Keynotes: Washington Problems and Moscow Problems
The second Nieman Watchdog Conference began Friday night, May 14, 1998, with keynote speeches at dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club. The speakers were Murrey Marder, the retired Diplomatic Correspondent of The Washington Post and the inspiration for the project, and his friend, Professor Henry Alexandrovich Trofimenko, of Moscow, who was a Soviet correspondent during much of the Cold War. Here are the edited transcripts of their speeches.
Washington Problems: Secrecy and Manipulation
Whether you realize it or not, you're participating in something to which, so far as we know, has never been done before, and that is to bring together a group of newspaper, broadcast and radio people, and have them talk about their sources. The perennial verboten subject of journalism: How did you get the story, where did you get it from, and how do you avoid, or didn't you avoid, becoming a hostage to your source in the process?
I held off writing my memoirs in the hope that some even more senior colleague would start describing how they operated with their sources. As a matter of fact, I had a lot of hope in Scotty Reston, who produced his memoirs and told us nothing about his sources, which is par for the course.
Police Reporting Helps
In trying to think through the differences in operation, I came to the conclusion, at least in my own case, and I think it applies to others, that a great deal of journalism depends on where you started and how you started. I found out only in retrospect why I was so unconventional, and it was because of what happened as I was being introduced to real police reporting after four years as a copy boy at The Philadelphia Ledger. The Ledger would not hire anyone who went to journalism school, which may have been a good idea because as a result it made people police reporters only if they had been through the mill. As a copy boy I had gone through part of the Lindbergh kidnapping, the explosion of the Hindenburg, a half-dozen other major stories. In the process I got more experience than I realized at the time. As a matter of fact, as a copy boy I ended up making up picture pages, and that's almost an impossible thing to do on a large newspaper these days.
When I was told I was being assigned to the Main Line I said, oh, my god, that's the last place in the world I wanted to work in Philadelphia, because I knew it was the most difficult place to work. After being taken around the various police jurisdictions, which extended from the Main Line to Paoli, as my instructor was leaving me he said, "Don't forget the gifts." I said, "Gifts, what gifts?"
He said, "You know, the gifts to the desk sergeants." I said, "Gifts to the desk sergeants?" He said, "Yes."
I said, "You're kidding." He said, "No, I'm not kidding."
I said, "What kind of gifts?" He said, "You know, holidays; hams, turkeys."
I said, "You're kidding." He said, "No, I'm not kidding you, Murrey."
I said, "I'm not going to do that." He said, "Oh, yes, you will."
I said, "No, I'm not." He said, "Oh, yes, you will."
And I didn't, and I knew there were going to be consequences but I didn't know how severe they'd be. One day after having had two flat tires on the way to work. - we had a 10 a.m. deadline - at a quarter to 10 I finally got to a phone, called my office, and the city editor got on the phone and said, "Where the hell have you been?" I said, "What's the problem?"
He said, "Are you ready to call the story in?" I said, "Story?"
He said, "Yes, the goddamn Pew story." Oh, my god, Pew, that's all I need to hear in the Philadelphia area. I said, "I'm working on it," and he said, "You're working on it? You know what time it is? It's a quarter to ten."
I said, "I'll call it in." He said, "And don't forget the picture." I said, "Picture of who?" He said, "A picture of the girl."
Well, I hung up, I walked over to the desk sergeant, I said, "You bastards," and he said, "What's the problem?"
I said, "I asked you when I came in if there was anything going on." He said, "I just came on."
I said, "Can I look at the book?" He said, "Somebody took it."
So I grabbed the telephone book and went looking through the phone book for Pews, and thank the journalistic gods, I found one. It happened to be a maiden aunt who told me that the only child, the adopted child of Joe Pew, had been killed coming from a debutante ball at the Bellevue Stratford. The car was demolished.
I called the story in about two minutes to ten. The next question was, "Where's the picture?" I went racing out, had no idea where the Pew family lived. Finally found them, went racing up - it was like a B Hollywood movie - just as Joe Pew is handing a picture of his dead daughter to The Bulletin reporter. I grabbed it, half of it [laughter] and I said, "You're going to share that damn picture," and he said, "No," and I said, "Yes, you will."
I told Pew, "Now, look, Mr. Pew, you would not want the readers of The Philadelphia Ledger to be deprived of the picture of your daughter on this occasion, would you?"
Jumping to Conclusions
So I learned on the scene there. The next thing that happened was the police in that area would tell you absolutely nothing. Me, especially nothing. I found out there had been a body brought into the hospital from a very fashionable area, which was the case for most of the Main Line, and I went racing out there and found the address and saw there was a stained glass window, another window in front of it, and looked and saw there was a hole through these windows and saw there was an angle which seemed, I concluded, that somebody had stood outside and shot somebody standing in the room.
I was about to call it in when a senior Ledger reporter came walking up and said, "What are you doing, kid?" I said, "Calling a story in."
He said, "Yeah? What's the story?" I said, "This murder here."
He said, "Murder? How do you conclude that?" I went through my elaborate explanation, there was this bullet hole being at an angle.
He said, "Did it ever occur to you that maybe the guy shot himself through the head and the bullet went down outside of the window and came through at that angle?"
At that point, I became very cautious about playing Sherlock Holmes on stories. But basically, I realize only in retrospect that from then on I found I could get by with playing hardball with these people.
I got even with the police and The Bulletin reporter. I thought, all right, I'm going to get these guys. I called in every remote version of a news story that happened in that entire area. A sparrow didn't fall in that whole Main Line area that I didn't call it in to stick it to The Bulletin.
Marder Formula: In Crisis Sit Down
I found that if you use your head and try to think, you could get by. When I came to Washington, after the war, after having been a combat correspondent in the South Pacific, which gave me enough chutzpah to do a lot of things I would never have done without having been killed a half-dozen times during the war, but when I came to Washington I found you could put these practices to work.
I remember going to my first White House press conference during the Truman Administration, and the conference would end and everybody would rush for the telephones. I said, what the hell, and I rushed with them the first time or two, then said, wait a minute, why am I rushing? I'm working for a morning paper. We don't come out until tomorrow morning, there's nobody in my office to talk to at this time anyhow except the guy on the desk who's covering police.
So I developed from that what I call the Marder Formula, which was, in time of crisis sit down. [Laughter] Everybody is rushing for the telephone. Nobody thinks about anything. I remember when Dave Greenway was about to go over to a White House press conference for the first time. He said, "What the hell can I do over there that two or three hundred other reporters are not doing already?"
I said, "There's one thing you can do, Dave," and he said, "What's that?" I said, "It's something I guarantee you that almost nobody else in that room will be doing."
He said, "What?" I said, "Think." He said, "Thanks a lot, Murrey." I said, "I'm serious, there is no time to think."
Most reporters have never discovered that. Your mind can really do only one thing effectively at a time. If you're taking notes, you cannot think effectively. If you're taking notes of somebody speaking you cannot adequately evaluate what he's saying and formulate a question to pursue what he's saying.
So the thing I would do is just be less concerned about what I was doing taking notes about some piece of boilerplate that was coming at me, and while I was getting that, I would try to formulate in my own mind a question to ask, not just one question, a series of questions.
White House Press Conferences
I recall when Jack Kennedy started with his massive press conferences. The Kennedy Administration developed its own scenario for those, it had certain characters in the audience it would pick out for laughs, for seriousness.
I found out on the rare occasion when I got to ask him a question, the first word out of his mouth would be no. If I said, "Is it raining outside," and it was, he would say no. Because he concluded automatically he was going to get a hostile question from me, or something that was not a self-serving question.
I found that in dealing with anyone, (especially with Henry Kissinger) before I asked a question I would formulate in my own mind what their answer was going to be. I rarely asked a question which I did not know what the obvious answer was going to be because I wanted to be ready for the second question, and then the third question.
Now, the American press conferences, White House press conferences, are often compared with British House of Commons questions, but there's really not much similarity there. In the British House of Commons, these people do it seriously. They have prepared their follow-up question and their second follow-up question and their third follow-up question. That's rarely done at American press conferences.
One thing that can be done, if you have a group of similar-minded people who are serious about it, you can formulate an effective challenging position by pooling questions - you ask him this, I'll try to follow it up with this, and you try to follow it up with that. You can break through these barriers.
I was absolutely horrified to find out, when the Committee of Concerned Journalists were doing their conference in Washington, the explanation given by the White House press about why they're being entrapped by their sources into non-identification - not even remote identification, not just inability to identify the person, but inability to identify whether they were coming from the right, left, center, upside down, or what. That, to me, is inexcusable, to have an absolutely blank source out there.
'What's Your Problem, Hal?'
There was no reason to get entrapped in that. It seems to me the only way we can be of help to each other in these sessions is to be as blunt and specific as we can. Let me give you an example: I recall one day writing a story about some aspect of foreign policy and I got a call when it appeared from Hal Sonnenfeld, who was sometimes called Kissinger's Kissinger. He called up and said, "Murrey, what the hell are you doing?" I said, "What's your problem, Hal?"
He said, "Well, I talked to you yesterday," and I said, "Yes?"
He said, "You wrote a story this morning." I said, "I quoted you correctly, yes, without a name, a White House source said X."
He said, "Yes, but then you quoted somebody else who said just the opposite. What the hell do you call that?" I said, "Hal, it's called journalism."
He said, "Really? Nobody else does that to me." I said, "That's unfortunate, they should."
He said, "I don't think I'm going to talk to you anymore." I said, "That's your privilege, that's your prerogative."
No, Thank You, Henry
The same thing had happened with Kissinger earlier, so I ended up with Kissinger not talking to me, and Sonnenfeld not talking to me. At the 1972 Summit in Moscow, I wrote a story which appeared in The Herald-Tribune the following morning. I had not been on speaking terms with Kissinger and Sonnenfeld for I think almost a year. Sonnenfeld came up to me, I was in the press room, I think almost by myself, and I tried to pretend I didn't see him, and he finally came over and said, "I have a message for you from Henry." I said, "Yes?"
He said, "He told me he wants to compliment you on your compassionate story this morning." I thought, what the hell is that about? I said, "Well, tell him, Hal, that it's not my purpose in life to write compassionate stories."
He said, "Jesus Christ, the guy tries to compliment you and you insult him all over again." [Laughter] I said, "Well, I'm serious. When people compliment me that way, I get very nervous."
Then later that day, [Presidential Press Secretary] Ron Ziegler came over. I could see him coming and I thought, oh, no, not Nixon, too, now I'm in deep trouble. He said, "The President wants to compliment you and Max Frankel for the fairness you displayed in your stories this morning." I said, "What the hell's the point of that? I've already had my full dose of this today. What's the point?"
He said, "He thought that given the attitude that you people had, that he didn't think you could be fair to him." I said, "That's not a compliment, that's an insult. Thanks for nothing." [Laughter]
Joe McCarthy Massaging the Press
But the truth is, I always did get nervous to be overcomplimented by something like that. I had a similar kind of experience during the McCarthy era. Once McCarthy was on the floor of the Senate with a group of us around and he was boasting about his good relations with the press, and he said, "Haven't I always been available for you fellows whenever you wanted to?" I shouted out from the back of the group, "No."
He said, "Who said no?" I said, "I said no."
He said, "What's the problem? Haven't I always been there when you wanted me?" I said, "Has your office answered a telephone call from me in the past year?"
He said, "I can't believe it." I said, "You'd better believe it.
He said, "I'll have to give them some new instructions." I said, "You've given them enough instructions already."
I got back to the office and the phone rang. I said, "Yes?" He said, "This is Joe." I said, "Joe who?"
"Joe McCarthy, Murrey, you know that." I said, "What's your problem?"
He said, "You said I never called you." I said, "Okay, so you called me, thanks a lot."
"Wait a minute, there must be something I can tell you." [Laughter] I said, "Oh, there are lots of things you could tell me."
He said, "Let me see, let's see what I've got. There's a story, you can't use it yet," and he gave me some cock-and-bull accusation against somebody, he said, "But you can't use that yet." I said, "That's interesting. That came over the AP wire an hour ago."
He said, "Did it? Damn it, I told them they were to hold that until I let them know."
One of the great unfortunate aspects of the McCarthy era was that we were never really able to get it across publicly in any way that was printable, given the mores of journalism, that McCarthy was not really serious about communism. A few people realized he was offered a choice by some of his clerical advisors to center on either the St. Lawrence Seaway or communism. [Laughter] He chose communism. Imagine if he had chosen the St. Lawrence Seaway, I wonder what would have happened to it.
But the other aspect of that is, it was not a funny period at any rate. I got into an elevator one day during the Army-McCarthy hearings. I'd been instrumental in helping to bring on those hearings by writing a series of stories which challenged McCarthy on his boldest claim of his career, which was that he had discovered 33 communist agents at Fort Monmouth Signal Corps in New Jersey. I wrote a series of articles which showed that he'd found absolutely none, nothing beyond mild communist sympathizers at the most, and in a press conference I forced the Secretary of the Army, Stephens, to admit that McCarthy simply was trading on investigations that the Army had developed earlier.
Walter Winchell Pitches In
And yet, it was a hell of a serious time. I was about to say I was getting into an elevator during the Army-McCarthy hearings and the door closed and I heard somebody say, "We're going to get you," and I had no idea who was talking or who they were talking about. I looked over and it was Walter Winchell, who I'd never talked to, and I said, "Who's going to get who?" He said, "We're going to get you," in a very menacing tone.
The elevator was going down (this brief conversation took place between just two floors) and I thought it was so absurd I said, "All of you?" And he said, "Yes, all of us." [Laughter]
We dispersed and I thought, well, that's interesting, that means George Sokolsky, Westbrook Pegler, god, everybody on that side. The only person on the other side at that time was Heywood Broun, and I knew he was not going to get me.
I've had younger people who've come over to me in subsequent years to say they were assigned by the desk to look up something involving the McCarthy era. I remember one young man, he said, "I was told to ask you for some suggestions, advice." I said, "About what? What's your problem? Have you looked at the clips?"
He said, "Yes, but I still can't quite figure it out." I said, "Figure out what?" He said, "Was it really serious?" I thought, god, how do I express this in terms that could mean anything to him?
I said, "Yes, it was pretty serious. There were people jumping out of windows. It was about as serious, maybe more serious, than the apprehension over the war in Vietnam recently." He said, "It doesn't read that way in the clips." I understood why it doesn't; nothing ever does when you go back and try to reconstruct it that way.
Gulf of Tonkin Incident
I really got plunged into this insistence on doing something about the watchdog problem. It really began for me with the Gulf of Tonkin, because I happened to be in the office the night that that first story came in about the shootup of the torpedo boat by the - first it was the Maddox. and then the Turner Joy. It is an example of the necessity to be skeptical at everything you hear, especially in time of conflict. The basic element in all military strategy, and therefore it applies to both the Cold War and Hot War, is deception.
Hodding Carter once said, "If you give the government three days to go by without serious challenge over any of its actions, it will have embedded in the psyche of the American public the tack it is determined to sustain." And that is true. I really mean it with all seriousness; in time of crisis the first thing I would do if I were an editor would be to take my top man off the spot responsibility for that story, put a backup person on the spot story and let the most qualified person do the research on what the hell happened leading up to that event, because this is what, sad to say, we see the press repeating over and over again. Nothing that is learned lasts more than a few days, it seems, and especially it doesn't carry from one generation of press to the other.
When Press and Congress Fail
I think the coverage of the war in Kosovo, in terms of preparing the American public for the actions developed, has been pretty miserable. I think it represents all the major blunders made by the press in covering every previous crisis that I've seen, notably the war in Vietnam. Anything that involves a complex history the press is terrible at handling. It will catch up with it weeks or months later after the troops are committed and after the investments have been made.
