Oral Histories

Wolf Blitzer

Interview Segments on Topic: Reporter-Source Relationships

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: There must be so many instances when you’re dealing with the military though where you’ve got these tricky issues to negotiate about—their preference would be, I’m sure in every case, tell us first what you want to report and we’ll tell you if we think you should report it. I’m sure you don’t do that on a routine basis but, people must routinely tell you things that they want off the record and then you’re going to have to decide whether you’re going to agree to that.

BLITZER: On the issue of ground rules, I’m always—and I’ve always been, this was instilled in me at Reuters when I first became a journalist; be precise with your sources. If they say it’s off the record, make sure your definition of off the record is the same as their definition of off the record. If it’s on background, in other words I can’t mention their names but I can report it, make sure that they understand what background means and you have the same understanding they have. If it’s on deep background; you know we have all these areas, if it’s on the record, just be precise and know that they may not know a government official or someone, what all these terms mean. So just be precise with them, so if you are going to report it, they won’t be surprised. And all these years later, I’m exactly like that. So if I go into a meeting with someone and he or she starts talking and giving me information, I always make sure look, are we talking on the record are we talking off the record? Are we talking background? Deep background? And sometimes I have to give them a little explanation, a tutorial on what all that means. Beause I said, I don’t want us to get into a fight afterwards about what I’m reporting and not reporting so I’ve always been disciplined on that level.

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel like those people in general, they’ve been trustworthy over the years in the sense that when they tell you that something really shouldn’t be reported that it really is because it’s a national security issue as opposed to their just covering their behinds?

BLITZER: I would say that some are trustworthy, some are just political nervous nellies or whatever and some really do have…if it’s a very, very sensitive issue, you really have to dig deep and sometimes you have to get multiple sources. We always had an expression, I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times—I’m not a cynical journalist but I am a skeptical journalist. I remember one of my early mentors in journalism said to me, ‘be skeptical, rule of thumb, if you’re mother tells you she loves you, get a second source.’ So I’ve always been skeptical but not cynical, and I think there’s a difference.