"Talking Back" - Andrea Mitchell speaks at Google

Uploaded by Google on 16.07.2007


SPEAKER: So it is my great privilege and honor to
introduce someone who, judging by the applause, doesn't
really need an introduction.
I was quite confident that applause wasn't for me.
So Andrea Mitchell is NBC News chief foreign affairs
correspondent, a position she's had since 1994.
That's 16 years, which in Google time is a long time.
She is the lead correspondent for all of the NBC properties,
NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, CNBC, MSNBC, and she
reports on all of the foreign policy issues of our time.
In addition, in 2004 she covered the presidential
election and I believe was the first person to let us know
that John Edwards was going to be the running mate, yes?
Broke that story.
I think you broke another story-- another running mate
story as well?
Dan Quayle, there's a story.
Political leanings aside.
Before that job, Andrea was the White House
correspondent for NBC.
At Google, obviously, our mission is the provision of
information and information that we want to be clean and
pure and get to the world.
I don't think we could have a speaker whose career and whose
life and whose passions would be more aligned with our
mission than Andrea.
Andrea has stood her entire career for the responsibility
of the media to tell the truth, to tell the whole story
to the people all over the world.
She's also broken many glass ceilings, which we are all
happy to see in her career.
And she's here to talk to us about her book, which I loved,
Talking Back: ...to Presidents, Dictators, and
Assorted Scoundrels.
So a very big welcome to Andrea Mitchell.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Thank you so much.
Thank you, Cheryl.
And it's wonderful to be here.
This is another world.
First of all, we rely so heavily on you.
I cannot tell you how many times a day we are Googling
this, that, or the other.
But I think we all share a common challenge, which is to
figure out what is fact, what is not, what are the
appropriate filters, how are we going to adjust. And as we
at NBC spread to new platforms, and we have a huge
push on digital platforms right now, we have to figure
this thing out as we go along as well.
And we make errors, just in trying to sort through what
the thresholds are.
So I think we, in different ways, have some of the same
challenges right now.
I was just having lunch with a couple of people, some of your
colleagues, and someone asked me, when did we first start
doing live shots?
Which somehow evolved into a conversation about, how did we
use to file our stories?
When I first went to the White House in 1981, I had covered
Jimmy Carter's White House as sort of a junior, junior
backup correspondent when I first came to NBC.
But I was assigned full time in 1981, partly by accident,
and that's one of the subtexts of the book.
Because I had screwed up, badly.
Not getting a fact wrong, but really messing up on The Today
Show one morning.
I was assigned to go down to a place called Hains Point and
watch John Hinckley being transferred from a helicopter
to a motorcade to go to federal court for his
And no one had seen this suspected assassin--
attempted assassin--
of President Reagan.
And I was told, go down there.
The Today Show wants a picture of this, it'll be about 8:30
in the morning East Coast Time and we just need to have a
correspondent there protectively, in case
something happens.
Well, Hains Point was hundreds and hundreds of yards away
from where this was taking place.
And the deal was that the camera with the telephoto lens
used for space shots, frankly, first developed for space
shots and then eventually perfected to get those fuzzy
pictures of Ronald Reagan on horseback at the ranch, which
was across a valley from where we were positioned on his long
vacations in Santa Barbara.
But so one of these cameras was going to be capturing this
alleged picture of someone purported to be John Hinckley
and I was told, just stand next to the camera but hook
yourself up.
And of course, not prepared in any fashion.
Tom Brokaw, then anchoring The Today Show comes to me and
says, Andrea, what do you see?
And instead of making it up, I completely flubbed it.
The cameraman could see, through his lens, something.
I could see nothing with the naked eye and it was,
according to the then-president of NBC News,
the worst single performance by a correspondent--
there's got to be a category for that-- worst live shot by
a correspondent in the field.
Nowadays with cable and every other crazy way that we're
trying to broadcast and send broadcasts up on cell phones
and everything else that we do, going live is automatic.
But in those days it really wasn't.
And so I got busted, badly.
And didn't know it.
Because that's another feature of our business, I don't know
about yours.
But you don't know when you've had it.
So the next Monday morning, I came in for work and my name
wasn't on the assignment sheet, which is a big hint.
And I ran into the business office and I said, my name
isn't on the assignment sheet.
And the business manager said, didn't you know?
You've been banned from television.
You've been reassigned to radio.
I guess they thought I could do less damage.
So I had been, frankly, a fairly successful, very
visible NBC correspondent up until then.
I was, before Reagan was shot, I was full time the energy
correspondent, a position I had talked myself into,
because nobody else was covering it.
And we then had the gas lines and the crisis and '78, '79.
And then Three Mile Island, so all of a sudden with Three
Mile Island, I was covering a possible nuclear meltdown.
And it was--
I had really been on the air a lot, more than the White House
correspondent, so all of a sudden, having done this field
job, I was totally messed up.
And they offered me a job doing radio during the week at
the White House, covering Reagan as the backup, number
four correspondent, and then working the weekends on TV.
And the nice part of the story is that my senior television
colleagues were a wonderful man named John Palmer and Judy
Woodruff, then went to Jim Lehrer's News Hour and then
went to CNN and is now back doing documentaries with Pew
Foundation at the News Hour Productions and he's going to
be doing some very interesting things in coming months.
So Judy and John devised every excuse to get me back on
In this highly competitive world, they were looking for
any reason to say, that's a story Andrea can do, why don't
we let Andrea have a shot at this?
And I found that if I worked seven days a week and made
myself indispensable to the weekend nightly news, that I
could eventually get back on The Today Show and--
outlasted that former president of NBC
News by many decades.
So there are some, there are a number of
lessons in all of that.
It was launching into the White House full time,
covering Ronald Reagan.
I don't mean to sound nostalgic for the Cold War,
but the stakes were huge.
We used to ask Reagan, why aren't you meeting with your
Soviet counterparts?
This fierce anti-communist, Ronald Reagan.
And he would say, I think it was Brezhnev and then there
was Andropov and Chernenko and finally Gorbachev. He would
say, well, they keep dying on me.

Finally he had an interlocutor who was a youngish,
intellectual, active, very ideological leader of the
Soviet Union.
And the summit starting in Geneva in 1985 and going
through Reykjavik and all.
Just a fascinating period and I learned a tremendous amount
about-- not just about politics, but about, well,
partly about how much we don't know as White House
Because we, in this post-Watergate age, thought we
inherited the mantle of Woodward and Bernstein.
And there were so many leaks coming out of the Reagan White
House, in sharp contrast to this White House.
People have compared George W. Bush to Ronald Reagan, in
terms of being a very good retail politician who has a
personality and a persona, an optimistic personality, in the
face of a lot of negative stuff.
But the one--
one of the enormous differences is that there were
constant leaks coming out of the Reagan White House,
because you had different parts of the Republican Party,
the moderates and the conservatives the Ed Meeses
and Jim Bakers and Mike Deavers all merged together
into this one White House.
And everybody leaking about things and it was just
terrific for correspondents.
In contrast to now, where everyone is a Texan who came
up loyally through the Bush years.
Ascended with this president through the governor's office,
and now would barely tell you if your pants were on fire, no
less leak information that was in any way inimical to the
interests of this president.
So it's been a very contentious time and a
difficult time for reporters, we could talk more about that
and some of the threats and subpoenas, to say nothing of
the jailing of reporters, in contrast to every standard
that the Justice Department has ever held about not
subpoenaing reporters unless absolutely necessary, a life
and death situation.
That said, we did not know about Iran Contra.
So we found out about it when Ed Meese, the Attorney
General, walked into the press room and said, I have to tell
you something, we're about to announce that there has been
this slightly illegal operation in the basement of
the National Security Council.
So it does--
it's such a shock to the system to think that you're
covering something 24/7 and had no idea that all
this was going on.
Which brings us to today.
And a lot of questions that I've asked-- some
I ask in the book--
and having gone back to the transcripts from 2002 and 2003
from my coverage of the United Nations
presentations of Colin Powell.
And asking why didn't the media know about the weapons
of mass destruction?
In other words, the absence of weapons of mass destruction.
And how much did we contribute to the really dreadfully
inadequate debate that took place in this country?
Particularly because Democrats in the Senate didn't want to
do what they did back in the first Gulf War, which is have
a really important, historically charged debate
for days about whether or not to go to war.
With Sam Nunn, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee,
opposing it.
And real, internal arguments, deep
arguments, about those issues.
In this case, the Democrats wanted to avoid it because
they were trying to burnish their conservative
credentials, I think, in a post 9/11 context and not be
accused of being weak on foreign policy.
Some who want to run for president in '08.
And the media, to a certain extent, I think were captive
of our lack of sources, the lack of
variety in our sources.
You go to the intelligence community, you're going to get
the same information that's going to Colin Powell and
going to everybody else.
It's all boiled down, it's group think.
We didn't have people on the ground.
We couldn't do better than the inspectors did.
We would call our colleagues in France and Russia, in
London, in other capitals, and they were all hearing the same
thing, as were my diplomatic sources from their
intelligence services, because even war critics in other
countries felt that there had to be chemical
and biological weapons.
I refer to this partly because this week I did a two part
series on Nightly News on a very interesting book called
Cobra II by Michael Gordon, the chief military
correspondent of the New York Times, and General Bernard
Trainor, a former syndicated New York Times columnist and
marine general-- retired marine general.
And they had gained access to classified documents,
including the product of interrogations of Iraqi
prisoners, generals and the like.
And for the first time, we learn that Saddam was
misjudging us just as we were misjudging him.
And that his own generals, according to this
documentation, went to a meeting with him in December
of '02, three months before the start of the war, which is
now the anniversary--
the 3rd anniversary is next week.
And he told his generals at that meeting, when he was
under pressure, the UN resolution required that by
December 12, 2002, he disclose everything that he had.
And he produced this enormous document, which the UN deemed
was not responsive.
Hans Blix, Mohamed Elbaradei, and the other inspectors, who
believed that containment inspections should continue
and that we should not go to war, still said that Saddam
had not met the terms of the resolution.
And he sat down with his generals and he
said, there is no WMD.
And the general said, what do you mean there's no WMD?
How are we going to fight the Americans
without chemical weapons?
And they were as fooled as everyone else by the fact that
he had, contrary to any understanding of his
psychology, he had permitted the UN sanctions to continue--
which he could have gotten rid of and had $300 billion over a
decade of oil revenue for his people, if he had simply come
clean said there's no WMD, that after 1995 and '96 when
he was caught with biological weapons after his sons in law
had defected briefly in Jordan, told the CIA what was
going on on this place called The Chicken Farm, that he had
actually destroyed everything.
And what they've learned now is that he viewed his real
threat as being Iran and a Shia rebellion.
And so he wanted to scare--
he wanted to scare the potential rebellion by
establishing the Fedayeen, which has now become the roots
of the insurgency.
And he wanted to scare Iran, deter Iran, by letting the
world think he did have chemical weapons.
And we know that he had used them before against his own
people and others, so this was his real motivation.
He did not think this President Bush was going to
attack and come to Baghdad.
He thought that this president would do what his father had
done, Bush 41, and not try to occupy this country.
And when you think of the miscalculations on our part,
the book reveals how General Wallace the army field
commander was almost fired in the march toward Baghdad
because he said we really need to pause and we're not facing
the enemy we thought we would face.
The insurgents are much more
widespread than we had imagined.
And General Franks sent Centcom and Rumsfeld to the
Pentagon and practically fired the guy.
Because they didn't want to hear anything that would
contradict their notion that if you took Baghdad, you have
the country.
So if they had, with this small--
relatively small force--
enough troops to march to Baghdad and do it successfully
in three weeks, the war was over.
And General Franks, actually a week after they took Baghdad,
went to his commanders and said, give me a game plan for
withdrawing all but one division, all but 30,000
troops by September of '03.
Well today, we are in, as we sit here today, we are in the
largest assault since the invasion, with a huge American
force on the attack against insurgents.
Just yesterday there was a terrible military incident
which left a lot of civilians dead.
We are as deeply involved in this war now as ever.
And in the polling that we have, the NBC News Wall Street
Journal poll yesterday and the Pew poll today, the president
is, for the first time, really at risk of losing his
republican base because of the war.
When people in the Pew poll were asked, what is the word
you would use to describe Iraq, the first word that came
back was a mess.
And I think the second word was chaos.
And for the first time when they asked about George W.
Bush, one of the words that comes back is incompetent.
And this is post Katrina, post Dubai, but mostly Iraq.
So going into the midterm election, the president is
under enormous pressure from his own
Republicans on the Hill.
They are running scared.
In our poll, for the first time, 50% of the people
questioned now favor Democrats rather than Republicans in
terms of Congress.
That is a very dangerous number.
And so even though there's been an enormous amount of
gerrymandering and the conventional wisdom is that
only 30 house seats were at all at risk for the
Republicans and they would require a 15 seat switchover
for the Democrats to retake the House, we're getting to
that point in the polling, if the polling is to be believed,
where the president has to worry about his base and he
has to worry about the midterm elections.
And what are the policy implications of that?
The policy implications are, what might the White House do
in the next couple of months on sort of red meat issues to
try do shore up the base?
And make sure that they don't lose the House.
And how much, if you saw the New York Times today, how much
is Russ Feingold's censure motion helping to give them a
weapon to rally the troops?
Don't elect the Democrats or you might face the impeachment
of George W. Bush.
Not a likely scenario, but certainly something that they
can raise as a bloody political flag.
So all of these things are happening now.
It's a very, very contentious time.
Very hard to be a reporter in Washington.
I'm not here to defend Judy Miller or the kind of
reporting on WMD, because I think we all fell down on the
job to one extent or another, willingly and unwittingly.
But whatever you think of the reporting that led to it, I
have very strong feelings against reporters
being thrown in jail.
And I have to tell you, it has had a chilling effect on what
I do every day.
People now do not want to take calls from reporters.
Intelligence officials are afraid to
talk to anyone outside.
Whistle blowers have been completely frightened almost
into submission.
Was interested to see that the Goldsmith Prize at Harvard for
investigative reporting last night was awarded to James
Risen of the New York Times for his revelation of the NSA
eavesdropping, because it is a way of least rewarding through
public recognition reporting that is now under attack from
investigations, many investigations that are now
being launched by the administration and subpoenas
that are flying around Washington
against Risen and others.
Dana Priest of The Washington Post was a runner up.
She had revealed the secret CIA prison
camps in Eastern Europe.
So at least the academic community and the journalistic
community is at least taking note of some of the rather
brave reporting that has taken place in recent months.
But these reporters are in considerable jeopardy and this
is all in the aftermath of the other investigations that are
taking place in Washington.
It is becoming increasingly difficult
to do serious reporting.
And one of the things that I was also asked about earlier
today was, how much real reporting goes on?
And I think there was a Pew study the Tom Rosenstiel led
at Columbia University last week, which said that for all
that we now see 24/7 on cable, on the net, all of the
blogging, everything else that happens, there is less and
less real reporting that goes on, at least on the major
beats in Washington.
And when I think back about it, when I first came to
Washington in 1976 to work for a CBS station, having worked
in Philadelphia for a dozen years--
or rather for a decade before at an NBC local station--
I would occasionally be assigned to Capitol Hill.
We did a lot of national reporting for
this local CBS station.
It was owned by the Washington Post Newsweek company.
And then, and when I went to NBC in 1978, if you covered a
hearing, you went to the hearing.
And you would grab witnesses on their way to the bathroom,
and you would talk to press secretaries, and talk to house
members and senators as they would take breaks.
And the only way to cover the hearing was to go there
because it was before C-Span and before video feeds and
before computers in our business.
And if you covered a senate floor debate, you would go and
sit in the gallery with an artist, as though you were in
a federal courtroom.
And the artist would paint a drawing and I would say, take
a shot of this senator, or that senator, and I'm going to
need to cut back and forth visually between these two
because they are the lead actors in this debate.
And then I would go and type up on an old Royal or Olivetti
typewriter if I were on the road.
But we had these old, portable typewriters and you'd type up
your script and then fax it in.
It was a rather primitive fax machine, I'm trying to think
of what was called.
We would type everything on 5 ply paper with carbon.
I guess some of you may have seen this stuff in museums.
And then wait for it to be Xeroxed in New York in the
Nightly News fishbowl.
And every editor, producer would read your script, weigh
in, make sure that what I was reporting was in sync with
what we were reporting from our Paris bureau or one of the
other bureaus, and fact check, and then go through style
points, grammar, and then dictate it back to me.
And I would then record my voice back to our bureau from,
let's say, the White House booth, and then they would
start editing it together.
Now in the really early days when I was working in local
television, we used film.
And we would have to get our job done early enough in the
day, stop shooting a story so that we could process the
film, put it in the soup, as it were.
Then we would--
this sounds so silly-- but we would hang strips of film, of
processed film, and then literally splice together
scenes with a razor blade and a splicing machine, and make
these little mini-movies for the Nightly News.
Early live shots.
I was covering for local news the bribery and corruption--
mail fraud bribery trial--
of the governor of Maryland in Baltimore City.
And our station was in Washington DC so I would drive
45 minutes to Baltimore and go to federal court with an
artist, and we would cover the story, leave in time to drive
back down I-95 to our studio for the
local news at 6 o'clock.
And she would often be finishing the artwork in the
backseat and waving it out the window so that it would try in
time to get back to the studio.
I'd sit next to the anchorman, we'd put it on easels and have
two cameras cutting back and forth between the scenes as I
would live-narrate my script.
