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Keynote: How Steven Brill Would Direct a Staff To Cover an Election

Steven Brill, Editor-in-Chief, Brill's Content

Journalists, Like Lawyers, Don't Think People Understand Them

Here is a slightly edited transcript of the luncheon address by Steven Brill, Editor in Chief of Brill's Content, at the Nieman Foundation's Third Watchdog Conference.

Thank you all for having me. I'm delighted to be with you today. These are important subjects and I'm glad to be able to participate but I should tell you that I come to meetings like this of members of the journalism profession with frankly a jaded attitude. Bill Kovach told me that if I came here I could say what I wanted to say so I'm going to say it. And I guess I can best explain this jaded attitude, or at least most comfortably explain it, by taking a shot at a different profession.

In my prior life, when I ran American Lawyer magazine and a bunch of other legal newspapers and the court room television network, I used to have to go to all kinds of bar association meetings and seminars. These were groups of distinguished lawyers talking about very serious subjects. And every one of them came to have a familiar pattern. The lawyers first would bemoan the fact that the public just doesn't like them. Then they'd complain about how the protections that are given to them as lawyers by the Constitution are really things that protect the public, not them, but that the public really doesn't understand this. They think that when lawyers seek to invoke these constitutional protections they're doing it for themselves and not for the public.

Then they'd sit around and explain how that image is not entirely the public's fault at all because, as they'd explain in seminars, standards of the profession are falling. And in large part those standards are falling because of commercial pressures on the profession. So they'd talk about how they have to do something about it. And if they didn't do something about it quickly they'd completely lose the public's trust, the republic would fall and they would have failed in their higher calling. Then they'd conclude that all of them in the room are in fact not really such terrible people because they're there and they're in this room to do the right thing and they're really OK people. But that they have to work harder at getting the rest of their profession to measure up more consistently to the high calling of the profession.

Then they'd adjourn and they'd meet again a year later to do the same thing. Does any of that sound familiar? It should be because I know you're not going to like me for saying this but I have to tell you that going to the typical seminar at the Columbia Journalism School reminds me of every bar association meeting I ever went to in my life – reminds me of that in the good sense and the bad sense. The good sense being that I came to believe working all those years with lawyers that most lawyers are really good people trying to do a good thing and that we have in the United States the best legal system in the world. I believe the same parallel attributes apply to journalism.

Every News Organization Needs an Ombudsman

So I have to admit to you that I'm not here because I think instinctively that programs like this end up working. In fact, I'm here because Bill Kovach asked me to be here. And Bill has a lot of power over me. A lot of power. Let me explain to you the power he has over me because it's something that I've become kind of an evangelist about. I think every news room or every news organization should have a Bill Kovach. Bill is Ombudsman of Brill's Content. The deal that we made with Bill is very simple. He has a two-year contract. He can't be fired. At the end of the two years he can't be rehired. During the two years he gets any and all complaints that we receive in our office, plus we post, as you know, prominently in our magazine a way for readers, or anybody else who wants to complain, a way to contact him directly.

He investigates those complaints. If need be he can use people on our staff. If need be, and it hasn't happened yet, he can hire researchers to do it. He investigates each and every compliant we get. He can talk to us about those complaints if he wants to. He doesn't have to if he doesn't want to. And then he gets space in our magazine, as much space as he says he wants, to write whatever he wants to write about those complaints. Under our rules of engagement if he writes something and if I or somebody on the staff object to it, we can write a reply. But if we write a reply he can reply to our reply and that's it. It's over after that. He gets the last word.

We had to do this in a way. I mean it wasn't so clear that we had to do it, that everybody was thinking of it when we were starting the magazine. But I came to believe we had to do this because I think if you're going to set out to hold others accountable with your journalism one of the first things you ought to do to gain trust with readers is to hold yourself accountable. Having said that for our magazine, I don't see why every news room doesn't have the exact same situation. I'm not simply talking about ombudsmen in general, though that's obviously a very good step forward. I'm talking about somebody who's not an employee of the organization, who's not going to come back to the organization when that assignment is over to have to deal with all the people that he trashed or offended when he had that assignment. I'm talking about somebody who is highly respected, highly independent and is an outsider.

