United States. Congress. House. Committee on Forei.

Impact of television on U.S. foreign policy : hearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, second session, April 26, 1994 online

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Thank you, sir.

Chairman Hamilton. Thank you, Mr. Koppel.

Mr. Turner.



Mr. Turner. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. This is
a difficult assignment for me. As you may know, we at the Turner
organization are not permitted to use tne word "foreign" in our
writing lexicon except, of course, for proper names. And it is not
quite as quirky as it may sound. After all, if you live in Paris and
you are watching CNN doing a story about street demonstrations
outside your apartment building, it might be a bit insulting to hear
the participants all described as foreigners. They are not foreigners
to you, the consumer. And this goes to part of what this hearing
is about, I think.


First, a definition of news — remembering that if you get 10 jour-
nalists together in a room you will have about 15 definitions. News
to us is that which is significant, important, interesting, a slice of
our lives, a piece of our times. It is our job and responsibility to
chronicle accurately these developments by the hour, by the day,
by the week or year. We are reporters. We bring in experts to com-
ment, criticize, analyze, and pontificate, but we are reporters.

We are not educators, although we may serve to educate; we are
not public-spirited citizens of the country or the world, although
what we are telling and showing may serve to uplift and depress
the public spirit. We are not cheerleaders or naysayers ourselves;
we are observers and not participants. We show passion because
we are human, but we try to be without prejudice, and above all.

our command from the other, somewhat wealthier Turner, is to be

I say all of this to emphasize that our mission is to inform, and
after that it is up to the viewers what do with the news that they
have heard. It would be a dreadful form of elitism for us to attempt
to direct the viewers what to do because we know best. We do not.
Sometimes we have not a clue as to what is best or worst.

The press has always had an impact on the creation and execu-
tion of foreign policy. Now it is faster. And with the speed comes
another factor: the quick catalyst.

But what is a news organization to do? The technology is there
and it is not going to go away. Satellites are not going to be
disinvented. The electronic gee-whizzes will grow in sophisticated
capabilities and not diminish. The only question is how responsible
will the organizations be using that equipment? And there will be
many more news organizations to come, even more than we can
dream of sitting here today.

We at CNN do not consider the impact of our proposed coverage
on policy, the United States or any other country. We are seen in
265 countries live right now. If we began to attempt to figure in
foreign policy, the organization would wind up in a swamp of "what
ifs" and "maybes." And that is not our job as we see it and as de-
fined a few moments ago.

I do not mean to sound cavalier; but "damn the torpedoes" is also
not a CNN policy. We do our best to create a workable format to
tell a story about what is going on at a location of an event for
which the script may not be written, and we must do it by the seat
of our pants. Here is where the journalism in the news organiza-
tion comes into play and is so vitally important. Decisions are
made in the field and at the control center that must reflect solid
news judgment, but not in a vacuum. We are as anxious as any
journalist on deadline to have all the research we can get, and it
is for this reason that we call in experts around the globe to come
on live on CNN and tell us what it all means, how we got in such
a mess and how to get out.


Why we cover what we cover is determined by several factors,
the first of which is: Is it news? Is it important to a general news
audience across the globe? Is it truly important, or is it a trifle?
The next is accessibility.

In the example you gave in your letter of invitation you men-
tioned Sudan versus Somalia, as Ted has noted. While we have had
our Nairobi bureau chief in the Sudan, we are not granted visas
or any other work permits to spend any time there. We have tried.
The bureau chief left Rwanda recently with a gun at his head and
true fear that he was going to be shot on the spot. It is not a hos-
pitable place.

Somalia was open, although at times very difficult and dan-
gerous. We could at least get the crews and the equipment in to
do our work. In CNN's case, we do not have any dark areas on the
globe; we have affiliates or bureaus or agencies everywhere, and we
look everywhere for reports.


In the end, though, it is news judgment and access. If a place is
open to coverage and the story is soHd, you can expect to see and
hear a great deal of that story. Policymakers make policy, and I
would not instruct them on how to do their job, except, it is my
view that they would be far better off in the end if the public in
the United States understand what they are trying to accomplish,
and this means an open exchange of information with the news or-
ganizations. If the public officials cannot manage that, then get
some new ones.

Thank you.


Chairman Hamilton. Well, on that rather threatening note, we
will begin our questions. The testimony is excellent. We appre-
ciated it very much.

Most of you seem to be saying to us that TV is neutral, that you
are reporters. But is that really the case? I mean, the mere fact
that you decide to cover one story and not another one, or that you
give a story a particular slant, does that not take you out of the
realm of neutrality in reporting and objectivity?

Mr. TuT^NER. David Brinkley once said news is what we say it
is. I do not believe that Mr. Brinkley meant that in an arrogant
sense, but that you cannot tell everything. That is being amended
these days because of the enormous expansion, the explosion of
news vehicles, news agencies, news time on television and radio,
news in print, that much of it can be told for those who care to find

Chairman Hamilton. Speak up at any point. We are proceeding
very informally here.


Mr. KOPPEL. I think you make an excellent point, Mr. Chairman.
One of the realities of news coverage, I think everywhere in the
world, but particularly here in the United States, is that there is
an economic imperative. Let me give an example.

A couple of my colleagues, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather, are
going to be reporting over the next few days from South Africa.
When a news organization makes the decision to commit the re-
sources that are required to back up an anchor, a great deal of
money and time and effort and technology has been invested in
doing that. I think I can predict with some sense of certainty that
over the next few days you will be seeing a lot of reporting out of
South Africa on the ABC and CBS evening news programs. It is to-
tally appropriate that that be so. It is a big story.

If some other big story breaks in some other part of the world,
it will be covered, but because of the commitment that has already
been made to covering the story in South Africa, it will perhaps get
a little bit less coverage than it might otherwise get.


The point that I was trying to make, and I think it is responsive
to your question, is that no matter what it is that determines how
and why a story is covered, I do not think you should ask of news


organizations and of television organizations that they be respon-
sible for the consequences of their reporting. If we start, Mr. Chair-
man, trying to figure out what the consequences of doing it or of
not doing it are going to be, I think we will be paralyzed into total

Chairman Hamilton. All of you acknowledge that television has
a major impact on policy, do you not?

Mr. Turner. Absolutely.

Mr. KOPPEL. I do.


Mr. Beschloss. Yes, and I would say that, given the system as
it is now, the most you could ask is for television news organiza-
tions to cover the news as thoroughly as possible and also with as
much context as possible, but the shock absorber has to be the po-
litical leadership in this country. If you have an issue that is very
important to the interests of the United States that is not covered,
or perhaps if it is covered badly or in an way that is shrill or that
arouses Americans to do something that perhaps is not in the in-
terest of the country, that simply puts the burden on the President
and Members of Congress to explain the issue to Americans as
powerfully as possible and frame it as much as possible.

And I think in the television age one thing that this has done
to members of the executive branch and also here in Congress is
to suggest that the more discussion of international affairs the bet-


Chairman Hamilton. The technology of the day impacts you as
much as it does us. The mere fact that you have to report as it is
happening requires you to make a lot of quick judgments about the
news. You do not have any time to put the news in perspective. We
do not have any time to put the news in perspective because it is
reported to us immediately.

The question is, because you have to report live, what does that
do to the quality of news reporting?

Mr. Turner. I live with this every day, and for the most part I
can think of no egregious errors that we have committed by virtue
of being live as opposed to tape delay or not at all, that if a mistake
is made, there is time enough to correct it. And if the event is wor-
thy, one would expect to see on the other networks, as well as later
on our own, that kind of package that sums up the events of the
day and puts it into historical context. That, because of technology,
works as a positive force as well because with the satellites, with
the creation of the cable channels, with who knows how many more
hundred to come, there will be more opportunities than ever for the
public, for those interested in public affairs, to hear more than they
ever could in years gone by about events of the day.

So while it can have an untoward impact — one never knows — it
also can have a positive influence.



Chairman Hamilton. Mr. Koppel, you wrote about this in a
Washington Post article, referring to your Vietnam experience.

Mr. Koppel. I did. And I was about to take mild issue with my
friend and colleague, Mr. Turner.

As I wrote in that article, I think focusing a camera on a live
event is a miraculous technological achievement, but it is not jour-
nalism. Journalism lies in the evaluation of an event, it lies in the
analysis of the event, and most important of all, I think, it lies in
editing. Editing is really the most important aspect of journalism,
I think. And to a certain degree we are all in this day and age pris-
oners of the electronic tail wagging the editorial dog. That tends to

What Mr. Turner says is quite accurate. I do not think that there
are many mistakes that get across on the air on CNN, and I think
CNN does an absolutely superb job of covering events. But I think
it complicates the process of journalism when the first images that
Americans sometimes get are not filtered through the process of
journalism. I wrote in that same article that I think good journal-
ism is to an event what a good map is to a geographic region. It
is necessary to reduce it in size, but nevertheless remain absolutely
true and as faithful as you can to the main features of the event.

Chairman Hamilton. Mr. Roth.

pressures felt by public officials

Mr. Roth. Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Turner, I have often felt that the information age helped de-
stroy the Soviet Union, but I am not so sure the information age
is not going to undermine our Government, too. And the reason I
say that is that CNN has pioneered this creation of the global vil-
lage, which was predicted some 30 years ago.

But do you get the sense that the nation can survive the present
form when everything happens instantaneously?

Someone here had mentioned that the political leadership has to
be the shock absorber. You can put it on TV, but when I vote to
send troops into Haiti or Somalia, I have got to consider that some
of these people are going to die. So I cannot just make a snap deci-
sion. I have got to think about it, and so for you to say that I and
my colleagues are going to be the shock absorber, that is really put-
ting us in an impossible position.

Mr. Turner. Well, it is not our desire to put you in a tight or
a loose spot. And you have every right to step back and say give
me some time to think about it.

Mr. Roth. In theory, that sounds great, but in practice that is
not the way it happens, because Congress is also greatly affected
by public opinion. And when instantaneous public opinion comes to
bear on Congress, it makes a big difference, and not always for the


Mr. Turner. To the larger question that you raise, though, I
think that more information and not less, more news and not less,
more coverage and not less, is what is best for this republic; and


that when all is said and done if you ask the people of Central Eu-
rope, you ask the people of China, if they are given a chance to
speak, you ask the people of the old Soviet Union, they would agree
with that conclusion.

Mr. Roth. Well, let me ask you this: Do you think that the na-
tion-state can survive in the global information age?

Mr. Turner. Indeed, and flourish.

Mr. Roth. Well, I do not know if I could agree with that. I think
that there are no boundaries. I mean, the very fact that you have
got the industry you have, you said you cannot use the word "for-
eign" in your broadcast

Mr. Turner. Because it is

Mr. Roth [continuing]. Does that not tell me that there are no
boundaries really left?

Mr. Turner. Oh, there are strong cultural boundaries. There are
ethnic boundaries. There are boundaries of prejudice and bound-
aries of optimism. There are boundaries created by a marketplace,
boundaries created by pollution. There are all manner of bound-
aries, all manner of layers in this life that we look at as citizens,
as individuals. And our role is to tell more about them and not less.

And I have to conclude, in a free country, the more information,
the more news, the better.

congressional-press relations

Mr. Roth. Mr. Turner, do you not think that we have to redefine
our roles? Traditionally, we in the Congress and the press are ad-
versarial. But do we not have to become more like partners in this
new world we are moving in to, in order for us to function?

Mr. Turner. Every survey has indicated that what the public
wants from the press is not a partnership, although we can work
together on some projects, but what the public wants and expects
is a watchdog. And I think that that is the mindset of most of to-
day's general interest journalism. That is the nature of news as we
now define it. News is what went wrong today. News is that which
is the aberration.

Walter Cronkite once said news is not how many cats did not get
run over by the commuters driving in to work today; and he is
right. I do not mean to sound simplistic. But our view of it is as
a watchdog, as an adversary, albeit at times a friendly one.

Mr. Roth. Well, sometimes I feel that the press is exceedingly
negative. Yes, you should be a watchdog. But sometimes everything
in the media seems to be negative, and I think that can destroy the
people's trust and confidence in their government. When that hap-
pens, it is impossible for the government to function. I think that
is one of the problems we have.

Mr. Turner. Yes, sir. Your point is well taken.


Chairman Hamilton. If the gentleman will yield.

Throughout your statement, Mr. Turner, you talked about being
a reporter. Now you are talking about being a watchdog, an adver-
sary of government. Those are two very different roles.

79-868 0-94-2


Mr. Turner. Well, but adversary is a natural outgrowth of being
an observer and a chronicler. I think that one is a logical step to
the other, and not inconsistent, Mr. Chairman.

What Mr. Roth brings up, in terms of negative news and bad
news and grim news, is a point that we wrestle with all the time,
and I think, though, that there is a good deal of positive news
there, only we do not insult the audience by so calling it, because
that implies, of course, that all the other news is bad news. If you
say this is good news and that is bad news, well, that is not nec-
essarily so.

There are many, manv reports done dailv on government at the
Federal, State and local level that are indeed quite positive. But
you do not set out to say this is going to be a positive story that
is going to lighten your day. You set out to report and tell an inter-
esting story.

Chairman Hamilton. Mr. Beschloss.


Mr. Beschloss. The other thing I would be a little bit worried
about is the slippery slope problem. It is one thing for television
networks, for instance, to say that they will not report the results
of exit polls while Americans are still voting on an election day, but
what I would be worried about is a television network where, for
instance, satellite coverage is flowing in from a country abroad and
you have producers essentially making decisions according to their
own vision of the public interest, what to withhold, what not to put
on and what to put on.

Obviously, in certain cases that is necessary to save American
lives, and in other extraordinary cases. But otherwise I would be
a little bit nervous about television producers making those kind
of decisions. I would rather have the free marketplace operate
where you have television networks putting on as much as they
have, analyzing it as much as possible at the time those pictures
appear, but basically leaving decisions about the national interest
not to unelected television producers, but to those who are elected
by Americans to defend that institution.

Chairman Hamilton. Mr. Hastings.


Mr. Hastings. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Gentlemen, all of you seem to suggest, and I think we all agree,
that the cataclysmic explosion of technology is going to continue to
impact us for some time to come. That being taken as a given.

Can you, understanding that we, particularly those of us in the
laity, Congresspersons notwithstanding, need your help in better
understanding that technology so that we can work with you on
critical matters of developing policy in light of all of that tech-

Mr. Koppel, for example, made the reference to the clipper chip,
and I think by the time that technology is being utilized, that we
need your assistance in understanding the dynamics. In short, I am
kind of following my colleague, Mr. Roth, in saying that somewhere
along the line we are going to have to develop other practices than
we have at present if we are going to be able to develop the policy


that we must, and if you are going to report on not only what we
develop, but report as you perceive things be undertaken in your
responsibility as journalists.

Let me continue my line by saying I understand the need that
you have to get there first witn the most accurate account. I under-
stand the need for openness, and you all seem to cry out for that.
But policy is sometimes best developed without the heat of lamps
or the stroke of pens. And occasionally you stumble across it, or it
has leaked, and it does serious, serious damage to the policy that
is being developed.

And I am curious, can we develop policies and practices that will
take into account the grave consequences of our actions, and that
is both policymakers and the media? And I note, Mr. Koppel, that
you said that almost never do you or should you take into account
the consequences. I take mild issue with that, because I think we
are entering into this enormous new territory that we need some
new dynamics and understandings about.

Mr. Koppel. Well, let me respond, Congressman Hastings, to the
specific point that you are raising.

When I say that we almost never can consider the consequences
of what we are reporting, I say that in the following context. If you
ask me to consider the consequences of what we do report, you
must also ask me to consider the consequences of what we do not
report. If we had not shown you those pictures from Somalia, I
think we can probably all agree here this morning that the massive
rescue operation that was ultimately conducted never would have

The consequences of that would arguably have been that several
hundred thousand people who did not starve to death would have
starved to death.

You do not want the press, if I may respectfully suggest, in the
position of making policy decisions for you. That is why you were
elected. That is why we have an executive branch of government.
I would also suggest, I do not think we have really begun this
morning to adequately explore the exploding nightmare of what is
going to happen when you have direct broadcasting systems where,
indeed, as Congressman Roth was suggesting a moment ago, na-
tional boundaries are all but irrelevant.


I was in Romania a few months after the revolution there and
went to a small city called Timisoara. Timisoara is where the Ro-
manian revolution against Ceausescu began. It began there in
large measure because Timisoara just happens to be the closest Ro-
manian city to what was then Yugoslavia, and in those days Yugo-
slavia was still carrying broadcasts from my colleague's network
here, from CNN, and the people in Timisoara were seeing what
was happening in the rest of Eastern Europe and were encouraged
thereby to begin their own revolution. That is peanuts compared to
what is going to happen in the future, because in the future you
will, quite literally, have thousands of individuals who have the ca-
pacity to broadcast, not through a network, not through a local sta-
tion. In other words, you will not have us as filters any more. Infor-
mation can flow directly from any point in the world to any point


in this country. Americans will have, and probably already have,
hundreds of tnousands — and soon will have tens of millions — of
very small dishes which will enable them to receive direct broad-
casting from anywhere in the world.

And there is a democratization of technology that is going on
right now. This has put small Super 8 cameras into the hands of
tens of millions of Americans, and they inadvertently end up cover-
ing news events and then selling it to local stations. So you are
now going to have, literally on a global level, that same kind of
thing happening, with the end result that any government, any re-
bellious group, any political group that wants to send its message
directly to American viewers can do so without going through a
network and without going through a station.

So even if it were a good idea, and I do not think it is, that you
and we in some small fashion were to cooperate on what we cover
and what we do not cover, the technology has already outstripped
that. You would make your agreement with us, onlv to find that
there were other people who were then reporting ana bypassing us

Mr. Hastings. Thank you.

Chairman Hamilton. Mr. Hyde.


Mr. Hyde. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Just a few comments, if I may. We elected officials exercise a
public trust. The public has a right to trust us. They trust us when
they elect us. I think the media has a public trust too because you
are trusted. And I think you have to be very, very careful that this
enormous power, without responsibility, which is a very heavy mix,
is not abused. And you are human beings like we are human
beings. You have your predilections and your biases and your pref-
erences, and you try, you try to keep them out of the mix so that
the news is presented in a balanced way.

But I just suggest to you that you have a serious problem in
maintaining your credibility because of the disparate treatment
many public figures receive at your hands.

For example, Anita Hill has been celebrated and made a heroine,
and maybe she deserves it, I do not know, I would not presume to

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