Reimagining America’s Role and Ambitions in a New Middle East
As News Director of NewYorker.com, David Rohde is at the helm of online news coverage at one of the country’s most respected magazines—a bastion of fact-checked journalism in an era of ‘fake news.’ A two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former war correspondent, Rohde wrestles every day with fairness, facts, online propaganda, and how to respond to the polarization bankrupting our politics. His latest book, In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America's "Deep State", gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the secret workings of our democracy.
“I still believe that the heart of journalism must be original, fact-based reporting. And in the Trump era, journalists must operate at our fastest and most accurate and ethical rate ever.”— David Rohde
As the Online News Director of NewYorker.com and as an on-air CNN Global Affairs analyst, David Rohde works at the crossroads of contemporary politics: the web, cable television, and Twitter. He has helped lead a team to expand The New Yorker’s online news coverage in an effort to keep pace with Trump and his White House. Instead of trying to examine every tweet, false claim, and distortion by the administration, he’s directed broad, clear-eyed, daily and investigative stories that expose and analyze the big-picture pattern of what Trump is doing. He published the stories that brought down White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and exposed a two-year criminal investigation of Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump on fraud charges. His forthcoming book, In Deep, will offer a fact-based, non-partisan investigation addressing conspiracy theories on both the left and the right regarding the existence of a “Deep State”—the unseen influences that may (or may not) be underpinning the nation’s policies and government.
As a foreign correspondent, Rohde covered the civil wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and experienced extremism first-hand. In Srebrenica, Bosnia, he discovered the mass graves of 8,000 Muslim men and boys who had been executed, was arrested at a mass grave by the Bosnian Serbs who carried out the killings, and threatened with execution himself. Rohde’s investigation of this massacre earned him the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. His book Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe’s Worst Massacre Since World War II was hailed by The New York Times as “a remarkable account, based on courageous research and admirably unbiased analysis” and by The Guardian as “essential reading” and “journalism at its committed best.”
“His work shows the broad reach and impact of good journalism, and is a shining example of what journalists can accomplish, even when working under dangerous and trying circumstances.”— The International Press Institute
Rohde’s coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan earned him another Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting, shared with the staff at The New York Times for their “groundbreaking, masterful coverage” of the two countries. While researching a book on Afghanistan, Rohde and two Afghan colleagues were kidnapped by a Taliban commander, held captive for seven months in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and threatened with execution before escaping. The New York Times called his book A Rope and a Prayer: The Story of a Kidnapping, co-written by Rohde and his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, “a love story, as well as a political drama” that “should be required reading.”
Rohde began his career at ABC News, then became Eastern Europe Correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. For nearly fifteen years, Rohde reported for The New York Times—moving from New York Criminal Courts Reporter to Foreign Correspondent to South Asia Bureau Co-Chief to Investigative Reporter. After his tenure there, he served as a columnist for The Atlantic, and a columnist, Investigative Reporter, and National Security Investigations Editor at Reuters. His third book, Beyond War: Reimagining America’s Role and Ambitions in a New Middle East, was praised by The New York Times for exposing “the deep contradictions” in Washington’s efforts to counter terrorism.
In a time where open hatred in American politics is commonplace, and even commonly accepted, there is one area where the far left and far right agree: the ability of the U.S. government to track our movements, monitor our political views, and invade our personal lives is expanding exponentially in the digital age. Trump supporters fear the “Deep State”. Liberals fear the “military industrial complex”. The general counsel of the NSA recently argued that the real threat to privacy is Facebook, Google and other tech giants who will soon collect more data about Americans than the government. Amidst the claims and counterclaims, David Rohde found reasons for optimism while researching his book In Deep: the FBI, the CIA and the Truth about America's 'Deep State'.
There is no organized “deep state”. The situation is not hopeless, and fears of surveillance are being exaggerated for political gain. There are, in fact, mechanisms for protecting our privacy—from laws protecting government whistleblowers, to consumer boycotts, to the courts and Congress. The problem is the hyper-partisanship of the Trump-era. It’s created paralysis, as well deep, widespread confusion. Quietly, behind the scenes, deals are being made—an unlikely alliance to protect privacy. Surveillance, Rohde believes, represents an opportunity for a grand political bargain. