U.S. government response. Now all of a sudden, because it's all these cables, you're now seeing this uproar.
But what is it that you're sensing in terms of what was that tipping point that took place, and why wasn't there a more forceful response from the U.S. government earlier?
WHITAKER: Well, first of all, the first -- the first material that came out was almost unintelligible to most people. It was -- it was material that was written in the field in militaryspeak and a lot of it was impossible to understand.
This is material produced at a higher level by people whose -- many of whom were quite good writers, and it has a much more dramatic impact.
HOYT: It's gossip.
SIMON (?): Yeah.
HOYT: People like gossip. Look -- but the other thing is that some of this is unfolding because of Assange and his motives and his strategy. Obviously he got most of this information, it seems -- at least the stuff that he got from Manning, which is most of the stuff that's diplomatic- and military-related -- all at once. I mean, Manning is under custody now, so he can't give him any more information.
But Assange, for his own reasons, has decided to dole it out slowly, I think, partly perhaps because he's got his own delusions of grandeur and wants to stay in the media eye, and there may be fund-raising reasons. I think now there are some legal reasons. Obviously, you know, he now is doing things, revealing information and threatening to reveal other information to protect himself legally now, because he's got a lot of powerful enemies.
So I think that the way in which and the timing with which this has come out in the press is as much driven by that as anything else.
SIMON: Yeah. But I think the explicit answer was all the information came in at the same time.
HOYT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I don't know whether the bank of information -- the Bank of America information or whatever it is that is allegedly coming out, whether that all came from Manning as well.
WHITAKER: Well, we've heard bank -- a major bank and also China, which would be interesting, if it ever is forthcoming.
SIMON: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTIONER: My name's Teresa Barger (sp)--
SIMON: Wait for the microphone, please. Yeah, thanks.
QUESTIONER: (Inaudible) -- not interesting enough. I just want you to address the business model question. (Chuckles.) Because we're all very interested in quality news continuing, and can it continue for profit, and what about the competition of the Internet? And I'm glad someone from Bloomberg's here.
SIMON: I'm not sure I understand. Why do we --
QUESTIONER: Sorry. I just thought it was -- the business model question. How does NBC News survive in the age of the Internet when people don't need to wait till 6 p.m. to get their news and aren't watching -- getting it from TV as much as they're getting it from the Internet? How does The New York Times survive? And what about the various models that we can pursue, including the nonprofit model, which I'm very interested in knowing about. The for-profit model, the Rupert Murdoch model of charging for the Internet, et cetera. You know -- I mean, you've done this thousands of times, I'm sure.
SIMON: (Off mic) -- questions. Actually, why don't I -- you take first swing at that and --
HOYT: Well, I've just started at Bloomberg News, and I'm a veteran of a little over a month, which at the rate they are hiring, makes me beginning to become a veteran. (Scattered laughter.)
There will be somewhere north of 400 journalists in Washington for Bloomberg News by sometime early next year. I spent my career in a newspaper company that no longer exists, that -- Knight-Ridder, which was the second-largest newspaper company in the United States, published the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Detroit Free Press and the Miami Herald, Kansas City Star, San Jose Mercury News.
The company was forced by Wall Street, a Wall Street trader who had made a large bet on it and then was seeing it not pay off; it was forced into play. It was sold and broken up.
The general newspaper business model is broken. It depended on circulation revenue to pay, essentially, for the distribution, the production and distribution and it depended on advertising revenue to pay for the news. All the newsroom and correspondents around the world and all the rest of it, newspaper, news advertising.
The good news in newspapers these days is that it's falling less fast than it was before, but it's still falling and no one knows where the floor is and therefore no one really knows. I think that big newspapers with great brands like The New York Times are the likeliest to figure it out and survive in the transition from the printed page to the Internet and follow it where advertising is going, but at much lower rates than was true in print.
An organization like Bloomberg has an entirely different model. It produces news and analysis for people who will pay substantial amounts of money for it because it is actionable for them in some way in their business, whether the -- whether it's the original Bloomberg terminal that traders use to make decisions about investments or whether it's a news service that's coming called Bloomberg Government that will be aimed at people who have relationships with the government in one way or another.
And that's a very robust business for which there is substantial demand and a willingness to pay. The long-term question is will people pay for, when it's considered such a commodity, sort of general news about government, for example, aimed at the citizenry? And that's still kind of an open question.
WHITAKER: Two points. One is the key, I think, in past business models and future models, business models that are going to be effective, starts with creating a product that individual consumers will actually pay for. So it's not just about advertising; it's also about, you know, in newspapers it used to be subscription -- still is, on the paper side. In NPR it's, you know, your viewers who will actually send in donations to support you. In cable television, it takes a slightly different form, which is that you will pay your cable bill partly because you get all of these cable channels and the MSOs, the cable operators, feel that they have to pay to keep -- to offer you that package.
