BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Mr. Leonard Sussman, author of "Power, the Press & the Technology of Freedom: The Coming of Age of ISDN," which we'll talk about later.
LEONARD SUSSMAN, AUTHOR, "POWER, THE PRESS & THE TECHNOLOGY OF FREEDOM": Yes.
LAMB: Are we getting freer?
SUSSMAN: I think we are. I think there's been a noticeable improvement, certainly in the past year. As we try to record it at Freedom House, the number of countries that are free, or partly free, is the highest since we've been recording it in some two decades. So I think that's so. There are, of course, zigs and zags. There are places where things go up and others where freedom goes down, or at least stays about the same. So it's difficult to make an overall judgment, but I would say, fundamentally, the world is moving in the right direction.
LAMB: In your opinion, which country is the freest in the world?
SUSSMAN: Well, I suppose I have to say, though it sounds too close to home, the United States, I think, is -- certainly in the area in which the book concerns itself with, the area of the flow of information. I don't think there's any question but that we certainly permit the freest flows, freest access to information, certainly official information. And, as a consequence, we have great diversity, all of which adds to the democratization of information and builds a democratic society. So I would say we certainly have that in our favor, which is not to say that there are not free countries in many places, including small countries, poor countries.
It's not essentially the richness of the country or the industrialization that necessarily produces freedom, and certainly not freedom of the press. One can have it in the Gambia, which is a tiny country in Africa, can have it in a number of the Caribbean countries, certainly in Costa Rica. So that freedom is certainly visible in many different forms, and we generally try to universalize the definition of freedom so that it doesn't come out sounding as though we're simply saying, "Well, they're free because they're most like us." We're certainly not in the business of trying to suggest that the American style is the style that ought to be either imposed or necessarily instructed everywhere else. It certainly does provide a model that I certainly believe is a useful model.
LAMB: You are currently a senior scholar with the Freedom House. You used to be the executive director for a lot of years. This book is published by Freedom House. What is Freedom House?
SUSSMAN: Freedom House is in its almost 50th year as an organization that tries to do things and say things that we hope will strengthen free institutions around the world -- by research, by publications, books, magazines, and by public statements on policy issues, both foreign and domestic. We tried to represent a rather broad centrist view of ideas and certainly of membership on our board, so that we reflect, I guess, a liberal and conservative attitude in Republican and Democratic politics. And in what we do abroad, similarly, is an effort to try to provide a consensual view, a broadly centrist view of policies that we examine or recommend.
LAMB: Where is Freedom House based? How many people have worked for it? And how much money do you need every year to keep going?
SUSSMAN: Based in New York, we have a staff of about 25. We operate on a budget just slightly under $3 million a year, the highest that we've had in some 49 years, spent mostly on programs and staff. We have some programs which involve the monitoring of elections in Central Europe and Central America, parts of Africa. Our people have been to Namibia recently. Ten years or so ago, I was, for the first time, in Zimbabwe at their first election. And we've been in Nicaragua and Guatemala, other places.
So that's part of what we do. We also do area studies that have to do, essentially, with the Soviet Union, the East Bloc, as we used to call it when it was a bloc, Afghanistan issues. And, of course, in my case, now since giving up the role of executive director, I spend full time on international communications, which is what this book is about.
LAMB: Why did you step down as executive director?
SUSSMAN: Well, I suppose, principally because I no longer wanted to administer or raise funds or do all the other things that one does as the head of an organization -- but, rather, do the things I would like to do. One of them is to think and write about the political side of communications, not the technology side so much, although the book, obviously, has some technology in it. But it's the technology that a layman would understand, since I consider myself a layman on the technology side.
And it's an effort to link the politics of the world with the technology of the world, particularly the communications technology, and to try to examine, first, where it is now and where it's been recently, what it's meant particularly over the past six months in terms of the revolutions in Eastern Europe, and essentially where it goes from here. And the book mainly is future-oriented. It tries to examine where the technologies and communications may take us in the future, the opportunities that they may provide and also some of the warnings that I think should go along with the new technologies -- how to use them, how to avoid some of the pitfalls.
LAMB: Last paragraph in the section that's called Preface -- actually the second to the last paragraph. "Mark J. Sussman, my son, brilliantly shared the interviewing and research chores in Moscow in 1987; David Sussman, my son, co-authored with me a study of illegal aspects of UNESCO's mass media declaration referred to in the text; Lynn Sussman Hyde, my daughter, took time from her professing to provide helpful suggestions." It's a family effort. How does it come that all these members of your family are as interested in this as you are?
SUSSMAN: Well, I suppose by osmosis. Through the years, they've heard me talk about it, but each in his or her own way has come about it, I suppose, through their own interests. I haven't forced anybody into the area. It's not a nepotism display by any means.
