Covering the Coverage of the 2008 Campaigns Amid one of the most closely contested and carefully watched elections in years, top reporters, editors and columnists talk about the media's role in presidential campaigns. Neal Conan hosts a discussion about politics and journalism before a live audience at the Newseum, Washington, D.C.'s new museum of media and reporting.
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Covering the Coverage of the 2008 Campaigns

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. Today, we are broadcasting from the Newseum, just off the Mall, here in Washington, D.C.

(Soundbite of audience clapping)

It's a beautiful, brand new museum of journalism with interactive exhibits, state of the art studios and a breathtaking view of the Capitol. The permanent exhibition here includes printing presses, typewriters and cameras, famous front pages and photographs, hundreds of hours of archival footage. There's a satellite truck and a news helicopter, and eight concrete sections of the Berlin Wall.

In the atrium, suspended from the ceiling, is the biggest television screen I have ever seen, 880 square feet. The Newseum opens to the public on Friday. Today is press preview day.

We are in the Knight Studio with colleagues from newspapers, magazines, television networks and websites to talk about this remarkable election and the ever-changing media.

There are more ways than ever to hear what the candidates say, to see what they have done and no shortage of opinion from analysts, columnists and bloggers. We have gathered some of the best and most interesting to talk about their roles in this campaign.

Of course, we also want to hear from you. What do you expect from media coverage of politics? Is the media living up to your expectations or maybe down to them? Our phone number is 800-989-8255, and you can email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. We'll be taking questions from our audience here at the Newseum, as well.

Later on in the hour, we will talk with the reporters who exposed poor care at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Yesterday, their stories in the Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

But first, journalism and the campaign. Joining us on the panel are Ana Marie Cox, Washington Editor of Time.com. She is also wonkette emeritus as she puts it, founding editor of wonkette blog. Ana Marie Cox, always good to have you with us.

Ms. ANA MARIE COX (Washington Editor, Time.com): Good to be here.

CONAN: William Kristol is the editor of The Weekly Standard and a columnist for The New York Times. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. WILLIAM KRISTOL (Editor, The Weekly Standard): My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: Clarence Page writes a syndicated column for The Chicago Tribune, good to have you back on the program, Clarence.

Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Columnist, The Chicago Tribune): Me too, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: And Jerry Seib is executive Washington editor and assistant managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. And nice to have you on Talk of the Nation.

Mr. JERRY SEIB (Executive Washington Editor and Assistant Managing Editor, The Wall Street Journal): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Ana Marie Cox, let's start with you. What's your agenda as you follow the campaign? What are you trying to get done?

Ms. COX: Wow, I'm glad you asked such an easy question.

CONAN: That's our job here.

Ms. COX: You know, I think that my bosses have the same question for me. It's a little bit of a - you know, I'm in sort of an arranged marriage with Time, neither of us quite knew what we would be getting from each other. I got an expense account, which I am really happy with. And they got someone to cover the campaign that is, sort of, admittedly, is not doing a traditional kind of coverage.

I sort of see myself as, I put it to someone the other day, live blogging the campaign, like I'm not trying to do, like, well, actually, I'm not trying - I would admit that I am not trying to do heavy hitting policy coverage or trying to sort of play gotcha with candidates. I guess other people covering the campaigns may not admit that although that's what they're doing.

But, I think that it is just another layer of coverage. I mean, I think that the kind of things that bloggers are doing on the campaign trail is, maybe it's bad for the country and whatnot, but it's like the minute to minute coverage of a campaign, rather than, kind of the underlying, you know, narrative.

CONAN: Well, famously...

Ms. COX: It's the jingle as opposed to the narrative.

CONAN: As wonkette, four years ago, you got to cover the campaign in your slippers from your home. Do you now go out and follow the campaign and have to do all those terrible things that regular reporters have to do?

Ms. COX: Sometimes. Actually, I spent a long time with the McCain campaign, and I don't think I am going to get into trouble for saying this. I wound up covering the McCain campaign pretty much from April till he secured the nomination in January, on and off. And the dirty secret is that I got that assignment because nobody else wanted it at the time. Because it was McCain, of course, he was going to drop out at any second. So, sort of by accident, I got to see a campaign really like from when I started covering it and there was just five people and a van. Not even a bus, to, you know, him winning, you know, getting the nomination.

And I think that was, I mean that definitely was an education. And I've been trying to, sort of, figure out what it means in terms of the next part of this adventure and how much it will matter. The press played so much of a part in the McCain recovery, it's hard to imagine what the next part will be like.

CONAN: Let's go to Bill Kristol. And Bill Kristol, what are you trying to get done in this election campaign and would readers be safe in assuming that your agenda is to see John McCain elected president?

Mr. KRISTOL: I prefer that John McCain be elected president. I try to put out a decent magazine and cover the campaign interestingly and entertainingly. And I think we've actually, you know, we've covered, obviously not just Senator McCain but the other Republicans, and in fact, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, and I think some people were surprised that Steve Hayes went out and wrote one of the early pieces saying that Obama was really an impressive and formidable candidate.

So, no, you just try to report it as it is. Obviously we are a mixture of reporting and analysis and opinion. So it's a little different from what, you know, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal do. At least, a little different from what they admit that they do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRISTOL: So, I couldn't resist that. How could you, how could I not. But, yeah, I think people overstate, frankly, how much people have agendas. I mean, obviously we have our views of things, but really we are all interested in politics and it's hard enough to understand, I mean, the main task is to simply to understand what's happening. To try to have a grasp of the dynamics. To try to figure out what might happen in the near future. As opposed to sort of, we have a very limited ability to make something happen. You know, the American public are not waiting to hear my judgment of who should be the next president of the United States.

CONAN: Some campaigns are inevitably more interesting than others. This one has been just a house afire right from the start. Are you more jazzed about covering this campaign?

Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah, I mean, I think it was always going to be interesting. It's an interesting moment in American history and world politics. It's the first campaign without an incumbent president running for reelection or an incumbent vice president running seeking to step up since 1952. So, it's like an open seat congressional or gubernatorial or Senate election. It's just more, there's more variability, more fluidity, more unpredictability. Interesting primaries in both parties and for the first time in a long time, the Republicans will nominate someone who is not the top fundraiser. He was outspent by both Giuliani and Romney. Was sort of the establishment candidate at the beginning, but then after the implosion, wasn't. To some degree, Giuliani and Romney, I would say, shared that. So it's very heartening actually, that the establishment cannot always muscle its way to a victory. Money doesn't always count. And of course on the Democratic side, we have a genuine upset.

I mean I, myself, I think was pretty early in seeing that Obama had a good chance and was slightly ridiculed for this, I would say, by lots of friends in Washington, late last year, you know, maybe August, September, October when I said I though it was 50/50 that Obama could beat Clinton. But, again, he now has raised more money, but he certainly started off as an underdog and was the not the favorite of the establishment.

So, how often do you get two exciting primaries? Very interesting and unorthodox candidates, obviously a whole bunch of firsts. First African-American, first woman, McCain would be the oldest man elected president for the first time. Romney was the first Mormon. So, I mean, in many, many ways, a really unusual race.

CONAN: Jerry Seib, let me turn to you. You work for The Wall Street Journal. Does The Wall Street Journal have an agenda and does it have an institutional agenda in this campaign?

Mr. SEIB: We have an agenda to write more. That's our agenda, I think, right now. You know, I was thinking right now, as you were asking the question of what are you trying do in covering this campaign? And I think what we're trying to do is more. For a variety of reasons, I mean this is, as Bill said, a phenomenally interesting campaign. I mean, I've been involved in one way or another in covering every presidential campaign since 1980, when I was 12, I think, at that point, and this is just far and away the most interesting and unpredictable one. So what we have found is that people are just fascinated. And they're fascinated by it, and they want to read about it in every conceivable venue.

They want to read about it in print, they want to read about it online, they want to talk about it online, they want to read columns, they want to read news and they want to read opinion. And we're putting it all out there and it's all being, sort of, gobbled up. And that's really what I find to be the most fascinating thing.

So, I resumed writing a column, which I'd done earlier, and it paused for a while, so I resumed writing that. We do, probably, twice as many stories as we did the last campaign I would say in print. We have a campaign blog. We have a daily political analysis aggregator online. We are going to start an online group of columnists and people are in the campaign. Readers are in the campaign, and I think that's basically, you know you sort of boil it down to a very simple answer. People are interested. We're trying to be there to match the interest, which is incredibly high.

CONAN: Clarence Page, like Bill Kristol, you're an opinion columnist. What's your agenda? What are you trying to get done in this campaign?

Mr. PAGE: Well, I always remember the late, great Mike Royko, my colleague at the Tribune years ago, said that the columnist's job is to explain things. Because frankly we don't have the space to really go into in-depth reporting. When I started in this business, the average column was about 800 words, now they're asking - you know, if you come in under 700 the newspapers I'm syndicated to love it. You know, and we don't have the resources to a lot of in-depth investigating. And besides I'd put out two of them a week.

But we do have the ability, the platform to try to explain things, to give people an opinion for their viewpoint to bounce off of. And that, I think, is a service in itself. Because people are just inundated with information these days, and seem to appreciate the service. I try to get away from the horse race and get to the issues of which there are many in this campaign.

But Bill Kristol is right, the narrative of these characters in this drama is so appealing. I feel like, I think it was Michael Corleone in the Godfather who said "every time I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in." And all the soap opera, keeps pulling you back in. This horse race between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain...

CONAN: Clarence, just to borrow another quote, this is the life you have chosen.

Mr. PAGE: Thank you my friend, you are so right.

CONAN: Let's get a question from the audience here at the museum. Over to my left.

Ms. PAMELA GENTRY (Journalist, BET): Hi, my name is Pamela Gentry and I'm with BET News. And I wanted to ask the panelists if they've noticed any increase, or what's the impact that they've seen from citizen journalists? Those folks who are writing on the Internet, that are not necessarily tied to formal news organizations?

CONAN: Ana Marie Cox, you're the only one I know who reads the internet up here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COX: I think there's been a lot of different projects that have attempted to harness the ground level interest that people have in the campaign. Huffington Post has a, I think, a rather cleverly named project called "Off the Bus," which asks people who are normal citizens to weigh in on the campaign and go to campaign events and report on what they've seen there.

I do think - I was thinking before the panel started, and Clarence said something that reminded me of this, that I'm not sure if people are being inundated with information so much as they are with opinion. Because that's a lot of what I see when I read blogs. Because opinion is a lot easier to manufacture than information. And that's what's interesting about this "Off the Bus" project, because they're actually asking people to leave their home. And that's a big deal for a blogger. I know.

CONAN: We just have a few seconds left here. Jerry Seib, is the Wall Street Journal doing anything with citizen journalism?

Mr. SEIB: Not per se, but what was interesting is if you open up anything you put online to reader comments you essentially get it. And you get it in dozens and hundreds of pieces everyday, every hour sometimes.

CONAN: Stay with us, we're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to continue talking with our guests. They are Ana Marie Cox, William Kristol, Clarence Page and Jerry Seib.

If you'd like to join the conversation 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan, it's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Neal Conan broadcasting today from the Newseum in Washington, D.C. We're here with a distinguished panel of reporters, bloggers and editors. Ana Marie Cox is the Washington editor of Time.com. William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard. Clarence Page writes a syndicated column for The Chicago Tribune. Jerry Seib is executive Washington editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, we want to hear from you about your expectations of them. Give us a call 800-989-8255, email is talk@npr.org and you can read what other listeners have to say on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

This time last year, the press had written John McCain off and on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's political obituary was written at least three times in the last year.

Unidentified Man #1: I'm not saying that she's destined to lose here, but unless the dramatic- the dynamic changes greatly, she's going to come out here and (inaudible).

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Anybody saw Saturday Night Live, you know maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow?

Unidentified Man #2: So is the media treating you fair, Ron Paul?

Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): I think all politicians think we could be treated better by the media. They said why don't you get as much time as others?

(Soundbite of candidates responding to question about coverage on campaign trail)

Unidentified Candidate: I feel bad for Ron. I know Ron's not getting a lot of time. Let me just respond to this, and then we can...

Unidentified Candidate: You don't feel that bad.

Unidentified Candidate: I feel pretty bad. I do.

CONAN: Candidates responding to question about coverage on the campaign trail. Let's get another question. Let's go to the phones, this is - I have to hit the right computer, that would be good. Brian, Brian with us from Portland. Is that Portland, Oregon?

BRIAN (Caller): Yeah, Portland, Oregon.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

BRIAN: Yeah, my comment was - you know I listen to the radio a lot for my news. And I get an awful lot of coverage of the horserace of the campaign. And that's all the analysis is, the analysis of who might vote for who.

And I'm a voter, I'm not running the campaign. I want analysis of what the candidate's policy positions might mean to me. What the candidate's strengths might mean to me. But the coverage of the horserace really drowns out any substantive analysis of who I should vote for.

CONAN: Ana Marie Cox?

Ms. COX: I'd be curious if Jerry has seen this phenomenon as well, but we have a blog, a political blog at Time called swampland, Time.com/swampland, and we tend to focus on the horserace, we're a bunch of political journalists, that's what interests us. And we opened it up to comments about a year ago actually. And every time, every time you write something like, sort of the trajectory of what it means for Mark Penn to be leaving or something from the Hillary campaign, you get commenter after commenter saying how angry they are, how upset they are, how disappointed they are that we're not covering the issues. The issues, the issues, the issues, the issues.

Finally, I guess it was probably six months ago, I spent like - it must of - it took a while, it's like a week, I wrote some. I wrote about the candidates', you know environmental policies. You know how many comments it got?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Two?

Ms. COX: Yeah, just not very many at all. So I appreciate that people say that they want coverage of the issues and coverage of policy, but it's not like people in the media are just making some kind of top-down decision to cover horse races. Seems like that's actually also what people read.

CONAN: Bill Kristol, are there issues? I guess we're at this point talking about just the Democratic side. Because that's the only race going at the moment. But obviously between the Democrats and the Republicans there are a lot of issues?

Mr. KRISTOL: Yeah, but in a primary contest actually there tend not to be as many issues. Certainly on the Democratic side this time there haven't been big issues. And I think to the degree they're just not that fundamental differences between Obama and Clinton. They try to manufacture, occasionally, a big difference in healthcare plans. But basically they are both - they have moderate to liberal democratic positions on pretty much everything.

There's not great heterodoxy on the part of either one. Neither one is pro-life, or pro-war, or pro-Bush tax cut, or whatever would be a dramatic departure from the party. The party is actually pretty united. So I think it just makes - journalists would run out pretty fast if one really got into - are there differences between Clinton's and Obama's positions on the environment? I doubt if they're terribly...

Ms. COX: Very mild.

Mr. KRISTOL: Very mild. I think on the issues, where there have been differences, are differences, or have been differences, which one of the candidates is now moving on - say, Senator Clinton on the war, that's gotten a lot of coverage. So I guess I would think that if you are a Democratic primary voter, you have a pretty good feel of what their views are on most issues. The few issues where one of them, arguably, had been a little different from the other on the Iran sanctions or something like that.

CONAN: Healthcare, yeah.

Mr. KRISTOL: Healthcare a little bit. On the Republican side, there were obviously real differences. There was a pro-choice candidate, there was an anti-war candidate, Ron Paul. There was real differences in economic philosophy between Huckabee and Romney, McCain, somewhere in between. But again, I think those got covered, maybe not in the detail that one - that some might of wanted. On the other hand, I don't know, I guess I would think a pretty attentive viewer or listener or reader would get a pretty good feel of where these candidates were on the basic issues.

