Free Press Essential to Every Democracy, Powell Says
Describes frustrations, impact of media with college editors
The press has many obligations to criticize authority and present the grievances of its readers, but its "transcendent value" is to keep the people of a democracy informed, Secretary of State Colin Powell said November 12 in remarks to a group of college newspaper editors.
Powell acknowledged that he personally often finds himself frustrated or angry with what is written or said by the news media, but he recognizes that a free press "is an essential element of our democratic system, and I would submit the democratic system of any nation that calls itself a democracy."
Satellite television has fundamentally changed the media environment in which public figures like himself operate, according to Powell. "I have to worry about television every minute of the day," he said.
In response to a question about anti-Americanism, Powell said that it is
driven principally by two issues: war in
Powell said that when he spoke to young people around the world, he found
that after they unburdened themselves about foreign policy issues, they
expressed interest and affection for the
"We're powerful," Powell observed. "And when you're
powerful, you're respected, and you're also resented. And I'm confident that
if we can get traction on both
Powell said that the administration continues to seek the right balance
between homeland security and keeping the
Following is the transcript of Secretary Powell's remarks to college newspaper editors on November 12:
We believe strongly in the free press. Now that's what you hear everywhere. But I, for one, really do believe in it. As Secretary of State, I have the opportunity to travel around the world to many places and to observe many political systems and I have been to countries which are ruled by tyrants, and I have been in countries which are the most active democracies you have ever seen.
And from years of experience in many different capacities, National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or now, Secretary of State, or just as a citizen traveling around, I come away, once again, with a clear understanding of how a democracy has to function. Whatever the nature of its political system, whether it's a democracy such as ours, with a legislative branch, a Executive Branch and a Supreme Court that watches both of them and interprets the Constitution, and the only one who can interpret the Constitution, and our system is so strong that the American people understand and the Executive and Legislative branches understand that they must never challenge the Supreme Court when the Supreme Court says something.
When we had the great civil rights movements of the '60s, the Supreme
Court said a high school in
But the one thing that seems to be absolutely necessary for a real democratic system to work is the Fourth Estate, as they call it. Executive, Legislative, Court and the Fourth Estate. And the Fourth Estate really isn't identified particularly in the Constitution except in the First Amendment: speech or the right of the people to peacefully assemble will not abridged, will not be restricted in any way. People are supposed to be able to come out and shout and scream at their government. Hopefully, they won't do it too often and hopefully they won't do it to me too often, but they do. And it's sometimes quite annoying. It sometimes makes my life miserable. Very often, it's dead-on and then I'm embarrassed. Very often, it's totally wrong and then I'm just mad. But the best thing about being mad is you get over it and you get mad and you read a paper and you throw it across the room, you get your remote, you start clicking for some -- you know, get me Judge Judy. I don't want to watch this any more, you know. (Laughter.) I've had enough of these guys.
And so, you get annoyed. But I have been around a lot of years and I get over my annoyance quickly because I understand that is the nature of our system. You must have a free press that screams and hollers and makes your life miserable. You all know the famous expression to -- you know, to take care of the oppressed and to go after those who are afflicting the oppressed; to comfort the afflicted and to go after those who are doing the affliction, that's part of a free press.
But there's another reason why I can also accept a very vigorous, open, free press that sometimes gets it right, sometimes gets it wrong, and that is I have another view of our democratic system, of democracies, in general, and that is ultimately power and influence and judgment rests ultimately not in the Executive Branch, not in the Legislative Branch, not even the Supreme Court, and not in the press; it rests with the American people.
And the American people are so much smarter than we think they are. And
we're here in
Sometimes they get it wrong, we would argue, some would argue, but the best thing about getting it wrong is you can do it again in two or three years and get it right. And we have a habit of making our occasional mistakes, and then four years later, what do we do, famous American expression, "throw the rascals out," and you have a new election.
And so it is a rather remarkable system, but it really is monitored and taken care of by the American people and a free press, a free press representing the American people.
This also means that you are not all supposed to leave here with this little sermon and go out and find something nasty to say about somebody or me -- (laughter) -- because you are not just free to do whatever you darn well please, as aspiring journalists or as editors of your college newspapers. Your obligation is not just to get a story; your obligation is to the people as well.
I work for the American people. My oath is to the American people. I work for the President, but ultimately, I work for the American people. You don't take oath and you're not paid by any governmental institution, but you, too, work for the American people. You have a role to play, and your principal role, either as a college editor, or when you get out into the wonderful world of big media -- not that your media is not big, I don't wish to be talking down, it's big on your campuses.
But you have an obligation to inform, to educate, to nudge, to present grievances of your readers to authorities, but it all has to be ultimately for the purpose of selling newspapers, yes, making a profit if you're in a profit-making newspaper, after you graduate, of course, but it hast to have a transcendent value and that transcendent value has to be to play your role in our democratic system of keeping a public informed. Because if a public is not informed, if the students who read your newspapers are not informed by reading your newspapers so they can make informed choices, either during an election or demonstration on campus, or what have you, or in the way they think about things, if they have not been informed, then you haven't done your job.
Yes, you can have an edge -- and I have been exposed to that edge, not
only here but I think
But I was a great reader of The Hilltop because I had responsibilities as a member of the Board of Trustees of Howard University and I had to know what was going on. So I'd get all of this stuff from the President of the University, President Swygert, my good friend, and Pat Swygert would send me all this stuff about what was going on on the campus.
But what I also made sure that I got every single week, and would read every single article and every single page, was The Hilltop because it gave me greater insight as to what was going on on campus than anything I was going to get from the Board Secretary or from the President. It gave me the sense of touch and feeling of what the students felt and what we thought about the students, what was really going on. It also kept me somewhat in tune with 18, 19 and 20-year-olds. It gets harder as you approach your seventies and even your children are in their forties.
And so you play a very important role in your campuses, and I hope that the experience you get on your campuses will hold you in good stead as you go out into the world, and I don't know how many of you will enter journalism as a profession, but it is a noble one, and it is an essential element of our democratic system, and I would submit the democratic system of any nation that calls itself a democracy.
I have to deal with this a lot. I have to go to places like
I must say, I sometimes envy their ability to lock up reporters who have said untruths, but not really, because that's just part of our system. And no matter what they say about you as a public official, the American people will judge you either that way or in another way, and you trust their ultimate judgment.
So work hard with this, at least in college, chosen field of yours because it truly is a noble undertaking. And I hope of those of you who are going into the world of journalism, when you finish this, with your course of instruction at your universities, you will have successful careers.
Now, you are all in print media and print media I have found is changing quite a bit in my 20-odd, 30 -- almost 30 years of experience at a fairly senior level in Washington, because of the impact of the Internet and the impact of television. Well, television has been around for a long time, but not like it has been the last 10 or 12 years with an explosion of networks and cable shows and all sorts of ways of presenting the news, presenting the news as entertainment.
The Jon Stewart -- how many watch Jon? Come on, admit it, I do, too. (Laughter.) Yeah. Is it an entertainment show or is it half a news show? It's becoming interesting to watch because it has a little take on the news, so it's giving you some news, but in a humorous satirical way. And it's just an indicator of what people are watching and how they're getting their news.
And so, increasingly I find that the print media are playing catch-up with the instantaneous cable information that is going out around the world, and I find that in my work, I have to worry about television every minute of the day. I only have to worry about what's going to be printed late on an evening when they're getting ready to put the paper to bed for the next morning. That's when Ambassador Boucher comes up and tells me about some horrible thing that's going to be said about us tomorrow, or how some glowing -- he never tells me about the glowing things; he just always calls me about the horrible things.
But I can wait till the end of the day to deal with that problem, or do it at my pleasure. Not television. So there isn't a senior official in government -- with perhaps the exception of the President, who has us to worry about it for him -- who doesn't watch television almost constantly now. We always have it on the background to see what's about to blow up in our face.
A day like today, we watched the proceedings of the Arafat funeral, and
you know that Tony Blair's going to be here. And Prime Minister Blair's going
to be talking to the President about the
And all of this is coming raw and straight into homes around the world. And satellite dishes is a component of this television world in bringing information and news and entertainment to places that never imagined it just a few years ago.
When I was a general about, oh, 12, 13 years ago, I would go to Turkey --
NATO ally, great friend of the United States, and Turkey had one television
channel -- they say 15 years ago -- one television channel, government-owned.
So the government told you what you needed to know, according to the
government, and that was it. And then something really interesting happened
And now if you drive through
News magazines, for those of you who will go there, they are only once a week, but by the time they print, go to bed on a Saturday night, there isn't anything that's happened that the whole world doesn't already know about. So what are they news magazines of?
