News in 20th Century America; 6; Washington Reporter
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters news in 20th century America. A series of radio documents on the gathering writing and dissemination of news compiled from interviews with the men and women who make news their business. You have a fascinating and intriguing and difficult situation about news in Washington in the first place. You are dealing largely with the people who in many cases are making the very news you are reporting so they know very quickly as to how accurate you are in your reporting. On the other side of the current is the fact that you're broadcasting news to people who make policy and it's a very terrifying responsibility sometimes with a bill for instance in Congress to report on reactions from throughout the country about that. I know that part of your
listening audience is made up of those very men who will vote on this bill. It's fascinating as I say and it's and it's also terrifying. That was the voice of John Hayes manager of station WTOP in Washington D.C. one of the many men and women responsible for reporting news from the nation's Capitol among others. Mark was child's Douglas Kater James Haggerty Lincoln white Eric Sevareid Howard K. Smith. Roscoe Drummond David Brinkley Fulton Lewis Jr. H R Balki age Drew Pearson and Merriman Smith These are the men you will hear on the Washington reporter. Today's edition of news in 20th century America. Now here is your host Ed Burroughs in Washington D.C. nerve center of the nation debates are held and decisions made daily that affect the fate of millions of citizens possibly all
mankind. How are these activities reported to the public. By whom and with what effect the press corps in the Capitol has been called the elite of American journalism. Is it true that gathered here is the greatest concentration of news men and women to be found anywhere in the world. One of them answers for us is Marcus trials of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch whose syndicated column from Washington appears in newspapers from one end of the country to the other. I would say that you probably do have a larger press corps here than anyplace else in the world. This would include representatives from almost every paper of any size in the country. Sometimes of course there are large bureaus in New York Times I suppose has at least 20. I think it was Post Dispatch has eight or nine. And so on then you have foreign correspondents who increasingly make their headquarters in this country in Washington rather than in New York. So they often when the United Nations General
Assembly is in session and divide their time between Washington and New York I would say it was the greatest press corps in the world the largest in size. How important is the part this great corps plays in the political and governmental scene. Douglas Kater Washington editor of The Reporter magazine who has written a book on government and the press has some ideas on the subject. Yes I do. I've just completed a year's travel abroad in which I particularly went to four major capitals and tried to look into the relationship between the government in the press in each of these capitals I went to London to Bonn to New Delhi and to Moscow each representing a different type of government and among my conclusions was to reaffirm a feeling that I had had for some years that the press in Washington plays a unique role in the conduct of government
in the United States as compared to any other governmental system in the world. The report of the working reporter as I'm not the reporter magazine is a is a quayside official of government and in Washington a role that he does not play in nearly the same extent in any other capital that I have visited. I think now in its broadest terms it it it stems from the the division of powers within the American governmental system that comes as you know from the constitutional Constitution we have three independent and co-equal branches of government. The Constitution says nothing about how these three branches here in to one another and particularly how the executive and legislative branches mesh in a period in which government cannot be a a loose and sometime
proposition but in modern government which has to be a continual working operation it has to accomplish jobs or else the whole system begins to break down in this division. It seems to me that the reporter. Has become something of a broker or middleman bringing the two branches of government together and creating a and effective working relationship. Publicity the publicizing of policy and other acts as anyone who has lived or had any experience in Washington knows is enormously important too to the evolution of of policy into acts of government. For example we have involved in this system in this country something that does not exist in any other country in the world and that is the
regular presidential news conference. It's indeed astonishing to to to think of what the the role of the reporter in Washington is in connection with this. Here is a man who comes to Washington with no portfolio no official representation other than that he is on the payroll of some newspaper radio or television network. He has credentials to go usually on a weekly basis and interrogate the president of the United States. He determines by his questions which subjects which areas of tension of conflict of interest shall be brought to the immediate attention of the president and what the priorities are. How was how the question will be phrased determines to an extent the way this subject is brought up before the the highest
court of opinion in the land. He has the capacity to. By his news stories then too to publicize the president's attitudes on a host of things what he determines is important his news judgments as we say has a great deal to do with the determination week by week of what are the central issues in Washington government today is so vast and so complex that subjects get buried in the shuffle unless they have somehow dug out and brought to the attention of your high policy makers. This it seems to me the president's press conference alone exemplifies the the quayside official role of the reporter in the conduct of government certainly no modern president. I would think would dare abolish this very important institution that has grown up
only since the days of Woodrow Wilson but has come into real importance. Since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That was Douglas Peter Washington editor of The Reporter magazine. We asked James Haggerty The president's press secretary if he agreed with this theory that the Washington press corps is an integral part of the American system of government. No I do not. In the way in the raids that you used I would hope that Prescott never becomes an integral part of government as such that would apply at least to my mind that would apply that they are working for that government that they are taking orders from that government and they are writing what that government tells them to write. This is a great difference between the free world and the communist world. And should there be any
attempt by anyone in government to dictate to a free press on how a free press should act and must act. I think you would find me as one of the in the forefront leading that fight against it. I'll admit sometimes I don't like particularly some of the stories they write but that's their right to write their stories. It's my job to try to say that the actions of the Eisenhower administration the actions of the President Eisenhower given to them truthfully and fully as fully as I can so I would not want to say that they were an integral part of the government. They are a very necessary and important adjunct in covering and covering the government which I think is an entirely different thing. A similar reaction to Mr. Peters statement came from another spokesman for government. Lincoln white news officer for the Department of State.
It depends on the premise from which this statement derives it. If it is premised on the grounds that the reporters are tending to subvert themselves to being mouthpieces for the government I would argue vigorously that that is not the case. On the other hand in our area in the area of foreign relations and foreign affairs I think that they are becoming not a function of government as such but certainly a a function in informing the people throughout the country of what the alternatives to the American government are asked to be given courses of action in the light of given developments. Now that to me is the.
Legitimate and far more than legitimate the professional function of the journalist. I wouldn't agree for one instant that he is a mouthpiece for the government. He argues with us vociferous. It's this is I find every day at that minute briefing but he does serve a tremendous purpose in informing people that we just do not have the staff nor the machinery to inform them as well. James Haggerty and Lincoln White are government press secretaries. The relationship between such officials and newsman creates a special situation in Washington so special that we have reserved the subject for separate treatment on the next program and they serious other other concerns of the Washington correspondent. Unique as compared to those in other communities in the United States. We asked Eric Sevareid CBS News analyst about this.
Well I suppose some problems here in covering the news in Washington are unique. One problem is the. Sheer amount of news. This is probably the greatest new center that has ever been at any time in history. It's now become a great industry here covering it. When I first came here in 41 there were about 20 or 30 members of the radio correspondents gallery. Now there are probably a hundred fifty. Just evidence of. The continuous interest in what happens here. I don't get to exercised about. Censorship at the source here. The news is suppressed. Or. The various officials try to keep from the press and radio. There's a kind of a chronic thing that's always going on. It's a little more severe and because of.
The security aspects are so very much that happens here. But on the whole this gets out one way or another sooner or later most of it. That much is successfully suppressed. The problem is making sense of all this news comes in a great flood every day. And that is where I suppose we fall down and we fall down anywhere. I don't think most papers are set up to. Explain news as well as they are to. Just print it. That's also true of the networks and broadcasting. There's very little chance on the television news budgets for example to do much explaining at all. The news commentator as such in broadcasting has fewer and fewer number less and less time on the air. Those are their economic reasons behind that is sure you understand. It's also true in the
press about all that most papers around the country once you get out of here in New York. Almost all of most of them do even a lot of big daily papers just print a few syndicated columnists. Very few have men here. Who do very much besides covering the local state angle of what happens here. The rest they take from the agencies. I don't think this is good enough I think it's it leaves people confused. I think there ought to be a lot more. Explanatory background writing on the part of individual correspondents. And how do problems of working in Washington compare with problems faced in foreign capitals. We asked Howard K. Smith also of CBS in Washington after many years abroad well reporting is so much easier in this capital than it is anywhere else in the world. I have had a wonderful year one year coming back here in the first place when you hunt for news overseas you've got to find that news which will be of some
interest to the American people and an awful lot 90 percent of the news that happens in a place like Great Britain is not of interest a local tax law would not be of interest. But when there's a tax law being debated here it's of great interest because it involves the people who are listening to you. So here 100 percent of the news that comes out is an interest you don't have this awful problem of hunting for something and then building up a topic with analysis so that it will be of interest here it's automatically of interest your job's much easier Secondly. People are easier to see. I think the journalist is held in higher repute in this country and justly so. I must say we've made some critical remarks about the American press but let me say that. We have the only press I know outside Scandinavia where comment and slant tends to be kept out of our news columns and kept on the editorial page that is not true in any European country. If you read about a debate in the Houses of Parliament in the Daily Herald the Labor paper and then read about that same debate in the Daily Telegraph the conservative paper you will believe you've been reading about two separate incidents that happened on
two separate parts of the globe because they don't tell the same facts. That is not so here. If you read a report on a debate in Congress on the AP The Ubi or the New York Times or whatever newspaper you will find roughly the same facts and you may find a slightly different analysis but the same facts will be there. So I it's the standard of journalism is I believe much higher here and in part that is due to the fact that officials high officials are available. You can get to them and talk to them. They're perfectly within sometimes they're even anxious to talk to you. Now in Great Britain when Churchill was prime minister I saw the prime minister once a year Macmillan was prime minister I think I saw him twice a year and with others not alone here. I see the president at his news conference in season almost every week. Roscoe Drummond formerly of The Christian Science Monitor and now at the New York Herald
Tribune also had something to say about the availability of Washington news makers. I have. Had some experience on both sides of the desk. I took two years leave of absence from the monitor to work for the east in. Europe. During the Marshall Plan. And I know it's my own opinion that observation that most government officials are extremely hard working dedicated human beings that believe in what they're doing and are are really working very strenuously at it. Now it's not easy to be as accessible as some newspaper men would like public officials. And still do their job. But my experience is. That. Most newspaperman who are responsibly interested. In understanding the problems that government officials are dealing with and writing about them thoughtfully and responsibly
can have. The needed access in order to acquire what these people are thinking. Although their views are not the only source of. Information you want to go to Congress you want to go to the independent expert and one has to do a can tenuously large amount of reading. Did David Brinkley of NBC think that Congress had administrative officials created a problem in getting out the news. No I don't think so. They generally are fairly easily available. You can't get to see any congressman at any time you want to see. But that isn't really my that in Congress in particular that's no great problem. What problem there is exists not in Congress so much as in the executive department. Getting news out of the executive department is not as easy as it is as it is and in Congress.
They. Are. The reasons for that or well we could spend a week here discussing that. The executive department is the is the agency of course a one man president. Everyone in the executive department works for him. People in the executive department are very often reluctant to talk because they're afraid what they say might conflict with the policy. A higher level policy which they don't yet know about. Or they're afraid something they say might embarrass their superiors. Congressman of course doesn't have any it's a period except the voters. That's one of about 50 different reasons why getting the executive purple is more difficult than getting it out of Congress in the face of all
this. The volume and variety and the depth of the news. Should the Washington reporter become a specialist. We asked Fulton Lewis Jr. mutual network commentator. Well there are the three unquestionably a very important for your office for special specialization there's no question in the world about that. And as a matter of fact the Washington press corps is turning to this more and more and more even in the days when I grew up which is harder to cover than I like to thank thirty five years ago when I was first breaking into the Washington scene here. It was a specialisation in a sense then because each bureau had its correspondent covering the Navy Department who had to of necessity more be more or less of an expert on on the Navy. One of the Post-Office Department he usually also covered in terror here one of the White House the White House one beginning to take on the the broad scope of.
Generalization at the top. Now if I were to try to go into specialization in the whole of government. I obviously would be. It would be ridiculous because there are many many faces of government which I just don't have time to study long enough to familiarize myself with. But to this degree you can be tremendously constructive you can. Before I say this let me interject also. That this is one of the faults of White House administration. They have the same problem. They the thing is so big that. There is nobody in the White House. Who has the who has the physical time who has the mental ability to be able to go down into these departments thus they have to decentralize. Now insofar as I'm concerned I find that I can be absent of service.
By finding special. Fields. That seem to be calling crying for reporting and shall we say exposure exposure from the standpoint of my philosophy and serviced extent. I think specialization is highly essential and absolutely indispensable. Is there any pressure from the political party in power to prevent the sort of exposure Mr Lewis refers to or to curry favor from the press. Here is a chart book Age news analyst. Oh well they do their 90s to get their side of it but. They don't get very far. By the party chief pressure on the fresh is a big problem for them voice or anyone else who runs advertising is. Advertising. Advertisers are contributors to campaign too. But
that doesn't. I think that influence is very small I think to the. Average Washington correspondents reports to facts. There is a pleasanter not during Roosevelt's administration it was said that 86 percent of the press was against him editorially 100 percent. He always got his side of the story into the news. The statue's reason was because he knew News me knew how to make news and what he said was new. And whether the press liked it or not as far as its policy was concerned. And its philosophy of government. We used to say he was a newspaper man's dream come true because he gave us news. And he got his side of it in Certainly. In spite of the fact. Whether or not the editorial policy of the
paper was. Pro or anti new deal. Course we always give him a little honeymoon. We don't treat them too badly the first month the president's. Nurse them alone. Along the same lines. Merriman Smith of the United Press International and known as the dean of White House reporters had this to say. Well the party in power would be most poorly advised if they ever tried to sway a reporter of any substance directly and they might try to do it indirectly by the manner of presentation or access to the news. That's a very important way of swaying is to give one man access and cut off some of the others so that one man feels that he has something exclusive and therefore gives it a lot of House. Drew Pearson syndicated columnist added. Well there's always favoritism in every administration and you can't get away from that. A
certain newspaper men are favored by the White House because they do what they report the kind of things the White House's interest in having carried I would say that in general the New York Herald Tribune is favored by the White House because that's a very staunch Republican paper in the past the New York Times has sometimes been favorite The Washington Star at times has been favored However we newspaper men are accustomed to that that doesn't. Those are what we call the White House pets. And it doesn't interfere too much with carrying the news. The Press Association man I don't know them personally but it nearly always happens no matter who they are that they become rather the favored. Of the Justice Department. And there's a certain amount of reciprocity that can be a very dangerous thing because when newspaper men are too close to a certain government department they tend to play the game of that department and don't
report all the news that might be critical of that department. It's particularly dangerous around the White House but you can't get away from it. It's existence of the Democrats none of the Republicans too there are those who can wear the Trumans pants those who are Roosevelt's pets. And the it all this happens that the men who are close to the White House are inclined to play ball with the White House and it's particularly true today because Jim Haggerty is a very skillful very able. Press secretary for the White House and he's also pretty tough. And if the newspaperman are not friendly with him he can he can crack down. And you know the average newspaper man has to get a certain number of favors from the White House occasionally when his publisher comes to town or when his publisher has some friends he wants to come to town he needs maybe autographed photographs of the president or to get in to see the president or there may
be a radio station or TV station at stake. So the tendency is to play ball on the part of some newspaper man. With the government. This then is how the correspondents in Washington viewed just a few of their problems in covering news in the nation's capital. Today in the excerpts from interviews which you have heard a number of specific issues have been raised including the role of the press secretary in Washington and the entire area of security secrecy and censorship in government. These problems as they are viewed by members of the press will be treated in detail in forthcoming programs next week then the president and the press. You have been listening to the Washington reporter one of a series of programs on news in 20th century America in this series we explore all facets of the gathering writing and dissemination of news in this country today by means of recorded interviews with leading news men and women interviewers for the series are
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- Washington Reporter
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- News in 20th Century America is a radio series on the gathering, writing, and dissemination of news. Each episode addresses a specific topic in the news industry, and features interviews with men and women who make news their business. This program is produced by the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service in cooperation with the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.
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