BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Johanna Neuman, author of "Lights, Camera, War: Is Media Technology Driving International Politics" What's the answer?
JOHANNA NEUMAN, AUTHOR, "LIGHTS, CAMERA, WAR: IS MEDIA TECHNOLOGY DRIVING INTERNATIONAL POLITICS": The short answer is no; the long answer is 300 pages.
LAMB: When did you get started on this?
NEUMAN: I started this book in September of '93, and I finished it for the first time on Christmas Day of '94.
LAMB: You say in the introduction that you changed your mind, your premise had changed from the...
NEUMAN: That's true.
LAMB: What was your original premise?
NEUMAN: Well, in September of '93 I was blessed with a fellowship at Columbia University to study this very issue of whether media technology was driving diplomacy, whether those pictures of starving babies in Somalia had forced President Bush to intervene and whether the picture of that body of an American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu had forced President Clinton to withdraw. And I came to it convinced that there had been a revolution, that satellite television had changed the way nations interact, the way diplomats do their job.
I had traipsed around the globe with former Secretary of State James Baker, and I had watched him use CNN. Once we were in an Air Force hangar in Taiff, Saudi Arabia, couple of days before the Persian Gulf War began, and he made a very impassioned speech about the brink of war and how the brink -- if Iraq doesn't withdraw from Kuwait, there will be hell to pay. And he told me later that he was making this appeal not to the audience, not to these airmen and airwomen in that hangar and not to the journalists who were traveling around with him, but to one guy in his bunker in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein. It was the fastest way to convey that information.
And I thought then -- and many people did later at the time of the Somalia incidents -- that there had been a revolution, that CNN was running things, that diplomacy had ceded something to satellite television. And what happened when I got to Columbia is that they gave me the run of the library, and I started reading history. And I found instead that we, in the satellite television generation, were just going through a familiar pattern that all new media inventions go through, that whenever a new invention of media technology comes along -- whether it's the telegraph or film or photograph, any of them -- they all evoke the same pattern, and we're going through it now with satellite TV.
LAMB: By the way, this is off the subject, but is that the Butler Library you attended up there?
LAMB: The reason why I say that it just -- the irony of this is that all Booknotes tapes are kept there at that library.
NEUMAN: Oh, isn't that wonderful?
LAMB: So this'll end up back there at the library.
NEUMAN: It is a very special place for me, and it was just very exciting to delve back into history, to read, for instance, about the telegraph and see some of the same kind of hysteria from the diplomatic community about how it was cutting their time for deliberation and how this new medium was just robbing them of time for thought and of their rightful role at the helm of diplomacy. And it made me rethink my original premise.
LAMB: Let me jump to the middle, a little nugget that I found in there that I kind of went, “Really?” President Clinton...
LAMB: ... is the first president in history to have a dial telephone on his desk?
NEUMAN: He's the first president to be able to pick up the phone in the Oval Office and get a dial tone, and only, at that, because he requested it. For the rest, they all went through the switchboard and the switchboard at the White House dates back many, many years. For many years at the White House, the telephone didn't even make it inside the Oval Office. It was not considered presidential. It was outside the Oval Office. Presidents tended to frown on its use. It was too familiar. It was too democratic. And that's an interesting -- another aspect of the pattern that recurs from time to time as each of these inventions come along, someone is sure to argue that they will empower whole masses of people in the political process.
LAMB: So in other words, every president from ... first president to have a phone?
NEUMAN: Oh. Well, you've read the book.
NEUMAN: OK -- no, I don't think it was ...
LAMB: But he's the first one to use one...
LAMB: ...but I think it's Herbert Hoover that had...
NEUMAN: Hoover loved technology and was the one who brought it into the Oval Office. They did build a phone for Taft and a phone booth to hold his considerable girth, and he rarely used it. And all those years later, even Bush, who one could argue made the most use of telephone in terms of diplomacy clearly -- they called it Rolodex diplomacy. He was on the phone constantly or regularly with world leaders. But even he had to go through the operator.
LAMB: This little footnote on this whole story and I wanted to ask you about it. This is footnote 1, page 105 -- Clinton, first president to get doubts on authors, interviews with John Kerry and Harold Kwan.
LAMB: Who are they?
NEUMAN: Harold Kwan was the AT&T representative to the White House for many, many years. He was sort of their adviser in setting up -- he worked with the press as well, and he was just an on-hand adviser. And John Kerry is sort of a professor, a student of technology.
LAMB: I don't know that I've ever seen that before. I guess you also credit Nick Sullivan, Join the On-line Generation Finally, is the piece that was written.
NEUMAN: Yeah, it's now -- I've seen it now quoted more and more, and at the time it got a little bit of press when Clinton came in and, I think, you know, must have been shocked not to be able to call out for pizza or something.
LAMB: The first half of the book, at least, is all about all these different technologies and the changes and all that. Let's just go through them.
LAMB: We can talk more about that, but early on, though, you talk about something called the CNN curve. What's that?
NEUMAN: Well, it's what I call -- and others have called, too, the sort of technohysteria that CNN is driving things, that if you have pictures of bloodshed and a massacre at the marketplace in Sarajevo on CNN on television -- on satellite television delivered instantly in real time so that the public is getting the information the same time as their leaders, that it puts a new pressure on leaders to respond, to do something and to do it quickly. And that is the CNN curve -- that CNN is somehow controlling the agenda. I don't deny a role for the media. Certainly, there's no denying that the media has a role, but I do dispute that it's driving the agenda.
LAMB: You also say early on that students had something to do with your -- they challenge you. You're teaching a class some ...
NEUMAN: I teach at George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, and it's not an easy sell, this premise, because we are in the throes of fascination with the technology of our own time. And particularly for young people coming up all full of the cyberspace and Internet and the World Wide Web, it doesn't always sit well to hear that maybe they're just on a curve and just sort of a rush of excitement at the beginning of this new technology that will ebb, that will be absorbed by the political system. Throughout this history, which I found so magical, there are always enthusiasts who gushed at the promise of each new technology and critics, usually the intellectuals, I'm afraid, who feared that it would dilute the quality of public discourse. And I guess I feel the truth lies somewhere between them. But it's sometimes a disappointment for people who have a lot of glitter in their eyes about a new technology to hear that. You know, the telegraph was a big hit in its day, too.
LAMB: And you quote people like David Thoreau.
NEUMAN: He was on the telegraph, particularly worried about why we're in such haste to string wire across the country. What did we have to talk to each other about that could be quite that compelling? Or even underneath the ocean to England, he had some line about, you know, “Per chance we will hear about Princess Adeline's whooping cough,” as if, you know, that would be conveyed instead of more stately matters of international affairs. And, of course, you have to wonder how different that is today when we seem to thrive on every morsel of news about Princess Di. And, you know, our fascination with royalty survives no matter which medium we're using to get it.
LAMB: You also quote Walter Lippmann, and he pops up in a lot of books we do here -- as saying the following, "Where mass opinion dominates the government" -- I’ll read it again: "Where mass opinion dominates the government, there is a morbid derangement of the true functions of power."
NEUMAN: Well, he was -- you might use the word bitter -- Lippmann. I mean, he was one of those who saw that each new widening of public discourse, each medium that offered a chance for more and more people to participate in the political arena, diluted his influence. I mean, he was a very powerful columnist, very revered, respected, feared. And so he was among the critics who saw this new technology as threatening their inner-circle influence. But it's not to dispute entirely what he says about public opinion, and you hear it today in the refrain about, you know, any leader who leads by polls is likely to be unkindly viewed by history. I mean, it's not, generally speaking, a good way to lead.
LAMB: Back to the 1800s. You quote Oscar Wilde as saying, "Public opinion, an attempt to organize the ignorance of the community and to elevate it to the dignity of physical force." Before that you said that, “After the telegraph had speeded communications to contemporary eyes, annihilated time and space, that Oscar Wilde scoffed at this whole thing.”
NEUMAN: He, again, was one of the critics. You know, you mention the time and space line. It was the one that cropped up the most often throughout the whole research in every single era. People marveled at the new technology and said it had annihilated time and space, that somehow we feel that each new technology changes the boundaries and brings us closer to other communities, that time is eliminated, that space is gone, that we are living with instant information. You have to try -- I mean, in a way this is a call for some relative history. And you have to sort of try to remember that for the people who lived at the time of the telegraph, they couldn't imagine anything faster. I mean, this was a real revolution. This was from an age where information traveled at the sound -- at the speed of transportation, either a horse or a sailing ship or later a train; suddenly, information could travel at the speed of light.
LAMB: What was that little tidbit you had about the Swiss giving up the carrier pigeon just ...
NEUMAN: Oh, well, just recently there was great deal of unhappiness in Switzerland. They were giving up the carrier pigeons. Is that the story?
LAMB: Yeah, 1994, I think it was.
NEUMAN: And because they had decided that it was easier to use telephones, and there was a great deal of unhappiness about it. There was a great deal of distrust, even now. Telephone really has the hardest row in the history. It was the most resisted of all of the mediums, or the media, I should say. And it still evokes a sort of mixed blessing from us. We sort of dislike its interruption at the dinner table, as its inventor did. Alexander Graham Bell sort of admonished members of his family not to get up during dinner should the damn thing ring. And yet it's become so integral to the speed of information, and so democratic, the ability to pick up the phone and get through to anyone.
LAMB: Before we go on, let me go a little bit into your background. Where is home originally?
NEUMAN: I'm from Los Angeles.
LAMB: Born there?
NEUMAN: Born and raised, educated.
LAMB: You dedicate this book to somebody named Seymour, I think. Is that right? Am I right about the name?
NEUMAN: Yes, you are.
LAMB: “To my father, Seymour, who taught me the love of history and the beauty of words. And to my mother, Evelyn, who taught me their meaning.” Are they both alive?
NEUMAN: Yes, they are.
LAMB: Where do they live?
NEUMAN: They live in Los Angeles.
LAMB: And tell us more about this dedication. How long did you work on it, by the way?
NEUMAN: The dedication?
