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How Are Media Covering U.S. Presidential Debates?; Interview With Tim Bishop
Aired October 16, 2004 - 21:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Hala Gorani, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.
Now the U.S. presidential debates are over, and while the media poured over the candidate's policy decisions, what they said and didn't say, there was one aspect that stood out, the supposed bulge on Bush's back had many in the press speculating. Even Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, had something to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, TV TALK SHOW HOST: I think it was in the first debate where they said that President Bush had something in his jacket. Do we have that still? Show it there. OK. And they said it was like -- they thought it was a transmitter or something in his ear.
JOHN EDWARDS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it was his battery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Now, in the weeks before any U.S. election, the media scrutiny is unprecedented, but are journalists always focusing on the right things?
I'm joined now on the line by Martha Zoller, WDUN radio talk show host. For personal reasons, she couldn't make it to our Atlanta studio, but she joins us on the phone. In Philadelphia, Dave Lindorff, reporter for Salon.com and author of the new book "This Can't Be Happening."
I'm going to start with you, Dave Lindorff. Some critics might say, with all these policies being discussed and debates and out there on the stump, why focus on a peripheral issue like a bulge in Mr. Bush's jacket.
DAVE LINDORFF, AUTHOR: Well, I think it's important and I think viewers would want to know if in fact the president was getting assisted during a debate. A debate is supposed to be to see how these guys handle themselves on their feet and, you know, it's a question of integrity, whether you're getting help and not telling people about it. So that should be of interest to people, I would think.
GORANI: All right, and you've actually asked experts whether they think Mr. Bush was being assisted by a wire. And what did they say?
LINDORFF: People are pretty convinced that I talked to that that's exactly what the object on his back during the first two debates was. So, you know, there's not much other explanation for it. The White House's justification that it was a wrinkle in the coat is patently absurd.
GORANI: All right. Martha Zoller, what's your reaction to this? Not only the story, but the way it's being covered in the United States.
MARTHA ZOLLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, first of all, I didn't' believe this one any more than I believe this one any more than I believe the fact that Kerry brought notes in with him and that's what he was pulling out of his pocket, which is what a lot of right wing Web sites were focusing on.
I think it's a lot of focus on style over substance and, believe me, even as a person who supports President Bush, and I am a talk show host, that if he had had a wire, he would have done a lot better in the first debate, I think. I don't believe that he had a wire. I think that's patently absurd, to say that, and you can get experts to say anything when you look at something.
I think that the president and John Kerry did the best they could in the debates and depending on who you are and who you supported, that's who you think did well, but I think that the conspiracy theory kind of thing really does a lot to denigrate the entire process.
GORANI: Now, one of the perceptions -- and this is coming from international observers and on CNN INTERNATIONAL many of our viewers are watching from outside the United States. And the perception is that the media in America is as polarized, almost, as the voting public. Is this a new media landscape and is it here to stay? I'll ask you this -- Dave Lindorff.
LINDORFF: I don't think that that's a fair statement. I think that it's true that some of the mainstream media is leaning one way or the other, but I think that most of the journalists on the mainstream media are following it down the middle.
I think there's some question about FOX TV, but once you're talking about CBS or NBC or ABC, CNN, there's not a slant pro-Kerry or pro-Bush. That's simply not true.
ZOLLER: I don't know. Recent studies, Dave, would disagree with you, that there is a slant in the networks as far as the kind of words they use to describe either of the candidates. But what I will tell you, and I've said this before on many talk shows, is that I don't think the slant occurs at the news that happens at the top or bottom of the hour if you're talking about cable news.
The slant occurs in what 30 seconds you decide to carry every 30 minutes for the rest of the day. That's where a slant comes in. It might be a conservative slant. It might be a liberal slant. But I don't believe that there is no slant in news.
GORANI: Now, Dave, let me ask you this. What do you perceive and see your mission as a journalist to be in the few weeks leading up to the election? Is your mission to coldly report the facts or is it in any way, shape or form to influence public opinion?
LINDORFF: Well, it depends what I'm writing. I draw a clear distinction. I'm an investigative reporter, and I think a lot of people think this way. I write columns and when I write a column, everybody knows exactly what I'm thinking.
When I report on a story, then I'm wearing a different hat and I'm thinking in a different way and I have always -- and I think most journalists follow this standard -- I try to be fair and accurate in what I'm saying, and that's all I'll say about it. I mean, when I do a column.
ZOLLER: And, Dave, you do -- you do do that. I've read your work over a period of time. But your magazine, or Salon.com, I mean, it says very clearly in its statement, "We are a progressive magazine which tends to be --" but when you say progressive in America, when you're talking about politics, that tends to be more liberal.
GORANI: But, Martha, in the same way, you're a conservative talk so host, so what is your.
ZOLLER: Absolutely. And I say that right up front. Yes.
GORANI: ... mission? What is your journalistic mission, then, in that case? Is it to shape opinion?
ZOLLER: Yes, and I'm not a journalist per se. I'm a talk show host, and I say that right up front, that I have an opinion and I'm paid for my opinion. It's a more interesting show if you have different points of view. It's not interesting if I'm just sitting there preaching to the choir all day long.
GORANI: All right, Dave Lindorff, there is also this perception that it's a damned if you do and damned if you don't -- no matter what you write, you're going to have a portion of those who consume news who are going to disagree with you and disagree with what you have written. Is that something you feel is right?
LINDORFF: Absolutely correct. And, you know, I've spent a lot of time as a journalist in Europe and Taiwan and Hong Kong and Asia and, you know, in most countries of the world, people understand that, and they expect a certain -- they expect their journalists to have opinions.
In the United States, we try to imagine that our reporters on, you know, the "New York Times" or CBS or whatever don't have personal opinions, and that is ridiculous. Every reporter has personal opinions. The question is, can you separate those when you are factually reporting a story, and I think most people can.
But let's not deny the fact that every editor, every reporter, has a personal opinion. I try to put mine on my sleeve.
GORANI: Martha, the last word for you. If I can just interrupt you. The last word with you. We gave Dave the first word, yours is the last word on this topic. Go ahead.
ZOLLER: Well, I just think that really what you've got to do, as far as the bulge, the Bush bulge, what we started about, I think that we need to focus on the substance and I think, as I said before, that President Bush would have done a better job, I think, if he was getting a wire in that first debate.
GORANI: All right, Martha Zoller, WDUN radio, speaking to us from Atlanta, in Georgia. Thanks very much. Dave Lindorff, of Salon.com and the author of "This Can't Be Happening," thanks so much for joining us on CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
LINDORFF: Thanks for having me on.
ZOLLER: Thank you.
GORANI: Still to come on the program, stay tuned. From the front line to the touch line, we'll look at 5,000 days of history through the eyes of the photographer, when we come back.
GORANI: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS on CNN.
The photographer can define a moment forever, from a political victory to a history sporting triumph. They are moments that are captured with a click and remain etched in the collective consciousness.
A new volume of photographs chronicles key moments in the last 5,000 days with contributions from members of the British Press Photographers Association.
I'm joined now by the secretary of that organization, Tim Bishop.
Tim, why do some pictures have lasting impact?
TIM BISHOP, BRITISH PRESS PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOC.: Well, I think it's a picture which sums up a very dramatic story at one glance, and you know immediately what's going on just by looking at that image. And that's what has lasting appeal.
The writers, I feel sorry for them. They've really got to sit down and churn it out and put lots and lots of words down to tell what's going on.
GORANI: As the saying goes, they need 1,000 words to make up something like this. Let's put the first picture up there, a woman in a burka, buying lipstick. What's the story behind this?
BISHOP: Well, the story behind this, of course, is that the women -- this was taken in Kabul, in Afghanistan, by Pete Nichols (ph) of the "London Times." And what is shows is the freedom, the relaxation. They're allowed to buy makeup and choose lipstick and so on, but she's still got her burka on.
GORANI: All right, so you see a contradiction there on several plains.
Moving on to other pictures, and we have pictures capturing violent events, moments in time and in journalistic history that we all remember very well, and the Moscow Theatre siege being one of them.
BISHOP: Well, this was taken by Justin Sutcliffe, working for the "Sunday Telegraph," and it shows one of the victims of this awful siege, and people might remember that what happened is that Russian special forces stormed the theatre building using a noxious gas which killed as many victims as it did Chechen terrorists.
And this girl is overcome by fumes and she's actually in a coach, being sped away from the scene. And the photographer managed to run down to a traffic light which had stopped the coach to get his picture, because the Russian police were quite determined that journalists should be kept well back from the scene.
GORANI: And this is one of the lasting images of that terrible time.
BISHOP: I believe it is very dramatic. Every other image that we see, you know, is distant shots of heavily armed men taken from far away, and this, you really are there. You're -- the camera is right up to the glass.
GORANI: And then there are those photos that capture unbelievable violence, humanitarian disasters, and sometimes the question comes up -- and I'd like to warn our viewers that some of these are quite graphic -- the question comes up of when it's ethically questionable for a photographer not to get involved.
We see here actually a murder taking place in Albania.
BISHOP: Yes. There's a bit of a story behind this in that this is shot in Albania of a secret policeman. Three of them actually killed a student during a student demonstration, and one of them was cornered here in a part of the university where the demonstration was, and was literally beaten to death by the crowd.
GORANI: How do you make that decision, Tim? You were a press photographer and head of this association. When do you say to yourself, I need to step in? Especially if it's a famine picture. Don't you -- doesn't just your human impulse make you want to intervene?
BISHOP: Yes, and some photographers have got very, very involved. For instance, photographers that have adopted children from orphanages and so on in Romania.
GORANI: This picture is absolutely compelling and tragic.
BISHOP: It is, again. This is taken by Tom Sutter (ph), but it shows a comparatively rich man taking away grain and food from a young lad who is in a much worse situation.
The photographer really should ideally be a viewer who is at a remove, and photographers have described that when they look through the viewfinder, they feel that they're not quite there in some way and that they are at a remove, and this is famously when working in particular in combat zones and war zones, photographers feel somehow slightly safer having a camera, although of course it's no protection.
GORANI: This picture is so artistically beautiful, yet depicts such a tragic situation, where a young boy, probably in a famine situation, has an empty bowl of what looks like just a few grains of rice.
BISHOP: Of gruel. Yes. Taken by John Jones and the little lad is sitting in what was a classroom, an empty classroom, just trying to pick over the grains, and it really shows just how alone he is in this scene.
GORANI: Let's look at some of the big historical events of our time.
BISHOP: 1989, this is the fall of Communism in Winchester (ph) Square, taken by Brian Harris of the "Independent," and it shows the enormous crowds that gathered to celebrate the kind of fall of Communism, and a lot of the theme of our book starts from that period, at this extraordinary time in December, right at the end of 1989, when the Iron Curtain began to collapse.
GORANI: All right, on a lighter note, although some might consider this to be a light note, anyway, Tony Blair looking very happy.
BISHOP: He's looking very happy, isn't he? Stretching and relaxing. Taken by David Sanderson (ph) of the "Independent," and he's in his constituency home in the north of England. And this picture was taken a couple of years ago, but I particularly like it because it's a very plain house and we now know of course that the prime minister has bought himself a particularly luxurious property in a very exclusive area of London, but here he is, man of the people, in his home.
GORANI: All right. And this one is of course Diana with Paul Burrell. And we know that Paul Burrell after Diana's death made some revelations, even wrote books about it. This is one of the most sold pictures featuring Diana, isn't it?
BISHOP: It is certainly a very valuable picture, and the photographer has made a great deal out of this image, and it's one of those chance things.
He probably at the time of the picture didn't particularly know or even care who the man to the right of the princess was. But only later, you suddenly realize, my goodness, that's Burrell.
GORANI: It's Paul Burrell.
Uma Thurman. We need a picture that illustrates the cult of the celebrity pop culture we live in. The cult of fluff culture. And this, also, with all the paparazzi, illustrates that quite well.
BISHOP: I love this show. It's taken by Jeff Moore, working for "National News," and the story is that everybody is gathered for the promotion of Uma Thurman's film "Kill Bill" and she gave the guys about 5 seconds to do a picture. She walked in, bang, bang, bang, and that was it, and walked away, and everyone was very unhappy.
But there were a few complaints, and she then rushed back in from another door. And just as the photographers were preparing to leave, and kind of sat right, bang, smack in the middle of everybody.
GORANI: And snappers can be quite vocal when they're unhappy. I've been to a few press conferences and I've seen them.
Thanks so much, Tim Bishop, for joining us.
And still to come, when the line blurs between fact and fiction, journalists and the art of writing novels, when we come back.
GORANI: Welcome back.
Sometimes dealing with the facts is easier when they're buried in a wider work of fiction. Many correspondents, especially war correspondents, find it challenging to reflect the raw emotion of what they experience when on assignment, and writing novels for some can be a cathartic outlet.
I'm joined now by two correspondents who have written works of fiction. In Paris, "Newsweek's" Christopher Dickey. His new novel is called "The Sleeper." Here in the studio, Alan Cowell, "New York Times" reporter, "A Walking Guide" is his book.
Thanks both for being with us.
Alan, I'll start with you in the studio. How do you draw on your experiences as a reporter -- and in the past you've reported from the Middle East, from Africa, as well as parts of Europe, the Balkans. And how does that have an impact on a work of fiction?
ALAN COWELL, AUTHOR: When you're reporting in a normal days reporting, you're talking about being detached. You're talking about a situation where you will be giving the reader the facts of the story. They're going to die, the next day the story is going to move on. A lot of impressions remain. Some are in your notebook, some are just in your head, and these are what come out when you start writing fiction.
GORANI: Christopher Dickey, this is also something you've touched upon in the past, how these very difficult experiences and very difficult things to watch and see, in Iraq especially these days, you take home with you. What do you do with all this information and all these images when you come back and sit down at a computer and write a novel?
CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, AUTHOR: Well, I was writing my novels, both "Innocent Blood" and the sequel, "The Sleeper," in real-time, so for me it was in some ways even more complicated, because I was covering these events during the day, I was writing about terrorism during the day, and then I was putting a whole fictional cast of characters into the midst of those real events at night, to sort of see how they would react.
And I suppose partly it was a way to address my own emotions, particularly in the sleeper, after 9/11. I was in New York when the Trade Center was hit. I saw what happened there. I think I shared the emotions of a lot of Americans, but I was also in the middle of it because I knew the kids of people who had been involved with carrying out that kind of attack.
So "The Sleeper" was an expression of all of that and in some ways it engaged me, and in some ways I guess it removed me or protected me while I was trying to do the kind of detached reporting for "Newsweek" that Alan is talking about.
GORANI: And, Alan, Chris's book is a real pure thriller. Yours was more of a fictional exploration of a man coming to terms with a progressive physical disability, and something you drew on your own experience as well, and that had an impact on whether or not he wanted to go back to a war zone. Tell us about that.
COWELL: Well, I think what happened, the protagonist in my novel took detachment, or journalistic detachment, to an extreme and in fact he finished up being hardened and cynical, particularly also the photographer who travels with him, another character.
Between then, they start looking at these terrible scenes that their witnessing as journalists, almost as if it's theatre, as if it's something complete remote from them, but then the rehumanizing influence comes from within the man himself. He can no longer be that two-fisted indifferent person who puts events so far away from him that they don't touch him. His own body, his own personality, comes back to haunt him and he in the end, in fact, is the one who does not want to go back to conflict. He's seen enough of it and he has realized that as a human being he's got other priorities, other things to do.
GORANI: This theme of becoming a cold, hardened spectator to the horrors of the world is one we explore a lot in television as well, and when cameramen come back, what they really see is these horrors through their viewfinder, and when they come back, suddenly this realization of what they saw can hit them.
Chris, do you find that this is something that you sometimes go through when you come back from places like Iraq and you put that also in your works of fiction?
DICKEY: Absolutely. When you are in the field, when you see people dead, when you see people dying, when you see the kind of atrocities that have been carried out over time, it's impossible to assimilate. You can't address it directly emotionally at the moment it happens. Otherwise, you couldn't function as a journalist. But it has a kind of a cumulative effect, which is I think very much what Alan's book, "The Walking Guide," was about.
And you basically look for some way to express it. I think fiction probably is the best way, although sometimes by writing columns, by writing commentary, you can talk about it a little bit. Oddly enough, where you can't talk about it usually is in your day to day or week to week coverage of the events.
So there is this weird disconnect between the emotional impact of what you're experiencing all around you and the kind of reportage that we're required to do because we don't want to seem biased, and ultimately I think there is a lot of guilt connected with that.
GORANI: Sure, and this is another thing. When you come back, and you talk about it -- when you're there, often you use black humor to shield yourself, to stay away, to step away from the event, but it's really all about becoming human again when you're faced with yourself, isn't it?
COWELL: Well, I think that what fiction is essentially about is about creating a space, creating distance where you can actually put these feelings, you can place these emotions somewhere in a form of catharsis that's actually outside of you and that is probably a process that we're very privileged as reporters, I think, to be able to do that.
The reporting life is one where you know you are in a situation that very few other people are in. You are permitted, you're invited, to some of the great events of history, the great tragedies, the great disasters and the greatest of bloodshed, and in that position it takes a toll on you I think in the long term. Fiction is one way of coming to terms with what you've seen, but it also provides an amazing amount of raw material when you're writing.
GORANI: Chris, if I could just ask you, lastly, you mentioned guilt. You mentioned also, and you have in the past impotence, this feeling that you're witnessing events that are horrific and tragic and there's nothing you can do to stop them.
DICKEY: Well, in fact there are things you do do. You write the stories. You tell people what's happening in the Balkans or in the Middle East or in Rwanda. You say the deluge is coming. Horrible things are going on and they're going to get worse. Or in Iraq -- we wrote this many times in "Newsweek." I wrote it many times in "Newsweek." This is going to be a disaster.
And still the juggernaut comes down. The spin masters make it all happen. And if you're out there in the field on the ground seeing it happen, yes, you feel guilty. You feel as if somehow you could have done more, you should have done more.
GORANI: Christopher Dickey, of "Newsweek" magazine, author of "The Sleeper," many thanks for being with us. Alan Cowell, author of "A Walking Guide" and "New York Times" reporter, many thanks as well for joining us here on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.
And that's all for this edition of the program. I'm Hala Gorani. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues. See you next time.
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