News War [site home page]
  • Home
  • Interviews
  • Site Map
  • Discussion
  • Part 1
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Watch Online

william safire

A Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, Safire currently writes the "On Language" column for the paper's Sunday magazine. Before joining the Times, he was a speechwriter for President Nixon. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on April 20, 2006.

... What was the object of the speeches [given by Vice President Spiro Agnew about the media]?

With Spiro Agnew, Nixon felt he could go over the head of the columnists -- or, as Eisenhower [called] them, the "sensation-seeking" columnists and commentators. Eisenhower said that at a national convention, and the place went wild. So there is a built-in anti-media feeling. ...

Pat Buchanan wrote a speech for [Agnew] about the media, and it was a rip-snortin' speech, and it went to Nixon. I was there, and I saw him look at it. Nixon's response to reading that speech that Agnew was going to make was, "This really rips the scab off, doesn't it?" I expected him to edit it or at least say, "You can't go this far," and he handed it back and said, "Go." So there was a good feeling about that.

Now, when he made that speech, ... the media felt it had to broadcast it. Here you had a whole speech -- not a piece, not an excerpt, but a whole speech broadcast on national television and covered on the news shows. That made the speech an event and made Agnew's reputation as the anti-media voice. ...

Didn't the Nixon administration, your group inside it, see the press as the enemy?

Nixon himself used that phrase a dozen times in my hearing -- "The press is the enemy" -- because he had been savaged right from the start by the press. They didn't like him going after [alleged Soviet spy] Alger Hiss. When I say "they," a great many people in the press were on Hiss' side and felt that Nixon was being McCarthyite. ...

So the feeling that Nixon had was that he was fighting an enemy, and it peaked really in the '62 campaign for governor in California, and then where he lashed out at the press at his last press conference.

However, here's the point: After he declared the press his enemy, and after the press helped start to bring him down -- I don't say the press brought him down, because Judge [John] Sirica really brought him down more than anybody -- on his way out of the White House, a farewell speech to the troops, as it were, the last thing he said was, "You'll never win if the people who hate you cause you to hate them, because then you destroy yourself." Now, that was a piece of hard-earned wisdom that Nixon realized as he went out, and it's one that I think politicians today could remember; that if you hate people back with the same virulence that they hate you, you will destroy yourself.

... You wrote after the '68 election that Nixon and his advisers decided that since the people who opposed him and opposed the Vietnam War "managed the news," we would be better off discrediting the news media. So discrediting the news media was a political strategy for the Nixon administration.

Yes. No doubt about it. There were those who kind of resisted that. Herb Klein, the communications director, ... he didn't go for the discrediting business. And [White House Press Secretary] Ron Ziegler was reluctant to really join in with a vengeance. But certainly when you could catch a reporter in a mistake or get the feeling that there was pack journalism going on, the president -- rarely personally, but through Agnew and others -- lashed back.

[Was it a strategy to win votes?]

I don't know about that. I wouldn't break it down that closely. I think it was more visceral on Nixon's part -- [about] the intellectuals, the elite who he had never been a part of, and who he had fought his way past them to elective office.

“The press ever since the country was founded has been a check and a balance on the government. That's the whole reason for the First Amendment.”

Then Kennedy had a lot to do with it. The press loved Kennedy, most of the press, and Nixon always felt that the press gave Kennedy a break that they would never give Nixon. That was true, but he went overboard on it.

And when Pat Buchanan says to us that the battle between the White House and the national media is the battle over who controls the national agenda, then and now?

I think that's excessive. That's drawing the battle lines too closely. The press ever since the country was founded has been a check and a balance on the government. That's the whole reason for the First Amendment, to protect the persnickety press of the 1780s, the scandalmongers. They were a burr in the side of Washington and Jefferson and [Alexander] Hamilton and John Adams.

When you read their feelings about the press, they were not always the high-blown phrases that you see carved on their monuments. (Laughs.) George Washington was pretty much down on the guys who were after him, and certainly Hamilton and Jefferson were fiercely angry at [Scottish scandalmonger] James Thompson Callender, who kept blowing the whistle on them. So that's in the American tradition, and it's why the Alien and Sedition Acts are looked on today as a terrible mistake by our founders, and it was corrected in 1803 or so.

Well, let me take you from the founders to Nixon. You wrote to Nixon in 1969: "Attacks on a biased press and sinister Eastern establishment run the danger of appearing thin-skinned and whining." Were you right?