My younger son did accompany me on this trip and was very, very helpful. We did a lot of joint interviewing. He took the notes and I did the questioning. My daughter spends a lot of her time professionally -- she has a doctorate from Harvard -- dealing with the teaching of science to young children. And in that capacity, her interests certainly coincide with mine in the sense that if there are to be good changes in the world, it seems to me, they must start in kindergarten; they must start in the early ages. If we are to improve press coverage, it seems to me, we have to develop a demand for it.
As I talk to editors very often, both in the print press and the broadcasting press, a lot of their claims, or defenses, for not covering certain areas, particularly foreign news, is, "Well, our people don't really want it. There's no great audience out there for it, no great demand." In a market economy, of course, the demand is important. And I hear this so often. And I argue in the first stage, "Yes, but whether or not there's the demand, there are 'oughts'; there are 'shoulds'; there are things people should know, even if they don't know yet that they should know it," particularly in foreign news coverage. And so I constantly run up against the second argument, which is, "Yes, but we have to give them what they want."
And so I always come back to this final answer, which is it's a matter of education, and I think it has to start very early -- to get people to want to know more about their world, to want to know what the correlations are between what goes on in Nigeria and what goes on down the street in Washington, not because we have a diplomatic corps here, but because there are day-to-day problems that arise in the world now, increasingly. I mean, one of the obvious examples some years back was the long lines in the gas stations when the Arab countries turned the faucet off. Certainly there was a correlation there between the Middle East and Middle East politics and economics and what we were doing down the street at our gas pumps.
But that's a crude example. There are much more correlations, and will be increasingly. And particularly as we go into this era of networking, which is what the ISDN stands for in the subtitle of the book, the Integrated Systems of Digital Networks -- ISDN. It really means, in simple English, the networking of networks, which puts everyone everywhere ultimately online to be able to receive information of all kinds -- print information, pictures, sound, data; to be able to tap into virtually everything that's available electronically. And even the poorest countries ultimately will be in on this.
And in such an age where -- and it's coming faster in some places and slower in others -- but it'll be upon us in the lifetime of most of our people alive today. In such an age, where at the tap of a finger on your home terminal with maybe 150 choices, you'll be able to get something that's been done that day in, say, Saudi Arabia and another day in Argentina and see everything from dancing to songs to the politics of the place. Generating interest in far-away things and far-away places will be much easier. And it seems to me one has to be adaptable to this understanding and to this yearning to want to know more. And I think it has to start very early. It has to start with the child in his early learning, wanting to be able to get more, get more than he gets in school, more than he gets in the family.
But the family is a part of it. The family has to be able to encourage the child to want to seek more. And with the ISDN period coming on, it'll be there. And it's an answer not only to the individual family or the individual citizen around the world, but it's an answer, too, to those countries that now have been demanding for over a decade, through UNESCO and through other international forums, that they be heard. They have complained, you know, that they're not heard, they're not covered adequately by the international news media, the four big ones in the United States, France and Britain. And therefore they want on, they want to be part of the system.
Well, in this new electronic age, in the ISDN, the networking of networks, they'll be there. They'll be accessible. Whether everybody will listen or watch is something else again. You have to take your chances. But the fact is that it makes so many more things possible, so many more choices possible. And once you have choice, whether it's choice within a country or internationally, the mere fact of choice is a democratizing concept: to be able to see diversity, to be able to understand that there are differences and to be able to tap in to some of these differences.
LAMB: What do you say to those people that watch the media and have watched this country -- that it's important for us to have shared experiences together as a country, and with all these choices, people today don't even watch their president when he gives a speech. They can go off on the cable television and find 55 choices, and they can have their home videocassette recorder now, that this is going to hurt us in the long run as a country.
SUSSMAN: I don't think it will hurt us. That's why I come back to education. Because I think you've got to start very early on to get people to understand that the championship football game and sports and simply Music Television are not the only things that count in life and the only things that are there to be had, but that there are other interesting opportunities. There are, indeed, inspiring opportunities, exhilarating opportunities, with the same touch of a finger.
But that will happen only if people are somehow educated to want it, educated to want to press that button. Once it's there, it seems to me, there'll be some fiddling with it. There'll be people who come upon it by chance and probably will stay with it or go back to it. So I don't fear the fact that because there's great diversity, there'll be so much to distract from what we may think is the main chance at any given moment -- the president's speech or whatever. It'll be covered in other ways. If one doesn't tune into it the moment it happens, there'll be other opportunities to pick it up, it seems to me, with this diversity.
LAMB: How many countries have you been in?
SUSSMAN: Forty-five so far.
