THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; SCOTT GANT, CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER; RANDALL ELIASON, PROFESSOR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY AND GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY; ANA MARIE COX, TIME.COM TAPED: FRIDAY, AUGUST 31, 2007 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 1-2, 2007
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Gatekeepers Begone.
MARKOS MOULITSAS (DailyKos.com founder): (From videotape.) They don't need to look at the media's gatekeepers. They can make their case directly to these activists that are on Daily Kos and on other blogs like it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's Markos Moulitsas, the originator of Daily Kos blog and the Yearly Kos, the blogger convention that bears the second half of his first name. In early August, hundreds of Internet journalists and bloggers descended on Chicago for that Yearly Kos convention. It was a veritable who's who of new media pioneers.
Now, once upon a time, the press coverage of presidential campaigns was done by a handful of reporters, mainly men, who traveled with the candidates on the press plane and the press bus. Hunter S. Thompson covered the 1972 Nixon-McGovern campaign for Rolling Stone, and in the process he invented gonzo journalism, which described the political coverage process that then prevailed.
Well, that was then. This is now. Now anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can write about politics. Blogs, which stands for web logs, which means using the Internet as a personalized reporting and opinionating vehicle, has brought this about.
Last year Americans launched 14 million new blogs featuring commentary on everything from reviews of consumer products and hobbies to national and international news. Independent news gathering and streaming video plus low-cost but high-production-value digital content are featured on blogs.
Some of these blogs are practically indistinguishable from those of well-established newspapers like the Financial Times and news networks like NBC. This technological empowerment has emboldened some to declare that the boundaries between old media and new media are dissolving. In other words, we are all journalists now.
Question: If we're all journalists because of blogs, and there are 70 million blogs in the world, and 120,000 new blogs launched everyday worldwide -- practically one every second -- with that amount of clutter, what hope is there for anyone to break through? In other words, the vast majority of blogs are doomed to be niche media, small niche media, tiny, not mass media. And if you're so buried, how can you call yourself reasonably a journalist? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, you can call yourself what you want, John. But in the Web, it is also true -- you take Drudge. That's my morning newspaper. I go down there and look at it. He's got the stories I want. You've got the columnists you want. So you go through that. Then you buy the newspapers. The Washington Post and the other newspapers have their own stories on the Web.
What this is doing is it is really changing, I think - newspapers and magazines in print are going to be on the way out. But I think it's simply going to be transmitted to you through the Web.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's not news gathering, which is what the journalist does. That's news aggregation, isn't it?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, most of the blogs are opinions. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't it, Scott? By the way, Scott, congratulations on the book, "We're All Journalist Now," a great read, an easy read, and quite -- it breaks new ground, quite groundbreaking.
MR. GANT: Thank you, John. There is no guarantee that any particular blogger is going to find their audience. But fortunately, we have both a free press and a free market in this country. And what that means is there's no guarantee that someone's going to break through and gain an audience. But I'd much prefer to have people, however they do in the free market, rather than have the government decide what we should be reading.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Randall.
MR. ELIASON: I think part of the issue, too, John, is the breadth of the term blogger. I mean, we have a wide range of activity out there from people who are writing what's really sort of a daily diary about what they had for breakfast that they don't expect anyone to read but maybe family and friends, all the way up to the major media websites and blog sites.
And so, not unlike print media, where you have everything from The New York Times down to little local newsletters, and you're just seeing a wide range of activity. And they won't all break out to be major national media, but that's not different from other forms of media as well.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ana.
MS. COX: Well, I've always said that journalism is something you do, not something that you are. And so anyone can come in and act a journalist. I mean, it doesn't matter where they do it. So, I mean, we all have the potential to be journalists now. I think it's actually probably what the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about the term journalist? Does the term journalist apply to what they're doing?
MS. COX: Not always, no.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this is the point of Scott in his book. He says we're all journalists now because of the capability of blogging. But blogging -- you can't break through.
MR. GANT: The point I make in the book is, just as Ana says, we're all capable of being journalists. But we exercise whatever preferences we think are appropriate as individual viewers or readers. We decide what's interesting, worthwhile, trustworthy. And we exercise those preferences as consumers. But we should be wary when the government gets into it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the new media breaking ground, meaning that it is getting up there with the old media in terms of volume? MR. GANT: We're in the first inning of a dramatic transformation of the way we share information and ideas with one another.
MR. BUCHANAN: With the old media, John, you take the network I work for, MSNBC. They've got a great website. It's nationwide, and you go in there. You go into the other websites. John, if you write books now, you go get columns; you get stories from newspapers that have already been published. You take them out, and that's what you use to draw from.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do they shape the coverage of the main media?
