The World of Truth vs. The Kingdom of Lies


(energetic music) – The truth needs reinforcements. In 2015 a really good
friend of mine called me. He’s a guy who manages money
for rich people in Canada. And he’s a very smart guy, deeply read, probably center left in his
politics, totally reasonable. And he called me full of
outrage because he had just read a story about how
Barrack Obama’s mother in law was being paid a federal
pension of $200000 a year for babysitting the Obama
children in the White House. And he just thought this was an outrage. And I said to him, you know, Doug, that sounds a little weird. Where did you get this from? And he said, “Oh no, I read it. “I got it right here,
I’ll send it to you.” And he sent me the link and
it was a link to a publication called thebostontribune.com. Now, as you know I’m from Boston. I know Boston. I’d never heard of a bostontribune.com. And sure enough it didn’t really exist. It was fake. It was one of these click farms made by teenagers in Macedonia. But it totally fooled an
otherwise smart, intelligent, well read, connected person. The truth needs reinforcements. I’m gonna tell you
about my summer project. My summer project is I’ve been
following a little company in Toronto as it is, a little
start up machine learning, artificial company
that’s trying to perfect what we now know as deep fakes. These are videos that
can make it seem like you are doing and saying
things that you actually never said or did. It’s using machine learning
and AI technology to create videos, video images of
people saying and doing things that they never said or did. And I’ve been following
this company all summer long because they’re trying to be
the first company in the world to create the perfect deep
fake, which would take my face and my voice and create
a complete replica of me where they could then
just type whatever they wanted to type and make me
say or do whatever they want. I didn’t really grasp
the importance of this until the day I arrived and
they had managed to create a deep fake version of
David Attenborough’s voice, one of the most recognizable
voices in the world. We all love David
Attenborough’s voice, don’t we. And they played it to me and I was like, that’s David Attenborough. Nope, it’s not. I said, let me take a spin,
let me take a spin at this. Let me see if you’re really, if this is the real deal. And they gave me a laptop
and they let me write whatever I wanted to write. And they basically gave
me the power to make David Attenborough say whatever I wanted David Attenborough to say. So naturally because I was
in Toronto, the hometown of the friend that I was
just telling you about, I decided to make David
Attenborough solve a football bet that I had been having with
my friend for 20 years. We’ve been arguing about
who’s a better quarterback, Brett Favre or Aaron Rogers. I say Brett Favre. He says Aaron Rogers. We all have different feelings. I know, I’m sorry, it’s true. But there I am having
David Attenborough say the following sentence. In nature there are lions
and there are pussy cats. Brett Favre is a lion. Aaron Rogers is a pussy cat. And it’s kind of a crazy
thing to have the power to make one of the
world’s most famous voices say whatever you want that person to say. And because I’m in a room
of policy policy walks think about what that could
do to our political discourse. But I want to even get more personal here because I asked these
brainiacs to do a deep fake of my voice. And they did. They gave me six samples of my voice. Three were fake and three were real. And my wife, who’s sitting here right now, along with my two children, I played it for them. I made them all take out a piece of paper and score a true or
false on each of the six samples of my voice. I played them one after
the other and the voices, my voice and my real voice
they couldn’t tell the difference between what
was real and what was fake. Some my son said, “Oh that’s fake.” My daughter said, “Oh that’s real.” It was astonishing. And it’s actually an
incredibly vulnerable feeling to know now that seeing
is no longer believing. Hearing is no longer believing. This is gonna present a profound challenge to the idea of what’s
real and what’s fake, what can we trust. The truth needs reinforcements. Recently Facebook announced
that it was going to run political ads knowing
that those political ads had outright falsehoods in them. The most amazing device
that we have created to disseminate information
is now in the business of disseminating information in political campaigns that they know is false. We all have this experience. We were just talking about it at dinner where you’re, we’re all,
we have our Twitter feeds and we’re just bombarded
with story after story, item after item. And it’s so fast, it’s so
rapid it’s really difficult for even the most discerning
reader to know the difference between what’s real and what’s fake, what’s true, what’s a lie. And the fact that the social
media platforms are so embedded in distributing all of this media and now knowingly,
deliberately making a decision to use their platforms to distribute lies the truth needs reinforcements. My last big story for the New York Times was about one simple question. How did Donald Trump get rich? And Donald Trump has told