We are now in such a different world, covering the war with
you know all of these fly-aways and sat phones and
the extraordinary video that we had from the war with the
late David Bloom, who personally engineered the
equipment that we uniquely put into an M1 tank recovery
vehicle that rode alongside the tank in which David was.
And we were transmitting all of this, with of course
terrible, tragic, fatal results for David for spending
so much time in this vehicle.
And for the viewer, we saw the war in
real-time, in a real sense.
It was a fraction of the war, as was everyone
else who was embedded.
But it was real video.
Now, does that better explain the war to the viewer?
This is an issue that you all face every day.
We augmented that with armchair generals and people
giving what now--
if you read David Brooks' column today in
the New York Times--
in those early weeks what the generals were saying on
television was very accurate as I refer back to Cobra II.
They were questioning the game plan and we are now seeing the
results of many mistakes that were made
in those early weeks.
But was the video so powerful that it overwhelmed the other
voices that were being heard?
Well, we thought of that at the time and so we tried to
balance the power of these images against the other
commentary in the studio so that people didn't get swept
away with the gee whiz aspects of what, until Najaf at least,
was an extraordinarily successful campaign and had
very, very little bloodshed for blood
lost by American troops.
So these are issues that we face and I think you face them
in your own--
with your own technology, as to what is real and what is
too heavily weighted?
How do you balance fact from more dramatic images that may
actually distort the reality, may not present the reality if
they are not put in the right context.
When I think back in terms of the way we've covered wars and
other crises over the years, the visual is still, for us--
the word pictures that are painted by the greatest
writers in television, and I hold David Brinkley and a few
of my other--
Tom Pettit, the late Tom Pettit at NBC, several of the
other really fine writers, Bob Schieffer at CBS, Brian
Williams' word pictures from Katrina.
We still can do something uniquely, despite the fact
that we're not living in an Ozzie and Harriet world, and
people aren't sitting around their kitchen tables at 6:30
or 5:30 or 7 o'clock, watching the evening news, we still can
present things that other people cannot.
And it moves policy.
Bill Clinton has said that one of his greatest regrets was
not focusing on Rwanda until the BBC presented the images
to the world.
Right now, we're all ignoring Darfur.
My colleague Ann Curry did a story from the Chad border the
other day, but it is so difficult to get in and it is
so dangerous.
And with all of our resources tied down in Iraq, and with
the losses that we have sustained, extraordinary
losses, in covering the Iraq war, there is a reluctance to
send teams into Africa.
And without the visual element, the American people
are not becoming awakened to the tragedy that is still
unfolding and the genocide there.
So these are some of the challenges that we face.
How do we do it all?
How do we communicate it?
How do we adapt, as you create new forms of communication,
how do we upgrade ourselves from the days when I typed on
a Royal typewriter to the days when we are communicating and
filing our stories via our laptops, doing our voice
tracks now through our laptops, doing new things that
we've never learned before?
We are now carrying our own little cameras wherever we go.
We are not traveling in all places with as many--
with teams of producers as we used to.
This is the whole new world of your technologies and it's the
world that we're trying to engineer as well.
And the questions now that we have are not just
technological, they're questions of content, as they
always have been.
What is the role of the citizen journalists and the
other, the bloggers, and how do we
determine fact from fiction?
And what do we do about things that we find online that are
just not true but that are impossible to eliminate,
sometimes from our own biographies.
So with those thoughts out there, I'd love to take your
questions and find out what your concerns are and how you
think that we can better serve our publics, and what
relationship you see between what we do as reporters for a
living, and what you do here at Google.
Thank you all very much.

You had your hand up.
AUDIENCE: So I heard you say that you are not supporting
what people like Judith Miller said about it and did, but in
terms of the way the whole media reacted to the Iraq
situation, what do you think the lessons learned from that
are, and how do you see it apply today, say the
allegations that say Bush administration may be thinking
about other countries?
ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, certainly Iran is a big issue
right now and we are all very mindful of the lessons from
Iraq as we approach Iran.
How do we know what Iran is doing and
what test do we follow?
I have to tell you, very frankly, in the old days I
used to feel that if I got calls returned by people in
the CIA and other intelligence agencies, that it was
acceptable and appropriate for me to go on the air and say, a
senior intelligence official said today, blah blah blah.
Well now, I have to worry about whether I'm attributing
something to someone whose information I can't test. And
when you get into the world of intelligence,
it's very hard to--
obviously we cannot independently determine what
is going on underground in Iran.
Our government can't do that.
And we are very, very careful now to test what our sources
are saying and how to properly attribute it.
We put many more qualifiers in.