CONAN: Brian, any particular issue that you'd want to hear more about?

BRIAN: My most important issue is environmentalism. And I do search out what I can about that. But I'm just a little frustrated that it's treated like a sporting event and not treated like news.

CONAN: All right Brian, thanks very much for the call. And I can understand your frustration. Thanks very much for getting to us.

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Jerry (ph), and Jerry 's with us from South Miami in Florida.

JERRY (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

JERRY: Yeah, in July of '04, when I retired, a colleague gave me a book by Paul Waldman called "Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Didn't Tell You." He's got a new one out now on McCain, and how the medias giving him a free ride, the same thing all over again. I personally have heard McCain say on Russert's program once, he's a Ronald Reagan Republican, he's a Theodore Roosevelt Republican. Those two are diametrically opposed. Reagan was absolutely opposed to everything that Roosevelt stood for. Roosevelt was progressive, McCain absolutely is not. I also remember when I was still working, a certified financial planner, I saw what happened with the Savings and Loans. And McCain was one of the Keating Five, and he's trying to claim - he's sort of lived that down. By the way, and I was supporting him in 2000. But he's done the same thing, he took money from Keating and voted to give him a break. More recently there ...

CONAN: And I do think Jerry, that story got some prominence again in the New York Times not all that long ago. But in general, let me just ask Clarence Page, do you think John McCain is getting a free ride from the media?

Mr. CLARENCE: Yes. And he's getting a free ride, partly, because there's no story on his side of the ballot right now because there's so much action with the Democrats. And that - I've seen the book that the caller refers to, and I think these issues are going to come out.

I offer him some consolation, it's April. We're a long way to November and the campaign really, as far as the Republican versus Democrats go, really launches after Labor Day and that's where - but we certainly saw, like with the Swift-Boating of John Kerry, began like in August as I recall. And Kerry didn't pay much attention to it for a couple of weeks because in August nothing is supposed to happen.

My fellow panelists have mentioned everything is different this year. And there are issues available, by the way, on line at the websites of the various newspapers and candidates. But it is hard to get people to go and read them.

CONAN: And Ana Marie Cox, did John McCain get an easier treatment from the media because of that charm, the straight talk express, his willingness to come back and just talk with reporters?

Ms. COX: I would say that he definitely benefits from that charm and charisma that he has. Although I would also say that I think Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would also benefit from spending a lot of time with journalists as well. It's just sort of a human nature, the more you spend time with someone, the more subjects you cover, the more kindly you tend to look at them and the more willing you are to not play the gotcha game which is usually, you know, what day to day campaign coverage comes down to.

CONAN: Let me see, Jerry Seib, do you think John McCain gets a free ride in the Wall Street Journal?

Mr. SEIB: No, I don't think so. I mean I do think, I agree that he probably has benefited over time, and this is the course of his career over time, not the last couple of months, from the fact that he has a relationship with the press which is frank and open, more than your average politician. I guess I'm - I agree entirely with the human nature aspect of this. I'm always mystified by candidates who don't engage the press, and then are surprised when their coverage seems stilted or unfair.

It is a human nature thing, but you have to remember that in this campaign, we in the press have been equally accused of being too soft on John McCain and too soft on Barack Obama. I'm not sure that after a couple of weeks of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, that Barack Obama feels that way anymore. These things do tend to go in cycles. I mean candidates rise. They become serious. They're taken more seriously. They get frisked hard by the press. And that's when that sort of, oh, you're too soft on them feeling kind of goes away. It tends to happen regularly.

CONAN: Speaking of Reverend Wright, Clarence Page. Race has become an important issue in this campaign and..

Mr. PAGE: So I've noticed.

CONAN: Certainly.

Mr. SEIB: Come serious, they're taken more seriously, they get frisked hard by the press, and that's when that sort of, oh, you're too soft on them feeling kind of goes away. It tends to happen regularly.