So, increasingly, they have now taken an edge to their reporting because they have to sell magazines on Monday morning and by Monday morning everybody knows what happened Monday morning. They don't need even a newspaper to tell them what happened then. And so the news magazines have changed and it changes the whole mix around.
So it's a fascinating world that you're entering, and I wish you all the luck with it, and I wish that you have all success if this turns out to be your chosen field, and I hope it is. We need the best and the brightest to go into journalism in one form or another.
Now, with that little sermonette, I will stop and see what questions might be on your mind.
QUESTION: A lot of the information in our packet is about International
Education Week. My name is Chris. I'm from
SECRETARY POWELL: Your ability to go abroad and study?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, I would have no reservation in recommending that any
of you take a fellowship to go to
There is a higher degree of anti-Americanism in
The part of this that you have to understand, though, is that it is
principally attitudes against
Fine. I answered the questions. But then about 15 to 20 minutes in, they
got that out of their system, and then they started asking me about
And you will discover that once you get over these topical problems that
are causing us such public relations difficulty, there's still a groundswell
of respect, affection, and some resentment for
In fact, more and more Americans -- we had a great year last year of passports issued, after the sort of drop-off after 9/11. More and more Americans are now getting passports and traveling again.
Let's see, the young -- who was the young lady a minute ago? You. No?
QUESTION: Sure. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY POWELL: Way to go.
QUESTION: My name's Kelly Jasper, I'm from
SECRETARY POWELL: Beg your pardon?
QUESTION: Do you think you're going to stay in this appointment for a while? I mean, how is your life going?
SECRETARY POWELL: You must be the Style section reporter. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, I'm news, I just -- I have an interest.
SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. The President's still looking over the Cabinet, and the Cabinet's looking over what the first four years were like. This is not easy work. And so, we're all in conversations with the President, and he will make known his decisions as we go through this process, and that's really all I'm able to say about it. I know you wanted the scoop, but I can't -- (laughter.)
QUESTION: My name is Elizabeth Baza (ph) from
SECRETARY POWELL: I've spoken there; I know it well. You were probably in kindergarten at the time, but that's all right. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I probably was.
SECRETARY POWELL: You didn't have to agree. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What are you views on future Homeland Security? What is the --
SECRETARY POWELL: We had a real problem after 9/11. Enormously traumatic event in the life of the country to see the World Trade Center Towers fall like that, and the building across the river, the Pentagon, you know, and the plane in a field in Pennsylvania. And we knew there was terrorism out there -- I mean, they tried to do the World Trade Center earlier -- and we've seen our, you know, embassies shot up and blown up, but nothing like this that traumatized the whole country, and the first statistics were, you know, seven, eight thousand people dead. It turned out to be three thousand, but to see these two buildings come down, and the American people said, what is this all about?
And as we looked at those who had committed the act, the acts, and we looked at some of other policy, we realized that we were a wonderful country, we were terribly open, but we weren't sure who was really coming into the country, what they were doing once they got here, and is that the only reason they came here, and when did they leave? When their, you know, after their visas expire, do we have a way of knowing they've left?
And then we also had the additional problem of somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to ten million people in the country who are here permanently and are aliens. They are undocumented, as we call them. They have no legal basis to be here but we need them for our economy. I mean, we don't know what we can do without these individuals who contribute so much to our economy, end up paying Social Security taxes in many instances, and never get anything out of the Social Security system, so they benefit our economy in a number of ways.
And we just had to do something about this, and so we cracked down, and we cracked down on the issuance of visas, making it more -- a little more difficult because you had to now give us other forms of identification and go through a personal interview. And we started -- under the US-VISIT program, give us fingerscans and photos. And we just started doing a better job of integrating our databases so that we could check when we get a name of somebody that we could bounce it against all the databases.
Homeland Security is the one that does all of that, and so all of these agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Coast Guard, all the agencies that are involved in commerce, bringing people and commerce into our country, came into one department, the Department of Homeland Security. We also passed the Patriot Act, which has been controversial, but we needed new authorities in order to protect the country.
After about two years, we were well on our way to putting this all together, but we paid a price, and I started working with Secretary Ridge, and we really started to press the President on this, that we've got to secure our borders but we've got to keep our doors open. We can't shut ourselves down. The easiest way to prevent anyone from ever getting in the country again to do something like this is not letting anybody come into the country, but we wouldn't be the same country. We want people to come.
