Mark Danner in conversation with Howell Raines, New York Times executive editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher, and Dean Orville Schell, The Goldman Forum on the Press and Foreign Affairs, Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley
Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Howell Raines in a conversation with:
Orville Schell Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, Berkeley
Mark Danner, Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, Berkeley and Staff Writer, The New Yorker
Chancellor Robert Berdahl: It would be difficult to find a time in which a discussion of the coverage of foreign affairs by the American press would be more appropriate. America’s relationship with the world has changed substantially in the period since September 11, 2001. There are few topics of greater importance than the questions that surround how Americans obtain their information about the world from the press. Thus, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Goldman family and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for sponsoring this event and the series, of which this is the first program. The Goldman family has frequently and generously stepped forward to assist the campus in achieving the excellence to which this university is committed. We will be forever in their debt.
Someone once said that they would never live anywhere where they could not hear the slap ofThe New York Times being delivered to their front steps in the morning. Today, through the miracles of technology, we can live virtually anywhere in the country and enjoy the benefit of having The New York Times delivered to our front door. It is America’s newspaper — a newspaper that devotes more space, I would guess many Times more space, to foreign affairs than any other newspaper in America. If we believe, as Walter Lippman put it, a free press is not a privilege, — but an organic necessity in a great society, The New York Times has played a central role in maintaining a free society in America. We need only to recall its role in the publication of the Pentagon Papers to be reminded of how The New York Times has made certain that information essential to the democratic — the formation of democratic public policy — was made available to the American people. Universities have much in common with the press. For the freedom under which we both function, effectively, is rooted in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Both bear heavy responsibilities for educating the American people to think critically about the central issues of the day. Both must give protection to the expression of views that go against the grain. Both are among the first targets of those who would suppress our liberties. Tonight we are privileged to participate in a discussion with leaders from both of these sentinel institutions. Discussing the role of The New York Times in educating the American people about the world, we have from The New York Times, Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. and Executive Editor, Howell Raines. From the Graduate School of Journalism, we have Dean Orville Schell and Professor Mark Danner.
Please welcome Dean Orville Schell to initiate this program.
Dean Orville Schell: It’s truly wonderful to have you all here. It’s long been my conviction that a university — particularly a public university—should be a place where people who are in academia interact with people off the campus, particularly on some of the great issues that perplex our world.
Actually, I can think of no more crucial issue than the question of the media, which we will discuss tonight.
It’s wonderful that we’ve been able to do this with The New York Times. They’ve been enormously generous. It’s part of a series that we have done over the last few years. I urge you all to go and see a really wonderful photography exhibit by Vincent LaForet and Ruth Remson at the Graduate School of Journalism Gallery. We had an event yesterday with Michael Kimmelman, the Chief Art Critic. So it’s been a great pleasure to have all of them out here.
None of this would have happened, of course, without a wonderful faculty at our school who works entirely too hard, and a staff and faculty working together. It’s a great pleasure for me, as Dean, to work with them.
And, it wouldn’t happen, also, without a lot of you who are here, who have quietly supported both the school and the university. It’s not often we get a chance to say thank you to you, and we can, in some way, do that with these events.
Dick Goldman, thanks. We wouldn’t be here without you. Nan McEvoy, Nadine Tang, Susie and Mark Buell, Steve Silberstein, Peter Haas, Jack Edelman, Dick Blum, Topher Delaney, Walter Shorenstein, Herb and Marion Sandler, John Gage and Linda Schacht — Amy Tan — I could go on and on, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten all too many, but thank you. It makes a tremendous difference to us.
And there’s one person I haven’t mentioned. Every morning, before dawn, a huge pile of New York Times arrives at the Journalism School. Almost every student that wants one gets one free. This is the gift of Herb McLaughlin, an architect, who has chosen to help us out this way. I must say, for us, it’s a bit like missionaries in far-flung places receiving free Bibles. It truly is the Lord’s work. So, thanks to Herb McLaughlin.
Now, without further ado, let me introduce Mark Danner, who is a
Professor at the Journalism School who will say a few words about Howell Raines, the Executive Editor of The New York Times and Arthur Sulzberger, the Publisher.
Professor Mark Danner: Thank you, Orville. As the Chancellor mentioned, the Goldman Forum on the Press in Foreign Affairs was conceived in the days after 9-11 in conversations between Orville and myself out of the perception that after 9-11 foreign affairs, in a certain way, ceased to be foreign.
You could be sitting at your desk having coffee, talking to a client on the phone, getting your restaurant ready for your lunch, and foreign affairs, in the person of those who resisted American power and were determined to confront it, could come out of the sky and kill you.
We felt it was vital to establish, on campus, a forum for the discussion of issues very much of the moment — issues that affected all of us.
The program tonight is based on another perception, as well, which is that we live in a very unusual country at this moment in history. It is a kind of Minotaur, a composite — on the one hand, an empire. On the other hand, a democracy. When it tries to extend its power, our leaders feel obliged to convince the citizenry to go along.
The news media and The New York Times, more than any other organ of opinion — the dominant organ of opinion — is critical to that task. It’s critical to persuade us, as we’ve been seeing in the last couple months, for example, to go to war with Iraq. We would like to get into those issues tonight and find out how, indeed, we all arrive at our views of America and the world.
Let me introduce the two distinguished gentlemen we’ll be talking to who have made a living out of, I think, as Arthur Sulzberger said, “the fine art of slathering ink on dead trees,” just to give you a sense of the gravity of the occasion.
Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., Publisher of The New York Times and Chairman of The New York Times Company, is the scion of the family that has controlled The Times for, now more than a century. He graduated in Political Science from Tufts in 1974. He worked as a reporter in The Raleigh Times, North Carolina. He served as a Correspondent for the Associated Press in London. Went to The Times Washington Bureau as a Correspondent. He was a Metro Reporter, Assistant Metro Editor, and then served various terms of duty in the Production Department, Business Department, Corporate Planning until, in 1992, he succeeded his father as Publisher. He became Chairman of The Times‘ Company in 1997.
Howell Raines was born in Birmingham in 1943 — Birmingham, Alabama. He started his newspaper career in several Alabama papers, including The Birmingham Post Herald. The Tuscaloosa News, and The Birmingham Alabama News. He was Political Editor at The Atlantic Constitution and then at The St. Petersburg Times of Florida before he joined The Times. Where he served in Atlanta, he was the White House Correspondent, National Political Correspondent, Deputy Washington Editor. He served a term in London as Bureau Chief. Was then Washington Editor, Editorial Page Editor, and finally, in 2001 — I should say, September 7, 2001 — became Executive Editor of The New York Times.
He’s published several books, including, Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis. Buy it, it will help you. A novel, Whisky Man, 1977 and My Soul is Rested, a wonderful oral history of the Civil Rights Era. He also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for a beautiful essay called, “Grady’s Gift,” in The New York Times Magazine.
