Interview with Jay Rosen, NYU Journalism Chairman, PressThink


June 29th, 2004
Transcription by Volunteer Citizen Journalist Ted Sawchuck

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Why don't you introduce yourself here and the role here at NYU?
JAY ROSEN: Well, I'm chairman of the journalism department and professor of journalism here since 1986, and I write about the press.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. And your name is?
ROSEN: Jay Rosen.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay, can you do that just one more time with your name?
ROSEN: My name is Jay Rosen, and I'm chairman of the journalism department. And I've been teaching here since 1986. And I write about the press.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Looking up -- into the build up to the war in Iraq -- How would you evaluate the performance of the press during that time period?
ROSEN: Well, after September 11th you had a wave of alarm and fear and patriotic feeling come over the country -- It certainly swept over journalists who were themselves frightened by the attacks. And I think in the immediate aftermath of those attacks, there was a great deal of concern that President Bush might fail -- Nobody wanted him to fail because we felt ourselves under assault. And then as that faded, then something else came into focus, which was the Iraq war. There was not the kind of vigorous debate you would hope for in a democracy. And there are a lot of reasons for that. Part of it was that Congress didn't really put up much resistance to the war. The President was very popular. There was still a lot of fear and concern about terrorism in the world. And, for the most part, their coverage of this situation reflected that. And there were some questions asked, but not enough. And the Bush administration, by giving certain reasons for what it was doing, threw the benefit of the doubt toward itself because of all this alarm and concern in the country. So in some ways the press reflected the political system, which didn't muster a full debate at that time. It's extremely difficult for journalists to create a debate when other institutions aren't necessarily doing their jobs. So that's pretty much what we saw. Despite the fact that it was known that there were protests, and there were people who were immediately against the war. But it wasn't taken all that seriously until much later when the reasons for the war came under scrutiny.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So is it impossible for journalists to fill that void of a weak political opposition?
ROSEN: It's not impossible, but it's difficult.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I'm sorry -- What's impossible?
ROSEN: Oh, yeah. Right. Well, it's not impossible for journalists to raise questions and raise doubts and serve as a kind of opposition, but it's difficult when you don't have a debate in Congress to cover, when there appears to be unanimity in the political class, and when the President appears to be so popular that he's gonna do what he's gonna do anyway. [Technical Difficulty] Long before this war, we had a big problem with trying to...
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Just start at 'Long before' --
ROSEN: Long before this war, we had problems with how the nation got itself into conflicts. Basically since World War II, we haven't had a declaration of war. The constitution hasn't worked the way it's supposed to -- where it's the United States Congress that finally approves such a mission. And that's been a dispute, and a sort of a defect in the American political system for a long time. So it's not unique to this war. It's not impossible for journalists to overcome even that, but it isn't very likely.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: One debate that was happening was debates over international law at the United Nations. Talk about the difficulties of covering such complex and nuanced issues like international law that may not be necessarily interesting but significant.
ROSEN: International law is a complicated thing, but it's also sort of a half-sovereign thing -- it sometimes makes the difference and sometimes does not. I think journalists have a weakness for real politick attitudes and a sensibility that regards things such as international law and the UN as nice, but perhaps not the way the world really works. And if anything, it's that conviction of theirs that leads them sometimes to be taken in. Perhaps the greatest problem was that the Bush administration had a kind of contempt, I think, for reason-giving and for explanation. And that ended up working its way into the press coverage as well. And by and large the US press couldn't quite conceive that a case built for the war so profoundly -- a single claim of weapons of mass destruction -- could be all wrong. I mean, nobody imagined that. -- It wasn't really in their list of possibilities. But for that matter the same is true for many in the diplomatic community, and even government officials from other countries and people in the UN. It was a shock to many people that there could be no weapons of mass destruction. So, international law is regarded by many in the government, especially in this administration, as kind of an obstacle or a nuisance. I'm not sure journalists look at it that way. They look at it sort of -- 'It would be nice if the world worked that way, but it really doesn't.' And that might have contributed somewhat to a lack of scrutiny. But on the other hand, the case for the invasion, which was based on this empirical claim that 'There are these weapons, and Saddam is involved in this program, and he's trying to do that.' -- those are claims that it's very hard for the press to independently investigate them. After all, they couldn't go to Iraq themselves and look around. So ultimately, they're depending on insiders, officials, confidential sources, intelligence community, people in the military, and that's what they did.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: When you say that 'Everyone was shocked that there were no weapons of mass destruction.' In fact, that's the way the American press portrayed it, but actually Blix had said all along that -- 'We can't say either way. We can't find proof that there isn't any.' And that's what France and Germany were saying. So from my viewpoint, when I actually listened to what they were saying on C-SPAN and seeing how it's covered -- There's a blurring of international law only being covered from a sense of "Are they with us? Or against us?" Not the substance of the debate.
