About Our Guest
Wyatt Andrews received his BA in Government and Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia in 1974. He joined CBS News in 1981. From 1984 to ’86, Mr. Andrews was CBS News Tokyo Asia Correspondent. From 1986 to ’88, he was CBS News Moscow Correspondent and Bureau Chief covering Gorbachev’s Perestroika, Chernobyl and the summits in Moscow, Reykjavik and Washington. Between 1988 and ’89, Mr. Andrews became CBS News State Department Correspondent. His assignments included the Afghanistan Accords, NATO and Middle East negotiation, among many other things. From 1989 to ’91, he worked as CBS News White House Correspondent during the Bush Administration covering the First Gulf War and the Soviet Summit Meetings at Malta and Helsinki. Between 2003 and ’09 as CBS News Supreme Court Correspondent, Andrews covered such diverse areas as detainee rights, campaign finance, war powers and affirmative action. His noteworthy stint as CBS News National Correspondent spanned the period from April ’91 to the present. The breadth of his journalistic experience compasses, among many other things, politics, energy, foreign affairs, healthcare and veteran’s affairs. Mr. Andrews was principal reporter for the CBS Evening News Eye on America. During the 2008 presidential campaign Wyatt Andrews served as primary correspondent for the CBS reality segment on the Evening News which took as its focus political claims and distortion. Wyatt Andrews has won national Emmy awards for the Gandhi Assassination in 1984, the Reagan/Gorbachev Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986 and the Washington Sniper Case in 2002. In 2014 he garnered the DuPont Columbia Silver Baton Award for his coverage of Sandy Hook. Wyatt Andrews has been named Professor of Practice in the UVA Department of Media Studies where he teaches courses in multimedia reporting and the news media.
Jan Paynter: Hello. I’m Jan Paynter and I would like to welcome you once again to our program Politics Matters. Today we are honored to welcome back our guest veteran journalist and former CBS Correspondent Wyatt Andrews to explore the evolving role of journalism and media in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. Welcome back, Wyatt.
Wyatt Andrews: Jan, thanks for having me.
Jan Paynter: Wyatt, does there now exist a growing concern in the profession that reporters will become balkanized, their access to politicians and public figures will be increasingly restricted?
Wyatt Andrews: The answer is absolutely but there’s been easily a 20 year trend line in trying to control—both by government and by U.S. businesses—control the message of what reporters hear. I can just tell you that it got worse every year that I was a reporter in terms of if you were to call someone from the White House, someone from any federal agency, someone from a major corporation or for that matter the University of Virginia. You have to go through… You can’t just call Official X or Y anymore and get Official X or Y on the phone unless you have a personal relationship or a family relationship. Way too much information that should be publicly available goes through message guarders, goes through a gatekeeper of some kind so you have to go to the White House spokesman to get permission to talk to someone deep in the White House. And the way you leverage that is after enough of those conversations then the source deeper in the White House agrees to speak to you straightaway. That’s how it works. It’s the same thing when you’re developing sources out in big business or at any major institutions like a university. But this notion that we as an institution, we are going to control our message and we’re going to restrict reporter access to all of our people, the message going out and access to information institutionally gets tighter and tighter every year and has for decades.
Jan Paynter: Yeah, it began… A lot of people feel it began intensively with Clinton then with Bush and I think the question now is how much access will be accorded to reporters. After this election, it’s been noted by the Pointer Institute and other media observers that journalists are often reluctant to characterize politician’s statements as lies or false for fear of being accused of journalistic bias. How in your experience, Wyatt, might this be handled in a way that’s fair to all concerned?
Wyatt Andrews: Yeah. When I was in the business, we were…we struggled with at what point do we call something a lie and when I was… If you go back eight years ago when I was doing our Reality Check, if you go back eight years ago, 2008 election, I was responsible at the CBS Evening News for a segment called Reality Check and our editors came down hard on, ‘We’re not going to accuse anyone of lying. We will say fact, not factual, correct or incorrect but we’re not going to accuse anybody of lying.’ And I thought that was fine because the word lie is so loaded. It has the feel of you as the objective journalist putting your thumb on the scale. So at that time, in 2008, the idea was correct/incorrect, factual/not factual and that’s…and I would say something, I forget my exact script formulation and I would say something like, ‘This is wrong. What Mr. Obama just said is wrong. What Ms. Palin said is wrong or right.’ ‘This one checks out,’ I would say, that kind of thing. Now today I think it’s different. Today I think that the word lie is often more appropriate than correct or incorrect and that it needs to be an aspect of journal…it needs to be… That word needs to be leveraged very carefully but that it’s journalistic cowardess to not go there anymore because now it’s very clear when you have candidates who are repeatedly stretching the truth and are doing it as a function of their campaign, then the objective judgement, I think the objective judgement can be made that intentional deception is going on and it’s cowardess not to call it by its name.
