Oral Histories

Wolf Blitzer

Interview Segments on Topic: Political Journalism

Wolf Blitzer Biography

Wolf Blitzer is CNN’s lead political anchor and the anchor of The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s political news program that provides up-to-the minute coverage of the day’s events.  During the 2008 presidential election, Blitzer spearheaded CNN’s Peabody Award-winning coverage of the presidential primary debates and campaigns. He also anchored coverage surrounding all of the major political events, including both conventions, Election Night and the full day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

In addition to politics, Blitzer is also known for his in-depth reporting on international news. In December 2010, he was granted rare access to travel to North Korea with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as the world watched tensions mount between North and South Korea.

Blitzer reported from Israel in the midst of the war between that country and Hezbollah during the summer of 2006. In 2005, he was the only American news anchor to cover the Dubai Ports World story on the ground in the United Arab Emirates. He also traveled to the Middle East that year to report on the second anniversary of the war in Iraq. In 2003, Blitzer reported on the Iraq war from the Persian Gulf region.

Blitzer began his career in 1972 with the Reuters News Agency in Tel Aviv. Shortly thereafter, he became a Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. After more than 15 years of reporting from the nation’s capital, Blitzer joined CNN in 1990 as the network’s military-affairs correspondent at the Pentagon. He served as CNN’s senior White House correspondent covering President Bill Clinton from his election in November 1992 until 1999.

Throughout his career, Blitzer has interviewed some of history’s most notable figures, including former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Regan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Blitzer has also interviewed many foreign leaders— the Dalai Lama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former South African President Nelson Mandela, among them.

Among the numerous honors he has received for his reporting, Blitzer is the recipient of an Emmy Award from The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his 1996 coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing and a Golden CableACE from the National Academy of Cable Programming for his and CNN’s coverage of the Persian Gulf War. He anchored CNN’s Emmy-award winning live coverage of the 2006 Election Day. He was also among the teams awarded a George Foster Peabody award for Hurricane Katrina coverage; an Alfred I. duPont Award for coverage of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia; and an Edward R. Murrow Award for CNN’s coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. He is the recipient of the 2004 Journalist Pillar of Justice Award from the Respect for Law Alliance and the 2003 Daniel Pearl Award from the Chicago Press Veterans Association.

Blitzer is the author of two books, Between Washington and Jerusalem:  A Reporter’s Notebook (Oxford University Press, 1985) and Territory of Lies (Harper and Row, 1989). The latter was cited by The New York Times Book Review as one of the most notable books of 1989. He also has written articles for numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

Transcript

INTERVIEWER:  Okay.  In more recent years you’ve done a lot of coverage of politics, moderating debates and so on.  I was hoping to ask you how you think or if you think coverage of politics has changed from when you first started out to now, and how has it changed?  Has it changed for good or for ill?

BLITZER:  The coverage of politics?

INTERVIEWER:  Yeah.  And of politicians.

BLITZER:  I think we’re much more aggressive now than we were 20, 30, 40 years ago.  We want answers and we want information and we have so many better techniques—in going through financial records, you know with the Internet and statements—almost everything, so if Donald Trump for example, wants to be a serious presidential candidate; his whole life of business, personal, political is going to be exposed.  And it’s now relatively easy to get access like that.  You have to look at previous speeches and interviews and flip-flops, stuff like that.  In the old days, you used to have to go to libraries, collect research, archives.  And it was much more difficult, so it’s really changed a lot and now there’s—another thing that’s changed—there’s so many more organizations.  Partisan organizations.  Some of them partisan, others are just objective think tanks or whatever, that are looking at this stuff and I admire people who are willing to go into politics and expose themselves and open up their lives and their businesses and their financial statements and income tax returns and let it all hang out.  Because if you want to do that, you know, go ahead do it.

INTERVIEWER:  That raises the question, should anything be off limits or is everything out in the open?

BLITZER:  In this day and age, if you want to be president or you want to be a senator or governor, there’s very little that’s going to be off limits.  Maybe in the 60s and 50s, 40s, there was a journalistic gentleman’s agreement that you don’t talk about women, you don’t talk about this or that—I’m sure that was the case.  In the last 20 years, I don’t see much, if anything is off limits.  I think that’s the big change.

INTERVIEWER:  When you look back at the Lewinsky scandal, do you think it was too much coverage?  That it proved to be—Clinton had to spend so much time dealing with the fallout—

BLITZER:  I covered that every single day.  From the day the story broke until the impeachment and the trials.  You can look back and say it was ridiculous or you can look back and say, what was the President of the United States thinking when he had an affair with a young woman who was an intern at the White House?  I remember when we first got word that this was going on I said, that’s impossible.  President of the United States?  And low and behold we eventually learned the truth, the whole truth and so much more than we ever wanted to know about in that Ken Starr report.  I was the network television pool reporter when Bill Clinton, a few days after the story had broke, was in the Roosevelt Room in the White House in the West Wing and he looked at the cameras.  He was basically looking at me cause I was representing the television networks and I was the pool representative there and he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”  I was there when that happened and I remember it very, very vividly.  It was a huge story for a year.  Did we go overboard in the media?  Were we ethically challenged or whatever?  This was all new territory, not just for me but for all my colleagues.  I don’t think we had ever covered a president involved in a sexual scandal like this.

INTERVIEWER:  Well what about what I think of as the European argument that Americans are silly about this kind of stuff.  That people in public life tend to have these big egos and part of what goes with the big ego is the big sexual appetite and this seems to be their foible and that really, we should just look at; are they competent, are they doing the job we elected them to do and look the other way about this stuff.  They think, who cares.  It’s their private life, none of our business.

BLITZER:  No.  I guess that’s the difference between the Americans and the Europeans.  In Europe—you’re right, I was just in Europe the other day—they don’t really care if their leader had multiple marriages, multiple affairs, whatever, that’s human nature, we just want to make sure that our jobs and the economy is well run and national security works.  And certainly in Italy and Spain and France it’s like that.  They’ll report all this, but it’s not going to be a big issue for those people.  But here, we’re Americans you know, it’s obviously a different culture, a different attitude, and a much bigger issue for us.

INTERVIEWER:  That sort of raises the question, does the media make it a big issue or is the public interest in it drive the media to cover it more?

BLITZER:  I think it’s part of both.  I think the media—the public is interested, the media will report it.  The public then becomes more interested, the media reports more of it, they want more details.  So it’s sort of a two-way street but I think by and large, the American people have a different attitude towards these things than the Europeans by and large do.  That’s just a fact of life.