My short bio: Hi, I'm Peter Baker, the Chief White House Correspondent for the New York Times and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. I've covered three presidents for the Times and the Washington Post, winning the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency and the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award for White House coverage. My new book, DAYS OF FIRE: Bush and Cheney in the White House, comes out on Oct. 22. Read an excerpt here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/magazine/the-final-insult-in-the-bush-cheney-marriage.html

Edit: I'm planning to answer questions between 1-2pm.

Edit 2: Thanks for the great questions everyone! This was fun.

My Proof: https://twitter.com/peterbakernyt/status/392324028029239296 (Also confirmed via e-mail to moderators)

Comments: 199 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

sw33725 karma

Which president was the smartest in your opinon?

peterbakernyt33 karma

I think they're smart in different ways. President Clinton has an eclectic mind and a searching intellect who sees connections in ideas others might not have linked. President Bush is mischaracterized because he scorns intellectualism and plays down expectations but in fact he can be very sharp and has what people describe as an emotional intelligence. President Obama thinks with the logic of a professor or a lawyer, drilling deep in a dispassionate sort of way.

fa5318 karma

Are you worried about government overreach threatening the First Amendment?

peterbakernyt24 karma

That's a big concern these days. The Obama administration is overseeing more leak investigations than all of its predecessors combined, including some that threaten my colleagues.

fa534 karma

How worried are you that your communications are being monitored?

peterbakernyt6 karma

Yes, I'm "worried about," certainly. And do I think our communications are being monitored? We don't know that but in this day and age, you have to assume they might be -- even the Chinese have been trying to hack the New York Times lately.

Darth_Reagan18 karma

Who has been your favorite White House Press Secretary?

fa5333 karma

C J Cregg

distracting_hysteria14 karma

Josh Lyman

Dusty12911 karma

Secret government plan to fight inflation??

peterbakernyt21 karma

Actually it was a secret plan to fight inflation. But he learned his lesson, right? CJ Cregg seemed like a good press secretary, but it's kind of a no-no to have a romantic relationship with a reporter.

DuelistDeCoolest15 karma

Do you think print media is dying?

peterbakernyt12 karma

No, actually, I think we're in a period of creative destruction that's volatile and difficult, but from it I think a lot of new and creative journalism is emerging, and much of it reliant on print, even if not in physical newspapers. Reddit is a great example of furthering the marketplace of ideas. We don't have to always do it the old ways to preserve the old journalistic values.

BringingTheDownvotes13 karma

In your opinion, why is it that people are so hostile towards the Bush White House when in reality he did nothing new that politicians hadn't been doing for years already?

peterbakernyt18 karma

Well, I'm not sure he did nothing new that all politicians have done. The Iraq war was and will continue to be a very controversial decision, and rightly or wrongly it will flavor all discussions of his presidency.

dndplosion91313 karma

Do you still get star-struck by being in the same room as the President, or has the shine sort of worn off and he's just another person to you?

peterbakernyt20 karma

He's certainly not another person, nor will she be if/when there's a she. But I wouldn't say star-struck, no. There's a natural intimidation factor that probably everyone who doesn't work with or live with a president -- he's the guy with the armed guards and the big plane and the music that plays when he comes in the room. So for reporters, it's always a challenge to put that aside and ask the tough questions any president needs to be asked.

peterbakernyt13 karma

Thanks everyone for a great chat. Really enjoyed it. Sorry not to get to every question, but every question was appreciated. Even if I'm not Ann Coulter. Have a great day and check out the web site for "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House" -- http://www.daysoffire.com. Thanks!

gotoBEDdobby12 karma

What is your favorite kind of sandwich?

peterbakernyt12 karma

I'm eating Turkey and swiss as we speak!

wannabehipster12 karma

It seems that Cheney never cared much about what others thought of him (surprising, being in politics). Did the "Darth Vader" persona that others tagged him with ever annoy him?

peterbakernyt19 karma

He seemed, or at least became, remarkably resilient to those sorts of perception. At some point he even came to embrace the image. When his aides bought him a Darth Vader mask, he put it on and posed for a photograph. Alas, it's never been released. When he wanted to put it in his 2011 memoir, his wife, Lynne, talked him out of it.

addictivelemon11 karma

Have you met Obama? Is he a hugger?

peterbakernyt21 karma

Yes and no. Definitely not a hugger. At least not with reporters. But then who would want to hug a reporter?