LAMB: If you had to pick one of those 45 where you had to reside, based on the kind of press that was there, from an interest standpoint and availability, which one would you choose?
SUSSMAN: Well, that's an interesting question. I guess you'd probably guess that I would choose my own country, simply from the standpoint of the diversity and the opportunities. But very close behind that would be the British press, I would think, not so much because they're freer; because in a certain sense, they're not. They have an Official Secrets Act, which is certainly more limiting than anything we have under the First Amendment. They also have a common law government which permits the kinds of retroactive actions, from time to time, that we don't get here under our constitutional setup. But they do have a press that digs more deeply into situations, both at home and abroad. The better papers there are more better papers there, not more of them numerically, but they seem to be spread around the country. There is certainly a greater depth to the coverage of serious issues in the British press than we get here. We have a couple of papers, of course, that do attempt it, but I don't think, by and large, even they come up to the daily standard of some of the best British papers. So I would certainly, from the standpoint of your question, I'd certainly consider them a good second place to set down if I wanted to simply read the press.
LAMB: Well, the major civilized -- and that's maybe not a fair word -- of the major industrial countries that we do business with -- the G-7, the Japans and Italy and France and Germany and the bigger countries -- which one do you think has the least vigorous press?
SUSSMAN: The least vigorous press. I suppose -- until fairly recently, I would say the French, although it's a little bit unfair at the moment because they've been opening up a bit. Even the television there is opening up. They've privatized some of the French television channels; there are some new radio channels. Of the major countries that we deal with, I would say the French are a bit more restrictive. But the Japanese are, too, in a somewhat different way. The Japanese, after all, are very close to an establishmentarian press. They do have differences with their government, but they're relatively slight. They're within the family differences. You won't find quite the adversarial relationship -- the raw adversarial relationship that we certainly find in the American press and, to a certain extent, find in the British press. So I would put Japan, probably, close to the bottom of that list you've mentioned of the large industrial friendlies and having a press that is certainly less free than ours.
LAMB: Let me ask you kind of an off-the-wall question. If I wanted to go over to Japan right now and start a daily newspaper and could afford it, could I do that? Would I be allowed to?
SUSSMAN: Well, I think you could. I think you, obviously, need a sackful of money to do it at their prices. I don't think there'd be any great pressures on you not to do that. I think you'd have to be a little wary of where the market would come from. You ...
LAMB: But excluding money, though I have enough money and I want to do it. And let's say I'm really loaded, and I want to do it just on principle, can I do that in France and in Germany and in Italy and all those countries?
SUSSMAN: I think you could do it in all these countries, yes.
LAMB: Could I go buy a television station in all those countries?
SUSSMAN: No. No, that you could not do. In almost every other country in the world -- first of all, you have to be a resident, a citizen. I think you do in the United States, as a matter of fact, too. So you would have to be a citizen. But the opportunities, even being a citizen, the opportunities would be narrower -- partly, of course, because of the limitation of the spectrum, so that there aren't that many open slots anywhere anymore. So that would be a problem.
You could buy into existing places where they've begun to privatize, but that would mean that they're very small in number; they've just begun to privatize in Holland and France and England. And you'd really -- it's a very strong political operation to be able to get access in that sense, to buy into television.
LAMB: Any other major country have a First Amendment?
SUSSMAN: No. No. Not yet. I think it's unlikely that anyone will.
LAMB: Is this country the only country in the world that has a First Amendment?
SUSSMAN: That's right.
LAMB: And what difference does that make?
SUSSMAN: Well, it makes a major difference, I think, in the sense that the First Amendment is unique in several ways. First, because it's so few words and says so much in those few words. It is a protection from governmental interference in the independent or the non-governmental news flow or information flow. It makes a difference because -- and particularly in a constitutional system -- because it means there is always recourse to law whenever there's even the slightest perception that perhaps there is an inroad into the freedom to gain access to information, the freedom to publish, the freedom to speak. So that those few words provide that kind of protection.
Other countries have constitutional provisions for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, but they don't have the tradition of having this freedom defended and challenged -- defended so firmly -- year after year after year in court cases, in addition to which most -- many of them have Official Secrets Acts, or the equivalent, which means that there is a whole body of information, of government information, which in a sense is foreclosed and which allows the government official to make his or her determination of what's closed, virtually without argument and without court action.
So there's a lot more that's shut out and with less recourse to argue the opening up of those files. We -- for example, in addition to the First Amendment -- we also have the Freedom of Information Act, for some 20 years, which allows not just journalists but the average citizen to gain tremendous volumes of information from government files that are not classified, which no -- which only several other countries have. Canada was the second to produce one -- a Freedom of Information Act. It's a little more restrictive than ours. And one or two other countries with them, and they're toying with them now in Australia and other countries. But they're slow on the scene. We've had it now for several decades, and it's in line with the First Amendment. In other words, it's the active part of the government's pledge to keep hands off. It says, "Yes, not only that, but you may also come and see. You may almost -- in a certain sense, you may challenge us to prove to you that we are not restricting you beyond a certain point."
