Journalist Kara Swisher’s Brief But Spectacular take on Big Tech power, responsibility

More than 20 years ago, Kara Swisher decided to leave The Washington Post to cover the internet full time — a decision that made her one of the most respected and feared journalists holding the tech world accountable. She's now the host of The New York Times podcast "Sway" and the Vox podcast "Pivot." She offers us her Brief But Spectacular take on power and responsibility within tech.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    More than 20 years ago, Kara Swisher decided to leave The Washington Post to cover the Internet full-time. That decision has made her one of the most respected and feared journalists on the beat, holding those in the tech world accountable.

    She's now the host of The New York Times podcast "Sway" and the Vox podcast "Pivot."

    And, tonight, Swisher offers us her Brief But Spectacular take on power and responsibility within tech.

    Kara Swisher, Host, "Sway": When I was younger, I was often the person in class that was like, no. The teacher would say. I'm like, no. Like, no is a really powerful word. I love to use it.

    When I started off in reporting, you do suspect people. Like, what are they trying to spin me? What are they trying to say? What's their messaging? What do I have to get past to get to the real story?

    But, actually, the real question is what they're lying to themselves about. What do they need to have said about themselves so that they can feel good about talking? And everybody has a thing. A lot of powerful people get licked up and down all day.

    I'm very obvious. I would say I'm obvious of which way I'm going to go. You have to respect the person's point of view. You don't have to agree with them. And you have to say it out loud.

    What I hate is when interviewers sort of shake their head and then add on layers of narration that's really obnoxious. Like, I hate that. Like, you better not do that here.

    I have a lot of information before I talk to people. I'm very skilled at understanding when people are lying to me. I went to the School of Foreign Service. I was super interested in the uses of propaganda, and I studied that in school.

    I wanted to go into the military. I couldn't because I was gay, courtesy of Bill Clinton. We had don't ask, don't tell. I wanted to tell. I wanted to be asked.

    I started my career at The Washington Post. I was walking out of an interview for a book I was working on AOL, my first book on AOL. It was a beautiful day in New York. And I walked out and I thought, I'm leaving The Washington Post. I'm going to write about the Internet. Like, this is going to be so big, this Internet thing. This was super early in the 1990s.

    You could see how bad it could go and you could see how good it could go. I love tech for its ability to transform people's lives in really positive ways. I love tech, and I hate what they have done to it. Obviously, our history is littered with powerful people who make decisions for people who are unelected.

    But, in this case, they can see every bit of your life. Now it happens that Apple is very good on privacy, but what if it wasn't?

    My favorite interview was with Elon Musk. I met him when he was a nobody, so we have kind of a really interesting relationship. Silicon Valley is a lot of big minds chasing small ideas. And I think he's a big mind chasing big ideas.

    I have interviewed Mark Zuckerberg several times. I think very few people are capable of handling the responsibility he has, and he's certainly not up to the task. He's like a world leader without any world leader experience. He wants to create an all-enveloping universe around you of reality. And he's really bad at it.

  • Question:

    But you like him.

  • Kara Swisher:

    I do.

  • Question:

    Why do you like him?

  • Kara Swisher:

    Because he's a nice boy from Chappaqua, New York. But I think he lives in a bubble, and he doesn't tolerate dissent very well.

    I honestly think we should shut it down at this point. You can't fix it.

    I'm optimistic about climate change technology. I'm confident that there are innovative technological solutions to global warming or living in new ways in a new environmental situation. And so I'm optimistic about that.

    What I'm not optimistic about is that authoritarian streaks in people will take advantage of all this information and be able to control people in ways that are both subtle and obvious at the same time.

    My name is Kara Swisher, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on tech.

    Get off your phone. Put it down.

    OK. Bye.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you can watch all our Brief But Spectacular episodes at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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