News in 20th Century America; 11; The Washington Complex
The following program was produced and recorded by the University of Michigan Broadcasting Service undergrad in aid 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. But something happens to you when you stay in this town too long you develop. What has been called a Washington complex and under such a complex you tend to over. Evaluate the importance. Of Washington news. Things that don't mean a darn in Sandusky Ohio become monumental here. The small shadings of diplomatic maneuverings the minor intricacies of federal finance
truly. Little deviations in the stock market in agriculture in their total are quite important but taken in themselves are not. But I share that those of us who stay here too long without some outside exposure. We tend to build these things up and we tend to believe that Washington is the Alpha and Omega that this is it. The voices that have Merriman Smith dean of wire service White House correspondence from Mr Smith and other Washington reporters. You will hear comments on a number of basic problems involved in the coverage of news in our nation's capital on the Washington complex. Today's edition of news in 20th century America. Now here is your host at Berle's. This is the last of six programs on which we have attempted to explore the attitudes of news men and women toward the role of the press in Washington. Today
we want to probe some of the more personal and psychological problems that may arise in Washington news coverage. And finally to ask the question how do news men regard their responsibility toward the American public. On a previous program we spoke of the concern of the Washington reporter over secrecy and security in government and the fact that some reporters may attempt to play ball with government officials in the hope that they may be rewarded by exclusive interviews. We asked Drew Pearson whether he thought this actually happened very often. No very little because they're almost for him didn't. And for the reason that. You know at the White House. There have been no exclusive interviews under Eisenhower and very few under Truman there were some under Truman and other government officials don't give them because they get in wrong or the newspaper man and other newspapers. Now he's the chief exclusive interviews
these days come with foreign diplomats or foreigners who may be here or if you go abroad. Now you can get exclusive interviews all right but you can't mention the name of the official. And of course the interview isn't anywhere near as important when you can't mention his name. I don't wait for exclusive interviews at all I'd rather talk to a man and get the news and publish the news if if an exclusive interview in this country. That is in Washington particularly you give the official a chance to say what he wants to say and frequently it may not be. You have no chance to. Rebut him at least in that interview. Other reporters of the Washington scene like H.R. blockage do not believe the exclusive interview has been a problem. I don't believe that occurs very often. You see what we mostly get is background. And then these good things
overseas and so forth and it's off the record not attributable. And some time and they do call groups in and talk to them about background. But if all that does is set you straight give you facts that you wouldn't otherwise have and keep you from going wrong with the man or just reporting factual events. He doesn't report something that he thinks something has happened and that isn't exclusive. But in the background are sometimes very important. If you're going to write it definitely I don't know whether I have no notice much resentment against. Limited on food says Robert Hartman Washington bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times sales of granting exclusive interviews. I think it's a frightful practice when they do it to other people and they do it to me and I think it's just
wonderful. Does this happen very often. We asked Mr. Hartman. Not in the case of. Major. Personalities. Granting exclusive interviews to a single reporter as President Truman did to Arthur Krock on a couple of occasions. This doesn't happen very often anymore except perhaps on a background off the record basis which of course has hurt anybody hence the practice of little groups numbering from a dozen to two dozen. Reporters. Or a noncompetitive who represent papers spread around the country. Getting together with some. High official. And dinner. And discussing a wide range. Subjection under his. Jurisdiction. Off the record basis has become quite
widespread. They write stories about these things crediting it to. Inform sources are reliable sources or sometimes not reading it to anybody else. As long as these contribute to the. General public unlike them and not some granting some individuals x. Rated what his own name and his own problems and see whether they're again simply the judgement of the. Individual handles the story whether yours is at all or not or uses it does. I temper many of these things by which I never read it. Just sometime later this will be useful in the Marquess trials. Columnist and Washington correspondent for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was asked when exclusive interviews and weeks are granted. How does the rest of the press react. Do they accept the procedure.
I think in most instances they do because often more usually I think this represents initiative. Sometimes there is resentment when there is this is used as a technique for a save a few as in the instance of the announcement of chief justice warrants appointment as chief justice and the attorney general chose to call about seven or eight reporters to his house and to say now you've always been very good to me so I'm going to give you a scoop. You can print in your papers tomorrow morning the chief justice that Earl Warren the governor of California will be the next chief justice of the United States. And you can say this with complete assurance because I'm submitting a list of names to the president of United States on which there is only one name that every one. Now this caused at the time a very great outburst of indignation. Why do you suppose this was done or was done to curry further favor with a few newspaper men and to pay back pay back old things. This is what I think is properly resented but where A and able reporter comes up with a legitimate
Newsbeat such as Thomas Roberts did with the Gaither report and published most of a report that had been had nothing to do with American secrets but which for the most part talked about the relative strength of the Soviet Union in the United States I think this was was because it is a very legitimate and there was a beat Douglas Kater Washington editor of The Reporter magazine has had the opportunity more than most to study the Washington news scene from a philosophical academic if you will point of view. Mr. Cater has put considerable time and thought on the reporter's role his responsibilities and his temptations. Many of his ideas are contained in his book The fourth branch of government. But here is Mr. Cater himself. I do think that the reporter and the conduct of his business is subjected to continual temptations to become a partisan of an interest group or an individual or what have you.
Frankly I think this is one of the inherent hazards of the profession there are no code of ethics or rigid rules that can be set up to meet this. My main concern is that we maintain in Washington a sufficiently large and varied press corps that the there are compensations to this that that if one reporter is knowingly or unknowingly fails to probe the way he should into an area for a story that there will be other reporters who will do it. And so by competition you have genuine reporting going on. I would also think that and this is something I'm trying to get out in my book is that the reporter needs to get away from this long time habit. Of avoiding criticizing other reporters in that when he's covering a story pointing out willful or even errors made in ignorance.
Seems to me that since we are part of an important part of the conduct of the broader concept of government in America we we should be made to stand up and be held responsible as well as the officials the other officials of government. And so I I'd certainly have started in to a neighbor a reporter or a branch of the reporter's profession is guilty of something I have attempted in my stories to to point this out. And I think this should be a more general tendency than all saying about the press that dog don't eat dog that that they journalists do not. Sully the nest by air by talking about the failings of shortcomings of other journalists. I think this is a is a shoe in is shortsighted policy and needs to be rectified. Problems may be imposed on the journalist anywhere he practices but particularly in
Washington by social involvement with his sources. Roscoe Drummond New York Herald Tribune syndicated columnist on this subject. In principle. I do have a conviction. I have the conviction that. And this is a problem of degree it seems to me. You can't isolate yourself. From acquaintanceship with public officials. You can't wholly insulate yourself against some participation in the social life of Washington which is a means of intellectual contact. At the same time I do agree and I do believe that to close personal friendship with people in public life. Puts. A burden. Upon. Writers of foreign reporters upon columnists up on TV and radio commentators that it's
six dreamily. Difficult to shed when it's necessary to write information and judgment which you know is both is either going to displease or hurt somebody that you know rather well in government. And that's been true of course for a long time I know that. I remember one of my newspaper Heroes was Frank that is whom I read a great deal about with Frank Cobb who was great chief editorial writer of The New York World in the in the first part of the century and up until about 1924 when you succeeded by Walter Lippmann by the way. I always remember that Frank just declined. To make friends out of people in public life. Because he didn't want to have to subject himself. To that. Burden so that I must say that it
takes a good deal of fortitude. To be willing to accept. The personal these lacerations of personal friendship. Which. When you have to speak out critically to be honest to yourself. So I would say that it's it's it's a problem it's a matter of degree and I think that every correspondent has to handle it in his own way. And knowing his own limitations what a Robert Hartman's views on the socializing reporter I don't know doesn't mean it good not harm. And this is no the hall they get hired. May not do very much good here. And on the other hand you soon find out which end it takes and so I think setting in which I it is true that you get a great many invitations for each. Other over powering. The start. You know soon discover that.
There are only certain. Social Affairs which have any value beyond. The pleasure that you might get at them. Does it affect However the way in which a man may write a story of some of these public figures become fairly close friends of his. Well I think that. The way you handle a story won't always be affected to some extent by your. Personal relationships with people involved. Directly in the. Way of. Protecting your source either the source of that story or your potential source of future stories. This is one that you have to play by ear. And balance the value of the Revelation against that you are a. Possible choking off future source. I don't know
anybody that learned how to do that except just by running nose a few times. But I don't think that anybody buys anybody's favor. Am. I going to have to fight in this town until they've got too many cocktail parties. Too much news. Too many hazards. Any or all of these may lead to a psychological impasse on the part of the Washington correspondent which Merriman Smith labels the Washington complex on a previous program Mr Smith emphasized that his eir ability of continuity on the job. There may be drawbacks however. Merriman Smith I recently completed and enjoyed somewhat of a sabbatical from the White House I was away from the assignment for about. Own nearly seven months and during that period I worked on the recession as a series and California politics. I worked on the Adams Goldfine case from start to
finish and also did a series on the. Very heart rending school integration battle in the south and then returned to the White House. And I was impressed as I always am when I'm away from Washington for any length of time. My people some distance from town are interested in and it revived my theory and this is not just mine I know a great many other people here in town feel the same way that it would be a wonderful thing if most of the. Upper echelon of Washington reporters the men who are really responsible for the news report out of this town if they could get away not for a week or two but possibly three four five months out of every year two years three years but of us oh a good long period away from here and periodically to readjust their judgment to
not that they are being particularly faulty in their judgment now but something happens to you when you stay in this town too long you develop. What has been called a Washington complex and under such a complex you tend to over. Evaluate the importance of Washington news. Things that don't mean a darn in Sandusky Ohio become monumental here. The small shadings of diplomatic maneuverings mining intricacy federal finance truly. Little deviations in the stock market in agriculture and their total are quite important taken in themselves or not. But does share that those of us who stay here too long without
some outside exposure. We tend to build these things up and we tend to believe that Washington is the Alpha and Omega that this is it. And they get really not true. I think sometimes a news judgment. Of a telegraph editor sitting way out in the country on a $10 in circulation paper the News Editor sundown or radio station might be superior to ours. He certainly she's things in more balance and that's why I just wish there was some way to assure. Washington reporters. A Sabbatical pretty much like I've had recently. It isn't possible some of the more thinking newspapers try at they bring their man home back to the Home Office usually in the summer when Congress is out natch good but I think there ought to be a longer period of it. To help a man
get a justice thanking to the country and I don't believe in assignment overseas had quite the same effect as sitting in a in a small or relatively small town somewhere out in the United States and looking at the news from there. We wondered if Mr Smith thought but Washington was was insufficiently carried by small town newspapers or there was at some distance from Washington. Well insufficiently carried. I think most information is made available to the public on two bases. One what the pervy are thinks the public ought to know and to on what the pervy are thinks the public wants to know. And quite frequently the perve a are they at a target broadcaster.
Sometimes is motivated more by the story that will be entertaining rather than the story that is going to be meaningful. Now there's no way to control that. Unless you're a very large newspaper and can offer the reader both. But I'll tell you when most of the publications of this country if. If there happened to be on the same day. A change. In interest rate charged by the Federal Reserve. And some slam bang story involving Brigitte Bardot I'll bet you the Bardo story gets played WAY over with the federal interest rate story. Intriguing as the thought of a bardo story might be we returned to the investigation of what Mr Smith calls the Washington complex. How does Roscoe
Drummond feel about the necessity of seeing Washington from the outside so to speak. I think that it's tremendously important for Washington correspondent not to spend all his time. In Washington because I find that travel throughout the United States. Gives you a little different perspective. On. What is going on and what people are. Thinking. And I don't limit travel to the United States I think that virtually everything that happens anywhere in the world today is a real moment to the American people and to the American government. And therefore I would say that 30 percent of our time ought to be spent. It's. Traveling pretty widely. Because a couple of times a year for example I'll take a. Two week. Lecture trip. Which gives me the opportunity to talk with. University audiences. Community Affairs Office audiences tell ha groups.
