JIM LEHRER: Michael Kinsley, is the news at risk as a result of all this media coming together?
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Well, the first thing you have to realize, Jim, is there has been a huge explosion, as someone said on that segment before, of new outlets because of the Internet. I mean, MSNBC didn't even exist a few years ago. So this fact that it now has an alliance with the Washington Post does not seem to be to be much of a threat.
JIM LEHRER: And do you see that generally, that none of this -- add in AOL, Time Warner to all the things that Terry just reported on, this whole trend that he says is going to continue and all the signs look that way -- is it something that those of us who care, anybody who cares about news should be worried about?
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Well, I guess there are two things potentially to worry about. One is fewer news sources. And as I say, I think that's not something to worry about. A.J. Liebling said that freedom of the press is for those who own one. And now anyone for a few hundred dollars can be his own press lord or her own press lord and have the kind of scope that only a few people had as recently as 10 years ago. The other concern is conflicts of interest, which Mark Crispin Miller talked about in your previous segment. And that also seems to me to be a little farfetched. You know, all the things that can corrupt journalists, what his -- the company that owns his outlet is doing with another company half owning a third company does not rank very large.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes, how do you see it?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, I think he's right about the change, the explosion, everything we've heard here. And there are risks. Let's face it. The bottom line is to serve a large number of people. What we're watching in the news today is news is entertainment, news is spectacle, news is scandal, and the more you have of that, the more you're going to get of the same. You're getting focus groups already in local television telling those stations what it is they want to cover, not because it's maybe news, but because it's a larger spectacle. And I guess those of us, we worry about it. Certainly Michael is correct that this is -- We can all have our own little printing press, as Mr. Liebling says. We can own it ourselves. I love Slate that he runs. I'm an old journalist in the old media. Every morning I get up and I plug in and I read Slate and I read Salon, and I think it's terrific stuff in there. But you're seeing the pressures building on how you cover news, what is news, how do you define it, what's really important, what is the public interest? And this is a question that's not new. It's not new. Nor is it going to be solved tonight or next year. But it is important for the country.
JIM LEHRER: What's your state of worry, Michael Beschloss?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, I think one worry is not perhaps that we won't have access to new sources of information, because that's what the Internet does. The glory of the Internet is that here we are with an endless number of Web sites, as was said in the piece. You can have a neighborhood kid starting up something for $200 or $300. And traditionally in the history of the Internet, that has been able to compete with Time magazine and the NewsHour online and Slate magazine, which I should say I read every morning also and enjoy very much.
JIM LEHRER: Are you hearing this?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Right.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Thanks for the plugs, everybody.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Delighted to serve. But the thing I would worry about is that with these mergers, like the AOL-Time Warner merger, there is in the future the possibility that you might have a situation in which broadband brought information and data into your home and gave a preference to, let's say Time magazine or the NewsHour online and made it much tougher to get to that kid's Web site in the neighborhood and doesn't keep that level playing field, which has been the glory of the Internet. One of the best things I heard in your interview with Case and Gerry Levin last week, the two new heads of AOL-Time Warner, was that they're going to make a huge effort to make sure that that level playing field is going to be preserved.
JIM LEHRER: Doris, how do you see it?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, what worries me is it's been so muted, the discussion of all this, as if it's not really a big problem. And whether it is or not, we have some evidence from the past that we're not looking at. Even when Time and Warner got together, I'd love to see somebody do a study to see, did Time magazine put on its cover more covers that had to do with Warner pictures than they would have before? We have Viacom and CBS. Have people looked into whether that's made a difference? We've had MS And NBC. I'd love to see journalists exercise. This is their trade. This is what they should care about. What's so interesting, as the turn of the century, the last century --
JIM LEHRER: Right. You have to be careful now.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I know, I know. When we saw all of these mergers taking place, they created Standard Oil and the big railroad connections with Standard Oil and created the big meat packing industries, it was the journalist's heyday because they got very worried about what mattered to democracy and these big trusts, as they called them then, they thought would be a blight in a certain sense of citizen liberty. So they wrote all about it. These were the muckrakers, these were some of the greatest journalists of that century. I worry the journalists today are just sort of telling the story of how these mergers took place. Look at how many articles we saw detailing how they did it over drinks, they went into one room, like a soap opera, as some reporters said. Whereas, what should be studied is what we're talking about now. I wish they were out there as investigators figuring out evidence. Is this good? Will it do conflicts of interest? Will it restrict freedom of information? I bet it will to some degree. If we can figure out how it's done so, maybe we can protect ourselves in the future when these hearings take place.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes, as an old-fashioned reporter, do you agree with Doris, that this is a story that needs to be reported by the reporters?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Of course it is. We're talking about power. That's the essence of what American life, world life is all about -- huge conglomerate blocks of power, not just the media entertainment, magazines, books, music, the whole range of -- television, newspapers, they're all coming together the same way that the Standard Trust of Rockefeller and the oil in the 1900s. All those concerns we had then, the more power you have, it's naive to suggest that maybe you won't have a self-interest if you own that power and keep it for your profit and not cover the kinds of things that should be covered. I think there are real concerns. We've got to examine the power, of course.
JIM LEHRER: Michel Kinsley, you've had some experience from this. You run a news organization that's run by Microsoft -- or owned by Microsoft -- which has been the subject of tremendous amount of news. Have you had problems covering the boss?
MICHAEL KINSLEY: You're going to give me a chance to flatter the boss here, Jim. I've been editor of publications owned by a nonprofit organization and by an individual, and now by a large corporation. And there is no doubt in my mind that this is the freest I've ever been. They haven't interfered in the slightest. I can't think of a single episode. And the reason is business. They know that if they're going to be in the media business, they have to develop a reputation for being hands off. And that same logic applies to all these mergers. AOL would be out of their minds to try and bias Time magazine, because -- not because of any high-minded reason, but simply because it would lose its value as a brand. Brand is the great buzz word in sign space -- if it was perceived as biased.
JIM LEHRER: The key word there is perceived. Is there a perception problem here that everybody who is involved in any of these conglomerations and whatever must deal with forthrightly and maybe inside reporting as well as outside reporting must come even stronger into this?
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Well, you know, there's no lack of reporting on the press it seems to me. In fact, there's an explosion of coverage of the media, both by the media themselves and by all these think tanks that are sprouting up at major universities. I don't think there's a chance in the world that there won't be 15 different studies of the effect of the Time Warner-AOL merger on Time's media properties.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Michael Beschloss, that we are finding out what we need to know, in other words the big we, the big public on all of these things?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: The lucky thing, Jim, is that there couldn't be anything more visible than this. If a Warner Brothers movie that shouldn't be on the cover of "Time" Magazine, is we're all going to see it.
JIM LEHRER: Bells are going to go off.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. Everyone will be embarrassed. But the other thing I worry about is that this is probably going to hasten the end of newspapers on paper. We in Washington can buy a copy of the Washington Post for 25 cents. You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on an expensive computer with broadband access to some media company or some part of the Internet. If we don't in the future have that way of cheaply getting the news, then people who can't afford that kind of computer are going to be left on the wrong side of the digital divide. And that raises some questions, too.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Doris, the power issue. Haynes mentioned that, and you did, too. In your worst nightmares, what do you see here that we all should be on guard for?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think what I worry about is that we don't have an aroused citizenry that's really worried about these problems in the same way, again, as we did in 1900. And in those days, the politicians took up the cry that individual liberty might be at risk with the trusts. You had people in government talking about it. You had the muckrakers. You had the clergy worrying about what happens when society is one where greed is king and young kids are only learning commercial values rather than artistic values. I think all those things are out there as large concerns. But as I said, by each had a very sedated time now where these big mergers are just complemented because it's part of Wall Street, the excitement of our age. Whatever problems are going to be there, unless citizens start thinking about them, unless, as I said, journalists keep writing about them and keep vigilant, then there will inevitably be conflicts of interest. It's inevitable that it happens. We can people on the straight and narrow if we keep thinking about it. Instead I worry that we're just, you know, exulting in our good economic fortune and not thinking these things through.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes, there's no question that conflicts of interest are inevitable, right?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Of course.
JIM LEHRER: How do you deal with it?
HAYNES JOHNSON: And they always have been. Michael Kinsley is correct. The history of journalism is that way -- conflicts of interest. But this is so large. As an example of what Doris was talking about, we have so many mergers taking place now that we don't even report on some of them. The largest drug manufacturing merger this week didn't make it into the Washington Post. Steve Coll, if he's listening, it was on page one of the New York Times. I love the Washington Post. It's part of my life. But it wasn't there because there's so many of them. It was there today, by the way, a day later. But this is the kind of thing, these blocks. You are going to have -- human nature. It's our job, this job, our job, to look at that and examine it. And one hopes that -- we're always afraid of the new. I mean, there's no question about it. Journalists have always been afraid of the new. We're afraid of this now.
JIM LEHRER: We'll report it, but we're afraid of it.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yes, right.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Doris, gentlemen, thank you very much.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Thank you.
MICHAEL KINSLEY: Thanks, Jim.