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Week of 8.4.06

Orville Schell on a Responsible Press

Is the press still fulfilling its obligation to the truth?

In a thoughtful conversation, veteran journalist Orville Schell engages NOW's David Brancaccio on the current challenges facing the media and how this affects the public and democracy.

"The press has been accused of being the lap dog in the run-up to the war ... we gave the government the benefit of the doubt, I think, to the detriment of the nation as it turned out," he says.

Schell, who is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, describes the dilemma journalists face when reporting the news in wartime.

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"[Reporters] know if they just come up with bad news, they're going to be pilloried. They know their news outlets will be criticized. Advertisers will abandon," he says. This, he says, has made journalists more timid, cautious, and incapable of standing up to criticisms. Information is being kept from Americans, resulting in a democratic deficit, he says.

Schell weighs in on the White House's criticism of some American media outlets, most recently the New York Times. The Times came under renewed fire in June after publishing details of an effort by the Bush administration to collect bank records of suspected terrorists.

"We've entered into a very sort of dangerous and, for me, troubling time when the press have come under great attack," Schell said.

Is the Fourth Estate being manipulated into biased coverage of the war on terror and the White House in particular?

About Orville Schell

Currently the Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, Orville Schell was born in New York City in 1940, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in Far Eastern history, was an exchange student at National Taiwan University in the 1960s, and did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, in Chinese History where he earned a Ph.D (Abd). He has worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia, covered the war in Indochina as a journalist, and traveled widely in China.

He is also a contributor to such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Granta, Wired, Newsweek, Mother Jones, The China Quarterly, and The New York Review of Books.

Schell has been the recipient of several writing fellowships from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center and is the winner of numerous awards, including the Harvard/Stanford Shorenstein Award for Asian Journalism, Overseas Press Club of America's Award for The Best Article on a Foreign Subject, a Mencken Award for the Best Feature and a Page One Award for the Best Investigative Story.

The author of fourteen books, nine of them about China, and the contributor to numerous edited volumes, his most recent books are "Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangrila From the Himalayas To Hollywood," "The China Reader: The Reform Years," and "Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's Leaders."

He has also served as a television commentator for several network news programs, has worked both as correspondent and consultant for a number PBS "Frontline" documentaries and has been the correspondent for an Emmy award-winning program on the CBS program "60 minutes."

Schell serves on the boards of Human Rights Watch, the Sundance Documentary Fund jury, and the Social Science Research Council. He is also a member of the Pacific Council, the Council on Foreign Relations and a regular participant in the World Economic Forum at Davos, in Switzerland.