Students editors and so forth. And I must say that. I'm I always value most of all a question period. First it helps me to know what people are thinking about to get these questions it tells me things that are to be written about perhaps but I find that the caliber and the diversity. And the insight. Manifested in questions that come from audiences all across the country. Equals it. Anything I run into in the so-called eastern cities or in Washington. I think perhaps another evidence of the interest in Washington news is the extent to which many Washington columnists appear in a very large cross-section of newspapers across the country. The columnist's may be well represented as Mr. Drummond says. But again and again in Washington we were struck by the fact that in spite of the volume of available use
journalists felt the newspapers radio and television stations back home were not relaying their stories to the American public. The opposing argument is of course that people are not interested in that much depth of audio. Douglas cater again. I think that sums up the dilemma very well. And it's it's part of the dilemma of the American free enterprise system. The newspaper and the radio station is obviously in it to make a living in a profit and therefore they are responsive to the quote interest unquote of their listeners or readers. On the other hand seems to me that every publisher and every network and station official needs to realize the vital role of the of the correspondent of the report and in making our form of government work. And if if the the
general citizen is not to be given an adequate amount of information on which to make his judgments then the system itself cannot be expected to work over the long run. I think this is a valid criticism I think. Knowing following the affairs in Washington as well as I do it it's a mess. It's really distressing to see how little reporting is is permitted to go out this vast sections of this country. I feel at times that if it weren't for the New York Times newspaper that the government in Washington would be a very poorly reported process indeed. But I wish there were a way that we could develop two or three national newspapers of the integrity and high caliber of the New York Times. Seems to me there have been some developments in this field that the Wall Street Journal for example which does some quite good reporting
in its in particular fields has found it profitable to develop branches or publications and in different parts of the country. I don't see why this isn't possible for for other publications. If the American public wants more news out of Washington are they going to demand it. What can the citizen do about it. This is one of the dilemmas of American government is that too much is is laid on the shoulders of Mr Average citizen. To to to try to formulate daily decisions about momentous happenings. How can the average person do anything about this this requires intelligent decision making at at higher levels and in and outside of government it's not something that you just dump on the shoulders of John Q. Citizen say. If he wants that better he'll ask for it frequently. He doesn't know what to
ask for because nobody has has provided him they have the means. Of finding out. How is the Washington reporter we asked Mr. Cater going to judge what the public wants. What is significant in the news he gathers what the nature of his ultimate responsibility is. This represents one of the most difficult roles of the reporter because he frequently does not have the type of total access to information that will give or enable him to make a considered judgment. Yes this is a this is an unresolved unresolvable problem for for the reporter and yet it's part of the what I regard is the high nature of his calling. I think I happen to feel that the reporter in Washington is the most one of the most responsible jobs that the can belong to anyone in our society. The more we realize this the more we put in into this profession the caliber of people who can handle it
responsibly that the better off we will be but you cannot in my opinion devise rigid rules that will that will simplify the problem for him. It's a job that requires real judgment. And this is this is something that rules alone will not provide. That was Douglas Kater Washington editor of The Reporter magazine. You have been listening to the Washington complex 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. Interviewers for the series are Glenn Philips and Ed Burroughs consultant on today's program was Professor Kenneth Stewart of the University of Michigan Department of journalism news in 20th century America is produced by the University of Michigan broadcasting service under a grant in aid from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Larry Jones speaking. This is
- News in 20th Century America
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- The Washington Complex
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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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Identifier: 59-48-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- APA: News in 20th Century America; 11; The Washington Complex. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-v97zqx9f