Meet the Author: Peter Baker

Meet the Author: Peter Baker


and the following program is a
production of the Fairfax network Fairfax County Public Schools [music] [music] [music] welcome to meet the author I’m your host Kate Sullivan our guest
today is chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and a contributing writer for The New
York Times Magazine Peter Baker thanks for being here thank
you for having me track well also joining our studio discussion
our students from Annandale High School welcome and
if you would like to join our discussion today you can tweak or call in with your
questions and homage to hash tag MTA Baker or call the number on your screen or
email us and we have matched better standing by to monitor your emails and
tweets will be getting updates for him
throughout the show Matt got the laptop gone keep an eye on the emails got
tablet for the tweets make sure you that hash tag MTA Baker at from looking for to send
your questions on an alright thanks so much Matt so Peter
tell us a little bit about net now you’re the pinnacle a
journalistic Heights and how did it all started coming a little bit about your
background grass or yard Fairfax County Public
Schools actually I was born in Fairfax County went to seven different public
schools here in the county over the course in my childhood I and and I
was always a encouraged to participate in class
newspaper school newspapers and and and really stock I really enjoyed
journalism writing I really enjoyed studying affect journalism is like a lifetime being a student all
the good ways now is a pop quiz but I and and so far for schools was
where I gotta start and really shaped who I am today you take
any journalism classes in high school idea that idea I was a few high school
mice to my dad don’t use Stewart Hill who’s now
retired he was fabulous job mister hill was
fantastic he I’m ever going to meet him for the first time I was orientation for school and I said that
went to me know so what’s your advice for young journalist and as is better is by Stan was be
aggressive which I always remembered and by that he
didn’t mean be obnoxious which unfortunately sometimes journalists I can do he met don’t take no for an
answer be persistent is probably a better way
of putting it we have several student journalists in our audience today and how which tell us what your name is
any questions you might have for mister baker okay my name’s shared an accident a school on so I was wondering are going to but
there’s a lot of a and every year some reason I you coming
over all these personal notes and memos arm
Kia let us know how you balance this and been a journalist at the New York
Times well her well the great thing is your time to
encourage me to to work on this book gave me time of so I a lot I’m working on the side well during the day job but in the end
you have to take time off to to work on a project like this I was off for about
a year and several months I’ll in which I will try
for pilot home and you know it was a great experience was a lot of fun your questions yes returning money with Berta and I know you like
throughout the years he studied like many like the leaders like Putin Bush and Cheney so I
was know if you have any arm dinos any similarities or
differences between them ask a question arm well I cover three
presidents so I cover bill clinton George W Bush and Barack Obama and you
think okay well Democrats must be like in a public the
truth is actually is lot less to do with political party
than you think right their personalities the way they
approach things their leadership styles really are not about ideology or
political philosophy so you have clinton and bush in some ways are very
much alike in the sense that they both like politics they both like people there
outgoing people they enjoy a good rope line nobody enjoys one more than
bill clinton but bush is somewhat like that as well and Barack Obama is it is much more than
introvert he’s much more interested in policy but he’s not as a glad hand or in
the traditional sense he and bush or someone like in some ways
for instance they both believe in making the decision once you make a
decision not second-guessing at not going back in revisiting it sticking to
it moving forward not worrying about the the neighboring
naybobs as a previous vice president wants put it so you know
we have to look at these people not need to the lens necessarily the political
party but how they are as individuals and as as they are leaders and have a question I have a question
regarding your book kremlin rising so in a book you go
very deep into putin’s character and who he is as a
person and as well as his political rise I was curious how has your view with him evolved and changed since the recent a
events regarding Ukraine and Russia yeah it’s a
great question I think a lot of people really wanted to be something he wasn’t they
hoped he would be a westernized really hope he would be a friend of America
they hope you get ’em somebody who bring russia further into
democracy and and and the International water and I
think actually job what we found we were there is
correspondent my wife ass is grass and I were there for four years for the
washington post and that’s why we wrote this book I think we found than the early seed
what you see now I thought we saw you know crackdown home you know difficult relations with its
neighbors including play places like ukraine and so I think
you see the season who he has become overtime and it will become more so in
effect more exaggerated version what we
portrayed I think income arising another question from our studio
audience my name’s also Jared througout days of
fire you talk a lot about both the political and social relationship
between Bush and Cheney and from the first turn to the second
term there was obviously a lot of changes and you talk about that I was
just running is there anything in specific that you
such change both politically and socially between them
that really a defines the second yeah that’s a great
question I you know they did change I think we have
by the time we had this way every static in various two-dimensional understanding and who
they were you know the common caricature was that Cheney with the power behind the
throne and Bush was sort of the frontman and and didn’t really run things that was
all way too simplistic way to cartoonish I and i think im doing the book research
I think you discover that back is much more complicated as
you say changed so drastically by the second term Cheney was very influential but not the
only influential person in the first term by the second he and bush begun to move in different
directions they were on different pages when it came to iraq-iran Russia federal spending gay
rights gun rights climate change all sorts of different
issues where they were be moving apart a party that was bush
you know becoming more comfortable in the role as president by second term most presidents know
they’re own mind better they have better judgments about how they want to pursue things
they know foreign leaders better he didn’t to rely on didn’t need cheney nearly as much any of he also
tried to change course because he thought the presidency needed to be fixed in some way and Cheney thought that was a betrayal where they were where they have been
going so it was back when touched by the and the two of them had a a pretty big
fight at the end about the pardon for Scooter Libby and that’s
what I’ve encapsulated how they grow apart how do you know all these things and
your journalistic how do you know the inner workings of what was going on well I covered obviously for a number
of year but then in doing the book I when I hadn’t heard about for interviews I with people who had
been there including Vice President Cheney including Secretary Rumsfeld Secretary Rice Secretary Powell white house aides senators generals and in low-level staffers who
often see a lot more sometimes than the famous people do and over time you kinda triangulate
you pull together the disparate threads you pick up from
four different interviews and you begin to see a larger
picture I and that’s actually what makes it
challenge is to find a way to tell that a cohesive narrative I but it’s also a be a lot of fun I
think to go back on something we thought we knew and I revisit it and try to learn a
little more than we we did at the time know we had similar questions yes hi i’m
Chelsea after writing your book the breach what
changes did you see in clinton during his trials’s that’s a
great question to the breaches about Clinton’s impeachment and Senate trial uhm and he you know he came through that you know
scarred like I think anybody would but at the same time he he viewed it as a badge of honor he
tried to spin in effect what he gone through and
what he caused partly through his own behavior as a a noble thing in his view defending the Constitution against
conservatives in congress now that’s not where everybody sees it but
he is he has managed over time to put a lot of these scandals behind him is really remarkable thing when he left office about two-thirds of Americans thought his
historical legacy woud be the scandal right that’s what people thought he
would be remembered by in fact today he looks a lot different you know people remember the scandal ah but the things that they’d usually
talk about are it was peaceful we had prosperity the economy was good
and he’s he so relentless at redefining himself
and re reselling himself in effect to the
american public that he has a managed to I think overtime polish his
legacy in a way that you might not expect at the time has
everyone been able to ask a question all right for them right now we’re going
to have we have some other questions coming in to matt fetters emails and tweets
matt what do you have now a couple questions here for you one from twitter one from email one kind of leads in to the other first a linear wants to know what’s
your favorite part the writing process and then going to
our email they want to about when it comes time to
verify your facts how many sources does it take an do you
ever use Wikipedia those are a great questions our might let my favorite part writing is very easy it’s a famous saying no writer likes writing every
writer loves having written yeah and so much better having written
right at part actually I like it when I have a draft I have a full draft it’s not done means a
lot of work to be done but I like having something to work with because any least you begin to see what
parts make sense and what doesn’t make sense what needs to come out how they
might be rearranged for the blank page the blank page is awful whether it’s on a screen on a typewriter as I started off with when
I was your age so that’s that you know get my advice to writers is just get a
draft don’t worry about being make it perfect get a draft done because
once you’ve got a draft then you can try to make it perfect or more more perfect anyway the other question
in fact is a great when I i’m I I would determine this book be as
factually correct as possible very important for history that we don’t
take chances I in fact I’m I’m happy that most people I talk to in
the end allowed himself to be quoted on the records in
the footnotes are are pretty extensive so it’s not just anonymous sources is so common in Washington and to really make sure I had it right I hired six different fact checkers to take
different parts and got ripped the book apart in effectt and give it out to six different
people not a whole lot older than you guys are and they’ wee fabulous and I I was chagrined how many mistakes
they did find but glad that they did because I think it
may a better stronger book and Wikipedia when I say about Wikipedia would be is
worthwhile to an amazing innovation but what I use Wikipedia
for is to go to where they got their original information from the Wikipedia as a
starting point but not the ending point all right thank you very much matt but
those questions will check back in with you later I just wanted to point out that your
book is pretty thick it’s a little bit yeah it’s it’s not
just on note that read the note that a lot it’s not a light it’s thinner than it looks but is very
readable it’s very easy book to read through so I we need to
know if you have any questions for Peter Baker send us your tweet give us a call or email now Peter what is your writing routine like
the let’s let’s let’s talk about the newspaper
for minute dot you have a daily routine for writing your article
the prop is the daily routine has changed so much I when I start off in journalism in 1986
we wrote one story q day and you wrote around deadline time would be five or six in the evening as a very understandable you know a daily routine today your writing any
time a day 6 a.m. eight pm 12 a.m. midnight noon doesn’t
matter because we are constantly updating the wbe we’re constantly putting
out tweets were constantly pushing our journalism out through all kind of different platforms so it’s changed drastically i can write at
time of day any moment of the day and what find is you do you do you end up writing the
same story sometimes two or three times right let’s give an example President
Obama comes out makes an announcement he’s going to propose X to congress alright boom boom you got
something very quick for the web so it’s up on the web within minutes if
you can but that’s not good enough for us we want to keep billing that
story out right you may have 4 or 5 paragraphs up
very quickly but then through the day as reaction
comes in as more information comes in you’ll rewrite that story you’ll add to that story you’ll change on the web
over the day and then you have to rewrite it again
for the print paper the next day that story might be more analytical that story is hopefully is deeper more value added so the people who read on the web during the day get something a little
more when they pick up the paper in the morning more perspective from our perspective a
little more forward leaning mmm-hmm so you’re working all the
time in you work all time then you worl all time you go to bed at ten o’clock and get up 6 like where you may have you can but you may find yourself woken up in the middle of the night
sometimes especially with foreign news which obviously happens around the clock well with days of fire how long did it
take you to research this book yeah that’s a great question overall six
years on the book but i dind’t spend six years full time I don’t wanna overstate that I spent about a year and
a half pretty close to full time I took leave
from the newspaper the rest of the time I work on the side while while covering my beat I’m and you know I could spend more time I
told my wife at the end I got a year two I think I could spend on this
book interested and she’d said this is enough at that time at some point you do have
to make something done your consultant yeah exactly well you know I mentioned earlier Peter
that the student journalists here with us they
are they’re going to learn what it takes to produce an
award-winning newspaper they’ve been learning that for couple years now what every three weeks
the Annandale High School the school that these students go to publishes the a blast and it goes to
press every three weeks our MTA crew has the inside scoop and we’re gonna take a look right now deadline week for the a blast staff brings
a flurry of activity in their busy newsroom there’s getting the last minute interview my
name’s Jared I’m one of the co editors in chief for The
a blast as writing captions that pop a good caption is something that will captured readers eyes it has to
hook them into the story make them feel like they have to read the
whole article capturing the perfect quote when i get a really good quote it like
surprises me because like I’m just thinking aback i’m like wow
this was like excellent like this is more than I expected perfecting
layouts we try to condence everything but in a
way that it flows easily so the reader can understand and we tried space things out but not leave it at
that there’s so much white space and of course fueling all of this is food unlike many student newspapers
relegated to after-school club status a blast media adviser Allan Weintraut
says having a four-year journalism program is
important we’re so fortunate that I can keep these
kids for up to four years and that’s key to our success and our
longevity of up having an excellent product a product
that provides these young journalists with real-world
experience journalism to me is is really the English class in the 21st
century we start with an idea the kids draft they have to consult sources
both primary and secondary sources they have
to run around the school interview all kinds of stakeholders teachers students custodians
administrators we’re really scared cappers like talk to
like the teachers and the principal but once you get really is so it’s like be the only people I knew you know the
questions asked and the topics there they go through several revisions because they know that if 20 kids in this classroom
don’t understand it then 3500 readers are not gonna
understand it so there’s a a polishing and a drafting process as
well as a top notch copy editor common mistakes i see are they don’t split
hopes properly money have things that are capitalized
that shouldn’t be capitalize like senior or junior however the
revising process doesn’t stop with linus the copy moves up the chain of command to part as my other co either in people’s houses on
managing editor so Chelsea so to handle the logistics and everything and Berta and I do the same thing but we
have two people doing it so it makes my job a little easier I like working and we’re currently it is
a lot of work because page editors may help while
times and the new stuff comes in you have to be willing to
help them I really like a and to get to produce something together
weintraut says this peer to peer collaboration is
invaluable my involvement with the the writing
process isn’t I’m very much involved at the beginning and I want to be with the students as they
me determine what sources to talk to the angle they’re gonna take with their
story on and then I really let them gold in
the other students leave them but in the end weintraut is the final stop for quality
control I see at the end product because I I
have a different set of adult eyes i’m looking out for stylistic concerns or anything that’s
not only balance to it thoroughly researched once approved the
copy is ready for printing I’m no one attended to washington Post
IPS all the pages and export than and and I call Kevin who helps us to check over into if
everything’s okay and when he gives me the gold the
newspaper that published immediately after we finish the paper
after the last page get sent over the kevin at the washington post we go home and sleep in the wee hours of
the morning while the students are catching up on
much needed zzs washington Post employees volunteer their time equipment and expertise to print the a
blast at their springfield virginia printing
plant we’ve had a printing partnership with the washington post probably going on fifteen years now and
it’s been huge to our school community because it impacts every single stem through our partnership with the post we
don’t have to pay for printing costs which is phenomenal to us in it saves us probably
about twenty five thousand dollars a year eight over 20 pages are in color with
the post in that city another great thing for our readers to see which a lot of high school papers go every three weeks the process goes like
this: once the printing plates are installed
several copies around then the press operators examine the
paper for proper paper alignment in saturation and other printing details when final
approval is given the press operator announces were sold
and in about 10 minutes some thirty-five hundred copies of the a
blast our planet a gripper conveyor grab the papers and transports them to the mailroom
where they are dropped into a stacking machine and bundled for distribution the next
morning I I will go pick up the papers bring
them to school we put them in the newsstands around the
school and then we distribute them during home but that is not be in the production the
following day all the editors meet to review the paper
we go over each paid this got hello what they did well
something that could have changed so what does it take to consistently
produce an award-winning student newspaper well for the staffer be a blast it takes
teamwork dedicated adviser and acts on a business
partnership an lot of hard work and I I think the world key word there is hard
work several of our students here in the audience to work on a black
congratulations to all love you for your hard work Peter I would ask you a question you
know we when you cover the white house and you cover cheney and president bush you want you want to have good
relationship with them I assume so they will like you and they’ll
feel comfortable with you and give you stories and what not but you what do you do you will be too
close because then you can be accused of bias so where is that line well and that
line it’s a great question and a great point
is a balance you’re trying to find their between access and accountability and as it’s a
it’s historic problem for the White House press corps because on the one hand you’re very dependent on
the people inside the white house to give you information see you wanna
obviously keep good right now professional
constructive relationships with them which can be afraid to write stories
like a like I and I don’t like a lot of stories and they are not shy about
telling you when they don’t like the stories you have to have you know the the wherewithal to realize
that part of the job to as long as you try very hard to be fair
and balance make sure they got a chance to give their point of view this story I then you’re gonna have to live with
the fact they may not like it and just you know move on to the next day and you
ever suffer retribution so sure yeah course I mean it’s an issue
in a way well you know not punish in a sense they take a press
pass away your you know put you in the corner now have two had
on pants cap on your head or something but you know punishments as they’re not as
quick call you back as open with you I we certainly can get angry emails
angry phone calls I has partnered part the job in in your
not your job to be professional about it not take it personally I know we’re from our audience members
are excited at another question so what is your question so I wondering I’m sure I know your correspondent of
the Obama administration know what similar to see between the biden and obama relationship and and the Cheney and Bush that’s a good question there are some right
you know both cases you had new president didn’t have a lot washington
experience I whose relying on somebody as his number
two yet right dick cheney and Joe Biden both in
washington a long time and they in effect were mentors or tutors to some extent
for the president’s that they were serving because they could tell you know how Washington works where the bodies are buried help how you get through congress what you do
with the the media and in both cases I think over time the president over didn’t need the vice president
nearly as much by the time they got to the second term you don’t see biden nearly
as much days you do I think early on just as cheney I think became less of a