When the press is doing its job and Congress is doing its job, the two can counterbalance any hell-bent executive in any commitment abroad. But when neither one of them is doing its job, the whole process flounders.
The objective here is to try to plug in those missing requirements when the press might with some nudging and bumping and pressing from some of the older generations, be a little bit more conscious of why it's necessary to get in early on a crisis and help set the scene with a balance.
Moscow Problems: Working for the Party
Chief analyst, Institute for the U.S. and Canada Studies, Russian Academy of Science.
[Author or contributor to 46 books on international relations, military strategy, Soviet/Russian and U..S. foreign policy, American-Soviet/Russian relations, disarmament and arms control, political developments in Europe and Asia Pacific, and over 250 articles on these and other subjects.
Graduated from Moscow Institute of International Relations in 1951 and joined Radio Moscow for 16 years of work in its international service as a political analyst of international affairs, advancing to becoming Moscow Radio and TV correspondent in Great Britain in 1961-1967
In 1968, constrained by the limitations and demands of governmental-directed journalism, he shifted to academic pursuits, and in 197 1 joined the Institute for U.S. and Canada Studies. He received a doctoral degree in political science and a professorship in 1978. From 1974 to 1991 he headed the department for the study of U.S. foreign policy. From 1991 to 1994 he lectured on Russia/Soviet-American relations at Columbia University and American and Maryland universities.
Prof. Trofimenko lives in Moscow with his wife, Tamara. and two married children. His most recent book, published in 1999 by Ashgate Publishing Ltd. in Britain and U.S. is: Russian National Interests and the Current Crisis in Russia.]
I was a journalist for 16 years and I became a scholar, but in my heart and soul I remained a journalist because I've always written for newspapers and magazines.
I don't think there is a better, more honest, more responsive, more friendly, more noble, and more emphatic association than the cooperation worldwide of journalists. Throughout my whole life, I've seen a lot of difficult situations, I've been in very hard situations, but not a single time was I betrayed or not helped by journalists. Whatever our disagreements, whatever our clashes, ideologies, I always felt I belonged to this group of very friendly people. Many times I was bailed out from absolutely hopeless situations by my colleagues in the journalistic profession.
Now, my friend, Mr. Marder, trapped me into talking about the reporting on the Cold War. I understand that probably most of you would be hoping I would be telling you about the schizophrenia, or psychophrenia, I don't know how to pronounce it correctly, in the Kremlin, but you know better than I do. For each act of Yeltsin, there will be 100 explanations and I would not be here attempting to give 101 explanation of what he's doing. So I will really stick to the subject, which my friend Murrey totally avoided, about Cold War reporting.
I have constantly discussed with Murrey the essence and experience of journalists working in a totalitarian and semi-totalitarian countries, like the present Russia, which, by the way, is not a democratic country, compared to journalists working in a really democratic country.
Sole Task: Supplying Propaganda
In the former Soviet Union, the job of the journalist covering international events was not much different from the job of a foreign office official. The main difference was that while the latter worked quietly in a Moscow office or in an embassy abroad implementing foreign policy, the sole task of Russian journalists dealing with foreign affairs, whether working at home or abroad, was just to supply the grist for the Communist Party propaganda mill - that's all. Of course, it depended on the person, what kind of grist, in what form, in what quality and quantity, it was supplied, but the essence was the same. Everything had to strengthen the policy of the Central Committee by supplying the examples of its absolute correctness, its approval by the majority of the peoples of the world, and by exposing and unmasking the imperialistic warmonger. That's all. [Laughter]
I understand that on this side of the Iron Curtain there were plenty of journalists who were doing the same in a worse way; that is, unmasking heinous communist intrigues and the serious global designs for the world domination coming out of Moscow. They did it on their own free will, as well as performing tasks assigned to them by their bosses.
American Journalists Are Freewheelers
But there was a difference. On your side, you are freewheelers, so to say, to an extent, of course. But the best and the brightest among you could really influence government policies by critically analyzing the government line, by exposing faux pas of your politicians and diplomats, by publicly, in the media, suggesting alternative policies or steps, and occasionally by even destroying personalities of those politicians who you didn't like.
Actually, it was Karl Marx who said the British people are making policy by reading The Times. [Laughter] Very often you, working in the West, were chosen to send a trial balloon on certain important matters of foreign policy or to express unofficially something the officials asked you to express. Nothing of the kind ; on the scale that it was practiced in the Western media - could happen in the Soviet Union as far as international reporting was concerned. Actually there were very few persons who were really the spokesmen of the regime. I'm speaking of Stalin's time. I started as a young person when Stalin was still alive. There were about four or five journalists who were really the spokesmen of Stalin and I could tell you a lot about them, you see. I knew most of them.