Well, I'm glad you dug that up. ... Yes, I think I was right on that.

But Buchanan disagreed with you. He thought it was an issue that Nixon could rally the country around.

Yeah, right. And fortunately for us, we had a president at the time who would have both a Buchanan and a Safire. ... Buchanan was the tough-minded conservative, and I was the phrase-making opportunist. (Laughs.)

But do you see a similarity between the Bush administration distancing itself, the White House, from the press and the Nixon, if you will, adversarial relationship with the press?

The Bush administration's "isolation" is the word that the media likes to use, is nowhere near the calculated wall that was put up during the Nixon days. Nixon changed the name of the press conference to the news conference. Why? Because it wasn't the press's conference; it was the president's conference to make news. He thought about that. That wasn't an accident.

At one point, he would tell Klein and Ziegler: "I don't want to see that guy on the plane again. Make sure he doesn't get on the plane." At one point, I remember Ziegler had to say to him: "Look, we've got a press pool of four guys. It's picked not by us, and we really can't say no." And Nixon kind of licked his lips and said: "Tell you what. Put all four of those guys on Air Force One. Go ahead; do it." And Ziegler said, "I can?" And the president said: "Right. And I'll ride back on the press plane," the other plane riding in back. Well, we talked him out of that. (Laughs.)

But you don't see a similarity with this administration attempting to control its message?

Managing the news, which is always the charge made against both Democratic and Republican administrations, is always attempted to a certain degree, and it should be. I mean, you should say, why should we be concentrating on foreign news when people are worried about inflation or recession? So let's put out stories about this and put out legislation about that. That's managing the news. ...

You don't see any special wall with this White House?

Not more than ever.

Or discipline about what their message is?

It always is tried, and it always breaks down, thank God.

This is where this question comes from. Let me read to you from [former White House Chief of Staff] Andrew Card: "The press doesn't represent the public any more than any other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election. I don't believe you have a check-and-balance function." It sounds like the Nixon White House.

Well, I disagree with him on that.

Yeah, but Buchanan might not disagree with him, or Nixon might not have disagreed with him.

One of the glories of the Nixon administration is it had people of different points of view. It had [liberal urban affairs adviser] Pat Moynihan and it had [Federal Reserve Chair] Arthur Burns arguing conservative economics. There was more internal debate in that administration than it ever got credit for. And we got some great people coming out of it, like Moynihan, like [Secretary of Labor] George Schulz, who would stand up to the president from time to time and would talk to the press.

Now, some of us had a franchise. [Nixon White House counsel] Len Garment could go to parties in Georgetown, the dens of iniquity as far as Nixon was concerned. But he was a loyalist, as I was. We had the franchise to go out and talk to people, because we believed in a lot of the things, in almost all of the things, that Nixon was doing. We didn't believe in what was called then "the Berlin Wall," the [Chief of Staff H.R.] Haldeman and [White House counsel John] Ehrlichman resistance to or real enmity for a lot of the reporters -- not all, but a lot.

And that surfaces -- believe me -- when I tried to get through to people in the Carter administration. ... Same thing happened with me in the Clinton years. It was tough getting through to people.

Can you get through to people now at the Bush White House?

Well, now I'm a language columnist, and I can get through to anybody anywhere. (Laughs.) But when the Sept. 11 attack came, and the prompt response was to crack down on civil liberty, really, and the first policy statements came out of the Justice Department and the White House a couple of weeks after the attacks, I felt that the president was making the mistake, frankly, that Johnson and Nixon had made in cracking down too hard, too fast. ...

I wrote a column saying that this was a grab for power; this was a dictatorial act. That was before the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] moved. Now, what kind of a reaction did I get? From my conservative allies in the press, they thought I was being hysterical. And maybe I was being a little bit hysterical, but sometimes you have to exaggerate in order to make your point. But I thought it was a terrible mistake. ...

So you still had access to the White House. You could call up and get called back?

Yeah, because there's an element in Washington that is not purely partisan or political; it's personal. When you grow up with people, and you go through the wars with them and go through the campaigns with them, there's a certain tolerance that develops. You'll give them the benefit of the doubt, and they'll give you the benefit of access, even when you're at each other's throat, even when you're irritated with each other.

So you don't see the Bush administration's, for instance, preference for Fox, avoiding the networks, avoiding The New York Times, The Washington Post, as sort of an extension of the same kind of attitude toward the press that you grew up with with Nixon?