I think it's real important. It has given us a lot of hiccups. We've been embarrassed by some of the stuff Bill's done. But I think overall we are much better for it and our credibility is much better. But as I say, I'm here because if there's one little way I can get in good with Bill I can't do it with the space I allot him. There's nothing else I can do. I figured if he asked me to do this I should do it because maybe he'll remember me for doing it. But I should tell you that I'm also here because I'm an optimist and when Bill described to me what this program was I think that a lot of good can come out of meetings like this. Especially because the subjects are extremely well focused and the panelists are so distinguished. And I think that, again, that focus is a very good prescription for sessions like this, dealing with very specific issues.

How Brill Would Cover an Election If He Headed a News Organization

So what I'm going to try to do in the next 10 or 15 minutes – and by the way, my speech is going to short because Bill hinted at that in what I thought was a marvelously subtle way. When we were having lunch the only subject that he brought up was Bill Clinton's speech at the 1988 Democratic convention. I got the message. Unlike a lot of the articles I write, this will be mercifully short. It's also going to be specific. What Bill asked me to think about was if I had a staff at a newspaper or a local news organization, a local television news organization, or a national television news organization, covering an election campaign what are some of the things I would do.

More Time, More Space, More Resources

The first thing I'd do is I'd make sure that they have more time, more space and more resources to cover it than most of the people representing news organizations in this room, I suspect, will have. In a world in which the JonBenét story is bigger news than a coup involving a budding nuclear power we in this room are not the problem. And no amount of great ideas that we come up with here will be as significant as a decision by the people who control news organizations to let us cover real news. On the other hand, I do think there is a way we can package political news, issues news even, and make it more aggressive. There's a way that will give it a better audience and therefore make it more competitive with JonBenet in the marketplace. And I really believe that.

If a Businessman, How Did He Run It?

If I were running a news organization in this election season I'd make sure, just to give you a few examples, that if a congressional candidate is a business person that we did an in-depth profile of how that person runs and has run that business. From labor policy to consumer pricing policy to how the business was financed at the beginning to complaints about the business to good things the business has done to the business's community involvement before the candidate decided he was going to be a candidate. I would take a very good look at that person's record as a business person if that's who the person is.

Match Contributors to Votes

If the candidate is an incumbent I would want a story and a chart that we would run matching the candidate's votes to campaign contributors who had an interest in that vote. In fact, as a general matter if I were covering legislative politics, state or federal, any time there is a congressional vote, I would match the congressional vote with a listing of who cast that vote based on the percentage of campaign contributions the person got from an interested party in that vote. The amount, the percentage. I would always link, until the system is changed, campaign contributions to a congressional vote.

What that means is if somebody voted in a way that was against the obvious interests of significant contributors to his or her campaign I'd say that. I wouldn't just say the negative. I'd say the positive also. But I would always, always make that an issue. No story I ever did about anybody's decision in Congress or in a state legislature would be without some mention of how that vote might tie into campaign contributions. Let people complain about that. Let them say it's obvious, of course that people will contribute to Congress people or representatives who vote their way. Of course it's obvious. You don't have to tell your readers that, it's obvious. And I'd say let's just keep it obvious.

Credits in Beauty Magazines

What that reminds me of in my own little world is we've run a bunch of stories where we make fun of all of the women's magazines for making up, for example. When you see a beauty credit, a makeup credit in lots of women's magazines – you know, makeup by so and so, so and so, so and so – they're totally fictitious. They parcel it out based on who the advertisers are. And they admit it. They say why are you reporting this, it's not news. Everybody in our business knows that that's the way we do beauty credits. And I say if everybody knows it can't be much of a problem for us to print it. We'll obviously go out of business because people will say this is so obvious, who cares. The answer is their readers don't know it. And the answer is your readers, when they look at a congressional vote, don't necessarily know the percentage of money in that candidate's campaign that comes from people with that interest in that vote.

You can pick through this suggestion and figure out all different kinds of problems with it. How will you know which interest is which? How will you know how to do the percentages? How will you know how to do the amounts? But you get the point. The point is since in the real world in this city votes are linked to campaign contributions, at a minimum there is an appearance of conflict of interest. It seems to me one way to package and cover politics is to record that and record it very specifically.

Ask Yes-or-No Questions

I'll give you another example. I believe deeply in asking candidates, asking anybody, specific questions that have a yes or no answer. And then running a chart that lists the candidates' positions based on those yes or no answers. In fact, if somebody won't answer yes or no you have another box that says won't answer. And maybe the icon you use for that is a chicken or something. But you spruce this up. You package it and you make not answering yes or no a real issue.

Frankly, I think a lot of the political reporting, a lot of the interviews with candidates, tend not to frame questions that can get real yes or no answers. The fact is people have to make decisions ultimately based on yes's and no's. That's how they vote in Congress or in a state legislature, that's how presidents make decisions. And there's nothing wrong with asking questions that way. There is something wrong with letting candidates get off with flowery statements that mean nothing and that bore voters. And indeed, that turn off your readers or your viewers to the campaign coverage. Because the statements are meant to obfuscate things. They're meant to turn people off.

For example, Bill Bradley and Al Gore on gays in the military. I watched Bradley get away with one on the Larry King show a couple of weeks ago. Now, it's the Larry King show and it's not that kind of confrontational show. But as I recall it, and I'm just remembering it, he was asked – I think somebody called in. I don't even think Larry asked him the question about gays in the military. And he said he thought it should be done. And somebody said on what time table and he said on my time table. What does that mean? I assume every candidate running for president thinks gays in the military should be a policy that should be addressed on their time table. How could he get away with it?

It seems to me that if you're concerned about that issue – I'm not particularly concerned about that issue – there's a way to ask a specific question. Would your policy change within 30 days of your taking office, yes or no? If you get a long answer you say he wouldn't answer the question. Simple. There are lots of other more substantive issues that we can apply that kind of test to. But my point is that there ought to be boxes in newspapers, graphics on television that tell us whether candidates are answering questions and what their yes's are and their no's are. And then you can develop a package that contrasts candidates' answers to very specific questions. There isn't nearly enough of that going on right now.

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda About Children's Privacy

Bill Kovach and I are having a little bit of a mini fight in our magazine next issue about this. We asked a question in the last issue of about 150, 130 editors and reporters around the country about whether they would agree to, in principle, to some very specific guidelines having to do with taking pictures of kids under 12 and taking pictures of grieving families right after they've suffered a loss in their family. This is all under the rubric of the question of invasion of privacy. We asked very specific yes/no questions. A lot of the answers we got back looked like they were drafted by [former New York Yankee manager] Casey Stengel Some of you in the room may not remember how Casey answered questions. But they just didn't answer. We got these wonderful flowery statements about I believe deeply in respecting the privacy of people and we should make individual decisions and yadda, yadda, yadda, all this stuff.

But the delicious thing was that because we had asked, for example, the people in charge of The National Enquirer and people in charge of Time magazine and The Portland Oregonian and places all over the country, their rhetoric was all the same. Which proves that the rhetoric means nothing. What matters is not simply your yes or no answer to that question but what do you actually do in practice. And I felt strongly that what we should do in the magazine was list every single person we asked the question to, mark them with a yes or no, quote lots of them. We quoted lots of them in the piece saying why they thought what they thought. But if somebody wouldn't give an answer, would only give a Casey Stengel answer, and we'd ask them again is the answer yes or no and they'd go on and on again, we said would not answer. That says something about somebody. They wouldn't answer the question. What I'm saying is that I think that politicians running for office ought to be held to that test. There is a way to frame questions that is fair. And now that we have the Internet there is a way to let people who are interested go back behind how you framed that question to give the details of how you're framing questions. Longer answers that people give behind their yeses and no's can be provided easily. So there's a way to expand it. But I think that one of the problems is we're letting people off too easily with non-answers. So I would do that.