Itchy Pencil Always Changing Copy
Yakov Havinson was a very influential journalist. Havinson was a director of the Soviet TASS Agency until Stalin dismissed him when he discovered that Havinson did not know any foreign language. In later years, I had a really close relations with Havinson, who became the chief editor of the Journal of International Politics and International Relations. Havinson, an old Bolshevik, had a peculiar habit of rewriting almost anything that was brought to him by another author. I had severe clashes with him. Usually when I went to him to finalize the proofs, he would jokingly tell his secretary, "Please call witnesses, I'm dealing with Trofimenko." But whatever compromise we reached regarding the text, the result was predictable. In the published article everything on which I yielded was changed and anything on which he had yielded was also changed. So finally I stopped writing for him. But to his credit, he would occasionally permitted some text that no other Soviet editor would publish. Thus, for example, he did not cross out my quote from the memoirs of White House lawyer John Dean. When replying to a query from his prison mate: "How come you are so young and reached such a high level in your job?" Dean answered, "I had to lick a lot of asses." To publish that in pious Soviet media one really had to be a brave editor. [Laughter]
I would say in internal affairs there was plenty of criticism and even some persons could be destroyed by the criticism of Russian journalists. But on foreign policy, it was terrible. We were all humble and obedient servants of the Central Committee. I recall one episode when I was a correspondent in Britain and had to try to get an interview with Field Marshal Montgomery. I opened up a British guide to letter writing and discovered that, in writing to a viscount, I had to end my letter with the phrase, "I remain, Your Highness, your humble and obedient servant." I'm thinking, I'm a young person, a Communist Party member, why do I have to write this kind of way? But then I swallowed my pride, thinking maybe Montgomery would give me an interview. [Laughter]
I wrote this "humble and obedient servant," but Montgomery said, "No, I can't do this." So I thought my humiliation was in vain. [Laughter]
Macmillan, the Bus Rider, Almost a Story
In 1964 I'm reading The Times and see a picture of Harold Macmillan standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus. I think, there is some message in it. Maybe I'll do a story on Macmillan. He was a former prime minister, recently retired. I start to go through channels, and for two months I'm communicating with all these people. Finally, they say, "No way, he won't give you any interview or do anything with you." My idea was to write something to show to our bosses how it happens in Britain. In two months, Khrushchev was dismissed, and I get a ring from Macmillan's secretary, "Mr. Trofimenko, Mr. Macmillan's ready to give you an interview." I said, regretfully, "Mr. Khrushchev was dismissed and I now would not be able to bring anything in relevance to the subject, so thank you very much, but it's no longer possible." [Laughter]
So after graduating from the Institute of International Relations, I started to work for Radio Moscow, and the job was supposed to be very interesting and intellectually satisfying. First of all, one immediately receives access to the information, which was available only to a really narrow circle of Soviet leaders and journalists. This was so-called White TASS. In the beginning of the 1950's, there were about 300 copies of the voluminous TASS bulletin issued daily in the capital (by installments almost on an hourly basis), and distributed in various high government and party central offices, to the leadership of the constituent republics and to the editorial offices of Pravda and some of the other party newspapers and Radio Moscow.
By the way - it was the '50's - they contained absolutely uncensored current information on developments abroad, consisting mostly of the translation of dispatches from the world's topmost information agencies and noteworthy articles from the world's leading newspapers.
Stalin Allowed Full Flow of News to Insiders
Whatever one might say about the obscurantism of Stalin in the field of information, he upheld the full flow of uncensored form of information to the people who were considered trustworthy by the party through the positions they occupied in the colossal ruling and propaganda machine of the Soviet Union.
It was later, in parallel with the so-called mellowing of the dictatorship, that the access to the objective information about events abroad was gradually confined to a more narrow circle of people. Finally it was narrowed down to look like a sheer idiocy. By the end of Brezhnev's time the most important political articles from, say, The New York Times or The Reader's Digest or some European or Japanese newspapers were diverted to a special issue of the daily TASS bulletin, circulated to only about 40 and stamped Top Secret. I received printouts of my own articles, published abroad, stamped with a hexahedral stamp meaning "secret."
Few Think Beyond War's Bombings
What useful lesson could be drawn from a journalistic experience of the Cold War period for a journalist's approaches to current international events? The difficulty lies first in the fact that those of us who worked in the Cold War knew from the experience of World War II what real war is, what awful calamity it is not only for the side that is losing, but also for the side that it is winning.
On top of that, we had a very vivid picture impressed on our mind by a terrible distracting force of atomic weapons that had been so effectively demonstrated by the United States in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, we've sort of forgot the impact of war on society. Even such adventures like the Vietnam or Afghan interventions have not been really lived through by the incoming generation of journalists.
The wars of today, for an average citizen, are rather dull and repetitious pictures of burning and destroyed houses on the screen, with almost no human beings live or dead being present. It is almost like an installment to a poor TV thriller. With all the hue and cry about human rights and pictures of crowds of refugees in Albania and Macedonia on the U. S. and European TV screens, very few people think of a deeper significance and implications of what they are viewing and of the reporting of the number of strikes and sorties.
Q. & A
Did Reporters Write McCarthy's Speeches?
Q. - Murrey, when you covered the Army-McCarthy hearings, I seem to recall reading, in those days reporters actually wrote speeches for senators and some reporter was writing speeches for McCarthy; is that true?
Marder: Yes, The Chicago Tribune. Actually, McCarthy relied heavily on the right-wing press. Willard Edwards was his initial preparer. I understood that Willard wrote a large part, or brought in the basic material for the Wheeling, West Virginia speech, the first speech.
Q. - Those are people in the gallery working as reporters?
Marder: Yes. Certainly the colonel [Robert R. McCormick, Chicago Tribune publisher] knew it, that Willard was working with him.
Were Speeches Written for Others, Too?
Q: Was McCarthy the only one who did that?
Marder: No, I would think that it's a resurgence of the original role of the press with the Congress, sort of a throwback in many ways to the party press, when reporters in the Colonial days were writing speeches for members of Congress and for Presidents. The difficulty there was that the pattern that existed in journalism at the time, which seems almost ludicrous now - maybe it's not so ludicrous - you did not write about what fellow reporters were doing, you did not pry into the private lives of any member of Congress.
I remember the first time I raised a mild question about the oldest member of the Senate, Carl Hayden, and the next morning he said to my paper's senior reporter that he was astonished. He said, "Who was that young whippersnapper? What was he writing about me this morning?" It was not the style, strange as it may seem now, looking at the current coverage. We had members of the Senate or the House rolling on the floor blind drunk sometimes. That was never reported.
If McCarthy's personal affairs had been reported - Bob Fleming of The Wall Street Journal and a few others did do pieces. For example, McCarthy's claim about being wounded in World War II came from stepping into a bucket during an equator crossing ceremony; he injured his leg.
I guess one of the basic things that's hard to reflect upon is there was a time in American journalism, and it was as late as the 1940's, when most things written about the government were satirical. The government was not treated seriously. The popular columnists generally wrote satires about the performance of Congress, about what they had given away or pork barrel things, as though the whole government was not taken seriously.
Did Marder Get Pew Picture?
Q. - Seeing how we're talking about sources and reporters here, I've got a question of each of you on that as soon as we find out whether The Bulletin guy gave up the photograph of the Pew girl to you.
Marder: I got half of it, yes. We did force him to split it. One of the great distortions of our business is there exists in the American mind the image of the American press as portrayed on the front page, as though the reporters would torment the police; more often, it was the police tormenting the reporters.
$50,000 Replates at The Post
Q. - Beyond that, you talked about dealing with folks in terms of a source; how much did you pull your punches because you needed these guys the day after tomorrow, and to what degree was the gravitational pull of that punch-pulling reflected by your employer, The Washington Post?
Marder: I must say I had a rare advantage in terms of The Washington Post. I can remember during the McCarthy era, the first time this was brought to my attention was when I would stay in the office till late at night, sometimes till midnight, trying to track down the truth of some McCarthy allegation. I remember the first time one of the makeup men came over to me and said, "Do you know what it costs to replate The Washington Post at 11 at night?" I said, "No, I don't really." He said, "It costs about $50,000. Do you know how many replates you've had us do in the last few months?"
So from a cold-blooded financial standpoint, every time I would stay there and insist that they do something, that they replate something with a correction - that's what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, too. I wrote the first story and then I looked at what I had written and thought, wait a minute. Having had military experience and having been aboard PT boats, I knew that a PT boat does not attack a U.S. destroyer unless the people running it are completely out of their minds. There had to be some provocation.
So I thought, well, how can I determine that? This is what I mean by trying to think through. It's so important to try to think through when you have an adversary relationship. If I were in their position, what would have had to happen to provoke me to be so bold or stupid as to attack a destroyer with a PT boat? I thought obviously something must have been happening in that area.
So I called up Tom Hughes, whom I can now identify, who was then head of intelligence and research in the State Department, and said, "Was something happening in the Gulf of Tonkin just before this incident that the United States was doing?" He said, "Well..." and as he stumbled around I said, "Were we doing something that could have induced this attack?"
He didn't want to say yes to that, and I said, "Were we in the area?" He said, "We weren't in the area."
I said, "But who was?" He said, "Well, the South Vietnamese were up there."
I said, "Oh, and how the hell were they supposed to distinguish between American vessels and South Vietnamese vessels?" because we had paid for the South Vietnamese vessels also. He said, "They couldn't." I said, "That's what I thought."
So they thought they were retaliating against an attack that had been made on them the day before, and that's what happened in that whole sequence. It was not unprovoked. Of course, we didn't know at the time till the Pentagon Papers came out that the Pentagon and the White House had been waiting for months for some incident to use as an excuse to bring into effect the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
I wanted to jump with this story, which is why I say in time of crisis I would man a story entirely differently than current practice. I would take my best people off the story and put them on the background in the story. By the time I even got near that, The Washington Post had endorsed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, so I was dead in the water.
Which American Reporters Were Stalin Mouthpieces?
Q. - Henry, you talked about mouthpieces for Stalin in the Soviet press; did you have knowledge of who were the mouthpieces in the American press for Stalin? Did you know who the sympathizers were or did you not? And what difference did that make?
Trofimenko - No, of course we sort of knew who were more lenient to the Soviet Union. But, by the way, it was more in the '30's and '40's when we knew more the division between those who were promoting the idea in cooperation with Russia. In later years, of course we distinguished between the hoax on American side and the more reasonable journalists, like say Lippmann or Reston, and those who were moderate. It was a clear distinction, we very well understood. Despite vicious attacks on some American writing, there was clear understanding that the bulk of American authoritative journalists were objective people who were trying to take both sides into consideration.
So in this way, there was never any impediment to all those people coming to the Soviet Union, except in the situation when they made some stupid comment about something. There were some people who would tell some anecdote about Brezhnev, and then they were banned for about five years from visiting the Soviet Union. I knew quite a few people, and we on our own side were striving to lift this ban.
But as to our own sources, of course the sources was the foreign minister and the Central Committee. It is absolutely free-for-all now. Sources are endless, and the speculation and all these predictions, prognostications are abounding, and 90 percent of it is sheer shot out of a finger, but nevertheless it makes total confusion in Russian situation today.
Communist Party Line Implicit
Q. - How is the party line distributed?
Trofimenko: Party line was actually implicit, not explicit. On certain positions it was either the briefing of the editors of the main newspaper and the Central Committee or at a lower level the briefing of the journalists by the public relations office or the foreign office.
By the way, on the eve of this Cuban missile crisis, we were given very strict instructions to increase our criticism of American deployment of missiles in Italy and Turkey. In the final analysis, Khrushchev did this not to shoot at the United States, but to try to get rid of the American deployment of missiles in Turkey and Italy, which he finally succeeded through a very strange and rather dangerous maneuver. This was his initial idea.
Why Not Buck Publisher on Gulf of Tonkin?
Q. - Murrey, I'm disturbed about something you said. You said The Washington Post supported the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and you were dead in the water. Why would you be dead in the water?
Marder: Because in order to pursue that story, it really required exactly what I mentioned before. There was no way I could cover the running story and pursue the Gulf of Tonkin. It required putting some additional manpower on it. So we had the developing story running and I had hoped The Washington Post would have sense enough to held off until we established the facts of the situation.
Let me give you an example of why it requires support. You may recall on the Bay of Pigs episode - this is an example of how an editor can overcome you if you go to the final stages in many situations. I didn't know at the time what other papers were doing, except The New York Times, long in advance of the Bay of Pigs operation, had Ted Szulcz's coverage, showing that troops were being trained, and subsequently I found out that there were specific plans being made to land Cuban forces with U.S. officers at the Bay of Pigs. I went in to see Russ Wiggins, who was then managing editor, and ask for manpower to go down and cover that situation. This is where the reach of any one reporter just goes beyond his limits and you need a concerted effort by a newspaper, especially in time of crisis, as you would now. You can't really expect the man on the beat to be covering the running story and simultaneously investigating the deeper implications behind it; you have to double staff a story at a minimum.
Q. - So what you're saying, the reason it wasn't double staffed was because The Post's editorial policy was to support the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
Marder: That's right. The Post had no interest in pursuing that.
Q. - Because the editorials were supporting it?
Marder: Certainly the two things are not completely separate. In order to get the manpower for a story, you had to be able to produce evidence, or at least get an editor enough interested in a story to develop it yourself. Generally, if anything could be covered by one man, I never had any problem with it, because I would go off on my own and pretty much do what I wanted to. But if something needed multiple coverage, I will add another point to it. In my long years in Washington, Chalmers Roberts and I used to say, and we'd prove it, that we could break any story that we ever heard of if we had three or four topnotch people working on it. I never saw a secret in Washington that could escape the concentrated attention of a small group of very proficient reporters. I would still hold to that premise today.
First-Name Basis With Sources?
Q. - Were either of you ever on a first-name basis with your sources?
Trofimenko - Before I answer it, I want to add to what you asked me about the briefing. I was present when Gorbachev introduced a ban on the sale of vodka, and the briefer, one guy from the Central Committee, started his speech with this kind of thing: "There are some people who are using primitive apparatuses to make home brew," and some guy from the press said, "Could you explain how they do it?" [Laughter]
As to sources, of course we had sources, and we had some communication with Central Committee guys, with KGB guys, but before the reform in Russia, you could have sources but you couldn't print anything. And more than that, there was such a big fright of everything. As I told Murrey, even when you talk with a military man and ask him to explain, for instance, multiple rocket warheads, he was afraid to tell you the physical ballistic part of this whole thing. The law of physics became secret. Not to say about anything else. "I can't tell you." The law of physics became secret. That's the ultimate idiocy of this whole secret -
Q. - Were you in a personal relationship, did you go to each other's houses?
Trofimenko - No, no, I've been in a personal relationship with quite high people. In my family I had a lot of information about nuclear developments, but I could not use this knowledge.
Marder: One thing I might point out on the sources issue, which I've never seen explained anywhere because I know I've never talked about it myself. You were asking about Kissinger. My relationships with people like Kissinger were totally different from, say, Max Frankel's relationship with him. I made a point in Kissinger's case of almost never initiating a call to him, whereas Max was operating on the opposite basis, which was standard Times practice, which was to get as close as you could to the senior people.
As a matter of fact, when Henry Kissinger came back in 1973 in the middle of the Arab-Israeli War, the Israelis were poised on the edge of the Suez Canal, prepared to wipe out the Egyptian Third Army. The Egyptians screamed to the Soviet Union to come to their assistance. Kissinger went flying off to Moscow, came back at 2 the next morning, and at 9 or 9:30 I came into the State Department. Marilyn Berger, who was my deputy, said, "Henry's trying to get you, desperately trying to get you all morning." I said, "Henry who?"
"Oh, come on, now." I said, "That's strange, he just got back from Moscow around 2 in the morning."
She said, "He must have something terribly important to tell you." I said, "Marilyn, the last thing he has is something important to tell me about."
She said, "Why do you think he's calling you?" I said, "I have no idea, it's probably to complain about something."
So I went over to Marvin Kalb, who was closer to Henry because he had done a biography of him, and I said, "Marvin, did you get a call from Kissinger this morning?" He said yes. I said, "What about?" He said, "To complain, what else?"
So I went back to my booth and sat there and Marilyn said, "Aren't you going to call him?" I said, "I'm thinking about it, I'm preparing myself." Again, I was trying to think through if he says X and I say Y, and then he says Z, am I going to say B or D, trying to think through the sequence of conversation before it began.