everybody over and over the same story. I got a single loan from
my dad of $1 million and I parlayed that into an
empire worth $10 billion. Said that over and over,
probably many of you in this room have heard it a million times. So turns out he was off by $413 million. (audience laughing) We labored for 18 months
and we were able to document 295 distinct methods that Fred Trump used
to enrich Donald Trump. Donald Trump was making
today’s equivalent of $200000 a year when he was three years old. By the time he was nine
he was a millionaire. By the time he was 17
he had ownership of his first large apartment
complex in New York City. Fred Trump paid his son to
be his apartment manager, to be his landlord, to be his banker, to be his consultant, to be his stockbroker. He even gave him the
revenue from the laundries that were in the basements
from his buildings, the nickles, the quarters, all of that. He didn’t just give his son one loan, he gave him dozens of loans, and these are the best
kind of loans you can get. You don’t have to pay them
back and there’s on interest. Donald Trump did something
over and over and over again throughout his career. He would take reporters with
him on a tour of New York City. He would take them in his
limousine with the license plate DJT, chauffeured, and he would take them on a tour of New York City
to point out his buildings. “Here’s this building here. “Here’s a building in Staten Island. “Here’s a building in Brooklyn.” Spend the whole day driving the city pointing out his buildings. The truth was he actually didn’t own a single one of those buildings. His father owned them entirely. He had no ownership
interest in them whatsoever. He would have, he would
actually pose as his own spokesperson and adopt and alias and call the reporters who were
making the rich list of wealthiest Americans,
and he would call up these reporters who were
usually younger reporters who were tasked with this project of making the 100 wealthiest Americans, or whatever it was, 500 richest Americans. And he would call them
up and he would say, “I’m here. “I’m calling on behalf of Donald Trump. “You have him way too low on the list. “He really is much higher. “He should be much much higher. “Here are the assets that
you have failed to count.” The reporters didn’t even
really compute the notion that someone could take
them on a tour and point out building after building after building and simply lie. They couldn’t compute the
fact that actually if you looked closely enough the car
was purchased by his father. The limousine driver
was paid by his father. But none of that, none of that seeped in to the early coverage of Donald Trump. When we were working on this
project we had a whiteboard in our conference room
where we would scribble down thoughts, observations, questions. And one day I went to the
board and I wrote across the top what I thought
actually should be the headline of our story, The
Correction, The Correction. The truth desperately
needs reinforcements. After the deep water horizon oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico
I went down to cover to coast guard hearings
where they were trying to figure out what went wrong. And it was in a hotel conference room probably three times the size of this room and there was a little
section in the corner kind of over here where they
had room for the reporters who were covering this hearing. And this as you all know was
an monumentally large story that had huge implications
to communities all along the Gulf Coast and in. What really stunned me
the first time I walked into the conference room was that there were only four or five reporters there. The rest of the room
whole rows filled with public relations people who worked for BP and Halliburton, and the
company that made the blow out preventer, the
company that made the cement that went into the well, the
company that made the boats that took the cement
that went in the well. There was dozens and dozens
and dozens of PR people. And every time I would walk
out of the conference room they would attack me like piranas. They would just swarm me. And it’d be like,
Halliburton would be like, “Its all Transocean’s fault.” Transocean said, “It’s all BP’s fault. “We got to pull you
aside here and give you “the documents that are gonna prove “that it’s actually
the cement guys fault.” And it was this incredible
mismatch that really reflects something quite
deep and profound about what’s happened in journalism
over the last 20 years. And that is the muscle of truth seeking, the muscle of reporting
has been decimated, has been laid waste by
the economic problems of the industry that we’re
all so familiar with. Tens of thousands of
reporters have been laid off from small, medium, and
large news organizations. And it’s been happening and there’s still no end really in sight. But at the same time as the
muscle of truth seeking has been weakened the muscle
of spin is on steroids. Schools, journalism
schools are increasingly turning to teaching marketing classes. They’re teaching public relations classes. They’re teaching strategic communications because that’s where the jobs are. There’s been this steady