So we are now rebalancing this, so Homeland Security is working with the
State Department to make sure that we know who's coming into our country and
still make it easier to get here and encourage people to come. When we first
started doing the fingerscan, everybody was screaming, how dare you do this
And the Europeans screamed the loudest. These are the same Europeans who you have to have papers to go into a hotel and register, and you remember the famous French expression, "Your papers, Monsieur, your papers, please." We don't have any papers. And so people got all upset when we suddenly started to ask for some accountability of people coming into the country, and I think this will all work out.
So Homeland Security is doing its job well, and I think people will see, through our programs and our publications and our media outreach, that we want to remain an open country, and there are still people lined up trying to get visas at my consular offices to come here. They want to come here.
QUESTION: Kind of a follow-up to the previous question, as regards rebalancing.
Oh, by the way Jed Blue (ph),
SECRETARY POWELL: George Mason?
QUESTION: Yeah. We have a very large international student population, and
there has been a lot of effort, a lot of concern from them about the
increasing difficulty in getting student visas, and also due to increasing
restrictions on where and how they can work, increasing difficulty in paying
to live in
SECRETARY POWELL: We've made a major effort on speeding up student visas, and if you'll look at the data, the time it takes is going down. It usually takes a year or so, though, for the reality of it going down to translate into people telling you that it's going down when they get to your campuses. And we're trying to, you know, work that off as fast as we can.
It will never be as easy or as fast as it used to be. The other aspect to that is if you say you're coming here for one purpose, then you can't transfer that into another purpose. If you say, you know, the presumption in the application for a visa is that you're coming here to stay, and you have to prove to us that you are not coming here to stay and to get a job. You have to prove to us that you're coming for the purpose of the visa, and if you violate that purpose of the visa, then you've violated the visa and you have a problem. And you can't just slide into the rest of our economy because you came here to go to school.
So that causes some concerns with young people who want to do something other than which they've told us they're coming here for. It's not unreasonable for us to say, now, wait a minute, you need to go home, get another visa, and try again if that's what you're coming here for. That's part of the whole tightening-up process.
One of the problems we've been having is to convince students around the world that we really do want them to come here. There's another aspect to that that's affecting our numbers, and that is that a lot of other countries are now going after those students who are having trouble coming here. So I find they're going to universities in England, Australia, New Zealand because they don't have to go through this.
The other thing that really causes even more problems than that, and I knew this, but I got it from a group of Muslim students that I had at an Iftar dinner the other night, and I asked them, you've been here now in this country on your programs, your exchange programs, for a number of weeks or months. Has anyone been rude to you? Have you been insulted because you're a different color or a different ethnicity or you dress differently? Has anybody insulted you as you go around our neighborhoods, all here in this area? And the answer from these nine students was no. There's been only one insulting thing; that's the airport, coming to the airport.
Secretary Ridge and I are working hard on this, to reduce the -- what's often seen as profiling and heavy-handedness at our airports, and we've made some changes recently that I think will improve this as well.
Let someone in the back -- young man.
QUESTION: Yeah, (inaudible), George Washington.
SECRETARY POWELL: I'm a graduate of George Washington.
QUESTION: I'm aware. (Laughter.) I want to ask you about -- staying on the topic of the decline of international students studying in the U.S., people in higher education have talked about the educational dangers of that. I was wondering if you could discuss what diplomatic consequences there may be to less international students studying here.
SECRETARY POWELL: They're serious. They're very serious. We are seeing numbers go up again, and we've started some new Fulbright programs, and what I'm constrained on is the amount of money I have to put into these programs. I'd like to double, triple, quadruple the amount of money I have for such programs and I keep pleading with Congress to give me more.
And in recent months, we have started to reach out to affinity groups, like if there is a large Ukrainian-American club or association in one part of the country, let's go to them, see if they want to partner with the State Department and help us bring youngsters in under our program and they help us pay the cost so they can do more sponsorship than they're doing now. So we're trying to get leverage through affinity groups, as well as businesses, go to a particular business and say you really want to be a part of this effort and help us get more kids into the country.
As I go around the world, you'd be astonished how many times I've gone to a country and I start reading the bios of the leaders that I'm going to be meeting, and so many of them were either Fulbright scholars or were here in one of our international visitors programs, and it makes such a difference.