Suckerbet51610 karma

i'm curious to know what the white house media was given as proof of WMD's in Iraq prior to our invasion. was anyone questioning the validity of the claim?

peterbakernyt12 karma

I was overseas during the runup to the war in Iraq, so I can't give first-hand testimony to that. In general, you'll remember that the intelligence community produced a number of reports and briefings that said there were weapons and that intelligence was accepted not just by President Bush and Vice President Cheney but by most members of Congress, including Republicans and Democrats. There were those who dissented inside the intelligence community, but they were not paid as much attention as they should have been.

born_on_a_bidet9 karma

I'm just starting my career as a newspaper reporter in a small town in Newfoundland. Do you have a piece of advice for someone starting out in the field?

peterbakernyt14 karma

The best advice I ever got as a young journalist came from my high school newspaper sponsor, an amazing man named Stewart Hill, who stood up to school district censorship. He said never take no for an answer, don't be afraid to be aggressive (which is not the same thing as being obnoxious, which we in the media can be too often). To that I'd add keep an open mind as much as possible.

mgolf8 karma

Welcome to Reddit! Do you have any favorite movies? Or ones that depict Washington or the newspaper industry realistically?

peterbakernyt10 karma

Thanks for the welcome! Favorite movie of all time, "All the President's Men." I watch it every year. Another great movie about journalism is "The Paper," starring Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei and Robert Duvall. It really captures the passions and tradeoff of modern journalism.

Surf3147 karma

It seems like the current presidential model is to privately go through an issue, decide on the best course out of numerous shades of grey, then package it to the american people as black and white. Do you know of any examples of a president trying to discuss all sides of an issue with the american people and do you think it was more or less effective than the black and white approach? Do you think most issues are just fundamentally too complex to have honest conversations about them or do you think involving people more in the process would be of benefit?

peterbakernyt7 karma

That's a very insightful point. You're absolutely right that a White House will go through a sometimes painful debate about an issue, where different points of view are aired in private in front of the president, and then he decides and it's as if the other side no longer has any validity. But it's hard for a president to discuss issues with any degree of complexity; the public has a limited attention span, and reporters maybe even less. I remember when President Clinton tried to engage the country in a year-long conversation about race; it proved really difficult to do in a political-media context.

ningrim6 karma

Who did you vote for or support for President in 2012?

Do you think it would be beneficial to your readers to have this information from a transparency perspective?

peterbakernyt8 karma

I'd be happy to give that information because the truth is I don't vote. I decided a long time ago that it's hard enough and important enough to stay neutral without deciding, even in the privacy of a voting booth, that one candidate or one party is better than the other. The more open to different ideas and points of view we can remain as journalists, the better. I don't say every journalist shouldn't vote; others are probably better at compartmentalizing than I am. But for me, it helps keep me thinking of myself as an observer rather than a participant.

ningrim7 karma

Respectfully disagree.

Not voting doesn't make you neutral, it just allows you to maintain a superficial appearance of neutrality when asked who you voted for.

Refusing to express a preference is different than not having one.

peterbakernyt6 karma

I understand that and I respect your view. Many if not most of my journalist colleagues and friends share your opinion. For me, it's just easier to seek neutrality by practicing it as much as possible. It's not just not voting -- ask my wife, she'll tell you how aggravating it is that I don't express political opinions even in the privacy of our home.

gblr5 karma

I'm not asking for specifics, because I know giving them would defeat the purpose, but have you ever ignored something that would have been big news for any reason. This could be something like: "obama hasn't quit smoking, this would be big news but its not relevant to his presidency" or "the NSA is spying on us all, this is necessary for our security and the public outcry would be unfounded." All I want is a yes or no.

peterbakernyt8 karma

Yes, certainly. Any reporter who covered President Clinton's tenure, for instance, had to decide where the line was in terms of reporting on things that might be part of his private life. In the end, we decided to report those that were in some way relevant to his office or to the investigations that were taking place at the time.

milliemayhem5 karma

Do you feel pushed to ask guided questions that stay on topic as a modern journalist? As in, if the topic of the day is the economy you must stick to economic questions and not ask about the ongoing clusterfuck of NSA foreign spying revelations?

Are you retaliated against and basically silenced for off topic questions?

I've long wondered why in the last 15 years or so the press as a whole have seemed so apathetic to asking off-message questions. Do you as a reporter feel like this is the case?

peterbakernyt4 karma

No, I can't think of a time when any reporter has been retaliated against for asking about valid public policy issues and I don't think we feel pressured by the government to stick to a topic. There are times when a president grants an interview on the condition that it be about a specific topic. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don't, depending on the circumstances and the topic. But at briefings and news conferences, there are no restrictions. If reporters seem to stick to certain topics on certain days, it's usually a reflection of whatever the hot news of that day happens to be. We're not as good at coming back to issues that aren't as front-and-center but still important when we get the chance to question a president, for instance.

Tobius__Funke5 karma

What's your opinion on biased news outlets? Do you think they serve a place in the media?

peterbakernyt7 karma

The addition of more opinion-oriented news outlets is part of the greater marketplace of ideas and therefore I think they can bring great value to our national discourse. What worries me is when those become a substitute, rather than a complement, to news outlets that at least try to remain neutral.

SkyCyril5 karma

Mr. Baker,

Thank you so much for joining us today. It's a privilege to be able to follow your coverage.

I'm particularly interested in how President Bush and Vice President Cheney became divided on a number of issues. Was there ever a tipping point that started this? Was this an inevitable split?

peterbakernyt8 karma

Hi everyone, thanks for participating today. Be gentle on a Reddit virgin!

This is a great question. "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House" tells the story of the eight years of that administration through the prism of the partnership between these two men and you're right, it changes drastically by the end. My reporting didn't find a single moment or tipping point, but an accumulation of moments where President Bush began moving in a different direction, much to Vice President Cheney's chagrin, particularly after the Iraq war began to go bad.

bonescape5 karma

How do you feel about the decline in willingness of people to pay for news, mostly because it is available for free on the internet? And what do you think this means for the quality of journalism? Should we be worried that this compromises the independence of the media even further, which in turn could lead to further polarisation?

peterbakernyt6 karma

Another smart question. The trick is that journalism has always been if not free then relatively low cost -- the Washington Post where I used to work cost a quarter for the longest time. But with the collapse of the advertising market, newspapers have had to ask readers to contribute more. The success of the paywall at the Times has been heartening because it does suggest there's an audience willing to pay for journalism of value.

KIllTheNiggerUrgent3 karma

Why should I buy your book?

peterbakernyt12 karma

Fabulous question. This is a book that will surprise you, it will tell you things you don't know about an incredibly consequential period in our American life, one that we will be debating for years to come. Also my mother will be very happy if you buy it.

Dizzymo3 karma

Who really called the shots? Bush or Cheney?

peterbakernyt11 karma

President Bush. Despite the mythology, he was, as Gen. Dick Myers, the former Joint Chiefs chairman, put it, the "alpha male in the White House." But Vice President Cheney certainly had enormous influence, especially in the early years, and he outmaneuvered his internal rivals, like Colin Powell and Condi Rice, in guiding President Bush for a time, before the two began drifting apart on a number of key issues.

Hatedreadingit3 karma

Looking back on the Bush/Cheney years as you did for your book, what is your biggest regret about your own contemporaneous coverage? And what grade would you give the White House press corps overall?

peterbakernyt2 karma

Good question! One thing that strikes you writing a book like this is the uncomfortable discovery about how little we reporters really find out in the moment. We didn't know enough about the debates going on inside the White House about key issues or have a fuller understanding of the real nature of the partnership between President Bush and Vice President Cheney. If you read "Days of Fire," I hope you'll find a lot that may surprise you. So maybe the grade would be incomplete in that we in the White House press corps only get part of the story at any given moment.

goaliebloak3 karma

Hi Peter. When doing interviews, what has been the most infuriating response to one of your questions? Thanks!

peterbakernyt7 karma

"Off the record, no comment." Seriously, you'd be surprised how many times you hear that in Washington.

prettyscaredyeah2 karma

Do you ever get frustrated by politics and/or politicians?

peterbakernyt4 karma

Yes, of course. Who doesn't? (It's fair to note that they probably get frustrated with reporters too, from time to time.)

kathryn132 karma

I'm not trying to be an ass with this question - do you ever feel guilty about the state of this country? The media was a big factor in the Bush Admin getting away with going to war in Iraq. I worked in the media, as planned, right out of college. But I became disillusioned with the dog and pony show. I got out. Do you ever struggle with your own personal values in the job that you do?