erosion of just the simple idea of teaching pure journalism. The school that I went to, Northwestern, it used to be the Medill
School of Journalism. Now, it’s the Medill School of Journalism
and Integrated Marketing. The truth needs reinforcements. And this is all just a really
long way for me to explain why I have come to Berkeley. I came here to preach. (audience laughing) I came here to proselytize. I came here to proselytize my religion, the religion of investigative reporting, to teach students about my saints, Saint Robert Kero, Saint Katherine Boo, Saint Ida Tarbell. I came here to preach. I came here to find recruits for truth. And luckily when I came here I found the most amazing partner in proselytizing, and that is professor Geeta Anand who is sitting right down here. Please give, please stand. (audience applauding) Geeta is also one of the
best investigative reporters on planet earth. She’s in the Pulitzer Club and
many other wonderful clubs. And the two of us together have
been doing everything we can to sucker as many smart
young people as possible into a life of investigative reporting. What we’re trying to do
is we’re trying to teach these incredibly smart,
passionate, ambitious, sometimes angry young people
everything we possibly can about what it takes to do
great investigative reporting, what it takes, what goes into it. Because as all of you
philosophy majors know, the truth is hard. The truth is really a
squiggly little beast. And putting your hands on it, defining it, describing it,
telling stories about it takes a profound commitment,
an intellectual commitment, a commitment of curiosity, a
commitment of being relentless, about questioning your own
assumptions, about reporting against your own sources,
reporting against your own hypothesis, a deep
commitment to embracing gray, to embracing nuance, to being not just satisfied
to get the facts right, but being absolutely,
utterly determined to also get the context correct. It’s brutally hard work, and what we’re trying to
do is we’re trying to pull as many young people as possible
into taking up the torch of investigative reporting
because the contest I think that we’re in truly is a contest between a world of truth,
a world of verifiable fact, a world where one plus one equals two, and a kingdom of lies
where one plus one equals whatever the people in
power want it to add up to, where the people are doing
their level best to seek truth, to speak truth
are labeled as traitors, as enemies of the people, where people who ought to know better, political leaders, business leaders, they speak nonsense. It’s so difficult to excavate truth from underneath a mountain of lies. John Carreyrou spent months
and months and months of dogged reporting aided by
very courageous whistleblowers to dig beneath the mountain of lies and to expose the incredible fraud at the heart of a Silicon Valley darling Theranos. This isn’t just about politics. There’s a rot that is creeping
deeper into our society. Harvey Weinstein, he caged
the truth behind a mountain of nondisclosure agreements,
aided and abetted by some of the best lawyers
that money can buy, and some of the best spin
meisters money can buy. Megan Twohey and Jody
Kantor, and Ronan Farrow, this story was buried under
a mountain of lies for years. And it took a massive effort,
months and months of work in the face of ferocious
pressure, economic threats, legal threats in order to
actually excavate the truth of what that man did. Those are success stories. Those are success stories
that we celebrate. Think of how many other
stories end in a different way. The truth needs reinforcements. That’s why I came to Berkeley. And that’s why I’m very
honored to be here tonight. And I’m happy to take any questions, any complaints, any comments whatsoever. Yes, I saw a hand go up there. – [Man] Sure, thank you so much. I’m wondering how, I guess worried is the word I’m thinking about, students
are or need to be made aware of the dangers lurking for them in their future as reporters. I look at the countries where
the reporters are killed because they’re reporters. I look at the countries
where hundreds, over time, of reporters are currently imprisoned. And the numbers are
intimidating to those of us who are not journalism students who are committed to the truth. I wonder if you have any
response to that, thank you. – I have to say so, not long before I left the New York Times, this isn’t why I left the New York Times, but not long before I
left we were forced to put up big cement blocks in front
of each of the entrances to our building. We were forced to do so
because of the threat level and the threats that had been pouring in. All of us who do this kind of work were used to getting threats. But I can tell you that
in recent years the tenor of those threats has really shifted. It’s not just like I’m gonna sue you. I’m gonna put you out of business. The threats that come in
are much more personal. I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna kill your family. I’m gonna kill your colleagues. You’re a vermin. You can, you hear this thing in the voices when they leave voicemails. There is a level of rage. And this belief underneath that, which is you are engaged by definition, if you work at the New York Times, you are engaged in