ROSEN: Well, when I say that people were surprised, what I mean is not that there weren't warnings that this could be the case -- there were. But they were surprised that the administration would be so strong about it -- so definite about it -- and turn out to be completely wrong. They were surprised by that. Looking back on it retrospectively, sure, there were lots of warning signs -- Not just those, but others. But they -- I think journalists found it hard to imagine that the government would build such a case based on almost nothing in the way of real evidence. And that's what I mean by surprise -- surprise that it turned out to be so different than what the Bush administration was saying.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: In the terms of the need for a second resolution, what is your sense that during the buildup of how that played out -- your interpretation of what was actually going on there.
ROSEN: Well, after a while the resolutions became symbolic things in a way. "Is the Bush administration going to be forced to go back again? Is it going to ask for more permission?" And I think that it became looked at as sort of a question of politics. Can critics and opponents and Democrats and diplomats force the administration to take another step? But that's a very different question than whether this is actual, legitimate rationale. There's this other problem, too -- which is the Bush administration actually had several reasons for going to war, but it only created one rationale. And so the human rights rationale for deposing Saddam and capturing him and ending his reign of killing and murder, was strong in some people's minds. But then the administration didn't make that case. And what I mean by real politik perspective is that you don't really care about that. What you care about is the result. And this is where the contempt for reason-giving, which is a very important part of politics -- democratic politics -- because it stands between a democracy and arbitrary power. I think it played a major factor in both the deception and self-deceptions of the Bush administration, as well as what might have been a deceptive part of press coverage. Because ultimately unless you have not only good reasons but reasons that you can explain to people and show the evidence for, then you're sort of saying that democracies can go to war because a very small number of people think they should. And that's sort of the opposite of what our system is supposed to be about.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: There seems to be a debate in journalism about objectivity -- 'Should we rethink it?' And instead of saying -- "He Said/She Said" kind of stories, if there's a right answer, should the journalists be willing to step in? Specifically, with the need for a second resolution, there was a right answer.
ROSEN: Well, there was a right answer about what? I don't quite understand.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, that there is international law -- there's standards, and that legal scholars have interpretations of that, and that most legal scholars were saying that this war would be illegal without the second resolution.
ROSEN: Yeah, but that's [Cough] Well, the problem is that 'what's true' is itself a product of political argument. If you don't think international law is all that important and binding on the commander in chief of the United States military, then what's true about international law is still not going to ultimately be a factor. So, journalists often get caught in situations where one group of people are saying one thing and others saying another thing. In order for them to say, "Well, no, that's not right and this is right and the truth is here." They have to not only go out and investigate, but they have to have a kind of value system -- a set of priorities -- underlying that. So if journalists in the United States were believers in international law, and thought you had to have that for every United States military action, and that was a settled conviction in their minds, the mind of their publisher, the mind of their editor, and their readers -- Then yes, they could read off the facts and say, "Something's wrong here." But the situation's a lot murkier than that. And international law is sometimes respected and sometimes not. Right now, there's a genocide in Africa which the United States is compelled to act by its own laws to stop, but it just hasn't made that determination yet. And so, is it truly genocide or not? It's not really a question where you can look exclusively to facts to decide it. There's ultimately matters of political judgement. The problem for our press is that, whenever possible, it wants to avoid making a political judgment -- sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for not-so-good reasons, and that factors into problems like this.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Wouldn't most Constitutional legal scholars say that, according to our own Constitution, that all treaties signed by the United States shall be the supreme law of the land? So, if we sign on to the UN Charter, shouldn't we be obligated by our own Constitution to follow it?
ROSEN: Sure, but that's a political argument.
ROSEN: It's a political argument that we are always bound by international law, and not by other provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution says that the President is the commander in chief and has sole responsibility to order our troops to fight or not fight. It is on that basis that people say -- some people say, and including some Constitutional lawyers, including lawyers hired by the government -- that this overrides other obligations. So it's -- Opponents of the Bush Administration often try and argue that their claims are factual only -- 'Just look at the facts. How could any other reasonable person come to another interpretation?' But really, it's more difficult than that. If international law were regarded by the Congress, and by the President, and the press, and the American people as "the law," we would've had a very different debate. But in fact, the status of international law is not that strong. Perhaps it should be a lot stronger, but it isn't in our political system. And also, you have to remember that during this time, the Bush administration was also making the case that the United States not only has a unique responsibility in the world, and a unique power, but unique rules ought to apply to the U.S. And that's a whole political argument too that began to move things like the UN and international law slightly to the side as this new doctrine came over.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So in your judgment, when it says 'supreme law of the land' -- my interpretation would say that that should trump the War Powers Act. If we sign it, that should be the top, supreme law -- international law -- according to our own constitution.
ROSEN: Yes, but the idea that international law stands on top of other parts of the Constitution, cause of what it says, is ultimately a political argument. That's not to undermine it, or to say it's a weak argument. That's the nature of that kind of a claim.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Let's see. Talk a little bit about -- Another phenomena I see is a lot of dependency on allowing the Bush administration to frame all these issues, and there's a lot of dependency on official government sources during this. Talk about the nature of that, and how that played out in the buildup to the war with Iraq.
ROSEN: Well, the press has always been highly dependent on official sources -- or what I sometimes call "authorized knowers" of one kind or another. Sometimes they're government officials, but they could be experts, or they could be from another government, or they could be in the intelligence community, or law enforcement people, or somebody who had been in government before. Journalists are very hesitant to make statements on their own authority in news accounts, unless of course they're columnists and they feel they have certain rights to do that. So the dependence on official sources is a feature of American journalism -- has been for a very long time -- Especially when you are in an area which is heavily involved in intelligence gathering and military operations which, by nature, are not very easy to observe on your own. It's extremely difficult to know through any other means. Now in the case of weapons of mass destruction, which we now know a lot about retrospectively, you had a very strange situation in which not only were reporters dependent on government officials, which is one thing, but they were being fed information from Iraqi defectors and Iraqi nationals, the Iraqi National Congress, which was bad information and in some cases disinformation. And in the case of the New York Times, we know that they were fed information that came from foreign intelligence services, back to the United States, and then to reporters through sources. And all of this information was actually coming from the same source, but it appeared to be coming from at least three different sources: Chalabi himself, government officials, and the US. foreign intelligence agencies -- All giving three versions, as it were, of what were essentially the same exaggerations, lies, and misinformation. And that's like gaming the system. That's way more than just dependence on official sources. And I think that the press -- particularly the New York Times, also the Washington Post, and others -- were trapped by this successful effort to game the system. And that's what Chalabi did with the assistance of others. And that's what they discovered, eventually -- causing great problems for both the Bush administration and now the press.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Some of the own admissions of the New York Times and the Washington Post was that some of their editorial decisions were 'Not as rigorous as they should be' -- as they said in their own words. Can you talk about -- There's a lot of questions about these anonymous sources that were being given front page coverage, and anything that was going to be against the case for going to war was buried. So can you talk about what happened with the New York Times with that?