CONAN: Speaking of Reverend Wright, Clarence Page, race has become an important issue in this campaign.

Mr. PAGE: So I've noticed.

CONAN: And certainly candidate Obama has tried to do one of those political jujitsu moves and transform the issue from whatever his former pastor - the excerpts of what his former pastor said in some sermons, to a broader discussion of race. Is race, do you think, as a result, going to be an issue in this campaign?

Mr. PAGE: Well, it's always been an issue. We just are never honest about it, but that's really why I said at the beginning of Obama's campaign that we're going to learn a lot about ourselves as Americans. A couple of my readers immediately sent me emails accusing me of saying that if you don't vote for Obama, you're a racist. I was talking about overall the fact that election campaigns are times for national debate and discussion and self examination, and this one already has been mentioned.

We're examining a lot of different things. But Barack Obama initially received deserved praise for transcending race, whatever that means, and it seems to mean something in everybody's mind, mean a different thing. I think a lot of people thought it meant, hey, he's going to take race off the table, I won't have to worry about race anymore. I want I don't have to feel guilty as a white person, I don't have to feel like I'm a victim as a black person, et cetera, et cetera. Well, you know, that's dreaming. If race was that easy we would have solved the whole dilemma a long time ago.

The fact is Obama knew he was going to have to address race sooner or later. He didn't know it was going to be over his pastor. This is the first time in history that I know of that a candidate has come under fire for something their pastor said, but that's the kind of year this is. And so now, Obama is trying to deal - trying to launch a national conversation on race because the only way you can remove the race card from politics, the only way you can transcend it, is for people to understand when they're being played, and Americans are learning slowly but surely how you can get played by the race card. And I think - no, is there enough time in this campaign? I don't know, we will see, but Obama has done a service, I think, in at least getting it started.

CONAN: Bill Kristol?

Mr. KRISTOL: Well, Obama knew that Reverend Wright was a problem. He didn't invite him to the launch of his campaign in February of 2007. So the idea that Obama had no idea that there was something problematic about the reverend whose church he had attended for two decades is obviously false. Now, you can say it's unfair, or that Obama - there's no evidence he agreed with Reverend Wright, et cetera, but they chose not to invite him to the launch in Springfield in February of 2007. So he knew perfectly well that Wright was a problematic figure for some people.

And I think, in fact, Obama correctly has no interest in having a national conversation on race. He'll be perfectly happy if it never comes up in the rest of the campaign, and the genius of his speech was that he - while saying - he didn't use the term, but while sort of suggesting we have to have a serious grown-up discussion about race, he gave an extremely effective speech, which at least for the Democratic primary, has basically put the issue of Wright away.

You know, Senator Clinton is not going to attack Senator Obama on that. She made one comment, I guess, about how she herself would have left the church if the minister was saying those things, and basically the whole thing subsided.

I would say, just on this question of bias, if I don't - the Democrats, you know, I sort of preferred Obama in the sense that I think it would be healthier for the country to have a general election without the Clintons sort of resurfacing somehow. I mean, to have just a straightforward moderate liberal versus moderate conservative election Obama/McCain I just think would be a sort of healthier debate in some way, but on the other hand, I'm probably closer to Clinton on the issues, so I'm somewhat ambivalent about the Democrats. She is a little more moderate and hawkish, I think, than Obama.

But I will say this, trying to be objective, because I don't have a dog in that fight, I think the press has been unfair to Hillary Clinton, I'd say, of all the candidates so far. She has really had a tough time. The press does prefer - Obama has run a masterful campaign, his team has been very good at handling the press. Maybe the Clinton team has brought some of this on themselves because of a certain standoffishness and arrogance towards the press, I don't know, but I do think every time she says something slightly problematic - there was this recent incident with a hospital in Ohio where right away everyone decided she had made up the story or mischaracterized it, and it turns out she had pretty much characterized it correctly, maybe the campaign had slightly been confused about which hospital this woman was turned away from.