deliberately spreading lies in order to destroy the
United States of America. That’s, it’s that simple. This morning I arrived at
the investigative reporting program headquarters on Hearst Avenue. Someone smashed the front door last night. They broke in and four of
our computers were stolen. We don’t know what happened,
or why, or what the motive is. We did just publish a story
this weekend that described for the first time in the
most authoritative way that’s ever been done
in California over 600 police officers who are
convicted of crimes, including dozens and dozens of them who remain on the job today. We don’t know what happened. But I can tell you my staff
is shaken because we live in this world. We live under this atmosphere. Now, I will say there’s a
flip side to the atmosphere which is in the same way
there’s this kind of ugly tenor to the comments and the threats, well let me tell you the best story I can tell you about this. I was on an airplane and
there was a man sitting next to me with a very
antsy four year old boy, and I was doing everything
I could to help him distract this young man. And so eventually he asked
me, “What do you do?” And I said, I’m a reporter
for the New York Times. And he put his hand on
my shoulder and he said, “Thank you so much.” People, it’s an interesting
thing when you tell people what kind of work you do
there’s a sort of flip of the coin. Sometimes it’s not so great. But sometimes what I’m noticing is that people wanna actually put their hands on you and say thank you. They put their hands on your shoulder and they say thank you. And that’s different too. And that’s interesting to me. Yes. – [Man] So, point on that, in your talk you said that investigative reporters or reporters need to get
their facts straight. But they also need to
get the context right. And I’m not sure what the difference is. Isn’t the context just more facts? – You can write a story that
is factually unassailable and completely wrong. I’m trying to think of a good example. Maybe my minds gonna,
it’ll come to me later. Maybe you’re right. I think you’re probably right. Context in some cases is
simply getting more facts that help them you see
the facts that you already have in a different light. That maybe is exactly
what I’m talking about. There’s this fear that
we have that we have lots of facts but what we
don’t know if we knew it would make us see something
in a different light. That’s the thing that
frightens me the most when I’m about to do a, when
I’m about to publish a story. That’s the thing that I
actually worry about the most. That’s the thing that
I fact check the most and the thing that I’m thinking about. And what I’m trying to do
is come up with an approach to investigative reporting, but from the very early
stages the entire approach is designed to counteract
the possibility that something like that will happen. It means this kind of constant
searching to peal back another layer of the onion. And sometimes it’s an impossible task. You never really feel like
you’re all the way there. But you have to at least do your best, and then you have to do your
best to tell your story. And this is part of the craft. It’s part of the difficulty of doing great investigative reporting. It’s not enough to put
your hands on the truth. You also have to be able to present that, to present that story
in a way that is clear and compelling, and I’m so sorry
it was a long slog for you, but I spend a lot of time
trying to figure out how to tell stories in ways that are credible and that readers, no matter
where they are on the political spectrum, whatever else they
might think about the story the one thing that I hope
they don’t have to worry about is that this is made up. So I focus a lot on attribution,
careful attribution, on the record attribution. I focus a lot on making as
much of our homework available to the reader, so linking to original source documents underneath. I focus a lot on writing
stories in a way where you’re avoiding the wiggle words. The manys, the somes, the abouts, and instead I try to write with precision, the kind of precision
that can allow someone to contest and say, no that fact is wrong. I focus a lot on, people
often ask me this question. You spend so much time on these stories, don’t you worry there’s
a whole segment of the population that won’t even
read the first sentence? They will dismiss it out of hand. What do you do about them? And what I actually do is I
do everything humanly possible to try to reach every single one of them. I’m not gonna give up. I’m not gonna just write them off. I’m gonna take that as a
challenge to become a better investigative story teller. And I’m gonna take it as
a challenge to do my work in a way that shows exactly
how I know what I know, exactly how I’m saying what
I’m saying and backs it up with on the record facts,
sources, documents. I’m not gonna give up. Sorry. – [Woman] There was an article
today in the New York Times that had a lot of that for me. The headline was News or ‘Trauma Porn’. What is the threat for those
who didn’t read the story it’s basically students
objecting to what we’ve considered traditional
investigative reporting, not wanting to be
photographed, not being quoted, not being, you know, asked to interview. What kind of threat does that present to investigative reporting? – Well that just, forget
investigative reporting. Let’s just say all reporting, okay. That was a really disturbing
situation and deeply troubling to every journalist that I know. Basically what happened
for those of you who don’t know the story, at
least as I understand it. And I haven’t studied it in depth. So if I get something wrong take that, it’s because I’m just speaking
what little I’ve read so far. But what I do understand is
that there was a protest. Jeff Sessions was coming to give a speech at Northwestern University
and students wanted to protest him coming to give that speech. And the Daily Northwestern
covered not just the speech, but they also covered the
protest outside of the speech. And as part of that coverage
they took photographs of the protestors who are protesting in a public space this particular speech. But that basic reporting
act of taking pictures of a public protest enraged
a number of the students who were involved in the protest. And what further enraged them is that the Daily Northwestern
seeking to get comment did the basic reporting step
of trying to figure out who some of these students were, searching social media and
other publicly available sites in order to identify them and call them up and ask them why they
were there protesting. This is reporting 101. And yet, a number of
students, a significant number of students were so outraged
at this simple act of reporting that they began heaping
abuse on the editors of the newspaper saying that
you were traumatizing them by putting their picture in the paper, by calling them up. You were invading their privacy. And it was so bad that the
editors of the Daily Northwestern wrote a note to the
public I believe yesterday and actually apologized for
doing this basic reporting. This is deeply disturbing. It’s deeply disturbing
because it shows a kind of profound resistance to, this
isn’t investigative reporting. Covering a protest is not
investigative reporting. Covering a protest is just reporting. And the fact that a group of students, a significant number of students
didn’t actually get that and took issue with that
is also a profound threat to the idea of seeking truth
and describing the world as it is. Yes. – [Woman] Thank you, I wonder
if you could speak to the economics of investigative reporting. Some of the time your stories take a year to develop, sometimes more. With papers laying off
journalists has investigative reporting just now centered on things like the Center for Investigative Reporting, most newspapers can’t afford to do it. I’d like to hear more on that please. – That’s a great question and a really profoundly important one too. The economics of investigative
reporting are insane, okay. So, someone like me I spend
a year, 18 months, two years sometimes trying to write these stories, the kinds of stories
that really penetrate the subject matter at hand. It’s not just my salary. There’s lots of travel. It’s very easy for a major
investigative project at a place like the New York Times, or the Washington Post
to easily cost upwards of a million dollars for one story. Economics of investigative
reporting are insane. However, there’s a good side to this. And that is investigative
reporting done well, done right, done correctly,
done compellingly one of the things we can see is we see an enormous public appetite
for stories of substance, stories that are told with
great craft and great integrity. And those stories end up
actually when they’re done well and they’re done right, and
they’re not actually done well, and they’re not always done right. But when they are they really
solidify the relationship between the audience and
the news organization. We can see it. We actually see it. You can now see it
obviously in all the metrics that we’re all swimming in. You can actually see. I remember the day that we
published the Trump tax story. And I was standing there in
the middle of the newsroom and we were all huddled
around the computer where we could see a clock
counting the number of readers in the first 10 seconds,
in the first 30 seconds. And you could just see
this meter (whooshing) and then one of the editors said, “Oh you think this is something? “I’m about to send out an alert. “Watch what happens how.” And he pressed a button and
out went a New York Times alert to all your cell phones in here
and you’re all like, “Huh!” And the numbers just (whooshing). By the end of the first
week after that story the thing, the metric that
I look for has nothing to do with numbers. The metric I look to to
figure out whether or not a story that I’ve worked
on is has permeated the culture, what I look
to is I look to the late night comedy shows. (audience laughing) And by the end of the week
every single late night comedy show had done a hilarious bit on this particular show. And of course it always culminates with Saturday Night Live. And that’s when you know