The key word in your question is "extension." How much of an exaggeration is it, or how far does it go? When Vice President [Dick] Cheney, after that shooting accident, decided to go on Fox, it wasn't because he was afraid of a tough question. Quite frankly, a tough question handled properly is more effective for the politician. It was his way of putting his thumb in the eye of the rest of the press and saying, "You guys are going wild on this story, and it's a non-story, so I'll turn to the network that professes to be fair and balanced." He put his thumb in their eye, and everybody knew it.

Well, that's where he appears regularly, as his place of choice.

All right. And on the other hand, he does appear on Meet the Press and a lot of other places where he gets pretty tough questions.

Occasionally.

Often enough.

In 2004, you told The Boston Globe that you helped move along the idea of opinionated reporting. How?

Well, there used to be a division that said reporters should be objective, and opinion columnists are allowed to sound off left or right with their opinions. But they base their opinions on what they read in the papers.

It occurred to me fairly early in my career as an opinion monger that something that Stewart Alsop told me -- he's my ideal columnist. He was with The Washington Post and Newsweek. ... He said, "If you can bury an unknown fact in your column, you'll force people to read it and react to it."

Now, you have access as a columnist beyond a lot of reporters. Not only do you know these guys, you've been there forever, but they'll tell you something sometimes. Or they'll let something drop. Now, you don't put it in a lead because then you're competing with reporters. You drop it in the fourth graph, and the reader will have to start looking for interesting new information in your column. Then you build on it and give your opinion about it.

So that's how opinionated reporting, clearly labeled as such, came into my life. And I kind of like that. It got a good reaction at the paper, at the Times. Here's somebody who's not sucking his thumb and staring at the wall, but getting on the phone, calling his contacts, doing some reporting, and then still remembering that he's an opinion columnist, giving his opinion spiced with this extra information.

When you say The New York Times liked it, The New York Times keeps its opinions on the editorial page, right, and its reporting, we assume, or its supposedly objective, unbiased reporting in its news pages?

No. That was the old way, and that's the way it's often done. The Times I think does that better than most, but it also permits a reporter, a great reporter like Tom Friedman, to write a column, just as The Washington Post has a great reporter like David Broder writing a column. Now, how can you say that he's a reporter and he shouldn't have an opinion, or he's an opinion monger and he shouldn't get on the phone and report?

No, but the concept, it seems, of unbiased reporting is under attack these days.

Absolutely. And when a reporter goes on the air, on television, when a newspaper reporter -- not a columnist, but a reporter -- goes on the air and takes a partisan position or a philosophical position, he's saying to his readers, "This is what I think." It colors the way readers read his reporting. There's a possible confusion there, and that has to be watched out for.

I'm saying something different. I'm saying that opinionated reporting labeled as such is proper, good. But it's kind of dangerous for somebody to say, "I'm a reporter, but I can also give opinions on television."

Fox News: Is that opinionated reporting?

I don't see it as much as PBS.

You think PBS is opinionated reporting?

Yeah. I think there's a mental set in the selection of stories and documentaries and that sort of thing that goes on at PBS that has a liberal bent to it. Now, I don't charge that as being mean-spirited or conniving. Most reporters, most writers tend to be liberal and tend to vote Democratic. Don't look shocked and horrified; everybody knows that. There have been surveys taken. It's not shocking. People who write for a living usually are more Democratic or liberal than people who don't write for a living. ...

You know, Buchanan talked, for instance, about Nixon [using] local reporters to get around the Washington press corps. ... Recently President Bush did the same thing. ... He said, "I'm mindful of the filter through which some news travels, and sometimes you just have to go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people." Sounds like your old friend Richard Nixon.

Now, if it sounds like Nixon, does that mean it's wrong? No. I think it's perfectly legitimate for a president or any other politician to say instead of talking to guys who I talked to all the time, I'm going to go out and reach some other people.

But you know it's more than that. The guys you talk to all the time you see as the adversary. They're filtering what you say.

Right.

You don't think you're getting your message to the grassroots, so you freeze them out, and you talk to the locals.

And what you say to them is seen by them as stale. When you look around sometimes at the press corps following a candidate around in a campaign, the Washington press corps has heard the stump speech 20, 30 times. And when you get to an applause line, "Nobody's going to make a doormat out of the American flag," they all roll their eyes. But the people that Nixon said it to liked that and applauded, and the reporters -- local reporters -- wrote it down. It becomes fresh if you go on to a new fresh audience. …

... Do you believe that there is a professional kind of journalism that people should rely on that has standards and practices to get really reliable information?