NEUMAN: It came to me early. I actually ran it by my parents, and they had quite a discussion about it. But it's been that way for quite some time. To me it just reflects the magic of both of them. My father is something of a poet who happens to be a certified public accountant; and he loves words, he loves history. He's the only CPA that I know of who's a member of the American Historical Association, and he goes to their meetings every year -- just for the love of history. He's just a great enthusiast and he just, you know, gallops through life in hugging all these enthusiasms. And my mother is much more pragmatic and exacting and she literally, when I was young, taught me words and their meanings. My sister and I were -- it was a very literary house. We had a weekly session at the library. Once a week the whole family went to the library. We didn't watch television during the week. It was just a reverence for books and learning. So it's to them that I owe ...
LAMB: Are you the oldest or the youngest?
NEUMAN: I am the oldest, yes.
LAMB: Where's your sister?
NEUMAN: She's also in Los Angeles.
LAMB: What does she do now?
NEUMAN: She's an advertising executive.
LAMB: And where did you go to school?
NEUMAN: I went to school at Berkeley. Well, UC Santa Cruz for my first two years and then I transferred to Berkeley.
LAMB: Studied ..
NEUMAN: Communications, and then I have a graduate degree in journalism from the University of Southern California.
LAMB: And then what?
NEUMAN: Then I got a job in journalism. I worked for a little paper called the Los Angeles Daily Journal. I wanted to cover the courts actually, but they said the only thing open was City Hall, and they sent me up there and I've been covering politics ever since.
LAMB: When did you go to work for Gannett or USA Today?
NEUMAN: That was some years later, in '82.
LAMB: So when that started -- from the beginning.
NEUMAN: From the beginning.
LAMB: And what did you do in the beginning of USA Today?
NEUMAN: Well, I was still at Gannett News Service, which is the Washington bureau for all the other Gannett newspapers. I covered Mississippi, where I had worked, and I covered agriculture, which I knew very little about, which was a marvelous education into how Washington works actually. And then I covered the Jesse Jackson campaign for president. And the editors liked what they saw and asked me to cover the White House for USA Today, and so I went to USA Today and covered the Reagan White House and the Bush White House, and then I went and covered the Baker State Department.
LAMB: What year did you marry Ron Nessen?
LAMB: And what -- I mean, he's the former press secretary to Gerald Ford, but what role did he play in all this? Did you talk much about this?
NEUMAN: Oh, he was a wonderful source of support. He was a wonderful intellectual colleague. I could bounce things off of him and debate things. We are not always of the same mind, so we tend to have a lively debate in the house anyway, but he was more than that. He was a great emotional support. You know, I wrote this book without a book contract. I was blessed with this fellowship at Columbia, and I decided to just go write the book and then see if I could sell it. And when you write a book without a book contract, you have to have a great deal of confidence in the topic and also a great deal of support at home. And whenever my spirits flagged, my husband would come by and assure me that someday I would be on Booknotes.
LAMB: When did the St. Martins Press say, “We like that”?
NEUMAN: Well, as I said, I finished it on Christmas Day of '94, and they bought it in January of '95 -- within a couple of weeks actually.
LAMB: And go back to the history now. I wrote down it started with, among other things, the printing press.
LAMB: Was that the first way of communicating or was it just conversation?
NEUMAN: Oh, no. Oral communication, obviously, had been going on for centuries. I suppose I begin with the printing press because it's the first invention really, and it's such a quantum leap from the oral tradition and the tradition of scribes writing Bibles by hand or other pieces of literature, most of them related to the church. This is really the revolution. This is the democratizing power of the medium to be able to convey so much more information to so many more people just by the volume of literature that starts to come out as a result.
LAMB: You made the monks mad.
LAMB: You didn't, but the printing press did.
NEUMAN: Well, they were among, what I sort of lump them in as the intellectual elite of the day, who, you know, they were being put out of business basically and there, again, like Lippmann in a later day -- their influence was being, you know, dragged from out from under them.
LAMB: Martin Luther.
NEUMAN: Martin Luther really is the first one to exploit this new printing press in the, if you will, the political scene, broadly speaking. He puts out a profusion of pamphlets and writings challenging the church. Later this becomes known as the Reformation. And he uses the fact that these words can now reach a wider and wider circle of people to great effect. Throughout these histories, it takes more than one thing to succeed. It takes the medium, it takes leadership, but it also takes a message. Luther had a very strong message. He had something to say about the church and the way it had been conducting itself and, you know, in that sense it may have aided his success.
LAMB: What happened after? What was the next change after the printing press?
NEUMAN: Well, I would say the telegraph, although, you know, in that period there are a number of inventions that start to come in about the same time.
LAMB: What period -- printing press was...
NEUMAN: The printing press is the 1450s, and then you have to go several centuries into the 1800s before you get this profusion of the telegraph and later comes the photograph and later still film. The telephone owes some of its history to the late 1800s.
LAMB: You have some history on the telegraph. Who was Samuel F.B. Morse? How did he get into this?
NEUMAN: You know, he's one of my favorite characters in the book. He was an inventor. He's actually also a painter, and many of his friends thought he was wasting his time on the telegraph. And there's a scene where I have him in the House gallery watching as the House debated whether to give him $30,000 to test out the telegraph, and sort of bemoaning the state of rhetoric on the House floor. And I think of it often when I watch C-SPAN, Brian, because, you know, people are even now bemoaning the state of rhetoric and the loss of civility. They were really quite hard on Samuel Morse and his invention. They ridiculed him. They made fun of him.
One House member got up and said, “Well, this telegraph thing is -- if it's everything it's cracked up to be, we should give some of the money to Morse and some of the money to the Millerites,” which were this sect of religious people who were predicting the second coming of Christ. So he was compared with them. Another congressman got up and said, “Well, if we're going to give money to this, we should give money to the hypnotists because they say they have the newest invention and the newest, you know, way to annihilate time and space.” So perhaps a dose of history is a good thing to remember when one hears these debates today about civility.
LAMB: You say that the telegraph led to some shoddy reporting.
NEUMAN: Well, there was shoddy reporting in the time of the telegraph. Whether that is often the case that in the experimentation phase with a new medium, there is a lot of less-than-admirable journalism. I'm sure there are a lot of Civil War buffs out there who know far more than I about the Civil War, but, I mean, anyone familiar with the Civil War knows that the reporting in that era was just simply horrible. I have some examples of it in the book. There was one publisher who sent his reporter off to war with the admonition, “Send news if you find it. If not, just send rumors.”
And believe me, they printed them. They printed the rumors and the exaggerations.
There was another of my favorite anecdotes where a reporter goes up to a dying officer and says, “If you give me your last words, I can assure you the greatest circulation on the East Coast.” Whether this is attributable to the telegraph is the same question that we have to ask today of whether tabloid television is responsible -- whether the medium of television is responsible for the substance of tabloid television. It may be a stretch to blame the medium, but on the other hand, there does seem to be something of a tendency to sensationalize or experiment with each new medium that comes along.
LAMB: You also say that telegraph, along with a new mass market for newspapers, begat the inverted pyramid. Now for people that don't study journalism, what is that?
NEUMAN: Well, the inverted pyramid is how journalists write in most newspapers and newscasts that you see. The inverted pyramid is where you tell the most important thing first and then you tell the rest of the story in descending order of importance. Until then, newspaper stories had been written in the narrative style as if I were telling you a story. In the beginning this happened, then this happened, sort of a chronological approach to news. And some of the early war reporting from the Crimea was of that nature where people -- it was really the first war correspondence, and people would gather in their parlors in London and it would be read aloud. What happens when the telegraph comes in is that it can cut off in transmission, so reporters start packing in the most important stuff at the beginning of their cables in case they should get cut off in mid-sentence.
LAMB: What about the photograph?
NEUMAN: What about it?
LAMB: Well, you write about that as a new medium back in that same era ...
LAMB: ... and you write a lot about Matthew Brady.
NEUMAN: Right. The photograph...
LAMB: What impact -- I guess what impact did that have? What did it change?
NEUMAN: The photograph is a difficult one, and I really struggled with this chapter because I now think that it takes about 100 years for the photograph to have real impact on the political scene. When it first comes in, again it's not widely trusted by many people. Many newspapers, for reasons of, you know, expense as well as habit, prefer to stay with their illustrators rather than go to this expensive new thing called the photograph. They don't quite have the equipment or the instinct for it. And even in the early years, the most famous early photographs of war are Matthew Brady's.
He goes to Antietam during the Civil War just after battle and photographs corpses as they lay -- or as they lie, sorry. And he does something that no one else has done before, because until this time, people only read about corpses dying in battlefields, lying in grass. They have perhaps a romantic image of what this must look like. But here comes Matthew Brady and he gets it all. He gets the bloated bodies, the grotesqueness of it, and he puts this on exhibit in his gallery in New York within about three weeks of battle, which for those times is pretty quick. And it excites a great deal of interest. It's written up in The New York Times. People come from far and near to see these photographs of war. The New York Times critic says, “Matthew Brady has done something no one else has ever done. He has brought war into our parlors.”
Later, of course, during Vietnam you'll hear this same kind of thought when people say that there is the living room war. Television brought Vietnam into our living rooms. But here it begins way back in the Civil War with Matthew Brady. And what's interesting to me -- and I'm, you know, waiting for someone to correct me -- but I could find no great public uproar from these photographs, no cache of letters to the newspapers of the day, no outraged visits to Lincoln, no one saying because of the grotesqueness pictured in these photographs, you know, we should end the war. Obviously, there were people who wanted to end the war, but it wasn't really the photographs that fueled any anti-war movement, as they would in Vietnam, where you had these really remarkable pictures of children running from napalm or General Lon, who is photographed as he is executing a suspected Vietcong official, that seemed to galvanize public opinion. And 100 years earlier, with Matthew Brady, the photographs are much commented upon, but they don't seem to sway the body politic in the same way. So from this I have concluded that the photograph is one of those that takes a while to seep in.
LAMB: But it's interesting, when you go around to any of these historical spots around Washington, you can see hundreds of books of Matthew Brady photographs and you say in your book that he died a pauper and blind?
NEUMAN: Nearly blind. Yeah.
LAMB: How did he lose it all?
NEUMAN: Run up all -- I don't know. I know very little about the financial aspect of it. There was some -- I know he lost some of his star photographers because he didn't give them credit for their work, and a number of them left and took their plates with them and tried to set up their own galleries. Perhaps, as many of these people, the inventor is not the best businessman.
LAMB: You say, also, that -- is it Eddie Adams ...
LAMB: ... the fellow that took this picture right here? -- that he wished he hadn't done that?
NEUMAN: Well, he said later that he thought it had ruined General Lon's life. I think the quote is rather important to get exactly. "In taking that picture, I had destroyed his life, for General Lon had become a man condemned both in his country and in America because he had killed an enemy in war. People do this all the time in war, but rarely is a photographer there to record the act." And that's really the whole crux of the case on television pictures and Vietnam and whether they galvanized public opinion.
LAMB: I learned from your book that -- two names, that a silhouette is named after a person named Silhouette. Did you know that before you did the research?
NEUMAN: No, I sure didn't. But I'm glad you share my love of this stuff.
LAMB: Also that Reuters news agency is named after Jim Reuter, which I'd never seen before. But what was this silhouette? How did you find those kind of items?
NEUMAN: Oh, Brian, you're really testing me now.
LAMB: Well, let me just ask you a general question if you can't find that quickly. How often in your research did you find yourself saying, “I didn't know that”?
NEUMAN: Oh, that was the wonder of it, that was the joy of it for me. I mean, as I wrote this book, I wished that I had become a historian instead of a journalist.
NEUMAN: I love delving into the history and finding these little nuggets. And I suppose because it put into context that which we think is unique for us. There's always a precedent. There's always something that's so -- you know, at one point, I almost called the book "Echoes," because to me there were so many echoes in it of our own times, and that it was just a great comfort to know there was precedent, to know that some of these names, like Silhouette, had people and that all of these things had precedent.
LAMB: You found that the name “broadcasting” had something to do with agriculture?
NEUMAN: Yeah, it was the spreading of -- well, you've got it up there. Why don't...
LAMB: It says, “Borrowed from agriculture, the term broadcasting where it meant spreading seed wide across the field.”
NEUMAN: And what a wonderful expression for broadcasting.
LAMB: Well, what about radio and what did that have to do with the Titanic?
NEUMAN: Oh, well, the Titanic sort of made the career of David Sarnoff, one of radio's father figures. And he broadcast, if you will, the SOS signals from the ship to waiting relatives who gathered at the Wanamaker Building in New York. There is some dispute about the story and some feeling that Sarnoff may have embellished, somewhat, his role in this, but he himself has said -- and I don't think that there's any question -- that the incident of the sinking of the Titanic put him and radio on the map ... that all of a sudden, Washington, in particular, woke up the potential that this medium could have.
But the real change for radio comes from when it was originally invented -- and this is also sort of part of this history ... sometimes these things are invented for one reason and then get adapted to quite some other and it takes a real visionary, often, to see that. From the time it was invented as a two-way communication to what we know radio as now, where it's a one-way broadcasting of information, and that's really when it takes off. There was a real boom in the '20s. And, of course, by the time Roosevelt comes along, he is, if you will, the right man at the right time with the right medium.
LAMB: Did you learn anything new about FDR and radio when you studied this?
NEUMAN: I did. I learned that he had started -- maybe this is known to many others, but that he had actually started using the Fireside Chat when he was governor of New York and that he -- the thing that I will treasure about him and his history with radio is that the executives of the radio networks wanted him on more often. He was quite good; he was familiar without being imposing. He had this marvelous way of making the complex simple and making the listeners rally. And they wanted him on as often as they could get him. And FDR demurred and he said, “No, the public can only stand the singing of the highest note for very long.” And in this I thought he was so very wise that -- you know, it's sort of what we call overexposure, to understand that there is some majesty about leadership, and that stripping away too much of the mystery leaves one a bit naked.
LAMB: Not to jump out of context, but you say later that Henry Cabot Lodge tried to convince LBJ to do the Fireside Chat on television, that he might be able to win the public over on the war.
NEUMAN: There were a number of people during Vietnam who felt that Johnson never -- well, it's clear that Johnson and television had a tortured history. He never really mastered television. But there were a number of advisers around him who wanted him to try, who wanted him to take the bully pulpit of television and try to persuade the country that Vietnam was a war worth fighting. I think his ambivalence about the war and what it was doing to his domestic legacy, as much as anything -- as much as his inability to really portray himself well on television, may have influenced his decision not to.
LAMB: On another medium, film, you keep -- this is a refrain you see all the time. You say that, “Film at first inspired resistance from those with the most to lose; in this case, actors who feared its intrusion would strip business and patronage from the theater.”
NEUMAN: From the theaters ... There's always resistance. I mean, it's just a part of the pattern. And that's why when you hear people today resisting cyberspace and worrying about junk hurling through it, you know, just take a little calmness from this history.
LAMB: From 1911 to 1967 there were newsreels.
LAMB: Was that journalism in the theaters?