Gentlemen, let the games begin.
Orville Schell: Well, it’s great to have you both here, so let’s dive in. Maybe begin by telling us what you do?
Howell Raines: I’ve never thought about that.
Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.: We just come to auditoriums — big auditoriums — full of people and we just do a shtick.
Mr. Danner: Well, commence.
Mr. Sulzberger: As Publisher of The New York Times, I’m responsible for the overall responsibility for the newspaper. That includes the News Department and the business side, as well as our Editorial Board, which reports separately from our News Department. As Chairman of the company, I’ve got sort of over-arching strategic responsibility for the company. I don’t even know how to think about this question — I think a lot about the future, yes.
Mr. Raines: Pretty basic stuff.
Mr. Sulzberger: And trying to keep people aligned against a set of strategic goals that we have, both from The New York Times Newspaper and from the corporate level.
Mr. Danner: Howell?
Mr. Raines: As Executive Editor, I have responsibility — I think a lot about the next 24 hours, actually. I have responsibility for supervising a worldwide news staff of 1130 people. That’s a pretty time consuming enterprise. I could go on in great detail, but I think the thing that we always keep foremost in our mind, at The Times, is we exist to serve the information needs of our audience. We feel we have an intellectual contract with the people who buy The Times to tell them as much as we can, as fully as we can, as soon as we can what we find out about the world. That’s pretty much what I do every day when I get up.
Mr. Schell: Do you both enjoy your jobs?
Mr. Raines: Yeah, this is a really good job I have. [laughter] I don’t know — I mean, I’m measuring against covering the Board of Education for the Birmingham Post Herald, this is a lot better! [laughter]
Mr. Danner: That’s setting the bar high. Actually, maybe in finding out what you do for a living, which, I think, is a good place to start, we can look at — dive right into the process of what you do at the paper. I’m looking at today’s edition, which many of you may have looked at today, I have a feeling, in the audience. If you didn’t look at it, you’ll have seen during the course of the day, the influence of The Times coursing through the information system of the country, through the television stations, cable stations, networks.
We have a lead, “US Taking Steps to Lay Foundation for Action in Iraq.” How did this story get to the front page, and why is this news today? Since, presumably, last week, the US was laying the foundation. Why is the lead of The New York Times?
Mr. Raines: There’s a genre that one of my city editors told me about years ago, “You write a lead that says thus and so, old newspaper clips revealed today.” [laughter]
Mr. Danner: This is a more candid answer than I expected.
Mr. Raines: This particular story, actually, is one that I’m pleased with. I mean, one of the things that I do is I try to give myself a grade based on what’s in the paper and what I brought to it.
One of the glories of our paper is that we have a lot of people thinking every day, every moment about what the news is. Every now and then I think it’s useful for somebody to come in and try to bring a value-added idea. This was about last Wednesday, I think, I was reading or watching some broadcast that triggered in my mind the idea, well, what has — when you talk about going to war, what has to happen before you do that? What has to happen diplomatically? What has to happen politically in the country? What has to happen logistically in the military? What has to happen in the intelligence community?
I thought it would be useful, not because it’s breaking news or spot news, but because I thought it would be useful for our readers to take a look at all the things that have to fall into place before war can begin. So that was sort of the impulse. I asked that question and asked our Washington Bureau to start working on the story for the weekend that would try to answer it.
Mr. Danner: So this is a story that really originated in your mind?
Mr. Raines: Yeah. I mean, normally, that’s — I try to have one really good idea a day because I feel that if I can think of one thing that nobody else had the time to do, I’ve brought something to the paper.
Mr. Sulzberger: The rest of us try to figure out what that idea was. [laughter]
Mr. Danner: Because we’re trying to figure here.
Mr. Raines: The Brittany Spears front-page story was one of those.
Mr. Danner: We’re going to get to that.
Mr. Schell: Was that preempting to mention?
Mr. Danner: Yes, I was going to say that was coming up.
Mr. Raines: I have no apologies for that. I can dialog on that at some length.
Mr. Danner: Let me ask — I think we’d like to stay on Iraq, perhaps, for a bit and the coverage, not only what the coverage has been, but what it will be in the event of war — but let me ask you, Arthur Sulzberger, you are involved, obviously, as you mentioned when you answered the question of what you do for a living in forming editorial policy. The Times has been fairly critical on its editorial page of President Bush’s idea of going to war against Iraq.
How are those opinions formed? Does the publisher speak frequently to the editorial page editor to come up with that position? How does that happen?
Mr. Sulzberger: It’s an iterative process. Yes, Gail Collins, our Editorial Page Editor and I will talk. In fact, every Wednesday, Gail and Howell and Gerald Boyd, our Managing Editor, and Janet Robinson who is the head of our business side, runs the Business Operations of the paper and I have lunch. We’ve been doing this for a long, long time when it was not some of those people at the table. I’ve been doing this from the beginning of ’92 when I became publisher.
We try to just talk about issues that we’re facing, sometimes business issues, sometimes personnel issues, sometimes tough issues regarding editorial positions. But, in the end, Gail has an extraordinarily talented group of men and women who are the Editorial Board at The Times. They have a lot more knowledge and understanding of the world around us than I do — a lot more experience.
But on something critical like this, the paper can’t get too far from where I’m comfortable, and sometimes that means I have to move and that they move me.
Mr. Danner: How does that happen? I mean, do they actually bring you a draft editorial or do you — how is it hashed out?
Mr. Sulzberger: Mostly it’s just sitting down and talking with Phil Taubman, our Deputy Editorial Page Editor, with Gail, with one or two of the Editorial Page Board members who is specifically focused on this topic.
We spent — we have spent, actually, on this case — a lot of time trying to get ourselves comfortable with where we were; not trying to get ourselves positioned in a box where we couldn’t get out of, but not being dragged anywhere by the administration or others where we felt it would be inappropriate for us to go.
We have a focus on civil liberties that’s going to — you’ll see — you’ve already seen some of that in our editorials. You’ll see more of that in the days and weeks to come. And, a sense of internationalism that’s deeply ingrained in The New York Times and has been from the days of Adolph Fox, my Great-grandfather when he bought the paper. So I think you’re seeing that reflected in the editorial coverage. It’s not — the process is not really very different from when Howell was the Editorial Page Editor and we were struggling with, say, the Clinton matters.
Mr. Schell: How did it come to pass? I mean, you’ve mentioned that the paper has a real internationalist slant. It’s self-evident. But the common wisdom in the media at large is very much, of late, is that foreign news doesn’t sell. Now we’re about to go to war with Iraq, and I assume you’re going to be all over that story, how is it that you, alone, seem to be — have broken free of the gravity of that presumption that foreign — people don’t want to hear foreign news. They don’t want to pay for foreign news. We’re not going to do a lot of it?
