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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  April 21, 2018 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT

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- [announcer] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by clair and carl stuart. - i'm evan smith, he's the chief white house correspondent for the new york times and the author of four books. most recently, obama the call of history. he's peter baker, this is overheard. (audience applause) let's be honest, is this about the ability to learn or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa? you can say he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you saw a problem and over time you took it on. let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you going to run for president? i think i just got an f from you. this is over. (audience applause) peter baker, welcome. - thank you for having me. - nice to see you, congratulations on this book. - thank you very much. - this is a big book. - it is a big book.
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- it's a coffee table book and as advertised i went, "oh okay, i'm going to look at it. "it's going to be all pictures "and there be little captions." no, this is a book, book. - yeah. - you wrote the heck out of this book. - they told me i would be writing some text for a picture book. i thought i would be writing captions. - this literally, you could have written this as a regular book. - yeah, it is a relatively substantial history of his eight years as president, as told in the new york times style journal. - except there was not a george w. bush coffee table book. there was not a bill clinton coffee table book that i'm aware of. admit it, you're nostalgic for this. is that what it is? - well look, you know, what the truth is, we did a coffee table book at the beginning of his presidency. african american president. - it's a moment. - moment in history. - right. and so having done one in the front end, we just thought we should do one on the back end. - right, but of course, the last 11 months as we sit here, probably have made the eight years that proceeded it a little more interesting. - [peter] they are definitely.
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- right from a contrasting point. - [peter] from a contrast point of view. - he's been largely off stage. do you think people fully understand him? you came back to the times, you came to the times probably in 2008. you came to the times, 2008. and you covered his administration. - right. - you understand who this guy is from having been there in real time. watching him emerge and evolve as the leader of this country. do you think we appreciate who he is? understand who he is and will we have an opportunity to evaluate or reevaluate him going forward? - it's actually a great question. please ask me why did i do this book? it's because i think in fact, in some ways, he is still a mystery to us. he came on the stage kind of out of nowhere. he was only a senator for two years before he started running for president. - he was that guy with the funny name. - he was the guy with the funny name and he was also the guy with the great speech right. and a great idea, the idea behind it. i think a lot of americans invested in him what they wanted him to be, what they thought he might be, not who he really was. and so, inevitably that led to some disappointments. - well that was both a feature and a bug, was it not? if he's a blank screen on two which you project
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your aspirations, your hopes, your dreams, you're going to be disappointed. - he himself said, "i'm like a rorschach test", right. in the campaign he was both on the one hand, avatar of a new aggressive progressivism, right. the idea that the government could be good in society. that's sort of a new found fdr. on the other hand, he was a bridge builder right. red american, blue america, no we're the united states of america. i'm going to be post partisan in fact. you can't be both those things it turns out. it's really hard and inevitably some people were disappointed. - at the end of the eight years the country was divided. you can't necessarily say he divided the country. but there is no question that the country was divided. outside of the federal elections, the state became, the states, pardon me, plural, became more and more red over those eight years. democrats lost state legislations, they lost governorships, the lost all kinds of offices back home. and really the politics did not turn out after the eight years the way that he or the people that supported him would have wanted. - no, it's interesting.
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he was the most polarizing president since george w. bush. and now donald trump is the most polarizing president since barack obama. we seem to be in a sour period in our history to some extent. and for the entire eight years that he was president, not once did the polls show a majority of americans saying we're on the right track. and that's something that proceeded him. it was true for the last number of years in george w. bush's presidency. it's still true. so we're in a period where the country is sort of dissatisfied and our leaders have not been able to figure out how to bridge that divide. - now one difference between obama coming in behind bush and bush coming in following clinton is that it was not a campaign by the new guy to completely eradicate everything that the last person in the office had done. and really what the last 11 months have been as much as anything is whatever obama did, trump wants to undo it. - yeah, no question about it. - conscious decision. is that going to cause us to look differently at obama as president at some point? will that be part of the legacy calculation? - it does mean the legacy is sort of unsettled at this point because we don't know what will survive. will there still be a healthcare system as obama designed it? will there still be an opening to cuba as he did it?