when you hit them all that’s when you know your
story is really sinking in. But the economics of
investigative reporting has required new models for financing
investigative reporting. Part of that model is
the non profit model. The one that we all know about probably, I hope you all know about
in here is Pro Publica, which has been largely
financed through donations from foundations and others. And they have become an astonishingly good source of investigative reporting. Same with CIR right down the street here. And quite frankly the
investigative reporting program here at Berkeley, one
of the reasons that I’m here is because I’m interested
in experimenting with it too as a potential new model
for financing the expensive cost of doing great
investigative reporting. What I’m trying to do is
I’m trying to bring in support from donors, from foundations. We’re also trying to generate
commercial revenue by actually selling our stories
to major media outlets. So we have a six part
series that will be running on Netflix in February that involved students being part of that process. And that brings in commercial revenue along with donations. And that then comes into
the program and helps us then send students out to do real honest to God investigative digging. One of the stories that
ran with our project this weekend about cops with
criminal records was done by two of my students. And they went to a town
in California, McFarland, California and they found
that this particular police department almost all
of the police officers were hired even though
the people who hired them knew that they had criminal records. And these were like some pretty
serious criminal records. Those students went back
to that town 14 times. We spent $25000 sending them
back to that town over and over and over again so that
they could actually nail that story cold. And they did. They did. So that’s kind of what
we’re trying to do is see if we too can be part of creating a new economic model that helps
support investigative reporting. One of the things that
is so frightening to me is that the basic media
ecosystem that created me that ecosystem has totally broken down. That ecosystem was an
ecosystem where someone like me got hired pretty
quickly at a small newspaper. I wrote a bunch of investigative projects in my first couple of years. They were all terrible. But they all taught me something. And then I went to a
medium sized newspaper. I wrote more investigative projects. Some were terrible. Some were getting better. I was beginning to actually find my voice, figure out what kind of
voice I had as a writer and I was also beginning
to discover what worked best for me as a
reporter, trial and error. I didn’t get to the New York
Times until I was 35 years old. And I thank God that I
didn’t get there sooner. Because by the time I
got there I was ready. I had been trained. That media ecosystem
has totally broken down. Local newspapers as we all know many of them are disappearing outright. Medium newspapers, many of
them are disappearing outright. Brutal cost cutting, brutal layoffs, reporters being laid off. And so that ecosystem that
allowed someone like me to take my baby steps into
investigative reporting no longer exist. One of the things we are
trying to do here at the investigative reporting program is we’re trying to address that very problem. We’re trying to take the
two years that we have these students and we’re
trying to give them hands on experience, not
just hearing me lecture in a boring way about how I do what I do, but actually having them
take on substantive, important investigative reporting projects in print, in documentary, in
this thing called podcasts. I’m actually trying to
challenge my students to be the first to figure out how to do a great investigative project on Instagram. Wouldn’t that that be
something if we could figure that out. Think of who we could reach
if we could figure that out. We’re trying to also
experiment with new forms of investigative storytelling. We’re trying to experiment with data and data
analytics, data science. These students are something else. And they basically are saying, “You know what, don’t tell us “that we need to spend 20
years paying our dues.” What they’re saying is, “Coach put me in.” They’re challenging us. “Coach put me in.” And I’ve told this story before. It’s a big part of why I’m
placing this bet on this place. And it has to do with, it has nothing to do with
journalism whatsoever. It has to do with those
kids from Parkland. After that shooting occurred in Parkland I was just astonished watching
these high school students at the worst moment of their
lives conduct themselves with this kind of amazing
poise and focus and intention. They weren’t intimidated by
the big shots in New York coming down to interview them. They weren’t gonna be bullied
by the NRA or any other group that was trying to silence them. There’s something about this generation and we’re trying to tap into that. We’re trying to do what
we can to say okay, you wanna get in the game? We’re gonna put you in. (audience applauding) (inspirational music)

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