Mr. Sulzberger: I don’t think we’re alone, quite frankly. I think you’ve seen some very good reporting from the Washington Post, from the Los Angeles Times — some other papers — The Wall Street Journal. I think, as much as I appreciate that thought, I think that there are others in the same journalistic space that we are.
It’s funny. As you go back to the history of The New York Times, and we recently reviewed this when we made the decision to purchase the full ownership of the International Herald Tribune…the international marketplace has been one The New York Times has had its eyes on since it was founded in the 1850s. We started a European edition in — about two or three years after we — 1851, when The Times was founded. It failed miserably…and we have a long history of doing that ever since.
But there’s — maybe it’s being part of a port city, of an immigrant city. That could be a part of why it’s in our DNA. But it is, and it is deeply. When Adolph Fox took ownership, he moved foreign news — international news — to the front of the newspaper and he said at the time, “We are all of us, first of all, citizens of the world.”
Mr. Schell: But how do you make a go of it from the business sense, whereas other people claim they can’t?
Mr. Sulzberger: Because it’s part of the package that speaks directly to the kind of readers that we have, who have a sense of themselves and their place in the world. If it was just foreign news, it wouldn’t work. If it was just cultural news, it wouldn’t work. But it’s the full range of human endeavor that we cover that speaks, I think, to the audience.
They do recognize that what happens outside their immediate sphere of influence has a direct impact. Of course, the events of 9-11 have brought that to a larger audience. We’ve been able to make use of that, as well. Our circulation has been growing, in part, because of that.
But it’s not just a financial — I guess what I’m trying to say in my — is that it’s not just a financial equation that’s focused on foreign news. Our financial equation is focused on quality journalism across the board, and that’s what makes it work for us.
Mr. Danner: I’d like to keep on this for another second because I know you said earlier today — or Hal said earlier today in talking about 9-11 — that he knew that morning that there would be a section of the paper in which several hundred thousand dollars worth of ads would be thrown out. Not only did he know that, he didn’t make a phone call to you to confirm it. He assumed that if there was a problem, you’d call him, which is rather remarkable.
How are you able to do that when other papers can’t? This gets into, also, obviously, the issue of a nation challenge, of an entire section that— famously — did not have ads, which presumably cost a hell of a lot of money…how can you do that, business-wise?
Mr. Sulzberger: Two or three reasons. One, we’re a highly profitable newspaper. We have moved — and that’s not, actually, I didn’t mean for that to be a laugh line. We’re actually proud of that fact.
Mr. Schell: But what does it mean? What are you looking for in terms of profit? We know that Knight-Ridder just doesn’t go to sleep happy unless they get that 22%. How about you?
Mr. Sulzberger: I’d rather stay with the first question. [laughter]
Mr. Schell: Well, you can answer it any…
Mr. Sulzberger: I’ll let Hal answer the Knight-Ridder question. I know Jay Harris is in the audience. We’ve moved more and the folks in this audience know this, as well as anyone, we’ve moved more and more — our circulation costs have gone up. The paper is not an inexpensive paper to buy. We think the value is there. But one of the things we try to do is ensure that the value is there.
Finally, it’s what we do. It’s the business we’re in. We’re in the business of journalism. Yes, we need profit to support what we do in journalism, but that’s the reason for profit — to support what we do in journalism. And, an event like 9-11 comes along, the greatest event in our journalistic history, I think. Personal history now, a story that is, really, is going to have — has had and will continue to have enormous repercussions for this country and the world — and that’s where you have to commit to funding it the way it ought to be funded.
We can do it because we have The New York Times Magazine. We have the Circuit Section and we have all those other elements that not only provide, I hope, useful and important journalism, but bring with them tremendous amount of advertising revenue. We can do it because we have our subscription base and our circulation revenue. That helps support this enormous news operation that Hal runs.
Mr. Raines: Orville, I think another thing that’s interesting to think about in this context is breaking down the question in terms of audience. Also, in terms of news organizations. We can speculate about what the news media is interested in when it comes to foreign affairs. We can speculate or even measure with polls what the American people’s interest level is in foreign affairs. But I know, as a matter of direct contact with our staff and through them, with our readers, that we have 1.2 million readers every weekday or buyers of our paper every week day (subscribers) and 1.8 million on Sunday who are intensely interested in the subject of foreign affairs. That’s why the come to us. It’s what we call the “quality information audience.” We think that’s a growing audience.
Arthur and his colleagues are in charge of the economics of this, but I can see in terms of our news budget and our staffing, that we are expanding our foreign policy coverage. Other people are contracting, particularly the broadcast entities. But, in our case, we were measuring this the other day. I think five years ago we had something like 26 or 27 foreign bureaus. Now we have 29. We have more reporters by — ramped up — 1, 2, 3 people for each of those.
So it’s simply something that it’s a response to events in the world, and it’s also a response to the interest needs of our readership.
Mr. Danner: Is it fair to say because, in a way, because others are contracting, that really is a benefit to you because The Times, more and more, is the place to find foreign coverage, as others get rid of it? So others’ misfortune on this level is really a benefit to The Times, which is branded, in a way, in covering the world?
Mr. Raines: If that’s a way of saying we want our newspaper to become more indispensable to more people who we think ought to be subscribing to The New York Times — and we actually think we have a sense of how many people there are out there who are potential readers for our paper — yeah. I mean, we want to become more essential and we want to do that by the way we present the world to them.
Mr. Danner: Let’s get back, a second, I think to something where The Times really will be essential, we hope, which is, if this war comes in Iraq. I wonder if we could talk a little bit about how you are going about preparing for this? I mean, last time you said earlier that the Gulf War was the least reported major conflict since Sherman’s march to the sea. We all remember correspondents essentially locked in hotels in Dhahran. What is the process by which you go about preparing to cover this war? In particular, getting around Pentagon restrictions? Who very naturally — the Pentagon, very naturally, is going to want it covered its way.
Mr. Raines: I had the experience of being the Washington Bureau Chief during the Gulf War. There we learned how captive our reporters became to the Pentagon Press Pool. We also learned that because of the configuration of the battlefield in the first Gulf War, it was very difficult to filter our people in if we weren’t already pre-positioned. So when Afghanistan came along, we spent a lot of time putting seasoned reporters and photographers around the perimeter of that country and in distant locations where we felt they had a fair chance of getting visa’s to come in — or to come in with military operations, including those of the allied nations — so that we were prepared there in a way that we were not prepared in the Gulf War to get our people into the theater.
As it happened, the chaos of that war and the relatively unrestricted areas around Afghanistan allowed us to get first-hand knowledge of the battlefield. It’s not — to some degree, it’s a satisfying tactical mission to figure out how to get there, but it has a journalistic rationale. Vietnam was probably the best reported war in American history, as far as press having access to the battlefield.
The reason I mentioned Sherman was because there is historical — a historical footnote that’s rather interesting. When Sherman had sacked Atlanta and decided to go to the sea to break the back of the Confederacy in an economic sense, he knew he was going to wage a kind of warfare against civilian installations and civilian populations that had not been seen before on the American continent.
So he left — no reporter went from Atlanta to Savannah to Columbia, South Carolina where they finally wound up. I have no problem saying that Sherman was on the right side of the issue, but the fact is, the kind of war that was being waged was one that the government wanted to keep hidden…and I think that’s an important fact to consider.
In Vietnam, American and world journalists had more access to the battlefield than in any war, including, probably World War II.
So, as students of that history, Powell and Cheney set out to create a restricted information environment of the Gulf War, and I presume that that’s what they’ll try to do in this war. We’ll try to be ready because at the end of the day, our commitment is to our readers.
Mr. Danner: Are you in negotiations with the Pentagon? I mean, will there actually be talks about access and possibly legal action if — and we all know that during the Gulf War, other press institutions did go to the court and try to seek access — how will that work now? Are you trying to negotiate with them?
Mr. Raines: There’s not much negotiating to be done. I was in the original discussion groups between the Washington Bureau Chiefs and the Pentagon about shaping the Pentagon press pool. In the early ’90s, it was kind of an abstract operation — or, late ’80s. When the Gulf War came along, then the press pool became institutionalized — and it’s not going to change. It has its place.
You have a reporting pool that’s flown to an aircraft carrier that’s off the shore of a country. There’s a value in having a presence there. But, to get the unrestricted information about the war, about what’s happening in the war on the ground, that’s not a very good instrument.
There’s really no negotiation to be done there. It is what it is. It will operate the way it is. We’ll be represented. Other institutions, press organizations will be represented, but it’s not much — it’s their show — they, being the Defense Department. So we are looking for other means of information.
Mr. Schell: When our country, or indeed, any country goes to war, there’s a whole new set of imperatives that come into effect — patriotism, security. I’m wondering if you both have had experience where a story, which wouldn’t necessarily endanger troops, but certainly would make — would defy common wisdom or would seem grossly unpatriotic to many — where you’ve felt you’ve had to change it, hold it…? We may be in for a bout of this.
Mr. Sulzberger: Well, we had a case like that just a few months ago, if I’m not mistaken. It was a lead to the paper regarding the military plans at the time for the Invasion of Iraq. It caused a — when we reported the story, it caused a great furor among many in government and people — Americans — that somehow The New York Times was leaking secret battle plans thereby endangering potential future actions and the lives of our troops.
In truth — and we didn’t talk about it at the time, but we have talked about it subsequently — we made sure before that story was printed that if there were things in there that were legitimate military secrets that would endanger lives that the military had a chance to tell us and we had a chance to consider whether we wanted those elements in the story. We did, in fact, pull a few what are not great elements out, at their request. Furthermore, Howell and I made clear that if that wasn’t enough, because that was negotiations that took place between our now Washington Bureau Chief and the Defense Department, that we were at the ends of phones of the President of the Secretary of Defense wanted to call. They never did.
So, yes, we do deal with those situations — not very frequently, but we do occasionally do that.
Mr. Danner: Of course, the question one could ask is what, given a leak like that, what makes that news? I mean, somebody — as you know well from both of your experiences in Washington, somebody always has an agenda or almost always has an agenda behind that kind of a leak.
I have to read you a quote, which I’m sure you know well from Mr. Charles Krauthammer, “Not since William Randolph Hearst famously cabled his correspondent in Cuba, ‘You furnish the pictures and I furnish the war,’ has a newspaper so blatantly devoted its front pages to editorializing about a coming American war as has Howell Raines’ New York Times.”
Mr. Sulzberger: That would be your fault.
Mr. Danner: Well, this has been a drumbeat of conservatives that The Times have taken off against the war. Many liberals believe that The Times has essentially rolled over and is reporting these war plans and so on, and seems to, for example, the piece today, “US Taking Steps to Lay Foundation for Actions in Iraq,” somebody said to me earlier, “It’s like CNN with ‘Countdown Iraq.” I guess my question comes down to how do you decide if a leak like that is news or if you’re simply being used by someone with an agenda within the government who is trying, perhaps, to allay the plans that they’re leaking?
Mr. Sulzberger: Well…
Mr. Danner: I mean, which of those questions…
Mr. Raines: Every one of them. I can’t explain why Charles took leave of his senses. He’d be the best witness on that.
Virtually every conversation that takes place in Washington takes place because someone wants to gain an advantage of some sort. People don’t put out information that they regard as contrary to their interests. There are several levels to the game. I mean, one is, governments lie — including the American government. Another is that people put out positions to advance policy positions against the interests of their colleagues within their structures, Defense Department, let’s say — Hawks, Doves, etc.
Journalism is intellectual activity. That includes the ability to discriminate among different kinds of information and to make a calibration about the interests that are involved. I’m taking aback at your quoting an unnamed colleague about that story because that strikes me as such a naÃ¯ve interpretation of that story that I…I’m almost at a lost to respond to it.
The information need that it’s meant to answer is, if a reader wants to know where the United States is on the timeline that could lead to military action, that’s the story that’s designed to answer that information need. If you read it as a piece of advocacy, then I think that’s a factor that’s really hard — it strikes me as such a misreading of what a newspaper report is about, that it’s hard to respond to in any logical way.
Mr. Sulzberger: Can I tackle the quote that you read from — who was it? Charlie …
Mr. Danner: Krauthammer
Mr. Sulzberger: Krauthammer. This is a fascinating time for us as a society. We’re actually engaged, for the first time in my memory, in an on-going national debate as to whether or not this country should go to war. And most debates, at least in my experience, which is heavily flavored by the Vietnam War experience, which was my growing up, those debates always seem to take place after Americans are already in combat — not before.
I think whether you think we should go to war, whether you think we shouldn’t go to war, or whether you feel you don’t have the information you need to make either of those decisions, what is healthy here is we’re having this national debate. That’s our job. That’s Howell’s and my job and other journalists, is to ensure that that debate is open, is honest; that we can marshal the facts that we need to let the American citizens decide what’s the best course of action.
Mr. Danner: I don’t get the impression, though, that most Americans really feel that, that the debate has been — I mean, this obviously isn’t The Times‘ fault — but that the debate has been full, open and thorough.
Mr. Sulzberger: I think that’s right. It hasn’t been.
Mr. Sulzberger: I think that’s right. It has not been and I would love, speaking as an American as well as a newspaper publisher, I would love to have this Administration more engaged in that discussion and the debate.
Mr. Schell: We had the Fulbright hearings, you know, on China, Vietnam. I mean, we haven’t had such a thing.
Mr. Sulzberger: That was very late, actually.
Mr. Raines: Well, Mark, with respect, I think you’re missing something there. If there’s an absence of debate in the country, if the Congress is not standing up to the Administration in a adversarial way on issues of national import, that’s a news story. That condition is part of what we report.