NEUMAN: Well, it's a good question. It was -- I mean, film -- as you note, there's a whole chapter on film in the book, andthroughout that chapter, film has this sort of ambivalent decision to make about whether it's reality or fantasy. And it goes back and forth -- advocates of each sort of sway it sometimes more than the others. And, of course, we're having the same discussion now with Oliver Stone's movie about Nixon and whether if you portray things that weren't true, you have somehow -- anyhow evoked the man. And this is the quandary that threads the film history. Newsreels were a byproduct of film. They were, in their day, very influential. It's -- hard to credit them as journalism, and journalism doesn't really claim them. They're sort of a stepchild, if you will, but they were, in some sense, the first footage.
Some of it was not real, some of it was recreated, actors playing. It was very -- we would find it somewhat overdramatic -- you know, drum rolls and music, but it had an audience. In fact, there were two theaters, one of them here in Washington, that ran nothing but newsreels. I mean, most theaters ran them before a movie, but there were -- I guess even then, Brian, there were news junkies in Washington who wanted to just go to the theater and watch newsreels.
LAMB: You name a couple of full-fledged films, the "Triumph of Will," the Leni Riefenstahl film commissioned by Adolf Hitler. The "Mrs. Miniver"...
LAMB: ...film in Britain commissioned by, I guess, Winston Churchill. Were those all paid for by the government?
NEUMAN: No, no, no. "Mrs. Miniver"...
LAMB: "Miniver" was not.
NEUMAN: ... came out of Hollywood.
LAMB: Oh, it did?
NEUMAN: Oh, yeah. "Mrs. Miniver" is the wonderful -- oh, refresh my memory -- the battle in Dover.
LAMB: It was an emotional tribute to the fishermen of England, who set sail to save their soldiers from capture or death at German hands.
NEUMAN: Right. "Mrs. Miniver" is a tribute to, I suppose, what might be called good propaganda. "Mrs. Miniver" perpetuates the story of this little flotilla of ships that set out on the high seas to rescue British soldiers who had been captured -- who had been, I'm sorry, surrounded by the Germans.
LAMB: It's at Dunkerque.
NEUMAN: At Dunkerque. Thank you. And it succeeded mostly because it convinced Americans -- "Mrs. Miniver" is, in the film, a very compelling, accessible character and the reason that the White House loved the movie -- and I'm sure you know, that 10 Downing did, as well -- was that it convinced Americans that maybe Britons weren't as class conscious as we had, until then, thought; that maybe they were just like us, that Mrs. Miniver was this very sweet woman who cared about other people, who had no airs. She wasn't uppity or in any way royal. And it just had a tremendous impact on public opinion here. It raised sympathy for the everyday people of Britain who were going about their lives trying to do the best they could, and during these tremendous bombings and really helped FDR, at least I think in his view, soften public opinion toward entry into the war.
LAMB: How often in your research did you ask to go look at any of these films or listen to the Fireside Chats?
NEUMAN: Oh, I did quite often. There is a wonderful resource in New York called the Museum of Television and Radio; and if you haven't been there, you would love it. And one can just sit ... having read much about Edward R. Murrow, I didn't really understand his magic until I sat and listened. He is the radio broadcaster for CBS who really brought World War II home to many Americans with his broadcast from London. And to listen to them is to understand several things. One is that the medium is no longer Murrow's. That’s what happens when television comes in is that it changes radio. But in the early days, radio was drama. Murrow has this wonderful ability to take you with him. At one point I remember he goes up with an American crew that is on a bombing run. And he describes the bombs, as they go down, looking like white cookies on a black velvet cloth. As they pull up and just escape fire, he says -- he muses in the middle of this account that any man could be brave if he left his stomach at home -- these wonderful comments, almost asides, that really enrich your, you know, understanding of it, which you really rarely hear on radio now.
LAMB: When did you find that television had its first real impact on the country in relationship to war?
NEUMAN: Well, I don't think there's any question that Vietnam -- you know, there are some early television moments before that. Kennedy was certainly terribly, terribly savvy, and to watch his press conferences is just pure enjoyment.
LAMB: Did you look at some of them?
NEUMAN: Oh, yeah. And he just works us in the press. I mean, he's just a master at it. He's charming and witty, he's young and handsome and he just captivates. You can see that he uses the press conference as one method of captivating a nation. And there are some television moments with him; certainly the debates with Nixon, the crisis in Cuba where he goes on television to talk to the public. But I don't think there's any question that the first really big impact of television, in terms of war, is Vietnam.
LAMB: What's your take on it? You say that Lyndon Johnson was obsessed with television; he had three television sets in the Oval Office and ...
NEUMAN: Now it's common practice, right?
LAMB: Did television have a direct impact?
NEUMAN: Yes, I think ...
LAMB: Change people's minds on the Vietnam War?
NEUMAN: I think television had an impact. I think it goes too far to blame television for turning public opinion. I think ...
NEUMAN: Because the pictures told the story and it was the story that upset people. There was, of course, this initial shock value of seeing things on a television screen that one hadn't seen before, but that passes pretty quickly. And then what you're left with is questions about: What are we doing there? What is the mission? You know, I sometimes lecture at the War College, and I have this discussion frequently with military people, and most of them have concluded similarly that they made mistakes of strategy and politics that were equally to blame with the pictures.
