BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. As you already know, the New York Times this week ran a very rare anonymous op-ed from a senior White House official, a self-described member of the, quote, “quiet resistance inside the Oval Office.” You’d assumed correctly that the On the Media team would quickly convene to figure out how to cover the story. We all agreed it needed covering. Where we differed was tone. Bob wanted the full-court press. I was more -- meh. That’s when we turned on the mics.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Bob, I understand we have a difference.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, it’s hard to believe but we do not see eye to eye on this one.
That might be unprecedented.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Historic!
BOB GARFIELD: It -- well, funny you should use that word. You know, if you had asked me, Brooke, on Tuesday, hey, what do you think if the Times would run an unsigned op-ed from a senior member of the administration, should they do it, I would have said, absolutely not.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BOB GARFIELD: Categorically, no. How are we supposed to evaluate that person's motives or anything else, you know, if we don’t know exactly who it is? But then it happened. All of these facts that we had learned from previous reporting was corroborated, and there is value to that. And the reason I know there's value to that corroboration is because the whole world has gone crazy at this thing. And the White House, itself, interestingly, is pulling out all the stops to locate the source of this mega leak, which says that the White House doesn't believe it is, as Trump sort of accused, invented from whole cloth and which, in and of itself, corroborates the stories we've been hearing from anonymous sources for a year and a half. And the fact that we have corroboration, I think, it will add certainty, what people were able to dismiss as mere gossip.
I also believe that they’re eventually going to figure out who did this thing and then all hell will really break loose. But, in the meantime, we have the media doing something that is nearly unprecedented, which is a big story for us, and we have an administration that for the first time has to reckon with one of its senior members publicly confessing to agitating against the president's conduct. That's a big deal.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, we have had that with actually more corroboration than we have here, for instance, Maggie Haberman talking to dozens of people, tallied but not named in countless news reports. We know that the secretary of defense has ignored the president on transgendered Americans in the military and we know that the new Secretary of State John Bolton rushed through a joint summit declaration reaffirming NATO before Trump could get his hands on it. We've read in Bob Woodward's book that the National Economic Council director took papers off of Trump's desk to prevent him from undoing a South Korean trade deal. We know about the names he's been called, about him going crazy over leaks. Sean Spicer, in the pursuit of other leaks, took staff people's cell phones away. And if they find this person, which I agree with you they will, there’ll be another flurry of headlines. You would agree with me that the country, many of the people we know in our liberal [LAUGHS] bubbles, are feeling crazy all the time, that the cable news channels cannot wait to get their blood pressure going. It just gets higher and higher and higher. Everything about this president and presidency is unprecedented, as is the public reaction to it.
BOB GARFIELD: Yes but I fear that we at On the Media have become inert. You know, we’ve talked about the shepherd tone effect, an audio barber pole that seems to reach a crescendo but actually never resolves that way and it goes on and on and on; it’s an illusion. But my fear is we are shying away from important developments because we are, you know, fed up with being fed up. I don't want to assume that our audience is as fully versed in the ebb and flow of Trump mania as we are.
And, and here's the most important point I want to make. Millions of Americans were prepared to believe that OJ Simpson was the victim of a setup, that the case against him was all rigged. Many of them were on the jury that acquitted him. And when Johnny Cochran said, “If it doesn't fit, you must acquit” that's exactly what they did.
Well, I think that this op-ed, which reiterates what we've been hearing from anonymous sources for now two years, this op-ed will have the effect of that glove, except this time it fits. And I think that is having an effect on Americans who perhaps allowed themselves to think that the system was rigged, that there’s a conspiracy among bureaucrats and Democrats and journalists. Nope, they’ve discovered that, yeah, this guy that the White House is chasing and trying to identify, he's told us that those previous reports were right all along.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay --
BOB GARFIELD: I think that is historic.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. You can't say, on the one hand, that the world is going crazy and, on the other hand, the public doesn't know about this or doesn't understand it. I know our audience pretty well. We’re not their sole source on news, and a story like this does not go by unnoticed and unexplored. I want to talk about things that we can deepen the understanding of or I think people don't know about and need to know. This is just another headline. I think what bothers you is that I try and keep calm [LAUGHS] and you feel that there's a sort of moral obligation not to be.
BOB GARFIELD: No, no, no, no, that’s, that’s not right. Well, I mean, I actually do believe that but that's not what I'm arguing here. I’m arguing, in answer to the question, what can we add to this story, sometimes the answer simply is our voices. Our audience depends on us to process the news in a way that helps them understand the stakes, the impact, the significance and may or may not help predict the ultimate outcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Talking about it isn't necessarily processing it because, God knows, there's only so much information on a Thursday night. In terms of our fundamental disagreement, it has to do with what we can really learn from this op-ed. And my “meh” feeling is that the Times got a little carried away with a scoop. I felt it was unnecessary, self-congratulatory, just kind of creepy while being utterly uninformative. I came away after reading that no more informed than I was before. There isn’t anything that's changed.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, this is going to change minds and I, and I think it’s going to be pretty dramatic. I’ll leave my argument with this, to reiterate. The glove fits, you must not acquit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] You really expect us to leave that? [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s -- because I think that’s exactly why this is, is a historic moment.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Bob Garfield, thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: No, no, no, Brooke, thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, the odd coupling of the First Amendment and the High Court.