force in Bush’s White House over time so you
know I don’t think either either of those pairings would like to be
compared with the other but there are some similarities next question berta my question is that on in the future do
you plan writing any books similar to these since I know that you written already two do you have any future yeah it’s a great question I definitely
would like to write more books I think book writing is uhm is a great challenge but a lot of
fun because you do get a chance to take time
to think and dig and spend quality time reporting rather than
having to as I said write version in three or four minutes and
it’s nice to actually spend a day going and talking to people listening to them hearing their stories asking questions and come home at the end of the day think about without actually having to translate it in to a thousand words ah you know in half an hour time so yeah
I’d like to do some more books and probably along the same lines we were wondering before the show
started if your gonna write a book on President Obama well I might I don’t have one in mind right
now and if I did I wait till he’s done I’m I
think that its its I’d rather have a book that was
lasting and and was able to to the be useful ten
years from now in twenty years from now rather when it is incomplete because we
haven’t seen the end how things work out for him so I that a
question for down the road right now the question I on so another question regarding kremlin
rising you mentioned nashi the the use
countercultural movement have you seen any similar trends with
other nation’s youth such as maybe america well I am obviously youth are involved politics in
a lot of places right and that’s important part politics we want young
people to be involved look what’s happening Hong Kong right
now the street protest you see in hong kong aren’t being led by you know older opposition figures they’re
being led by 17 year olds be led by young people who are very adamant about standing up for their freedoms and their
rights uhm it’s not organize the way nashi is nashi was organized by the state as a way out stopping the growth of
democracy not the other way around it was organized in effect is that as I
latter-day Komsomol or communist youth organization is is what
they had the soviet days in which these people were meant to to help
support Putin’s government support the power structure
not to protest it so I’m you know the that’s the big difference i think im
nice that you would see anything quite like that I was the political
parties public as democrats like to have young people involved but it’s not the same
thing as sort of a government-sponsored
government-organized kinda group another question you how do you build a strong relationship between all these
presidents and leaders well to question you know we don’t
spend as much time I think actually talking to the president as people
probably think we do right we don’t get the chance to wander around the white house and say hey barack hows it going you know it if we’re very respected
and it’s a very controlled environment and our access to this president or any
president is limited and controlled so you know you try to that use the opportunity you do have to ask questions to make sure they’re
worthwhile to make sure your goint to get something useful out of it and not just throwing it away uhm and you know I think presidents respect reporters who asked tough
questions I don’t think they expect to be treated gingerly your you know in some
sycophantic kinda way they respect reports were tough that
doesn’t mean you have to be obnoxious again there’s a difference I but I think you can ask tough
questions presence because it back it challenges them to define and think
about and defend what they’re doing so EIsenhower use to have a press conference every month specifically because he thought it was a helpful thing for his
administration because every month he knew and his people knew that they
have to answer questions about where this priority was where this initiative
was he better have the answers and so became
action forcing kinda things I hope presidents look at press conferences as a
useful function and the reporters and the reporters have a helpful function as well alright Yes
Jared do you have another question yeah i was just wondering if you have
any advice for aspiring journalists that some others in this room are yeah it’s a great when I you know I’m so happy and proudof you guys for what you do I thought that that video presentation at what the a
blast has been done doing is very high impressive you’re far more advanced
than we were when I was in high school here in Fairfax County so I you know what i tell young journalist all the time is just keep you know you write write a lot write as many stories as you can do it again and again and again the way you get good almost anything in
life it is to keep doing it again and again
and find opportunities to do it when you get to college find
opportunities to do it for internships you know and and be
open minded about the kinds of things opportunities you might be interested in pursuing I and be aggressive is as Stewart Hill my
high school teacher told me don’t don’t take no for an answer you
know it’s it’s it’s your life and the only thing anybody could do is
tell you no and you’re no worse off than you were if you hadn’t asked great advice well thank you very
much Peter a great delight agree and thank you for
our studio audience for being here great questions today or for more information about Peter
Baker and his books visit his website at WWW dot Peter Baker
books dot com for more information about the Fairfax
network and our upcoming programs visit us at WWW at FCPS dot EDU Fairfax network for the Fairfax network I’m Kate Sullivan keep reading keep
writing and keep dreaming

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