Oral Histories

Wolf Blitzer

Interview Segments on Topic: Accuracy and Fairness

Wolf Blitzer Biography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript

INTERVIEWER:  Another thing I wanted to ask you about, in terms of the way the world of journalism has changed and the speed of it and the concern that in the rush to get things out there and to be first that, the concern you often hear is that we’re not checking things as carefully as we would in terms of corroboration, making sure you know and just like, put it out there.  And then if we have to correct it later we will and there’s a danger that we can make very big mistakes.

BLITZER:  I think that’s a huge problem.  I think there is enormous pressure of a competitive nature.  And with the web and all the websites and the bloggers and getting stuff out there and matching it and rushing to print before you have all the evidence, I think that’s a huge problem.  And it’s much worse now than it was because of the new platforms that are out there reporting stuff.  Sometimes they’re just making it up, sometimes it’s real.  But I’m from the old school that says—usually, almost always, if it’s too good to be true, it’s almost never true.  Occasionally that’s not true.  I don’t want to burned, I’d rather be second or third than be first and wrong.  And I think that’s our attitude at CNN.  We would rather be right than be first and wrong.  You want to be first, you want to break the story, but you want to be sure you have it right.  The other night when I got that call at home to get to the bureau because the president was going to be making a statement from the East Room in the White House, we didn’t know what it was.  Once they said it wasn’t Libya, it wasn’t Kaddafi, we had to suspect it was Bin Laden.  I didn’t know if he was killed, picked up, whatever, but I began to think, why would the president go into the East Room of the White House instead of the briefing room.  It’s a much more formal setting.  You would have to walk through that corridor.  Why would he be making a ten minute speech and why would he be doing it on a Sunday night at 10:30, of all times if it weren’t something huge—it would have to be huge.  And I was told it’s huge, we can’t tell you what.  So my gut instinct was, it has something to do with Bin Laden.  But you know what, I didn’t want to report what my gut instinct was, I needed the facts.  So until we had it, we didn’t report it, even though for maybe 20 minutes, 15 minutes, whatever it was, I began to suspect this is something to do with Bin Laden.  Otherwise, why on a Sunday night would he be addressing the nation suddenly from the East Room of the White House?