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we already pulled out of the climate change treaty, their pact with paris. he pulled out of the tpp, the trade agreement in asia. and you're right, trump more than most presidents i've seen is determine to sort of take a sledge hammer to the last guy's programs. it's not just move in a different direction. obviously they all move in a different direction. he wants to undo things. and that's different, there's no question about it. - do you think the public voted for that? - some of them did obviously. - because you know the public in the case of electing obama the election of obama it is said was often as much about the previous eight years as it was about what obama might do. they wanted to undo bush's legacy. i'm not sure, maybe you have a different perspective on this that the election of trump was a repudiation of obama, so much as a repudiation of clinton. - well, to some extent, i think that's right. people were not happy with hilary clinton as their candidate. she had a lot of baggage obviously as a candidate. obama's numbers have actually gone up right. they went up in his last months in office. he left office in a pretty good state. - he's certainly more popular now. - certainly more popular now,
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and part because of the contrast. so you're right, you can make the argument not necessarily a repudiation of obama. and in fact, a number of people voted for trump who had voted for obama. 9% of people vote, can you believe that, 9% of people voted for obama and trump. you would think that wouldn't be. - [evan] couldn't have imagined that. - right, "what are they thinking?" i think those people were thinking we voted for obama as a change agent now we're voting for trump as a change agent. it's not illogical because of ideology. - change is not the same, but it is change. - exactly. - you covered obama in the white house. you covered trump in the white house. what was more fun? which is more fun? - well i'll tell what's busier, certainly trump. no questions about that. - yeah, is it not, (stammering) i had gotten to saying that it's like a fire hose of news. actually we're being waterboarded in the end, right? (laughter) there's no way to catch your breath. you cannot look away. - no you can't. - for one second. - no, you absolutely can't. the house is burning and you can't stop looking at it. in the morning, when it's my duty week, i sleep with the phone in my bed because i know around 5:30 or 6, it's going to start buzzing. - [evan] there he goes.
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- with the tweets, and i'm going to get up and start typing. i find myself, often written a whole story by 8:00 am and i'm still in my jemmies. i mean it's intense, non-stop, 24/7 kind of presidency. - it's possible to have predicted this, maybe i guess it's not possible to have predicted at the beginning. there were so many aspects of it though peter, that probably if you go back, then you think we of course the predicate was there. the campaign was like this, why wouldn't the presidency be like this. - what is funny, like we find so many things shocking and yet really it shouldn't be. i mean, he is who he is, you know. and he's done basically what he said he would do. - the people who thought that he would somehow become more presidential or that he would get in the office and the office would change him. you say you are who you are. - yeah, he's 71, he doesn't plan to change. not to say he hasn't changed some. the guy's obviously, evolved in some ways. he is open to advice and he has changed on some of the positions he's taken. but in terms of who he is, his fundamental, the way he operates, it hasn't changed. his view is it got me here, why should i change?
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- do you have a principle audience you're writing for when you're covering this president? is it for the web? is it for social media? is for the print edition of the paper? as we sit here today, there's a big harvey weinstein story in the new york times, that posted last night. so i read the story that was online last night. and i walked in today and i was like harvey weinstein's on the cover of the new york times. i basically forgot that they ever printed the story. - it felt like such a long time ago right. - you think that everything is just in the ether and that's it. what are you writing for? who are you writing for? - the problem is that we're writing for all of those people and all those platforms, and we have to. because we are unlike many news organizations that have gone very niche for one audience or another. we are still one of the last of the big general audience, general mass market audience publications. - as much as your digital audience has famously grown in the trump era, you still have significant subscribers numbers for the print edition of the paper right? - so we in some way, we are a newspaper reporter, but we are also an ap reporter, a wire service reporter. we are a magazine reporter. we are an audio/radio reporter in effect.