And we also, I think, have a responsibility to describe--
and you'll see this in some of the print stories-- post- New
York Times, post- Jayson Blair--
you'll see in The Times or The Washington Post or The Wall
Street Journal or some of the other major media now.
Somebody, Steve Erlanger, wrote a story today in The New
York Times about the problems of Palestinian funding after
the in the aftermath of Hamas winning the election.
And he had a budget document from the World Bank, which
indicates four scenaria of what the impacts will be, if
the Europeans withdraw money, if the Americans withdraw
money, if far less likely, the Saudis withdraw money, once
Hamas takes over, if Israel continues its withholding of
the tax revenues.
And he had the little phrase, a useful phrase.
It's just being consumer friendly
to the smart consumer.
His phrase was, someone with an interest in distributing or
in exposing this information, or in seeing wider circulation
for this information, gave it to The New York Times.
Well, that tells you that it was a World Bank official or
an advocate for the Palestinians who want this
out, for the world to see what the probable effects would be.
And with that, I as a reader can say OK, I sort of know
what ax is being grinded here, but I probably--
I know that this is a World Bank document and I know
something about the people who work on this stuff for the
World Bank, so I kind of know what filter
this is going through.
That's the best you can do for your viewers.
When I went to the UN, having covered Colin Powell since the
days when he was a deputy national security adviser
under Ronald Reagan and then in the first Gulf War, I think
as a correspondent covering the Secretary of State,
knowing that he was one of the less hawkish members, to put
it mildly, of the administration, had been
marginalized by Rumsfeld and Cheney, that if he told us,
and his people told us that they had scrubbed the data in
four or five days at Langley, I was predisposed to think,
well, this is probably accurate, because they've
taken out all the really bad stuff.
They told me what they'd taken out, the
really outrageous stuff.
And what I didn't know was that the stuff that they still
had was misleading.
And I don't think it was witting, I
think it was unwitting.
But that this was the evolution of people wanting to
please their bosses and not willing to challenge the
status quo and trying to put the best face on something
that said it was wrong.
And my script said, Colin Powell, in a strong
presentation today-- well, all of the adjectives used gave
weight and credibility and the impact.
And the inspectors agreed with the conclusions.
They didn't agree with the policies, but those were
different choices.
And that's where I think we have to be very, very careful
in how we write a story.
We have people looking over our shoulders.
There are senior producers who will say to me, take another
look at your script.
You're putting too much credibility in this.
We're all chastened by what happened.
And I don't think that any of us can say, back then, we
would have done it differently.
Because we didn't know.
But now we are.
And I don't think anyone is making any
assumptions about Iran.
Now that said, some of our competitors have done stories
recently-- very big,
ballyhooed, exclusive stories--
that Iran has done this and Iran has done that.
And you have to check, are these stories coming from
Iranian exiles?
Are they coming from people in the administration that are
now trying to make Iran a boogie man?
Or is there something really serious going on here and what
is the truth?
So we have a very big obligation on
that score right now.

twofold question.
How do you see the advent of the 24 hour news networks?
CNN, Fox, all of them, as changing journalism?
And how the perspective or balance
changes in that as well?
ANDREA MITCHELL: Those are all good questions.
First of all, they change your life, my life, because, and
also with our web site, we are 24/7.
Ever since CNN went on the air, you could not hold a
story for the 6:30 news because it might be broken by
one of your-- by CNN earlier in the day.
So we would start breaking our stories during the day,
interrupting the network before we had cable.
Now we have cable on MSNBC.
And so it gives you a richer experience to
get information out.
I did a two-hour interview with Michael Gordon and could
only get 4 and 1/2 minutes on the evening news.
But I could put the transcript up on the
website and other material.
And that's something that we enjoy doing.
I write columns and we blog in an attempt to be more
transparent and try to engage people more in the
behind-the-scenes process.
Brian Williams on The Daily Nightly, tells people, how do
we decide that this should be the lead or this
should be the off-lead?
How do we decide what we're doing each day?
What do we do in our 2:30 afternoon conference, where
editors and producers compare notes and decide what should
go first and what should go second and what should not
even be in the broadcast?
So that's part of what we do.
But all news on cable has made it possible for us to do much
more political coverage than we ever could on the network.
With only a half hour of evening news, we can put
updates on at any time.
We always update for the West Coast on Nightly News.
But after 9:30, we now have 9:30PM on the East Coast. We
now have more options to update on cable.
Now, that said, we get into the world of prime time cable
talk shows on all the networks, which are
occasionally screaming matches.