Jan Paynter: How do we facilitate greater concern about an important either national or international story that would otherwise not be covered and we’ve talked a little bit about this before. For instance, Democracy Now and Amy Goodman was…really did tremendous work in covering the Dakota Pipeline protest, which few reporters were present for. How might reporters and commentators work to increasingly advance voter understanding of the issues and expose the public to issues that are rarely covered?
Wyatt Andrews: The whole Amy Goodman arrest by what you’d have to see as a rogue prosecutor is a perfect example of the elitism that you and I were discussing. Imagine if, just to take a Fox News host, imagine if Bret Baier of Fox News had been arrested by a rogue New York prosecutor for advocating on the side of this or that protestor, which was the charge against Amy Goodman. The news media, all of the news media, whether he was at Fox or not, all the news media would be up in arms about, ‘Look, we’re America. We don’t arrest news reporters because of any kind of perception of they’re for one side or the other.’ The actual charge against Amy Goodman was as outrageous as any citizen should ever tolerate. It said…the prosecutor said that she was inciting a riot because her reporting seemed to side with one side. We don’t do that in the United States. But you didn’t see much of that in the reporting on the coast. It’s not the kind of… The protest, some of the North Dakota protests would make the news but the idea that this reporter out in flyover country got arrested on these outrageous terms was…I don’t remember it making news. Could I have missed it? Yeah but that’s an example of how if it doesn’t happen to those of us on the educated coastlines, it isn’t as important. There’s one example of how that level of elitism, how that level of isolation in the mainstream press, because they work for these big corporations, harms the way in general we are informed.
Jan Paynter: Wyatt, at a time when media outlets and newspapers are struggling to survive financially, how do journalists resist the trap of increasing their coverage of a particular candidate understanding that that candidate will increase the odds of his or her article being read and discussed?
Wyatt Andrews: Huh. Well, obviously in this last election you had the chairman of CBS tell an audience of investors that Donald Trump was great for CBS. And this used to be my…Les Moonves used to be my distant but west coast boss because he was chairman of CBS Corporation and CBS News worked for him. And I was shocked to hear him say this. And what he said was, ‘Donald Trump is good for CBS because he says all these crazy things,’ and Moonves literally said, ‘It might not be good for the country but so far it’s great for CBS.’ And this is…and this was said for yucks, for laughs in front of a room full of people that he hopes talks up the CBS stock. Now there is a church and state firewall throughout most of the mainstream media in that the advertising side does not have direct control over what’s said on the editorial side but it would be silly to think that the executive producers running any broadcast, whether it be anybody doing online broadcasting or cable or broadcast broadcasting. Silly for them to think that they didn’t realize that Donald Trump was good for the ratings. And so I think that on the margins too many decisions to give him airtime were made with a profit motive, with the idea that the audience wants this, the polls reflect his popularity. There was also, I have to say, a legitimate reason to put…to give Donald Trump all that airtime because…one of the biases I think in the media was that at some point the people in the United States, his electorate or anybody shopping to vote for him would figure him out and run the other way because of all the things that he said. But did Donald Trump inject a profit motive for the press to continue covering him? No question about it.
Jan Paynter: I want to cycle back to something we touched on earlier. How, in your view, can we approach accurate reporting in an age of increasingly corporatized media? And in this regard how can a reporter approach covering a company that owns the network?
Wyatt Andrews: Both very good questions. I urge my students and would urge your public to…and we all need to broaden the base of what…of the news that we consume. We’re not going to have a choice. You’re not going to get the level of information that you need to make your decisions as a citizen unless you try to sample both sides, if you will, or many different sides of any one news story that’s covered or the types of news that’s covered. People should split their… If we are moving to a time where we are getting our news from apps—certainly that’s the student population—but that’s also true for many millions of people in the adult community. If you’re getting your news online or you’re getting your news from apps, go for diversity. Do some overseas coverage. Subscribe not just to The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. Subscribe to The Economist or The Guardian. Subscribe to something overseas, subscribe to something that’s left, right, something that’s magazine length and something that’s a bit more investigative. You’re not going… There is no way to be an informed citizen in the 21st Century, a truly informed citizen, unless you broaden your sources of information and seek out opposing views from the other side because I don’t… It’s not necessarily bad that we go to social media. What’s bad is that folks don’t realize that the…if you’re doing that, the Facebook algorithm rewards the last place you’ve been. So if you were one of those people who always sought out anti-Hillary information, and let’s say…but you were…you were shopping at first and you also sought out some anti-Donald Trump information, the more you clicked on the anti-Hillary stuff, the more the algorithm would say, ‘No more Donald Trump.’
