Nick Lemann is the Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism and a former New Yorker staff writer. While at Harvard – where he graduated in 1976 – Lemann served as President of the Crimson. He has worked as a reporter and editor at The Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Post, focusing primarily on national affairs.
Lemann is the author of The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America, The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, about the SAT, and most recently, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, about the failure of Reconstruction. At Columbia, where he was hired as Dean of the Journalism School in 2003, Lemann implemented a two-year curriculum and has focused on teaching alternative journalistic mediums in the Internet age.
Nicholas Lemann: This question comes up again only in a tiny little slice of the stratosphere of the press. And I support strongly the stories that primarily the New York Times has reported that has gotten this charge against them by the Bush administration – the warrantless wire tapping and so on. Every day – and people don’t realize this – the editor of the New York Times and papers of that caliber decide not to publish things. So it’s not like they just will publish anything willy-nilly. I think they were right to report this. They made a careful decision, and you know they’re not really holding themselves above the law either. They’re catching the Bush administration holding itself above the law. That’s what the press is supposed to do. As an example on the other side just to show, rightly or wrongly, that the press does self-restrain, look at the coverage of Israel’s bombing of the . . . whatever it was in Syria not too long ago. And it was . . . It’s very clear from the outside that there was some kind of self-censorship going on at the request of government. And several other incidents have slipped out where, you know, people in the press were asked by people in government to hold off on something and they did so. So I’m on the press’s side on that one.
Recorded on: 11/30/07