VV: Well, I think you have to understand the separation we have with the network. We are under the auspices of CBS Digital Media, a separate division of CBS News, albeit obviously the Web site and the news division work very closely together, we’re all part of the same company. But we do sort of operate — and especially Public Eye — even a little more separately than even the Web site does. So we’re sort of off in our own world, and I think that’s important for what we’re doing. So I don’t consider what Public Eye does to be writing for the network. I think we’re doing our own thing. We’re affiliated with the network via the Web site, but I kind of consider us almost a separate entity.
BK: How do you end up picking what to cover? Obviously, you have a whole array of CBS News programs to shoot at or comment on, and you also have everything else going on in the world of media. How do you end up making the decisions about what you write about?
VV: Well, the first thing we do is pay attention to our email box, our commenters, and criticisms that we pick up, whether it’s in a newspaper article, or on a blog or on talk radio, if we are picking up questions that are being raised about something that involves CBS News on a journalistic level, that’s our starting point, every day and every few hours, that’s where we start from.
Aside from that, we use our own curiosity. There may be a story that’s being covered, and we think, “I wonder how hard it was to cover the Zacarias Moussaoui story,” so we’ll start talking to some producers, maybe a couple correspondents, about the challenges that they’re facing. If we find that’s interesting, we’ll write a story about it — we’ve done some great behind-the-scenes stories like that, a day in the life of a White House correspondent was one good one that we’ve done.
So we use our own curiosity, and beyond that, when there are things that are impacting the rest of the world of journalism, we’ll delve into those, too.
BK: Hypothetical, here: What would you have done if you were around in 2004 for the 60 Minutes II story about Bush’s National Guard service? How would you have covered that, how would you have gone after that?
VV: The most often-asked question we’ve had. All I can say about that is that we would have covered it the same way that everyone else was covering it. We would have tried to talk to the people involved with that story and asked them, what about the questions that are being raised on blogs, what’s your response to those? We would have done the same thing that any other reporter would have done, under those circumstances. Whether they would have answered us, any more than they would have answered anybody else, I can’t say, because that’s up to them. The people at CBS News are under no obligation to give us anything special, that’s part of our separation that exists here. But I think they understand — at least, since I’ve been here, they understand the value of engaging in that dialogue, answering those kinds of questions. How that would have played out then, you just can’t say.
BK: Going a little broader, here: There have been a lot of stories about [public editor] Barney Calame at the Times, and I was reading a piece in the American Journalism Review that I think you were interviewed in as well, discussing kind of a backlash against transparency, at least within newsrooms. Do you sense any of that, or do you think that’s coming?
VV: One of the dangers, I think, is the tone of some of the criticism can be very personal, a little rougher than journalists are used to receiving, at least on a big scale. I think that that tends to turn some of them off from engaging in the criticism.