Jan Paynter: Oh, absolutely.
Wyatt Andrews: So all we want is anti-Hillary information. So we… That’s just an example of how if going to social media or going to news online isn’t necessarily bad but it really is on the citizen like it’s never been before in our history, it’s on the citizen now to make smarter choices and to demand of themselves a diverse set of different inputs.
Jan Paynter: It’s very tricky because we all want the news that supports our point of views. Increasingly it’s been shown that people are self-balkanizing, living in areas of the country with people who support their views so we’re self-segregating both intellectually and actually literally and physically so it’s very challenging. So the question is this, Wyatt. How going forward can journalism regain the public trust and for the next election cycle will watchdog journalism become even more important in the service of truth?
Wyatt Andrews: To point B of your question, watchdog journalism is the reason we have it. It’s the reason that the Founding Fathers came up with the First Amendment. It wasn’t because they… They didn’t want freedom of the press because they loved the press. They wanted freedom of the press as a way to codify this idea that information belonged to the public and not to the king and they wanted it in the rule book. So when they passed the First Amendment, that had to be to Jefferson and Madison’s point…from their point of view, that had to be one of the first things the Bill of Rights said—freedom of the press. But it was all about being a firewall against an outbreak of tyranny, a return of the king, a return of…to prevent a president from becoming a monarch, which is especially interesting to talk about in these times. So the press was from the beginning, at least the intellectual concept of it was to have a watchdog agency out there that would be on guard…and again, if you look at Jefferson’s writings, it wasn’t just against the king. That reflected on calling out low level bureaucrats. He said, ‘We want those guys woken up too.’ So it’s supposed to be about explanatory journalism, it’s supposed to be about watchdog journalism. But as it…but as journalism in the U.S. grew up and became very profitable because of the ads they could sell, we have always had this yen and yang in American journalism between ads that supported trashy stuff that was basically information or flat out wrong. It’s always supported harshly partisan journalism and we had a harshly partisan press that was often fact free up until the beginning of the 20th century when it was The New York Times realizing in this very diverse New York City that they were going to change the business model and try to be a fact based paper for everybody and that’s when it turned around. And then everybody said, ‘Huh. You can make money from mass appeal and trying to be accurate.’ So the… It’s almost like we’re returning to the old ways where it was highly partisan and you were very loose with the facts. But to the… I don’t think journalists… I really have come to… In the wake of this election, I’ve come to…it’s keeping me up at night, literally, thinking about what the press should do right now and one of the things I think the press should do is point out that this idea that the mainstream press is dishonest, that’s shameful. That is disgraceful. That’s anti-foundational. It’s just wrong. The mainstream press, almost all of it that I’m aware of, operates within a code of ethics. The mainstream press is composed of organizations, we know who they are, who will fire their reporters for being purposely wrong. Is that true at Fox? I’m not sure it is. It’s certainly not true at Breitbart and it’s certainly not true on the left wing fake sites that have sprung up. But the mainstream press gets it wrong but not on purpose. That’s important for the public to know and I think that the mainstream press, through its various organizations, should be mounting some sort of very quick informational campaign to…and I don’t know if it would do any good to be honest with you but should be speaking up more for itself that, ‘Look, folks, we get it wrong once in a while but we don’t purposefully distort. We don’t do that and when we find people that do, they’re out.’
Jan Paynter: The Post’s Chris Cillizza quotes Dean Baquet, Editor of The New York Times and I wanted to read this. “Few stories will be done just for the record,” and this goes to what you’ve been talking about. “Reporters will cover their subjects or regions without concern for where the stories land in the print paper, thus allowing them to take on subjects that will not need to be greatly categorized. They can say yes to a wider variety of stories that do not fit the old print architecture.” Cillizza goes on to say that ‘the older reporter credo of “it’s not my beat” should be discarded in favor of saying yes to smart content that always says something unique.’ As he says, ‘The more smart content we produce daily, weekly and on a monthly basis, the more indispensable journalism becomes in the everyday lives of people.’ So Cillizza is rooting for alternative news sources online and says, ‘A rising tide of content might…in terms of journalism might just lift all boats.’ How do you feel about that?