I believe there should always be a pressure for trying to be fair and straight and objective in your reporting. Now, that standard is not everybody's standard. You can't give it a formula. You can't say there will be this many column inches on this side and this many column inches refuting it.

If somebody makes news, it is not a job of a professional, objective reporter to balance that news with as much news as he can find rebutting it. It's like instant analysis. When the president [Nixon] went on the air with a speech to the nation, I remember CBS, I guess it was, had a rebuttal immediately by an objective reporter who was giving the rebuttal. Agnew [said]: "Hey, wait a minute. The president's talking to the people, and here's somebody given his audience, inheriting his audience, rebutting him, ostensibly from an objective point of view."

Now, when he said that instant analysis speech, the press bridled -- you know, "We have a right to comment." Right. And CBS held tightly to that standard until the pressure was off. And then -- well, you look at it now, they'll have the rebuttal by a politician of another party so that the viewer says, "Well, this is what the president says, and this is what the other party says." That's legit. That's, I think, objective journalism.

We should strive as reporters to cover the happening and give the background to the happening and also remind people the why of the story, why he's saying this. But you give people a chance to say what they have to say.

One of the things that bothers me on television a lot is a stand-up reporter in front of a candidate who's talking to a crowd and in 20 seconds says, "This is what he said today." And you can see the guy trying to make his point in the background, and you don't have a chance to hear him say it. I think it should be more coverage of what the politicians are saying -- both sides -- than the commentators.

You don't subscribe to, let's say, [Washington Post op-ed columnist] Michael Kinsley's recent remarks that there is no real objective journalism and that, in fact, inserting opinion into journalism gives you better reporting, better information.

He's brilliant, and he can be brilliantly mistaken. I think you should strive, if you are a straight reporter and if you are fulfilling the role of trying to inform people of what's happening, what event are you covering and tell it straight. You don't always do it, but you should always try to do it, and let the commentators comment. ...

I'm going to switch to confidential sources here. In the period of the Nixon administration, that's when we saw many reporters being subpoenaed, and in fact it ended in the Branzburg [v. Hayes] decision in 1972. ... When you see the subpoenas today, is this 35 years again replaying itself? The truce seems to have broken down between the Justice Department in particular and the federal government and reporters.

What we're seeing now is an outbreak of the invasion of the right of the press to get information as never before. There's never been a precedent to the way this is happening now to what Justice [William J.] Brennan called the "chilling effect" on the First Amendment.

You have these guidelines that came out of that Branzburg decision, and the Justice Department is very careful to make sure that before you subpoena a reporter, you try everything else in the world; then if it's a matter of extraordinary urgency, then you go to the judge, and the judge then has to decide, is this a capital case? Is a person who was accused of a crime possibly going to jail unfairly because the reporter wouldn't -- ? And the great weight was on the side of the reporter [who] has a certain obligation to keep his sources confidential.

Well, now, probably because there's a special investigator, a special counsel who works outside the guidelines of the Justice Department, that started this whole business of subpoenaing reporters and their notes. Because it had to do with the feeling that the administration was leaking something deliberately and that would harm a critic because that was the feeling then, suddenly reporters, journalists who would protect sources said, "Well, you don't protect all sources."

They lost sight of the principle, and the principle is this: The government has all kinds of ways to get information. It can eavesdrop; it can wiretap legally; it can offer immunity to criminals, to people who have committed what seem to be crimes in order to get them to testify. The long arm of the law is a powerful arm in getting information.

What is the essential route to get information by the press? That is to offer a confidentiality, so that if somebody wants to whistleblow or leak something, he knows that you won't rat him out; you'll protect him. As a result of that, a great deal of information comes to the public and also comes to law enforcement that wouldn't get it otherwise because people don't want to get involved.

So when people say, "Well, nobody should be above the law," spouses are above the law. They don't have to give the testimony against their spouse. Lawyers don't have to; doctors don't have to; social workers don't have to. Why? Because there is a social, judicial benefit to having confidence imbued in certain relationships.

You think reporters deserve a special privilege.

The same privilege that goes to spouses, doctors, lawyers, social workers, and wherever confidence is seen by the public -- by the law -- as being terribly important.

But what happens if it's national security? What happens if it's top-secret information?