And how does that help anyone understand the world around
them, this complex world where we are not coming to grips
with paying for health care in the future, with paying for my
retirement, to say nothing of your generation's retirement.
With what to do about big issues, proliferation, Korea,
Iran, Iraq.
Any of these questions, which are such political dynamite
for both political parties, are not debated in any
national campaign.
And instead what you see are personal attacks and food
fights-- verbal food fights-- on cable talk at night,
occasionally or more often than not, at times, on some of
the networks.
And I think, when I think back, in Talking Back I
describe what it was like to leave the White House in '89
nine and go to the Hill.
At the time I thought it was going to be sort of a
backwater assignment.
Why do I want to cover Congress?
And I write, there's a subtext here of many times in my
career where I had what I thought were setbacks and
turned out to be the best assignments I'd ever had.
And Congress was one of them.
But it was at the same time as cable news was starting and
talk radio was becoming very powerful.
And in 1989, I went there and ended up doing more stories,
getting on the air more than I ever had before.
Because we had the savings and loan crisis, and the ouster of
Jim Wright, the Speaker of the House.
And the rise of Newt Gingrich.
And all of the other scandals.
I call that chapter "Scandal on the Hill," the Clarence
Thomas hearings.
And it was largely fed by cable shows.
That evolved and in the '92 campaign, you had the merging
of tabloid and what we used to think of as mainstream
journalism with the early scandals of Gennifer Flowers
and the draft controversies in the Clinton campaign.
I was on the road with Bill Clinton throughout and
enjoyed, frankly, revisiting that.
Because I had covered Clinton on the road and in the White
House but got out before Monica Lewinsky's thing hit.
So by the second term I was covering foreign policy full
time and didn't have to deal with what some of my
colleagues did.
But it was during that second Clinton term that the most
provocative, argumentative debate came to the fore.
And you had people who said the most outrageous things,
whether they be pundits or Members of Congress, during
the impeachment debate with people
getting on the air more.
And we were rewarding controversy.
And I think that diminished the hard news content of some
of these talk shows.
And it's one of the things we really have to worry about.

It has diminished, it has fed into what I see as a decline
in civility in Washington.
And I don't mean to sound like an old fogey about this, but
when you have people screaming at each other and significant
Members of Congress saying that they can't get questions
answered from the White House, and an arrogance on all sides,
nobody gets anything done.
And I think that's what's contributing in the polls to
this the right-track, wrong-track number, where this
huge number of people--
62% now-- think that the country is going
on the wrong track.
That is dangerous for our country.
That is a state of play where whether you like--
whether you're liberal or conservative, republican,
democrat, independent or agnostic on all of this, it's
not healthy for our country that nobody is talking about
how to pay for our future and how to stop congressional
spending on crazy things, when other stuff
isn't even being addressed.
So I think we fit into that, and I haven't quite figured
out how we fit into it and how 24/7 news fits into it.
But I think the velocity of information, the blogging, all
of that is providing a wealth of information.
It is a tremendous resource.
And at the same time, people are overloaded and real issues
are not being calmly discussed.
AUDIENCE: We're in the day of truthiness.
AUDIENCE: And the fact that "he said, she said" is what
we're getting on the news.
And I think if you took a poll here, most of us would be
getting our news from The Daily Show.
And why is it that it's The Daily Show that we feel like
we're getting more facts from, because the truth does exist.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, it's attitude.
We all love it.
We watch The Daily Show, we watch Colbert Report.
And if I miss it, it's on at 11 o'clock East
Coast Time, back home.
So if I miss it then I end up watching it at 1AM.
Because we have crazy hours too, like
probably a lot of you.
But they would be the first to tell you that truthiness is
not hard facts.
I actually think that on our evening newscasts, that we,
that Brian who's following in Tom's tradition, who's
following in Chancellor and Brinkley's tradition, that Bob
Schieffer is doing a very interesting show now on CBS,
and ABC has had these horrible, personal tragedies
that have been their own setbacks.
But that the three evening newscasts are still doing a
remarkable job of covering the world as best we can each
night with important information on the war, on the
Middle East, on health care.
Perhaps not that the balance that any one person would want
any given night.
But that is being confused in people's mind with the cable
talk shows.
Because they see us doing both roles, frankly, and we've
blurred the differences.
I write about how in 1992 Tim Russert, my bureau chief then
and now, called me in Little Rock and I'd been on the road
for a year and I was covering the transition.
And Tim called me and said, well I've got good
news and bad news.
Good news is we're going to make you Chief White House
Because I had been covering the Hill and then had been on
the road with Clinton.
