AN: It’s not like they’re idiots, it’s not that you won’t quote those people. I don’t really care what some senior aide to John Kerry or George Bush says after the debate about how John Kerry or George Bush did or said in the debate. Do I care to talk to them before or afterwards about what’s going on in the campaign or their perception of what’s going on in the country? Yes.
LCB: So that wouldn’t be spinning? Aren’t they still spinning no matter what “room” they’re in?
AN: Not necessarily. Sometimes. Have you ever been in the spin rooms? They all come down after the debate and they tell you how well the candidate does. It’s a whole different thing to talk on the phone with Matthew Dowd and hear him say, “we think we’re strong” — that’s part of the whole negotiation of reporting. But the spin room is essentially a disingenuous exercise. The campaign aides know what they’re going to say before they walk down there. But more importantly, debates are really a big deal in my opinion. … And there’s only a certain amount of words in the newspaper, so the words should be devoted to the candidates. I don’t really care what someone’s saying about what the candidate said. …
LCB: Going back to one thing you said a minute ago, that you don’t want to sit in the spin room and hear an aide’s take on what Bush and Kerry just said, because they’re going to already have planned that out before the debate happens. Isn’t that also true when you pick up the phone and call them? Aren’t they always going to be on some kind of talking point or script?
AN: Some of them are, some of them aren’t. The ones that are, I tend not to call. Generally, reporting is a transactional business. You try to get as much information as you can. Sometimes in the course of a conversation they’ll give you some spin and some information. If you have good relations with them and you’ve been doing this long enough to filter out — I don’t want to use the word bullshit, [but] that’s the way it works.
LCB: In Thursday’s Times, Jim Rutenberg had a piece about “an ever-growing army of Internet writers” who try to “bully [journalists] into caving to a particular point of view.” While “most political reporters” Rutenberg interviewed “insist the efforts have not swayed them in any significant way,” some “worry the criticism could eventually have a chilling effect” and “admitted they could not rule out having pulled punches in small and even subconscious ways.” How have said “Internet writers” affected you and how you do your job?
AN: Listen, here’s the problem. I think a lot of these people are really good, are really smart about politics and are trying to raise legitimate concerns about what we’re writing and what we’re covering. But a lot of them are just so intense and so personal. I read these blogs where they insult the way reporters look — not most, but some — instead of writing, for example, “I think this story is wrong because this reporter ignored this bit of information or this reporter forgot this historical thing” or whatever, it’s always like, “this story is wrong because this reporter is dishonest or partisan or stupid.” That sort of stuff really has corrupted the atmosphere this year.
That’s not the majority of bloggers at all, some are really good, really valuable. I try to keep an eye on them. … I know reporters who refuse to read that because it’s so upsetting, so personally distressing. But the problem is you want to keep track of what people are saying either to get information for a story you’re trying to cover or because you want, you need criticism. We’re not perfect. … So you want to get feedback, but some of this is so toxic it’s impossible to pay attention to it.