Horse-Race Stories and Polling

Would I run horse race stories? Of course I would. Because I think how a candidate runs a campaign has a whole lot to do with how a candidate would hold office. Particularly somebody running for an executive office. Managing a campaign in microcosm is often a good view of how that person would run the executive branch, whether it's a state house or the White House. I really believe – I don't believe but I have an instinct that Gore's inability to sort of weed out who is his top staff and who's not and to get the thing organized, or his apparent inability to sort of make tough decisions about the people running his campaign may say something about what he'd do if he had to pick a cabinet or a staff. It may. It's certainly not irrelevant.

Similarly, I would run lots of stories about the candidates' ads. Though what I would do is I'd apply the resources to fact checking those ads. I'd keep a box score on accuracy of the ads and call them as I see them. There are certain things that are factually incorrect that you can say that's incorrect and you don't simply have to raise questions about it.

Would I run polling stories? Sure, I would but not nearly as many. Again, I wouldn't let them crowd out my beloved issues chart where I'd have yes, no, and won't answers. During the campaign I'd use that chart so that if that day the issue of tax relief came up I'd do the story and I'd flash the box on what these candidates have said on two or three questions having to do with tax relief or tax cuts or tax policy.

Just to give you an example of how I might frame an issue. You can make these charts, I think, about policy and really pin people down. For example, you could ask two people running in a Senate race or a congressional race if they think that the gap between rich and poor in this country is too wide. Yes or no. That's easy, yes or no. Not it depends, not this, not that. Then you can say, for those who think it is too wide, if they think that federal tax policy ought to do more to fix it, to readjust it. Yes or no. Reasonable questions worthy of reasonable answers. If they have a longer answer they want to append to it maybe you put some of that in the story, maybe you put some of that on your web site. But you have a chart, yes, no, wouldn't answer. And I think you'll start seeing patterns of people who won't answer anything. That should be a story.

Let Candidates Attack You

But at least instead of a mealy mouthed story saying so and so seems reluctant to address the issues at this point in the campaign, blah, blah, blah, you say so and so has refused nine out of the ten questions we've given him. And let him attack you for saying that. Let him attack your questions. They should be good enough questions and you should be able to defend them. I would devise a hypothetical based on something real, for example, having to do with school vouchers. And again ask yes or no. It's a complicated policy but if you really think about it you can boil it down and get yes or no.

All of this would be aimed, I think, at getting a journalism to do what it's really supposed to do and what it does best. And that's inform people in a democracy. Really inform. Inform them as consumers of a democracy. Inform them as voters. Again, none of these methods is going to matter if there's not the time and the effort put into the coverage or if the coverage is crowded out by the latest, quote, developments, unquote, in stories that aren't stories at all but are just there because they seem to get ratings because these stories haven't been packaged enough and articulated well enough.

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down and Chickens

Again, my issues chart wouldn't be dull. I wouldn't call it an issues chart. I'd think of something else to call it. And I'd have icons like thumbs up, thumbs down and a chicken if somebody won't answer the question. Or something like that. On television I'd be happy to be rude to the people I interview in the following way. Ask that question, a yes/no question, do you think that we should use federal tax policy to narrow the gap between the rich and poor in this country? Somebody gives you a two-minute speech. You say that's very interesting but would you mind answering my question, yes or no. Why don't we see more of that on television? Why is everybody part of the same club?

I don't think that's being negative or being rude in the way that the press gets attacked now for being negative and being rude. The press gets attacked now for being negative and being rude because they're not interested in issues. They're not interested in those answers. They're interested in whether the guy running for office had a drinking problem 20 years ago. Or they're interested in whether his pollster is better than the other pollster. Or they're interested in his strategy. But simply saying to somebody that's very nice but you haven't answered my question, can you give our viewers a yes or no. Yes or no, what's the answer? Oh, you won't answer my question.

Be Rude About Issues, Not Personal Life

I think that is what journalists were put on earth to do, is to be rude about that kind of stuff and not be negative or rude about the political leader's personal life, his personal habits, his momentum, his lack of momentum. That's garbage compared to this stuff. And this stuff, I'm telling you, can be made dramatic by doing it that way. So I submit to you that seeing some of that on television may just be the kind of material that can compete with the JonBenét Ramsay stories – If we're willing to have the guts to do that.