LAMB: I remember reading somewhere in your book that you picked a year and there were something like 19 million pieces of paper in this government that had some kind of confidential, secret or top secret stamped on it.
SUSSMAN: Right. That's right. Three years ago, I think. Yes.
LAMB: Is that a lot?
SUSSMAN: That's a tremendous amount. And it's probably overreactive. It's probably much too much in terms of real security needs. A lot of that probably represents avoidance of embarrassment on the part of officials who would rather not have what they've just written shown to the public for one reason or another. Also there's a lot of probably honest feeling that what an individual official is doing is so important and so sensitive, whether it is or not, but in the eyes of that official it may seem so, and that it must be -- somehow must be classified.
There's a lot of classified material which, it turns out later, would probably be much better if it had not been. The Pentagon Papers case, I suppose, is an example. There you had a whole series of secret files on the Vietnam War -- internal discussions not just of strategy, but of the political aspects as well, domestic as well as foreign. When they were leaked to The New York Times, the claim was that this would, in a sense, destroy the foundation of the government's ability to conduct diplomacy, conduct a war. Disastrous things would happen if the rest of these papers were published -- The Times, on the first day, just published some of them and, of course, decided finally that The Times was right, that it ought to be published once it had gone that route. And so they were published. They were published in newspapers; they were published in books. And obviously, their public hasn't collapsed. And a lot of that information was information in which most -- some of which had come out of the public domain initially.
LAMB: Was it stamped top secret?
SUSSMAN: And was stamped top secret.
LAMB: Let me ask you about -- in light of what we were talking about earlier -- if we lived in Great Britain and we took those top secret documents and published them in the press in Great Britain, what would have happened to us?
SUSSMAN: Well, for one thing, if the government had found out in advance that you planned to publish it, they would have issued a D-warning, which would say you dare not, you must not under penalty of imprisonment, fine and so on. And then if you continued to print -- if you published it nevertheless, they could ban that day's newspaper or magazine or book, as they did two years ago in the case of a book that was published overseas outside of Britain.
SUSSMAN: "Spycatcher." The British press began to publish it -- they were barred from publishing. It took a year and a half before the Lords finally came down with a decision that, yes, indeed they could print. But in the meantime, the restrictions were on, the threats were on, and generally the British press and the public, in large measure, felt a certain tenseness, a certain freezing of the freedoms to publish simply because it was one of two or three examples that took place over that two-year period of very similar nature, some having to do with the Irish question, where the papers were barred, BBC was barred, from covering some things. So all of this has a threatening effect on press freedoms.
LAMB: Is it the same in France and Germany and Japan and those countries where -- do they all have the same kind of Official Secrets Act?
SUSSMAN: Most of them have, but in some cases -- the Japanese case -- it's almost unnecessary to have it because there is a great, almost collegial, tie between the press in Japan that covers a particular department -- let's say the equivalent of our State Department -- ministry -- various ministries. Each of the ministries -- each of the major ministries -- has a press club associated with it. And the members of that press club are not solely the press people, but the officials as well. So there's a very close relationship there, and on and off the record basis, a lot of information passes, which is kind of generally agreed is either for or not for public consumption. So there's a lot of self-censorship that goes on under the guise of this kind of clubby relationship.
No other country has that to that extent. Of course, we have our journalists who get close to our officials here, too. But it's not the same kind of institutionalized relationship, so that in a certain sense, it's a very suave, sophisticated way of avoiding clashes. The German press, for the most part, is not nearly as adversarial as the American press would be or parts of the British press is -- certainly in the sensationalized tabloid area. The Italian press, far from being reverential, is essentially so thoroughly tied to corporate ownership -- most of the main papers there are owned by large corporate conglomerates in which the press is simply a small part of the income, a small part of the capital investment of that corporation. And the press newspapers often reflect the higher management.
LAMB: Let me stop there and ask you about Mr. Agnelli, the gentleman that runs Fiat.
LAMB: You say that they own 25 percent of the daily newspapers in the country -- in Italy.
SUSSMAN: A large percentage.
LAMB: And the point you make is that, because of that, when people read it, they don't read it for information on Fiat.
