- Tonight, a conversation with newsroom decision-makers.
- [Narrator 1] The capital attack.
- [Narrator 2] Guilty.
- [Narrator 3] Not guilty.
- [Narrator 2] Guilty.
- [Narrator 1] A racial reckoning.
- You mask your child, you're a child abuser.
- That's my choice, that's my choice.
You better respect my choice.
- [Narrator 1] An ongoing pandemic.
- First inflation and then gas prices, and then shipping.
- [Narrator 1] And rising inflation.
2021 was a historic year that further divided the nation, and tested those managing newsrooms across the country.
Coming up on a special edition of Washington Week, leaders from some of the top news organizations discuss writing a first draft of history for fractured nation next.
(upbeat music) - [Narrator 4] This is Washington Week.
Corporate funding is provided by Consumer Cellular.
Additional funding is provided by the Estate of Arnold Adams, Koo and Patricia Yuens with the Yuen Foundation committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities, Sandra and Carl DeLay-Magnuson, Rose Hirschel and Andy Shreeves, Robert and Susan Rosenbaum, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by contributions to your PBS Station from viewers like you, thank you.
Once again from Washington moderator, Yamiche Alcindor.
- Good evening, and welcome to Washington Week.
Tonight, we have a special new year's Eve edition of the program.
We will discuss the biggest stories of the year with some of the nation's top newsroom leaders.
These are the folks who decide what you read, watch, and listen to every day.
Here to talk about decision-making in the newsroom, trust in the media and lessons learned in recent years are Elizabeth Bumiller, New York Times' Assistant Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief, David Chalian, Vice President and Political Director at CNN, Julie Pace, Executive Editor, and Senior Vice-President at the Associated Press, and Terrence Samuel, Managing Editor for News for NPR.
And tonight, I wanna start of course, with the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol and the lies about the 2020 election that continue.
We're only days away from the anniversary of the attack.
And it was of course, a watershed moment in American history and in journalism.
Reporters covered the story in real time.
Some even in harm's way.
And since then, journalists have Chronicle the consequences, including the spreading of disinformation about our voting systems.
Here's former President Trump in October after numerous investigations and audits found no significant evidence of election fraud.
- First of all, he didn't get elected.
Okay, forget that.
I never conceded, never.
(audience cheers) Never conceded.
No reason to continue.
- David, I wanna start with you.
This January 6th attack, of course, was a TV story.
People watched it live, played out our capital under attack.
What was the conversation inside CNN and what was really the goal of coverage both on that day, but also how has it evolved when we think about all the things that have happened since then?
- Yamiche, it's amazing to think back to that day, nearly a year ago, because you'll recall that morning started with us still covering the results coming in of the Georgia Senate runoff elections.
We had not yet projected both races.
I believe in the morning, we'd only projected one of the two Senate races.
So we were waiting for the rest of the votes to come in, figure out which party was going to control the United States Senate.
And then of course, as the electoral college count process was getting underway, the insurrection began and we saw this attack on the very citadel of our democracy and it sort of book-ended a day that was about how the day started with vote counting and vote reporting legitimately, and then ends in the absolute worst case scenario of the lies about the 2020 election and what it can bring.
And so we have dedicated at CNN and I know all of my colleagues on this panel and across the media landscape unbelievable resources to following this story.
I don't think there is a bigger story of our time than our democracy being in real peril.
And so when we are thinking about not only our coverage in 2021, but looking ahead to 2022, it's not just sort of like, oh, the midterm election year, and we're gonna start covering the president's impact on down-ballot races and oh, that'll certainly get covered, but there's gonna be a whole separate sort of beat unto itself in our 2022 political coverage.
And that is going to be following what is happening in the states about restrictive voting rights law, what is happening with the January 6th committee on the Hill and how we ensure that the small democratic institutions continue to hold in this country.
And I don't know if there's a bigger story than that in the coming year.
- Yeah, and Elisabeth, David's talking about sort of really giving resources to this story.