I think that a lot of journalists in Washington – dare I say this at the National Press Club? – because they're part of the same club that the people they're covering don't want to ask those questions. I mean how many times have we all watched one of the Sunday shows and said – I do this all the time – why don't you just make him answer the damn question instead of giving a two-minute speech? People love that. And we all do this. If you've ever been coached to be on a tour peddling a book, you know what the first rule of being on a book tour is. Always answer the question that you wish they had asked. I assume politicians are told that from the moment they're born. Which is always answer the question you wish somebody has asked, not the question they did ask. It's our job not to let people get away from that.

When ABC News People Ducked Question

Our magazine struggles with this kind of stuff every day. We're trying to make decision making about the press interesting. So far we're succeeding. We have, as of this week, about 250,000 circulation, of which about 18-20,000 are media people and the rest are civilians who actually care about this stuff. And I think we're succeeding because we're not afraid to make those kinds of dramatic efforts to get the press to answer questions. I mean I loved the idea when we did a story about how the Disney company had killed a story on 20/20 having to do with a pedophile problem at the theme parks. I love the idea that we asked everybody, or most people we could think of, who work at ABC News, what their comment was on the story and would they continue to work at ABC news if they knew for sure that Disney had spiked that story.

We had a terrific time quoting all these people saying I really couldn't comment on that till I have all the facts or gee, no comment or that's not my decision, that's an internal matter, I never discuss internal matters. I mean Cokie Roberts and people like that saying I don't discuss internal – it was fun to do that. And you know who had the most fun? Our readers. Because our readers got it. Our readers knew that what we were doing was saying to the press you try to embarrass people all the time with these kinds of questions and that's what we're doing with you. We're trying to hold you accountable. My suggestion to you is that in political coverage the accountability, the gotcha, has been misdirected. The gotcha and the accountability has been directed toward all this personal stuff and not to issues.

Maybe I'm just a wonk at heart, but I think there is a way to make serious stuff interesting. To make serious issues coverage interesting. To make political campaigns interesting. What I want to suggest here is that with some new creativity and new aggressiveness, combined again with the resources that you have to have to be able to do this stuff, you can create a kind of coverage that actually can do pretty well in the marketplace with the kind of celebrity coverage and the coverage of non-issue issues that seems to be carrying the day today.


Q. – I'm curious about what you proposed about identifying campaign contributions to congressional votes. I wonder, would you extend that say to the actions of an incumbent president?

A. – Sure.

Q. – Or Supreme Court decisions every time?

A. – I don't think people contribute to Supreme Court candidates except in Texas.

Q. – But they do have business interests.

A. – It's just not the same. With all respect, I think you're almost trivializing the point by extending it there. Because the fact is that justices, if it's a significant business interest, routinely recuse themselves. And if they don't then it's a whole big story and then you should do it. I could tell you that when I ran Court TV there were people from the legislature in Albany who showed up in my office and I got invited to fundraisers. What they wanted to talk to me about was cameras in the courtroom legislation in Albany. There were people on the Hill here who solicited me for campaign contributions because they were on the judiciary committee and we were trying to push cameras in courts here. I think that is relevant. It certainly is relevant if they get a contribution. In fairness, if somebody is a supporter of something that I as a business person or as a citizen believe in and sponsors legislation and votes that way there isn't anything ipso facto wrong with me making a campaign contribution to that person. But there's also nothing wrong with people in a democracy knowing about it and knowing about the link between. Not necessarily that it's a corrupt link but the link between what I care about as a business person and how that person has voted. I think that is very serious and very significant and we all know it in this room. And it doesn't take all that much work to do it. I just think we should hammer it home. Every day, every story, every vote.

Q. – What you say about holding people accountable and recording their contribution records and matching it with their votes sounds easy. You've been around this town for awhile. You know issues become complex and they're wrapped up into one vote. How can you tell if somebody votes for gun control but not the full gun control? Is that a yes, a partial yes, a half a no? I'm trying to suggest that that's a good idea but in carrying it out how would you approach it?

