Two veteran journalists - Lowell Bergman and Steve Talbot of PBS' Frontline - examine the forces challenging the news media today and the press reaction.
Bergman and Talbot trace the recent history of American journalism, from the Nixon administration's attacks on the media to the post-Watergate popularity of the press to the new challenges presented by the "war on terror." Mounting pressure from corporate owners for record profits, as well as growing challenges from cable television and the Internet, are remaking the economics of the profession and transforming the very definition of news.
Lowell Bergman, Director of the Investigative Reporting Program, is also a producer and correspondent for the PBS documentary series Frontline, and the Reva and David Logan Distinguished Professor of Investigative Reporting at the Graduate School of Journalism. After working in the alternative press, Bergman co-founded the Center for Investigative Reporting in 1977. Soon after, he joined ABC News where he became director of investigative reporting and a producer at 20/20. In 1983, Bergman joined 60 Minutes, where over the course of 14 years he produced more than 50 segments. His 60 Minutes investigation of the tobacco industry was dramatized in the Academy Award-nominated feature film The Insider. In 1998, Bergman forged a unique collaboration between The New York Times and PBS Frontline, to co-report stories for print and broadcast with the participation of graduate students. In 2004, Bergman received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, awarded to The New York Times for “A Dangerous Business,” which detailed a foundry company’s egregious worker safety and environmental violations. Bergman was a New York Times correspondent until 2008. Bergman has received numerous Emmy’s, as well as five Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University silver and golden Baton awards, three Peabodys, a Polk Award, a Sidney Hillman award for labor reporting, the Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism and the James Madison Freedom of Information Award for Career Achievement from The Society of Professional Journalists. Bergman has lived for nearly 40 years in Berkeley, California. He is married to Ms. Sharon Tiller, the Director of Digital Media at the Center for Investigative Reporting.
James R. Bettinger
James R. Bettinger is the director of the Knight Fellowships, and professor (teaching) of Communication at Stanford. A graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Bettinger is the former A.M. city editor of the San Jose Mercury News and former city editor of the Riverside Press-Enterprise. He was a Fellow at Stanford in 1982-83, and was Deputy Director from 1989-2000.
Talbot is the Series Editor for FRONTLINE/World, helping to launch and manage the innovative international news magazine and oversee the award-winning series web site. As a producer and writer for FRONTLINE, Talbot has made nine films, including The Battle Over School Choice, Justice for Sale with Bill Moyers, Spying on Saddam about the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, investigative biographies of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, and The Best Campaign Money Can Buy, which won a Columbia DuPont Award. Previously, Talbot was a staff producer and reporter at KQED-TV in San Francisco, where he specialized in local investigative reporting and national PBS biographies of writers. He has received two Peabody awards, a George Polk, and an Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America.
With a newspaper the reader is has an limited experience with the content in hand. The phrases 'cover to cover' and the "whole paper" come to mind. This implies that the reader's attention span is long enough to read the whole article. Honestly I cannot say I have ever read an entire 'long form" NYT article online. I get the Sunday paper it sits on my kitchen table for a week and I read the articles. On the internet we are supposed to surf and catch a few pieces of info-tainment while we enjoy the ride. Let me ask you how many people watch the entire show before you commented in the forum? I certainly didn't. I skipped around and quickly scanned the menu and guessed that I heard the best of the lectureÃ¢â‚¬â€according to my internal censor. Surf On America!
Good evening and welcome to today's meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California,I am Jim Bettinger Director of the Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford Universityand I will be your chair and moderator for this program. We also welcome our listenerson the radio and want to remind everyone that you can find us on the internet atcommonwealthclub.org. Now it's my pleasure to introduce our distinguish speakersLowell Bergman and Steven Talbot both of our speakers today are veteran journalists whowho will examine the legal and monetary challenges facing the news media today. Theircomments are based on their work as producer and correspondent for the upcoming PBSFrontline Four Part Series entitled News War. Lowell Bergman's career in journalismspans more than 35 years. He is a producer and correspondent for the PBS SeriesFrontline and a professor at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has alsobeen an investigator reporter for the New York Times where shared a surprise for publicservice reporting in 2004. But more than 14 years Mr. Bergman was a producer at theCBS new magazine 60 minutes where he did more than 50 stories ranging from organizedcrime to the Port Persian Gulf War. The story of his investigation of the tobacco waschronicled in the academy award winning film "The Insider" where he was portrayed byAl Pacino. Mr. Bergman has received numerous MD's,five DuPont Colombia University awards and three Peabody's.Steven Talbot has been a producer and writer for PBS Frontline since 1992, hisdocumentaries include "The Best Campaign Money Can Buy," "Rush Limbaugh's America,""Spine on Saddam" and "Why American Hates the Press." Mr. Talobot beganhis television journalism career at KQED in San Francisco and his articles onpolitics and culture have appeared in Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and theWashington Post among others. He also edits Frontline's International new magazineFrontline World where he and his colleagues won the Edward R Murrow award from theOverseas Press Club for coverage of international affairs in 2005. Tonight LowellBergman will speak first on the current challenges facing journalist and then StevenTalbot will address economic issues confronting the media.Please welcome Lowell Bergman.Thank you and as you can see I am not Al Pacino. This series that Frontline will airstarting on February 13th was funded by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund here inSan Francisco in a grant of the graduate school of journalism Berkeley and in many waysit was fitting that it start in San Francisco with funding and work here at the University inBerkeley because many of the things that are now confronting the journalism communityin general particularly on a legal basis for some reason the sort of perfect storm that'sbeen created over the last number of years on these issues is winding up, starting out andwinding up here in San Francisco. As we stand here tonight there is a journalist the firstvideo blogger in the history of United Stated doing time in a federal penitentiary just east of here.There are two reporters in San Francisco who are facing jail time if the Ninth Circuit herein San Francisco doesn't change the situation and sometime in February, there is aFederal Court case currently down the street in front of the Federal District Court whichinvolves the consolidation of 14 cases from around the United States where the Bushadministration is claiming that state secrets require that all these cases be dismissed, thesewere cases that resulted from reporting on national security administration domesticeavesdropping program. So San Francisco in many ways has become the first if you willsearch of this perfect storm it's been developing around these issues.The case that is determined in many of these confidential stories and issues that you heardabout is the case called Branzburg that goes back to the US Supreme Court in 1972. Thatagain was the case that originated here in the San Francisco area and I thought I will givea little bit of background about that because the first hour as I should explain of thisdocumentary series will focus on the issue of confidential sources the use of it by thepress and its future.The second hour by the way will be about national security reporting the kind of reportingthat you can in the United States is one of the only countries in the world where you canactually do that kind of reporting and not go immediately to jail and the third hour whichSteve will talk about is really about what's happening to the news and the economicsituation in the new gathering industry and I use to term perfect storm because when youthink about these issues very often we go back to the Nixon administration and we thinkabout the confrontation between the press and the Nixon administration and one of thethings to keep in mind when you think about those comparisons is that there is a numberof very major differences, one the most fundamental difference which Steve will talkabout is that at that time 35 years ago the news gathering industry was a profitableindustry, it was an oligopoly in television and it was a monopoly in local areas inmetropolitan areas. In those days the news industry that stood up to the Nixonadministration had a pretty sound economic base, today that base is dissolved, the newsindustries economic model is foundering and its desperately looking for a way out. So insome ways the storm that's developing around us is different and potentially much moredangerous, but to take us back to its origins at least legally back to the Branzburg case.You have to understand that before 1970 it really wasn't much in the way of protectionfor journalism in this country on the issue of confidential sources and the ability to talk topeople and not have to give up your information if you were subpoenaed and as itdeveloped and actually the in an interview we did the other day with the member __who was also locally in the bay area, he reminded me that in the good old days and in theearly 1960's the cops and the reporters were cooperating all the time, it was no such thingas a confidential source or reporters actually not being cooperative with law enforcement,the development of that separation of reporters as watchdogs took place in the late 60'sand early 70's and Branzburg brought a lot of that to ahead because what was happeningwas that the federal government was very interested in the Black Panther Party, and therewas a reporter for the New York Times name Earl Caldwell who had managed to getinside the Black Panther Party and was writing about and as when you see thedocumentary you will see Mr. Caldwell talk about how he was approached by the FBI andasked to cooperate, he refused they subpoenaed him and that along with another BlackPanther Case out of New Haven Connecticut and a case involving drug dealers all wentup to the Supreme Court. In 1972 the Supreme Court decided that while in certainlimited case reporters do have a privilege, they do not have a privilege when it comes tonot giving information to a federal grand jury.Now what was interesting in that period and I was telling about the story that I learned isthat soon after the press lost that decision the Government decided not to ask the reportersto testify nor did it want their notes and that because of what followed in its wake becauseof Watergate and various things that took place afterwards, the justice department issuedguidelines, those guidelines are still in place which make it very difficult for a federalprosecutor to subpoena a reporter, there was a truce declared and I certainly think welearned in the course of doing this documentary that truce is now over.There is a war, new war between the media and the government an unsettled period that isgoing on right now and that's why the reporters here in San Francisco are facing jailthat's why Mr. Wolf is facing jail and that's why in a couple of weeks you are going tosee an unprecedented line of reporters walking into federal court in Washington DC totestify. Thirty five years ago when these issues seemed to be resolved reporters were seenas watchdogs we were in a sense had a very good image there was another movie done "Allthe President's Men" and we were stars, we were somehow the protectors of the people.Today in the light of what happened around the Valerie Plame case and what we call the"Plame Gate reporters" are no longer the watchdogs reporters are witnesses and thegovernment of United States seems to now we are involved into do that into the future.It doesn't seem to be anyway legally to stop unless there is in fact in congress or in amongstthe public some rising up against it. But I wanted you know there was an issue that cameup in the course of doing the reporting for this documentary which is one that we havespent sometime with which is our things different than they were 35 years ago. And asone person we interviewed said what's going on today in many ways is Richard Nixon'srevenge that he didn't last long enough to do what is happening now at the press and justto give you an idea if you go online to the frontline website tomorrow it'spbs.orgforward/frontline. You will find something that we came across in the course of our research.Back in 1991, a professor named Karen Homestead at University Of California Davisdoing her dissertation came across a pile of papers at the Gerald Ford Library and thepapers were in the file marked Dick Cheney, at the time he was the assistant to the chiefof staff the Gerald Ford, Donald Rumsfeld. And in the file she found something that weare going to post on the web, which is the handwritten note of Dick Cheney.Okay, and the handwritten notes of Dick Cheney and the related that you will see talkabout 52975 problem: unauthorized disclosure of classified national securityinformation by Seymour Hersh and the New York Times" and then it precedes to give theminutes of a meeting between Mr. Cheney and the Attorney General of United States andthe Representative of the CIA in which they discussed whether or not to prosecute theNew York times for espionage - heard that recently whether or not get searchwarrants for Mr. Hersh's house, whether or not notify the news media in general andin person about why they should be published matters like this.And in the end something that we discovered in the course of this research.Before they can start an investigation for a national security leak, the procedure in the USgovernment is that they have to get a complaining agency. So as a result of this meetingthe Attorney general sent a letter to the director of the CIA. And what he does in theseletters as he started 1969 is he asks the complaining agency and that's in the file that yousee online tomorrow 11 questions, these were 11 questions apparently written andapproved by (Jay Grover). And amongst the questions in this version its question numberthree is was the classified leak true, As if an FBI official explain to us in thedocumentary, if it's not true there is no violation of the law. So the follow-up question tohim was, so if we hear that there is a national security leak investigation that means thatthe story is true. And he said, we are in fact he agreed the fact checkers of the Americanpublic. You will see this process going on in this file of what goes on. But there is afundamental question at the end of the process an in the memos.Mr. Hersh wrote a story about how the United States was eavesdropping on the SovietUnion using submarines to go within Soviet territory waters and tap into undersea cables.So the question becomes in the documents, do we go public and announced leakinvestigation and if we do that will that bring more attention to the stories. So they querythe department of defense and the navy to find out is there any indications since thepublication of the stories that the soviets have stopped talking that they realized we'reeavesdropping on and the answer they get back is it doesn't seem to think it doesn'tlook like they read his story or that they believed it. So they decided not to prosecute. Soit's a good inside look at how what we now see going on today.There is a national security leak investigation of the New York Times and its reporters fordoing this NSA eavesdropping story. There are people who called for the prosecution ofthe New York Times, Congressman Peter King has been resolution through congresscalling for an espionage investigation of the news media and these kinds of actions are notintimidating but may represent a new unprecedented war on the media especiallyat a time when we don't have the same robust economic model that we had in the pastand with that I will introduce my colleague Steve and by the way you should understandSteve is producing the third hour, this first two hours I should credit (Reine Harrinson)who is the producer of the first two hours, which will be out of New York and there is a largelarge group of people here involved both students from the university of Californiaformer students and people around the country and one of the difficulties of doing thisyou should understand is that doing a series about the news media by those of us in thenews media is not only presented certain great difficulties but a reaffirmation in my mind,one of the things that I learned about my colleagues before, its not that we don't that wehave thin skins, we have no skins. Thank you.So my role in all this is Lowell mentioned is to produce this third episode, again the seriesthat will be broadcast in February national and frontline here on KQED. This episode thatI am about to talk about will be February 27. Ten years ago I did this before for frontline,I was roped into it by Sharon Taylor who is an executive at Frontline and who happens tobe Lowell's wife and that show was called "Why America Hates the Press" and no onewould be the correspondent for that show.Everyone at Frontline said terrific idea Steve, go get them. Press especially that celebritypress core in Washington, it really need to be taken down a notch. But you know I like todo lunch in Washington and in New York and we really don't want to rile Cokie Robertsand Sam Donaldson and Bob Woodward. So one of the great pleasures of working on thisseries and it's not always a pleasure, is working with the Lowell because Lowell doesn't careabout who he does lunch with.Incidentally the big expose in that series which seems extraordinarily quaint now giventhe problems that were in these days with the government and the media as Lowell hastalked about. Our expose was that the Mclaughlin Report was staged. I know that comesas a great shock to many of you. But at the time the Mclaughlin Report which was reallyone of the first reports to have the shout fests that we've come to know way too much about.Mclaughlin always introduced every show saying this is an absolutely spontaneousunrehearsed show. They made a big point of that. And it turned out it was completely theopposite, it was the most staged thing on TV except for professional wrestling and wefound this out because one of the guest who was sort of a third tier guest on the show wascalled-in in summer and he tape-recorded the message he got from the producer of theshow who outlined what everyone would say on the show, who would ask the questions,what their answers would be roughly and in what order all this would happen. So werecorded this, he listen to the message on the phone then we got the tape of that episodeof the show and inter-cut, he is getting the instructions on the phone with the show whichplayed out exactly as he was told to do it.And then we inter cut it with pro-wrestling just to drive the -. So this episode which iscalled "What's Happening to the News" is about the pressures both corporate pressures,economic pressures on the media and the most phenomenal change of all really theimpact of the web which is a truly disruptive media, new media that has just shakentraditional media, news paper, TV, even radio to it's foundation and has profoundlychanging the business model of these traditional news media.So as best we can in this hour we are trying to look at those two forces the corporatepressures on newspapers and television and the disruptive force of the web and to look atwhat opportunities there are but also the real track challenges that disposes for us. Andwe start where else these days with The Daily Show.There was an announcement today that a rumor I should say that The Daily Show is beencourted by the Washington Post, washingtonpost.com which is very developed website tocover the '98 presidential election. So this comedy show which mocks what we do is nowbeing drawn more and more of course into main stream coverage partly because they dosuch a good job at deconstructing what a bad job so many of my colleagues do. One ofthe funniest things that happen I think a couple of years ago was the TV critics whoLowell is going to go talk to on Pasadena on Saturday about this series the TV criticsvoted The Daily Show, the best news show in America and I hate to say but we were upagainst them Frontline that year we have won that in the past as it was 60 minutes. So thatwas a great provocative award on their behalf and more substantively recently there hasbeen a university professor in the Mid West who studied network news and found thatsubstantively there was as much coverage of the news as much hard news in the dailyshow as there wasn't network news broadcasts, that when you took the 22 minutes of thenetwork news broadcast minus the commercials and you threw out the fluff, you threwout Katie Couric talking about home recipes and so forth and got down to what wasactually news and then he looked through the daily show when you took out the obviousjokes it's a comedy show after all, so you got the obvious jokes but then they have guestsPresident Musharraf of Pakistan was on Bill Clinton you name it, actually they sometimeseven make news and they deconstruct the news in the way that we might do in ajournalism class at the Graduate School of Journalism in Berkeley.The night we were there filming with them CNN had launched a whole week ofprogramming they are called Fear not Facts and it was about, it was at the time whenthere was the incident with liquids being brought on perhaps as bombs in planes and allthe airports in an up roar and this was the most out of control anxiety provoking coverageyou could possibly get with booming voice of Fear Not Facts you know and then theywould go in to this horribly fear inducing reporting which Jon Stewart and hisproducers took apart in a very systematic way and he says they are using the fear voicemusic and the fear font which was all true. So it cant be not always but it can be a veryengaging lesson and when we were there we interviewed David Javerbaum who is thehe was the head writer, he is now the executive producer of the show and he said look weare a comedy show, he is very depressed by watching the news he says Jon Stewart is alot tougher man than he and can actually watch cable news all day, he cant take itanymore but he told us I personally threw this job through working this job I have cometo feel that the news media is even more depressing than the news that attempts and failsmiserably to report.I think its horrible news broadcast horribly that's a fairly blanket statement but I havebeen doing this job for a long time delving into it everyday it's a thoroughly depressingbusiness. But to the extent that people looked to us as a source of news that is a 100percent indicative of other people's failures and not our success. So that's a longintroduction to how we begin this show and as I had mentioned at the start what we lookat are the pressures that the traditional news media are facing which we feel arediminishing or degrading the quality of the news that we watch we listen to what we read.To take the corporate ownership issue the demands for profits we focus on the LosAngeles Times now I know a lot of you are in the media, I see a lot of friends and theaudience I am not going to blabber this and we will take your question. But the essence oftheir story as many of you know is that in 2000 the Tribune Company of Chicago bigmedia corporation purchased the Times Mirror Corporation Los Angeles owner of the LA Times.So for the first time in 120 years the Chandler family which had founded and built the LATimes sold it, kind of in a moment of panic, they sold it and since then the Times newsroom has gone from 1200 people perhaps loaded, perhaps too many by 1200 people downto close to 900 down. So there have been a steady series of cuts that the TribuneCorporation has imposed on the LA Times staff and they are continuing to demand moremainly because the deal went south. They have spent $8.3 billion to acquire TimesMirror, they had a lot of ideas for synergy and convergent's buying News Day in LongIsland combining with the TV station in New York, having a TV station KTLA and theirTimes in Los Angeles thinking they could national advertising it didn't work out. So theyhave been pushing for cuts ever since. John Carroll the editor they brought in to the LATimes did very good journalism while he was there but ended up agreeing to many of thecuts finally couldn't stomach at any more left in the summer of 2005.He passed the baton to his protege, Dean Baquet, the only African American editor of a majornews paper in the United States, he had come from the New York Times, very qualifiedguy, he also continued making cuts but trying to fight the good fight hold the line, whatwas interesting about the case is that his publisher a man Jeffery Johnson who was a 22year veteran of the Tribune Corporation came out to Los Angeles he had been there for awhile but got this job as publisher and eventually he and Baquet teamed up. He began tolook at the world the way Baquet did and John Carroll before him had and he on the frontpage of his own paper in Los Angeles announced that newspapers can't cut their way intothe future and two weeks later he was fired. Incidentally interesting development in LosAngles is that many people in the community, many civic leaders who worry about howyou govern a city looks like Los Angeles huge population, so many different racial andethnic groups, so many languages, sprawling city always had a problem holding itselftogether with a center, they worry about having an institution like LA Times not belocally owned. So former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and others 20community leaders representing Urban League AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce signed aa public statement to the Tribune Company don't lay off more people at the paper weneed the LA Times. Tribune Company has not taken that advice.The surprising thing in all this is that the Los Angeles Times like many newspapers whileits loosing circulation is making a lot of money, the Los Angeles Times returns out makesa 20 percent profit a year, they have taken a billion dollars in revenues at sales and soforth and they make $200 million a year. So that's double the average of a Fortune 500Company and many major newspapers in the United States make that kind of money.John Carroll was saying that if a paper like the LA Times would be allowed to make say10 percent, still quite a healthy profit, he felt that the paper could be very prosperous,would not have to lay of staff, would be able to invest money in its future which is theweb, which isn't going online more and more and in continuing to promote the paper butthey obviously didn't listen to John Carroll he's at Harvard now, The Shorenstein Center writing abook on the future of the news. Several billionaires have stepped forward in LosAngeles saying they would be willing to buy the LA Times, David Geffen is one of them,Ron Burkle another Eli Broad who are all interviewed for this show and interestinglyenough Broad said when Lowell pressed him that he would be perfectly willing to acceptfive, six, seven percent profit. now obviously local owners, billionaires you hope they'rebenevolent, like families that own papers, the Salzburgers and the New YorkGrams, The Washington Post, law pressed him and said would you change interfere withthe editorial policy for instance of the LA Times and he sat back in front of one ofhis paintings he owns, he is the big museum guy and owner and modern art and he said Imight and when we pushed him on that basically what he said he would like to see theLA Times have more coverage of museums and high art.He also said he would sign a statement that he would stay away from pushing the editorialdirection of the times and he said he would continue to employ Dean Baquet who headmired tremendously and when we told that to Dean Baquet he pointed out that hethought Eli Broad was the handsomest billionaire he had ever met.Why does this matter with the LA Times, it matters because it's a paper that under Carrolland Baquet won 13 Pulitzer Prizes in five years, more than any other newspaper in theUnited States during that period. there were stories that ranged from detailed coverage ofRussia, Post-Soviet Russia, Homelessness in Los Angeles, they are one of the few papersto have a continue, maintain continuous bureau in Iraq and bring us important newsfrom Iraq, they have done local, they should more local coverage with the LA Times, its alwaysbeen a knock about the paper and its true but they have also done tremendous reportinggot a Pulitzer for a public hospital drew in South Central Los Angeles, really the exactkind of reporting we ought to be doing the sort of reporting Lowell was doing with the Timesand Frontline and dangerous business about companies that were jeopardizingworkers life's, the kind of things that don't necessarily immediately they are not sexystories and not stories that immediately sell your paper but they are with the publicinterest, public service kinds of stories that news papers ought to be doing.So it matters what happens to paper like the LA Times and I am going to quickly justmention the web here so we can get to questions but there is a lot of promise on the web,I love a lot of web journalism, bloggers have broken some stories very interesting story inthe San Francisco Chronicle today page two about a local blogger who is calling KSFO totask for what he regards as hate speech on the radio, so bloggers have called attention toour failings in the media, they have broken some stories themselves which were covering in the documentary.But my brother full disclosure started Salon Magazines, Salon has broken some stories soI am a believer in a lot of the web journalism that can be done, but it's no where near atthe level of what newspapers have done in this country and newspapers are one of the fewinstitutions that employ large numbers of news gatherers. So when you go to a guy like JohnCarroll and he says I have been looking into this, he has to meet 85 percent of theoriginal reporting in the United States is done by newspapers. And the online revenue thatis being generated and everyone is going online even 60 minutes old employer Jeff Fager,The Executive Producer he has cut deal with Yahoo so that they now post 60 minutesstories chunked up so you can info snack as they say it, 60 minute story is on the Yahoonews website and that audience that looks at 60 minutes on the website is 20 yearsyounger than the audience that looks that 60 minutes on TV so they are very excitedabout that and everyone is trying to make their deals but the revenue that that's breaking,bringing in right now is very, very small.So we are in this dangerous period economically for the news media where the traditionalgatherers who are still doing the line share of the war that our democracy depends that oursocial discourse depends on are losing revenue, they're losing circulation and yet theweb has not yet been able to generate the kind of revenue that it would take to support largenumbers of professional news gatherers out in the field bringing us the real reporting thatwe need. So that's the moment that we are in that's where we are zeroing in on this, inthis episode "What's Happening in the News" and hope you watch, thank you.