I think if I were, I mean, Geraldine Ferraro, before she became so notorious for saying what I think was a rather innocuous thing, but anyway, I was on a panel with her and I was struck - I mean, she's an experienced political figure, and she's for Clinton, of course, but she was really bitter about the treatment of Senator Clinton, and I don't think she was entirely wrong.

CONAN: Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard and New York Times; also with us, Clarence Page, syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune; Ana Marie Cox, the Washington editor of Time.com; and Jerry Seib, who is the assistant managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

And let's go to a question from here at the Newseum.

Ms. WHITNEY SPIVEY (National Press Foundation): Hi, I'm Whitney Spivey from the National Press Foundation, and I'm wondering is online journalism driving print journalism in this campaign or vice versa?

CONAN: Hmm, who's driving whom? Well, Ana Marie, I'm turning to you.

Ms. COX: I somehow know that I was going to get these questions about online journalism, whereas I actually think that the Wall Street Journal has done as - you know, is actually a pioneer of sorts in that they've perfectly integrated their online coverage and their paper coverage. And so actually I would like to - why don't you take this one.

CONAN: Ana, you could host the next couple of hours.

Mr. SEIB: I actually - I mean, I'll use a word I hate here, but I actually think they're becoming organic. In other words, I don't see - I can't distinguish anymore. I start my day at five or so, 5:15 in the morning, honestly, combing through online coverage from the night before, looking for things to put on our political analysis aggregator, and then that sort of feeds into decisions we make about stories that we're going to write for that day. Often it feeds into the column that I'm going to write for print, which then goes online, and they're all kind of supplemented by what we do during the day on something we call watchwire.com, which is an online political blog that runs 24/7.

So I don't know where the line is there, and you know what? I really don't care anymore. I honestly have decided it doesn't matter. And if you go back and look at some of the stories that we've done in print or online that have gotten the highest levels of readership, some of them were online first, some of them were in print first, some of them ran on the front page of the paper, some of them ran inside the paper. In many cases the big numbers of readers were driven to them online, which is where people who eat up politics seem to be eating up politics this time. So I think it's an interesting question. It's one I spend less and less time worrying about, honestly.

CONAN: Clarence Page, you want to get in?

Mr. PAGE: Very quickly. You know, when I worked in TV, I was gratified, coming from newspapers to TV, I was gratified to see every morning the TV assignment desk reading the newspapers to see what to cover that day or to get an idea, and then in the evening back in the newspaper newsroom, they were - everybody watched the evening news to see what our readers would perceive the news to be. Because readers tend to perceive, when they talk about media, they're talking about television. So, you know, which drives the other? They both drive each other. And so the same is true of online. It is organic. Anybody who presumes that one medium drives another medium presumes that we actually have a system in the news business.

(Soundbite of laughter.)

Mr. PAGE: Let me disabuse you of that notion. The daily news is a daily business. It is run by judgment calls every day. If you get a tip on the web, you're going to go with it. If you get a tip on TV or from real live people, you're going to go with it, and everybody watches everybody else to see what's happening, and so they all have an influence on each other.

Mr. KRISTOL: And also the distinction just doesn't hold up anymore. I mean, as Jerry and Ana Marie said, even we, and we're a weekly journal of news and opinions and we're less under deadline pressure for most of our articles. If something is sensitive, we put it up on the Web site, and we do have a lot of stuff on the Web site, on the blog and daily articles, and of course all the major news organizations now do.

I think a big moment, this is a Newseum type issue which someone should have a serious scholarly panel on - I suspect historians won't look back, the moment when The New York Times, with its huge alleged scoop about Senator McCain, leaving aside whether it was a real scoop, but on McCain and lobbyists and - when they put that up online at two in the afternoon, rather than holding it for the morning paper, which is absolutely the traditional thing you do, that, I think, is the moment where the whole notion of the daily newspaper starts to collapse.

CONAN: That was William Kristol. Our thanks, too, to Ana Marie Cox, Clarence Page, and Jerry Seib. We'll talk Pulitzers in just a moment. This is NPR News.

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