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we are a tv reporter in effect. because we do all these different types of ways. - well in fact there was a time peter, was there not, when the new york times was like we don't really want our people on television. that would be gauche to have our people on tv talking about their work. and now i turn on any of the cable channels and here you all are. - we're everywhere. - i was mentioning you before we came out, that i enjoy seeing you on the brian williams program on msnbc at what airs in texas at 10 o'clock but it's 11th hour because it airs on the east coast. talking about whatever the story is of that day and of the next day and that really allows for the new york times to be the news brand of record. it puts you in front of an audience and they think, "well the new york times has the story. "they're the ones." - yeah, the papers really had to shift and change about how it views these things. your right, it used to be we would say, "nah, that's not what we want to do. "we want to be the old gray lady." now we understand we have to evolve like everybody else. it's a new environment, a new type of audience, a new type of marketplace and we want to play it. we want to play in all the different platforms. - back to this point about
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the waterboarding or the fire hose. given the news environment, it is literally the case that almost ever yday there's some major scoop that you or the washington post or both of you or the wall street journal, i mean it really, you hit five or six in the afternoon and it's like scoop o'clock. and you guys are putting out whatever the big thing of the day is. and so then you spend the entire night talking about it and breaking it apart and analyzing it on television. ultimately that's good for the brand. - well it is. we have an old fashion newspaper war going on right now. it's actually very fun for the newspaper person's point of view. the post has really revived itself. it had a few bad years. - you're a former post guy. - i'm a former post guy, 20 years at the post. love the post, grew up on the post. - do you feel competitive like, "we've got to beat those guy's brains in," kind of way or do you feel like, "well i'm admiring of what they do." and there's not really competition so much as this environment in which we all. - i think it's both. i want to beat their brains in and i admire when they beat our brains in. - when they have a good story you go, "props." - absolutely, they've done a fabulous job. and i think our guys have done a fabulous job, our investigative guys. and yeah, it's a great, it's good, it's healthy.
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it's healthy for the newspapers. we're better newspapers as a result. it's healthy for society and democracy to have independent voices out there competing to provide readers with new information. - and the competitive set is actually larger than just the post and the times. though it often seems like it is. there's a whole bunch of new players on the scene. principally in washington, in terms of just covering daily political stuff, your wife susan glasser, is a magnificant journalist herself, was the editor of politico. is now back to being a columnist and podcaster, she also writes for vanity fair. she's a veteran journalist as you are. it's got to be nice to see how there are all these additional places to go get information because in the end if you believe in the public servicefunctm well informed right now.bliy the blic has the optioncefunctm of being well informed thewanto be. - if they choose to be. - there's plenty of places now to go and get information. what worries me, and i think probably you, is that there are also ways of going to our own rners. only going places - confirmation bia - exactly, they tell us, affirmation not information, right?
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they tell us how we're right about things. and that's where, obviously, there's some worry. - and the credibility of brands is important in a moment like that because people are all so often promoting facts that are not really facts. - right. - right, we understand the fake news enronment that we hear a lot about is in part because of news brands that are not credible are existing side by side with brands like the new york times. - what you hope, especially younger readers and younger voters who are just starting out in the world, basically, and they're getting everything, twitter and facebook and all these other places, is that when they see information, it's not all equal. that they shouldn't just assume that the fact that this is on twitter and that is on twitter means these are the same, they're not. - don't believe everything you read, the old adage turns out to be true. so you're the chief white house, white house correspondent for the times. you're the former moscow bureau chief for the post, - right. - washington post. you wrote a book about bill clinton's impeachment. - mhmm. - hello, gorgeous. i hope that you can explain to me now what's going on in the world. you touch all the bases as far as trump goes. where's this going with the president?
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- the truth is, one thing we should learn from the last 12 months is, predictions are a very dangerous thing to make these days. - [evan] right. 12 months ago, just a little bit over 12 months ago, none of us would've been predicting we would be here talking about donald trump. - [evan] correct. - so i'm not gonna predict where the investigation's going. i will say that clearly he's been very methodical in the way he's conducting the investigation. - he is mueller. - he that is robert mueller, the special counsel. he's building the building blocks of wherever he's going to piece by piece. he's not leaking, clearly. - i mean, that's a, stop there for one second. that'd an important point. the flynn thing caught everybody flatfooted. the pappadopoulos thing caught everybody-- - absolutely. - flat footed. clearly he's doing a lot that we're not seeing, - absolutely. - and somehow he's got a lid on it. - that's right. - because ordinarily, you guys would get leaks. - this guy, george pappadopoulos, is a good example. this guy worked as a campaign advisor for donald trump last year. pretty small fish, frankly. and when they announced that he had pleaded guilty, he had been in their control for 2 months. right, he'd been arrested 2 months earlier and cooperated with the prosecutor. - nobody knew, nobody knew! - nobody knew about it. - right, so it's entirely possible
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that there's much more going on than we know. - right, right. and if you look at michael flynn's guilty plea the other day, he's a former national security advisor to the president, he lasted 24 days in office. he was charged and pleaded guilty to a single charge of lying to investigators. even though they have accumulated all this different evidence of different things he's done that might be considered to be illegal. and they're basically holding that over him, saying "okay, we're gonna give you "a pretty nice deal to get out of all that." why? because they think they're getting something out of it. and we don't know what, but they think they're getting something out of it. - the question that the average persons who is consuming the stuff that you and others and the media business now are producing on this subject. the question they're asking, the average person, is why do they act so guilty if they have nothing to hide? everybody in the administration, at every turn, is acting like there's something there. - yeah, it's a great question, look, in washington, of course, there's a cliche to say is the coverup not the crime. - right. - you're right, there's nothing-- - [evan] or the obstruction, not the collusion. - i mean, there's nothing wrong with people meeting with russia's ambassador.
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- [evan] right. - inherently, in of itself, nothing wrong with that. so therefore, why do you need to lie about that? because the presumption is, what you were talking about might be more incriminating, might look bad, might whatever. because in fact, you know, a simple conversation, a desire to change foreign policy, that's a legitimate thing for a president to do. maybe something people disagree with, but it is within the right of a new president to say "i'm going to have a different foreign policy." so why, as you say, are people being caught out not telling the truth? - who's at risk here? realistically? - well, you know. it's a good question, we don't know. obviously there are questions now to be raised about jared kushner, the president's son in law. he was identified basically without names, but we know who it is, in the court documents released on friday as having directed michael flynn in his conversations. obviously donald trump junior had that meeting in june of last year. - where as we sit here today, he's, he's at the senate - yeah. - talking presumably about that among other things. - exactly. and a meeting that he knew,
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according to the email he received, was intended to be, provide information that was incriminating about their political opponent from the russian government, that's what the email to him said. you know, obviously people are, don't know whether it would ever lead to the president of the united states, we don't know that. there's nothing to say that at this point, but that's clearly something that people wonder about. - the president's lawyer the other day made the observation that the president cannot be guilty of many of the things that they're investigating, because he's the president. - yeah. - right. you know from previous administrations, covering previous administrations, and being down in the well of the clinton impeachment investigation in particular, that much of what they're investigating is in fact a problem for this president. - well, there are two things, right? first of all, can you indict a sitting president of the united states on anything period. - yeah. - and there's a big legal debate about that. does a president have the right to be immune from criminal prosecution in the courts? and a lot of people say yes, regardless of this particular president. - but we've been told since we were in civics classes that no one is above the law.
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- right, but what the answer would be that the remedy for that is impeachment. that the constitution specifically says that the remedy for a president who has conducted himself badly is through impeachment. now impeachment's a political process, it's what the house of representatives decides, it is when the senate decides, if it wants to convict. - so the problem for the president then would not be so much mueller and 2017, it would be the democrats in 2018. yeah, presumably. - because the republican congress is not going to pursue impeachment. - it certainly, there's no indication that a republican congress at this point has seen anything that would make it want to do that. - only if the house and senate change parties. - if the house changes parties in the midterms, you could conceivably imagine an impeachment proceeding, depending on what robert mueller comes up with. - right. so this question of the lawyers saying that the president is not able to be guilty of, of obstruction, or of a crime for which he could be indicted. put him to the side then. who else in the administration is potentially at risk, if the president presumably is the only one in that category. - let me come back on that for a second though,
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because one of the arguments he's trying to make is it's not obstruction because the president, as the head of the executive branch, is in charge of the law enforcement. is in charge of the desk department, is in charge of the fbi, and if he says "i'm cutting this investigation off," he is dually exercising the powers that the constitution gives him, and therefore it cannot be obstruction. now having said that, obstruction was one of the articles of impeachment against richard nixon. and obstruction was one of the articles of impeachment against bill clinton. - bill clinton, right. - so whether or not it might be obstruction in a court of law, congress has clearly indicated already that they consider obstruction to be an impeachable act. - is the trump situation more about politics than the law in the end? in other words, even if he's not technically guilty of something, that what happens over the course of this investigation becomes a problem for him as he heads into a re-election campaign. - yeah, i mean, there's always a problem with any investigation of any president, is politics and law mixed together. - [evan] right. - and that's certainly the case in this regard. and this is one of the reasons why you see him pushing back so hard. because in fact he thinks this whole investigation is bogus. he's said that, he thinks it's fake news, a witch hunt.
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and because it seems it challenges his very legitimacy as president. if you believe that russia interfered in the election and that there was collusion, therefore you are saying as he interprets it-- - [both men] he was not elected in a legitimate way. - so that's why he gets so angry about it. even if he didn't do anything wrong, he's angry that people are even questioning his very legitimacy as president. - right, um, let me ask you about mike pence. there's an interesting story that just published in the atlantic by mckay coppins about mike pence. and there's been a lot of speculation about whether if trump is in trouble that necessarily means that pence is or is not in trouble. what's your read on pence and pence's role in all this, the vice president's role in all this. - pence has done everything he can to keep out of it. i mean like he is really tried very hard to stay behind the scenes and very, and very carefully play his role. he's being a loyalist to the president of the united states. - right. - and yet, clearly doesn't want to have his hands dirty with all of the sort of the stuff that's getting the president in trouble. so when... when mike flynn is indicted
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and pleads guilty to lying to the fbi, he says "well, he lied to me too, "and i didn't know about this." even though some of the other people, it turns out, clearly did know that mike flynn was talking to the russian ambassador about sanctions. - there's a suggestion in this atlantic piece that somehow that the pences, missus pence in particular, considers the president to be a disgusting person. and that somehow that pences don't much like the trump world and the president himself. you have any reason to think that's true? - (stammers) i have no personal reporting on this. what you do know, though, about the pences is that they are religious, they have a very, you know, strong code of their own sense of their own morality, right, to the point where the vice president says he won't even meet with a woman who's not his wife alone because he doesn't want that to be a-- - right. - a thing. and so they have their own-- - these days that's looking maybe like a better idea. (audience laughs) - well, you can certainly understand why he might think that's so, yeah. but, so you could see why a president who, you know, was caught on tape saying what he said,
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who's been accused of the things he's been accused of, is anathema to that sort of a christian conservative type of politician. - we have about five minutes left, i wanna ask you about the, i alluded to with the pence crack just a second ago. this sexual harassment moment in politics and now particularly in. they're now beginning to be (stammers) parade of horribles in congress. both parties, people who've been accused of things. and then out in the larger world, it's been, the same. where do you think this is all going? i'm interested, you know, we've had some people who've resigned, we have some people who've been called upon now to resign. by the time people see our interview, probably the roy moore situation in alabama will have been decided one way or the other, but in some respects, the voters are having to decide whether they think the guy who has been accused of certain things is worthy of public service. this doesn't seem like one day's gonna come and we're no longer gonna be talking about this. it's sort of like the virus
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has been let out of the test tube. - no, it's a fascinating moment. - it really is. - much more so, if we had moments before like with clarence thomas, or bob packwood, or bill clinton, or so forth where politicans' sexual misconduct became a big story, there's never been like this where there's a wave going through society and not just about politicians as you say. it's in the media, it's in entertainment, it's in business. and it's clearly a moment where-- - you and i might be the last two men employed in the media business by the time this interview is up, right? - i hope you and i are still here. (audience applauds) okay, but i think-- you know, look, if nothing else, whatever the individual cases are, if nothing else, nobody from now on can ever say there was any confusion about what was appropriate, what's not appropriate. - right, and many, many good things will be-- - we hope that the workplace in fact will become a clearer place that things are out of bounds from now on. having said that, where my wife would tell you, she worries about is, that there's not a backlash in the other direction, in which women are somehow, (stammers) take it on the chin because they somehow don't get opportunities that they once got. because now people are afraid of misinterpretation
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or they're afraid of this or that and the other thing, and they decide it's just easier not to include them in golf games for instance. - but honestly it feels like the reverse is the case. that if anything, there's gonna be a making up for lost time or an attempt to be much more inclusive to try to rectify what has been this historic imbalance. - well, she would tell you 7% of the ceos on the fortune 500 list are women, and so even now, all these years later-- - well there's no balance in elective office, not in congress or any place like that. - having said that, it's interesting, let's watch what these elections do in the next year in virginia, where we just had an off-year election. - [evan] right. - ah, fort, i think this is-- - 14 or 15- - 14 or 15 out of the, out of the incumbents who were pushed out or seats that switched hands, parties, went to women over men. - and is a historic number, and is a historic number of women candidates for office this year compared to previous-- - starting now to run for house, senate, so forth. - which are theoretically, these folks theoretically filed in response to the environment in which we now live, and specifically there's,
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it's part of the resistance, is it not? - some of them have overtly said, "i've grown so mad at what i've seen around me, "and that's because of the sries in the last few months, some of them because of trump, because of the women's march back at the beginnning of his presidency, whatever. it's not just democrats, it's obvious republicans too. and so yeah, it's definitely a moment where we'll see whether that leads to success in the elections next year. - before we wrap up, do you have a sense that the virginia election results this year which gave democrats for the first time in a number of months some hope, necessarily suggests that there's a wave or a sharknado coming? (laughter) in election in next year? - i think we should be cautious about that. off-year elections are usually just that. and often don't tell us anything about the next year. having said that, you know, there are some dynamics that would be troubling if you're a trump republican. which is the loss of the suburban voters. the suburban voters were important to him. he didn't just win world voters, he did win in the suburbs as well. (stammers) and the disconnect that he has at this point with those voters could be costly come next year.
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- yep, this is still a fun job for you, isn't it? - love this job. - the fact there's people saying on, you know, bad time to be a journalist, oh, it's so-- - nah, it's a great time. - this couldn't be more interesting. - it's the best time to be a journalist, are you kidding? - every day you wake up and you have no idea what you're going to encounter. - look, journalists, i've been doing this 30 uears. journalists hate predictability. - right. - it's boring! we're in this because we want to cover on interesting stories! this is an interesting story. now, (stammering) we'll say whether. that doesn't mean it's good for everybody. but for, and i'll tell you this, let me tell you about the failing new york times, right. the failing new york times is doing great! (audience laughs) i'll tell you that. our readership is up 400,000 paid subscribers this year alone. - right. - stock prices up, i think 50%, something like that. the washington bureau where i work, the staff has gone up from around 70 people last year to 107, something like that, right now alone - [both men] just in the washington bureau alone. - it's a good time for us. - right, well then, that is real news, not fake news. i love that, okay. peter baker, thank you for being here, good to see you, great, thank you. (audience applauds) - [man] we'd love to have you join us in the studio.
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visit our website at klru.org/overheard to find invitations to interviews, q and as with our audience and guests, and an archive of past episodes. - we've hired two fact checkers in the washington bureau of the new york times this year. one, he does nothing basically but fact check the president of the united states. and the other one, by the way, is now fact checking us, because we are now absolutely determined to make sure we make as few mistakes as possible-- - [evan] fact checking you in advance or after? - in advance, before our stories run. to make sure our stories are as airtight as they possibly can, because we can't afford to make mistakes. - [woman] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners. a texas government affairs consultancy. and by claire and carl stuart. (pleasant, bubbly synth music)
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