Wyatt Andrews: There is a new agency, relatively new agency, called Vice News and if you’re not aware of Vice News, they have a…there’s two branches to Vice News. So they have a vice.com website and that’s a lot of lifestyle stuff. But within the vicenews.com there is Vice News and that is…and there is a very specific model to Vice News on the web. Separate from that but as part of the same newsroom, they have two new products that they sell to HBO. So HBO and Vice have recently teamed up to make a new 7:30pm national broadcast and this is news not based on advertising. And this is crucial and I teach this to my class. This is now news that because you pay $16, $17, and again that’s 100 million people around the world who subscribe to HBO. So this is now news…a 7:30pm broadcast based on subscription and if you look at that, it’s very smart content, it’s very…it’s 100 percent policy with some feature stories. It has heavy global news. We haven’t talked about that. But one of the problems with mainstream media now is that they don’t cover as much global news as they should but Vice does. But Vice… Here’s where I’m going. Vice is this gamble that younger people… This is all edgy and smart and produced…video produced at a fast clip but still sticks to the facts and is still driven by reporters who work under a code of ethics and it is one large gamble that younger people want smarter news presented in an edgier way. So here’s an example of news based on content, solid content, with almost zero infotainment and is paid for by subscribers where you’re not…you don’t have to prove on a day-to-day basis that you haven’t lost the 100,000 people in your audience because you haven’t covered the weather. I think we should all watch, whether Vice succeeds. And there’s one other aspect to it. Every single Friday night they have an investigative broadcast called HBO Vice Weekly and it’s…all it is is two 15 minute investigative features. It’s like a mini 60 Minutes but without the commercials. And so…and you will see a lot of the Vice HBO content then migrate to the website. But if you want to look at the canary in the coal mine of whether in the future we’re going to reward substantive news that’s…that operates under a code of ethics and which has almost zero infotainment content, there’s your laboratory. We’ll see.
Jan Paynter: Wyatt, as we close out our time together today, I wanted to mention Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post who recently made a very acute observation about the First Amendment that bears repeating and she says, ‘Everything that we have, everything that makes us unlike any other nation, flows from those words.’ She notes that ‘the First Amendment issues are not just for journalists but for everyone, that journalists “must”,’ as she says, ‘write and report aggressively and fearlessly and be willing to fight for access, getting involved with civil and media rights and backing officials that champion free expression.’ Important words for this moment in our history.
Wyatt Andrews: Could not agree more with Margaret Sullivan. Those words are well spoken and they’re wise and let me refer back to Jefferson who first… I can’t recall the exact phrase but essentially Jefferson said flat out that without freedom of the press we don’t have the rest of them, that that was the foundational freedom upon which everything else rests, that we could not erect a republic and spare ourselves from tyranny unless the public had the inherent right to all information out there on which they would base their decisions as citizens, on which they could make their decisions to vote and on which they could send fear into the hearts of bureaucrats and officials and policymakers and potential tyrants, that they would…by dent of the rulebook have to be called to account to the public through the proxy of the press. It’s all based on that. If they… Our freedoms are based on this fact that if the king or president, whomever that is, does not fear being called to a question…into question, called to account, then he or she is not going to fear making a bad decision. He or she is not going to fear engaging in all manner of abuse of power. It is vitally important to all freedom itself that the press stands up right now and asserts its right to information, asserts its right to access and asserts its right to call the new administration to account, just like they have every other administration.
Jan Paynter: It’s a time-honored and important tradition at this moment. I would like to thank our guest, Wyatt Andrews, for taking the time to join our conversation today and for his remarkable, longstanding and dedicated contribution to journalistic integrity in the service of truth and free speech. Thank you at home for joining our conversation. If you would like more information concerning the topic under discussion today, we invite you to take a look at our website at politicsmatters.org. We will be posting a number of books, articles and relevant links on many of the issues under discussion today there for you. You will also find a complete archive of prior Politics Matters programs that you may watch in their entirety anytime. We will be posting extended versions of interviews online on our site as well and will continue to add more content. As always, we are very interested in hearing from you with any ideas, questions and concerns for future programs. We encourage you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are on PBS-WVPT on the second and last Sunday of every month at 11:30 am. Thank you again and until next we meet, I’m Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters.