Interview with Pamela Hess, United Press International, Pentagon Beat Reporter

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March 24th, 2004
Transcription by John Gissy

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So why don't you introduce yourself, and where you work?
PAMELA HESS: I'm Pamela Hess; I'm the Pentagon Correspondent for United Press International. I've been at the Pentagon for UPI since May -- No, I'm sorry -- March of 1999. And I did a brief sojourn at the White House for about six months.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. And can you tell me your routine -- where you get your news from every day?
HESS: Sure. As a Pentagon correspondent, it's my job to sort of cover the day-in, day-out of what's going on at the Pentagon. The most of the last two years has been taken up with almost daily briefings at the Pentagon because of the two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. So they've been doing those with some frequency. So mostly, it starts there and you're sort of driven by the day's events as to where things go. Once in a while, as a beat reporter -- Because you have this sort of daily requirement of what you need to do, which is to capture on the record what it is that they're saying -- sort of that first blush of history -- creating a historical record of "This is what they said on this day about this subject." You have limited amounts of time to do other stuff. But those other things do pop up, which are stories -- we call them "enterprise stories." Stories that you sort of generate on your own, and do on your own. Those are actually more fun, and we all like to do them more. But they're also sort of scary and hard to do because you don't know where they are going to come from, and you don't know where they are going to go. But my bread-and-butter is what's going on at the Pentagon that day. It's definitely not rewriting press releases. And you don't just take verbatim what they say, and say it unless it's in very short sort of news articles -- just saying, "Rumsfeld said 'this' on this day." You definitely run it through filters, and you get people who know things to comment. And you talk to folks on background, which is, you sort of walk around the building and find people that are involved that maybe don't want to have their names appear in print, but are willing to talk to you a little bit to provide some context or some history to what you're doing. And then you put that all together in a story.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. And how does The New York Times and Washington Post -- what they cover -- Do you follow what they're covering? And how does that affect the balance?
HESS: Yeah, The New York Times and The Washington Post actually tend to set the agenda for most daily news reporters. They're very good -- for the most part -- their reporters are the best -- that's how they get to be there, because they become the best and then they get hired. And at the same time, these are sort of the hometown newspapers of the most powerful people in the country, so they are what get read. It's almost a circle. This is not to say that every important news story -- or every great news story, or even the best journalism appears in these journals -- but they have the most powerful readership. And so it does set the agenda. So that stuff becomes "This is what we're going to talk about this day." And then Rumsfeld will respond to something that was in the paper, and then it generates what we end up writing.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So do you find that it's hard to do an enterprising story that's outside of that balance that's already been covered?
HESS: It's hard to beat The Washington Post and The New York Times at their own game. They have great sources. And the -- One of the reasons that they have great sources is because they're so powerful. And because people will give them information that they wouldn't give to me, because -- among the reasons -- they will get read more widely by people who make a difference. And you can be sure that if your issue is going to appear in The New York Times it's going to become an issue that gets talked about in Washington. So people that leak would tend to leak to those two papers. So it's -- So for those great big stories of moment, I think you have to -- the big papers are going to get them. Just because news is -- News isn't just reporters going out and pulling what bits of information are out there. It's manipulated by people who want their particular side of the story out. And so -- Then it's up to reporters to make sure that they get it balanced and understand the agenda of the people that are giving them information. But make no mistake about it, everyone that talks to you has an agenda. You just -- You need to figure out what that is. So that said -- The great big stories, they tend to corner the market on. You can do some good work in advancing stuff. But there's lots of -- tons of stuff -- I mean, the Pentagon spends $400 billion a year. And so there's just worlds of stuff that can happen -- that you can write about that nobody else is writing about that's important, that affects lives, that affects huge amounts of money. But there is sort of this sense that if -- No matter how important your story is or how great it is or how exclusive it is, if it doesn't ultimately get picked up by one of the other big papers, and they don't pursue it -- your story just tends to die. So it might be a great one-day story, but if it doesn't really capture the attention of the big editors then it's done.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So do you see -- or experience any peer pressure from your fellow correspondents that when you try to go outside of the bounds -- or even from the government -- get flak directly from them?
HESS: Certainly not from colleagues. There's, I think --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Alright. Hold on. Let me just preface that when I ask a question -- I'll try to phrase it so that when you answer, I'll be able to take my question out.
HESS: I don't -- Reporters I don't think get a lot of pressure from other reporters not to pursue stories. You do get pressure from government flaks not to do that. And every once in a while a government official will call you and say, "We'd like you not to be working on that story and here's why." And sometimes you agree with it -- you agree to their demands, because sometimes they offer you a better deal, "Well, when we're ready for this to come out, I'll give you the exclusive on it" Or "Here's why we don't want this." I remember one, there was one story many years ago that I worked on that I had had -- I got from three different sources that were in a closed-door meeting in the tank in the Pentagon, and one general in there had said -- I think this was almost a direct quote, but something along the lines of "America's going to have to get over its fear of casualties." And this was well before Kosovo, even. At any rate, I was getting ready to write this story because it was interesting -- and it wasn't just about that, but it was this idea that the military was saying, "We can't support this idea that we have to have casualty-free wars. We can't fight that way. And if we're going to use the military, we're going to have to accept greater casualties." So this is, of course, a very important story. A general that outranked that general, who I actually had a very good relationship with, who I could talk to off-the-record or on background frequently, called me and asked me not to report that story, and I didn't. And the reason that I didn't was twofold. Number one, I needed this second general more than I needed that story. And number two, I thought he made a great point, which is, "If they can't speak their minds in these closed-door meetings, then we're really robbing the Pentagon of its ability to do its job." That's not something that -- that's not a philosophy I would ascribe to generally, but I thought in that case it made perfect sense -- that this was an intellectual discussion, and people need to be able to have those. That doesn't mean I'm not going to try to find out what they say in them, but on a case-by-case basis, I think reporters can be negotiated with, out of stories. And I don't really have any regrets about that one.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay.
HESS: Although that general did go on to die in a plane crash, so I can't use him anymore.
[background noise]

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Can you talk about striving to be objective, and taking all these pieces of information? And what kind of editorial process and biases do you have to have in that process?
HESS: On the issue of bias in journalism, I think it is very difficult for any reporter to be completely free of bias. And I also think that there's an argument to be made for bias in journalism. I think that some of the best journalists out there, the ones who really break great stories, are those that have a particular passion about a subject. And that passion's probably coming from a political point of view, or an issue point of view. And it's because they really care significantly about it that they go out and pursue it, and don't get turned back. And so I think that -- [interruption]
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay.
HESS: I think that bias in general -- Sorry -- that not work?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: No. I think I got what I needed for the first part there.
HESS: And the second part of the question is? How do I remain objective?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Yeah.
HESS: There's a pat answer for how reporters remain objective. And one of them is that writing news articles is a -- it's almost a -- it's a formula. There's a skill to it. You answer the five W's. You make sure that you talk to people on one side, and talk to people on the other. You can show a little bit of bias by choosing to speak to smarter people on one side, and dumber people on another -- people who won't make as good a case for it. But this is where editors come in, and they should -- It's really the editor's job to keep their eye on reporters. For my purposes, I've been covering national security in the Pentagon for ten years. And in that time, I've become so familiar with all the sides of the issues that I've covered. I mean, these aren't idiots that are arguing these things out, and there are reasonable arguments for every side. And so what I have found to be in my situation is that I really don't have a strong personal view about a lot of the things. I can see all the sides. And for me, I feel like journalism is teaching. I want to kind of lay it out for somebody that doesn't know anything -- that these are the benefits and disadvantages of each side.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So talk a little bit about the difficulties associated with covering an issue like Iraq that spans the diplomatic, political and military aspects.
HESS: Covering the war and the lead-up to Iraq, and the war itself was a huge challenge --- especially for me, because I'm one person at our Pentagon bureau. And so I had to be responsible for all parts of it, which is even the personnel, the people that were being led up to it, the war planning, all of the intel that we could gather from, you know, what we could ask about it at Pentagon briefings and offline, and then the war itself. It's a huge job. I mean, just the volume of information. I think that one of the things that made covering the Iraq war so difficult is that much of the information that supported the case for war in the administration's eyes was classified. And so all they had to say whenever you asked about it was "That's classified, We can't tell you." So it's sort of like a "You're just going to have to trust us" kind of thing. And unless you have someone on the inside who is willing to compromise themselves professionally -- potentially get fired, potentially go to jail -- to share some classified information with you, you're kind of up against a wall. And the best you can do is sort of say, "This is what they said this day. This is what we know up to this point" and just kind of lay it out there. One of the things that struck me, and what I came out of the pre-war prep with a pretty clear feeling for, was at least from the Pentagon, we asked time and again at the Pentagon briefings, if the threat from Iraq was imminent -- and more imminent now than it had been prior to September 11th? What changed on -- What was the difference in intelligence gathered between September 10th and September 12th? And the answer that we got, time and again, from Rumsfeld, ultimately at the end of long bouts of questioning, was the sense that the threat against the United States had not changed so much as the sense of vulnerability. And so, for my part, as the war -- as we led up to the war, I wasn't so personally convinced that the intelligence suggested that there needed to be a war. But I did understand that they felt like the level of U.S. vulnerability was such that the intelligence that did exist suggested that you needed a war. I'm not sure if that really makes sense. But -- I mean, if you look at threat, threat is -- Threat is not just objective, but it is also your perception of what the threat is, and how vulnerable you feel. And that half of the equation really exploded after September 11th and thereafter. So -- That's not to say that there isn't a lot of other stuff that went in to it. And I think that the stuff that's going on in the news with the 9/11 commissions and the nexis with Iraq there, isn't casting a great and interesting light on it. But from my prospective at the Pentagon, I didn't ever get the sense that the intelligence had suddenly suggested that Iraq was an imminent threat. But rather that the United States didn't want to risk being wrong about it.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Let me just put this up real quick. Alright. Let's see. Okay. So -- Do you see a difference between the print reporters and the television reporters in the briefings?
HESS: Yeah, there's a huge difference between print and television reporters in the briefings. And most of the difference is in television production time. They need to know at a point early in the day what their package is going to be that night -- barring any real breaking news. They're already pulling together what they think the story of the day is, and that's largely driven, from my understanding, by what was big in the newspapers that morning. So when television reporters go into a briefing, they usually sit in the front row -- because they need to get their mugs on TV -- and they ask a question that is designed to feed into a news package that they're putting together that night. As a print reporter, and especially working for whom I work where they really give me a lot of freedom, I'm allowed to sort of sit and listen and see if there is any new news going on. If there's something he feels like talking about, or if there's something that he said that isn't jiving, I can really -- I can wait and watch and see and let, I think, actual events determine what it is that I'm going to write. I think print reporters have a little bit more of that to do, because generally print deadlines, especially for newspapers are 8 or 9 o'clock at night. So you've got a little bit more time after a briefing to really process what happened, and what was said, and start making some phone calls and following up on any new information that might have come out.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Is the sound okay? In the build-up to the war in Iraq, both the administration and the Pentagon were saying that you need a force in the area in order to motivate Saddam's compliance with the U.N. At what point -- What is the threshold of how many forces are needed? And at what point does that get exceeded, and then you say, "Well, maybe you have a separate" -- [background noise] -- Well, let me wait for this [siren].
HESS: Can you finish your question?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: With -- Was there any point where the mobilizations continued to happen that you thought, "Well, maybe they really -- their intention is to go to war." As opposed to -- as to wanting the consequence to be the compliance of the United Nations inspectors.
HESS: Right.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Go ahea.
HESS: As we watched -- As I watched the mobilization for war, I don't think I ever doubted that there was going to be a war. There was a lot of talk about "How no decision has been made." I don't -- maybe we're just too cynical -- but all of the entire press corps at the Pentagon was just kind of looking at our watches, and wondering "When it was going to be?" There was never any doubt, I think, in any of our minds that it was an "if." I suppose there was an exit ramp that -- in leading up to it, that if Saddam Hussein had done something differently, and handed, I think, George Bush some sort of complete and total victory, it might have been averted. But I don't think any of us ever thought that that mobilization was not leading to war. The -- sort of the -- One of the amazing things about the U.S. military though, is the ability to stop on a dime, and to start on a dime. So just because you're sending people there, doesn't mean that there has to be a war. But I never had any doubts that that was the full intention, and that that's what was going to happen.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Did you see in the type of questionings to -- with the television reporters -- that there was kind of this countdown to war?
HESS: Oh, sure. Countdown to war, wasn't that on every television screen? There was just never a sense that there was going to be anything other than a war. I mean, there's lots -- There's lots of reasons for it. But one of the things is, it costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time to deploy that many people. It doesn't mean once you start a deployment, you're going to necessarily go to war. But it's not a decision that they take lightly. So when they begin deploying people for something like that, it's not, you know, "Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Are you scared now? Are you scared now?" It's "We're going to go to war." They could be called back at the last second, but that was the full intention. So, yeah. As far as the impression that I had from watching TV, was, "Oh, yeah. They think this is coming too."

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Now. I think -- On your beat, were you also covering the inspections of what ElBaradei or Blix were coming back to the UN and reporting? Or was it outside your constraints?
HESS: I didn't -- As a Pentagon reporter, I paid attention to the Blix report and to the ElBaradei reports, and to Colin Powell going and the information that was presented because it was background for my stories -- you have to put in nutgraphs that explains "Who says what on which day." But I didn't cover it directly. We have a UN reporter and State Department reporters that handle that. So mostly, I just concentrated on Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, the preparation for war, the weaponry that was getting lined up, the numbers of people that were going over, and then potential scenarios for it, and what the big concerns were. And there was -- You know, one thing we had wrote a lot about was urban warfare. There was a big concern that that was going to be a central part of the battle, and a bloody one. So that's what I focused on mostly. I find that if I stray too much from my area of expertise -- if it can be called that -- I run the risk of making stupid mistakes. And I like to stick in what I know.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So was there any amount of collaboration with the diplomatic correspondents or the political correspondents?
HESS: Not with me so much. Because --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I'm sorry. Just the --
HESS: I didn't collaborate a lot with our diplomatic correspondents. We talked, usually once a day and sent a lot of e-mails, but I personally am just sort of jealous of my copy. I only put my name on things that I know for sure are true. And so -- That doesn't mean that I don't believe what everyone else is writing, but I check everything before I use it in my copy. So for my purposes, I'm not comfortable collaborating on something unless I'm really in complete control of the end result of it.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So I guess, with the United Nations, was there a UN-mandated deadline for Iraqi disarmament?
HESS: That's an excellent question. Was there a UN-mandated deadline? There was a UN-mandated disarmament. But I think, the whole issue -- and I could be wrong about this -- but I think the whole issue that sort of drove the Bush administration crazy was that there wasn't this official deadline by which disarmament had to be proved. And I think one of the problems with that is sort of this old rule that "You can't prove a negative." You can't prove that they don't have weapons. You can only prove that they do. And so I think that sort of amorphous ambiguity really made people a little nuts. Is that -- Despite claims of disarmament, you can never really prove they've completely disarmed. You can only prove that they have not. And again, maybe against the backdrop of that increased sense of vulnerability on the part of the Bush administration -- and probably much of the country. Maybe that wasn't good enough anymore.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: [background noise] Is that beep? The beeping's really loud ... Just one second...
HESS: I feel like I'm in a lawyer's dissertation.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I kind of took an audit of -- a look at some of your articles that were on UPI --
HESS: [laughs] Great.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: -- pulling out some stuff, and I just want to read some -- [laughs] -- some quotes and have you comment on them. And I don't know if it was a comprehensive look, because if your name wasn't on it --
HESS: I'm so nervous. I hate going back and reading my old stuff. I hate it. I always find stuff I want to change. But go on.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. So on January 23, 2003, you say, "Time is running out, Wolfowitz asserted Thursday." And then also on March 11,'03, you say, "United States and Britain are crafting a new draft resolution that would push back Iraq's disarmament deadline from March 19 by a few days." Now I guess this goes to -- What is the U.S. saying versus what the UN is saying?
HESS: That disarmament deadline, I think that was the 48 hours, if I remember correctly, that was the 48-hour deadline that Bush had given to Saddam Hussein. Are we talking about the right?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, this was reported on March 11th, 2003.
HESS: Right. And so it was -- The, yeah -- Yeah, it turns out that that didn't end up happening, I guess. [laughs] I don't even remember who my source was on that -- or where that came from. I guess I talked to somebody. Who? I can't even remember. [laughs] It was a year ago!
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I guess, it's the -- It's a blurring -- What I see is a kind of blurring between what the United States and Britain are saying are the deadline versus what the UN is saying.
HESS: I'm not sure the UN ever came down with a deadline. It was the U.S. that crafted the deadline so that they could go to war. That sounds a little bit -- [laughs] That sounds a little bit incendiary. Having made the decision that they believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, they wanted to draw a line in the sand, as it were, and say, "Do it by this time or you're done." And so that's what that March 19th deadline was about. Again, I'm not an expert on the UN, and I really haven't reviewed this stuff in a long time. My brain's -- [laughs] -- are like scrambled eggs after a year of this. But my recollection of it is that the UN had multiple resolutions calling for the disarmament of Iraq in various iterations of those. And then the United States came in and said, "By this date, or we're going to war." And it was just a way of ratcheting up pressure.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. On August 20th, I think in the -- in 2002 -- you asked Donald Rumsfeld -- this was before Cheney's speech on the 26th, you said, "What makes a pre-emptive strike legal under international law?" He says, "Well, I'm not a lawyer, Pam. You know that."
HESS: Yes. [laughs]
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And he goes on, so -- kind of establishing that he's not a lawyer.
HESS: Uh, huh. [laughs]
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And then you had two articles, though. One on December 3rd, 2003, where the title is "U.S. Does Not Need Approval for War" and the only person you quote is Rumsfeld. So in that context, he had said -- during that report -- or that briefing he said, "I'm not a lawyer, and I'm sure if you went to five lawyers and they read the thing you would have five different opinions as to what precisely what it may or may not mean." And --
HESS: Uh, huh. Oh, what I think that you're getting at -- I understand what you're getting at. And the article -- the December article, which I don't remember because I've written a bazillion of them, but I think what that is an example of is getting an official on the records. "This is what he said on this date, that the United States doesn't need" -- whatever it was that he said -- to go to war. I mean, that's --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I guess -- When I look at that, and I see the only person you're quoting is Rumsfeld -- Did you think to ask other lawyers, since he's saying he's not a lawyer, and you're taking his lawyerly advice, in a sense?
HESS: I don't think -- I don't think in that sense, that that's how I approached it. In that sense, I was approaching it as "This is a cabinet official, the Secretary of Defense, and this is what he's saying." And marking it down as a marker. And that this is what the administration is saying at this point. I'm not sure if I wrote about it back in August, when I asked that question, and I think that probably would have been the time that I would have done it -- going into the legal case for preemptive strikes as a campaign. I understand the question, and I think in pulling it out I can understand it sounds like you're concerned about that. But I think again this is the difference between doing it every day, which sometimes you don't always have an option of talking to five different people, and -- Let me say it this way. My day-to-day job is to get them on the record, for this is what they're saying, and trying to explain, "This is what they say, and this is why they're saying it." And then, once or twice a week, or longer, you have time to do what would essentially be an analysis or a feature. But I think that story would fall under the rubric of sort of breaking news, versus a feature or an analysis, which does involve talking to a lot of different people and really getting into the meat of an issue. But we're just trying to get a cabinet secretary on the record saying, "This is what they said about this subject on this date." And that's I think what that story is.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So I guess, in international law around -- you know, where you following that debate as to whether they needed a second resolution or whether it would have been justified by it? Or?
HESS: I didn't follow the -- I didn't follow the whole -- that stuff as closely, because I had my hands full with the deployment of 300,000 -- [laughs] -- troops. So --

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. I just want to get, when you say "that stuff" -- international law versus the deployment.
HESS: Right. When -- I mean, when it came up -- I really, in order for us to really talk about it, if you want to look at my record, we could go in and I could pull up every story I did, and we could sort of go through and do it -- a complete look at it. But yeah, I mean, it just sort of falls into this -- is that -- Sometimes you have the time and the interest in doing an analysis or a feature, which is longer, and other times you write down what they say. And you're not writing down what they say because it's the truth, you're writing down what they say because they're a government official, and they have said it. And it's my job to get them on the record. If you think of it, I guess, this way, The great reporters who do great analysis or great investigative work, when they go into Lexis-Nexis, what they need are stories like that, where they can say, "Rumsfeld said on this date, XY & Z," then they can take that and spin it into a much larger piece, for a magazine or a Sunday piece in the newspaper where they really dig into the issues. But when I'm dealing with word limits of 800 words or 500 words depending on what I've been assigned that day, that determines the amount of detail you can get into.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So I guess in that light -- How do you see the influence of the White House in setting the agenda of what to cover?
HESS: Well -- I was at the White House for six months, and I was pretty low on the totem pole. But I see it in a couple of ways. I mean, they have a bully pulpit there. It's sort of like a fire hose of information where they can just -- because it's the White House -- and Rumsfeld can do this too and Powell can do it too -- anything that they say ends up being all over the television, pulled on C-SPAN live feeds, whatever. And so they can really get messages out there in unfiltered ways. So they've got a huge advantage over that. Because you have just a few -- a handful of reporters that have the sources and the backing of their bosses to take a few days, or to take a month, or take two months to really dig into what it is that they're saying. So I mean -- When you talk about sort of media-versus-the-government and sort of this clash, I think that the government almost always has an advantage, because it takes a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of energy, and when you pick to focus on one thing, that means you're not going to be focusing on 50 other things that are on your beat. And so that's a decision that your editors have to okay, because it means that some other stuff is not going to get the amount of attention that it also deserves. So, I guess my summary is, that the White House has a bully pulpit and a fire hose of information, and reporters can sort of pick at the edges. It's only when everybody jumps on one story that I think big changes can -- big changes happen or that you can shift an administration's stance or you can create enough public outrage -- if outrage is called for -- to make some of those changes. But then reporters get accused of pack journalism, which is supposedly a bad thing. So I don't know if that's an answer to your question.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Yeah, it is. When you look back during that time period, from August 26, 2002 up to March 19, 2002 [sic], when all this -- Do you see things that the press could have done better?
HESS: Yeah, I think, for sure. There's a lot that we could have done better. From my little desk at the Pentagon, I know that we asked that central question at every briefing, which was -- at almost every briefing, anyway -- which was, "Has the threat changed between September 10th and September 12th with Iraq?" And the answer that we got was pretty consistent, which is, "The threat hasn't necessarily changed but the feeling of vulnerability about that has." I went through that build-up period without any illusion that Iraq was any more of a threat on that day, than it had been for the last twelve years. And I think if I were to say who has more responsibility in this, I mean certainly I think the White House -- it was their decision and their reading of intelligence -- but I also think Congress really let the ball drop. There's only so much that reporters can do, when you're dependent on someone to, as I said, I think, earlier, to compromise themselves professionally and potentially wind up in jail for sharing classified information that might contradict -- if that information was available -- that might contradict what the White House or what the Pentagon was saying officially. So unless you have those people there willing to do that, you're kind of -- you're sort of stuck. You can ask all the questions that you want, but, you know, it's not journalism to get out there and say, "Well, we asked these questions and they gave their standard answers. But we think that's wrong." That's for columnists to do. But as a news reporter, I actually have to have something that proves that they're wrong before I can write it. And every once in a while you can sort of delve into analysis. and you can have experts saying, "Well, this seems weird." But with these guys, especially, I mean, they are -- they're right on top of you and if you don't have -- Rumsfeld in particular -- if you don't have facts at your command that contradict what they're saying, they just cut you off. And so digging up those facts is difficult. So that said, I think that maybe I would have been interested in seeing more questioning from Congress. Because people in Congress actually have the security clearances to read the intelligence, and to question it better, and they also are, you know, sort of notoriously leaking and they could have shared some of that information with reporters, too -- but we're sort of dependent on our sources. One of the substantive problems that -- substantive questions that hasn't been answered yet in the lead-up to the war is "Was the intelligence bad? Or was the intelligence ignored?" And I'm not sure that we know that answer yet. Does the blame lie -- "blame," I mean, that's such a loaded word -- Does the responsibility for having intelligence -- was handled -- does that lie with the CIA, which didn't have good enough human intelligence sources? Or does the responsibility lie with the Pentagon and the White House, who, for whatever reason, were inclined to go to war with Iraq and therefore read what intelligence came across through this prism? I think people -- a lot of people are now sort of believing -- leaning this way towards the prism answer, but I don't know that we have those answers. And I don't think I could sit down and write an article today that said it was them versus them -- More stuff is coming out, I think, with the 9/11 commission, and with Richard Clarke's book.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay.
HESS: So eventually maybe that information will be out there. But I don't think we know it yet. I think people have ideas but, you know, prove it -- And I have to prove it. I'm in the business of proving.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: There's a number -- During the build-up, there was a number of times when reporting on defectors and scientists and the importance of them. Could you talk about why they're so important?
HESS: The defectors?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Yeah.
HESS: From Iraq?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Right. Well, for specifically, you know, with Rumsfeld saying, "If you go back and look at the history of inspections in Iraq, the reality is things have been found not through discovery, but through defectors."
HESS: Right. It's -- The reason that the administration was so -- I think, one of the reasons why the administration was so uncomfortable with inspections process is that, in the same way that reporters rely on people with inside information to share it with them, the administration felt like the only way that they could get the information on to where to find the stuff would be to have insiders share with them -- that "This bomb had been produced. Or this chemical had been produced, and here it is." It's just -- It would be like, I don't know, it's sort of like putting a reporter in a room with a bazillion filing cabinets and saying, "There's one document in here. [Laughs] And you have six months to go and find it." Much better to have someone that says, "And here's the document." So I think, that's where Rumsfeld was coming from on that. And the idea that you wanted defectors was sort of wrapped up in the negotiations -- or in the wish that the United States wanted, which was, to be able to remove -- physically remove scientists from Iraq, along with their families, in order to interview them in hopes that outside the pressure arena of Saddam Hussein's government, they would be able to give up some information that they wouldn't be able to give otherwise. And that the inspectors might never be able to find on their own.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Back in 1995, there's Hussein Kamel that, you know, kind of led them to the biological and chemical weapons programs. And he was a very reliable source. And then on February 24th, 2003 Newsweek broke the story that you actually said they were all destroyed. Did you see that report come through?
HESS: You know, I don't remember. And I'm probably not the best person to ask on that. I just, I don't recall. I'm sorry.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Alright.
HESS: It's been a year, and my brain, as I said, is scrabbled eggs.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay.
HESS: Do I -- Let me stew on that one in the back of my head, and I'll --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: It was on the 24th of February, and Newsweek broke it --
HESS: That's not going to help me. [laughs] I just need to -- Yeah, I -- that he said -- And he was the one that said -- He said, "We have biological weapons" --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: that they destroyed them. Yeah, well --
HESS: -- in '95. He said, "We --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: That was out. And then Cheney was quoting him. And then --
HESS: Right. Oh, Cheney. Cheney. Don't get me started on Cheney.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Cheney was quoting, you know, on August 26th -- and even George Bush was quoting him by name, Hussein Kamel.
HESS: Uh, hmm. Right. Right. Right.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And then it came out on the 24th of February that he also said that they destroyed them all, and that the transcript was leaked and out there but no one covered it.
HESS: But Newsweek covered it.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Newsweek covered it, and then Reuters covered it, but then it disappeared completely. And it was a piece of information that was a red flag to the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, and the anti-war movement but it was, you know, it wasn't picked up by The New York Times, Washington Post. And I was just wondering if --
HESS: You know, I don't remember a whole lot about that. And -- But let me say this one thing is that -- One of the problems that you have in journalism with the mechanisms of it is if you get a document that's really hot, that no one else can get, you can report on it, but if other people can't get their hands on it, it doesn't end up having legs. What's going to have to happen is for -- See, Reuters as a wire service can pick up -- without losing any pride -- anything that any newspaper puts out, that's one of their jobs, to just sort of collect the big news of the day. But for The New York Times or the Washington Post or another big paper to be able to pick up that story and run with it, they would most likely need to have that document themselves. And if they can't get it, then the story dies.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, in this particular case it was posted on the Internet the next day.
HESS: Oh, Okay. Well, I guess I don't have anything to say about it. [laughs]
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So -- But, Okay.
HESS: I really don't remember, and shame on me. I mean, this is -- It -- I wonder, you know -- I wonder if -- I just -- I don't remember. I shouldn't say this, I just don't remember it.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: OK, that's fine. The no-fly zones -- can you explain the purpose of the no-fly zones, and then how they fit in with the UN?
HESS: Yeah, actually the no-fly zones have a really kind of nutty history. The shorthand version of them is that they were these UN-created no-fly zones. Not true. What they were were U.S. and British and a couple of other countries -- France, initially, and Turkey, obviously -- it was their interpretation of the UN resolution that said the Kurdish people have to be protected. If I recall correctly, it was -- there's two different UN resolutions and one of them dealt with -- maybe the first one was in the south, with the Shiites, after the slaughter, after -- in the uprising after the Gulf war, where at least 100,000 Shiites were killed by Saddam Hussein's forces when they sort of rose against him, after the U.S. there sort of said "You might want to do that" and then failed to come in behind them. And then there was a second resolution that said "And the Kurdish people should be protected as well." And the U.S. looked at that and saw an opportunity to interpret that the way -- in a way that actually ended up being of great benefit, certainly, to the U.S. military. And that was to run no-fly zones over the northern and the southern swath of the country -- of Iraq. France, after '98, I believe, dropped off its support. It wasn't flying fighter jets in support of the no-fly zones, which basically -- it was sort of no-fly, no drive zones -- basically they were just sort of up there monitoring for any Iraqi planes -- there were always very, very few. Certainly fewer than like, two dozen, I think, Iraqi planes ever scrambled during those times. And then also in the no-drive zones, so on the ground they would keep an eye out for Iraqi troop movements. At any rate, so the no-fly zones then existed as a -- not as a function of a UN resolution, but as an interpretation of a UN resolution. And they were pretty much day-in, day-out or almost every other day. There was one point where they had to stop during the Kosovo war because the U.S., particularly in the north, the U.S. had to divert a lot of its planes to go up there. But basically, the military benefit that the generals were very fond of talking about was they did more damage to Saddam Hussein's surface-to-air missiles and air defense program during that time than they were able to during the entire Persian Gulf war when they used all these munitions. Iraq didn't resist the no-fly zones until after December 1998, which was Operation Desert Fox -- which was launched in the Clinton administration as a punishment to Saddam Hussein for failing to provide unfettered access to a new set of UN arms inspectors. And I think that was in November. And then the arms inspectors left, and then the U.S. launched the strikes. So that's the -- [laughs] -- More than you care to know.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Yeah. Yeah. Right. Well, I think -- I think the --
HESS: Something that I actually wrote a good deal about.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Yeah, I noticed. The critical distinction, I think, is that they weren't officially sanctioned by the UN.
HESS: Right. So I said the right thing. [laughs]
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Right.
HESS: Okay. Yes?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Do you that the media --
HESS: You know, they weren't sanctioned -- I didn't see that in the media. But -- But it's also -- I think, it's not quite fair to say that because that -- I found it -- I found it really -- When I learned that, I thought, "Well golly, that's interesting." And I included it in almost every story I wrote, because I thought that, you know, that's not getting a lot of attention. But it's also, in another sense, it's sort of a diplomatic splitting of hairs, because the UN had an opportunity -- had ten years of an opportunity to pass a resolution saying, "We don't support these no-fly zones." So the idea that it was some sort of vast conspiracy to keep it quiet -- Well, kind of. But also -- I mean, it's a complicated subject that I learned about -- I'm not sure exactly when, sometime in the last six years I really dug into it and said, "Let's see about these resolutions." -- but what would have gotten more reporters on it was had the UN done anything about it. Had the UN said, "No. That's not how we envisioned these resolutions being enforced." So to blame the media for not focusing on that is fair, but you also have to realize that the media is driven by news, by things happening.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I guess, the -- The context --
HESS: And that's not great, but that is what -- That is what happens.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I think the context is that when you have an administration official saying, "These no-fly zones -- It's a breach. They're firing at our planes." They're not sanctioned by the UN. And it's being ignored in that context -- that "Well, there's controversy."
HESS: Right. Although -- But the problem is that there wasn't controversy. There's controversy in the minds of people who were against it, but there was not controversy in the UN about it. And since this was an action that the U.S. and Great Britain and France and, I think, Denmark and a couple of other countries took as an interpretation of a UN resolution, and it wasn't opposed by the UN, there's not a controversy. I think it's an interesting bit of information -- and one that I try to include a lot, because I thought, "Golly, that's an interesting little fact." -- But to call it a controversy -- I don't necessarily think it is. Had anti-war activists made it into a big deal, then it would have been a controversy, and it would've gotten more -- I think, an interesting thing that I have found in talking with a lot of people is that there's a lot of blame for the media for somehow not doing our jobs. Everyone seems to think that the media's job is to reflect their concerns and their controversies. And in some cases, that is. But I really put a lot of the responsibility for what -- I put all the responsibility, really, for what happens in this country on the people in this country. If people aren't willing to educate themselves, and stand up, and say things, then you can't blame the media for doing it. And yes, we have an incredibly important role in educating people about these things. But if you also want an objective media that's going to give you fair and true information, that doesn't really jive with the idea of a media that's out there trying to fan flames in people, who might then end up protesting government programs. There are plenty of conservative and liberal publications that do have an agenda, whose job it is to do that. But when you expect the mainstream media to be doing that, I think that that's not really fair. I think that the American people have a responsibility to decide for themselves. And if they think that what the government's doing is just fine, then they're not going to be protesting, and they're not going to be writing letters. And we get the government we deserve, right?

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, I think the issue comes in is -- A lot of the citizens don't necessarily have access to be able to challenge some of these issues. And --
HESS: And "access," you mean by what?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: To sources -- inside sources that wouldn't otherwise talk to the public. The national security structure isn't going to be talking off the record.
HESS: But I mean, you're imagining that we do. [laughs] I can promise you that I don't have anybody in the National Security Council that's talking to me. I have ten, twenty people that will talk to me when it serves their interests. But it's -- It's not as if reporters are sitting on these Rolodexes where we snap our fingers and they come to us. It's -- Great stories are the product of hard work and a lot of passion and luck, in many cases -- or and also, finding somebody whose agenda needs to be furthered, and who has access to information. So this -- I think this -- I think that the concern that the media is not representing the American public's views, there's something to be said for that, but I also think the American public needs to express its views a little better.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well I think, when you say that you don't have access, I think if you look at Jonathan Landay's or Warren Strobel's contacts that they're able to establish over many years, they're able to dig out a lot of information.
HESS: Yes, over many years -- Yeah, I think Jonathan is one of the great reporters in Washington. And then I think -- But this -- And this takes us back to the difference between beat reporting and investigative reporting. In beat reporting, you're responsible for generating copy every day that's accurate, and that's true, and that responds to that day's headlines or helps make the next day's headlines. And In investigative reporting, you don't have, necessarily, that daily deadline to worry about. So you're able to sort of dig around, and see what's up. And take people out for lunch, and talk to them, and become friends with them, and sort of check in. There's more time to do it. And so -- But they can't do their job unless there are beat reporters who are also running down, "This is what they said on this date. This is what somebody else said on this date." So that there's -- So the two kind of mesh together. If the thesis here is that the United States needs more vigorous journalism, I completely agree. I completely agree. Vigorous journalism is hard to do, and it's expensive to do. It's like a tea cup in an ocean, though. Because you have two or three reporters or five reporters at big newspapers that are doing the work, and then you have -- The Bush administration officials yesterday had something like, I think the Washington Post reported, as they were trying to sort of go on and counter the claims that are in Richard Clarke's recently released book, fifteen different interviews on television in one day. So -- They just -- Government -- I have been awed by how powerful the government can be when it chooses to, and really struck with this particular administration is the unity of vocabulary. I think a communication message goes out each day saying, "These are the big things on our plate today. And these are the words that we're going to use to describe them." And that is a very difficult thing to counter. And I think that people who believe that the media isn't doing enough to sort of take apart what it is that the Bush administration is saying, don't -- I think they don't necessarily understand the business, which is that it's hard to take apart that stuff. You're relying on great sources, and you can't make them talk to you. They have to want to talk to you. So it's just really hard -- They're powerful, and it's really hard to counter them. It can be done. But it's on issues that are sort of few and far between. And that are helped along by stuff like the 9/11 commission, or the Cole commission, or things like that.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So when you say "the business," you mean it costs too much to have investigative reporters? It would be too expensive to have someone looking at this, and that's why there's not enough vigorous journalism?
HESS: I don't think it's quite as simple as an economics question. But if you are -- If you're a newspaper -- Or if you're a news organization, and you have to put out a newspaper every day, if you had an entire staff of investigative reporters, you'd be putting out a monthly magazine, if that. You can't generate the copy that you need to generate, and do adequate coverage of what's going on. You know, to say that "There was a fire here," and that "The DC water is full of lead." Things are happening, and that is news. And so have to put resources towards covering that. And then you have some resources for investigative. And I quite agree.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So why can't you have both?
HESS: You can have both. You can have both. And I agree that investigative journalism is the more valuable of the two, in the long-term. But -- It's the more valuable of the two when you think of sort of really truth-squatting what the government is saying and doing. But, you know, for Joe in the street who just wants to know if DC water is safe to drink today, you also need the daily reporter. So, I don't know -- Maybe you need to talk to editors about how they make that decision. Because that's way beyond me. I just sit at the Pentagon, and do my thing.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, I guess from my perspective, I have access to the Internet, and I can go read the transcripts directly. With -- As of five years ago, Lexis Nexis had a different influence on the business. But now, anyone has access to the transcripts. So from my perspective, I see that the journalists are the ones who have to be asking the questions in the briefings. And so it's a proxy to being able to challenge them, and not just dictating what they say.
HESS: I'm sorry, repeat that last part.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Challenge them on issues, and ask them the questions. Or -- You know, if -- Be able to say -- Okay, aluminum tubes, for example. On October 4th, you reported, 'This is kind of weird. The CIA saying that there's a debate.' And then, from the coverage that I saw, I didn't see any other reports on that. And you know, it's a nugget.
HESS: Yeah, it is a nugget. But it's also -- I think that the difference between what you're -- where you're coming from, and where I'm coming from on that is that -- once I've asked Rumsfeld about those aluminum tubes, and he said, "I don't know, that's a CIA issue." I'm sort of stuck, unless I can be pulled off my daily beat to go now cover the CIA every day. Or -- So it's -- So when you see -- When you read the transcripts, and are frustrated because your questions aren't being asked the way that you want to ask them -- It could be journalists are lazy, journalists are not prepared. It could also be, they've already asked that question, and have found that they're just getting a brick wall. They're not getting any information. And there's a -- There's a great deal of work that goes on outside of the briefings. The briefings is where you get people on the record. But it's phone calls that you make, and conversations that you have in the hallway, and e-mails that you get from people that are offering you information that make up the bulk of the quality work that you do. And the briefings, while being an excellent fire hose for the administration and a great opportunity for reporters to get the official line, and every once in a while a bit of information or actually move a story along, then there's just -- I do understand the frustration, but if I don't have anything more beyond these aluminum tubes -- You know, there's a question about them, the aluminum tubes -- I can't -- There's no where I can go with that, if I don't have anything beyond the fact that there's a question about it. If I have an official document, I have something original that says, "Yeah, these things aren't real," then I've got a story. But you know, there's only just -- You just hit a brick wall, and that's that.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So I guess for -- Okay -- In the constraints of your beat, you're covering the Pentagon, and you're also national security, so does that not include the CIA? NSA?
HESS: I don't do the CIA on a daily basis. But I do talk to them periodically. And I know one or two people at the NSA. And when I -- When from my main work I need to go there, I do. And ideally, I would have a situation where I could cover all of that. But I think what you'll find, if you go to either the big papers or even larger wire services, that they have people specifically designated to national intelligence. And it's a whole beat unto itself. So --

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So it's another beat reporter?
HESS: That's another beat, yeah.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. I guess, for you --
HESS: We don't -- At UPI, I don't think we have someone dedicated to that. We just don't have the money for it.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. So you don't have a --
HESS: I don't think we have an intelligence reporter.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. That's what I was trying to figure out --
HESS: Yeah, I don't think we do.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: -- like where your boundaries are?
HESS: I don't really have any firm boundaries. But I don't -- I can call whoever I want, essentially, if it's important for my story.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. So Bill Harlow at the CIA, you usually talk to him.
HESS: Sure.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Let's see. Back to the no-fly zones, did you see that there seemed to be a different intention than the consequence -- a different intention of trying to eliminate the air defense? Did you ever get the sense that this has nothing to do with the repression of the civilian population? That they're using this as a pretext to kind of eliminate for other purposes?
HESS: You know what -- No, I don't think so. And I think the evidence -- The evidence to support the idea of the no-fly zones were well-intentioned -- from my mind, it's pretty persuasive. The military almost never bombed anything. It was just really policing the skies, flying circles in the skies. It was a big issue for the Air Force, who was complaining about this, saying that "We have these guys up there, putting hours and hours on planes, never shooting anything, never doing anything. They come down. They still have to fly, and be trained again." So it was a real strain on them. So it wasn't until December '98 that Saddam Hussein's people started firing at the forces that were flying these. So that's when they began doing the -- when they began taking apart the air defenses. And I think if you look at what happened, particularly in the north of Iraq with the Kurds -- I mean, they were in a really different situation than the rest of Iraq. And it did have an overarching benefit, I think it's indisputable. I know that there were some civilians that were killed. I'm sure that there were civilians that were killed -- I don't know that there were -- during the course of those operations. But the economic and sort of peaceful benefit to the Kurdish people in northern Iraq. I mean, if you've -- Have you been to Sulaymaniyah?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: No.
HESS: Or anywhere up there? I mean, it's a very different situation. They've set up -- It's peaceful and prosperous, and they've set up a really nice little system for themselves. So it had been a benefit to them. It did protect the Kurds. And they were able to set up a separate society, autonomous, away from the reach of Saddam Hussein.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, I guess the -- specifically, when you report on stuff saying that "U.S. and British aircraft enforcing no fly zones were shot upon more than 125 times" or "They only fired after coming under fire from anti-aircraft artillery" -- And each of these attacks was carried out after Iraqi forces somehow threatened coalition aircraft, these are all statements that are coming --
HESS: According to Central Command -- Correct?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Right. And -- Is there any way to verify them?
HESS: They're the only source on it. I mean, how would you verify it? Would you say -- Just don't report it?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, I mean, that's the question of -- if they --
HESS: Well, so that's my question to you.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Right.
HESS: Put yourself in my position -- Do you not report it? U.S. has struck the radar at Al Khut. Okay? They say that that's what happened. Do you report that?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I would report that it's unverified, that that's what they said.
HESS: It's unverified that they struck at Al Khut?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Because how do you know?
HESS: But the idea -- You're really getting into an odd semantic argument, which is you say, "This is how you write it" -- you know, "F-16's struck an Iraqi radar." --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Hold on. We have to change tapes... Okay. Go ahead.
HESS: When you -- The issue that we're talking about is when Central Command says that "They struck a radar at Al Khut in enforcement of the no-fly zones." Do you report it? And my question then is "Would you not report it?" And the answer then seems to be, "Well, yes." -- But you would say it's unverified. But that is actually -- in news writing, what you're saying is not that they struck a radar in Al Khut, you're saying, "Central Command said that they struck a radar in Al Khut," which is "This is what they said." And that's accurate. This is what they said, and there's no way to verify it -- because unless you're in the cockpit with the pilot or you talk to him when he comes down, that's going to be your only second source. So this idea that because Central Command says something, you have to automatically point out that "It could be a lie" just really seems to beg their professionalism and also journalists. I mean, the reason that you source things is so that people can see for themselves who's saying it.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Right. And I guess that's my issue, is that sometimes they're saying -- Their statements would be said -- And, I mean, I've found a few examples, but especially about television news -- Well, they would be saying these things unsourced. Or --
HESS: Right. Yeah, television is -- Television's a little tougher, because they have less time to get the same amount of information out. And they do create impressions that don't necessarily source things back to where they go. But I think at that point -- and you probably need to talk to some television people about this -- but I think at that point, they say, "We're professionals, and it is our job to be satisfied that this is true enough that we can go on the air with it. And if we didn't think it was true, then we probably wouldn't go on the air. Or we'd make a big story about how we don't think it's true." So, it's just -- In news writing, you say who said it. And therefore it lays it out there. You're not saying it is fact, you're saying that they said this happened. And then the other parts of -- The other parts of those stories, with regard to a reference that you made to the rules of engagement -- under what situations they would do it, they would fire on threats -- some of that does end up getting shortened. There was -- gosh, I don't know how many -- just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these things over the course of four years that would happen. And so in writing it every day, it becomes this formulaic thing. I was satisfied -- I was at Incirlik where fighters were going, and I knew a lot of fighter pilots, and I was satisfied that what they were explaining about the rules of engagement was actual case. And one thing that -- If you look into the stories, in the longer stories, about the no-fly zones -- that I think almost everyone universally pointed out, and I certainly did, is this idea that there's this odd disconnect between how -- between them getting fired on or threatened in some way -- the use of the word "threatened" was very intentional. It wasn't saying that they were fired on, but rather they perceived a threat, which could be anything from being painted by radar, or -- which is also something I think I usually included in there -- you could be painted by radar, it could be a fighter plane is launched. So because they were threatened, then there was often a disconnect between the time that they acted in response to that threat, and in the threat itself. So sometimes, they would go back, land, and then the next day launch a retaliatory strike on something that had nothing to do with the initial threat. And that was something that I felt that I adequately covered. And it was when that first became clear -- I remember the briefings, and the admiral that was telling us -- a now-retired admiral who was a spokesman for the Pentagon -- and we had a long discussion about this. So -- About the idea that there wasn't necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship between what happened. And I think I would agree with what seems to be your thesis maybe now, is that those details often got lost as the stories got older. And I would think that's true.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Right. Yeah. That's what -- You know, if someone's doing that every day, I could see -- and you don't want to be over-redundant, sourcing every little thing. And so, when the dateline's in Washington, D.C., and it's being reported like that. You kind of assume that you're taking their word. But it's not always made explicitly clear that that's the case.
HESS: Well, as far as I'm concerned, as a news professional, if I say that Central Command said something, I'm saying that Central Command said it. And I'm not independently verifying it. If I say Central Command said something, and then in an interview following the operation with the pilot who flew the plane, then it becomes clear that now there's two sources. Or on and on and on. So -- And so I think that the argument that you have is one with sort of standard ways of news writing that you think maybe don't do enough to spur doubt in the -- or spur skepticism in the minds of readers. And I think that it would be -- I think that one could make a really interesting argument on the other side that if you had your preferred tagline that "This information could not be verified," that would seem to be journalism very biased against the government. And I think that the idea of just saying, "This is the person that said it. And I'm leaving it up to you what to do with it," is probably a reasonable middle ground -- As opposed to saying, let me just take the example here, "F-16s struck a radar in Al Khut. No civilians were hurt" Versus "F-16s struck a radar in Al Khut. No civilians were hurt, according to U.S. Central Command" Versus "An F-16 struck a radar in Al Khut, Central Command said. They also claimed that no civilians were hurt. This information could not be verified." Tell me which one of those is the most objective, which one is not pushing some kind of an agenda? It's not this one, because that one's pushing the idea that "The military didn't hurt anybody, and we know it to be true." And it's not this one, because that's the idea that "We think that they're lying, and we just want you to understand it." It's this one, "This is what they said happened." That's all we can do.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Right. Okay. Let me see, if there's -- I've got maybe one or two more questions. Let me just throw out a couple of things, quick --
HESS: Sure.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: On March 2nd, 2003, did you --
HESS: [laughs] You're killing me with this.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Did you hear anything -- and this was the Katharine Gunn story that broke. Katharine Gunn was the one who leaked the memo saying that the N.S.A. is spying on the U.N.
HESS: Right. Right.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: This was on March 2nd, 2003. It was in The Observer, and she was arrested the next week. Was that on your radar screen at all?
HESS: It wasn't on my radar screen at all --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I'm sorry, just --
HESS: No, I understand. Yeah, it wasn't. And actually, I didn't know that she was arrested -- or did I? I think that the reasons that it wasn't on my screen were -- It was the U.N. It was Britain -- it was a British paper. And I didn't have any way of adding anything to it. The most that we could do with it would be to pick it up. And I imagine that we'd probably put a 200 or 300-word thing. But that's not my job. If I can't add something to the story, or independently verify, or move it along, or discredit it, then there's not much for me to do with it. Otherwise, then I just become a repeater of somebody else's work. And I'd rather do my own work.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So even if that memo came into your office today saying, "The N.S.A. is spying on the U.N. illegally." What would you do with that?
HESS: That's a good question. You'd have to have something new to report. It would probably be an opportunity to say -- to maybe go back into her case, and figure out where she stands in the legal system, which I have no idea. And then you sort of go back over and say, "And this is what the memo was. And it was obtained by U.P.I."

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, what I was -- I guess -- You know, it was published and on the Internet, and it was out there. You know, is that outside of your bounds to say, "If the N.S.A." -- which, I mean, after the war, it came out that they were. I mean, there was allegations --
HESS: I mean, you're also -- You're putting -- You're putting a lot of --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Hindsight bias?
HESS: Well, no. No. Actually, I'd say you're putting a lot of trust in stuff that gets posted on the Internet. That stuff can be toyed with. You know, it can be changed. So I'm not necessarily -- Unless I see that something -- Unless I have another way of verifying that something is an actual document versus a document that maybe began life as one thing and certain things were changed. I'm not just going to pull it off the Internet, and say that this is true. You have to take it --

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, if they have a name -- In this particular instance, they had a name, Frank Koza, that was -- that they had confirmed was employed at the N.S.A. And that they had this memo. And that they had had Gregory Bamford look it and say, "Yeah, it looks like it probably is." So it wasn't just posted raw, they had done some journalism on it.
HESS: Right. I didn't -- I didn't follow it closely enough to say, but those are my initial concerns. And I guess -- Again, this is all -- sort of fits into your thesis that -- For reasons of laziness or unprofessionalism or media bias, huge things were ignored. And -- And I think that -- I think that -- I think that that is -- There's some truth to that. There's also truth to all of the other stuff, which is incredibly cluttered news environment. Reporters have a bias toward their own stuff -- towards the stuff that they themselves generate. That's what they trust. So, there's -- I mean, there's lots of reasons for it. It doesn't mean that the media is blameless in ignoring these things. But also there are other levels of media that I imagine you'll also talk about, which is the place for a lot of that stuff -- bringing together all of these different things -- are magazines, where people again have time to really craft something. But to expect -- To expect a newspaper or a news reporter to pick something up, and to give it legs, you also have to understand that there needs to be new information with it every day. Otherwise it doesn't have any legs. I mean, that's just what happens. That is sort of the basis of news. It has to be new.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And you're speaking from the perspective of a beat reporter, specifically right? Or?
HESS: If I'm speaking as a magazine reporter -- If I were a magazine reporter, I could take that, and do something with it, and blow it into a larger story. And say, "Here's all the case of stuff." And even as a beat reporter, I could do that. But that's a one-day story. I can do that one time. And unless I have something new on that NSA memo, I'm done with it. Or unless she gets out of jail, or she gets killed in jail, or whatever happens -- unless it's new, nothing happens. And that's actually sort of the brilliance of the White House, is that they can get on there every day and just say something just a tiny little bit new, and then that commands the headlines. News -- the root word of "news" is "new" So -- [laughs] -- If it's new, then we write about it. And if it's not new, then we figure, "Well, pick up my story yesterday. And read that one, because it's going to say the exact same thing today, unless I have something new."

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Great. Let me see if there's any other questions -- I think I got them. I think the grilling is done here. So just -- One last retrospective -- When you look back on this time period, what would you have done differently?
HESS: I haven't really had a chance to think about that. And I would actually need to go back, I think, and really review my stuff. And see if I felt like I left some holes. I think, I feel pretty comfortable that I often included the nutgraph -- or the explaining paragraph -- that talked about Rumsfeld's discussion of the idea of a feeling of vulnerability versus a new level of threat. Because I felt like that was important. If I'd had more time, which means not a requirement to cover what was going on every day with new deployments, and the work that they were doing, then I could have done more analysis and more synthesis of what was going on. And dig around, and really dig up all the other stuff. But in the constraints of my job, I feel pretty comfortable with what I did, which is to say, "Here's what they said. And here's why they're saying it." I feel very strongly that my job at the Pentagon is -- If I don't have information to counter what they say, is to find out why they were saying it. To go beyond what it is they're saying and get to "Why?" -- "Why would you do this? Why wouldn't you do that?" -- And so -- And I think I have a strong record on that, and I feel comfortable with that. I think it'd be great to be a real great investigative reporter, and maybe one day I will. But I need some better sources. If somebody could help me with that, that would be great.

Hello from CO

Hey Pam, it's your old pal from North Shore High. Was searching the channels the other night and saw you on some dreded CSPAN program. Thought I search your "Cover Name" on Google and see what else you were up to. I'm reading pretty amazing inserts about your coverage and I'm very proud to know you especially in those Mustang days. I'm now retired from the Air Force and still work for the Fed Govt conducting security type work. Hope all is well with you and your family.

PS: Say hello to Judy Tenzer (spelling).

Old Friend

Alex G

Hess attitude and "discovery"

Saw long, emotional interview, revealing Hess to have "discovered" the primal motivation of boots on the ground, which was nothing new if she'd read anything by James Jones or Ernie Pyle or Victor Davis Hanson, before venturing forth. Soldiers have ALWAYS been motivated by unit-loyalty -- witness "Big Red One' and other portrayals of soldiers going thru hell to get back and join the unit.
so many reporters learning so many "new" lessons.... they shouldn't be allowed to become "war correspondents" until they do some study-hall time first.

Pamela Hess

Saw your c span spot on youtube, you are fantastic. Wow, Some honest reporting.

Hurray Pamela Hess

Funny I found this page after googling Ms Hess as a result of the CSPAN video Dan is referring to. I agree with Dan, you are making a difference, and I hope you get invited all over the place to talk about what you saw in Iraq.

Thank you for not toeing the party line, both in that interview and the one in January where you asked about national security. You have the guts and the honesty your kneejerk anti-Bush colleagues in the Green Zone don't have.

To a Humanist

Ms. Hess,

I was up late last night after a card game at my house with the "boys". Having my night cap I saw you on CSPAN I think. You cried very appropriately. You are a humanist, a person with a good heart. Last night I emailed you. I am not sure how good I did in trying to tell you what was on my mind (card game, boys, drinks). So let me try one more time. You are making a difference. you as best as I can tell are telling the truth that comes from your heart. The reason you are so passionate is due to your deep concern for others, it is easy to see that in you. Your mother and father should be proud. I don't know why I want to say this to you but I want to say be happy. Find happiness in a world that to often is sad. Sometimes write about miracles of happiness in sad places. Let the world know there is hope when so many believe there is none. Start by practicing personal happiness daily. You are good people you have given me a new perspective about the war and much to think about.

Sincerely
Dan