Now, part of what set off this kind of rant that you read there is that we reported the fact that important Republicans, such as Brent Scowcroft, thought that the process by which Bush was pushing the country toward military action was imperfect in two main ways — one is that it had not examined the diplomatic and political framework that needed to be put in place; and two, it had not looked at the military situation in terms of whether this was a practical application of American force. It was a submerged debate within the Republican Party, including people like Scowcroft and Jim Baker who were very close to Bush, Sr. So, it was us bringing to light that subterranean debate that led to this outburst in, and some others in the conservative press.
Mr. Danner: How do you stop from over compensating, as it were, when you get that kind of criticism? That is, this has been — the Krauthammer quote is just, obviously, a tip of the iceberg. It was a great stir. The perception has persisted that The Times is conducting a campaign against the war, at least in conservative circles.
Indeed, you know, you can sit here and say, “Well, gee, here’s Arthur Sulzberger, he has lunch every week with the editorial page editor and they’re against the war; and here’s Howell Raines and he was the editorial page editor an eye-blink ago and they’re publishing these leaks in the paper and so on.” How do you stop the conservative criticism from hitting, in some way, affecting your editorial decisions about what you’re publishing?
Mr. Raines: Well, one I think you — one, you put any kind of criticism in an intellectual framework. The latter of connections that you just ran through is from a Weekly Standard editorial. I don’t know if you’re quoting it?
Mr. Danner: No, it’s all mine. [laughter]
Mr. Raines: But that’s exactly what the Weekly Standard put out. The Weekly Standard is the publication that was founded to promote Rupert Modock’s political ideology in the United States. So, when one hears that vein of criticism, one considers the source — and I don’t mean that as an insult. I mean to say that it’s not a disinterested intellectual comment. It is a piece of political advocacy. You should have the balance, as a journalist, to be able to interpret it and process that.
I mean, what we do is set out — the beacon that we sail toward is giving the best information that we can at any given time to our readers. That is to say, both the events that are happening and a sophisticated, historical, diplomatic, political contextual analysis of that information.
You sail toward that beacon and you don’t let the winds from either side buffet you off course. It’s not, to me, that hard to understand. It’s a process, I think, that we’ve not adequately explained. Perhaps, — we here, being the serious press as an institution, have not adequately explained to our readers.
Mr. Danner: Of course, as you sail toward that beacon, you’re constantly tacking and making decisions, which are, indeed, the daily work of journalism.
I have to point to a piece that I’ve wanted to ask you about, which was a front page piece on August 18th by Patrick Tyler, “Officers Say US Aided Iraq in War, Despite Use of Gas.” Extraordinary piece that had special interest to me because the time they’re talking about (1988) was when Saddam gassed the Kurds. I and many other people wrote about it. In fact, the Reagan Administration basically said nothing about it.
This was a remarkable piece because — I don’t know if it’s bugged many of you — but President Bush constantly says “he gasses his own people,” as if the United States had protested at the time (which they didn’t).
This piece, to me, is remarkable because it actually goes into the history of what happened during that time; how the US was involved and so on. It’s very sophisticated historically, and it appeared on the front page of the paper. I think this was a great piece, and I’d like to ask you, first of all, how it came about. Secondly, why aren’t there more — I mean, we’re essentially engaged in a debate that is built on history — about Saddam, why he gassed his people; why he attacked Iran and so on.
I think a lot of people have the perception that there’s a lot of disinformation out there about what the history was. Why can’t you do more people like this?
[Laughter / Applause]
Mr. Raines: I’ve never thought of walking up to it exactly that way, Mark. It’s an interesting formulation, “Why can’t you do more like that?” I guess the answer is, they’re hard. I mean, why haven’t you written more pieces about massacres like El Mozote? I mean, you know…you shoot your best shot at any given time.
Let me walk you back in that story a bit. Pat Tyler came to that story with a depth of experience that not many people in the United States — or in the world, for that matter — have. He was on the battlefield in the Iraq/Iran war. He knew from experience, on the ground there, that there were signs of use of chemical weapons, atropine cartridges and so forth, that he had information only from being there. Then he was able, years later, to develop intelligence sources who would acknowledge the critical point in the story…which is that the Pentagon had intelligence operatives in there who were helping the Iraqis with targeting and troop deployment information about the Iranians.
Those same officers knew that, in all likelihood, once they revealed this information, that chemical weapons would be used against them. That’s not a piece of information that the Pentagon announces at a press briefing. I don’t know any other reporter in the business right now, who could have gotten that story, except Patrick. So, why don’t we do it more often? Because, at the moment, there’s only one Patrick Tyler in America
and, luckily, he works for us. But they don’t — those reporters don’t come along every day. Those conditions don’t come along every day.
Finally, the ability ten years after the fact — or the luck ten years
after the fact or the conscious-driven conversation ten years after the fact in which somebody comes out and says, “This is what’s really going on,” those conditions are not ones that one can dictate.
Mr. Danner: Let me give you a specific example. Along with a litany about Saddam, along with gassing his own people, it frequently comes in that he has attacked his neighbors — he’s twice attacked his neighbors, sometimes more than that. There is an argument that Saddam was given a green light by the Carter Administration to stop the Iranian Revolution. I mean, it’s more than an argument. It’s in Brezinski’s memoirs. It’s part of the public record in one-way or another. Why isn’t that kind of history in The Times?
Mr. Raines: There’s a geopolitical aspect to this that is worth noting, I thought that’s where you want to go. At the time that the Pentagon decided to give military aid to Iraq, Iran was using the waves of volunteers — the human waves attacks. The motivation of the U.S. government to supply military intelligence information to Iraq was they thought if Iran overran Iraq, it would destabilize the whole region, and it was better to have two contesting powers in that region (Iran and Iraq) than to have a defeated Iraq. I thought that was a dimension of the story that needed to be brought out.
Your question is why we didn’t have what Brezinski said about…I mean, I don’t understand the…
Mr. Danner: I mean, it goes along with your point which is that the U.S. essentially green-lighted the invasion, Saddam’s invasion of Iran. Also, in the interest of stopping — earlier we were talking about — of stopping the Iranian revolution and its threat to countries in the Gulf.
Mr. Raines: Right, right.
Mr. Danner: Which is a matter of public record.
Mr. Raines: Yeah.
Mr. Danner: And it seems would be — should be part of the public debate, but how does that become a story? In other words, if the President is essentially…
Mr. Raines: That’s a very old story. So it’s unlikely that we were going to put a lot of resources into retelling a twice-told tale. It may be germane to the context of the current conflict. With respect, it doesn’t strike me as being an astonishing bit of news that the United States has manipulated its relations with hostile powers for its own advantage. I’m not sure it really rocks the world in terms of helping us understand what’s going on right now.
Mr. Danner: But if the argument — just one last point — if the argument is that Iraq is inherently an expansionist power and attacks its neighbors, and that is said day after day in the press and examined, isn’t it relevant that the United States, indeed, backed a major act of expansion that is being now put on the sort of bill of attainder against Saddam?