SUSSMAN: That's right. When they read it, they'll read it for all the other things. If they want to know about Fiat, they'll buy another paper, and similarly with the other papers. It's a sophisticated readership; they know who owns what. And if they want to find out something that they think is being hidden because of the top ownership, they'll go somewhere else. But they'll pretty much know the slant of the paper. There'll be political slants as well as corporate slants. And people pretty well know that. We had that in the United States in early days when we had a party press here way back, you knew essentially what the slant was when you bought a particular paper -- New York was reflecting the Whigs or reflecting whatever -- at that time. So that in a sense, it's relatively traditional in newspapers. There are many papers in many places that certainly reflect the prevailing political tone or the prevailing partisan tone, whichever may be the source of management.
LAMB: We often hear politicians talk about the Middle East and Israel, and one of the reasons they give for such large support from America is that Israel's the only democracy in the Middle East. Let's take that for a fact and then go to the next step. What kind of press does that democracy have?
SUSSMAN: Well, the Israeli press is very lively. It does reflect a spectrum of views religiously as well as politically as well as occupationally -- labor press. There is obviously -- within that diversity -- there is also a certain degree of control exerted by the government for military purposes. There is military censorship for the foreign press as well as the domestic. This was true even before the intifada started a year and a half ago on the West Bank. There still were certain areas of coverage that were restricted by the military, and most of the domestic Israeli journalists feel burdened by this. They oppose it about as much as American journalists would oppose it if it existed in Washington.
They rail against it; they write against it; they sometimes organize against it. But they live with it. So the Israeli press -- and sometimes the Israeli press will also cover a story -- a domestic Israeli story, which they cannot cover, they will cover through the eyes of a foreign newspaper. In other words, if, say, the Washington Post is covering a story which has been developed here in Washington, which the Israeli censor has not passed, the Israeli paper may pick it up, credit it to the Post and still be able to run it. So there is that leeway. And in most authoritarian countries, one can't do that, of course. Israel is a democratic country, but it's democratic within the tight bounds of the present situation, which is, in their view, a wartime situation.
LAMB: We're talking about the book by Leonard Sussman. You can see what it looks like. "Power, the Press & the Technology of Freedom: The Coming Age of ISDN." We'll get back to ISDN in just a moment, but I want to go inside and read a sentence.
"An American editor said recently that when you look at all the media that surround us, you realize why people feel they are living in a 'press state'". He added, journalists, "may recognize that as the diametrical opposite of a police state. But," he said, "a lot of people think they're similar." What was your point in using that?
SUSSMAN: Well, my point in using it was to try to discuss what I think is a serious problem for the press in the United States. And that is, it's relatively low level of credibility by the public generally. In all the public opinion pollings over some 15 years now by many different polling groups, when Americans are asked to list in order of preference the institutions or the players that they find most credible, they'll put physicians or ministers up there at the top of the list; they'll put used car salesmen down at the bottom of the list. But not too far from the bottom of the list will be congressmen and journalists just one level above congressmen. I don't think that's a good sign. I think the fact that there is a good deal of rather cynical perception of the American press on the part of the American public is not good.
And what I was trying to do in that quote was to suggest that there are indeed people who think that the press governs so much here, that it determines so much, that it sets so many agendas, that it distorts, that it sensationalizes or that it doesn't cover certain things -- all of these are negatives. All of these are, in a certain sense, the aspects of what one might consider to be a police state. And more kindly, of course, this man I'm quoting said that it represents a press state, which is another way of saying that it's a form of control over the citizenry -- not chosen by the citizens, but somehow imposed by the press and looked upon as a negative thing, and so that when the pollsters come around and invite examination of press performance, one gets a highly critical view. And particularly as you go down the line and ask questions having to do with various kinds of coverage, one discovers that there's a good deal of irritation in the public mind over the manner in which the press does its work.
Now I happen to think a lot of the criticism -- some of the criticism is explainable; some of it, indeed, should be avoided -- some of the things that are objected to should be avoided. But there's also a lot that the press does that is so important and so vital to the society that it ought to be understood for its positive contributions as well as sometimes attacked for its negative side. And so what that phrase is trying to show is that, indeed, it's a problem. And I think most journalists now recognize that. The associations of journalists, both the publishers and the editors, in their annual meetings, frequently now discuss this as a working problem. And they try to do something about it. They hold seminars -- in Reston, you know, there is the newspaper center where they bring editors around the year to help improve the craft. There's a lot of concern for this within the business itself -- and I think quite properly -- because it is a problem.
LAMB: Leonard Sussman is from where originally?
SUSSMAN: From New York City originally.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
SUSSMAN: Public high schools. Undergraduate at New York University -- graduate at Columbia University.
LAMB: What did you study?
