JL: That’s part of it. Absolutely that’s part of it. I mean, if somebody says — doesn’t matter if it’s the president or who —if somebody says, “It rained on Thursday,” and you know for a fact it didn’t rain on Thursday, if the person was of a nature that you felt you should quote him, “It rained on Thursday.” Second paragraph, third paragraph — or in television terms second or third sentence — you would say, “However, according to the weather bureau it didn’t [rain Thursday].” But you don’t call the person a liar. The person who would call that person a liar would be the person who’d read that story and say, “My god, Billy Bob lied.” But I’m not doing that. I’m providing the information so that the person can make their decision. People might say, “Well the weather bureau has lied. Or I was out that day and it was raining …”
Most of the stories I have covered in 45 years have been gray stories. There are very few really stark black and white stories. On a daily basis there are some huge ones that are, sure, from time to time, but it is helping the reader sort through all this sort of gray stuff out there. It’s not about, “This guy is a liar, this guy isn’t a liar.” I wish it was that simple. It seldom ever is.
LCB: Is there any place for writing, “Billy Bob said it rained Thursday. The weather bureau said it didn’t. I was out that day and I say it didn’t.”
JL: I would never do that. That’s not my function to do that.
LCB: Is it a newspaper’s function?
JL: Look, I’m just telling you what I do, ok? I’m an expert on the NewsHour and it isn’t how I practice journalism. I am not involved in the story. I serve only as a reporter or someone asking questions. I am not the story.
LCB: At one point during the interview, Bradlee said he considers embedding “a mixed blessing.” And you?
JL: I think it’s a terrific thing. We have increasingly fewer and fewer journalists who have any military experience and understand what life is like in the military and in combat. It isn’t the only reporting that needs to be done, but it’s a part of the reporting on the war and I think it’s a very legitimate thing to do. A lot of good stories have come out that wouldn’t have come out otherwise — mostly about what it’s like for these young men and women who are engaged in combat in your and my name and our country’s name. And that, to me, is a very, very legitimate function of journalism. Now, of course, that’s only part of the story.
LCB: One of your questions to Bradlee was, “Why do people not want journalism any more?” What did you mean by that, exactly?
JL: I don’t remember … I really don’t feel that way at all. I may have been asking about …
LCB: I think you were talking about newspaper circulation going down — it was in that portion of the interview. Any thoughts on what you might have had in mind?
JL: I must have been talking about circulation and ratings. My own view, there is a need for and a demonstrated need for more journalism now than there ever has been. The serious, real journalists of this country are more needed now than they ever have been because the blogs and the mp3s and the iPods, they’re all talking about the news, but where does the news originate? It originates with a reporter. It originates with a news organization. And whether it’s the NSA surveillance story or the Randy Cunningham story … all those started with reporting. And so there is increasingly evidence that the folks are understanding that, yes, it’s a terrific thing to be able to go on a radio show and shout about something or to exchange strong opinions on a blog and all of that, but in the beginning there has to be a story. All of that original reporting is being done by journalists.
LCB: About a month ago a Chicago Sun-Times reporter wrote, in a piece about Katie Couric moving to CBS, “Let’s face it: Most of us would rather hear the news from Survivor’s Jeff Probst than Jim Lehrer any day.” You thoughts on that?
JL: Be my guest. I don’t care what anybody like that says.
LCB: Do you think it’s true? What about the whole entertainment-ification of the news?