I guess what I’m concerned about is the information that people have when they try to make decisions — I’m talking about sophisticated people, people who read The New York Times — when they’re looking at a decision about, as Arthur said, when they’re looking at a decision about war and peace and they’re hearing something that really tells them something rather different than the historical record, to those who know it, reveals.
Mr. Raines: OK. I’m going to…
Mr. Raines: I assume that applause means that someone understood the question. So…[laughter]
Mr. Danner: I think my mother started it.
Mr. Raines: So, I’m going to hack through there and take my best shot. Let me go back to your first formulation. You said, “If the argument is thus and so,” we’re not in an argument here — “we” as a news organization. We’re in a reporting task, which is to try to bring forward what is being said.
If the United States government, if the President continues to say something erroneous, as they did in Vietnam, every day, month after month, year after year, two things have to happen. One is we report what they say, because our readers have a right to know what is being said, whether it is right/wrong, foolish/wise from elected political officials. Two, it puts on that there is a stenographic role in the news business that people want to know what is happening at any time. That’s not to say that you endorse that. It says you fulfill your duty to tell your readers. Then you have an additional journalistic obligation of putting that up to the test of the information about the real world. This takes — this plays out over time. It took months/years of battlefield reporting in Vietnam to countervail the information that was being put out at the Pentagon; and indeed, only two years ago when Michael Bechshloss’s book came out — I’m sorry, when McNamara’s book came out in ’93 or ’94 — did we learn that McNamara, himself, the engineer of that information knew at the time that it was false. So these things don’t fall into place immediately.
Mr. Schell: Let me, maybe, ask a slightly different kind of
question, bring it back closer to home. Arthur, we were talking off-stage about how you came to occupy your place and the allusion to North Korea and Kim II Sung and Kim Jong II came up. And you said the difference was that they were only two generations and your family was four. [laughter]
Now, on the face of…
Mr. Sulzberger: I don’t like where this is going.
Mr. Danner: I’m going to vacate North Korea.
Mr. Sulzberger: And if you don’t be a little more careful, I may nuke you. [laughter]
Mr. Schell: My question is, really, I mean, The New York Times is governed and held in a very unique way in Corporate America. It is a family company and the family, I assume, decides who the successor is, in a way that isn’t either particularly corporate or democratic. Tell us a little bit about that and what affect you think it has on how this great paper can deport itself in the world? What does it free you of that other media outlets are not freed of, in terms of pressures?
Mr. Sulzberger: There’s a lot behind that question. First of all, just to get it on the record, the family did go for talent. [laughter]
Some of our best journalistic organizations are, in fact, family dominated. The Washington Post and the Graham Family, the Bancroft family owns the controlling shares of Dow Jones. So I think that’s not as unusual as you might think. Knight-Ridder, to a lesser degree is — although I’m not sure exactly what their stock structure is. I believe Voplatchi, in this state, is still a family controlled company from a stock point of view. So, some of our finest journalistic organizations are of that sort.
What does it give us? Perhaps a stable base. The ability to, even for those of us who do buy into the market and buy into the strength that being part of the capital market system gives you, it still gives you a sense that if you need to, you can leverage past that. Shared commitment, the family values are important. It wasn’t really until I got the job of publisher that I really began to see how much the Sulzberger, [Ochs Sulzberger] family values are inculcated in The New York Times. We have some of the same strengths and weaknesses on the corporate side that we do on the family side.
That’s both good and bad, but it’s a reality — and an impressive one.
Mr. Schell: Do you have errant cousins who call you up and say, “Dammit, you know, what are you doing here? Pushing out that section with no ads?”
Mr. Sulzberger: No, actually not. In truth, the family subscribes to the journalistic principles of the company in such a deep and rich way that it’s a — every year, when we get together to talk about the state of the business, journalistically and from a financial point of view — their reaffirmation of what we’re doing is really…is heartwarming. It’s a great, great strength.
Mr. Schell: And to what do you attribute that kind of sense of unity, whereas many companies have fallen apart with families breaking up, wanting to sell off, cash out?
Mr. Sulzberger: We work at it. We work at it very hard. We have shared values that came from our grandparents, from Imogena and Arthur Hay-Sulzberger, transferred to their children — our parents. And, hopefully, we’re transferring those same values to our children. Not hopefully, I know we are.
We work hard at making sure that the family is aligned around the principles of the company; what we call our rules of the road — our behaviors. We bring them in. We meet — and Hal has spoken to this group many, many a time, as has Janet Robinson, as has Russ Luis. So it’s something that we don’t take for granted. We work very hard at it. And, yes, as the family grows, it becomes a little more complex. That’s a bit of a challenge.
Mr. Danner: How many are there now? Cousins?
Mr. Sulzberger: 723,000. [laughter]
Mr. Danner: I thought that was it.
Mr. Sulzberger: Um-hmm.
Mr. Schell: What’s your attitude towards this family? What’s your relationship to this family and how do you view them?
Mr. Raines: I wanted to add something to what Arthur said. One of the things that I think is very important that’s going on now is the younger people in this family who are coming up, have unrestricted access to people like me when they come to the paper for the annual meeting. And by that — by unrestricted I should say unmediated. In other words, I had lunch with a group of 8 or 10 and several of my colleagues do, and these are people ranging from early teen through post-graduate age. They get to ask us anything they want to about the paper, without Uncle Arthur there to check up on whether they’re polite or ruded or well informed, or not well informed.
Mr. Danner: Do they all make suggestions, every one of them?
Mr. Raines: No, mostly it’s a…it’s mostly wanting to know the process about which we do this peculiar thing that we do. If it was easy to understand or we were better at explaining it, perhaps I could give smoother answers to some of your questions. It’s a hard, intricate process that is supported by this extraordinary ownership. What the family is doing so well, from a standpoint of an employee, is communicating to the future generations, “Hey, this is not a coat dealership that you’re inheriting an interest in. This is a public trust.” That’s, for me, after being a journalist since 1964 to be able to be part, not only of this great newspaper, but part of the process of passing along our values to the future generations — not only to the practitioners in the newsroom, but to potential owners of the paper is extremely valuable.
Mr. Danner: Did you communicate to them the intention to publish this section without ads for so many months? Are those sorts of decisions day-to-day discussed with the family?
Mr. Sulzberger: The family is not the Board of the Directors. We have an independent Board of Directors. And, quite frankly, we wouldn’t have communicated it to our Board of Directors, our decision to do this. This was a decision made by the management of the newspaper in its judgment, and fully supported in — subsequently — by the Board and by the family, which is quite frankly, very proud of what Howell and his newsroom have done and the support that the newsroom got from our business side, which was looking at a very tough year…let’s not forget what that year was like from a business point of view. It was a brutal year. 9-11 comes along and makes a brutal year even worse, again from a financial point of view. And, in the end, that’s OK. This is what we’re in the business to do.