And they were going to send me back to the White House where
I'd covered Reagan.
And the bad news was that he said, we're going to take you
off the political analysis gig on The Today Show, where I was
going on with Russert and Al Hunt and before that David
Broder once or twice a week, doing political analysis.
Because, said Tim, obviously we can't have you on the north
lawn of the White House, giving straight news, and also
be on The Today Show in the morning sounding off.
And I said, right.
And that was only November 1992.
And it now seems quaint.
That those fire walls no longer exist. So in this
election cycle, I found myself sitting with Joe Scarborough
and Ron Reagan and Chris Matthews on a live set during
the presidential debate with people screaming and
shouting behind us.
And at one point Zell Miller challenging Chris to a dual.

And so you have to ask yourself, how does the viewer
sort this out?
And how they figure out whether what you're saying is
a straight report or is analysis?
And I've tried to walk a very fine line.
I don't do commentary, I don't do editorials.
I do analysis, I do context.
But how do they sort out what happens in prime time at night
on cable with what happens at 6:30 or 7 o'clock on the
nightly newscast?
And so in a way we've contributed to our own
problem, the decline in the credibility of
what we do for a living.
And the other thing is that you're all watching The
Colbert Report.
You know it's satire, but you do think that it is giving you
the essence of what you either believe or want to believe
about the administration, because it
fits your own attitude.
And it's fun and funny.
But at the same time, I'll bet you also go online and read
the newspapers and have more information that you absorb,
most likely, most days.
I still have this old-fashioned need to, as much
as I read online, I also like to have a newspaper.

It's habit.
And I'm sort of wedded to newspapers because there are
things that you just can't find, believe it or not,
online, that you can find buried in
the paper some places.
But it's all generational and I know that probably is
changing rapidly.
AUDIENCE: I have a question about the business of news.
Do you think that the business of news will remain
financially stable?
Google and NBC are very much the same, we're supported by
Do you think that will continue?
It will evolve.
We're on cell phones and in all sorts of new digital
platforms. And as I say, it's not going to be the

my father's nightly news broadcast--
but I think it will because we are able to link to an
enormous depth of things through our network and
provide information and context and experience.
When we have Bob Bazell evaluating a medical journal
in some report, that is unique service that we can provide
because of his experience.
Or Brian in Katrina, who was inside the Superdome and
watching it come apart.
And advertisers will still want to be identified with
that and The Today Show is enormously successful
And CNBC, for whatever ratings challenges that it's had, is a
big financial success.
Meet the Press is a huge asset to NBC.
The numbers are probably 3 and 1/2 to 4 million viewers for
the first feed.
Although we repeat it on cable and now it's
podcasted as well.
But the numbers don't translate to the impact of the
demographic that we get for that show.
And the high end people and the credibility attached to
that broadcast. So it's a sold-out broadcast for a
reason, at premium prices.
And very, very cost-efficient in terms of production,
compared to an hour of prime time television or drama.
So there are economies of scale.
And I think, just like you, that it's a business model
that works.
I think more concerning is the future of my friends in
And we see with the Knight Ridder sale--
and I worked for 10 years in Philadelphia and watched
Knight Ridder come to the city and transform The Enquirer and
The Daily News and they became Pulitzer Prize
machines, the Enquirer.
And now McClatchy, a smaller chain, has bought Knight
Ridder because of one investor's pressure, and
immediately announced that they are going to sell off a
dozen of the papers, including the Philadelphia papers,
before they consummate the sale, to some
as yet unknown buyer.
So that's right now where I think the real vulnerability
is in the news media.
AUDIENCE: The press is one of the fundamental pillars of a
democratic society, and America is a series of
experiments in democracy.
I'm curious what do you think will change in the legal
system or other things that will restore some of the
things that the press [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, I think we became-- the question was
about the freedom of press and how a free press is a pillar
of democracy, and what changes might take place that will
restore the confidence and the viability of a free press.
And actually, I'm not sure what will happen because the
American people, we are so unpopular, for some reasons
that are deserved and some that are not deserved, that I
think we don't have public support right now in our
confrontations with the administration in particular
over some of these investigations.
so I think the American people have to care about the
importance of a free press.
I find it remarkable that we preach the importance of the
free press in Iraq and Iran and in other totalitarian
regimes and say that it is the cornerstone of democracy.
Yet at the same time, it is very much under attack here in
the United States, and it's seemingly without a great deal
of public support to defend it.
Thank you all so much.
Thanks for coming today.