So when I had thought this thing through, I was prepared for it, and got on the phone and called his secretary and said, "I understand the Secretary's been trying to get me." She said, "We've been trying to get you all morning." I said, "Well, I'm here."
He got on the phone and in his inimitable fashion said, "Murrey, this is the third time in recent weeks that you have impugned my integrity." Jesus, what the hell is that about? I knew this would aggravate him greatly, and I said, "Would you please repeat that?" [Laughter] And he did, like a fool. [Laughter]
I said, "Hold on, wait a minute, I didn't even have a story in this morning's newspaper, what are you talking about?" He said, "It was what you wrote before I left for Moscow."
I said, "You say three times? What are the three times in which I have impugned your integrity?" He said, "I only want to talk about the last time." [Laughter]
I said, "I'm not even going to pursue this conversation unless you set out chapter and verse how I have impugned your integrity three times." So he started to try to think back, and he couldn't.
I said, "When was the first time?" He said, "I can't remember the first time." So we got into this ridiculous conversation in which he finally got disgusted and hung up.
But if you talked to him, inevitably he would come at you and say, "Now, of course, this is all on background." When Woodward and Bernstein were doing their book, All the President's Men, or in preparing for it, they referred back to a sequence in which Kissinger and Woodward had had an exchange, and after it was over Kissinger said to Woodward, "Now, of course that's all on background."
Bob said, "Background? You didn't say anything about background." Kissinger said, "I only talk to the newspapers on background, ask people at The Post, ask Murrey Marder, ask Chal Roberts, ask Katharine Graham."
So Bob came over to me and related this conversation. Meanwhile, Kissinger was on the phone, and he said, "Is that right?" I said, "Two things are wrong with it. First of all, he tries to do that to everybody, but he doesn't do it to me; I don't stand for it. Secondly, you don't cover the State Department, you have no relationship with him, he can't out of the blue try to invoke State Department rules on you."
He said, "What do you think I should do?" I said, "If you have a solid story just ignore it and go ahead with it." Actually, it was a key point of the book; it was about Kissinger and Nixon kneeling down, as I recall, in prayer.
What is interesting to note, when the Woodward and Bernstein book came out, the sequence came out just the opposite, that I had told him, yes, that was the way I dealt with Kissinger and he was bound by those rules, which was of course silly.
I was thinking about Meg Greenfield, who just died, in the obituaries today, I was thinking about that this morning, that she - it was an example of the kind of thing that would happen. Kissinger had, if he wanted something in The Post about four or five different kinds of people he could talk to or try to talk to. He could call Kay Graham, or Meg Greenfield, or Phil or Chal Roberts, Marilyn Berger. He wouldn't call me, because I insisted he'd be on the record almost invariably.
But one of the great differences - let's see if I can explain it this way - I got a call one day from Dick Dudman from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who was a first-class reporter during the Vietnam War. It was on a Sunday. Dick said he had been in negotiation with the White House over a story. "One of the presses in the White House is telling me if we print it it will gravely jeopardize national security," Dick said. "Has this ever happened to you?"
I burst out laughing. He said, "What's so funny?" I said, "Dick, you don't realize the advantage you have in appearing in The St. Louis Post- Dispatch; the White House doesn't see your copy. It happens to me about every two weeks, two or three times a month."
He said, "What do you tell them?" I said, "I generally tell them if they can prove it will jeopardize national security I will consider it, but until then I won't even think about it."
He said, "What happens if they prove it to you?" I said, "They never have."
More Reporters Can Resist Publishers
Q. - I'd like to make a comment about the atmospherics amid which one works. John Gunther wrote a book called Inside USA in 1945, and he said the publisher of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Joe Pulitzer, was unknown to the leading business people in St. Louis - the head of the power company, the gas company and so forth. He created the atmospherics of independence. He didn't want his editors to be influenced. With The Washington Post we had a situation where they were marinating with each other. I think, from what you suggested, the fact is that you have an authoritarian structure in which the publisher requires editors to meet with the publisher's approval or else. You were resisting it. Isn't that a valid point?
Marder - Sure, but the other part of that point is that I really believe that many more reporters could resist it if they had the gumption to think about it seriously. One of the weapons a reporter has, if he wants to resort to it, and I often did, is you could confront your publisher or your editor with a humiliating situation if he ordered you to write something that you thought was completely unjustified.
Look, the main reason why The Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers was because The Washington Post was in a very precarious situation. It was about to go public then. A handful of us who were involved in it just laid down the law. I know in my case I said to Kay Graham, "You don't really have any choice. We know about this. The Post will be damaged even more publicly if it doesn't publish it than if it does publish it because it will be stained forever for a humiliating decision in a time of journalistic crisis."
I completely believe that then and now that we really gave her no choice. She may have saved her stockholders, but she was going to destroy the prestige of the paper because we - and Chal Roberts told her the same thing - we were going to go public.
I think that just too often the reporter will assume that the roof will fall on him if he stands up and says he won't do what he's being urged to do. I walked out of Phil Graham's office three or four times without knowing whether I was still working there. I still maintain that if all reporters were to start, not with the assumption that they're guaranteed to get their heads bitten off if they speak up, but if they adopted a bit more courage, maybe they would not all get their heads bitten off, I just think it's not one-sided.