Mr. Danner: Did that decision actually cost The Times a lot of money? I mean, there seems to be some dispute because, supposedly, the circulation gains…
Mr. Sulzberger: There’s no dispute. In retrospect, it didn’t. We did not know that at the time, but the circulation — as you just suggested —the circulation gains covered the cost of that special section. We had no way of knowing that and, quite frankly, if it hadn’t, it wouldn’t — that would have been OK, too. That it did and that our readership grew by such a substantial amount is really a sign that we’re on the right road. Quality journalism pays.
Mr. Schell: This is a very strange business model, I think, for much of the rest of Corporate America to hear…quality pays and foreign journalism sells and family feudalism rather than…
Mr. Sulzberger: It does sound perverse.
Mr. Schell: …democracy corporate whatever…I mean, I’m a great fan of this paper and I’m very intrigued that such a curious structure should lead to such a great institution.
Mr. Sulzberger: How can anyone who works at a university be surprised by this? [laughter]
Mr. Schell: I think if we were family-owned…
Mr. Danner: Nobody consults us.
Mr. Schell: …we might have a very different kettle of fish here. It could be worse. I don’t know, but it does strike me as an amazing anomaly, in a way, this New York Times.
Mr. Danner: Well just, let me ask specifically, there are analysts who say that part of this business model is demanding much higher profits from Times‘ acquisitions and possessions, the other papers and so on, then from the jewel and the crown itself. Is that accurate?
Mr. Sulzberger: We’re going to get into a very esoteric discussion that will make the conversation that you and Howell engaged in seem almost understandable. [laughter]
Mr. Schell: Would you rather move to questions from the audience?
Mr. Raines: That’s a high mark you’ve got to make there!
Mr. Danner: Yes, I know. [laughter]
Mr. Raines: Let me see if I can complicate the question for you.
Mr. Sulzberger: In a nutshell, the profit margin of The New York Times newspaper is lower, margin-wise, than that of a regional newspaper. That’s just the nature of regional newspapers versus major metros. Right?
On the other hand, there is no more profitable newspaper in a pure cash term than The New York Times. So the margin is lower, but it flows…it spins off more cash. So the result is that the acquisitions that we make are really funded by The New York Times‘ newspaper’s cash flow. Got it now?
Mr. Danner: All right. Let me jump over the esoterica from the business side and ask a question that people have been putting to me the last couple of days, which is more directly on point on foreign coverage. I’ve had the question put in many different ways, why is there no bureau on the West Bank or Gaza? That is, why is the reporting in Israel all from the Israeli side? Why is there not an Arabic speaking reporter stationed in Ramallah, for example, where Haaretz has two — one, and sometimes two very good reporters?
Mr. Danner: There’s interest in this, as you can see. I’m sure you’ve had that question put to you before.
Mr. Raines: Actually not, in that form. It’s an interesting one. We — let’s take the basing part of it first. It presumes that where you sit influences how you think, and I just — all I can do, Mark, is just keeping going back to the fundamental principle. This is an intellectual enterprise. The people that we send over there, their address does not determine where they go, what they think. You could say, I suppose, that if they were based in Gaza they would have a different daily experience. The fact is that our people are all over the country. They’re in Gaza constantly.
Mr. Danner: I think to do justice to the question…
Mr. Raines: I don’t want to interrupt your question, but maybe my answer has…
Mr. Danner: I was just going to say that I think this is a version of a question that essentially reflects the concern that the subtlety of the reporting on the Israel side –
Mr. Raines: Yeah.
Mr. Danner: – especially its attention to politics is not in any way mirrored by the reporting from the Palestinian side, which is thought to be rather black and white, at least by a lot of readers I’ve spoken to.
Mr. Raines: Yeah, well, you’re telling me someone’s perception. I can’t argue with their perception or your perception. I can tell you that as a matter of professional practice and judgment, I don’t think our reporting out of Israel is unbalanced toward the Israeli side or incomplete on the Palestinian side. If you’ve been following James Bennet, including his story today, I think you’d say that’s a pretty rounded picture of life in Hebron, for example, which was there today.
Mr. Sulzberger: I find the question fascinating and if we were sitting in a New York audience right now, it would have come the exact opposite way: Why is The New York Times so anti Israel? Why is it that all of your coverage is so pro Palastinean. So, you know, maybe where you stand/sit, depends more than where our reporters are based on how you come at that.
Mr. Schell: I want to, since time is short, let’s get to a few questions from the audience. Hal, this is addressed to you, why were you so hard on Bill Clinton, and do you feel differently today?
Mr. Raines: [laughter] The New York Times Editorial Page, which I used to run — and I’m out of the opinion business now — is a special trust. We endorsed Bill Clinton for the election. There was no more fervent advocate of the Clinton health care reform…we were still pushing forward after Hillary and Ira Magaziner packed it in. So on a policy base, there was no real issue between us and much of the Clinton domestic program and most of the Clinton foreign policy program.
Where we got off the train is when we saw — when I saw, as the editor— political behaviors that I could not, in good conscious, align the institution of The New York Times with endorsing, I said so. Would I do it differently? No. Not in a minute. Not in — so that’s a fairly compact answer. We could go on.
Mr. Danner: Do you still believe that he should have resigned?
Mr. Raines: I don’t think we ever called for resignation.
Mr. Schell: How do you think history will remember this?
Mr. Raines: No, I mean, you know, this is one of the problems that we have is sometimes the record of what we said gets muddled, and sometimes I even forget what we said. But in this case, Mark, what we said was that he should not be removed from office by the impeachment process, nor should he resign.
Mr. Danner: A question from the audience: it appeared to me that your coverage of the October 26 Iraq Peace Demonstration in Washington was quite contradictory. How did two different accounts appear over just a couple of days? And I remember this, I believe there were different numbers given for the number of people who participated and so on — quite different stories in the paper.
Mr. Raines: Not really. The first story was incomplete. I don’t mean to be splitting hairs with you, but it said “thousands” when it should have said “tens of thousands.” When we became aware that we had under-covered the event. We went back and wrote a story that re-examined the number of people who were there and re-examined the organizational framework of the anti-war organizations that were putting it on.
Mr. Schell: Let’s just stick with these questions here. This…
Mr. Sulzberger: If they hadn’t been marching, we could have gotten a better number. Not true…they weren’t marching. That would be antithetical to our structure. This is going to get us into trouble. I apologize, Hal. We don’t allow that.
Mr. Schell: Why is network news so silent on current events and so compromised?
Mr. Raines: Look, I’m not going to be a spokesperson for network news or for the media. I have one concern, that’s The New York Times. I’d like to respond to this comment, actually, about the March coverage. It does make a difference where your reporters are. In this case, we had four people in the field and they simply didn’t get it exactly right — that’s why we went back to it.