LAMB: A personal note, though, your husband, Ron Nessen, was an NBC correspondent wounded in Vietnam.
NEUMAN: Correct. He did three tours in Vietnam.
LAMB: Did you-all talk about this in relationship to this book?
NEUMAN: No, we didn't.
LAMB: You didn't?
LAMB: So it was -- you didn't ask him what he thought the impact of television was.
NEUMAN: Well, we have discussed it generically over the years. I didn't specifically show him this chapter. In fact, I don't know if he's even read it yet.
LAMB: By the way, as an aside, you two have done fiction together.
NEUMAN: That's right. We write a series of mystery novels together. They're basically an attempt to exploit our own political differences and they feature a conservative radio talk show host named Jerry Knight, K-N-I-G-H-T, and a liberal Washington Post reporter named Jane Day and they're called the Knight and Day mystery series.
LAMB: How many books have you done?
NEUMAN: Well, we did "Knight and Day." The original one came out last year. Our second one comes out this year and it's called "Press Corpse."
LAMB: Do you differ that strongly, the two of you?
NEUMAN: Less and less -- less and less. I think I'm aging and he's mellowing.
LAMB: Wait, does that -- in the books do they really reflect some of your own personal conversations?
NEUMAN: No, I think the books are more exaggerated versions of, you know, really strong political differences. But some of us is in them, sure.
LAMB: How did you go about researching the satellite which comes up near the end of your book a lot?
NEUMAN: The -- you mean ...
LAMB: The fact that the satellite -- I mean, I know you go back to Telstar and all that, but the impact of the satellite and ...
NEUMAN: With Bosnia and Somalia and the more recent examples?
LAMB: Right. And when did the impact of the satellite really kick in from your research?
NEUMAN: Well, you know, one has to, at least, raise as a question the whole issue of Jimmy Carter and the Iranian hostage crisis. Because you could argue that that was the first satellite television crisis that any president had endured, which is to say as it happened, pictures of the event were coming back on the television screen. You have to remember, as hard as it may be to recall now, that in Vietnam we were not getting real-time photographs. Correspondents, as you mentioned, like my husband, would film -- it wasn't tape, it was film -- events in Vietnam, and then the film had to be physically carried somewhere -- either to Thailand or London, and then it had to be edited and then it had to be put on a plane to New York. So it could take several days after battle for the can of film to reach New York.
But Iranian hostage crisis, you really begin -- and this is when ABC starts its program "America Held Hostage Day" -- whatever day it was -- and this is the precursor to "Nightline." So I really think that probably is the first moment where you have an inkling of what this new medium could do. And it is, I would argue, a new medium from television. Satellite television is real time, it's as it happens.
LAMB: You gave me one of those “I didn't know that” facts, because this network carries the State Department briefings so often. I read that Barrie Dunsmore, ABC correspondent, got Hodding Carter to let television cover those briefings for the first time.
NEUMAN: Hodding Carter was a spokesman for the State Department at the time of the Iranian hostage crisis, and Barrie Dunsmore covered the State Department for ABC. And he went to Hodding and he said, “You know, the whole nation is riveted on this incident, and it would be in the public interest.” I've not asked Hodding whether he thought it was a good idea, but the briefings have been televised ever since.
LAMB: Why -- and I noticed throughout the book -- you say that diplomats really don't like all this change -- the telephone, the telegraph, the media -- I mean, you know, the television. Why?
NEUMAN: Well, you know, I have great sympathy for them. The three groups that I really looked at were the generals, if you will, the military, the journalists and the diplomats to see how these new media influenced or affected them. And for journalists and military people, speed of information is a great asset most of the time. For the journalist, you just want to get your information. You want to beat the competition, you want to get information to the public as quickly as you can, and likewise for military. If you have advanced word on what the enemy positions are, if you have a faster flow of information from your capital, it's all an asset.
For diplomats, delay is often the secret weapon. Delay, the calming of tempers, of fever, of emotion is often something that diplomats use quite well. And so for them, these are harder intrusions to absorb. They're doing it quite well and, you know, at the State Department today, many people have CNN on their desk when there's a crisis. I open one chapter with Strobe Talbott sitting in his office at the State Department as the Russian White House is burning down in Moscow, and he's on the phone to a counterpart in the Russian Foreign Ministry, who is also watching CNN of -- a picture of the Russian White House burning down with the dissidents inside and Yeltsin's troops about to route them.
And it's easy, I suppose, in the first brush of hearing that story to assume that the media has taken over, that here are two senior diplomats of their respective countries sitting there; instead of negotiating with each other, they're both watching television. But, in fact, I think diplomacy has just ceded to television the telling of the story; and what's left for diplomats is quite a bit of context and explaining and analysis that is still quite necessary. At the end of the day, after you get over the wonder of the specter of two diplomats sitting on the phone watching television, you have to say, “So what?' The diplomacy was still going on behind them; there was still this churning of options of suggestions going back and forth about how Yeltsin could resolve this situation. So for diplomats, it's harder. The other thing that makes it harder for them, I think, is the tether. They are on a shorter leash now. They used to be able to freelance more in the field, or so they say. And now world capitals can reach them pretty quickly.
