BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Paul H. Weaver, author of "News and the Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works," what's the culture of lying?
PAUL WEAVER, AUTHOR, "NEWS AND THE CULTURE OF LYING: HOW JOURNALISM REALLY WORKS": The culture of lying is the universe of talk and posturing that public officials engage in, in response to the invitation of the media. It's what we normally call public affairs or news.
LAMB: You mean what we're seeing on television news shows is lying?
WEAVER: It is. It's a fabrication. I guess a more technical word for it would be fabrication. Most public events -- this is the basic idea of my book -- most public events are actions that newsmakers consciously design and perform because they know the media are watching and because through the media they want to create an impression on the public.
LAMB: You say here also the news media is lying.
WEAVER: The news media get sucked into this. They are not the disinterested observer of events. They're not the fly on the wall that they pretend to be. They don't look down on things going on in the real world and cover them without influencing them. The news media, because of the nature of their concept of news, the news media cue and in effect give a kind of script for, a generalized script for newsmakers to follow in creating their performances. Thus, the newsmakers, as it were, are partly the dupes of the media but also vice versa. They form a tight little ... cabal is too conspiratorial a word. They have a tight little relationship in which they are sharing a kind of secret, and the secret is that what they are projecting to the public as real events and news is, in fact, in significant measure, a creation, a fabrication, a performance, a fiction.
LAMB: Can you give any example?
WEAVER: Well, I could give almost anything that goes on in the news and in public affairs as an example. Most of the things that are covered in the press as news events are, in fact, to a significant extent, conceived, scripted and performed by the newsmakers with the knowledge of the newsmakers. For example, anything that a president does, almost anything, certainly anything that a president does in a major public way, is the kind of fabrication I've talked about.
President Clinton's health care program of a year ago is a great example of the kind of presidential fabrication that we have seen a great deal of. That's a response to the basic invitation of the news. The invitation from the media comes about from the fact that news isn't just a report of what happened yesterday. We think it is and it ought to be, but in 20th century American journalism, especially in the major media, the big newspapers, the television networks, news has been defined as a story of crisis_crisis and emergency response. That is the kind of event that gets someone onto the front pages, that gets a newsmaker major time in the media. So a president, President Clinton in devising his health care program, conforms what he does and what he says and how he shapes his posture and his policy to the basic concept in the news media that news is a story of crisis and emergency response. So specifically, Clinton did not stand up and give a speech saying that America has a difficult, important, somewhat intractable series of health are issues and difficulties that we ought to start thinking about and debating about. He announced that we have a crisis, and he did it with the full display and sense of urgency that we normally reserve in real life for a real crisis, a hurricane or a horrible snowstorm or something like that.
LAMB: You tell us early in the book that you've been there, you've done it all, you've come from all sides. Give us the broad outline. What have you done in your life?
WEAVER: What have I done in my life? Not enough and not good enough, no doubt. I began as a political scientist; I was going to be a professor. And I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the New York Times and The New York Daily News. I taught a course at Harvard for a number of years on news media and politics. Then after, I soon realized I didn't really like being a political scientist and what I really liked was doing journalism. And so after being an assistant professor I joined the staff of Fortune magazine where I was a writer. At Fortune I mostly covered government regulation. This was in the early '70s, mid '70s when the EPA and OSHA and the other new regulatory agencies were getting underway, and I helped sort of introduce those to Fortune's readership. Eventually at Fortune I was promoted to assistant managing editor, so I became an editor and I saw writing and journalism from a editor's perspective.
In the middle of my career, my brilliant career at Fortune, I decided to try doing public relations for a major corporation. It seemed to me big companies were doing a terrible job of positioning themselves on policy issues in Washington. And so I was lucky enough to have been offered a job by Ford Motor Company to be a kind of senior writer, adviser, editor in the public affairs department. I said yes to that, and I spent two years at a major corporation, scripting company positions and responses and in part dealing with the media. So I looked at news from that side. And then I guess my final claim to being in position to say something about this subject is that I started a news magazine of my own in Washington in the mid '80s. It was called the Fed Fortnightly, and the concept was to have an illustrated news magazine about something usually very technical -- the Federal Reserve, interest rates, monetary policy, inflation -- and to make it available to a general reader. We did launch, but we didn't stay in publication for long, unfortunately. So I've even been a kind of publisher.
LAMB: What are you doing now?
WEAVER: These days I call myself a freelance writer. I live in Palo Alto, Calif. I wrote this book and I at work on a new book on how the pilots bought United Airlines, a kind of industrial adventure story.
LAMB: And where did you go to school?
WEAVER: I grew up in El Cerrito, Calif. I went to El Cerrito High School, Cornell University and then as a graduate student at Harvard.