Talk about what the New York Times is doing to cover this story, especially when you think about the fact that there are lawmakers calling January 6th, a tourist visa.
- Right, we are closely covering the January 6th committee.
We are also covering what's happening in the country and the states, the national desk is extremely busy with that.
And we are also covering Trumpism.
We cut way back, obviously in our coverage of Trump in 2021.
But right now we're gonna have to beef up our coverage because of his continuing hold on the Republican party, on his supporters and on the nation.
It's tough coverage is to be not covering every utterance of everything he says, obviously, but we are covering the effects of his presidency and his fundraising, the investigations into him.
And so we will be stepping that up in 2022.
I agree with David, it's a huge story.
I also think COVID is a huge story in 2022, as we have seen in the last couple of weeks here.
- Well, we're definitely going to get the COVID for sure.
Julie, I wanna come to you.
You also said that that January 6th is sort of the biggest story of the year, possibly, maybe of our lifetimes in terms of the status of American democracy.
Talk about that and how it's informing how the AP is covering this.
- Well, I think what we have seen over the past several months is that there's what happened on January 6th, and then there is all of the fallout.
And this in many ways, I think one of the most important pieces of this beyond just the attacks on our democratic systems is the spread of misinformation and seeing how fast that misinformation spreads both through technological platforms, but also through elected officials.
And so I think one of our real responsibilities over this past year, and this will extend well into 2022 is to make sure that we are correcting the record and that we're doing so in a sober way, that we're doing so with the facts at the forefront, that we're doing it every time we tell a version of this story about January 6th, that we make sure that people are armed with accurate information.
I think that we have a real responsibility to not backslide on this, because we have seen that again, when you have powerful forces amplified by technology, that misinformation can speed well past the facts.
And so it's really incumbent on us at the AP and all of these other newsrooms represented here, I think, to really make this our mission going forward.
- Yeah, and Terrance, when I think about NPR, it's so much about context.
Obviously you cover breaking news there, but you also sort of really do, do deep dive investigative reporting.
Can you talk a little bit about how you're deciding what to cover, what to call a lie, what not to call a lie, especially going into 2022?
- Yeah, that was a big debate a couple of years ago with former President Trump.
It's interesting to hear January 6th framed as this pivotal moment that kind of set off a bunch of implications that we're now dealing with.
In some ways, to look back on it, it almost seems like it was kind of the logical conclusion to a world we had been living in where misinformation had become this kind of stalking us to everything we did.
The president would say things and we would debate whether it was a lie or not.
And at the end of the day, we had gotten so used to covering the institution of the presidency alongside the distortions of whoever manages to sit in it at the moment.
And suddenly with President Trump, we could figure out how to separate those distortions, and people adjusted to the office, and suddenly the office was being consulted to the president.
I mean, the big lie being kind of the obvious thing that diminishes this, but at the end of the day, January 6th seemed like the obvious thing.
- Yeah, and David really quickly, 'cause we wanna turn to COVID.
How does CNN dealing with polling?
It's been such a problematic sort of part of our society.
People in some ways, not believing in polling pollster saying maybe we've got it wrong.
If you could really quickly, 'cause we're gonna turn to COVID, talk about polling.
- Sure, obviously after 2016 and again, after 2020, any organization that does polling had to examine, what is it that is being potentially missed in polls?
And we did that as well.
And we have adjusted both after 16 and 20 our methodology and our approach to make sure that we are getting as representative a sample as possible.
It is clear that some Trump supporters are not participating in, especially in media polls, but in polling generally, and are underrepresented in what we saw in a lot of the public and private polling by the way.
A lot of the campaign polling on both sides in 2020 was off the mark as well.
So it's just a matter of going back, jiggering our methodology to ensure that we are getting as representative a sample as we possibly can.
And it's just gonna be an ongoing effort.
I will say, Yalmiche, polls overall, still work.
They do give you a snapshot, but like anything, I would just urge folks as you're reading about polls and looking at polls, don't rely on any one single poll, look at the totality of the polling that's out there, and step back and look beyond that instant snapshot and the overall trends.
That's where polling is most helpful in storytelling.
- Yeah, and I want it now of course, turn to what Elisabeth brought up, which is COVID.
This year began with mass distribution of COVID vaccines.
President Biden said July 4th would work some independence from the virus and then return to some normalcy.
But unfortunately the U.S. and world have been fighting COVID spikes and waves of new variants.
And political fights over the pandemic in vaccines have intensified.
Julie, I wanna come to you.
What sort of challenges has your newsroom faced when you think about covering this unending pandemic and how has that really affected assignments?
How do you put reporters in harm's way, in some ways, when you think about sending people in the hospitals to tell stories?
- Well, it's remarkable that we're actually having that same conversation right now.
Exactly what you mentioned, Yalmiche about at safety on assignments, about sending people into hospitals or to other events, because we thought we would be beyond that at this point because of vaccinations.
And really this has been this kind of up and down year, the highs of the vaccines being rolled out that feeling like cases were coming down in the U.S., that feeling like we were moving beyond this, and we were having a lot of discussions about what post pandemic coverage would look like where would we be focusing on, on life after the pandemic with a recognition that this was always a story that was gonna have inequalities.
And so we were looking at sort of one type of storyline, maybe in the U.S. and Western Europe and a different storyline in other parts of the world where vaccine access had lagged.
And now, as we reached the end of this year, we're in a situation where the pandemic is in full force.
It's different still, again, the vaccines are safe and they are effective, and they are keeping people from being hospitalized at the same rates that we saw before the vaccines.
But I think that that feeling within the newsroom, like we keep looking to turn the corner.
We keep looking to shift our coverage beyond the pandemic.
I think the reality is this is a storyline that will twist and turn a few more times, but it is one we're gonna live with for quite some time.
- And Elisabeth talking about twisting and turning, you have added the situation where reporters have really had to become in some ways, experts on science, and then had to really try to explain that evolving science to readers.
How have you approached that?
How hard has that been at the New York Times?
You've done it a great job at doing it, but it's clearly a challenge.
- Well, our COVID coverage has really encompassed every part of the newsroom, from the national desk to Washington covering the Biden administration response, to international covering it all over the world to, our virus briefing has been running for endlessly now non-stop, to the science desk, which has done astonishing work to the business desk.
It's been basically every part of the newsroom.
The challenge, I think now in this latest twist, which is the huge spike in cases is to cover it accurately, to cover what's happening, to cover the astonishing new caseload, but also to point out we're in a different place than we were a year ago, the vaccines generally work.
Most people, if there's the breakthrough cases are not going to get as serious case.
So we're trying to balance that out.
So it's not hysterical coverage, but I can tell you readers are extremely interested and it was one of our big drivers in 2020.
People really flocked to our coverage.
And it's happening again, unfortunately for... it's not unfortunate for anyway, it's happening again, that people are again, flocking to the coverage.
- Yeah, people are definitely flocking to the coverage.
And Terrence, I wanna come to you on with this question, the Pew Research Center found that just 58% of Americans trust national news organizations.
That's down from 76% in 2016.
Do you think our industries should be trying to win back that trust?
Or do you think that newsrooms should just be doing their jobs reporting, being accurate and not worrying about sort of whether or not people trust us?
I should say that a lot of it is driven by Republicans in particular, not trusting national news organizations.
- Yeah, I mean, clearly we should be trying to gain the trust of the people we aim to serve.
But I think what you see here is as with COVID, we have become part of the story that we cover.
And so I think that that polling number that you use is a reflection of the political climate of the country.
And it has a lot less to do with what we actually produce in terms of news for our audiences.
Look, I think COVID was the perfect example of why we exist.
There was a lot of news.
It was new.
We were literally figuring it out as it happened as were the public health officials who were doing it.
