"It is a matter of historical record that governments frequently lie," New Yorker editor and Pulitzer Prizewinner David Remnick '81 told a capacity crowd in McCormick Hall yesterday afternoon.
In a lecture sponsored by the University Press Club, Remnick argued that investigative journalists must serve as a check against the government — a role he said they failed to play in the buildup to the Iraq War.
"Investigative reporting failed to uncover in real time ... these patterns of disillusion, spin and manipulation," Remnick said.
He noted the fallacy of the Bush administration's argument that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and blamed the press for not dispelling the myth.
"All we can do is to beat the hell out of ourselves to figure out how we could have done it better," he said.
Despite his disappointment with pre-Iraq reporting, Remnick was quick to credit certain journalists who have taken more critical stances on the war. Specifically, Remnick praised Bob Woodward for his dedicated examination of the administration. Woodward has authored two bestsellers on Iraq: the recently released "State of Denial" and 2004's "Plan of Attack."
While at Princeton, Remnick was a member of the Press Club and was one of the founders of the Nassau Weekly. A native of New Jersey, Remnick came to Princeton unsure of his interest in journalism.
"I got here and it changed my life," he said, citing a number of past and current faculty members, including journalism professor John McPhee '53, as having stoked his interest in reporting.
After graduating with a degree in comparative literature, he spent 10 years as a staff writer for The Washington Post, including four years as the paper's Moscow correspondent.
His experience in Russia resulted in the publication of "Lenin's Tomb," which received both the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and a George Polk Award for excellence in journalism.
Remnick became editor of The New Yorker in July 1998 — a job he described as "unbelievably fun."
I-banking to success
When asked by a student in attendance if he had any advice for Princeton students interested in journalism, Remnick — known for his self-deprecating humor in conversation — responded: "Goldman Sachs."
He advised that the best preparation for becoming a journalist is often not by way of a journalism degree but by gaining awareness and appreciation for the world around oneself. "Learn history, read novels, travel or travel by the page," he said.
No matter what your interests, "all of us need to support [investigative journalism] as a form of social responsibility," Remnick said.
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