WEAVER: Ph. D.
LAMB: In what?
WEAVER: In political science.
LAMB: Which one of those professions is the truest, in your opinion? I'm not sure that's the right question, but where were you true to yourself along the way?
WEAVER: I have found non-fiction book writing to be the form in which I'm able to be truest to my experience and to my study and to what I understand how our modern society works. At the other end of the spectrum, I would say that academics social science has, at least for me, been the most distant from the reality that I kind of observe and experience and try to make sense of.
LAMB: This is published by the Free Press?
LAMB: At what point did this book really come together where you had the idea and why did you have the idea and why did they buy the idea?
WEAVER: The answer to that question is a long story. I had the idea before I started writing the book. Unlike some other things I've written, I had the idea for the title of this book before I knew what was going to be in it. I knew I that wanted to write a book about the way in which the media falsify public affairs and give a fictionalized account in the guise of being non-fiction. That was in '87 and that sort of grew out of my experience with the Fed and the publication about the Federal Reserve. It was clear to me that in the '70s and early '80s, conventional journalism had enabled the Federal Reserve to, in effect, create the inflation of the '70s and early '80s -- well, at least the '70s -- without really covering it, without explaining it, and going along with the Fed's covers story that inflation was a product of institutions and forces that were beyond its control, whereas, in fact, the Fed by controlling the supply of money always has a major controlling influence on that. I've been working on this idea for a long time. I got a fellowship at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University to write this book, so that's where I started, and it took me five years to write. I wrote it with great difficulty and intense pain and anguish. This was a hard book to write.
LAMB: Do you have a political point of view?
WEAVER: I do, but I never know quite what it is or how to define it. It keeps changing on me. These days I think of myself as a pro-market, very old-fashioned liberal, like an 19th or 18th century liberal, like a Jeffersonian.
LAMB: Who today represents that in American politics, public figures?
WEAVER: Nobody very well. I don't connect very well these days to the people in Washington.
LAMB: The Pulitzer Prize.
WEAVER: The Pulitzer Prize. No doubt a goal that will elude me. The Pulitzer Prize is a prize given for journalistic excellence by a group of judges assembled at Columbia University. It's named after Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer, in my view, was the man who made modern journalism what it is and gave it Pulitzer's revolution. Pulitzer's revolution was the late 19th century, early 20th century revolution that redefined what journalism is in American.
LAMB: Who was he?
WEAVER: Joseph Pulitzer is a really interesting man. He's was born in Hungary, emigrated to America at the age of 17, enlisted in the Union Army, the only army in the world that would have him at the time. He was looking to get away from home; he had a bad home life. He was wildly ambitious, wildly talented, and he came to America at a great time. He didn't speak English. After he served in the Union Army for about a year, he migrated to St. Louis where he ran into a fellow called Carl Schurz, who was a German-American politico, reformer and journalist, who offered him a job on his German-speaking newspaper in St. Louis. And Pulitzer had no other work. He said, "Sure, I'll do that," and he was real good at it.
Within 10 years, he had made himself a modest fortune. He had created the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and he was a rich fellow, but an ambitious fellow. By the age of 35 or so, he bought himself a newspaper in New York. New York then, as now, was the Big Apple or at least the place you went if you wanted to sort of be the best in your field. He bought a newspaper that was failing at the time called the New York World, and within two years he'd it profitable, and within 10 years he'd it the biggest newspaper in America. Within 20 years he had, through the World, really redefined what is a newspaper and how it makes money and what kind of stories it tells.
LAMB: About what time of this century are we talking about where he made it the biggest?
WEAVER: It was the biggest by 1890, very early, very quickly. He was an explosively successful media entrepreneur.
LAMB: What does the story of the Brooklyn Bridge have to do with Joseph Pulitzer?
WEAVER: Well, in my chapter, but also in some other accounts of Pulitzer, the story of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge was opened a couple of weeks after Pulitzer bought the New York World. And the first glimmerings of the innovations that he brought to journalism are visible in the way in which the World covered the Brooklyn Bridge. The most important of these innovations was in the sort of sense of display that characterized his use of the front page of the newspaper. He had a great big picture of the Brooklyn Bridge that sort of was from the point of view of Manhattan. You could see the bridge arcing over the East River into Brooklyn. And then about half of the front page was devoted to a giant story that began up here in the upper left corner, because in those days the lead story began in the upper left, not in the upper right.