And I think one of the things that was sort of tragic in a way about what happened with newspapers and a lot of other media organizations and the Web is that they essentially went down a road that depended only on advertising, thinking that that, you know, could support them, and threw away the principle that you actually had to charge the consumer as well.
And look, you know, I mean, I think a lot of what's happening out there financially to the news business -- I lament it as much as anybody -- but I've got to say that to some degree the industry, you know, has only itself to blame. I mean, there -- there was nothing that said that all of -- all of, you know, our great news organizations had to start giving away all their content on the Web for free.
And they did it because they didn't -- they didn't take the Web seriously enough at the beginning. Then when they did take it seriously, they viewed it as a marketing tool and not a true source of competition. And then when it started to generate some advertising revenue, they thought, okay, well, you know, that'll grow to the moon and that'll support it. And of course that hasn't turned out to be the case.
And now, you know, the -- you know, a lot of horses are out of the barn and they're trying to figure out how to put them back in. But it was not inevitable, unfortunately.
HOYT: There's nothing that fails like success. For years and years, the newspaper industry was so profitable and when threats like the Internet that were coming along, it was very difficult for someone -- ask General Motors -- it's very difficult when you're extremely successful to be nimble and to change in the face of external threats, even when you can see them.
SIMON: Do the market factors affect coverage? And I mean less a -- less a major story that's before the world than does it -- is it responsible, for example, for the disappearance of foreign bureaus, for the relative lack of foreign news or the shrinking hole for foreign news that's been observed in many news organizations over the past few years?
WHITAKER: Look, I mean -- as a general principle, I think it's true that the less money you have the less you can afford to cover. On the other hand -- it always comes back to this question of foreign news and foreign bureaus. You know, look, I think it's too bad that a lot of -- there aren't 50 great news -- American news organizations that have bureaus all over the world, and now there're more, like, less than a dozen.
On the other hand, I think that in response to a lot of the changes in consumer habits and technology and availability of information, I think news organizations have to do what they've always done, which is to focus on where they can really add value. And the fact is a lot of the information that you could -- only used to be able to get from The New York Times or The Washington Post in terms of foreign news, anybody with a computer and an Internet connection can now get by going out and getting a lot of the original source information or foreign papers or whatever.
So it's not -- it's not so simple. It's not -- it's not clear to me, at least, that because there's less -- there are fewer American news organizations that have foreign bureaus that the availability of smart information about the rest of the world isn't available to people who want it.
SIMON: Is it -- let me pick up from your question, ma'am, if I could. Is there some -- is it a possibility that the news business is going to be largely de-professionalized -- that people will be reporting their own stories their own way within 10 years, forming their own associations and --
WHITAKER (?): I don't think it's mutually exclusive. I think -- look, I mean, I think that there will still be a professional profession of journalists who are -- who are trained and who have standards and so forth, and probably have bigger audiences than a lot of those nonprofessionals. But the nonprofessionals are going to be in there too, partly because they can.
You know, there aren't the big, kind of, barriers to entry that there used to be. Used to be, in order to be published, you had to buy, you know, ink by the barrel and newsprint and where you had to be able to sort of get huge cameras out into remote places. And now a lot of ordinary people could have those tools and we've got to compete.
So in aggregate, all of those nonprofessionals, I think, are competitors and, I think, add to the cacophony over there. But I don't think they're ever -- they're only going to become as powerful or competitive just in aggregate, but not individually.
I think the news organizations will still have the loudest voice in, you know, a much louder Tower of Babel, I think.
HOYT: Look, there's such a proliferation of these sources, and it's bewildering, I think, to most people. And ultimately, I think -- and perhaps you'll say this is wishful thinking -- but I think ultimately there is going to be a shaking-out. And people will turn to professional news organizations with standards they can recognize and understand to help them make sense of all of it.
SIMON: You know the Nikki Finke example in the film business? Nikki Finke began as a blogger and essentially sold her blogging business for several millions of dollars. But for years, she operated out of what she freely identified as a studio apartment in West Hollywood, just filing, filing, filing. Now she's become a -- (inaudible).
WHITAKER: We just had a reunion of Newsweek old-timers and she once worked in the Washington Bureau for Newsweek. And she couldn't make it because she was out on the West Coast -- this was over the weekend -- but she e-mailed us all. She said, now that I'm rich -- (laughter) -- I'll send you a nice, big check to help pay for drinks for everybody.
SIMON: Yes, sir. Then -- (off mic) -- here. Yes, ma'am. Yeah.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Judith Kipper.
When we talk about the major news outlets, it's still television, cable and newspapers, weekly magazines and so on. And it seems to me that it's pretty much homogenized and pasteurized. NBC has many more viewers and you have a lot of outlets, but if you look at the content of ABC and CBS, the content is pretty much the same.
So I consulted for ABC for a lot of years, so I know how that works. Everybody in print and television looks over their shoulder, and if the other guy isn't going with that story, you know, should we, and all of that.
But it seems to me that all media -- new, old and in between -- has totally missed the boat on Wall Street. Joe Nocera and his colleague, whose name I can't remember -- a woman.
WHITAKER: Bethany McLean?
HOYT: Andrew Ross Sorkin?
WHITAKER: No, no, no. Bethany McLean.
SIMON: Bethany McLean, I think.
QUESTIONER: Yeah, right -- has just written a quite extraordinary book. That guy, I think, Michael Lewis, maybe one or two others, et cetera. But in terms of daily journalism, the guys who caused the problem are still there. They're making more money than they've ever made in their entire lives. Nobody's been fired.
They gave back the TARP money as fast as they could so they could keep doing what they were doing before to make so much money, before the new federal regulations come in. And there's been virtually --in the major news outlets, no deep, deep reporting about who these guys are, how they're operating, and what they're doing. There's a very interesting new film, "Inside Job," that I recommend to all of you.
But I wonder why we had to wait for a documentary. Why isn't it on the front page? Why is --
WHITAKER: Well, wait a second. Joe Nocera and Bethany McLean are working journalists. I mean, they've been writing all of this in their columns and --
SIMON: May I point out Joe Nocera is on our program -- (inaudible) -- of the month.
WHITAKER: Yeah, and he's on every -- he's talking about this on NPR.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- one guy. We have hundreds of people covering Wall Street.
HOYT: You know, I went back and read the coverage of -- that the Times had produced on this, going back over a fair period of time. Because people said there was never any warning; this all of a sudden happened to us and it came out of nowhere. And I actually was pretty impressed with what I saw.
There is -- I think you're putting your finger on something that you hear a lot with a lot of different stories, which is people may be asking of news media more than news media are able to deliver, which is results.
You're -- you sound to me quite angry about what's happening, as many, many Americans are. They're angry about the bonuses; they're angry about back to business as usual. And somehow, why isn't the press, why isn't the news media doing something about this?
QUESTIONER: They've reported --
WHITAKER: We have an hour on MSNBC every day, if you'd like to watch it, called the "Dylan Ratigan Show." It comes on at 4:00 every day before "Hardball," and it's all Dylan talks about for an entire hour every single day, five days a week. Exactly what you're talking about, with the same passion that you've talked about it.
SIMON: I happen to know, even ignored the World Series to talk about that. (Laughter.)
WHITAKER: Well, you know, I mean, a lot of people think -- look, there are a lot of people who think he's, you know, he's a little too passionate about it because that's all he talks about. But the fact is -- and that's all his guests talk about every day.
QUESTIONER: Amitai Etzioni. One (light ?) observation and then a question about the chilling effect.
A professor's recommendation, that is, for students or for colleagues, used to be confidential. Once we discovered that the law changed, that they are no longer confidentials, at least I have not seen yet a negative letter. So the chilling effect was immense, in effect. Most recently one of my colleagues recommended somebody as one of the very best comparative religious students of sociology, and there are two of them. And so it gives you a sense of what these letters are. (Laughter.)
But I was a physician, and since the law was changed that patients can read their medical files -- most of them don't, but an increasing number of physicians will no longer note that -- an alcoholic, but he will note that you have a good taste for wine. And so I expect the diplomats will also learn to clean up their language.
And my questions are this. Other democracies have a state secret act -- other democracies have a state secret act. I even understand it's not an American tradition; it's not quite in line with the First Amendment. But The New York Times got its material from The Guardian. So in effect, we are dependent on a foreign newspaper not disclose our resources and methods. Is not the time for us to have a state secrets act?
HOYT: Well, I -- my overall answer to that is no. And when President Haass raised that -- you were raising a bunch of questions and I was mentally going, no, no, yes, no, as you were running through those questions. But if that one was to come up, my answer to that would be no.
And I think that we have managed and muddled our way through for a very long time without that. Talk about a chilling effect. And you know, this is -- let's remember this is a government that a few years ago tried to reclassify the fact that British intelligence cooperated with the United States during World War II.
There is a certain absurdity to an awful lot of classification, and you can get an administration that feels politically -- feels hostile toward the media at a moment for some reason, and if you have an act like that that's available for prosecutions, I -- you know, the potential for mischief is great. And I've not seen demonstrated the compelling case that without it we've suffered some sort of grievous harm and damage through -- through the ages.
And in the case of WikiLeaks, were there an official secrets act today, who are you going to -- who are you going to prosecute? I've heard -- just Sunday on television, a Republican campaign strategist said Julian Assange just committed treason. Well, Julian Assange is not an American. I don't know how you commit treason against a country that you're not a citizen of.
And I think that this would be a recipe for a great deal of harm, potential harm.
HOYT: It is ironic, though, that the Guardian, presumably, if these were leaked cables from the British government, wouldn't be publishing them.
WHITAKER: Because there is an official secrets act there; that's right.
SIMON: Yeah. I want to thank everybody for being here. We've run out of time. Thanks so much, and thanks so much for remembering Dan Schorr with the kind of conversation that I think he would have enjoyed. (Applause.)
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