There was never a more crucial moment for us to be doing this.
At the same time, we were dealing with these huge information, misinformation fuselage from all over the place.
And as a result, this story is now two stories.
There's a story about a medical pandemic and a political divide in the country that is overlaid on this and causing a lot of problems, obviously.
- Yeah, that's a smart way to put it.
Definitely two stories, the political angle and the medical angle.
I also wanna say that the relationship between the press and the president can often be tense.
President Biden and White House aids have been critical of how the media has covered issues like the vaccine rollout and also his withdrawal from Afghanistan.
David, what do you make of some who say that the President Biden hasn't been covered fairly, that he hasn't gotten credit for what he's been doing, but also there are some who say maybe we should be, or the news media isn't holding President Biden to the same standard as former President Trump rather.
- First of all, I'm still waiting to meet an administration or a president who thinks they had good press coverage.
I know you hear that - Me too.
- all that often.
Our job remains the same.
And in one aspect, it may be a bit easier than it was during the Trump administration because of the deliberate misinformation and lying that was occurring.
But our job and mission remains the same, which is that we have to hold those in positions of power accountable, accountable to their words and their promises to the American people, accountable for their actions.
And we need to continue to press on that and we do.
And I don't think we have to spend much time being concerned about whether the administration thinks the coverage is fair or not.
I think we have to be concerned with letting the facts and our reporting lead the way to ensure fair contextualized coverage.
And I think that that is happening.
I think it may look less combative perhaps than people saw between the Trump administration and the press because it's not a agreed upon, decided upon political strategy from this president and this administration to make the press a political target and an enemy, which of course resulted in the distrust you were just talking to Terrence about, but this whole notion of Donald Trump making the press a political foil.
I think that is what has disappeared with the disappearance of Trump from the White House.
- Elisabeth, what's your take, especially as Republicans are saying President Biden isn't getting the same level of scrutiny as former president Trump.
- Well, and this is one of those it, I agree with David, but there is no, I don't know if any White House Republican or Democrat that has liked the press coverage from the New York Times and I guess from the rest of us.
And I think that we get criticism that we're too tough on Biden.
We get criticism that we're not tough enough on him, but I think we've... and the White House complains every day about our coverage almost.
So I just think this is the way it is.
And I think our coverage of Biden has been quite tough as Republicans.
In the beginning, we questioned the ups and downs of their COVID policy.
We have covered his premature declaration of the pandemic being over this past summer.
We have covered the setbacks setback after setback of his legislation on the Hill.
We were very tough on the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaos.
So, I don't buy it from Republicans that we are too easy on that this White House.
All of us in this program know that this is going on forever, that White House has complained about our coverage, and the next White House says you're being too easy on these guys.
- Yeah, I mean, that's definitely something that I think both of you are making good points about just how combative things are.
Less combative, but we're still, of course our job is to hold presidents accountable.
I also wanna talk about the racial reckoning, of course, that began after the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, it's continued this year, there were intense battles over the consequences of slavery and how the U.S. teaches its history.
There's no doubt race will continue to be a central issue to cover next year.
Terrence, I wanna come to you because there are few, few people of color, black men in particular who are newsroom leaders.
Talk a little bit about what you think about the state of diversity in newsrooms and how should organizations focus on hiring, but also promoting people of color in their newsrooms.
- Yeah, I think you saw it as I mentioned with COVID and covering the president, we became a part of a very big story.
The racial reckoning became a story about who tells these stories and are newsroom's equipped to do it?
And obviously the short answer is not nearly close enough.
The good thing I think though was that it has become such an unavoidable topic.
And we are in some ways, I think doing a much better job than we had been and much better job than speaking specifically about NPR.
And a lot of people are in trying to have this conversation.
It is the fundamental American conversation.
And for a long time, we were avoiding it, we talk about misinformation.
Years and years of misinformation.
And I think, we finally have, in some cases, a whole generation of reporters in newsrooms demanding that we do things differently.
And I think for newsrooms like mine, it continues to be a struggle, but I think a good one.
- Yeah, a good struggle is a good way to put it.
Julie, how has the racial reckoning affected the way that your organization has thought about covering race?
Not only just police killings, but I'm also thinking of housing, of health, of the economy as we see inflation rising.
And how does that also impact the assignments that you make, the reporters that you choose to cover stories?
- Well, I think you touched on something really important here.
There is coverage of race around what we saw in terms of protests in the streets after George Floyd's death or coverage of police killings.
But what we've tried to do at AP is really tried to look for at what is the discussion of race in any subject area?
What is it, vis-a-vis the pandemic or education or housing or economics.
And I think that that is a really positive change in the discussion that we're having.
Any issue that we are talking about in this country, there's a racial component to it.
There's an inequality component to it.
And we've really tried to put that at the forefront of the coverage and it's sparked some really fascinating conversations.
I think some really important stories and really crucially it has also lifted up new voices within the newsroom.
We've really seen as particularly younger reporters, really empowered, really trying to push us in leadership to think about these stories in a different way.
It's affected the conversations we're having when we are hiring staff, and what I hope and what I think our responsibility is as leaders is to make sure that those changes that we are seeing are sustained, but this is not something that we are doing just because we are still so close to what we saw happening in this country after the death of George Floyd, that this is a systemic change, it's gonna be difficult and it's gonna take real commitment.
But I think that the result in terms of our journalism and reaching a broader array of people in this country and around the world, that's really positive.
And we have to always aim for that goal.
- Yeah, and we have about a minute left.
I'm gonna try to split it between Elisabeth and David, 'cause I can't choose which one.
So Elizabeth the New York times, of course, the 16, 19 project you've got so much flack from your newsroom had to push back on political falsehoods.
How has the conversation been in your newsroom, especially in DC, which isn't connected in some ways to the 16, 19 project, but it's dealing with the consequences.
- Well, I just would say that covering race at the New York Times is a shared responsibility.
I'm gonna bounce off a little bit with what Julie said.
We covered as a topic, but it's also, again, a part of everything we do, again from the White House to health care, to all those issues that Julie talked about.
And I think that most reporters at the Times need to have a basic expertise in civil rights history and how this is important to us.
So I would say that we weren't completely affected by the 1619 Project in Washington, but we are a big part of the coverage of race at the New York Times from we cover the government and that is a huge issue throughout Washington.
And I would just say again, and certainly our newsroom has become far more diverse than it was even five years.
- Yeah, and David William 20 seconds left, but CNN, I know has a whole racial justice unit.
Why is that a good thing?
Why is it is a good to separate it?
Or do you think that there's a problem there possibly in separating it?
- But yes, we have a race and justice units that got stood up, but the point is, is that it integrates with every issue across the newsroom.
So when you hear, as Julie was saying, whether it is immigration or the economy or education, or the pandemic which was one of the examples that race injustice plugs into all of those coverage areas, making sure that it's front and center in our story today.
- Thank you so much, David.
I appreciate you explaining that.
That's it for tonight.
Thank you to Elisabeth, David, Julie, and Terrence for joining us.
Tonight, there's no Washington Week extra, but it will back next week.
Thank you for making Washington Week a part of your Friday nights this year.
Have a happy, happy new year.
I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Goodnight from Washington.
- [Narrator 4] Corporate funding for Washington Week is provided by.
- [Narrator 5] For 25 years, Consumer Cellular has been offering no contract wireless plans designed to help people do more of what they like.
Our U.S.-based customer service team can help find a plan that fits you.
To learn more, visit consumercellular.tv.
- [Narrator 4] Additional funding is provided by the Estate of Arnold Adams, Koo and Patricia Yuens with the Yuen Foundation committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities, Sandra and Carl DeLay Magnuson, Rose Hirschel and Andy Shreeves, Robert and Susan Rosenbaum.
The corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you, thank you.
You are watching PBS.