It began there and then sort of covered most of the front page, and it was an epic narrative of the history of the Brooklyn Bridge -- why it was built and the technological difficulties and the civic pride that its completion occasioned. I believe, and I and Pulitzer's biographers argue, that you can see the beginnings of his innovations in this story. Pulitzer did two or three things in American journalism. The most important was he invented the front page. Before the 1880s, 1890s, American newspapers had had a first page sort of by definition, but they hadn't used it as a display page particularly. Pulitzer was the guy, who more than any other, turned the first page into a front page, a page of display, so that if a news story made it onto the first page, it was being shown in larger graphic form, with pictures, with big headlines, with stories written to the headline rather than just straight chronological narratives of what had happened. Thus as a display page, Pulitzer created a front page that basically began to say news is kind of like a crisis because it needs big splashy display. People need to pay urgent attention to it. It has qualities of magnitude and excitement. Previously news hadn't had those qualities. Public affairs were things that happened out there, and the media sort of standing back with a very, as it seemed, boring, rigid graphic format, sort of had little stories and reports of things going on out there. But the media themselves were never a stage. They didn't play things up or down.
LAMB: What was Mr. Pulitzer's politics?
WEAVER: He was a reform Democrat. He didn't like the political machine or least pretended he didn't, though actually he accepted the Democratic machine's nomination and ran for Congress and was a congressman for six months and then resigned in disgust. But he was reform, more or less anti-machine Democrat. And he was a liberal. He was very aware of and concerned about social issues -- the state of the poor, the condition of women. He brought these things into an expanded definition of news. He wasn't just a sensationalist. He was a man of serious personal political concerns.
LAMB: Jumping to today and you, on a given day what do you read and watch?
WEAVER: Oh, boy. I watch television. I'm a terrible channel surfer. My daughters complain bitterly that I only watch public affairs and I'm always changing, both of which are true.
LAMB: How old are they?
WEAVER: My daughters are 9 and 12. I watch a lot of C-SPAN and a lot of PBS, and then a lot of other junky stuff that I shouldn't like but, of course, I do like "Beverly Hills 90210" and things like that.
LAMB: What do you read?
WEAVER: Mostly I read books. That's why I almost blushed when you asked the question. I mostly read books and I don't read much in the way of print media or magazines anymore. I feel that I'm not learning as much from them as I would like to be. I feel they're a waste of my time. They are time consuming, so when I read, I read books.
LAMB: What would you say to someone who reads every day and loves reading newspapers, what techniques would you give them that they should use in reading them so they -- I mean, let's go back to the name of this book, "News and the Culture of Lying." You're saying that those newspapers are lying to us every day.
WEAVER: They are. One of the tricks I would recommend to a person who is addicted to reading print media is to try to -- if this were possible and sometimes it is because you can get this through electronic news services -- to read the news reports without the graphic formatting. A lot of the way in which the culture of lying is projected to us and becomes real to us is in the graphic, the physical dimensions that the media give to the stories they report. If you take the stories out of the formats and just get it on Nexus, you know, a computer print out, you are depriving yourself of cues that I believe are basically manipulative.
The other thing is a intellectual piece of work that you have to do, which is you always have to be asking yourself, what is the self-conscious intentionality behind this story? In other words, given that newsmakers and journalists are engaged in this game of creating fabrications to project useful images that fit the crisis story, from the cues that are present here, what do I figure must be the intention or on the mind of the newsmaker? Why is he engaging in this particular event or at least what aspects of his behavior in this situation are self-conscious and possibly manipulative? So that you, as it were, deconstruct the news as you read it and try to get rid of the pieces that are stage management and manipulation while still hanging onto the core that is real public affairs, like in the Clinton health care proposal of a year ago. You know, there is a health care issue. The Clinton view is a serious view, and when you strip away the stage management and the crisis imagery, there are ideas of our society, the rule of government, of how things can be made better in our society that are real enough and that they're attending to and that people, citizens, should try to attend to. The problem is just that the media and our current system of public affairs make that really hard.
LAMB: You say in your book that when you worked Ford Motor Company you learned a lot about self-scripting. What's that mean?
WEAVER: What I discovered at Ford was that almost essentially all of the company's and its executives' public statements or actions with respect to an issue, with respect to legislation on Capitol Hill, whatever, were thought through beforehand and literally written down on a piece of paper. Then the company's spokesman would read from, or a least have reference to, the script that we had created. The concept here was actually a serious and not bad one. It was to make sure that we had thought it all through and that when we were speaking as an institution, we were saying what we really meant to say and we didn't speak off the top of our heads in a way that we would quickly come to regret.
The problem came in when I realized that these scripts rarely said in public what we actually believed about the merits of the issue in private. The script we would create was a script meant to make us look good in some way, and often that meant keeping back from the public, or downplaying in public, facts or thoughts that might not make us look good or might strike people as questionable or create a debate.
LAMB: Would you say that Ford Motor when you worked for that company lied?