MR. BUCHANAN: I don't know that they do. I'll tell you what's going to kill some of the newspapers -- already cable has -- is the immediacy of the reporting. When CNN came, I mean, we were in the White House with Reagan. They were out on the lawn reporting stories five times before the network news came. When we were with Nixon, John, 64 percent of the American people relied on the network news, the three big networks, for their foreign and national news as the primary source. Now the democratization of the media is unbelievable.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know that Scott calls this species citizens? He calls them citizen journalists.
MR. GANT: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, do you really think that's the case? First of all, a journalist is someone who calls up and checks the facts. Most of the people here that you write about, the vast, vast majority, they never lift up the phone. They search the net. They try to find something in the net that may justify what they're saying. Is that true or false?
MR. GANT: I think that's false. We should be resistant to treating all traditional journalists as a monolith, as if they're all the same quality. And we should similarly be resistant with respect to nontraditional or citizen journalists. There's a wide variety of quality and in the types of endeavors they're undertaking.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think you've got a semantic problem here? In other words, a journalist has an established meaning. We'll get into that in a moment.
MR. BUCHANAN: But opinion writers are journalists. And, I mean, you deliver opinions. Everybody here delivers opinions. We're journalists as well as reporters are journalists, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about citizen journalists doing stories that are overlooked by the press? Do they do that?
MS. COX: Of course they do. And I was going to say, not all reporting, even traditional print reporters, do all of their reporting by calling up people. I mean, you do data base reporting. You do library reporting. You do archive reporting. And bloggers do play a really important role in bringing -- in, like, hammering on stories, in taking something that maybe already had been reported and very well reported by some outlet, but hasn't gotten the attention they feel it deserves.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Randall, let me quote to you the First Amendment of the Constitution. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble," and so forth. What's the constitutional significance of right guarantees for bloggers?
MR. ELIASON: I think that's an area that's really being highlighted now by the controversy about, you know, certain privileges and rights that apply to the so-called mainstream media. Now, are they going to apply to bloggers or not? And if you try to deny them to bloggers, who are out there performing many of the same functions, transmitting information to the public --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll go into that further in a moment.
Exit question. Let's assume that there is indeed a fusion of old and new media underway. Which of the two will be more dominant 25 years from now, a generation from now? Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, clearly the younger generation is relying more on the Web than the old media. The big newspapers are losing circulation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your answer?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think the old media is going to merge into the new media and still going to be dominant.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you tell Murdoch that?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, he and I talk often. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He just bought The Wall Street Journal. He paid $5 billion for The Wall Street Journal.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, yeah, but he got Dow Jones, and he's going to have a cable news network too.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the answer to my question, Scott?
MR. GANT: I agree; they're going to begin to look like one another. We won't recognize either of them in 25 years.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There'll be a fusion.
MR. GANT: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Randall?
MR. ELIASON: I think that's right.
MS. COX: A horrible hybrid beast, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A hybrid beast. I'll go along with that. When we come back, is a shield law for journalists, including bloggers, justifiable? And who is shielded by a shield law?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Net Reach.
FORMER SENATOR GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA): (From videotape.) This fellow over here with the yellow shirt, "Macaca" or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. Let's give a welcome to "Macaca" here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: George Allen, then-senator from Virginia, used this retort in addressing the barbed question of a campaign worker for Senator James Webb, Allen's opponent in the 2006 midterm campaign. The above clip was made from a hand-held camcorder and was disseminated on the Internet. That led to the defeat of the favored Allen, who, in addition, had been on the short list of Republicans likely to be the GOP nominee for U.S. president.
This year the power of the Web was exhibited again by CNN and YouTube, who teamed up to co-sponsor a presidential debate that invited, quote-unquote, "citizen journalists" to pose questions directly to the candidates via the net.
DEBATE QUESTIONER: (From videotape.) In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answers Senators Clinton and Obama gave to that question reverberated in the mainstream media for the following week and beyond, instigating other verbal exchanges between Clinton and Obama. The YouTube video was catalytic and irrepressible.
Question: Why was it catalytic and irrepressible? Ana.
MS. COX: Well, I think that what you saw was a very skillful operation by the Hillary people in taking what actually is a very narrow difference between them in terms of how they conduct their foreign policy and exploding it into sort of a referendum on Obama's competence and experience.
He answered a question -- it was a flawed answer in which he said he would meet with these leaders without, you know, preconditions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why was that flawed?
MS. COX: Well, because it makes him sound like he doesn't know what he's doing. And afterwards he was able to back it up a million different ways and say, "Well, you know, when I said that, I didn't exactly mean that." But it provided an explosive, yes, moment, a (fire-lit ?) moment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the catalytic effect is also owing to the fact that it was an excellent, excellent question, and you seldom get a question like that from a journalist who's sitting at a table asking questions? Do you agree with that, Randall?
