October 21, 2008

N.Y. Times Reporter Relates Government To Mainstream Media

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Fifteen days before the presidential election, New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David Sanger gave a tour of America far from the hypothetical “Main Street” both candidates have consistently used as campaign jargon.
Last night in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, Sanger, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke of a failed war in Iraq and the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. He mentioned a whirlwind economic crisis that has sent the world reeling. He added that America’s credibility in the world has also dropped substantially. And to top it all off, the Red Sox were just eliminated from the Playoffs by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.[img_assist|nid=32814|title=Press pass|desc=David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, lectures on the media in the face of a changing world yesterday in Goldwin Smith.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Sanger, a 24-year veteran of The Times with a soft spot for the Red Sox, spoke of the challenges our country faces as the Bush Administration comes to a close, as well as our government’s relationship to a changing journalism industry.
“Invading a country that didn’t have nuclear weapons will make it harder to confront countries that do,” Sanger said about the war in Iraq. He added that the government has also been less forthright about releasing news on its actions against nuclear terrorism because it made mistakes invading Iraq under false pretenses.
“Loss of credibility from Iraq has prevented them from talking clearly about other countries that have [nuclear weapons],” Sanger said. “Journalistically, that’s a problem as well because we have to go about establishing what we and do not know … It’s impossible to delve into this stuff without delving into the classified world.”
The other side of the problem — the newspaper industry’s reporting on the war — has become increasingly difficult as newspapers have slimmed down their foreign bureaus. However, in-depth reporting that spans from the White House to the other side of the world is especially important these days, Sanger said.
“We are more globalized and integrated than ever before, and yet, at this very moment when we most need to understand and access the rest of the world, we are cutting back,” he said of the journalism industry.
Though the web has the potential to be profitable, Sanger said, blogs all too often blur the line between news and opinion. Thus, he remarked that there will always be a need for news reporters who can challenge assumptions and stand up to White House officials.
Sanger peppered his speech with stories from his many years of reporting — meetings with Presidents Bush and Clinton, encounters with high-ranking government officials and news reports from the White House pressroom.
Sanger recalled sitting in the pressroom while a government official gave reports from Iraq. Something seemed off, he said, so he contacted a reporter from the Iraq bureau on his Blackberry, who discredited the report from the pressroom. It was this type of cross-continental communication that enables breaking news, he said.
Sanger said both the journalism industry and the United States are at crossroads. Still, he said, it has been worse’ in the days of Presidents Jefferson and Adams, the United States faced just as many challenges.
“The stuff they ran in the newspapers in those days would make an editor at the National Enquirer blush,” he said. “The time period we have gone through has been painful and wrenching, but we have seen things like this before and we will be through it again, no matter who gets elected president.”
Though the lecture contained some empty seats, the audience was a diverse mix of students, professors and Ithaca residents.
“I thought it was interesting what he said,” Juliana Berk-Kraus ’11, said, “How he covered the way reporting is done. I greatly respect the New York Times, so it was an honor to have him here.”
Cha Roberts, an Ithaca resident said that she hoped Sanger would have answered more of the questions he raised in the lecture.
“I thought it was informative. I was expecting to hear more about whether these changes [in the world and journalism industry] are permanent,” she said. “But it was enjoyable hearing stories about news encounters.”
Sanger is this year’s Kops Freedom of the Press Lecturer, sponsored by Daniel Kops ’39, a former editor-in-chief of The Sun. The Freedom of the Press Program, established in 1990, brings distinguished speakers to Cornell every year through the American Studies Department.