A. – Let me tell you something. There are reporters who have been all over a place who spent a lot of time and a lot of money in a place called Odessa, Texas. Who have been all over a guy, actually several people there, who they know do drug counseling in Odessa, Texas. They've spent days there. Thousands of dollars on airplane flights. Because they're trying to find out if one of those drug counselors ever treated George W. Bush. The same energy and the same effort that goes into that can go into solving your problem. In fact, a lot less energy. I suggested a general idea but there are ways to do it. We can all sit around a table and we could find a way. And you know what? The first time we do it it's not going to be perfect. The second time there will be people writing very smart letters to the editor, and they'll be right, explaining why that's wrong and why doing it this way wouldn't be more fair. The point is we have this information. Focusing on that, which is a real issue – it's the most basic issue in our democracy – as opposed to focusing on that other stuff, you can't tell me there isn't energy. How many reporters are covering JonBenét Ramsay right now? The fact that nothing has happened in the case in the last three years but we need a daily update that nothing has happened. You could take that energy. It's not a matter of resources. You could do anything with that energy. That's not the fault of anybody in this room at all. But what I'm suggesting is that there's a way to package this stuff, if you will. And I use that word deliberately because I'm trying to sound crass and I'm trying to sound like I care about the marketplace. Because the way out of a lot of these troubles is to care about the marketplace. It's to prove to people that you can make this stuff interesting. And I think you can.

Q. – What is the biggest misconception you had about the press before you started Brill's Content? And what do you think the biggest misconception about the public about the press is?

A. – It's funny. I wasn't prepared to be surprised by any of the negative reaction we've gotten from the press. Because again, I did this with lawyers – really challenging the monopoly that lawyers have on wisdom and on power. So I wasn't prepared to be surprised by a negative reaction, an arrogant reaction and some really silly reactions. But I have to tell you that at the end of the day when it comes to power and arrogance and lack of accountability and how a group reacts when somebody challenges that, journalists actually make lawyers look pretty good. I think this is more of a club than I even thought it was. Not this room. It's just, it's more insular. And actually two things surprised me. The story we did on ABC, I know I keep coming back to it. It's not a big deal. What surprised me about that story was that it didn't surprise anyone. I genuinely believe that most journalists, including most journalists at large news organizations, including the largest conglomerates, are honest. And they get up in the morning and they think they're doing important work. And in fact, they are doing important work and they're honest about it. And what surprised me was that this was a slam dunk case, this story. I mean just slam dunk that they had killed that story. It wasn't one of the most important stories in the world but it was a story about Disney World. That they had killed that story because of a corporate interest. Nobody was surprised. I thought that two or three of the $700,000 or $800,000 or $2 million a year journalists at ABC would quit. But they all had to worry about feeding their kids, I guess. That surprised me. The other one that surprised me was the one we just did with asking people about rules for protecting the privacy of children. The hemming and hawing we got and the way everybody reacted, or a lot of people reacted, was we won't agree to any outside standards governing our conduct. We don't think any outside standard, even a suggested standard, should be used to measure our conduct. There are people who make toys and dental equipment and hand grenades who'd be surprised to hear that journalists are the only industry in the world that won't even accept the proposition that there can be any industry standard, voluntary standard, against which their conduct can be measured. That surprises me. A lot.

Q. – I wonder whether you'd address the question of publishers making public their own political contributions. And relating that to the choice of subjects they choose to report in their magazine. I thought you might have something to share on that particular point.

A. – Why don't you stop beating around –

Q. – I'm raising another question. Any political contributions made by a publisher related to an examination of the issues that the publisher chooses to put into his newspaper or magazine.