WEAVER: I would say it misrepresented itself, that what it said in public did not accurately reflect what the executives thought about the merits of the issue in private and that in that sense it lied. The technical definition of a lie is a conscious, knowing misrepresentation of what you believe to be true or authentic.
LAMB: Did you tell them that when you worked for them?
WEAVER: No. I didn't figure it out for a long time. It took me years before I really understood the significance of what I was seeing.
LAMB: A Ph.D. from Harvard?
WEAVER: Especially a Ph.D. from Harvard.
LAMB: When did it dawn on you that you had participated in this?
WEAVER: Well, after two years I left Ford. I went back to journalism, back to Fortune. At Fortune I realized I needed to write a book about what I had seen at Ford and sort of working through what would be in the book was the beginning of my realization of what it was that I was seeing.
LAMB: Was there a time in your life where you read newspapers every day?
WEAVER: Oh, absolutely. I read newspapers really daily until I went to California in the late '80s.
LAMB: Do you miss them?
WEAVER: No. No, I'm amazed that I don't.
LAMB: Do you listen to the radio?
WEAVER: I do.
LAMB: Does radio lie?
WEAVER: All of the media lie in the sense that I'm discussing here.
LAMB: Do they know it?
WEAVER: But not all in the same degree and in the same way.
LAMB: Does the media know it's lying?
WEAVER: Yes and no. Let me explain. No in the sense that the media believe that all the formats and the rules and objective journalism, rules about writing and all of that are a good way to present the news. They think that's professional. That's what they've been trained to do in journalism school and rewarded for doing in their careers and told was the right way to do it by their bosses. In that sense they think they're doing the right thing. They think they're telling the news professionally.
On the other hand, all journalists have to some extent -- it varies from story to story, person to person, time to time -- but all journalists have at least an element of a nagging sense that what they've written or a story they've narrated on TV, the news product they've created does not fully reflect their experience of the story. The one thing that is common to this nagging sense that they aren't quite telling it all is that they know they're typically leaving out the process, the interaction, the off-stage, backstage interaction between journalist and newsmaker that lies behind, that's the story behind the story of the public story that they then produce and either put out on the air or have printed in the newspaper. In that sense I would say they know that they're lying or they're aware that there's a significant discrepancy between what they know and what they're projecting through their work to the public.
LAMB: A chapter called "Editocracy."
LAMB: What's that mean?
WEAVER: Well, I made it up. I define it as rule by editors. The point I'm trying to make in this chapter, or one of the points, is that the public conception of the way a news organization works is misguided in a really important way. Most people in public speak of journalism as the product of the working journalist, and they leave out the fact, which I believe is the most important fact, that the working journalist has a boss. He's carefully supervised, edited, controlled, rewritten and managed from hour to hour and certainly from day to day. Nothing gets printed in the newspaper or broadcast on a news program that an editor and usually several editors haven't scrutinized and validated. My point in this chapter is that the key figure to understand in a news organization isn't the working reporter, it's the boss -- the big editor and his lieutenants, the sub-editors, you know, for city and national and foreign news, sports, business, etc.
LAMB: Who's Chris Orgerous?
WEAVER: Chris Orgerous is a really interesting professor of management. When I first learned of him he taught at Yale; now he teaches at Harvard. He's a fellow who has pioneered in bringing the perspectives of psychiatry and psychology to the study of organizations, business organizations, management, even organizations like the State Department. He did a book that anonymously described the New York Times.
LAMB: How many people know that it was the New York Times?
WEAVER: If I gave you an answer, it would be a factoid and I know you don't believe in factoids. Not many.
LAMB: How do you know that? Is this the first time it's ever been written about?
WEAVER: No. When the book came out about 20 years ago, where it was reviewed, some of the reviews acknowledged that the book appeared to be about the New York Times. People who knew Orgerous and people who knew the New York Times were aware that this was a book about the Times. For example I remember, a bit of biography, I learned that it was about the Times because my friend Bob Bartley, who was editor of the Wall Street Journal at the time said, "Hey have you read that Chris Orgerous book about the Times." I said no. Then I went and got it.
LAMB: The Times let Chris Orgerous inside their whole operation.
WEAVER: It's a pretty basic story. Orgerous apparently wrote to the publisher of the Times, Punch Sulzberger, and said, "Hey, why don't you let me come and study and be therapeutic in your news organization. I've done it at State Department, I've done it at elsewhere." There was a kind of trial, as I understand it, and then on and off for several years, Orgerous would sit in on management meetings, conduct special sessions and seminars. I don't remember all the particulars. But there was quite a substantial involvement by him at the Times for a few years and then suddenly it was broken off. His account of this experience is that it was not highly successful in terms of changing any of the ways the Times did business.
LAMB: What was wrong with the way they were doing business?
WEAVER: Well, he describes an editocracy in my view. He described a very hierarchical, authoritarian organization in which people didn't so much communicate as manipulated one another. He felt it was very dysfunctional. And it would not be good, it wasn't a good place to work and would be unlikely to produce an information product that was sensible and balanced and sort of in touch with reality.
LAMB: You worked for Fortune magazine. Can you read it today based on your experience and believe what you read?
WEAVER: Magazines like Fortune and Forbes and Business Week, the magazine business press, are fundamentally different from the news media that I'm writing about in this book. I'm writing about the daily press, the big newspapers and the network news programs. They cover events on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour basis, and they are devoted to this concept of news is crisis. The business magazines aren't like that. They don't see business news as basically a news of crisis, and so they don't have the same problems at all that I'm talking about in this book. They have their own problems, but they're not culture of lying, crisis and emergency response story problems.
LAMB: You discuss some recent news events. I'll just bring up one, Lee Iacocca and NAFTA. Why did you use that example? What are you trying to get at there?
WEAVER: The Iacocca example is there to illustrate the fact that newsmakers over time -- once you've been a newsmaker and you've been performing for the media, as it were, and scripting fabrications and enacting them for the media, over time you end up taking positions that are in conflict with positions you've taken before. After all, basically I'm arguing that newsmakers say and do in public what they figure will work for them in the circumstances. When circumstances change, their positions change. Iacocca is there as an example of the fact that when Iacocca was in the auto industry in the '70s and '80s at Ford and then at Chrysler, he was the leading or certainly a leading spokesman for protection of the domestic auto industry against Japanese competition. And then I make the point, suddenly in 1993, there's Lee Iacocca in retirement or about to retire appearing in television news commercials for the Clinton administration, touting free trade, and making -- and this is the real point -- and making no connection between this event and the preceding appearances of Iacocca speaking about trade issues which were anti-free trade in their substance. That's the kind of contradiction that newsmakers get themselves into over time, and it's a big reason why we have this sense that there's like a permanent credibility gap in our country -- because there is.
LAMB: In relation to Mr. Iacocca you also mention the air bag and executive jets.
What's the point? Do you remember?
WEAVER: Yes, the air bag example. In one of his last years as chairman of Chrysler, the Chrysler mini-vans were equipped with air bags. This was at a time when the Japanese competitors made by Toyota and Nissan and other companies had not yet made air bags an availability for purchasers of mini-vans. And so Iacocca, you know, in a sensible way went on TV in his commercials to tout the availability of air bags and to point out that you couldn't get those in Japanese mini-vans. Left out of these commercials, inevitably, was the fact that for years at Ford, also at Chrysler but especially at Ford, Iacocca had led the political lobbying charge against government mandating of air bags in American cars.
LAMB: Personal use of executive jets?
WEAVER: Oh, boy. In 1988, '89 or '90, Iacocca's second ghostwritten autobiography called "Straight Talk," if I recall correctly.
LAMB: "Talking Straight." I'm reading it. That's why I know what you're saying.
WEAVER: OK. This book which is classical Iacocca -- engaging and charming, interesting, chatty -- makes the point that it's a pity that too many companies and too many big company CEOs abuse the privilege of the executive jet. Executive jets are a tool of doing business, he says, and it's wrong for people to use them for personal purposes. Left out of this account were two interesting and awkward facts. One was that Iacocca's Chrysler at the time owned Gulf Stream Corp., which is the premier manufacturer of executive jets in America. The other was that Iacocca himself when he first became CEO of Chrysler was required by the Treasury Department to divest itself of Chrysler's one remaining executive jet when Iacocca's or Chrysler's executive jet was observed parked in an airport near a spring training baseball site in Florida.
LAMB: Quote, "The Washington I got to know as a resident was a city of intense hypocrisy, a mecca of hypocrisy, a Vatican of hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of the place impoverished conservation, undermined friendships, stupefied the mind, saddened the heart. Washington, I learned, was to hypocrisy what Mexico City is to smog, what France is to ethnocentrism, what Chernobyl is to nuclear risk, what New Castle was to coals." Do you feel strongly about this?
WEAVER: I do feel strongly about that.