ROSEN: Well, I think it was a tremendous lapse in judgement and controls -- internal controls and
ROSEN: The case of the New York Times [Technical difficulty]
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Hold on. Can you just start the whole thing again?
ROSEN: Okay. The case of the New York Times and the weapons of mass destruction is a case of bad judgment, excess credulity, poor procedures, and a host of other internal problems, as well as the effects of being misled by others. What's extraordinary about it is, first of all, it took a long time for the Times to admit that there was any problem whatsoever with its reporting. And second that the problems with it were -- very shortly after the war concluded -- were examined and detailed by others exhaustively, for months and it became quite evident to lots of people outside the New York Times that something seriously wrong had gone with this reporting. And yet, there's -- even within an institution like the Times which deals with this constantly in its own reporting -- there is this sort of stonewalling impulse. There's the instinct to say, "We couldn't have been wrong." There's a reluctance to confess any kind of error or misjudgment. And that was extraordinary in this case because so much of what the New York Times later conceded was true was said by critics over and over again -- including critics in the press -- peers of journalists at the Times. The Washington Post, when it was discovered that these weapons were not really there, did go back and look far more skeptically at what had been told in the first place. But the New York Times, for some reason or another, didn't. And this still remains to be explained as far as I'm concerned. I don't think we still really know what happened in that story, other than that a very powerful reporter was able to kind of keep questions at bay. We know that part of it. And who Judy Miller was, was a factor in it. But it goes a lot beyond that, because you're talking about editors who should have raised more questions. You're talking about a conclusion that sort of settled over the newspaper -- that this was an important case, that this was a serious problem, and that's what accounts for contrary information appearing on A24 instead of the front page.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Can you talk a little bit about the role of public relations, and the interaction with journalism. I mean, it seems to me that the goals of public relations is to sort of craft and spin messages that are very fine-tuned and designed to not encourage debate, but actually stop debate and have people stop thinking and agree with whatever that point of view is.
ROSEN: I'm not sure what your question is.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Do see that -- Trudy Lieberman wrote an article in the Columbia Journalism Review – "Answer the question." Do you see an influence of the industry of public relations kind of polluting the job of journalists to try to present what actually is happening -- as opposed to just saying what both sides are saying -- if both sides are lying?
ROSEN: Well -- The industry of public relations is over a hundred years old, and it arose when the powers of the modern press became such that rich and powerful people could no longer ignore it -- they couldn't hide from scrutiny of the press. And so instead of just shutting journalists out -- or having them arrested -- gradually people of power and influence learned that there was another way to blunt this force. And that was to incorporate journalists into an attempt by people of wealth and means and influence to look good, or to appear benign, or good-hearted, or as if they are operating all the time in the public interest. That effort was moved along very powerfully by the experience of World War I in which propaganda was a major factor in the conduct of the war, and especially the conduct of the peace. The arts learned in that, kind of made their way into government and into business. And after World War II, public relations became an industry, almost like a profession. And part of it simply has to do with a complex world, complex government, and the need for lots of people to handle information. So part of it is information giving, and relations with the press. And then there's this other part of it, which is more or less a propaganda function. And as public relations grew in the United States, it took on a number of different roles. But one of them was keeping the press at bay, and in some cases distracting it, making it harder for journalists to do their jobs. By the time the Iraq war came around, public relations had soaked into the American minds so completely that I don't think people even really realize the difference between it and what came before -- I don't think people even know how deeply the PR mentality has penetrated into normal government, normal business, normal day-to-day affairs. So that's a huge problem. It goes back, as I said, to the modern powers of the press and what to do about them. What's striking about this war was that a technique that had been useful up to 2003, which was keeping the press at bay more and more -- that was the trend in war reporting -- to just isolate them, to keep them at the hotel or keep them at headquarters and deny access to the battlefield -- flipped around. And the reason it flipped around was essentially technology. So we had this other system where the troops were embedded with the soldiers. It had certain advantages and disadvantages but it itself was a technique of public relations. And the reason that the government decided to do that was that after the Gulf War, when reporters were really isolated very much from the action, the Pentagon knew that by 2003 satellite phones and other technologies made it possible for journalists to go live and get broadcasts from wherever they were regardless of who gave them permission. And so you had this possibility of journalists running around the country, unsupervised, unaccounted for, and they had the technology to be able to report. And the Pentagon knew that, and the press knew that. That's what led to the embedding system, which was a great public relations triumph for the Pentagon.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I'm looking at building up to the war, and up until March 19th. And so one of the things I see is that the press is supposed to talk about the 'Who? What? When? Where? and Why?' -- Talk about how they covered the "why" aspect of this, specifically television news.
ROSEN: Why what?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Why go to war? Why do we need to do this? What is the true motivation? Is it weapons of mass destruction? Is it human rights? Is it democracy?
ROSEN: Well, I think. Okay. On the question of why the United States went to war, I don't think anybody even knows to this day. The stated case -- weapons of mass destruction -- has fallen apart. And the Bush administration's statements about why it went to war are at this point either inoperative or completely unreliable. The left, which has devolved very much into a conspiratorial mindset in many ways, sort of assumed it's a war for oil -- Because it's sort of a formula, a cliché, it whips people up, it makes them angry -- for good reason -- But that's not necessarily correct just because it's a slogan of the left. I think it was extremely hard to know why they did it -- I'm not even sure that people in the Bush administration necessarily know. It became a rolling cause that swept everything away. Now we do know who the people were in the Bush administration who had this idea about invading Iraq before September 11th. And the press tries to explain the question of 'Why?' by pointing to people and their influence. So 'Why did we go to war? Because Richard Perle was influential. Because Wolfowitz convinced this person. Because Powell was sidelined.' And it makes it a little more understandable. But it's, of course, a mite too simple. Ultimately, the only real answer we have is that 'Bush decided to, and he made up his mind.' And once he made up his mind and decided to use the full powers of the Presidency -- and even some powers that aren't given to the Presidency -- it was more or less decreed that we would go to war. All the reasons that are given can be examined and seen as part of politics -- or in some cases as part of a campaign to deceive or distract. So why we invaded Iraq ultimately comes down to the mind of the President, which is why the Presidency of the United States is such an incredibly powerful job. There's nothing like it around the world -- especially now that America has a sort of preeminent, unchallenged military power in the world.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Can you talk a little bit about television news -- from standpoint of the role of imagery? And how many people get their news from television news versus newspapers, in the sense of how influential the television news is.
ROSEN: Well, television news has been seen in surveys and studies for a long time as 'the place most Americans get their news.' I'm not sure I really know what that means. Since the amount of information in a typical newscast is actually pretty small. When it's said that people get their news from television, it almost sounds like as if 'This is where people get their vitamin B1 or get their iron every day.' As if it's a fixed amount of news and 'You have to get it here or you get it there, and most people get it from television.' That doesn't seem to make much sense to me. So television as a news medium is really this sort of strange hybrid of facts delivered and new information that's come out -- Along with a great deal of material that serves merely to authenticate that information, like the correspondent standing in front of the White House to show that he's actually at the White House. That isn't really information. It's there to prove that this person is there. And of course, we've known for a long time that the weakness and the strength of television news is imagery, but that imagery can be concocted or arranged for the cameras. And TV news is also uniquely about the people who give it to us -- So when somebody sits down to watch the World News Tonight on ABC, most of the time they're thinking to themselves, "I'm gonna watch Peter Jennings" not "The World News on ABC," because the connection people make with television news is with a person. This is not so if one is absorbing news from a newspaper or magazine. To some degree, it might be so in radio because of the power of the voice. People say, "I like the voice of Bob Edwards" or "I like Cokie Roberts." So we've learned how to inform ourselves this way, but the only strength that television has as a news medium -- besides being able to present video of something that happened -- is when it's live -- that's when television news can be really powerful. When something is happening now, and you're finding out about it in real time. As a news medium for kind of recapping the day or for explaining complicated things that go on in the world, television news is pitifully adequate and always has been. And so -- It's also subject uniquely so to manipulation. But -- We've kind of created this system that has different avenues into news, and we tend to compare them -- when actually, they're extremely different worlds altogether. I'm not sure that watching a half an hour of television news is really analogous at all to absorbing an account in a newspaper. They seem to be about the same things. They're really extremely different experiences. And TV, because it's so -- up to now -- technology-heavy, and it's expensive, and requires a great deal of planning and coordination -- tends to be dependent much more on systems and officials and institutions and cooperation because of the nature of the medium.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: If you were talking to someone who only watched, let's say, NBC News or ABC World News Tonight as their only news information source -- What advice would you give them?
ROSEN: Well Walter Cronkite said this like thirty years ago, that if you're just watching a half hour of news you can't possibly be informed about the world, but everybody knows that. And yet people don't just find out about the world through a half-an-hour news program. Even if that's the only professional news operation they come in contact with. They hear news from other people. The most trusted source of news for any American is actually somebody you know who tells you about it. So I think there are lots of ways to be informed about the world, and it's a little bit difficult to look at audience studies and ratings and reason backwards from that to what people know. I think that's an error. People do that a lot -- They look at what's on television, and they look at the audience studies and say, "Well, people seem to be relying on that." And they say, "Well, that's what people must know." But people aren't that simple, and they know more than that. And sometimes their own convictions outweigh the information that they're presented with. So it's a very complex picture. And because it's so hard to know -- "How do people get a sense of the outer world? How much do they know about issues? Or where do they come to their conclusions?" It's really a very difficult thing to know. But there's such a demand to understand it that all kinds of crackpot theories and crackpot claims get accepted all the time. So I don't really know what's going on between an American citizen and her television set in that kind of alchemy that happens. It's a very hard thing to understand -- it's not accessible to us. We see the results -- We know how people vote. Or we might know that they're aware of this or they're unaware of that. Or we can look at polls and see that public sentiment is shifting. But the transaction of building up a picture of the world through news accounts is very much inaccessible to us, and we don't really know what's going on. It's just that everyone has an incentive to say that they do. And that's how we get our audience studies and our ratings, and we say that 'Fox is pulling ahead of CNN.' And we think we understand what that means. But if our underlying concern is the American public and its understanding of the world and what it knows, that comes from lots of sources. And it's a bad idea to just focus on the performance of the news media.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I mean that's one of the reasons why I've been looking also at print and other sources because I think they interact -- Do you have a sense of how print news influences television news?
ROSEN: Well certainly, the agenda of television news is very much driven by the reporting that appears in the major national newspapers, and always has been. And people in TV news are sometimes reluctant to decide that an important government story is important enough until it appears somewhere else. But a lot of institutions are like that. NYU won't give me tenure unless someone at Columbia or Princeton says I'm a good professor. So a lot of institutions rely on other institutions to validate their judgement -- that's certainly the case in TV news. And the editors of the major national newspapers -- and to some degree news magazines -- have always been a big influence on television news. And part of the reason for that is that TV's so powerful. And it can make something important. The people who operate it want to know that the judgment isn't theirs alone. They want to have some explanation, some rationale, for why they are doing this. And so, you will see that priorities in broadcast news often reflect priorities reached elsewhere, and that's pretty common. Except when it comes to stories that TV feels aren't made for itself, like OJ Simpson or Laci Peterson or the disappearance of a teenager. Those are things nobody cares if the New York Times is running with it on the front page -- it becomes wall-to-wall on cable television independently of how others in journalism might be treating it. So there's a lot of interpenetration of news judgement in one organization and news judgment in another. If everybody came to their own decisions -- sort of thought through an issue themselves -- and individually decided 'what this story was worth' or 'what that story was worth,' we would see a very diverse news menu. And we would see wild differences in priorities. And we would see some places a story is front page and other places it's totally invisible. But we don't see that, we see very uniform coverage for the most part through the American news media.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Do you see that -- [inaudible comment on time remaining] If there is kind of this uniformity -- the front pages are covering it, television is covering it -- Do you see any influence with ownership reducing over the years? That as the number of media owners is being reduced that that has some influence as to what is going to be -- that lack of diversity that you're talking about?
ROSEN: I think that too, is unfortunately a complicated question.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I'm sorry. Specifically?
ROSEN: It's not complicated at all that we have fewer owners -- larger corporations owning more and more of the medium. It's a relatively easy thing to determine, and it's in fact the case. What that exactly means for news coverage is very hard to say -- although I don't doubt that it's had lots of effects. Most of them have to do -- not so much with a story being promoted or a story being censored -- as the withdrawal of investment and seriousness in general from news operations as commercial pressures and bottom-line pressures of one kind or another have overtaken this profession. And if you look at what journalists are concerned about -- based on whatever studies we have of lots of journalists -- the number one thing they are worried bout, by far, is that the quality of news production, and the investment in serious journalism is being threatened -- mostly because of changes in ownership, changes in markets, terms of competition, and just a more aggressive attitude of profit-making in a consolidating industry. And so, when September 11th struck the United States, it came after a long period of disinvestment in the world by major news organizations. And lots of people where shocked by that, but it had been happening over an allotted period of time. I think that -- Inevitably when you have a news system that's mostly in the hands of private owners and corporations who do have to answer to wall street, it certainly has a major effect on the product, ultimately. And certainly, one of the reasons why we see such a homogenized picture of the world is that. But it's hard to reason from that to a specific story and say, "This is the reason." Or "The owners want it this way." Or "Look who owns NBC." In fact, that kind of criticism is itself become a kind of a game -- a kind of a distraction. Because the ties aren't that direct -- there's no need for them to be that direct. A lot of people who are sophisticated critics of the media understand this. But we have a stranger situation here because if you look at Washington reporting and its priorities, and you examine a very commercial operation like CNN, which is owned by Time Warner, or PBS and Jim Lehrer, or NPR, which is public radio -- Often in Washington reporting the journalism is very similar, and the priorities are very similar. And if ownership explained everything, that wouldn't be the case. And so there must be something else going on there as well. And that has to do with the journalism profession itself, and the way that people move through that profession. But we don't see a sharp difference between news on a commercial channel like CNN and news on PBS, even though the ownership structure are radically different and the expectations on those organizations are very, very different. So that's tricky.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Do you see that the left's argument is ownership, and that the right, they say all the journalists are liberal -- that drives their coverage. Can you talk a little bit about the nature of this debate on media bias?
ROSEN: Well, it's not really a debate, in the sense that --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I'm sorry. What is?
ROSEN: Yeah, the debate about media bias isn't really a debate, it's more of a war. It's part of the culture war. And the culture war in the United States went -- took a detour through the public schools, and it went through the universities, and it went through modern feminism, and it went through the family, and eventually it went through the media. Debates about bias are another way for the cultural left and cultural right to come to blows and to struggle in their interpretations. And the bias debate has almost become an industry, in the sense that you have institutions organized to permanently complain about bias of a certain type kind of regardless of how the news goes. They're pressure groups. They're very familiar things in politics. You have pressure groups all over the place. When you have institutionalized pressure like that -- a host of organizations monitoring Middle East coverage, for example, for bias -- some of them are pro-Israeli, some of them are pro-Palestinian. They're engaged not really in media commentary or criticism. It's just another form of politics. It's another way for that conflict to play out. Now in many ways, both the right and the left are correct, which would surprise a lot of people engaged in these struggles in the sense that there's no question that the media is owned by major corporations and that this displaces certain kinds of limits on what kind of news they will do, and what sort of voices will appear, and what some of the preoccupations of the news are and aren't. That's true. Newsrooms are mostly populated by moderate liberal journalists who don't -- who aren't heavily ideological in any way. And who sort of see their role as debunking those who are too passionate, too committed to a view -- either view. Well if you have people like that, who see themselves as sort of professionally distanced from politics, it's easy to see why the left and the right would both feel that they're being mistreated -- and sometimes they are. [Shift out of frame] The truth is that there aren't many cultural conservatives or members of the evangelical right in American newsrooms. There aren't. There aren't many Noam Chomsky leftists in American newsrooms either.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Moving forward -- we got a little out of focus. If you just want to start at 'They're aren't many evangelicals' --