The current President of the Republic of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, is one of our international visitors program graduates, as is almost every member of his cabinet. And so I go to Tbilisi and we sit across the table, and they're all shouting, "I went to George Washington," "I went to --" or "I was in --" and they came here and got their education.
But what I found is that it's not just the education they get here. It's the experience they get here of living in our kind of a system. It doesn't mean they're going to go back and be Jeffersonian democrats or design a system just like us, but they leave here with far more than an education. They leave here with, you know, some sense of values and how democracies can be made to work. And so, we need to have more and more and more and more of these kinds of programs, and put more and more people in them. I'm a great supporter of this effort.
Yes, dear. Howard, I've got to do Howard.
MR. BOUCHER: It's going to have to be the last one.
SECRETARY POWELL: She'd go back up there and talk about me and write an editorial if I didn't do Howard. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, for this presidential election, the growing discontent with the war on terrorism was one of the major issues. How has the State Department tried to combat this discontentment and show Americans that the war in Iraq was necessary?
SECRETARY POWELL: The American people, I think, are supportive of the global war on terror and I think the American people fully understand what we did in Afghanistan and I think they're pretty pleased that they now see a free election in Afghanistan about a month ago where all of these people who were told not to vote by the terrorists, the al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists, don't vote, we'll kill you, we'll blow up the polling places, we won't let you have a democracy, we won't let you pick your own leaders, and nevertheless millions of these people said we're coming anyway. And they voted.
The President likes to talk about the fact that the first vote cast was by a 19-year-old woman who, you know, a few years earlier wouldn't have dreamed of coming out of her house, much less going to a polling place. And I remember watching pictures on CNN of a woman who still was traditionally covered in a burka from head to toe with, you know, the mesh in front of her face, but out from underneath the burka came her hand with her ballot. She wanted to vote. And so we're very proud, I think, of that.
Now, in Iraq it's a different issue. It was a controversial war. It has turned into being a difficult insurgency. So the American people want to see this one finished, but as you saw from the recent election, as you referred to the campaign, the American people showed that they continue to support the President in his prosecution of the global war on terror.
I think attitudes here in the country, as well as around the world, as I mentioned, will change as we show success in Iraq. If we can get the kind of election in Iraq in January that we got in Afghanistan in October, then I think people will see, a-ha, now the Iraqi people have their own leaders.
And when people criticize the war and say that, you know, we're doing terrible things, I've got to push back and say you ought to look at the things that are being done by the terrorists. The people who are blowing up bombs are blowing up the hopes and dreams of people to choose their own leaders. The people who mutilate their fellow citizens, fellow Iraqi citizens, want to go back to a time when Iraq was governed by a dictator and tyranny was the rule of law.
And even though it's very tough for us now, we're losing soldiers and the Iraqis are losing soldiers, it's still the right thing to do to prosecute this through to a conclusion so that the Iraqi people will be put on a democratic foundation and the rule of law with free elections and a constitution and become a place that is peaceful in the region, as opposed to being run by a tyrant or us going back to the days of tyranny.
I think we can make that case to the American people and I think the recent election certainly indicated that.
What have I got, Richard, time for one? I've got to go do Al Arabiya. (Laughter.) I'd rather stay here. Okay, we'll take one more. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Ann Klasky (ph) from American University. Since President Bush's reelection, there have been some reports of people intending to expatriate. What do you think of this and what kind of consequences could it have if people actually followed through?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I haven't -- all of the celebrity figures that I saw, and there weren't many, but I saw a couple of celebrity figures saying if President Bush gets reelected they're leaving the country. But so far, I don't have any increase in passport applications. (Laughter.) If they wish to leave, it's a free choice that they can make, but I don't sense that any of them have left, to the best of my knowledge. Do you know of any who have left?
QUESTION: I've just seen people intending to leave. I haven't seen any reports of people that actually --
SECRETARY POWELL: It's quite a different thing to intend to walk away from this country and actually do it. It happened during the Vietnam War. We had people who left rather than serve and there are a few Americans in other countries and Canada who -- because they don't wish to serve. But all of the celebrities who are making those claims, to the best of my knowledge and belief, they're all still working here.
I think I'll stop right there. It's getting too tempting. (Laughter.) Thank you all. Good luck. Bye-bye.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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