WEAVER: I'm tough on Washington in that passage because I think the city of Washington, the community of Washington embodies the culture of lying that I'm talking about better and more than any other particular community or place in America, it seems to me. I think Washington is a beautiful, attractive, interesting, in many ways admirable place and that Washingtonians and the Washington community are interesting, pleasant, agreeable. I liked my years here. I, to some extent, miss being in Washington. However, I also believe that Washington embodies the culture of lying and that to understand and to take to heart, I guess, what I'm writing about in this book, you have to grasp and accept the fact that Washington is to hypocrisy as I have said. So I was sort of overwriting a little bit and being a little purple in my prose to make this point and to try to redefine, as it were, this basically very attractive American city and community because that's the function of this book. That's the intention behind this book.
LAMB: Anybody mad at you for this book?
WEAVER: Not yet. I guess Lee Iacocca once he sees this on C-SPAN may be.
LAMB: There's another page right after this where you talk -- I'll go down the list and you can on any of them you want to. Congressional exemptions, Ronald Reagan advocating traditional morality, liberals sending kids to private schools that live in Washington, conservatives. There's a whole list of things here. I guess it's more of the hypocrisy.
WEAVER: Right. Well, these are some of the particular hypocrisies that are all too visible in Washington, D.C.
LAMB: The conservatives were kids in the military.
WEAVER: Correct. Let me expand just a little bit. Congress is famous in the last 25 years for having passed environmental legislation, equal opportunity legislation, occupational safety and health legislation and many other regulatory programs that are sometimes very draconian in the burdens they place on the private sector for cleaning up the air and dealing with employees fairly. But they almost always exempt themselves from these laws. That is classic hypocrisy. Ronald Reagan. When I was in Washington, Reagan was president and Reagan made much of preaching family values. That was part of his basic political appeal. But he himself didn't come from a traditional family. He had been divorced, he was estranged from some of his children, he had a kind of modernist family of the kind that he seemed to be railing against. Liberals preach social and racial equality and integration, but a lot of Washington liberals send their kids to private schools, which are not typically integrated. Conservatives preach an aggressive foreign policy, but you don't see many of their sons or daughters serving in the American military. These are all to me prime examples of Washington hypocrisy. People say one thing and do something very different when it applies to them.
LAMB: Have you been angry about this?
WEAVER: Yes, yes. Though again, coming from the background I came from, it took me a long time to understand what I was angry at and why I was angry at it, because the people in Washington don't think they're doing something wrong or evil. They've all been to law school, and they've been taught that laws don't have to been general rules, generally applicable. They can be more pinpointed and targeted. We can be more pragmatic in the way we think about the enactments of government or the rulings of a bureaucracy. They think that's fine, but what it ends up meaning, the bottom line, is one thing for me and something else for other people.
LAMB: When were you the angriest?
WEAVER: While finishing this -- no, in the beginning of this book. By the time I finished the book, I had sort of come to understand better what I was writing about, and understanding always brings a certain kind of serenity and calm.
LAMB: Where did you write it?
WEAVER: At home in front of a word processor.
WEAVER: In my apartment near the Stanford campus.
LAMB: Did you ever teach at Stanford?
LAMB: Are you still attached to Hoover?
LAMB: How long were you there?
WEAVER: Three years.
LAMB: What is Hoover?
WEAVER: Hoover is a think tank. It is maybe, and in fact I believe, it is the largest think tank in America. It was created many decades ago, but it became important starting in the '60s as a think tank with a conservative political orientation specializing in originally Soviet studies and foreign policy, economics and economics applied to public policy, and in the '60s as sort of ... its rise paralleled the career of Ronald Reagan, also in California and connected with personal and other connections. Today it has an enormous endowment between $100 million and $200 million. It has two beautiful buildings. It's a magnificent place to work. I loved being there, and it is the premiere place for sort of conservative applied policy studies in an academic setting in America, I would say.
LAMB: When you were there were you considered conservative?
WEAVER: No, because almost as soon as I arrived, my first book came out where I made it clear that I wasn't a conservative anymore.
LAMB: Did that make them mad?
WEAVER: No, I don't think so.
LAMB: But do they have anybody that works there and writes from there who's not a conservative?
WEAVER: Now they do. They have been moving toward the center and becoming more academic in recent years. And so sort of like the American Enterprise Institute, they have become a lot less sectarian.
LAMB: You dedicate this book to "Cecile T. Weaver and Harold F. Weaver, my mother and father with love and gratitude." Are they alive?
WEAVER: They are alive, yes.
LAMB: Where do they live?
WEAVER: They live in Berkeley, California.
LAMB: Did you grow up there?
WEAVER: That's where I grew up. That's where I was born.
LAMB: What was it like?
WEAVER: Well, it was home.
LAMB: What did they do?
WEAVER: My father is a professor, now a retired professor of astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley, and my mother is a now-retired social work executive.
LAMB: Any other siblings?
WEAVER: I have a brother and a sister.
LAMB: Where are they?
WEAVER: The brother is a business executive in Houston, and my sister is a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and also commutes to her home in Tucson.
LAMB: You refer in this book to the fact that you've done just about everything including you were divorced from journalists.
LAMB: Is that anybody we know?
LAMB: Who is that?
WEAVER: Suzanne Garment.
LAMB: Married to Leonard Garment?
LAMB: Been a guest on this show. When were you married to her?
WEAVER: 1968 to 1977.
LAMB: And how many children do you have altogether? Just the ones that you mentioned earlier?
LAMB: There is a chapter called "Traitors to Their Experience." And in that chapter, which is chapter 6, you start out by talking about Father Theodore Hesburgh when he was in the Civil Rights Commission. What's the point?
WEAVER: The example from Hesburgh is a fascinating excerpt of a press conference. Hesburgh was releasing a report by the Civil Rights Commission which argued -- this was in 1971 -- for an intensification of the nation's commitment to civil rights and further progress in civil rights. The media people at the press conference were reflecting the then-dominant liberal critique of the Nixon administration, which was they weren't making progress and, indeed, were interested in a certain amount of pulling back on the civil rights front. And so, the reporters were pressing very hard in their questions to get Hesburgh to say he thought Nixon personally and individually was especially worthy of being singled out as having failed to make the progress that he was calling for. Hesburgh in this press conference resists, and he's asked again and again, "Don't you think that the president deserves special mention? And Hesburgh would say, "No I don't. I think all of us are responsible and it's the problem of all of us and a need for all of us to get going."
So one point of this episode is that the press often brings a very specific theory about what is the story, and they look for facts to confirm it. But the other part and the wonderful part of this episode is that when the reporters went back to write their stories the next day or that afternoon, the stories they ran did not say, "Well, Hesburgh was critical of the president for not making enough progress." And neither did they say, "Hesburgh actually thinks that the president should be singled out but because he wanted to be political and not offend the president, who was, after all, the guy who appointed, he didn't say so." Nor did they say, "We pressed him really, really hard again and again to criticize Nixon and he refused to it." They simply wrote Hesburgh's story. My point is that they ended up writing a story that they didn't really believe was true.
It's clear for the Q&A that Hesburgh had not persuaded the press that he didn't really feel that Nixon should be criticized specially. They just gave up in exhaustion, not in conviction. Then that's sort of is the way I introduce the basic point, which is that in Pulitzerian journalism with fabrications being the things that most news stories are written about that the reporter is a traitor to his experience. He knows there's a fabrication being written about and that he's a party to it in some degree but that he can't and doesn't adequately reflect that in his story, and thus his story is discrepant from the real experience and he is being a traitor to his experience.
LAMB: What if somebody told you in another six months that you've just won the Pulitzer Prize for this book?
WEAVER: I'd ask for a recount. I'd be surprised.
WEAVER: Pulitzer Prizes are usually given to working journalists. Most of the prizes go to actual reporters working on a daily medium, and they are for daily news reports. There are Pulitzer Prizes for books and other things. I would just be astonished. I'd certainly be delighted but . . .
LAMB: Why would you be delighted?
WEAVER: Oh, vanity, sales.
LAMB: What does it mean?
WEAVER: It means recognition. It means that this book would achieve a kind of validation that everyone, every author would be delighted to have.
LAMB: But if I follow you right and you go back to the Pulitzer chapter and the money that was given to Columbia and that the New York Times then took over the philosophy of what the Pulitzer Prize was -- what I'm getting at is here you write about the New York Times and the study and it all comes out it's still the title of book, News and Culture of Lying. Why would you want to win one of those awards if they're all lying?
WEAVER: Well, I confess this is the first time I've found myself thinking about this extremely hypothetical possibility. I guess what you're suggesting or what I am beginning to entertain is the thought that maybe if I mean what I say about this, I would reject the prize. And possibly I would do that.
LAMB: But I do want you to go back, though, to the Pulitzer chapter and finish the rest of it, if you would please, the whole thing about the money and the endowment and what that was all about. There were some problems.
WEAVER: OK. Well, there's a middle part, too. Let me briefly get through the middle part. Pulitzer invents the front page and the crisis formats that define modern news stories. He is wildly successful with this. Basically the World has a circulation of 10,000 when he buys it, and within a dozen years it has a circulation of a half a million. I mean, this is an astonishing achievement. So he becomes very rich. He was doing OK in St. Louis with the Post-Dispatch. Now he's big-time rich. He has a 200-foot yacht, that kind of thing. He starts getting more money because of advertising. Right at this time, the modern consumer product corporation begins emerging, Nabisco and companies like that, and they're looking to advertise products. And with these publications with their mass audiences like Pulitzer has now created, they begin to buy space. So there's a second stream of revenues and profits.
Pulitzer's newspaper shifts from being dependent mainly on the purchases of readers to being dependent mainly for its revenues mainly on the purchases of advertising, advertisers looking to buy access to the audience. But he becomes doubly rich and he becomes really a serious fellow in New York City. So in his 40s and early 50s, he starts thinking of monuments to himself. Every time there's an anniversary -- the 10th anniversary, the 20th anniversary of his ownership of the World -- he thinks of a monument. He's very good at monuments. You know, Pulitzer is the guy who raised the money to build the pedestal and the full-size replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The Statue of Liberty is a newspaper promotion, Pulitzer's newspaper promotion. He thinks that the monument he's going to create for himself is some kind of journalism school. He talks to Columbia. At first Columbia isn't interested. Later on as they approach 1903, which is the 20th anniversary, he gets much more serious and there is a proposal and there's an agreement. He will create a school of journalism. He will give $2 million to Columbia.
LAMB: What year?
LAMB: 1903, $2 million. What do you think that would be worth today?
WEAVER: You have to multiply that by at least 10 and really more. A lot, plenty. Columbia loved it. They didn't have a journalism school. No one did. This would have been the first. So there was a lot of bargaining back and forth. I argue in this book that this is an example of the kind of hypocrisy that is associated with Pulitzer's creation. Pulitzer was a self-made man, no special education, real smart, very interested in public affairs, very creative, up by his own boot-straps. In creating a journalism school, he redefined the whole concept of journalist from being an ordinary guy who goes into this line of work to a professional who's trained by professors and certificated by professional societies and disconnected from the audience, disconnected in a lot of different ways. So one of the points of this is just that the whole idea of the journalist that Pulitzer propagates through his charity, through his monument to himself, is very different from the idea of the journalist that he enacts and realizes through his newspaper. The reader should, people who are interested should read the book, but there's a lot of funny-sad back and forth between Pulitzer and Columbia.
LAMB: How big a delay?
WEAVER: Ten years basically. It took Columbia and Pulitzer 10 years to agree and to make the benefaction. In the end it was agreed that nothing would be done until Pulitzer died because Pulitzer was so fed up with Columbia's academic niggling and haggling that he refused to have anything more to do with it, and he said, "You'll get the money when I die. I can't be bothered with this while I'm living. It's just too aggravating."
LAMB: What would he think today if he came back and saw what's happened to Columbia and what's happened to the Pulitzer Prize?
WEAVER: Well, he would have typical Pulitzerian reactions. He'd be delighted with the public relations success of his gesture. I mean, Pulitzer's name is not quite as big as Ford or Coca-Cola, but it's way up there, so he'd be very pleased with that. He was a great showman; he was a great egotist. I think he'd be sort of surprised and a little horrified -- maybe more than a little horrified -- and saddened by the degree to which ordinary people with ordinary career tracks are not enabled to go through this school of journalism and into the profession that he made as a very non-college-trained guy.
LAMB: "Man is by nature a political being."
WEAVER: Man is by nature a political being, a point of view I learned as a college junior from a mentor of mine who had a big influence on me. His name was Alan Bloom. He was a professor of political philosophy. He lived at a undergraduate house that I lived in in Cornell. He was, of course, famous in the late '80s as the author of "The Closing of the American Mind," a book criticizing the American university.
LAMB: Were you the same age?
WEAVER: No, Bloom died two years ago at 62. I was 19; he was about 30. He was a visiting professor at Cornell.
LAMB: At the end of this book you give nine things that people can do for constitutional journalism. What's constitutional journalism?
WEAVER: Constitutional journalism is a kind of journalism that I believe would reflect the values of and support the institutions of constitutional democracy, you know, in the great American tradition. I mean, my book argues that the modern crisis-orientated media have distorted and substantially undermined constitutionalism. So I'm talking about a kind of journalism that would get us back to the way the founding fathers envisioned the American system working. I have reforms for journalists, reforms for media managers and reforms for others that I propose. For journalists, cut back on the amount of crisis coverage, turn the front page more into the way it was before Pulitzer with less ranking of stories, less giving of graphic cues about importance. Define the journalist as a lay person and a non-expert, not as a professional, and reorient media business strategies away from advertising sales and back toward reader and viewer sales.
LAMB: Did this come out the way you wanted it to?
WEAVER: The whole book?
WEAVER: Yes, pretty much. I'm pretty please with it.
LAMB: Here's what the cover of the book looks like. The title, of course, as you can see, is" News and the Culture of Lying," and our guest is Paul H. Weaver. We thank you for joining us.
WEAVER: Well, thank you. I had a lot of fun.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.