The Georgetown Lecture Fund hosted a panel discussion on the role of foreign correspondents in international affairs and conflict on March 27 at the Mortara Center for International Studies. The panel consisted of former National Public Radio (NPR) senior foreign correspondent Anne Garrels and national reporter for the Washington Post Mary Jordan, with former spokesperson for the Central Intelligence Agency Ned Price serving as the moderator. The panelists addressed the increasing dangers faced by foreign correspondents on the ground, the impact of technology on journalism, and the growing need for factual reporting in the modern political climate.
Garrels and Jordan approached the discussion from two distinct perspectives: Garrels emphasized the challenges and dangers of on-the-ground reporting in areas of political instability while Jordan stressed the rising demand for educated and passionate foreign correspondents in the field.
“There is an appetite for global news,” Jordan said, pointing to the rapid increase in readership of the Washington Post after the 2016 presidential elections. “When the President of the United States stands up and says that [journalists]are the enemy of the people, it energizes you,” she continued, referring to President Trump’s war with the media.
Garrels remained less optimistic about the relevance of journalists. “The number of foreign correspondents has shrunk dramatically,” she said. “We are no longer needed as an impartial witness by both sides [of a conflict]because they can go online… and do their own public relations.”
Both women remarked on the power of technology to reshape the kind of content that journalists are able to put out and that readers increasingly demand. “It is expanding exponentially the number of people… that we are reaching,” Jordan said. “One interesting trend is that people are demanding more video.”
Garrels, however, cautioned against the dangers of being exposed to an unceasing stream of news online.
“Now, with 24-hour news [cycles]… you can have an awful lot of blah-blah that is deceptive, that is fake news,” she said.
However, Garrels recalled her experience as a foreign correspondent in the Soviet Union and noted how changing technology enabled journalists to evade state censorship and deliver news to domestic audiences faster.
In discussing the 2016 presidential race, both panelists agreed that the media coverage of the election played a role in its outcome.
“There’s no accountability at all,” Garrels said, addressing the proliferation of unregulated cable news that afforded unequal air time to their preferred candidates. Jordan agreed that the rise of cable news provided free advertising to candidates, particularly Trump, that may have contributed to their popularity.
The panelists’ differing views offer a glimpse into the internal disagreements that have gripped the American media world since Trump’s ascendance to the presidency. Although Trump and his supporters brand both the Washington Post and NPR as the biased liberal establishment, there was a notable disconnect between the optimism of the privately-owned Post and the deepening concern of NPR, which is facing severe spending cuts at the hands of the new administration.
Jordan offered several recruitment pitches to the student audience, underscoring that “it is an exciting time to be young and smart and interested in the world.”
At the same time, Garrels, who has served on the Committee to Protect Journalists, reiterated that she is “really worried about the fate of journalists.”
The panel made it clear that the media establishment lacks unity and coherence at a time when it is crucial for journalists to push back against the Trump administration’s anti-press policies and its campaign of blatant misinformation. However, the conversation also highlighted the diversity of opinion that persists among news outlets despite Trump’s attempt to lump all media together into a thoughtless mouthpiece for liberal fake news.