SUSSMAN: Originally, undergraduate, philosophy and economics -- great philosophy professor, Sidney Hook. I was with him when he was in his prime at NYU. We stayed together through most of his life in various ways. He came on the board of Freedom House some 30 years ago, and we continued our association until literally the month he died last year. And my graduate degree is from Columbia University in journalism. And I went from there actively into the field doing some writing as a cable editor on a daily newspaper and some radio. I became press secretary to the governor of Puerto Rico for a while and various related things.
LAMB: Which governor of Puerto Rico?
SUSSMAN: That was Rexford Tugwell, who had been professor at Columbia, who was the last non-Puerto Rican governor of Puerto Rico and who prepared the way for the conversion of the society to the commonwealth status that it now has, and also for the -- literally the social revolution that took place in the '40s and '50s under Governor Munoz Marin. And I was there during that period. It was a very exciting period in which the society was turned around and became much more self-supporting politically and somewhat economically.
LAMB: Did you start Freedom House?
SUSSMAN: No, no. Freedom House is almost 50 years old. It was begun in 1941. I became executive director in 1967, so I was there about half the life of Freedom House so far. I was there for some -- I've been there for some 23 years.
LAMB: What's so great about Sidney Hook?
SUSSMAN: Well, Sidney Hook was great, I think -- well, first of all, he was a great teacher. And some of the classroom sessions with him were literally unforgettable. I still retain some of them. He could take a subject, a very complex philosophical subject, and in one course in particular that had to do with comparative philosophies of history, each week for about 10 or 12 weeks, he would come in at the beginning of the week and discuss that philosophy of history which would be on the agenda that week. He would present it -- in a day or so, he would present the positive sides of it. And each time, you would swear that that was the one he really favored. He did it so magnificently and so persuasively.
And, of course, we waited for him to come to the Marxist era because we knew that he had been not only a Marxist but had been very active in far left circles at that time -- this was the late '30s. He did come through with a very strong presentation of the Marxist philosophy of history. But then as he did with every other one, toward Friday, as we got to the point of, in a certain sense, disemboweling each of these, he did that with Marxism just as thoroughly and just as successfully as he had with all the others. And at the end of that course, one got the feeling that there is no single way of looking at history; there are different ways, and you take from each and you do your own thinking and you do your own analysis. And perhaps you use some of the Marxists and some of the others and come up with something that's perhaps more relevant.
LAMB: What were his politics when he died?
SUSSMAN: When he died, people called him a neo-conservative, and he always rejected that. He still regarded himself as a liberal, philosophically and politically, but one who found it necessary to criticize wherever or whomever deserved criticism. And, of course, one of the things that made him so useful, it seems to me, in American life was that he was the essential pragmatist. In other words, for one thing, he did not simply stay in the classroom, but he came out on all manner of public issues -- spoke, wrote, allowed himself to be heard, and applied the forms of logic and the forms of philosophy to his daily problems, whether they were social or political or whatever -- and I think did that magnificently. And I didn't always agree with his conclusions, but one could never argue with the fact that he would cause you to think differently about whatever the issue was than you might have had going in. And I think that's the mark of a great teacher.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in writing this book?
SUSSMAN: I became interested in that, I guess, about a year before I actually started writing it. There is a chapter in there that's devoted to a survey that I ran in some 74 countries, asking some 200-odd questions of academics and journalists in each of the countries, about the level of freedom -- the press freedom -- in each of those countries. Now this is a fairly good cross-section of the world -- some 74 countries -- all kinds of places. Most of these people responded so freely and so honestly that they demanded anonymity, so that I have given everybody anonymity in that survey. There are no names used. But the survey began about a year before I started writing -- that is, I gave people a year to produce the results. And so that covers the year 1987.
I really started writing the book in March of '87 and wrote it for about seven months -- seven months to write it, but it took the publisher about nine or 10 months to publish it, so -- that's the way it goes, I guess, with the production side.
LAMB: You write a lot about government-supported television and radio and you write about our own public television system.
LAMB: Is it possible to get government money to do media work and be totally free?
SUSSMAN: I think so. And ...
LAMB: Any examples where it's happened?
SUSSMAN: Yeah, I think PBS is a good example of it. The interesting thing about PBS is that the arguments against it before it became a fact were that this would be destructive of the First Amendment, that obviously this would produce -- through federal funding, this would produce the government's interference in the flow of information internally within the country. It hasn't happened. On the contrary, many of the conservative critics in the government who look at PBS say, "Why are we funding this? It's so antagonistic toward the government." There are, obviously, parts of PBS that display critical views of government policy or government figures just as there are the opposites, you know, who are heard on the same network.
So I feel very strongly -- this is one of the things that Sidney Hook persuaded me about many years ago -- not to worry overly about the slippery slope. In other words, simply because you are poised at the top of an icy hill, with skis perhaps, and start down, doesn't necessarily mean that you must end up at the bottom. Or to put it a little differently, if you're moving in the direction of a policy which, at its worst, may end up with disaster, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to follow all the way through to that disaster. There are times one must make choices along the way -- reverse if necessary, adapt if necessary. I think the question of public funding of television has been a perfect example of that. It hasn't produced the interference in the ideas of the citizenry by government money. On the contrary, it's produced, I think, a salutary example of good production.
LAMB: Do you write a lot, though, about the hidden influences -- and let me go back to that question again ...The fact that you're getting tax dollars and that the money comes through the Congress to public television in this country, it has no effect whatsoever in the kind of vigorous approach that someone would take either pro or con on an issue?
SUSSMAN: Well, I don't think it affects it all that much. I think public television is affected by the need for the dollar -- as all television is -- which means that it probably avoids very iconoclastic, very ardently oppositionist views with respect not only to the government, but also to corporate funders. So that it'll be watching both sides of the aisle, it seems to me, in that respect. And you know, that's the nature of a market society. So I can't complain about that. But I don't think that it means that there's a knuckling under to the federal funder because of that. There is certainly an ingrained feeling that we're not going to go too far in either direction. And yet, nevertheless, public broadcasting tends to go further in many directions -- certainly culturally, if not necessarily politically than commercial television.
LAMB: Who, in our country, is the freest -- in the journalism world -- where do you, when you read or you watch, where do you say, "Boy, that individual's totally free of any constrictions whatsoever?" Who are your favorites in that?
SUSSMAN: Well, that's a hard one to answer because I don't think anybody, every time out, represents absolute freedom or -- and I suppose if I tried to answer it, I'd be colored somewhat by my own political or social feelings about my own ideas and values. I tend to read an awful lot, so that I find that to be the best kind of protection against falling under any one kind of sway, whether it's political or social, on one side or another side. So that I don't particularly look -- I keep in mind the -- what I think are the politics of the writer. And I think it would be difficult to say that one is freer than another, because they're all writing from a standpoint of individual belief, and obviously they're getting space to write it, so they must be free enough to do it despite the fact that on the very same page, one can find the opposite views.
LAMB: Let me ask it again.
LAMB: If you were a television reporter an editorial writer for a newspaper, a columnist, someone who writes a book, someone who writes a newsletter -- if you had to pick one of those, where would you have the most freedom from either economic pressure, political inside pressure?
SUSSMAN: That's a different question than I think -- well, let me try it from the bottom up. I think probably network television would be least free in the sense of having your choice of ideas and views heard. I think radio would be probably the most free at the moment. I would like to say books, but given the pressures -- the economic pressures these days -- particularly in the mainstream publishers -- it's difficult to say that almost any view can be published as a book these days. Although there is an interesting sidelight to the book publishing field. That is that as the bigger publishers get taken over by conglomerates -- and the tendency of that is to favor the best-sellers -- a lot of smaller publishers are coming on the scene and doing very well, some of them. So that in a certain sense, there are more opportunities now among the smaller publishers. But, of course, the chance of a smaller publisher giving you a large audience is not very great. So there is that negative side to the book publishing field.
I suppose -- to answer your question a bit more directly, I suppose radio is about the best bet these days if you want to get almost anything heard, particularly on talk shows. There are so many of them at this point.
LAMB: Let me ask you about this book right here. Take your book for an example, published by Freedom House. Did you have any economic restriction as you sat down to write this book that worried you as to what you could say?
SUSSMAN: Not a thing, no. Mainly because, I suppose, we're not governed by the bottom line entirely; we are somewhat. We publish things that we think have to be out there somehow. And we take our chances, whether it's something that we think will do very well or not as well as others. We don't obviously hit for the best-seller lists. We've never so far. I'm told that the American Network, which is the distributor of this book, and University Press of America, which is the co-publisher with us, are very pleased with it; that in their terms, it's doing remarkably well. It's only been out a short time, and it's sold, I don't know, 2,000 or 3,000 copies at this point, which for a book that, especially with that size and on that subject, they tell me is very well. And I'll know better probably six months from now.
LAMB: It's $24.95. Can you find it in the bookstore, or do you have to order it?
SUSSMAN: It's in the bookstores. You can write to Freedom House, but it's also in the bookstores.
LAMB: All right. Let me go back to the Freedom House thing.
LAMB: When you sat down to write the book, did you feel totally free to say anything you wanted to? Are you restricted by your own Freedom House desire for balance, for instance? I mean, were there a lot of things that you didn't get in the book because you said, "I just can't say that"?
SUSSMAN: No, not at all. I guess I felt freer because I'm no longer executive director. And I felt that -- while I still have a strong hold to Freedom House and strong affection -- I felt that everything I said would not automatically be taken as Freedom House policy because I was no longer the official spokesman for the organization. I can't disassociate myself from it because it's published by Freedom House and I've had a long association. But I can honestly say that there isn't a word there that anybody changed -- except the good editorial changes -- or anything I left out because I thought it might run against policy. It's simply the way I saw it, and that's it.
LAMB: As I've kept alluding to from the beginning of this interview, I want to ask you about ISDN -- the Integrated Systems of Digital Networks. In reading your book -- I'm going to make an admission -- and seeing this term over the years, I don't understand it. Try to explain to us, if you can, in layman's terms what this really means and how it will affect me in my home or in my business.
SUSSMAN: Yeah. What it really means is literally the linkage, the electronic linkage, over wire -- probably no longer copper wire but glass wire -- which allows 30,000 conversations or different kinds of messages to go instantaneously over the same wire -- the linkage over wire that would bring into your home or your office or any other kind of place where there would be a terminal, through your telephone system, a terminal linked to it which would enable you to get not only the television choices that you now have, which can be maybe, ultimately, 150 different kinds of programs at any given moment, but would also give you access to facts coming through from newspapers that might be information that day on particular stories or pulling out of newspaper files, stories going back 10 or 15 years that you'd want to access because it relates to something that you now have an interest in and you'd be able to pull out by simply using that mechanism.
You'd be able to get a book from the Library of Congress -- it would be accessible, or the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, or a picture from the Louvre, which you might want to see at any given moment on your screen; all manner of data that have to do with statistics, with history, with millions and millions of back issues of newspapers and books that would be accessible. Certainly the current trade transactions in markets, which we now have over Dow Jones and other wires -- all of these coming into your home or your office. And as well, the opportunity to do business with it -- to interact. In other words, to contact others like yourself on an electronic mail basis, who would be there either in real time as you type out your message and respond to you on the screen in real time. Or it could be stored and they could gain access to it when they return, then respond to you. You're not there. You plug it in; when you get back, you've got the message -- spread all over the world -- not just from here to Salt Lake City, for example.
LAMB: Any country in the world have this now?
SUSSMAN: Every country -- well, portions of this are now available -- some of these things now available through the satellite. You will have simple telephonic contacts so miniaturized that you'll probably be wearing your telephone on your wristwan -- as a wristwatch.
LAMB: What year is all this going to happen?
SUSSMAN: It could -- with the technology we have now, we could do it in five years. Whether we will or not is, again, a matter of ...
LAMB: What's going to hold it up?
SUSSMAN: Well, two things will hold it up. One thing will hold it up simply technologically, and that is whether there's a market for it. The other thing is political. The other thing is, even when there is a market, the question is, will governments allow their own people to have such immediate access to people all over the world without going through central systems? That'll be a political decision. That's a matter of political will. But it must come. And it will -- whether it's on the wrist or whether it's a mobile phone or whether it's just your telephone in your house, these connectives, this ability to contact anybody anywhere, simply must happen. Now the question is -- the International Telecommunications Union, which is the oldest international organization, long before our League of Nations, has a goal for the early 2000s. And that goal is a telephone to be accessed by everybody in the world by early in the next century.
Now it will happen in some places sooner and other places later. Some countries now have 98 percent saturation. We've got about 95 percent, I think. There are some countries where there are more bathtubs than there are telephones. But ultimately this will happen.
LAMB: Does it have to be done by the telephone companies?
SUSSMAN: Basically that will be the central connective. It will probably be based on telephony, it'll -- simply because so much of it's already there. And also, too, because it's the logical common carrier. Now then there arises other questions. I tried to indicate all the varieties of things that you can have at your fingertips, literally, in your own home as you've asked. What will it do for you? It will give you access to all manner of cultural things, historical things, present-day marketing things. You can do your banking through it. You can do you ordering -- your shopping through it.
The one thing I hope you will not do with it is vote through it. And there have been efforts to include that. There have been efforts to say, "Well, if you've got this interactive mechanism, why go through Congress? Why not have everybody in the country simply act as a kind of referendum and push a button at a certain time and respond?" I think that's very dangerous, because there is something to be said for representational government. And there is something to be said for the intermediaries who presumably have more thoughtful time, more staffing, more opportunity to examine public issues and take them into account -- and to deliberate. Presumably we do have deliberative assemblies in the Congress. If you turn to the route of simply having the public push buttons on certain issues, you destroy that whole concept, and I think it's dangerous.
LAMB: This is the book. It's called "Power, the Press & the Technology of
Freedom: The Coming Age of ISDN," by Leonard Sussman, our guest for the last hour. Thank you, Mr. Sussman.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.