A. – I absolutely agree. I don't think journalists should make contributions at all. Any political contributions at all. And if they do they should certainly disclose it if their publication or they are writing anything even remotely related to the subject. What you're referring to in your own special elliptical way is that when I wasn't a journalist for a period of about six to eight months I made one contribution to Bill Clinton and one contribution to Rudy Guiliani. Then two years later, 18 months later, whenever it was, when I wrote the story about Ken Starr and the press, which I still don't think was a story about Bill Clinton, I hadn't disclosed those prior contributions. I say contributions, plural, because it never got reported that I'd also contributed to a Republican. I probably should have disclosed that. But again, you're not talking about me as a journalist making a contribution, let alone making a contribution to anybody that I was writing about, let alone making a contribution to anybody that I was writing about at the time I was writing it. But as a general rule – for example, all our employees, me included, are not allowed to make contributions. And I don't think journalists should.

Q. – I want you to go beyond that. There's a story in today's Washington Post, a headline on the jump, Clinton Appears Free to Speak His Mind. Clinton is disdainful too of what he regards as the softball news coverage of Bush, comparing it with the harsh scrutiny he received and attributing the difference to an elitist bias in the media. Thoughts?

A. – I think the difference is more the cycles of a presidential campaign. October 1991, I guess is the analog. The only thing any of us knew about Bill Clinton was he was this fabulous enlightened governor of Arkansas who had been a Rhodes scholar and been to Yale law school and therefore must be brilliant and must be forward looking. And had a good chance or maybe a chance to be the nominee. I think by the time George W. Bush gets at the nomination, or god knows, if he's president, he will be saying the same thing Bill Clinton is saying about the press. I mean it's just everybody says it. And half the time they're right. I just think it's a cycle. Bradley, for example – there's another part, I think it's in the same article, where Clinton allows as how Bradley is getting a free ride. That's probably sort of true until about a week or two ago. And now we'll see that change, I suspect.

Q. – In your current issue you have, I think it can be called a political dialogue between you and Bob Woodward that's a carryover from your previous issue. My question is, did I miss something or did Howard Kurtz not write about this in The Washington Post? If he didn't doesn't that illustrate what you're talking about in the two-year contract with your own ombudsman?

A. – No. I wish you were right but I don't think you are. I think Howie Kurtz writes them as he sees them. I think Howie has raised these issues. I just think he's a terrific journalist and if he thought what I thought or saw what I guess I think I saw in Woodward's I have total confidence that Howie would write it. I also have total confidence that The Washington Post would publish it. I wish they wouldn't because I'd have a great story. But I think they would. That was a bummer answer, I guess. No conspiracy theory.

Q. – I guess my question was not so much whether he would do the investigative or analytic part of what you were talking about. But whether the fact of the controversy wouldn't be of some interest to a Post readership that gets a very steady diet of – 

A. – That's right. No, it makes it harder. And one of the selling points, if you will, of our magazine is because we're not part of The Washington Post we can write more about The Washington Post more freely. And we're not part of The New York Times we can write more about The New York Times more freely and NBC and CBS and all the rest of it. And I think that's true. I reacted to the specific question you asked in a very specific way because I think that I really feel strongly that our responsibility as a magazine and my responsibility extends to not sort of allowing well, that's an interesting question. Because to my mind the worst thing you could say about Howie Kurtz or the worst thing you could say about The Washington Post would be anything other than what I just said. And I don't believe it about them. Until I have real reason to believe it about them I just don't want to say it. And I think they've done all kinds of stuff that would prove the contrary. But it is a problem. It's a structural problem. I'm just not instinctively as big on structural questions as I am on real factual issues that come out of real reporting. I can't be because I'd be a hypocrite. Because I am the principal owner and the CEO and the Editor in Chief of our magazine, which is something Bill doesn't approve of either. And that means that I know (Or I should know. I usually don't know) what ads are going into the magazine, I benefit from advertising that comes into the magazine. I actually, god forbid, benefit when our circulation goes up. Therefore if I'm corrupt I have an easy way to corrupt the editorial process. Except if I do I hope everybody on our staff will quit, and I think a lot of them would. So I'm not big on Chinese walls as being the ultimate safeguard. I'm not big on the lack of Chinese walls being the easy proof that there's something wrong afoot. Because if I were I'd be a hypocrite. Because I do it. I just happen to think I'm an honest person who does it.

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