Kingswood Oxford students had the opportunity to listen to a fascinating assembly featuring a two-time Pultizer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times Mark Mazzetti. He also addressed the students in KO’s AP Political Science class and journalism class.
In 2009, Mazzetti was awarded the prize for his team’s coverage of Washington’s response to the rising violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He shared the prize in 2018 for reporting on the influence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Mazzetti acknowledged that the election of President Trump in 2016 meant that as a reporter he was going to “cover a presidency, unlike anything we had ever seen before.” He noted it as “jarring” to be the subject of angry presidential tweets. Mazzetti described the origins of fake news as hackers in Russia who would fabricate stories to disrupt the political conversations in the U.S. without any correct information or sources. He said the Muller Report concluded that these fake news stories that appeared in American social feeds had an impact on the election.
Mazzetti believed that President Trump “flipped the script” and conflated fake news with legitimate news outlets by calling them disreputable. “What is dangerous is when people believe that and what we do for a living is that we come in with an agenda and warp the facts to put out information just to damage the president,” he said. If people choose not to trust their news sources, Mazzetti argued that they will gain their information through “some pretty sketchy sources.”
As a journalist, Mazzetti approaches any administration’s agenda with a healthy dose of skepticism and writes a story with facts in a non-partisan fashion. By chasing down the next story of President Trump, Mazzetti is concerned by the lack of time and attention paid to stories the news is not covering such as the CIA and covert drone wars. Mazzeti challenged the students to remain open-minded no matter what their political affiliation. By reading only papers and news stories that align with one's political beliefs, you are only reinforcing your view. Instead, he feels liberals should seek out conservative points of view and conservatives should follow progressive sites to challenge their assumptions.
Following his presentation, Jaden DiMauro ’20, editor of the KO News, asked Mazzetti about his early career. Although Mazzetti had written a few news stories for his college newspaper, he was still uncertain about his career path. In the spring of 2001, he headed to D.C. to cover the Pentagon which at the time was considered a sleepy assignment. Within a matter of months, the tragedy of 9/11 occurred launching the U.S. into two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Mazzetti heading to dangerous locales to report on the news. “There is no story worth dying for,” he said. “ You can’t be reckless, and you need to take calculated risks.” By working with colleagues who were familiar with the area or locals, Mazzetti was able to mitigate risks as a foreign correspondent.
Mazzetti fielded several questions from the audience ranging from the need for drone strikes, the U.S.’s continued presence in Afghanistan and the public’s right to know about issues of sensitive national security. One student asked Mazzetti about the necessity of drawing the line between his own skepticism, fact, and opinion. “I always keep an open mind that the facts will change or that my view of the facts will change. You have to be open to being convinced. If you are skeptical because that’s a good position to be in and someone makes a compelling argument, you have to be willing to be convinced. You should also be open to the idea that things can change in the future,” he said.