peterbakernyt4 karma

That's another good question. I guess I wouldn't say I feel guilty, but there are certainly aspects of modern journalism that are disappointing, the dog-and-pony show as you put it. There's too much gotcha about small things and not enough investment into the harder, more important stories. And I've probably been part of that at times. But that's one reason I love working at the NY Times because this is one paper that tries to get that balance right, that really maintains high ambition for our journalism, sometimes at great cost. Our reporters have died in Iraq, been thrown out of Pakistan, been shut down in China and been dragged into investigations in Washington, all in the interest of getting the story. And the Times is dedicated to pursuing it anyway.

king_of_lies2 karma

Hamburgers or hotdogs?

peterbakernyt2 karma

Hamburgers. No hotdogs. Shoot, why can't it be both?

suicide_scrote2 karma

How is the security screening procedures?

peterbakernyt3 karma

At the White House? We go through a metal detector and scan our belongings to get in. Ironically we never have to take off our shoes and we can bring in sodas greater than 3 ounces. But that's because anyone going into the White House has been pre-screened by the Secret Service.

Javindo2 karma

Hi Peter, how much contact do you get with "the oval office" as it were in your position? Do you have a cool security clearance level? Were you vetted intensely at any point?

peterbakernyt2 karma

No, reporters have no security clearance. We do submit to a background check by the Secret Service before being granted press passes to the White House. So someone somewhere has my fingerprints and knows about that high school government paper I never turned in.

MonsieurA2 karma

I think it's no secret to say that Bush was a very controversial President. So, to put things in a different light, what would you say were President George W. Bush's main accomplishments while in office? Where do you feel he was unfairly criticized?

peterbakernyt6 karma

No question that President Bush's tenure will be controversial for years and decades to come. Probably the thing he would most want to be remembered for was keeping the country safe after 9/11, which in the immediate aftermath would have seemed unlikely. Other signature programs like fighting AIDS in Africa, expanding Medicare to cover prescription medicine, cutting taxes and increasing funding and accountability in education tend to get overshadowed by Iraq and all the vigorous debate about his counterterrorism policies -- and some of those choices are debated themselves.

bluntymctokems1 karma

When do you as a reporter decide to stop with the both sides are to blame rhetoric? I know it puts you in a tough position with readership that may lean towards a specific party, but it seems like most if the dysfunction today is mainly the result of republicans making unreasonable demands and refusing to negotiate (defund obamacare, no tax increases at all, etc.). Mainly how do you balance trying to be objective with reporting what is actually going on?

peterbakernyt6 karma

You raise a good point and I appreciate it. We should avoid false equivalences. On the other hand, it often seems to me that when we're accused of false equivalence, what people really want is for us to say their side is right and would think we were terribly unfair if we came down the other way. We shouldn't give in to forced on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand journalism, but it seems to me if we do our jobs right providing facts and fact-based analysis, readers are more than smart enough to decide for themselves who's right and who's wrong without being told what to think.

KIllTheNiggerUrgent1 karma

Did you know Tony Snow?

peterbakernyt2 karma

I did. Tony was a good guy who left us way too early. He had a positive, upbeat view of the world that was infectious. He enjoyed the give-and-take of the briefing room and loved nothing more than a good argument with reporters who were asking tough questions but he never, ever took it personally. We miss him.

BlerpityBloop1 karma

[deleted]

peterbakernyt3 karma

Alas, that doesn't happen. For one thing, they don't let us wander in the West Wing -- we're kept penned in a relatively tight press area and allowed only to walk up to the press secretary's office. For another, unscripted moments with the president have faded away. Even if we do see him in some off the record moment, it's almost always arranged. It's a shame because we have less sort of casual access, and therefore a more genuine understanding, of a president than maybe any other officeholder.

_mishka_1 karma

Have you watched House of Cards? How do you find its accuracy?

peterbakernyt3 karma

Yes, of course. It's a great show. Accurate? Well, not in its details or over-the-top storylines. But it does capture a certain cynicism that's too prevalent in Washington these days. And it's fun to watch.

iia0 karma

Has anyone ever told you that your name sounds like an extremely rare kitchen accident?

peterbakernyt2 karma

Nope. You're the first.

suicide_scrote0 karma

Where do you stay while in Washington?

peterbakernyt1 karma

At home! I live there with my family.