Journalist who investigated 9/11, George Bush visits OU students
By Elizabeth Raber
In a recent visit to campus, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage talked to Ohio University journalism students about the importance of investigative journalism.
New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, talking to students during the 90 Minute Conversation program.
Based out of the New York Times Washington bureau, Savage has built a career around investigative journalism and reporting on the White House.
Savage’s visit to Athens included talking to more than 200 students from across the campus at a 90 Minutes program, a Wednesday evening conversation series devoted to discussions about politics, racism, sexism and other global topics. He also spoke to students in two journalism classes.
Savage, who has been with the New York Times for eight years, talked to students about the challenges facing the media when reporting about the government. In today’s environment, journalists must have skills to report complex issues, according to Savage.
Investigative reporters should be concerned only about reporting facts, not telling people what to think. "You’re helping shape the democratic discourse of our society," Savage said. Journalists need to point out things of interest that other people may not notice.
"The mainstream media model brings information to light so that when people do decide what to think, they have the information they need. That’s the school of journalism that I come from," Savage said.
Savage graduated from Harvard University with two degrees, English and American literature and language. He earned a masters degree from Yale Law School as a Knight Foundation journalism fellow, just after 9/11.
At that time, people were starting to question the legality of the governments response to the terrorist attacks, Savage said. This time period sparked his interest in investigating the government, specifically the Bush administration.
In 2007 Savage won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting after writing a series about Presidential Signing Statements, allowing the Bush administration to skirt the law outlawing torture.
In this particular signing statement, Bush had said that because he is the commander in chief, he was not bound to obey this torture ban. He could instruct interrogators to continue to use extreme techniques, and he thought that was what was necessary to protect national security, Savage explained.
He was the only person to write a series on Bush’s signing statement as he investigated what he described as hiding in plain sight, as well as the history of these behaviors, according to Savage.
He went on to write the book "Takeover," also published in 2007. In it he chronicled the Bush-Cheney administration’s efforts to expand presidential power through such maneuvers as the signing statements.
More recently, he authored "Power Wars" (2015), an investigative history of national-security legal policy-making by the Obama Administration, which has pursued nine prosecutions of government officials providing information to reporters, Savage said. This was drastically different from presidential policies followed in the previous 225 years.
It’s much easier now to link reporters with government officials because of smart phones and email, according to Savage. This has really chilled investigative journalism in the national security era, he added.
He described present challenges as being different from those of the past. As future investigative journalists, I think we are just starting to grapple with the implications of the inability to hide social links with people, Savage said. Neither Bush nor Obama had influenced this 21st phenomena, its just how the world has changed.
Classroom Visits by Savage
Savage also visited an Online Journalism Fundamentals class taught by Associate Professor Hans Meyer. Savage emphasized the need to think differently about how content appears online and the need for personal branding.
Savage told students that Times reporters are being asked to write shorter stories, according to Meyer. "It really just stuck out at me that he was saying, ’Hey, they are encouraging us to do this at the Times, and you guys are better at this than we are.’ You should really take advantage of that while you’re students," Meyer said.
Savage had not wanted to be a journalist at first when to college. "I had this sort of misconception, I think, about journalism," Savage said, "I didn’t want to write about other people doing interesting things, I wanted to be the person doing the interesting thing."
His love of writing led to a job in high school as a clerk working for E.W. Scripps School of Journalism assistant professor, Justice Hill, at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette newspaper.