My first year on The Times, I was standing with Abe Rosenthal at the bank where we read the papers — you know, the bound volumes of the papers — the copy editor came up to Abe and said, “Here’s a correction that’s been suggested.” The fellow then went on to say that technically we didn’t have to run it because of this and that reason. Abe said, “Well, tell me something, in the main, were we right or were we wrong?” The copy editor said, “We were wrong.” He said, “Put it in the paper. In this business, there’s only one thing to do when you’re wrong and that’s get right as quick as you can.”
So, the volume of information that we handle on any given day means there are going to be errors. We have a number of ways to try to revisit them, including a more complete story than the one…but the fact is, when you revisit the story, the error was a judgment error, not a — you know, the number was five when it should have been six. It was a matter of scale and interpretation and scope. That’s what we try to bring to our journalism is a feel for the event, the context, the history, the whole picture.
Mr. Danner: Let me give you a much more difficult question and more grave. What were you thinking, putting Brittany Spears on the front page of The New York Times? So many have asked me this, I have to bring it up. Please, there are obviously, questions of demography of readers and other things, which people perceive that to be about…that I’d — please address.
Mr. Raines: OK. One of the things about our readers, we are convinced, both by evidence and as a matter of philosophy, that the reader of The New York Times is interested in every aspect of life in the world — not only foreign affairs, but the sociology of America, the culture of America, both classical culture and popular culture…the pulse of the country.
Now, I was interested — when Brittany Spears went off the road last summer, I thought that was a moment to do a sociological piece about the nature of celebrity in this particular aspect of the music world and the economics that underlie it, and the whole phenomenon of being the flavor of the month and then nowhere the next day.
The fact is, we didn’t move quickly enough on it. Then, when Brittany Spears fetched up in New York and then at the Armani Fashion Show, it was clear that there was a public relations reinvention strategy that was playing out that I thought had not been told in a sophisticated way.
The story was not about Brittany Spears, if you examine it. It was about the fame machine and the economic engine that underlies it.
Similarly, two weeks ago, I was listening to radio and I heard a report that Snoop Doggy Dog was trying to revive his career by insulting Shug Night. I thought, “Well, that’s interesting,” because what is this…[laughter]…what…?
Mr. Danner: A foreign policy class.
Mr. Raines: What is this really about? What it’s really about is huge corporations, like Sony, battling over a multi-billion dollar market that has had a 20% decline in sales this year. So, the next day, when the disc jockey was shot in New York, we jumped right on that to write a piece about the rap wars — not about whether Snoop Dog has insulted Shug’s mother, which is pure [garbled segment]…element in the American music industry.
Now, let me just say this. My presumption is that our readers are interested in reading a sophisticated exegesis of a sociological phenomenon like that.
Mr. Danner: Let me follow up briefly. You know, it’s interesting that so many people point to that story, because I think it perhaps relates to an underlying worry or insecurity that The Times is going to change in the search for younger readers, in some way. Are you trying to get younger readers and is that…
Mr. Sulzberger: Or do you want them all just to die off?
Mr. Danner: Yes, exactly!
Mr. Sulzberger: We love all of our readers, regardless of age.
Yes, we’re going to change. One of the great moments we…back in the early — late ’80s, early ’90s, when we began to grapple with what it would mean to change The Times for the next generation of readers and advertisers that led to the creation of the six section, color newspaper that…a greater commitment to the national edition, satellite printing in Boston and Washington; the creation of a Northeast edition — all of those changes which I hope you’ve all seen and gotten used — color on the front page! Remember that? The debate? If we were going to put color on the front page, it would be the end of The Times.
We did a lot of rigor research and one of the most compelling moments came from a non-reader, a like-minded, non-reader. In other words, somebody who we think has all the characteristics to like The New York Times, but doesn’t actually read us. He was in this group and we were taking them through the changes that we were thinking about, and he was appalled.
He said, “The New York Times is a great institution. It is an icon in our society. I don’t read it, but you can’t change it!” [laughter] So change is a difficult process, but if you stop changing, you’re going to start to diminish what you are, not to enhance what you are.
So our challenge, Hal’s and mine and our colleagues in New York and elsewhere, is to change within the context of appealing — continuing to appeal to our loyalists, the people, hopefully, in this audience, while also bringing in the next generation — not just in print, but on the web, in television, in books — all the myriad ways that we think that we can expand on our journalism.
Mr. Raines: I want to do a follow-up to that, if I may?
Mr. Danner: OK.
Mr. Sulzberger: Plus, he likes Brittany Spears. [laughter]
Mr. Raines: Almost every question that we confront of this sort, Mark, has the idea, well, if you’re doing more local coverage, that you must be short-cutting foreign coverage; that there’s a subtractive element. What’s important to understand about The Times, is that our ambitions are additive.
Right now — and let me tell you why, you know, as Flannery O’Conner said, “Everything that rises must converge.” For the kind of readership we have, many of these things do converge. You’re interested in foreign affairs. This audience is. I am. I also want us to get much better at reporting the world of popular culture. Why? That doesn’t mean we’ll ever abandon classical culture. I happen to be a big ballet fan. We’ll always be there, but we want to get better at reporting about the popular culture machine in Hollywood because they are speaking and inventing and manipulating a global language that is affecting governments in Africa, in Asia, in China and around the world. So, if you narrow your coverage to fit, you know, a Counsel on Foreign Relations Pie Chart or a Rolling Stone Pie Chart, you’re not going to get the breadth of coverage that our readers demand, and that we’re committed to giving to them.
Mr. Schell: One final question, why do so many people take such a dim view of journalists?
Mr. Raines: Good taste.
Mr. Sulzberger: They know us. [laughter]
Mr. Schell: What’s going on here?
Mr. Raines: I don’t know, Orville…
Mr. Schell: It’s not my question, now.
Mr. Raines: Oh, I thought it was your question! [laughter]
Mr. Danner: It sounds like a disgruntled audience member.
Mr. Raines: It’s been my experience that anyone in America who is perceived as having influence, whether it’s the proverbial used car dealer or the HMO’s or lawyers — you name the list — has an understandable level of resentment and shove-back. I think that’s a healthy element of what is, in many ways, a very adversarial society. I mean, we’re — this society, in many ways, is founded on competition, on whatr enemies outside of the borders, I’m speaking about people with different points of view on important, critical subjects. It’s easier to demonize your enemies than it is to engage in a dialog and a discussion. We’re seeing that play out in the far right press and we’re seeing it play out in the far left press of this country. We are not benefiting, as a society from it.
A journalist, as part of our mandate, is to bring people news — not always good news. In fact, rarely good news. It’s often easier to — in the old song — to kill the messenger than to listen to try to understand what the message is. So I think we’re also trapped in that moment.
Mr. Schell: Well, listen, before we wear you out, let me thank you on behalf of everybody at Berkeley. It’s been very gracious of you to be here.
[Applause / Mu
(End of recorded material)