- Historic Sites
“the First Rough Draft Of History”
… is today’s newspaper. Here the executive editor of the Washington ‘Post’ takes us on a spirited dash through the minefields that await reporters and editors who gather and disseminate a most valuable commodity.
October/november 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 6
I don’t see what the social purpose of that is. I suppose if I could go to a library and find such information in a book, and if I were trying to prove what an asinine rule it was to forbid such publication, then there might be some social purpose.
If printed it, just for some dumb reason—I just found out and I printed it—would you defend me?
No, I have a great deal of trouble with the Progressive magazine story [about how to build a bomb].
Would you defend me, though?
Well, you’re a buddy. I’d probably defend you, yeah.
What about the Carol Burnett libel suit against the National Enquirer [in which she claimed to have been defamed by a false story and won a huge judgment, now being appealed]?
I was on the National Enquirer’s side. But I’m not very comfortable there. I think one of the worst magazines I ever saw was Hustler , but I’d never seen it until its publisher, Larry Flynt, was sued for something. I bought a copy because of the suit when somebody said to me, “Have you ever read that goddamn magazine?” I thought it was perfectly god-awful, and whatever trouble Flynt was in seemed to me to be ridiculous. You know, I’ve only got so many good fights in me, and I would like to concentrate on things that I really care a helluva lot about. I care a helluva lot about the First Amendment but not a lot about Larry Flynt or Hustler . I don’t know Larry Flynt. And Carol Burnett I rather like. I met her once, and I thought she was neat, but I think that hers was a bad suit.
What worries me most about the American press in general are owners who don’t have a commitment to quality.
It could harm the Washington Post?
If it spread.
If it set a precedent.
There’s one case that I do worry about. I think there has been a deterioration in the laws of libel. We’ve still got a multimillion-dollar libel suit against us from Bebe Rebozo. I’m about to be deposed in that suit next week, yet that’s something that’s got to be ten years old.
What worries you most about the American press in general?
Owners who don’t have a commitment to quality.
And what can be done about it?
I don’t know. I always thought that a great, sort of strange offshoot of Watergate was that it might prove to publishers that investigative reporting and the taking on of the Establishment could be financially successful.
And do you think that the ultimate goal for a publisher is that something will be financially successful?
You’ve just had a son. Will there be newspapers around when he’s ready to enter the real world?
I can’t help but think so, though maybe I’m beginning to deceive myself. I think that newspapers may look different, but people will always want to read hard copy. You can’t Xerox television, and you can’t memorize what the radio or television announcer tells you, so people will always want to study the details and to read the ads. No question about that. But if a person is looking for a 1972 blue Mustang with whitewalls, and if he can type that into his computer and come up with three such Mustangs for sale in the Washington area, that would scare me if I were running the classified ad department.
Bernard Nossiter once said, “The Post and Brazil are a lot alike. They both have a lot of potential.” What I want to know is, Does Brazil still have a lot of potential? Does the Post still have a lot of potential?