ROSEN: There aren't many evangelical Christians in American newsrooms and there aren't many Chomsky leftists in newsrooms either, but that doesn't mean that somehow the news is inherently fair or biased. It means in a lot of ways that it's anti-ideological -- to start with -- and suspicious of anybody who believes a little too passionately in what they're saying. The press has always been, I think, inherently kind of suspicious of movements of any kind -- marches and demonstrations. They cover them, but it's not to them 'real politics.' And anyone who has a little too much fervor is regarded with a little suspicion in journalism. That could be somebody who's a believing Christian or it could be somebody who is a really committed human rights activist or environmentalist. I think it's psychologically easy and professionally easy for journalists to kind of distance themselves from these groups, and from their truths, from their stories. And kind of keep them all in the same category, which is "Advocates for one side" and "Advocates for another." And ultimately, this has certain effects, of course, but the bias debate just -- it's people talking completely past one another. What the left is saying about bias doesn't connect with what the right is saying. And what journalists are saying doesn't connect with either one of them. And so I feel the whole thing is like a big miasma -- it's a big fog. But it serves certain interests, and so it keeps going along. But it's getting more and more serious. It's getting more serious because media bias by now has become so automatic to certain groups, it's so completely woven into their thinking that virtually anything they see in the news becomes caught up in that and seems like a plot or nefarious dealings by the news media. I read an article a while ago about the struggles of people who work in the Middle East beat and just what it's like to cover the Middle East when you have this constant accusations coming at you no matter what you've reported -- that 'You're leaning to this side. And leaning to that.' And in some cases, the psychological pressure on journalists dealing with complaints and harassment and hostility is so high that they just don't want to write about it anymore. And I think that's extraordinary. And it doesn't mean that the journalists are doing a good job because they're getting attacked from both sides -- that's one of the worst things about the bias debate -- it causes journalists to throw their hands up in the air and just sort of dismiss everything. But it is a problem, because media bias has become totally incorporated into politics. And it's become another way for the political forces out there to contend and clash with one another. After a while, the medium, press performance, journalism, just disappears completely from that.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: [Time remaining] Have you seen -- so this'll be some quick questions here -- Have you seen a general decline in investigative reporting because of the -- it costs too much, or it takes too much time -- economic pressures?
ROSEN: Investigative reporting was never a major investment anywhere in the press -- it's expensive and takes more than one person -- sometimes it takes weeks and months for one story. It's never been something that the press invested a lot in, probably less now, and certainly there are whole areas of the news media like local television news where it basically doesn't exist. So maybe there's some decline, but the idea that the American press used to be totally committed to investigative reporting during the Watergate era, during Vietnam, and now isn't, isn't really so. It's always been exceptional.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: How do you see blogs as bringing down a lot of the barriers of editors and information flow?
ROSEN: Well, this is truly radical, because --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I'm sorry. What is?
ROSEN: The Internet in general and the rise of the weblog is a very, very radical development because what it means is that the barrier to entry as a media player has come completely down. Just the ability to videotape something and offer it to the world used to cost millions of dollars. And now if you have a digital camera and a weblog, and some skills, and you can post that video -- you can in a sense offer it to the world -- no matter who you are. That's a huge thing. We're just starting to see the implications of it, but it's opening up the media system and it is breaking down some of the power accumulated at the center and we'll still see. I mean we're very early into this revolution, but the world is not going to be the same for the major media in five or ten years -- that much I'm convinced of.