MR. ELIASON: I think it was an excellent question, and it's just another example -- there have been a lot of recent examples of stories that sort of percolated in the Internet and then really rose up into the mainstream media but sort of relied on the Internet for their initial legs, such as the Trent Lott story, Dan Rather's CBS "60 Minutes" story, a lot of other examples.
MR. BUCHANAN: But John, you know, look, what was good about this is they went through thousands of questions and they selected good ones. But the format here is no different than Nixon's town meeting with people asking questions.
What you have the ability here to do is to get thousands of those questions and then present the best, sharpest, cleverest ones and drop it in there.
MS. COX: I agree.
And also there's another thing very important about that question, which is it was pointed and it had a point of view. That question clearly took the side of this being a good thing to do. A moderator in an ABC debate, an NBC debate, isn't going to take that position, or they're going to appear not to. And so I think, in a way, like, Obama was seduced into answering that in a positive way.
MR. BUCHANAN: This is town meeting format, though.
MS. COX: Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: You find, frankly -- we did with Nixon's press conferences -- you could predict every single question they're going to ask, and we often did. You go out to a high school classroom; you wouldn't get 25 of them. They come from everywhere. But here you can ferret out the really good ones and put them up there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That particular question elevated the tone of the debate and the quality of the debate, no question about it. But that's not characteristic of what we find on the Web or by bloggers. What we find is a school of piranhas who love to have their knives sharpened, who love to trap the press. They're "gotcha" journalists. That's what they are, many people believe. That's not necessarily my view. (Laughter.) They move with lightning speed.
What about that? Is it a foray of negativists who are sitting around eating jelly donuts at the table and typing at the same time?
MS. COX: In their pajamas.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In their pajamas. I'm asking you.
MR. GANT: In some respects, we're returning to the type of journalism that we had more than a century ago, where it was much -- you had many more voices.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, the muckrakers.
MR. GANT: Well, muckrakers and others. Our tradition of journalism in this country isn't what we're used to in the past several decades, where it became corporatized to a large extent and there was this notion that you had to be objective to be a real journalist. But that's not the real tradition of American journalism. It was very much opinionated, and sometimes uninformed.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: In the presidential campaign next year, will the Internet dominantly contribute to an informed debate, or will the Internet dominantly spout effluent, with a stream of negative attacks?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's going to be a mirror, a much broader mirror, of what's going on in the political campaign. It will reflect the attack ads. And frankly, it's going to be an attack campaign, so it's going to be like all the rest of the media except the establishment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the net and the blogs will keep journalists honest?
MR. GANT: In some respects, yes. But voters used to be able to speak in the campaign only when it came time to vote. Now they get to participate earlier.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you see ahead for the presidential campaign?
MR. ELIASON: It will absolutely contribute to the debate in a positive way and to keeping the voters informed.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MR. ELIASON: Absolutely.
MS. COX: Well, I think that it's a medium and it doesn't have a good or a bad impact necessarily. I think, in a way, it's a life-size map of the world, what Pat is saying. It's going to reflect whatever is out there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Dominantly positive.
MS. COX: I think more information is always good. And it's going to contribute more information.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) I'll go along with that. I like that.
Issue Three: Shield Me.
REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN): (From videotape.) As a conservative, I believe the concentrations of power should be subject to great scrutiny. The longer I serve in Congress, the more firmly I believe in the wisdom of our founders, especially as it pertains to the First Amendment and freedom of the press. It's important that we preserve the transparency and integrity of our American government, and the only way to do that ultimately is by preserving a free and independent press. Now is the time to repair this tear in the First Amendment - pass a federal media shield law.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Congress is still debating a federal shield law to prevent prosecutors and other law enforcement authorities from forcing journalists to reveal their sources except under extreme circumstances such as national security.
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia already have installed these shield laws to protect legitimate journalists from being compelled to disclose their sources.
Question: Is a shield law justified? Randall, let me point out that Congressman Pence has an extraordinary Americans for Democratic --
MR. BUCHANAN: Americans for Constitutional Action, probably.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Americans for Constitutional or Conservative Action. His ACU rating is 100, his conservative rating, like you. And he has a liberal rating of zero, Americans for Democratic Act, ADA. He's the perfect conservative. And he's advancing this on behalf of the --
MR. BUCHANAN: He's no good on immigration. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let that be a lesson to you.
MS. COX: Created in a lab, I think, actually. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to speak to this particular law?
MR. GANT: I do. I'm glad that Congress has reintroduced, as it has on more than a hundred occasions over the past 80 years, an effort to possibly pass a shield law. I have concerns about how the legislation may fare with respect to the definition of journalism. And in my book and elsewhere, I've urged them to adopt an expansive view of journalism, which views it as an activity rather than a professional affiliation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've got a lot of problems with the shield law.
MR. GANT: I do, John. I don't think the federal shield law is necessary. I think you need to look at two things, sort of. Is it needed, and what would it actually protect? On the "Is it needed?" question, we've never had one. And it's pretty hard to argue that journalism in this country has suffered from the lack of a federal shield law and that there aren't sufficient confidential sources.
The fact is, sources are willing to come forward based on a guarantee by the reporter that they won't be named in the story. They're not worried about whether a judge two years from now is going to compel the reporter to testify. And that very rarely happens. And the second thing we need to look at is sort of who would be protected in a lot of these cases, because if you look at the big high-profile cases in recent years, these are not classic whistleblowers that are putting information out to the public. It's people who have tried to use the media for some improper purpose.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, here's who is being defended by this shield. "A journalist is a person who, for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in news gathering or news reporting as a salaried employee of or independent contractor for one of several specific types of media organizations or another professional medium or agency."
I misspoke. This law changes the definition and the definition becomes this. Note that this broadens the definition. A journalist in that definition must be paid. He must get a check, either owing to his own independent contracting or he's on a staff. But here's the new Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 -- "The gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public."
There is a consequence to the broadening of that definition.
There's nothing there about getting paid. Is that correct?
MR. GANT: That is a question that's in flux. The House itself is unsettled about whether to have requirements like that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forget that. What's the impact of a change of definition?
MR. GANT: I think that having an expansive definition of journalism is more consistent with both the letter of the Constitution and with the principles --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with that?
MR. ELIASON: Well, part of the impact, when you're talking about a legal privilege, is when you have such an expansive definition, you're talking about excluding a great deal more information from the legal system.
MR. BUCHANAN: You are putting journalists in a priestly class above everybody else, which is preposterous. John, when we were in the White House, if I talk to the president, I can be hauled before a grand jury and asked about it, hauled before the Congress. Why, if I talk to a journalist, is that more privileged?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't want a broad, broad definition.
MR. BUCHANAN: I don't want a federal shield law at all. I think journalists are just like everybody else. They should be responsive to the same laws, except they should be invited to testify last, and only as a last resort.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ana, I'm going to get back to you. Exit question: Will Congress pass a federal shield law this year? And, if so, whose definition will it be, the broader definition or the more restricted definition? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: If they do pass one, it would be restrictive. I don't think they're going to pass one.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That means a salaried person, or not necessarily salaried; a person who makes money from journalism. MR. GANT: If one's passed, I think it will have a narrow definition. I also think the president might veto it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MR. GANT: Yes.
MR. ELIASON: I don't think they will pass one, and I think it will founder largely on this question of trying to define who a journalist is.
MS. COX: I agree with everyone else. I think that it's a huge question. I think there's a lot of, like, fallout ripple effects from having it defined that way too.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, it will founder.
Issue Four: Old Media Still Rules.
Mark Twain once said rumors of his demise were premature. The same is true when it comes to traditional media. With his $5 billion purchase of Dow Jones & Company, Rupert Murdoch has become the world's first truly global media titan. Rupert Murdoch's gargantuan intercontinental media empire spans film, television, tape, direct broadcast satellite, magazines, book publishing, newspapers and Internet properties like the popular social networking site MySpace.
The common thread in this historic global communications conglomerate is an unequal fusion of old and new media, and Murdoch is living proof that old media is still in the ascendancy.
Question: What's the real impact of the Internet on the world of media? And you can work somewhat with what Murdoch has shown us.
MR. BUCHANAN: Murdoch's a leader in the whole thing, John. He's moving very rapidly from old media into new media faster than anyone.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. GANT: He recognizes that there's a convergence. And, as usual, he's shrewd.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A fusion, a convergence.
MR. GANT: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Randall?
MR. ELIASON: I think this is a great example of the importance of the Internet, that you have individual private voices out there when you have an increasing corporatization of the regular mainstream media. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's Rupert's website?
MS. COX: Well, I mean, he owns MySpace, which is this huge social networking site. He also owns -- I mean, all of his major properties have Internet components. I think he's the Dr. Frankenstein that will create this horrible hybrid monster -- (laughter) -- that brings the Internet, new and old media together.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is a smiling monster, though, isn't it?
MS. COX: Oh, it'll have some very amusing attributes. It'll have a Simpson --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that he's fundamentally a newspaper man. You know that. And he loves newspapers.
MS. COX: He's fundamentally an entertainer, honestly. He knows what sells.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he also has respect for learning, does he not?
MS. COX: I'm sure. He likes information.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's going to be a miraculous fusion.
We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Will newspapers flourish or die?
MR. BUCHANAN: They will mutate or they will die.
MR. GANT: I agree with Pat.
MR. ELIASON: They'll survive.
MS. COX: They will survive in some form.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They will survive.