LAMB: You say that you interviewed 100 people for this book.
NEUMAN: About, yeah.
LAMB: Did you tape record them?
LAMB: Did you keep all the tapes?
LAMB: Of all those interviews, who were the -- I mean, who were some of the ones that were surprises, or can you do more with the information that you got or is it...
NEUMAN: Boy, I hadn't ...
LAMB: Is this it?
NEUMAN: No, no. This is not it. I have in mind another book, but it didn't really come from the interviews. It came really from the research.
LAMB: What are your plans for another book?
NEUMAN: Well, it's called "1899," and the premise is that in the late 1890s there were a lot of precursors to what happened in the 19th century. There was this rush of new technology. There was a...
LAMB: You mean the 20th century.
NEUMAN: The -- I'm sorry, the 20th century. There was a rush of technology. There was a shaking out of the political system, there was a shaking out of the economic world. There was some happenings in the sports world that if you had -- if you looked back, you might be able to have predicted in the 20th century. And I've proposed to do the same thing for our era as well and do a comparative book looking at the changes that were predicted by that era for the 20th century and extrapolate them for the 21st.
LAMB: You thank a couple people in the back. One is Michael Mandelbaum of the Council on Foreign Relations. Now you've been on this network enough to know that when anybody brings up the Council on Foreign Relations, all kinds of things trigger out there. What...
NEUMAN: Oh, I didn't. Is that ...
LAMB: Well, you know, there are certain people on the conservative side of the spectrum that when they hear Council on Foreign Relations or the Trilateral Commission ...
NEUMAN: It's the Trilateral Commission. OK.
LAMB: Yes, it's all part of that. How does he fit into this? How does Michael Mandelbaum ...
NEUMAN: Well, he's just a person about town that I went to talk to early on to get his views, and he was -- what I thank him for in the acknowledgements is that he was one of the people who first perked by ears to the contrarian theory. When the conventional wisdom was so widely held that the media was driving diplomacy, Mandelbaum said, “Really? Are you sure? Think about that.” And so he -- I'm very grateful to him for that, whatever his affiliation may be.
LAMB: You say, “In a way, McLuhan has always been wrong” -- you're talking about Marshall McLuhan -- “but not until digital technology has the case against him been so clear. The message always mattered more than the medium.”
NEUMAN: That's my case. Marshall McLuhan was a media guru, popular in the 1960s who held, at the time of television, really, that the medium was the message, that it didn't matter what you said on television, that it was the pictures that conveyed. And the whole premise of my book is that the message matters greatly. My favorite example is -- there's a picture of it in there, of Tiananmen Square. And I’m sure you recall that lone demonstrator standing up to a tank in Tiananmen Square. In the West, he became a symbol of democracy, of freedom-loving peoples everywhere. That was the caption that we put on that picture. In China, the same picture was used on exhibit to demonstrate the restraint of the Chinese army in not mowing down the demonstrator. So I guess, you know, my feeling is very strongly that context matters, that the caption matters; and that's, frankly, why there's so much contest for spin in Washington, why everyone wants to get their story out, because it really does matter what goes under the picture.
LAMB: And this is really out of context, that William McKinley...
LAMB: ... was the first president to have briefings or to let people inside the White House -- have transcripts or anything of these speeches?
NEUMAN: McKinley -- again, from this late 1890s precursor of the 20th century, many people credit Teddy Roosevelt with personalizing the presidency. They sort of think of Teddy Roosevelt as the first modern president in terms of his press relations. But actually, McKinley, who was a more dower sort, not as personable, certainly, actually had a lot of innovations that are still in use to this day. One of them is the White House news summary that he has his aides clip editorials and news accounts from around the country. Another is that he gave reporters a permanent place upstairs on the second floor at the White House in which to work. And this is something that really has been increasing throughout the century, is this centering of news at the White House when more and more news organizations use the White House as the jumping-off point to cover almost everything. And it's a gambit that presidents use because if you're in my house, then you're not likely to be as critical.
LAMB: What as the hardest thing about doing this?
NEUMAN: Very little. I loved the process of writing. I loved the quiet of it. I loved working in my basement.
LAMB: Here in town?
NEUMAN: Here in town. And...
LAMB: Did you write it together, all at one time, or over...
NEUMAN: Pretty much. I spent a year at Columbia gathering research. I had two able research assistants and I did a lot of reading. I probably did more reading in that year then I had in some years before that. And then I took some months off back in Washington and just wrote with a cat in my lap and a window out into the trees.
LAMB: Right on a computer?
LAMB: What now? I mean, are you still -- you're listed here as a foreign editor at USA Today. Are you back doing that?
NEUMAN: Oh, it's more than listed, Brian. It's a full-time job. I am the foreign editor of USA Today, and it's a very exciting time for our paper. We're really on a mission of improvement and particularly in the international area. So we're gathering staff and putting some muscle into our world report every day, and it makes it an exciting time to be there.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book, and the title is "Lights, Camera, War" and our guest has been Johanna Neuman. Thank you very much for joining us.
NEUMAN: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1993. 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.