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The Press and the Economy; Inside the Olympic Media Center; Photographing Celebrities

Aired July 11, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
This week, facts and figures. With the credit crunch and talk of a global recession, we ask whether the press fuels fears about the economy. It'll be the temporary home for thousands of journalists. Less than a month before the start of the Beijing Games, we go inside the Olympic Media Center. And he's behind some of the biggest celebrity photographs. Mr. Papparazzi, Darryn Lyons, speaks to us about life behind the lens.

But first, it's become front page news. Barely a day goes by when we're not subjected to headlines on the credit crunch or warnings of an impending financial crisis. Amid rising food and energy costs, even the slightest movements in global markets are now widely reported. And while leaders of the G-8 Summit in Japan this week express long term optimism about their economies, that doesn't appear to have curbed immediate fears of doom and gloom.

Well, with business becoming much more prominent in day to day news coverage, does the media accurately report what's happening? Or are news outlets actually adding to those concerns and contributing to the problem?

Well for more on that, I'm joined from New York by John Hilsenrath, the markets editor with "The Wall Street Journal." Here in the studio is CNN's financial editor Todd Benjamin and Phillip Coggan, capital markets editor with "The Economist."

John in New York, it all seemed to begin in America a year ago. Do you think that the media, first of all, correctly predicted what we're experiencing now in the West?

JOHN HILSENRATH, MARKETS EDITOR, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, you know, that was - that's been the issue that we've been dealing with here more than the question of whether we've been amplifying it too much. And you know, I've got to say one of our reference points here is the tech bubble. A lot of people felt that the media was not aggressive enough in pursuing the correct - the technology bubble.

I think, you know, you could call me self serving here, but I think we were on top of this one. We were writing about some of these financial instruments, credit collateralized debt obligations a couple years ago before anybody wanted to hear anything about them. And we've been talking about a housing bubble in the United States for quite some time as well.

So we've done our best. These are really complicated issues, though. And I don't think people tuned into them until we started seeing financial institutions have serious problems.

SWEENEY: Is there an argument to be made that the banks themselves in the U.S. particularly didn't understand the whole sub prime package and the components? And that as a result of that, they didn't know where the fallout was going to end, how bad it was going to be? So how could journalists be expected to understand it?

HILSENRATH: Well, you know, to tell you the truth, I wouldn't just put it on the banks, but I would put it on the policymakers, too. You know, there was a point of view for a long time that the financial markets had become so good at taking risk, and dispersing it all over the world, that they had become more stable. And I think the bankers that we talk to every day, and the policymakers that we talk to every day, really came to believe that, and thought that the economy and the markets would be resilient as this housing downturn unfolded. And they were just flat out wrong.

And frankly, they did not see it coming until the very last second.

SWEENEY: Phil Coggan, do you think that people didn't see it coming 'til the very last second because A, they didn't understand it? Or B, journalists, for example, were perhaps a little reticent or a little bit slow when it came to understanding just how big this crisis was?

PHIL COGGAN, CAPITAL MARKETS EDITOR, THE ECONOMIST: I think it would be hard for journalists in early say 2006 who got a story about collateralized debt obligations under the front pages of - people didn't care until it became a problem.

But I think there was plenty of coverage over the fact that house prices were rising too fast. And journalists generally tend to be a bit negative about bubbles.

SWEENEY: What does that mean?

COGGAN: It means that they are quick to call a bubble. Certainly at "The Financial Times," "The Wall Street Journal," "The Economist" often did saying that house prices have risen too fast. And often, they are counted. Their negative bias, as it were, is counted by the financial system, which tends to always talk about rising prices or by governments, which are very keen to say that economies are going well and that asset prices are fine.

So although the media occasionally does overplay things when prices fall, you have to remember that they're countering some very strong biases in the other direction. SWEENEY: Todd Benjamin, house prices can be rising, but I guess it's the spin that journalists put on it. And as Phil just pointed out or alluded to, you know, we often make our news on bad news rather than good news?

TODD BENJAMIN, CNN FINANCIAL EDITOR: Well, look, I think there was a lot of good news reported while the bull market was going up. And I think there's a lot of bad news being reported by the market's down and housing's down. And I really don't feel that the media, you know, creates the headlines. I think it reflects what's going on. And oftentimes, I feel that the media's blamed for doom and gloom. I think it's just reflecting that doom and gloom. And I think right now, especially in the West, things are pretty dicey.

SWEENEY: But let me ask you, Todd, if I may about you know things in the East and Asia where there are double digit growth rates in the Middle East. And Vietnam, for example, a growth rate of something like 8 percent. And similar growth experience across Asia.

BENJAMIN: Well, look, I think the smart journalist really distinguishing between what's happening here and what's happening in Asia. Now I think if there's a common theme, all right, we do have some inflation here, but they have - there's something like 50 countries that have double digit inflation, all right? And many of those are in Asia, for instance. Russia has double digit inflation. Nigeria, of course, in Africa has double digit inflation. I'm just giving some examples here. And they're grappling with different issues. They're not grappling with housing issues. They're grappling with, you know, high fuel prices and high food prices.

SWEENEY: Well, we all are.

BENJAMIN: We all are, but here we have things also compounded because the housing crisis and the subprime crisis.

HILSENRATH: The discussion here is about whether we're making too much of these things. I guess I'm going to support that argument because what I would say is that I think we have too global crises right now. We have a U.S. centered credit crisis, which is affecting predominantly the U.S. and some European financial institutions.

But we also have a global energy crisis. And it's creating conflicting forces. But what you're seeing in Asia right now is more the effects of the global energy crisis at this point than the credit crisis.

SWEENEY: But this brings me onto the point I was about to ask Phil, because in that case, Asia seems to be experiencing what many in the West experienced 20, 30 years ago. And we're sort of on the second, third, maybe fourth cycle of this. Then why are we hearing so much about a global downturn from the politicians as well as journalists?

COGGAN: Because the politicians are largely based - who are talking about this are largely based in Europe and the U.S., of course. And those are the nations that go to the G-8 that are worrying about these things.

But the problems that the nations in Europe and the U.S. are facing have been imported from the fast rising countries in Asia and Latin America. It's them that are pushing up commodity prices largely. And so, we've got, as John was saying, this really difficult problem of Goldilocks being dead, this idea we have the perfect economy. Not too fast, not too slow. Now we've got more inflation than we want and not enough growth as we want. And it's a very difficult problem to deal with.

SWEENEY: Todd Benjamin?

BENJAMIN: I just want to back to the thing about politicians, all right, because I think what politicians do because it's politically expedient, all right, they like to place blame somewhere. Because the problems are much larger than they can solve, for instance.

A good example, there's a lot about speculation, all right, in terms of oil prices. You know, OPEC is blaming the speculators. Politicians, many of them blame speculators. And if you really look at it, it's speculation really isn't the real issue. It's the supply and demand. It's a shortage of refining capacity. But it's very easy to just pinpoint it on the speculators. And I think the media actually the smart media has been very good at pointing out that they're much larger issues, like the weak dollar also affecting high oil prices. And that is not speculation. So I think we have to be quite discerning here.

SWEENEY: But if politicians, Phil Coggan, like to blame somebody else and other countries, is there a danger here in times of hardship that countries become rather sort of jingoistic or rather look more internally inward for the source of their problems, blame rather outwards for their problems and don't really look inwards for the sources of their own problems?

I'm thinking of how Britain looks to the subprime crisis, but yet we had our own Northern Rock in this country.

COGGAN: Very much so. That's the big danger going forward. I mean, in the U.S. Presidential election, we've already heard talk of, you know, blaming China for some of the problems. And in the rest of the world, we saw earlier this year some countries cutting off their wheat imports because wheat prices were going up fast. And that just had the effect of making shortages around the world get even worse and drive prices even higher.

So we do have the worry that when times get hard, as we saw in the 1930s, people start to blame foreigners. They put restrictions on trade. And that makes the economic situation...

SWEENEY: And that thought reflected in the media.

BENJAMIN: And the problem, I think, with the media, let's say in the U.K., for instance, all right, I was very angry when they were doing this, you know, last summer, when they were blaming the U.S. subprime crisis for the fall off here. All right?

You know, basically, Northern Rock, which of course is - was a failed financial institution here, it was their own feeling. It's a way they designed their portfolio, their loan portfolio and how they were borrowing and so forth. OK? And you have another mortgage institution big problems right - having big problems right now.

The media didn't create those problems. That institution created that problem. The U.S. subprime crisis, that my have been the trigger, but they had their own model for how they did business. And that's not always pointed out. And I think there's one feeling, it's people again look to the U.S. And it's not always the U.S. that's to blame.

SWEENEY: A final word to you, John Hilsenrath. I mean, the media has often talked itself out of crises before when there have been blips. Do you think that is A, the media's role; and B, where do think the media in general will be heading with this particular crisis?

HILSENRATH: Well, I don't think it's our role to talk ourselves into or out of a crisis. I think it's our role to look at the facts on the ground and do our very best to explain to our readers and our viewers what we think is going on and where we think this is going. And where this credit crisis in the United States is going is, you know, frankly, I don't think it's going away. As we speak, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two very important mortgage institutions in our country have seen their share prices get really pummeled this week. There's a process called deleveraging, where people cut back on the amount of borrowing that they do. And that has all kinds of ripple effects on the system.

That takes a really long time to play out. And we're not there yet. This - we're going to be writing about this story for some time to come.

BENJAMIN: Both - you know, both Philip and I are both nodding in complete agreement with what he's just said. Can I just add one quick thing because I know we're just out of time here. You know, a lot of people always say oh, the media in a sense creates, you know, the doom and gloom. All right? You don't need - the average puncher out there is going to the gasoline station. He knows what the price of gasoline is. He knows that food prices are going up. And several other things. He knows that house prices are falling. So we're not really telling the average consumer anything they don't know. We're just basically amplifying on it.

SWEENEY: All right, we have to leave it there. I'm sure we're going to be discussing this a lot more in the future. But in New York, first of all, John Hilsenrath of "The Wall Street Journal." Thank you very much indeed. Phil Coggan of "The Economist" and Todd Benjamin, of course, our financial editor.

Now it's less than month before competition kicks off. And thousands of journalists will soon descend on Beijing to cover the Olympics. We'll take a look at the vantage point for the press when we come back.



HEIN VERBRUGGEN, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: This magnificent building along with the International Broadcast Center is perhaps one of the most important venues of the games because it is from here that these stories of Beijing 2008 will be told.


SWEENEY: Chairman of the IOC coordination commission for the Beijing Games, Hein Verbruggen speaking at the opening of the main Olympic press center this week.

It's now less than a month before competition kicks off. And thousands of domestic and foreign journalists will use the media complex as their vantage point in covering the Olympics.

CNN's Emily Chang had a look around.


EMILY CHANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to Beijing's main Olympic press center, what will be the beating heart of media operations during the Games. More than 25,000 journalists from around the world are expected. And this place is fully equipped to accommodate them, with help desks and news desks in different languages.

There's even a post office, ATMs, a branch of the Bank of China, and an Air China office, where journalists can book travel in and out of Beijing.

Here in the working center, there are more than 900 stations where journalists can access the Internet and watch the Games live. There's also a computer system that taps into an entire database of information about the athletes and events.

Here in the library, there are Chinese phrase books with a list of the travel essentials like "I need a taxi" and "Just a little spicy, please."

And when they're tired of working, they can work out in the gym, get a haircut in the salon, or a massage in the massage parlor, a must do for any visitor to China.

But in order to enjoy all of these facilities, journalists must past a rigorous security check, get a visa, and get credentialed, a process some journalists claim has not been easy. Freelancers from smaller media outlets may not even have the chance to come. When Beijing was chosen to host the Games, Chinese officials promised free and open reporting. Whether China will deliver on that promise remains to be seen.

Emily Chang, CNN, Beijing.


SWEENEY: Well, with momentum building in the run up to the Games, we want to know will you be watching the Beijing Olympics? Register your vote on our website, While you're there, you can see the show again, view our archive, and read the blog. The address again

Now an insight on life behind the lens and the power of the paparazzi We speak to photographer Darryn Lyons about his remarkable journey from local papers in Australia to the trenches in Bosnia, mixing it with the world's A-list celebrities.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Now the art of photography meets the cult of celebrity. Darryn Lyons is behind some of the most recognizable images of royals, politicians, and of course celebrities. Known as Mr. Paparazzi, Darryn Lyons broke into the industry in local papers in Australia. Armed with little more than a camera he came to London Fleet Street and his career has taken him to the war in Bosnia with "The Daily Mail. Later it was a royal beat which often saw him covering Princess Diana and family on holiday.

Well, for taking pictures of celebrities, Darryn Lyons is now often photographed with them, like in this one with Lindsay Lohan. Darryn Lyons has built up his own media empire and now represents more than 1,000 photographers with his images of celebrities like Amy Winehouse are splashed in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Well, Darryn Lyons has just added author to his CV with "Mr. Paparazzi: My Life as the World's Most Outrageous Celebrity Photographer."

Well, to discuss his life behind the lens, Darryn Lyons joins me now in the studio. A long way from Jilong (ph) in Australia to here.

DARRYN LYONS, CELEBRITY PHOTOGRAPHER: Absolutely, it is a long way, but at the age of 22, I came over here with $500 in my back pocket at the time, 200 quid I think it was, and wanted to take on the world and be a part of Fleet Street is a phenomenon, but is a chore that I looked up to greatest journalists in the world out of London.

SWEENEY: When we have a picture of you here that we're showing of you when you were a war photographer in Bosnia, I mean, you got your break purely by chance with a chance meeting with Rupert Murdoch, right?

LYONS: Well, absolutely. Although, still to this day, we don't know whether it was actually him that made the phone call down. But yeah, I work for Victoria Station after I arrived in some unearthly house of the morning, made some appointments at national newspapers in Britain and walked from Victoria Station to Woping (ph).

And just happened to be going into the (INAUDIBLE) the doors were closing and in comes a foot through the door. It was Mr. Murdoch, who walked in with too many trenchcoats and dark glasses, which were more likely to be CIA agents I thought at the time. But I whipped out a T-shirt out of my bag. And I was in his dragon boat team a week ago on the G Long Advertiser, called "Ribids Raiders." And we're having quite a laugh. And he just wished me luck. And I got out at the fifth floor and he went all the way up.

In Fort Wopping, and I got out for an interview with "News of the World." And I went for that. And they tried to discourage more than anything else. The (INAUDIBLE) saying, you know, wouldn't you be better off in a local newspaper? I said well, no, not really. And all of a sudden, the red phone rang on the picture desk. And there was knock, knock on the window. And all of a sudden, the rest is kind of history. He scampered out and said yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir. And came back in and said can you start tomorrow?

And I slept on a pub floor in North London that night in the Maid of (INAUDIBLE) I think it was. And the rest is history. I got on my cameras over my shoulder and went hunting for the world's greatest pictures really.

SWEENEY: But Bosnia was your first assignment. And presumably, you saw some horrific things there?

LYONS: Horrendous. And I think people get that from the book. There's more than 270 images in it. And I won many awards for my time in two tours of Bosnia and the Romanian Revolution. But Bosnia kidnapped, played Russian roulette with - it was a shocking time. There was 10,000 deutsche marks on every journalist's head at that particular time.

I mean, you talk about - I talk about it, but we were so - I was so close to death on a number of occasions there, it was living and working in a crackhouse in Disneyland, likened to be, to be quite honest with you. But everywhere as a photojournalist and a journalist for that matter, everywhere you look, there was a great image of our time. And I certainly - people will be not any shock, but you know, they'll remember the iconic images in the book that were taken particularly at that time. And they are extremely extraordinarily graphic actually.

SWEENEY: Was that when you made the decision to make the transition from being a war photographer to celebrity? I mean, I'm trying to ascertain around that time, there was this huge growth in celebrity as an icon. People suddenly were appearing all over the place.

LYONS: Well, I think this decade, the last 20 years particularly, is going to be remembered. I think the millennium is going to be remembered very much as a moment of our time as in celebrity. I think it is celebrity time.

A little bit what was rock and roll of the '60s now, we live in a celebrity culture, an obsession with celebrity culture. But certainly, the transition was - I've won as many awards as I possibly could. I enjoyed getting the front page and back page on as many days as I possibly could.

I think it was - I saw into the future of the way this celebrity drug had overtaken young people. And there was an obsession in whether it be Chloe Valenciaga, Burberry or whatever it may be...

SWEENEY: Fashion.

LYONS: was a huge, huge addictiveness to young women of today. And so were the gossip magazines.

Now when I started the business, there was one magazine in Great Britain called "Here" magazine, which is now "Now" magazine. Now there's 20 or 30 on the shelves. TV programs, radio shows. And the media is littered with celebrity photos...

SWEENEY: But that's also coincided with a huge growth in the economy, where you know, in the late '80s, the early '90s after the last recession in '92 hit or downturn rather, that people suddenly felt they could earn that Prada handbag. They deserved it and everything went to the credit card.

LYONS: Indeed.

SWEENEY: How symbiotic was the growth of the colony with the growth of celebrity and presumably the growth of your own personal fortune taking these photos?

LYONS: Absolutely without question. I mean, the growth in the celebrity exactly then started around about '90, '92, when we started the company. That was a boom. And in fact, it became a recession proof industry we felt at the time because it was - people could afford a magazine.

Or I think what happens in times of recession is people go into an aspirational mode even more because they think that there is something beyond - they can always afford something very, very small and can dream about the future. I mean, I think we do look at aspiration sometimes in the wrong ways these days. But celebrities, you know, they're always wingy (ph) about the paparazzi and the press, but the fact of the matter is we are the greatest PR people in the world for celebrities. Give them their oxygen to become even more famous.

But I don't think it's a bad culture. Celebrity isn't a bad culture because it makes children aspire to be something better. And actually, the book is a lot like that.

SWEENEY: It's hard to be a celebrities perhaps without the talent behind it?

LYONS: Well, the fact of the matter is in a recent survey in Britain today, they're talking about 60 percent of children under the age of 15 want to either be rich or famous, not doctors, nurses, or architects or movie producers of 20 years ago.

SWEENEY: So that's not necessarily a good thing.

LYONS: Well, no. It's not necessarily a good thing. But what it is is at least it has a child focused on something, rather than nothing.

SWEENEY: But don't you think children before would have been focused on A, becoming a doctor or maybe getting a job, having a 9:00 to 5:00 job, and that for being rich and famous is really, you know, it's all very well, but most of the people you photograph like Lindsay Lohan that we have a photo of here, an extremely talented actress.

LYONS: Yes, absolutely.

SWEENEY: Beyond being a celebrity.

LYONS: Yes, absolutely. But it's not my fault that Lindsay Lohan goes off the rails or Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse for that matter.

SWEENEY: No, I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that. But what I'm saying is the point I'm trying to make is that people will look at a photo of Lindsay Lohan in a beautiful dress...


SWEENEY: ...and a designer handbag and say I want to be like that. Or look, she's famous without realizing that she's also a hugely talented, if slightly troubled woman, but there is a talent behind this. She's not there just because she's a celebrity.

LYONS: Yes, I know, but there's also being placed in the right place at the right time with all the celebrity television and reality shows that we have today, you know, being necessarily Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, or Elton John for that matter doesn't necessarily make you famous. There's plenty of talented people out there...


LYONS: ...that want to become famous on the back of a lot of talent, but there's plenty of talentless people out there today that have made a fortune out of being famous for being famous. Paris Hilton, Victoria Beckham, you name it.

SWEENEY: It'll be a while before you're sleeping on a pub floor in North London again.

LYONS: I don't know. You never know. It's a rollercoaster. That's what the book's all about.

SWEENEY: Darryn Lyons, thank you very much indeed.

LYONS: Thank you.

SWEENEY: And that is all for this edition of the program. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.