That's why the bills that have come before the Congress are very careful to say in national security situations there are exceptions to be made. I'm not an absolutist. Lawyers can't break the law when they are working with their clients, and doctors can't either. This doesn't go through everything. You can't [be] a total absolutist on confidentiality, but you can be a 90 percent absolutist, and that's the way it has been, and that's the way it has worked.

But now, with all these subpoenas flying around the country and with the trust that people have in being able to talk to a reporter and say, "Hey, there's corruption going on here," or, "This guy is doing something terrible," and then you leave it to the reporter to take that information and check it out. …

And what happens [when] you're a reporter and you get a knowledge of felonies being committed? Your source may even be involved in those felonies, but you made a promise of confidentiality to that source.

And then you go to court, and the court decides that [there's] no other way [we can] get this information other than this way, and this information is so important that we can make the exception. Now, that's a far cry from what's going on now.

That's what the Court said. The Court said that the special prosecutor [Patrick Fitzgerald] had to have the testimony of [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller or [Time magazine reporter] Matthew Cooper or any of the other people in order to determine that high crimes were committed. They indicated there were very, very serious crimes here.

The serious crime of outing a confidential covert agent was not pursued by the special prosecutor. Right from the start, you realize that that law did not apply in this case. That was obvious.

Obstruction of justice, perjury.

Obstruction of justice sounds terrible. It's hard to explain this, but when you're in a bunch of meetings in the White House, as I was, and somebody says, "You remember the meeting back when you talked to so-and-so?," and if you're looking back three months or six months and you've had 40 meetings, you don't necessarily remember everything that went on. But when you say that, people look at you funny and say: "Aha! You're obstructing justice."

Now, coming back to the thrust of your question. There are some things like national security where the country's security is involved that you have to cough up a confidential source. But that should be a rarity. … And it would be a rarity if they passed a federal shield law the way 49 of the 50 states have these shield laws or case law in the states, protecting the right of somebody to say to a reporter, "Hey, if you keep my name out of it, this is what's going on."

How often were you a source in the Nixon administration for reporters?

From time to time.

Few leaks?

Yeah. I didn't have too much to leak except I worked on some confidential sources.

You were protected by reporters.

Sure.

Was this whistleblowing, or was this spinning?

Oh, I spun a lot.

Right. So you were getting protection not for the public good, but for your political good.

No, because they liked me, and I was one of them. And also I have a feeling that there was too much classification going on.

You, William Safire, decided, sitting in the White House, decided on your own there was too much classification going on and I'm going to declassify documents? A speechwriter?

Let me tell you what happened once. I got a bunch of information from [Henry] Kissinger's office about Vietnam speeches I was writing. So I write the speech, and I put on the top of it: "I'm sending into Haldeman to give to the president. Secret. Eyes only. No dis," meaning no distribution.

Someone put that on there.

No, I did. I typed it across the top of the page. ... I sent it in, and I waited for the president to send the speech back, and it didn't come. I called Haldeman, and I said, "Where did [he put] the draft?" You know, the president would make notes on it, and I'll rewrite it. And he said, "I would send it back to you, but you're not cleared for top secret, no not for distribution." So I had classified my own stuff and I'm not cleared for it.

There's an element of ridiculousness in this overclassification business. I'm aware of the fact that stamping something secret is easy to do and unstamping it is very hard to do.

So you decided to leak some of it? I mean, you said earlier that you had been a source for some reporters in some cases involving classified information that you, William Safire, decided on your own to declassify.

No, I didn't declassify secret information; I spun. I said, "Now, this is what's been published, but this is what it means." Now, is that leaking? It's spinning. I didn't say, "This many troops went into this place." That would be leaking, but when you're inside, you should be expressing the point of view of the administration that's trying to affect public opinion.

But what I'm getting at is that you expected confidentiality from the reporter you were spinning, and he theoretically, or she, would have to be willing to go to jail if there had been an investigation of some kind. You expected that you were going to be protected. But the content --

No, no, no, no, no. You're operating on the thesis that I was giving information of a secret, and I wasn't.

OK, but you did expect protection.

When I would say, "This is not for attribution," that means you can't quote me at all or indicate a White House speechwriter. I didn't do that all too often, frankly.

No, but the reporter who you were talking to, you expect them to basically protect you.

Of course, or otherwise I'll talk to somebody else, or else I wouldn't talk at all. That's the whole idea of confidentiality. If the reporter has the weapon of being able to say, "Tell me the story and I won't get you involved," that's a powerful way of getting information out into the public. Now, you sometimes will burn a source if he has deliberately misled you. Then all bets are off.

Pat Buchanan told us that it's never appropriate for the news media to publish information if the government claims there's a national security issue involved. In fact, he used the Dana Priest's stories [in The Washington Post] which identify detention facilities in certain Eastern European countries. Didn't name which ones. But he said, "That destroys the U.S. government's relationship with foreign governments."

Well, there are times when you have to as a journalist, and your editor as a supervising journalist, have to make a decision about revealing information that is embarrassing and in your view is not a national secret.

Now, who are you to say what's a secret or not? You're somebody who can challenge, and responsible newspapers discuss things with the presidents or the administration involved on national security and hold things for years sometimes. I remember the New York Times editors went to see Gerald Ford, and he talked about an assassination of a foreign leader and then realized he shouldn't have said it and said that was off the record. The editors put their heads together and said: "This is a good story. What do we do?" And the decision was, "The president said we can't talk about it, and we don't talk about it."

Some other reporter got wind of it -- I think it was Daniel Schorr of CBS -- and broke the story. At that point, the paper had to then cover it as the second way. But you'll find newspapers rather responsible, very careful when it comes to national security stuff. In a case like this, it's a close call, but it's a careful call.

... What was your reaction when Time magazine decided to hand over Matt Cooper's files?

I didn't like that at all. The differences of opinion of different news media can be solved by a clear decision by the United States Congress about what could be kept confidential and what is not. We need a law that says, similar to [the law] all the states have, saying that with the exception of national security -- and that's to be decided by a judge -- that a reporter had a right to guarantee confidentiality to a source, and it goes to his notes as well. That way everybody knows what the rules are, and you don't have to start saying, "I can give them this, and I can give them that." ...

But in this case, the courts held there was no privilege.

That's because there was no law saying there's a privilege. And runaway prosecutors can make their own rules and set up their own guidelines, and judges can make their own decisions based on no guidance from above. ...

... In February, [then-CIA Director] Porter Goss said that he wants a grand jury investigation with reporters being ordered to reveal who is leaking to them. The leak investigation has started. People are getting polygraphs in the government. There's a hunt on.

And that's seen as a terrible mistake, and defense attorneys are saying, "Well, you see the prosecution's getting these subpoenas; why can't we subpoena, and why can't we call as witnesses the reporters?" The thing will just mushroom and keep rolling until there is no confidentiality in talking to a reporter.

How would you like it if your husband or wife could testify against you on something you told them in absolute confidence when you were in love with each other? You wouldn't like it at all. You would be very careful what you had to say with your spouse or to your lawyer or to your doctor. What kind of world is that? ...

When you saw the Justice Department in 1970 and '71 subpoenaing people like [New York Times reporter] Earl Caldwell to federal grand juries investigating the Black Panthers, did you object to that?

No, I didn't, because it didn't come before me. And now looking back, I wish I had.

Because that decision is now what's putting some of your former colleagues in jail.

Well, there's been a lot of deciding and case law between then and now in 35 years. ... Branzburg was a very close decision, with Justice [Lewis] Powell, who was the fifth vote, putting in a bunch of caveats. Now the caveats are no longer considered important, and we've got this momentum of "Let's go after the press, and let's subpoena them, and let's slam them against the wall."

I think the great check and balance that was built into the Constitution is under challenge. This pendulum has got to stop. It's got to come back again, and you've got to have a relationship between the government and the press that's adversarial but not an enemy.

If a confidential source issues a blanket release as in what happened in the White House recently, are you still obligated as a reporter to protect their anonymity?

No. Blanket releases are phony.

So you're still obligated to protect them.

Yeah, unless you can look them in the eye and say confidentially, "Are you really truthfully releasing me, or is it something that you're doing because there's a gun to your head?"

So once Judy Miller got a personal communication, should she have stayed in jail anyway?

Oh, I think she did the right thing. She was very careful about not just getting that communication, but getting the guarantee from the prosecutor to limit the subpoena, to limit what he was going to go after.

home + introduction + watch online + interviews + parts 1 + 2 + part 3 + part 4 + join the discussion + producer chat
site map + press reaction + dvd/vhs & transcript + credits + privacy policy + journalistic guidelines
FRONTLINE series home + wgbh + pbs

posted feb. 13, 2007

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo illustration copyright © entropy media
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation