TOM PUTNAM: Good evening. I'm Tom Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and on behalf of David McKean, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and all of my Library and Foundation colleagues, I thank you for coming. Let me begin by acknowledging the generous underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forums, including lead sponsor, Bank of America, Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Boston Foundation, and our media partners, The Boston Globe, WBUR, and NECN.
Any conversation on the state of our national politics, including many that have taken place on this stage, must include discussion of the role of the media as a filter between the public and our national leaders. This is as true today as it was during President Kennedy's time. You may recall that he once commented on that filtering process during his time in our nation's highest office, when asked by a reporter if, as President, he still had time to read national newspapers. He replied, “Yes, I'm reading them more and enjoying them less.”
Tonight, we could not have a better pairing of speakers and topic to discuss the changing role of our national media and its effect on the political climate of our times. Charlie Gibson was anchor of World News With Charles Gibson from 2006 to 2009, capping a 35-year career as a broadcast journalist, primarily with ABC News. From moderating Presidential debates to interviewing world leaders, he is known and respected for his in-depth coverage of American politics and culture.
The last time he was here at the Library was during the days of national mourning when Senator Edward M. Kennedy lay in repose in this very room. Not surprisingly, his crew was among the first to arrive and to ask to broadcast that evening's newscast direct from the Library. They were soon followed by Mr. Gibson himself, who spent time talking with the tens of thousands who had come to pay their respects and reading their condolence book entries, to understand the spirit of the moment before his program went on air.
When we allow one national news team to broadcast live from our site, our policy is to allow all others the same opportunity. And though we try not to show any bias, I'll simply note that Mr. Gibson did his broadcast from our signature space in the Library Pavilion while his competitors battled the ocean winds outside. [laughter/applause]
CHARLIE GIBSON: Eat your heart out, Williams. [laughter]
TOM PUTNAM: The last time Mr. Gibson participated in our Forum program was on the opening day of the 2004 baseball season, perhaps the lucky charm that led to a certain curse being reversed later that fall. [applause] A baseball fan throughout his life, he watched President Kennedy throw out the first pitch at a Senators game in April of 1962. He opened that session with a touch of his signature wit, indicating that, as a journalist, it was his job to keep on top of breaking news, so he shared the following flash from the wires: “After losing their first game of the season last night, the New York Yankees,” he reported, “have shored up their pitching, hitting and defense today by signing every single player in professional baseball.” [laughter]
Mr. Gibson is currently a Fellow at Harvard's Shorenstein Center, where he is examining the polarization and incivility in our nation's Capital and in contemporary political culture.
Callie Crossley is one of the moderators this Library turns to most often. And all of us who live locally and used to have to wait until Friday nights to hear her on Beat the Press are thrilled with WGBH's wisdom to now feature her daily with her own afternoon radio program. She is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker and was a producer for many years for ABC News.
We'll begin this evening with a few opening comments from Mr. Gibson. Please join me in welcoming him and Callie Crossley back to the Kennedy Library. [applause]
CHARLIE GIBSON: Thank you, Tom. I had forgotten that story about the Yankees, but it was true they had done that. And they're probably going to pay Cliff Lee $87 billion dollars to come and shore up that pitching staff now, as well. The New York Yankees and their approach to buying players is obscene. [applause]
A quick way to ingratiate yourself with a Boston crowd, right? [laughter] But actually, I didn't grow up rooting for the Red Sox. I grew up rooting for the Washington Senators, having been a young man in Washington, D.C. and having my heart broken twice when that team moved out of town, and we went 30 years without baseball. I'm delighted to say we have a team back in Washington, now.
So in the American League, I root for the Red Sox. Actually, I root for any team that's playing the Yankees. [laughter] But that's usually to the benefit of the Red Sox if the Yankees are beaten. Then, I root for the Washington Senators in the National League, who are proving to be just as bad as the Washington Senators who were in the American League. The only thing that's changed: it used to be Washington first -- first in peace, first in war, and last in the American League. And now, it's first in war, first in peace, and last in the National League. But we're trying. Perhaps, within my lifetime, we'll win a few games.
I really, just at the beginning, was going to tell a story which is my only connection, really, to Senator Kennedy. I was at Sidwell Friends School in 1960 during the election. Trisha Nixon and Julie Nixon went to Sidwell, so we were very interested in the campaign, involved in the campaign. Then, Senator Kennedy won. If you know Washington, I lived in Georgetown. My parents had a house at 34th and O, and just two blocks away was Senator Kennedy's house at 33rd and N.
There were rumors that our neighbor right across the street, a man named David K.E. Bruce, who had been Ambassador to England, was going to be Secretary of State. That was really the name that was most prominently mentioned. My room was on the front of the house. I was up at midnight one night, soon after the election -- I think it was about six weeks after the election -- doing my homework, and I heard this ruffle in the street. There was some commotion going on. I went to the window to look out. What today would be considered a relatively short motorcade had pulled out, and out of this Cadillac got the President-elect of the United States. He walked into David Bruce's house, and I thought, “Aha, I'm the first to know David Bruce is going to be the Secretary of State.” So I cut school the next day -- at least this is how I remember it -- and I went to the 33rd and N. It was very informal. You could just stand there on the street. I mean, there wasn't six blocks cordoned off by Secret Service. There were only about ten reporters standing outside the house, and three cameras, and me, and a couple of neighbors.
I was telling everybody that David Bruce was about to be named Secretary of State. My first big story, and out he walks with this bald guy that I never saw before in my life, never heard of, and announces that Dean Rusk is Secretary of State. [laughter] It was my first big story. It was the first time I was wrong. But there have been many since. It set a pattern for my life in journalism.
I then went off to college. I was admitted to Princeton University for reasons that still befuddle me. I went there and, first of all, I was the worst student in the freshman class at Princeton University. Second, I was miserable. And for some reason that I have forgotten, my parents and I began exchanging letters. But we weren't addressing them to “Charlie Gibson, 18 Middledot, Princeton University.” They were sending letters to, I don't know, “Tab Hunter, 18 Middledot, Princeton University.” And I was writing back to “John Wayne, 1422 33rd Street.” I don't know why this developed. But one day, I wrote a letter to President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, 1422 33rd Street, Washington, D.C. 20007. And it was one of those letters that I hope you've never had from any of your children. “I'm miserable here. I don't like it. I don't know why I came here.
There are no girls.” [laughter] “There's nobody to date. There are just my roommates, and they're sort of scrungy. I'm failing economics.” It was just one of those awful letters.
About five or six days later, an envelope appeared in my mailbox, and in the upper left hand corner, it said, “The White House.” [laughter] I thought, “Damn, my dad is good. He got a piece of White House stationery to answer my letter.” But it was written to “Mr. Charles Gibson, 18 Middledot, Princeton University.” I opened it up, and inside was my letter that had been cut open, obviously, by some machine. I looked at the front of my envelope, and the 1422 33rd Street had been crossed off, and it said, “The White House, Washington.” There was another letter in there from Letitia Baldrige, who I think was Mrs. Kennedy's social secretary, and it said, “Dear Mr. Gibson. The President, Mrs. Kennedy and I have all read your letter.” [laughter] “And we are so sorry that you're having the difficulties that you're encountering at Princeton. The President remembers the few weeks he spent on the Princeton campus when he enrolled there and can share your unhappiness.” [laughter] “We hope that things will get better and that you will enjoy your four years there in the long term. But the President says if you want to think about Harvard, maybe you ought to give it some consideration.” [laughter] “He was much happier once he got there.” That's my connection with John F. Kennedy.
Now, can you imagine what that letter would be worth? I was so chagrined and so embarrassed that I tore it up and threw it away. [groans] I was mortified. So only my mother and father saw it, and they were mortified as well. [laughter] It was not the most clever thing that I ever did in my life. Anyway, with that as preface, it is wonderful to be here. You were all nice to come out on such a cold night, and I look forward to this, taking Callie's questions, and some of yours. But go easy on me. I've been retired, now, for a year, and I haven't the faintest idea what's going on. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, we don't believe that. Good evening. Oh that was tepid. I'm with him on that. Good evening!
AUDIENCE: Good evening!
CALLIE CROSSLEY: All right, there we go. It is a delight to be here with one of the nation's capital J Journalists, and that is Charles Gibson, as we have watched him on ABC News for many years and as he continues to be. So when you come to a setting like this where you have a conversation with someone with his bona fides, you want to begin the conversation off the news. Let me pause and remind all of you, those who have not been here before, that you will also have an opportunity to ask him questions. So our conversation will be brief, and then you'll be able to step up to the podium to ask questions.
CHARLIE GIBSON: By the way, I can tell you, I can anticipate, just to short-circuit some things, I hosted Good Morning America, as you know -- or maybe you don't, a lot of people who don't -- but I did that for 19 years. And whenever I would take questions on that, I can anticipate what the first three questions will be, if you ask about Good Morning America. So let me short- circuit some things. Number one, 3:20 a.m. [laughter] Number two, yes that is very early. [laughter] And number three, she is just as nice in person as she appears on television. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Those would be the questions. However, that's not my first question.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Oh darn.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: In the news, all of us in this room have heard the name Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. And Mr. Assange is, at this moment, in a …
CHARLIE GIBSON: … the clink.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: He's in the clink. He's in a British prison, arrested for distributing government secrets. But he wrote an editorial for the Australian newspaper, and I'm going to just read a couple parts of it and then I'm going to ask Charles Gibson to respond. He begins his editorial saying, “In 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide’s, The News, wrote, „In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.‟” He goes on to say -- and this is the part that I want to discuss because WikiLeaks and the crisis or the concern about it has been cast as a journalistic one -- “WikiLeaks,” he says, “coined a new type of journalism, scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately? Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest.” So what do you think?
CHARLIE GIBSON: First of all, that is an unfortunate name -- “WikiLeaks.” It almost sounds to me like a urinary disease. [laughter] But it seems to me he could have picked something a little bit more august. I have trouble with this one because, first of all, I'm not a lawyer, but I think it would be awfully hard, as some legislators have suggested, to prosecute anyone on the Espionage Act of 1917 simply because he uses that defense, that he wants to better conditions by leaking these documents as opposed to making things worse. Whether he believes that in his own heart, I don't know. What his motives in his own heart are, I don't know.
As somebody who comes from my profession, I believe in transparency. I think that the maximum amount of transparency that you have, the better off the public is served. Having said that, you also have to respect the fact that the government declares many items to be secret.
There have been many stories in the past that they overuse that, and I think they do. But you have to be able to protect some level of confidentiality within government dealings. So I think where I draw the line is, I think transparency is good, that we see the Johnson tapes, that we know as much about the Kennedy administration as we do, that we know about the events leading up to the Vietnam War, during the war, etcetera. But where I draw the line is, this is contemporary. These are documents that are within the last few months, and I think can have a chilling effect on the way the United States government does business.
I rather like some foreign leader -- I've forgotten who it was -- who said, “I'm not offended by what they say about me in those documents. You should see what I say about the Americans.” I have real problems with his doing this. I think it is wrong. He's paying something of a price, in that various organizations like Amazon are now dropping WikiLeaks. And I think he's his website some harm by what he has done. But you can't stop him. The cat's out of the bag. If you can find a way to prosecute him, I suspect he would be. But I don't think he's prosecutable, and I think this is going to go on, and I think it's something we're going to have to deal with. I find it unfortunate because these are contemporary documents, and I would prefer to see those protected.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Is he practicing journalism, as he says he is? He himself is not a journalist as I would define one or as I think you would define one. But is he practicing journalism?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, is the New York Times practicing journalism when they take the documents that he's giving them? Somebody is giving him the documents. He publishes them. He gives them to the New York Times. They publish them. Are they publishing journalism? It's interesting to watch the New York Times try to stand on its head and justify exactly what it's doing and saying, “Well, we've redacted some things. And we've protected … “ Whatever.
Basically, the pressure on organizations like the Times, Washington Post is to publish because it's out there. You try to redact things that would be threatening to some people personally or not to name names that need to be protected, but this guy doesn't worry about that. So is he practicing journalism? Not in the traditional sense, but, you know, there's nothing traditional about journalism right now. We are in a totally revolutionary time in what journalism is, and we don't know how it's going to come out.
We need serious journalism now more than ever. But the traditional means by which news is delivered is changing. Whether there will be an ABC Evening Newscast in ten years, I don't know. I certainly hope there will be, but I'm not sure. I'm not sure that ABC News is a business model that can exist long-term. You're looking at the incredible shrinking newspaper. The Boston Globe is a great newspaper. It's wafer-thin some days, and I grieve for that. The three legs that newspapers have stood on, which are advertising, classifieds and circulation -- classifieds are gone; advertising is drying up. It's very difficult to support that business model.
In the broadcast area, we had three voices when I was growing up. Now, we have 600 channels on cable. A dozen of them are devoted to news, and that's not counting the food news, the law news, the education news, the medical news, all of which have their own channels, and the entertainment news, and the pop culture news, etcetera. Eventually, I think we're going to get to the point that your computer is hooked up to your television set, and I don't think you'll have any more cable. You're simply going to be able to take those websites that are producing video, websites like Politico are now doing this. The New York Times is going to become basically a hybrid of printed paper and the video. They're going more and more into video, if you go into their site. And I think you're going to find, very soon, that your computer is hooked up to your television set. Then we've got an infinite number of channels. And this kind of journalism, I think to the extent that people can do it, will be all over the place, and that worries me.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, what you've just been discussing, much of that is the delivery system by which journalism has operated, and that is changing, as you said, and that's going away. But the question for many is can you hold up the tenets of journalism through whatever platform may be available to distribute that information? And can what has been for many years a core principle of journalism, one that you spoke of in your last moments on the ABC World News, -- objectivity -- can that be something that carries forth? This is what you said:
“Objectivity is not universally in favor in our business these days, but it is critically important. It is what we strive for each night. It is my hope that is what you have looked for and that is what you have found when you have come to ABC’s World News.” Is it what can be found today in many outlets?
CHARLIE GIBSON: What do you refer to, Callie? I wonder. First of all, it's nice to talk to an audience with a little gray hair. [laughter] Because I was at Harvard the other day, and I made reference to David Brinkley -- [laughter] -- “Who's that?” David Brinkley said, “There is no such thing as objectivity. There are just lesser degrees of subjectivity.” I think that's true, and you strive, if you grow up in the milieu which I did, you strive to achieve that minimal degree of subjectivity every night. You have to constantly question yourself, “Why are we doing this? How are we doing this? Are we being fair?” etcetera.
Now, there are stories that sometimes you don't worry about a couple of points of view. I am convinced, for instance -- though there are people who are soundly convinced that there is a problem with inoculations that are causing autism -- I think the overwhelming evidence presented to me is that that is not the case. I know these people desperately want answers. If you have an autistic child, my God, what a burden that is, and what a hardship that is for people.
There are people who dispute global warming, so there are some stories in which perhaps you lean one way or the other.
But overall, certainly within a political context, you try to be as objective as you can. Roger Ailes at Fox has come up with a business model which is extraordinarily successful. The profits of Fox News are greater than ABC, CBS and NBC News combined. The profits of that network are somewhere around $700 million dollars.
Now, I will tell you something which is interesting. I probably shouldn't talk about this, but when I left ABC News, the President of the ABC News Division came to me and said, “Your show, from 6:30 to 7:00” -- we were second to Brian at that point. We were about a half a million homes behind, but we were a very respectful close second. He said, “If you take your rating from 6:30 to 7:00 and you combine it with MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, Headline News, and CNBC combined, you are well over 200% of their combined audience, more than twice. But each one of those five entities is making more money on the half hour than we are.” And the reason is that whenever you write your cable check -- I don't know what it is, 60 bucks a month or something …
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Ha-ha. No. [laughter] Way more than that.
CHARLIE GIBSON: You know, 12 cents of that goes to CNN, nine cents goes to MSNBC, 20 cents goes to Fox, 87 dollars goes to ESPN. But those subscription fees are something not available to the commercial networks, to the over-the-air networks. Yet, the ABC Evening News was essentially a cable program. Ninety-three percent of the people who watched the ABC Evening News watched it on their cable system, but we get not a dime for that. Those cable entities make money.
So Roger Ailes came up with what is an extraordinarily successful entity, although his audience is relatively small. I have a study group at Harvard -- or had one because I'm only here for a semester – and I brought Brit Hume up from Fox News to talk to them. Brit said, “You know, Fox News during the day is as responsible as any other news organization. It's terrific. We do a good job of news. Then we do opinion at night. You have to respect Fox. We feel that the news media is left-leaning, and that's an impression that a lot of people have. We're trying to look at stories with a slightly different angle, and we feel we are fair and balanced.” One of the kids held up his hand and said, “Well then, why do you advertise Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly? Why are they the faces that are on all the ads for Fox News?” Good job, kids. [laughter] I was proud of them. But it is not going to go away. Is it fair and balanced? I don't think so. And Brit will say, “Look, we have Juan Williams and we have other people on there who are of a liberal persuasion.” But I think, overwhelmingly, they're on there as straw men to be knocked down.
It's very, very unfortunate, because it is not reflective of, as I say, the milieu in which I grew up and in which I believe. But it is what it is. It's not going to change. They're making a lot of money out of it. MSNBC is making a lot of money now. And if Roger Ailes turned around tomorrow and said, “We're going to be absolutely objective in everything we do,” their audience would go somewhere else to find somebody who fills the void that he is now filling. So we're stuck with this. The politicians in Washington, they can rail against it all they want. Jay Rockefeller unfortunately stood up the other day and said, “MSNBC and Fox ought to be taken off the air.” He didn't want to say that. I think he would agree you don't want to be in the censorship business. But it is what it is, and it's going to be there.
When I go out and talk to young people, I urge them to pursue and to try to find news sources which are as objective as possible, to seek out opinions which are different from their own. But we are in this reality, and it is a reality that you're going to have opinion-based news because it's niche broadcasting. And if you can make a lot of money, as Roger Ailes has done -- broadcasting to that niche -- other people will, what we call “narrow-cast,” go for very specific portions of the audience.
Maybe the way to get noticed in that is to be more shrill and to be more opinionated. I don't know. I hope that's not the case, but I think it is. So it has to be the consumer that draws the distinction of what is the news they want to hear, and I hope they will. That's why I said that in the last show. I hope they will seek out objectivity or as objective, lesser degree of subjectivity that you can find. I think it's absolutely critical. I worry that not only are people gravitating to news which reinforces their already formed prejudices, but I also worry that when you go on to a website that may reflect your political point of view, when it links you to other websites, they're all of a similar bent. So the only thing you have to do as a consumer -- I don't mean to tell you what to do, but the only thing I wish you would do as a consumer is to find as objective a source of news as I can.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I will tell you, having spoken to many college students, that they don't understand what the difference is. There are many studies, some of you may know, which have demonstrated in no uncertain terms that people are going to their niche ideology spots when they seek out any information, that is the only place where they reside. So then you talk to people about being media-literate, and that's not a concept … That's exactly what you were suggesting. But people actually don't know how to begin in that way, certainly people who, as you were, started with kind of the mainstream information that everybody gathered around in a fireplace kind of chat and got the same information. We are now at a point where you cannot assume …
CHARLIE GIBSON: But you can't, Callie. I mean, when Bill O'Reilly calls somebody a “pinhead,” you've got a pretty good idea that he's not …
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, yes …
CHARLIE GIBSON: … terribly taken with their point of view. They're not shy about what it is they're saying. I really believe in the good judgment of the American people, and that they will seek out, will find news that is objective. I think they will. I believe they will. You know, as I say, Fox's audience is miniscule in the overall pantheon of things. It's very profitable, but it's still small. I think that's because people do tend to seek out voices that make them think, that doesn't tell them what to think but allows them to make their own decisions. “We report; you decide” is a terrific slogan. I believe in that. I wish they did.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Okay. What have you been studying at the Shorenstein? Or what have you been working on as your project?
CHARLIE GIBSON: By the way, one of the things that's really interesting to me -- and I'm not clear what the reasons are -- is the degree to which we have tended not only to watch things in the news that may reinforce our viewpoints, but there has been a migration, politically, of people in this country so that more and more areas are very decided in one political area or another.
As you know, there are only now a few states that are really contested in presidential elections. The national networks don't make a dime out of political advertising, because presidential candidates don't need to advertise nationally. They put their money into Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, whatever. We have a good station in New Hampshire, so I'm pleased. But, I mean, that's where they spend their money. They spend their money in a very limited number of states.
In 1976, in the Ford-Carter race -- I was just looking at these numbers today -- 25% of the counties in America gave either President Ford or Governor Carter 60% of the vote or more, that that candidate won by more than 20%, and there's 28%. In 2004, in the Kerry-Bush race, that was up to 49% of the counties in this country gave one candidate 60% --one candidate or the other 60%.
We're tending to move to or gravitate to or migrate to areas of similar political thought to our own. I'm not sure why that's the case. But it disturbs me. It worries me. And I pick out counties because you can't redistrict a county. You can redistrict a congressional … as you know, redistricting is used for nasty purposes sometimes, to make sure a district is Democratic or Republican. But in counties, you don't change the line. As I say, almost twice the number of counties, 20% more, are very inclined toward one party or another. I'm not sure why that's the case, but I think it's unfortunate and I'm working on this polarization.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Yes, that's where I was going. The work that you've been doing at the Shorenstein has to do with polarization in the broadest sense, but also the media as influencer in our general polarization -- in society, in some of the incivility that we're experiencing, in just having an exchange of ideas or so-called exchange of ideas.
Your former colleague, Ted Koppel, wrote a piece for the Washington Post which kicked off this conversation again, certainly in journalism circles. He said many things, but here is a relevant paragraph: “And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose, beginning perhaps from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable. Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans and loyal viewers at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment. He told his customers what they wanted to hear and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.”
CHARLIE GIBSON: I wasn't quite sure about the Bernie Madoff analogy, but yes, I know where he was going. So? [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: You're agreeing with him?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Yes, I do. I think that's true. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Okay. Well, I want to talk about media's influence in this.
CHARLIE GIBSON: I'm not going to expand on Ted Koppel's thinking. I think it's right, and it worries me. Now, Bernie Madoff winds up in jail. That's why I'm uncomfortable with the analogy; Bernie Madoff was a crook, and he stole from people. I don't think necessarily in this case you're stealing from people.
But politicians will tell you this is one of the things that disturbs them. I've talked to a bunch of them in conjunction with the work I'm doing at the Shorenstein Center, and they all worry about this. They worry specifically if you want to be a moderate in today's political spectrum, you're in trouble.
Bob Bennett -- I don't know how many of you know who he is -- but Bob Bennett is a Republican Senator from Utah who is conservative. I think everybody would say he's quite conservative but he did a couple things. He voted for TARP, and he co-sponsored a healthcare bill with Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. When he came to the convention -- Utah chooses its candidates by convention -- he finished third. He had served three terms, I think, if I'm not incorrect, in the Senate; was a revered member of the Senate; had seniority; had done a lot of good for Utah. They booted him out because he wasn't right-wing enough.
Now, we're in a very dangerous situation. Follow my math here for a minute, if you will. We're in a very dangerous situation in which a third of the country -- excuse my rough statistics here -- but a third of the country is Republican, a third is Democrat, a third is Independent. So only one- third of the voters are eligible to vote in the Republican primary in most states, and only a third of the population is eligible to vote in the Democratic primary. Well, that's one-third.
And we have 20% participation in off-year primaries. So now you've got 20% of one-third. You have one-fifth of one-third actually voting in those primaries. And then, as you know, it only takes 50% of the vote to win the nomination. So you multiply one-third times one-fifth times one-half, and you've got one-thirtieth of the eligible voters deciding who the candidate should be. Now, who are those candidates that they're going to elect? Who's going to vote in those primaries? It is the most ideologically dedicated conservatives and liberals.
So we have the candidates, the parties moving further and further apart from one another, and that's disturbing. One Senator said, “Yeah, it's the wingnuts of the parties who choose the candidates.” Well, “wingnuts” is a little unfair, I think, as is the Bernie Madoff analogy, but it's really, really disturbing, and it is a tremendous problem in terms of the fact that polarization and the inability of politicians to engage in Washington is really tragic.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And what's been the media's responsibility in this, though? How much has the influence of the media played a part in leading to this kind of polarization?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, all of this predated Fox News, and all of this predated MSNBC. The beginnings of this -- the best I can find anybody who dates it -- is really with the election of Jesse Helms to the Senate in 1972 and the election of Newt Gingrich to the House in 1978. And many people, even Republicans will say to you -- and you cannot argue with the results that Gingrich achieved – that Gingrich's basic idea was to blow up the House in order to get the Republicans into the majority. Because for 40 years, they had been the minority party, and for most of those 40 years, the Republicans had been the minority in the Senate as well. So, basically, he blew it up. He created a culture of corruption.
He went after Jim Wright, who was the Speaker of the House, got him on a book deal. He went after Tony Coelho, who was head of the Democratic Campaign Committee. He went after Bill Gray, who was an esteemed member of the House from Pennsylvania. Gray resigned. We never knew what the scandal was there. But he resigned rather quickly. Coelho resigned. They went after Tom Foley. There were private detectives and that kind of nasty stuff.
Then, you turn around and say, “Okay, let's be friends and cooperate on legislation?” No, it's not going to happen. I think there is a frozen quality in Washington right now, in doing the work that I'm doing. I talked to Bill Frist, Republican, Tennessee, who used to be the Majority Leader, and Joe Califano, who was a member of the Johnson administration and the Carter administration, talked to them on the same night for an event that I was at. They both used exactly the same words: “Washington is a broken city.”
You cannot get a Congress that is this polarized to deal, realistically, with problems. So we're not getting the deficit dealt with. We're not getting spending dealt with. Just look at the circus that the tax bill has become down in Washington. We're three weeks from next year, and you don't know what your tax bill is going to be, and for a small businessman not to know how to plan for what his taxes are going to be, that's a disgrace on the part of the United States Congress.
I don't know if you saw the news today: the Democrats in the House are not going to bring up the agreement that the President made with the Republicans because they don't like it. There's the START Treaty that's waiting in the wings. There's the Dream Act, which is really important.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: They rejected the Dream Act today.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, they rejected cloture on the Dream Act. They don't have the guts to vote on the bill itself. They voted on cloture. And then, they're not acting on Don't ask/Don't tell. They're locked. So we don't get immigration policy dealt with. We don't get so many things. We don't get Social Security Reform. We don't get true healthcare reform. We don't get Medicare taken care of in the long run.
I hold no water for either party, but the Republicans run on a basis of cutting the deficit. Then, they extend tax cuts which are going to add $4 trillion dollars to the deficit. What do the Democrats get out of it? They get an extension of unemployment benefits, which is going to cost another $56 billion. Now, it may be very important that people have their unemployment benefits extended for 13 months. It is. But long-run, it's all costing the government more money.
It is a disgrace what's going on in Washington right now. Not to offer an opinion or anything. [laughter] And this polarization is part of it. Polarization is a big cause of it.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: But, I mean, if we understand, and we have made this point that people are more and more going to niche places to have their views reflected, and they believe only that, then the media's influence gives a lot of room for people in Washington …
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, I would still contend, Callie, that it's a relatively small audience. I come back to the point it's a relatively small group of people who are voting. I think the relationship between the more partisan voices in the public sphere and the people who vote, and also the people who give money -- money is a big part of this, and the recent Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision is not helping this in any way. That's a really interesting decision. It's a free speech case, in many respects: whether corporate speech can be considered the same and union speech can be considered the same as individual speech.
Justice Stevens, in his dissent -- and he has wonderful wry lines in a lot of his dissents -- wrote (and I'm not going to quote it exactly, because I can't remember), “There are many problems with the American democracy, but it is apparently only the majority of this court that thinks one of those problems is not enough corporate money in American politics.” [laughter] He gets his digs in when he can. But he was in the minority of the 5-4 decision. So can you blame them? No. I don't blame the media for this. But I'm from the media, so what would you expect me to do?
But I blame the voters for not participating, for not getting whipped up about this, and I blame the politicians for not having the guts to stand up and do what they're elected to do, which is not get re-elected but to legislate.
I found a great quote Doris Kearns Goodwin had from Lyndon Johnson who said, “I didn't come to Washington to make principled speeches and to spout my own ideology. I came to Washington to legislate.” And damn it, that's what we choose them to do. Why don't you do it? Get on with it. [applause] [laughter] Cheap applause line.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Part of your background was covering both the White House and the House of Representatives at one point. I wonder, given what you've just said, just give us a sense of the difference in the level of at least exchange. We're talking about almost a paralyzed state now with people who are at opposite ends of the spectrum and will never come to the middle, or so it seems. Back when you were covering the House of Representatives, people had strong disagreements and held different ideologies. What was the difference?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Tip O'Neill used to meet with the Republican leadership every couple of weeks. Go back even further. Sam Rayburn used to have Democrats and Republicans into what they called the Board of Education. Almost every night, they would sit around with a glass of bourbon and talk about politics. I'm not recommending bourbon to everybody every night, but you can get a lot done over a glass of bourbon, thank you very much. [laughter] Or a poker game. Or whatever.
Actually, what I'm writing a paper about right now is the degree of comity, the degree of civility, the degree of engagement between members, the degree of fraternization, the degree of socialization, it's gone. The Congress now exists -- except in things like this lame duck session -- basically on an early Tuesday afternoon to Thursday night schedule.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Wow.
CHARLIE GIBSON: There was a freshman members of Congress, newly elected members of Congress conference last week at Harvard. There were only about 15 who came, because the Republicans told their members, “Don't go to Harvard.” A few of them did, but the Republicans didn't want them “tainted” by going to Harvard. As you know, since this was a totally Republican election, if you had a conference for new Democratic members, you could have held that in a phone booth.
But I asked them -- I think there were about 15 left by the time I got around to them -- “How many of you are moving your families to Washington?” One hand, one, an ex-Marine. God bless him. The number of members in Congress who had their families in Washington when I covered the body was … I don't have any, I've been trying to get the numbers, but you can't come up with it. But most members will say to me, it was about two-thirds, 60% to two-thirds. Now it's a trace element.
Newt Gingrich told members, “Leave your families at home. We'll get you home for five days a week so you can raise money. You can do constituent service. You can go to all the Elks meetings and whatever. We'll get you in and out of Washington.” No, no. Bring your family to Washington! Stand at the sidelines of a soccer game with a member from the other side of the aisle. It's important, those times when they get to know one another.
Evan Bayh told me about dinners that his dad used to have when he was a Senator, Birch Bayh from Indiana. Chuck Percy would be there, and Charlie Goodell from New York, and Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, all Republicans. He said, “I haven't been to a dinner in 12 years where there were any Republicans.” And the other thing he said, which is really bothersome to me, he said the 100 Senators have only met as a group outside the chamber three times in his 12 years that he was in the Senate. Once was after 9/11. Once was to make up the plans for the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. And the third was the financial crisis. Those are the only three times. Yet, once a week they have party caucuses where all the Democrats and Republicans meet separately. He said you‟d find those meetings a disgrace. Selective polling material is presented, which is supposed to whip you up into a frenzy. It's “us against them.” It's now become all about politics, and a sense of, if you win, I lose.
The President has said -- and other Presidents have said -- but Barack Obama has said a number of times, in Washington, now, every day is election day. The House, of course, has to run every two years. The Senators will tell you the old adage that you legislate for four years and run for reelection for two years. Gone. You're running for reelection all six years.
Evan Bayh told me his dad's first run in Indiana cost under two million dollars, and he said, “If I had run for reelection this year”-- he didn't, he retired-- he said, “I probably would have gotten beat, because I'm not liberal enough for the Indiana democrats, and I'm not conservative enough for the state. The Republican probably would have beaten me if I had gotten the nomination.” He said, “It would have cost me $26 million dollars to run.”
One of the things I asked Tom Daschle, who's the former majority leader of the Senate -- now beaten and out of the Senate – I said, “One of the things that interests me, one of the places that Senators can get together is in the Senate dining room at lunch. You know, you all sit together, you have sandwiches, whatever, but the Senate dining room is empty.” He said, “Yes, at lunch you can't raise money from your office. You can't -- what they call „dialing for dollars‟ -- you can't do that from your office.” So all the Senators have off-Capitol Hill offices, and they go there at lunchtime and they spend their time raising money on the two days that they're in Washington. I don't know how you break that …
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, that was going to be my question.
CHARLIE GIBSON: … logjam. I don't know how you do it. But there are some practical suggestions. My favorite suggestion comes from a guy named Sir William McKay, who is the retired parliamentarian of the House of Commons in England. I said to him, “You have pubs in Westminster, don't you?” He said, “Several.” [laughter] And I said, “Would it be a good idea to put them in the Capitol?” He said, “You bet. It's awfully tough to get mad at somebody when you've shared a pint with them when you walk off the floor.” And he said, “Often, when the debates in the House of Commons get really bitter, members will retire, have a pint of beer, and come on back on to the floor.” That's just one suggestion, but there are others.
More members should live in Washington. There should be a 100-Senator caucus probably at least once a month, maybe once every two weeks, have one party caucus every week. The other one that really has attracted me is change the schedule. Don't have Tuesday or Thursday sessions every week. Bring them in for two weeks. Let them go home for two. In for two, out for two.
You're going to get ten days in those two weeks of legislating. Some people suggest it ought to be three weeks in, one week home. That would be 15 days of legislating, and you could have 15 days to raise money. But on those weekends between the weeks that you're in session, Monday to Friday, you‟d get members to stay in Washington and maybe more members to move their families to Washington, which I think would be very important.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, a wise woman once told me, “Relationship before issue.” And what you've just described is their inability to build any relationships. So how bad does it have to get before somebody implements something?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, it's really bad. You now have a member of Congress -- I was highly offended as somebody who's maybe naïve -- but I was highly offended when a South Carolina congressman yelled out to the President of the United States during a State of the Union Address, “You lie.”
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So was I.
CHARLIE GIBSON: You don't say that to the President of the United States. You just don't. “I take exception to what you say; with all due respect, I think you're wrong,” whatever. You don't say, “You lie.” Now, there's that Nixon problem, and then there was that Bill Clinton problem. But, you know, he's the President of the United States. He's the President to all of us. You don't say that. And then, the congressman becomes a hero on the cable channels that you're talking about, and his campaign coffers were mightily expanded by the comment he made. I think he should have been censured by the House of Representatives. Some House leaders told me, “We can't do that because it's a joint session of the Congress. It's not actually the House that's in session. It's a joint session of Congress.” What a dodge. Do it. Censure him.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: All right, let me switch topics a little bit and remind our audience, if they need reminding, that you did the first major interview with one Sarah Palin. People always reference the …
CHARLIE GIBSON: Isn't it time to get to the audience questions? [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: No. I get the signal. I haven't gotten it yet.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Callie, aren't we out of time for you and me to talk? [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And I just wonder now, at the moment that you were interviewing her and her answers were becoming what they were, could you ever have imagined, not very long after, that she would be the major influencer she has become?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, I don't know how major she is, and I don't know what her intentions are now. I rather think that she wants to keep open the question of whether she'll run for the presidency, because that keeps her in front of the public and whatever. My gut sense is she won't.
I'm still not clear why I got the interview. We hadn't particularly pushed for it. But the people in the McCain campaign called up and said, “Would you like to do it?” Well, sure. You know. So we went up to Wasilla to do it, and I was really worried that it would be perceived as asking her “gotcha” questions. I really wanted to avoid that, because it's not fair, that “gotcha” journalism just doesn't have a place in what we ought to be doing. So the best advice I got was from a friend who used to be the political director of ABC News, now works for Time Magazine, wrote a book called Game Change, if any of you read it, Mark Halperin. Mark came and we were having a strategy meeting of how we were going to prepare for this interview. Mark Halperin came in and said, “Don't interview Sarah Palin.” I sort of looked at him quizzically, and he said, “Prepare an interview for Joe Biden, and then ask those questions of Sarah Palin.” I thought that was terrific advice, and I tried to follow it.
I got some hell for asking her the question about, “Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?” We were talking about this before we came down here. The Bush doctrine has always fascinated me. It was promulgated in the latter part of 2001. I always grew up in the era of no first strike, that the United States would not be the first to employ weapons. We would respond if attacked, but we would never launch those weapons first. Well now, we're not in a confrontation with the Soviet Union, and the possibility, thank God, of nuclear weapons being employed is less. But when Bush said, “We have the right to preemptively strike another country that might threaten us,” I found that turning American foreign policy on its head. He may be right. He may be wrong. I just found it a tremendous change in American foreign policy that didn't get as much comment as I thought it should.
So I asked her that, “Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?” And she said, “In what respect, Charlie?” [laughter] And it was apparent to me at the time that she probably didn't know what I was talking about. A lot of conservatives have jumped all over me for asking the question. I wanted to help her out. I said, “Here is what it is,” because I wasn't trying to trip her up at all. I felt badly about it, strangely enough.
I also said to her, because I had never interviewed somebody like that -- I mean, there was a torrent of words that came out -- and I said, “I'm getting lost here in a blizzard of words.” I didn't mean that to be critical, I was just saying, “I'm not following you. Would you slow down, please?” But she was nervous. It was the first national interview she had done. She was well prepped, and actually the McCain people thought she did pretty well.
So I went back to the office and I was feeling sort of badly. And in a meeting a couple of days
later I said, “You know, I'm not sure I should have asked that question, because I didn't mean to trip her up.” And somebody said, “Don't worry about it. You asked the same question of John McCain during a debate in New Hampshire prior to the New Hampshire primary, and you also asked the question of Ron Paul.” I don't know why I asked it of Ron Paul, but I did. It was obviously on my mind. So if they‟d done some preparation, this thorough preparation that they probably should have, they would have known that it was something that Gibson's hit upon. So I don't feel badly about it anymore. [laughter] [applause]
CHARLIE GIBSON: Except the applause.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: When you look at the landscape of the changing journalism scene -- and it is changing every day -- and journalists are trying to find their footing, other than the objectivity, which we've talked about, what do you think an issue that faces today's journalists, the 21st century journalists, that maybe you didn't have to deal with at the beginning of your career, but one that is absolutely one that journalists today have to grapple with?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, you know, I want young people to want to go into this profession. I think it's more fun. I think it's more interesting. If I could have done anything in my life, I would have played baseball. But when I was in my latter years of high school and when I got to college, those damned pitchers began to curve the ball. [laughter] It made it an entirely different game for me. Whenever I swung, the ball was not there, and that was a pretty good message, “You're not going to be able to play baseball.” But the reason I loved baseball is that it is such a collaborative game, and the sense of team in baseball is just something I loved. You love team sports, at least I did when I grew up.
Television journalism is such a collaborative effort. I used to, when I was a Washington correspondent, come up to New York. I loved to go down into the area where all the pieces get fed in from around the world, and there would be seven or eight, basically in a half hour show, you have 22 minutes and 47 seconds of actual content. Not that I know it, you understand. Each one of those seconds is precious. But you have basically seven or eight correspondent pieces every night.
I used to love to go down into the room where all of these pieces would be fed in, and there would be editors taking them in and re-racking them to roll on the show. And at 25 minutes after six, it was probably a pretty good shot that six of those seven pieces weren't in yet. There were editors working in Washington, and editors working in Chicago, and a correspondent rewriting his piece in Los Angeles, and maybe a piece coming to you from Afghanistan, or from Baghdad. The degree to which this program with that guy upstairs -- Jennings and his blow-dried hair, whatever; I was in that position later -- the degree to which he depended on dozens and dozens of people around the world, all of whom worked for ABC News, that was the most exciting thing to me in the world. And I want people to experience that and to love journalism the way I do. I'm so blessed in my life to have been able to do this.
But what do you say to a kid who wants to go into journalism today? How is he going to feed his family? Because we don't know how you're going to be able to monetize journalism. You look at newspapers, they're laying off people right and left. ABC had to let a quarter of its staff go at the beginning of this year. I can't tell you how something could pain me more, to see those people walk out the door, people I had worked with for 30 years and I loved, and who were those people editing those seven pieces for the show that I was doing, and were doing that because they didn't want to let ABC News down. They didn't want to let the public down. They didn't want to let the viewer down.
You love that. You think you're part of something bigger than yourself. Yet, I don't know how you tell somebody where they're going to be able to go into this business and make money now, and that really worries me. We don't have the new paradigm of how news is going to be delivered. We don't know how it can be monetized. We don't know how reporters can make money at it. We don't know if there's going to be people that we can afford to pay go watch the city council meeting or watch the county board of commissioners or watch the state legislature, which is where the guts of journalism occurs.
And investigative work, my God. One of my fellow Shorenstein people this semester is working on how local papers can afford investigative journalism. How can you take Callie, and give her two months to look at a story? You can't afford that anymore. You've got to have her in the paper every other day. It's really, really worrisome to me, far more worrisome than the partisan issues that you're talking about, how we make the business pay.
My career was at a crossroads. My wife is here tonight. But I don't usually like her to come when I'm doing this talking, because it makes me nervous that she's sitting there taking notes. [laughter] But my career was really going south at one point. I was anchoring at the age of 26, 29, a local news show in Washington, and they bounced me. They said, “You're too preppy.” [laughter] Well, they were probably right. But they said, “You're too preppy. And we need somebody that's more of the people and whatever.” And I got booted off the show. My career was really going south, and I took a fellowship for a year at the University of Michigan, which was a brand new fellowship, sponsored by the federal government. Thank you all for paying for it.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Modeled after the Nieman Foundation. But I just digress.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Right.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I was a Nieman Fellow, but continue.
CHARLIE GIBSON: I was a University of Michigan Fellow. I remember thinking, “Should I have gone to law school as I wanted to do? Should I have gone in a different career?” And I remember a conversation with Arlene one night, and I said, “I desperately miss this, but I'm never going to make any money at it. Is that okay?” She said, “Sure, if you love it. We've got a house, you know. The kids are comfortable. We can put food on the table. If we never make any money at it, you love it, sure.” But today you take a young journalist and you say, “I can't tell you how you're going to be able to raise a family on what you're going to be able to make in journalism.” And that really, really scares me.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Now, I don't want this conversation to be a total downer, because there is some interesting information as we talk about the changing journalism landscape: Google, Yahoo, a number of these entities that were never set up to do news.
CHARLIE GIBSON: But they're aggregators, Callie.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, wait. Now they're talking about hiring people to do original reporting.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Yes, well, Google is not.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: But that's kind of interesting to me, that there's an acknowledgement that original reporting, which everybody thinks just appears magically, is important.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, it's one of the interesting experiments. Arianna Huffington has a political point of view, and I wish her website were a little more objective than it is. But she was at Harvard the other day talking about the fact that she started as an aggregator. She was just putting on her website news that other people were reporting, other people had gathered. That's what we refer to them as -- aggregators. Google is an aggregator. Yahoo News is an aggregator. AOL News is an aggregator. They're not producing anything original of their own. They're just taking things that other people report, putting it on their website.
Arianna Huffington started that way. She started with a capitalization of only 10 million dollars, and she's built up this website. Now she's hired 70 reporters. Tina Brown has done the same thing with the Daily Beast. She's hiring some really good people. And maybe they're going to go into a video component. Politico started with Politico News as an original reporting organ. They have grown rather markedly. Now they're starting a video service. I think they're going to go full time into video.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So I would note that their money comes from the print edition, which we never see. If you're familiar with Politico.com, and you're aware of those reporters, the print edition is only distributed in Washington. And oddly, in this town, that's the moneymaker.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Yep, that's true. That's true. And you can get it at the airport and whatever. When you're in the Washington airport, pick it up, because it's pretty good, and you can subscribe to it. But they're not making money. I mean, they're underwritten by Joe Allbritton, who owns Channel 7 in Washington. I hope that they're going to make money long-term, but we don't know where the money is going to come from for any of these entities. When we do hook up our computer to our television set, how are you going to pay for that? Are you going only to have certain websites that you can get on your TV set? Are you going to pay a blanket fee? We just don't know.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: What about the Boston Globe putting certain information behind a pay wall right now?
CHARLIE GIBSON: New York Times is going to try this as well.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Exactly.
CHARLIE GIBSON: It's trying to put the genie back in the bottle. The philosophy, the beginning philosophy was, “We'll give our stuff away on the Internet. That will draw people to our newspaper.” Little did we know that they were going to take the free stuff and, I mean, what kind of a brain surgeon does it take to figure out you're going to use the free stuff and you're not going to pay the money? I never understood it.
We used to have these meetings at ABC News.com and they‟d say, “Well, you know, we're going to put all this stuff on the website and people can get it, and that'll drive them to your show.” No. No. Don't give it away. Don't give it away. Protect it. Hold onto it. Wall Street Journal is trying the same thing, and the New York Times. I don't know if it's going to be successful or not.
Time Magazine, a couple of years ago, wrote a piece that maybe you‟d pay a nickel every time you got a story online. That's not going to work, I don't think. What do they call it, micro payments or something. I don't think that's going to work. We just don't know. We don't know. There are a whole lot of smart people at Harvard trying to figure out what the new paradigm is going to be, and they don't know. So I can't answer that.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I‟d like to know what Charlie Gibson reads and taps into every day as you get your information. Where does it come from? Where are you looking?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, I should tell you, it doesn't sound like a hard question, but it is.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I know you can name the newspapers.
CHARLIE GIBSON: I used to have a lot of news sources when I was working. And one of the things I wanted to put down was being so involved in reading stuff all the time. So much of my day was doing that. I still spend a lot of time on the web. I look at newyorktimes.com. I look at WSJ. I look at the Washington Post, because they have the best sports columnists, even better, I think, than the Boston Globe, although it's a very close race for good sports sections. I read The Times. The only paper I buy is The Times. I buy the Wall Street Journal a couple of times a week because I think it's a good antidote to The Times in terms of getting opinions from all different areas. And I look at those websites a lot. I look at a lot of pop culture news, because it's sort of the staple of television these days, and more than I would like. I was reading so much stuff when I was doing world news that I cut out magazines. Just didn't have time for them. And I think I'm going to go back, probably, to The Economist, and a magazine called The Week, which I think is pretty good.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I love it. The Week is fabulous.
CHARLIE GIBSON: It's very good. Very few people know about it, but it's good. And the covers are real good. They're very clever. It's much easier to say what I was reading a year ago, because I'm not doing a lot and I will start to read more as we settle down. But the basic daily staple is the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And what are you watching?
CHARLIE GIBSON: [laughs] Yeah. Let's get to the audience questions. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: What are you watching?
CHARLIE GIBSON: You know, I have a loyalty to ABC News, which is very strong. I believe in ABC News. I love those correspondents. I watch when I watch, but I don't watch as much as you might think. I watch maybe once a week. And actually, I go back. The show's online, so I watch it online if I'm not there at 6:30, which I'm not as much as I used to be. Well I had to be, because I was doing the show and making money for it. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: That would be a little tough.
CHARLIE GIBSON: It was a good living, too, I want to say. So I watch it online some. But I'm really interested in why they made the decisions they made. Why did Diane do that? Why did they give that to this correspondent? And whatever. I watch it too much as somebody who's still got his head in the daily production of the show, as opposed to just a viewer. But I am loyal to ABC News. I will always be loyal to ABC News. I've got the ABC logo tattooed on my tush somewhere. I believe in them, so that's the program I prefer. Although Brian is very good and Katie does a better show than she gets credit for. Her producer is a very good friend of mine and lives, eats and breathes the news. That's a good news organization.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And used to work at ABC.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Yes, he used to work at ABC and NBC and CNN and whatever. There are a lot of itinerant people in the business. He's one of them.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I know that Brian Williams is doing a new ad which I think speaks to the times. It says, “We know that many of you cannot be here with us at 6:30, so we encourage you to tape the show to watch later.”
CHARLIE GIBSON: What do you think is the top rated program at 10 o'clock at night, every night? Anybody know? Pre-recorded material. People are watching DVRs. I don't think TiVo is still around. But they're watching recorded material or disks that you buy at the store. That has a larger viewing population than anything that's actually appearing on television at the time, so it is a matter of course that you're eventually going to get around to saying, “Hey, people, DVR our show and watch it later.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Although a smart strategy, though.
CHARLIE GIBSON: It is a good strategy. It is not a strategy that the advertisers love.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Yeah, that's true.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Which is why I'm sort of impressed that they're doing it. Because I don't think, from an advertising standpoint, it's very smart. By the way, this is just a pet hobby horse of mine so I'm going to try it out on all of you.
The average age of the viewer of the ABC Evening News is in the upper 50s, and it's getting older all the time. One of the things that drives me crazy, just drives me nuts, is the advertisements in the show. We wonder why we can't get a younger audience. If you do all of your ads for adult diapers, for arthritis medicines, and -- have any of you ever heard before of shaken leg syndrome? I had never heard of that. [laughter] I don't know what it is. I don't know anybody who has shaken leg syndrome. [laughter] Nobody has ever said to me, “God, I can't stop my leg from shaking.” I just have never heard of that. Yet, by God, there we are advertising it all the time. Or some poor old woman out in a park doing these exercises, and I don't still know what medicine she's supposed to buy. [laughter]
I used to go to the sales department and say, “Please give me a Buick ad, just something that's a little different. Let's advertise cornflakes. I don't care. Sell it to them at a discount.” Because I believe that if you put on ads that are patent medicines or prescription medicines, you're basically saying to somebody who's 25 years old or 30 years old, “We don't care about you. We're only interested in an older audience.” And that's what you're going to get.
Now, if you want to bring people into the newscast -- the sales department went nuts when I used to say this, so I probably shouldn't say it now – but if you discount that ad to Buick, or if you discount that ad to cereal or whatever, you're going to bring in younger viewers. Your ratings will go up, and then your ad revenues will eventually get to where they were before. I'm the only person in the entire network who believes that. [laughter] I am so alone in that, so alone in that belief, and I could never get them to change. By the way, if anyone has shaken leg syndrome, I apologize. I mean you no disrespect, and I hope your leg recovers soon. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I think we've come to the part of the program that you dearly asked for, where the audience gets to ask you questions. But I would like to ask this final one. Do you miss it?
CHARLIE GIBSON: No. [laughter] There are lots of answers for this, but I had done it for 33 years. I had fronted a major ABC program for 23 of those 33 years, Good Morning America for 19 and World News for four. I'm 67 years old, and it's time to step aside. I just felt it was time. You want to leave, as I said in the last broadcast, you want to leave. You don't want to overstay your welcome. You don't want your hosts for the weekend looking at their watch saying, “When the hell is he going to get out of here?”
You know, David Brinkley did some stuff on the air in his latter days -- and there's nobody I revere more than David -- that were just … he should have stepped off the stage. There are people who can do it. God bless Barbara Walters. She's still as sharp as a tack and is terrific and is a great friend of mine. But I think it's risky to do it too long.
Also, to be absolutely totally honest with you, when they started talking about going to Afghanistan -- much as I wanted to go and talk to soldiers and whatever -- I didn't think I could do a trip like that justice. And if you're not just hungering to go when the bell rings, it's time to get out and so I did. Also, there's stuff you want to do. I want to travel. I want to spend time with my grandchildren and whatever, and I think it's better to leave wanting more than the opposite.
So do I miss it? Election night I missed it. I like John McCain to the extent of any politician. You don't want to be friends with people that you cover, but I liked him; I like him a lot. I don't know if he‟d have been a good President or not, but on -- November, what was the date? -- November 4th of 2008, to be able to say to this country, we waited until 11 o'clock when California closed and we could call California and Washington. We don't call an election until somebody's over 270 electoral votes. But to say to the country, “You have just elected an African American President of the United States,” I was choked up about that.
I carry no water for the guy. It just said something to me about this country. You just can't help but be proud of the country when they do that. And that's something I thought I would never see in my lifetime. Colin Powell said to me when I saw him, “When you said that -- I was watching you that night -- it just gave me chills.” And I said, “It gave me chills to say it.”
Somebody as I walked into the studio said to me, “What's going to be your call?” I hadn't thought of that. He said, “Like Al Michaels, you know, when we won the hockey game in 1980,
"Do you believe in miracles?‟” I wasn't going to say, “Do you believe in miracles” because we thought Obama was going to win but I thought about it during commercial breaks. I wound up saying that, “226 years ago, we had promulgated the document that said that all men are created equal, and it's really questionable whether we believed that and it's still not a point that we have gotten to in this country. But tonight is as great an affirmation of that as we will probably ever see.” I don't think I used those words. I was more eloquent than that, I hope. [laughter] But it was a moment.
The other thing was I thought I'll never have another election night like that again. But I missed this election night. I missed it. Just you love memorizing the House races and the Senate races and knowing the ins and outs, and watching all those damn awful commercials. I got to do one of the Massachusetts Gubernatorial Debates; that was fun. That was sort of like having your hand back in it. I watched the election night results with my 15 kids in my study group, slightly smaller audience than I had in 2008, but it was still fun.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Very good. All right, to the microphones, you in the audience who would like to ask questions of Charles Gibson, and they will be questions, not statements.
Questions, not statements. So come to the microphone.
CHARLIE GIBSON: If nobody comes, I'll do an interpretive dance. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: No, no, we don't want that. Here we go.
Q: I'd like to see that. Thank you so much. I'm curious to get your thoughts on how you feel about younger audiences getting more and more of their news from comedy news shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
CHARLIE GIBSON: You know, I think any basis of information is good. I'm always amazed where young people get their news. There was a survey of teenagers, “Where do you get your news?” And fourth on the list was music. I find that amazing. I guess there's a political message in some of the music today. I don't listen to a lot of it. But wherever you get your news is good, as I say. Hopefully, you're seeking out objective sources and that's really my hobby horse, is just to say to people, “Please get your news from objective sources.” There is such a multitude of places you can get news now. I think all of it is good, as I say, if it's objective. All I want is those young people being involved, caring, knowing that this stuff matters and that they be training themselves to be informed voters. That's really, really what's important.
Q: Occasionally on Sunday morning, Christiane Amanpour does her show to specific subjects, almost the entire show. I'm wondering if that format would fly on the evening news and why hasn't it ever been tried?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, first of all, it's bombing on Sunday morning.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I was getting ready to say that.
CHARLIE GIBSON: They're not having great success with that. Christiane is a terrific journalist. But whether her particular talents and interests are geared to what the traditional Sunday morning audience is or not, I don't know. It certainly would indicate that it's not. You know, it's a question of do you want to get up on Sunday morning and hear a good discussion of geopolitical situation in Turkey? It's just not what gets you up on Sunday morning, and people are so much attuned to politics in the morning.
Now, in terms of can you do it? No, you can't. You can -- and we did on occasion -- devote the last 15 minutes of the show to one subject, which would probably be three correspondent pieces, maybe four. We did that very rarely, but we did it on occasion. But basically, your charge is to tell people what happened that day, what you think they ought to know, hopefully what they want to know. And you have to cover that. Now, you can truncate it and try to get it down to 15 minutes if you want. And we did, on occasion. It was not something that viewers necessarily responded to in terms of ratings.
Q: The question that I would have is that they get too hung up on what I call box floor(?) politics, and it seems the issues are actually secondary to who is winning the poll and who got ahead in this or that.
CHARLIE GIBSON: I just read a study. You're right, it's a problem. It's something that we try to guard against, but you're right. I just saw a study of USA Today, during the healthcare debate, did 78 stories on the healthcare debate. And eight of them, I think, were involved with actual content of the bill and the other 70 were who's up, who's down, who's offering amendments or whatever. It's a terrible problem. You tend to gravitate to the horse race aspects of elections. And you don't spend as much time as you should on the governance that may result. It's a very valid criticism.
Now, I will tell you -- this is a little thing that very few people know -- we have minute-by- minute ratings. You can see in a graph exactly how many people are watching all the way through the half hour. I hated to look at them, didn't look at them, didn't want to know, but they're like crack to producers. [laughter] You talk about an addiction! And you can tell, even in a minute and a half correspondent piece in an evening newscast, whether it gives you a net gain or a net loss of audience. I hate to say it, but issue pieces, whatever, yeah.
Q: Hi. So I grew up with journalists like yourself and Peter Jennings.
CHARLIE GIBSON: I didn't see you around the house. [laughter]
Q: I think I was hiding. Anyways, I grew up with faces who are news. This is who I go to for my news and sort of following up to the question about young people and where they get their news and what you mentioned about what would you tell young journalists who want to go into this field, are there any sort of younger faces now coming up in television news that you feel like they could be this person in an objective field? Or will it be more of the Jon Stewarts and the Keith Olbermanns?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well yes, I didn't really answer the question very well about the Jon Stewarts and Stephen Colberts. As I say, if you're getting information from those shows -- my wife and I have a huge debate about Jon Stewart. She's a huge fan; I think he's brilliant. I think his research staff is brilliant. I just worry, at times, that satire can drift into ridicule.
One of the reasons I don't like the acrimony that shows up on the cable channels when they have those debates and they throw everybody into the gladiator pit and have them go at one another, politics is serious business. Governance of this country is serious business, and I'm just vaguely uncomfortable with, every night, making light of it.
Having said that, Will Rogers was one of the great satirists in America, and satire is a great tradition in America. So I'm really hung up on the Jon Stewart issue. But again, I come back to what I answered on the previous question, which is if you watch that, if you're getting information from it, and if you can sift through, as I say, what is sometimes ridicule, okay, that's fine.
You know, it is one of the curiosities of television news -- and I benefited from this -- that you can be an anchor person and you can make a lot of money by doing less work. That sounds strange because you're not all the time out. You're not driving 14 hours to get to the site of the hurricane or whatever. You become the face of the news, and there was no greater honor, in my lifetime, than being the face of ABC News, this organization that I loved.
The problem is, strangely enough, to come back to ratings issues, people have trouble watching people younger than themselves. I don't know why that's the case. But ABC News, as you may remember, tried an experiment. I didn't get the job when Peter died. They gave it to Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas. Elizabeth got pregnant; Bob got blown up in Iraq, but the experiment was not necessarily going to be successful. It never had time to really find out whether it was going to work or not. Tthere's something about people wanting news from older faces, and God knows, I'm older than everybody so maybe that was why it worked. When Peter was young, very young -- Peter Jennings -- he was in his 20s and was anchor of ABC News, and it failed. Didn't work. Peter went off -- terrific broadcaster that he is -- and he earned his stripes in the field. He came back 15-20 years later, and was a very successful anchor at ABC. There's something about that, that I don't know. Now, there are some really terrific young people at ABC News who are coming along. Dan Harris is one, Sharyn Alfonsi, David Muir, these are really good writers and good broadcasters. And they'll be anchors soon. But, for some reason, people are just not comfortable looking at younger people. I don't know why.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Dan Harris and David Muir came from this market.
CHARLIE GIBSON: They came from Boston. That's right.
Q: If someone wanted to go into journalism, what should they study? Should they study journalism? Should they study politics? Should they study economics?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Yes. [laughter] All of those. But the one thing I say to people is don't study broadcasting. Don't go to broadcasting school, necessarily. Write. Just write and write and write. You know, people think television news is a picture media. But I can tell you, every one of the most successful correspondents at ABC News is the best writer. I used to say to my friends at the New York Times, “You have this luxury of being able to get a point across in three paragraphs. I have a clause.” That's all I have, and so you've got to listen carefully but you have to be able to convey it in very condensed chunks, so writing is the key.
The broader base to your knowledge of history, of politics, of economics, of sociology, of psychology are really important. I think young people do better to go out, go to small stations if you can get a job, and do it. Make your mistakes. I started in Lynchburg, Virginia. And, I mean, I couldn't catalogue the number of mistakes I made on the air, and the dumb things I did. But the audience was very forgiving and it was a great place to learn my craft. It was smack in the middle of school desegregation in a city that really struggled with race relations and a newspaper that would not publish a story about a black person. Dunbar High School in Lynchburg, Virginia, when I was there, did not exist for the newspapers. Didn't have a football team, didn't have graduation, didn't have anything. Didn't exist because that was the old south and that was the center of massive resistance in Virginia, which was opposed to desegregation of schools.
Lynchburg was going through desegregation, busing and all that. It was a great place to learn your craft. But the times I messed up -- whew!
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I was going to say the behind the scenes story about ABC and their colleague, Barbara Walters, whom I worked with at 20/20, people don't realize that the base of her career was as a writer. We would go into those weekly meetings at 20/20 and there is a strip of writers sitting there. She would read the copy and say, “That's not quite right.” And then, in her head, would rewrite it and they‟d have to keep a tape recorder. I have never seen anything like it. We're all like, “What?”
CHARLIE GIBSON: It's really a rare gift, and I don't have it. When I used to get scripts from correspondents, and I knew I didn't like the piece, I couldn't sit there … There are producers who can sit there and say, “Well, you move this graph up to here, and you move this sound bite down here, and you take this out, and you change the lead this way,” and would hand it back.
They could do that in a minute.
I would have to sit down at the typewriter -- talk about how old I am -- [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: … at the computer.
CHARLIE GIBSON: … at the computer, and I would actually have to start from scratch and rewrite the piece. That's the only way I could do it. So the show was over by the time I got the piece rewritten. [laughter] So other people were better at it than I was.
Q: Could you comment on what my perception is that there is less fact checking going on in the stories?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Oh, boy, is there ever.
Q: And things get printed or said on television as fact, and then they're not, a la the Agriculture Department fiasco?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Yep, you're right. [laughter] You know, the fact checking at Time Magazine used to be famous. I remember an article was done that I was involved with and the Time Magazine people called me and they're going over it almost word-by-word. I was really impressed with all that. The old TV Guide, when they would do stuff on me, were very good on fact checking. It just doesn't occur anymore.
It's because of the economics of the business. When you take a quarter of the people out of ABC News, you're cutting muscle as well as fat, and that's a large part of where it goes. My friends at Time Magazine tell me they write it, it goes into the magazine. Now, people will tell you the same thing at The Times. It's just one of the places that it's noticed when there are mistakes, for sure. But it's noticed less than some of the other things where you might be cutting money. So it is a real problem in journalism right now.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And if the people who go out the door have the historical information as well.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Yep.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: You don't have the checklist.
Q: Thank you.
CHARLIE GIBSON: I wish I had something more optimistic to say to you.
Q: Good evening. I just want to say how much I've enjoyed listening to you, and I actually have two questions. My husband and I oftentimes discuss how broken the political system seems to be in Washington. You've pretty much confirmed, from where you sit, that that is the case. Do you see any strategy or any way that things could possibly turn around? How do you think that's going to come about?
CHARLIE GIBSON: Well, you know, it's a terrible thing. I was going through all the things that the legislature -- i.e. the United States Congress -- has not done and seems incapable of getting to. But it is sort of an axiom that legislatures don't deal with problems until they crater, and I don't know what the tipping point -- to use Malcolm Gladwell's phrase -- is going to be in that regard.
Some people on the Hill, and in conjunction with this work I've done, are saying there's going to have to be some sort of total collapse of the dollar, another terrorist attack, something. But the first terrorist attack didn't bring about much unity on Capitol Hill. So I don't have an answer to that question except I hope it's not what they, in their most pessimistic moments say, i.e. we need some sort of a national crisis before some of these problems will get addressed.
You know, we have got the immigration problem hanging over us. People want the borders secure. We've got 12 million people in this country who are illegal immigrants, if the estimates are to be believed. You just can't ignore that. People are very highly upset about the idea of amnesty or whatever. The Dream Act can't even get supported, and these are kids who are going to college and into the military. Don't we want them in the military if they're going to be here in this country? But you can't get that passed. So I don't know what it's going to take to address the immigration problem. How can you ignore 12 million people who are here illegally and come up with some solution about what to do with it? George Bush had what I thought was a very reasonable solution as the Governor of Texas. I think he was very enlightened on this issue. But John McCain just said to me the other day, “I'm going to get hammered if I go back and try to propagate the bill that I was talking about in the 2008 campaign.” It's just not politically palatable to address the problem now. Maybe it will be in the future.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Okay, here is what we're going to do for the last those of you still in line. I know you have another question. I'm going to ask to you to tell me all of your questions, and I'm going to ask Charlie to be shorter in his answers, and we're going to get everybody out on time. So your second question was?
CHARLIE GIBSON: I think she just told me I'm being too long. I don't know. Maybe I missed the message there. I don't know. If I am, I apologize.
Q: Do you think that in 2012 President Obama can win again?
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Okay, hold on.
CHARLIE GIBSON: I haven't the faintest idea.
Q: You talked to us about looking for objectivity in the news. And I‟d like to know if there are any journalists that write for the New York Times, other major newspapers or periodicals, magazines, that you particularly admire for showing that objectivity in their writing?
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Okay, hold on. Last one.
Q: On a slightly different note, I was wondering if you could share with us your feelings on the morning of September 11th as I watched you cover this horrible piece, as a journalist and as a human being.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Okay. First question, President Obama, 2012.
CHARLIE GIBSON: I don't know. I'm terribly bad at predicting things. I think if unemployment stays close to 10%, it's going to be awfully hard for him to win. It is the economy, stupid, that does so much influence elections. It is a relatively weak Republican field. The nominee will come probably, if you had to pick one right now, from either the group of Governors or from Fox News. [laughter] You're applauding that?
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Mike Huckabee is at Fox News.
CHARLIE GIBSON: Fox News is Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin. The Governors are Pawlenty, now, who stepped down in Minnesota, Romney from Massachusetts, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Haley Barbour from Mississippi, and maybe this guy in New Jersey, Christie. He's got national ambitions I think. He's a little new yet. This guy Rubio in Florida is an interesting case who might be considered as a Vice-Presidential candidate. But it will, I think, come at the moment, if you had to pick somebody, it would come from that field.
But in so many cases -- and I think it'll be true in 2012 -- an election turns out to be a referendum on the incumbent. So, in some respects, you can't judge the strength of the Republican candidate. It's a question of how strong Obama will be.
In the case of objective correspondents or objective columnists, or whatever, in the New York Times, I think Matt Bai is terrific. But I don't want to really get into naming specific people. I don't think that's fair to all the people I would leave out. You know who you read and who is objective and who's not. And I would leave it really to you to make that judgment.
In terms of 9/11, very quickly, it was a hell of a morning. We were on the air on Good Morning America, and we had just finished a segment that had run over. It was Sarah Ferguson on weight loss, of all things. [laughter] And we had run over because we always run over with everything, and we had to cancel the segment. Diane and I were sitting there, discussing what we were going to do for just a minute-45 between commercials. And somebody -- we had just gotten a one- minute cue -- said into our ears, “Something is going on at the World Trade Center. There are flames coming out of the side of the building. Something has hit the building. It may be an airplane. We have a traffic camera pointed at the building. You are on the air. Go.” And that's all we knew.
So you say, “Something is going on at the World Trade Center. There are flames coming out of the side of the building. Take to the camera.” Now, we're not on camera. We're narrating over picture. We're writing notes like mad about what year was it that that blind sheikh was behind an attack on the World Trade Center, what year was it that a plane flew into the Empire State Building. I mean, we're just madly writing notes, trying to get answers, and we've got researchers running around like mad. We had a correspondent who lived right in the shadow of the World Trade Center, Don Baylor, who now works for the local CBS station.
We were discussing the size of this. We're also writing how many people work in the World Trade Center Buildings, then divide by two because it's just one tower. As we were doing this, something came into frame, and it's amazing how fast your mind works.
My first thought was, it's forest fire season in September. I'm thinking maybe it's one of those planes with the bucket suspended below it. Then I thought, where would you get that in New York? You know, that's something you're going to find in New Jersey. And then I thought maybe it's a traffic copter. Then it hit, and that flame came out the other side.
There's an exhibit on this at the Smithsonian right now, which has a lot of us who were on the air on it. I will forever wonder about what I said and what Diane said, because I wish I‟d had her reaction. She said, “Oh my God.” And I said, “Now we know what's going on. We're under attack. This has got to be a concerted attack on the United States.” And mine was the “Who, what, why, where” answer, and hers was the human answer. Diane, when we finally had a break, said, “How many thousands of people are dead?”
For the next three weeks, four weeks, Peter was unbelievable during that period of time. He was just on the air almost nonstop. But we would go on the air on GMA at six a.m., an hour early and then broadcast until noon, because Good Morning America doesn't go off the air in Los Angeles until noon. So we were doing six hours to the whole network every morning. When I walked into the studio on September 12th, we had been up almost all night, booking guests and trying to get the mayor and people whose lives were touched by all this. It was amazing. We had people at all the hospitals, looking for wounded and there weren't any. You were either alive or you weren't, and that was disturbing in and of itself. But I remember walking into the studio the next day and thinking the specifics of who we've spent all night trying to book, and that that is not as important as the tone that we're going to adopt this morning. And I've never really considered that before. We're all at the breakfast table together. We are, as a country, learning about this.
We're learning about it at the same time you are, and we're going to get through this.
I don't want to assume any kind of responsibility for something that is beyond, really, what I'm paid to do. But it just occurred to me that how we react to this as those who were the faces of all this was really important. It's a horrible thing to say, but we had 4,000 planes in the air that morning. They got four. There are millions of people who live in New York, they killed a lot of people. But they didn't destroy the fabric and the guts of this country. And the other thing that was on my mind was that no matter, from now on -- you know, we've always been protected by two oceans --- but from now on, every time you drive through the Lincoln Tunnel, every time you go across the Golden Gate Bridge, every time you put your kid on a school bus, it's a tiny little act of courage. Because you don't know. And it has introduced an uncertainty to American life that's not going to go away.
It's not as evident, anymore. We don't carry that around with us every minute. We don't cry as often at inappropriate times. The number of times I started to cry on the air, for reasons that I had… just all of a sudden would hit you. Somebody would say something, or somebody would have an expression, or it didn't make any difference what it was. You just suddenly found yourself, “Oh hell, I'm about to cry.” Which is okay. But you don't want to overdo it.
But it was just something that was an extraordinary period of time to broadcast. And that thought in my mind of what tonally we do may be more important than what the content is, is something that had never occurred to me before and really hasn't occurred to me in that magnitude since.
That was a hell of a morning to be on television. Yet, when I walked in the studio, when I walked out of the studio that morning, when I walked back in on the 12th of September, I thought, “This is what you've prepared all your life to do.”
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Thank you for sharing that. And please, thank Charles Gibson. [applause]
CHARLIE GIBSON: I always used to say that morning television, because you're on for two hours, was an exercise in bladder control. [laughter] Sitting here for an hour and a half, same thing. [laughter] Thank you all. [applause]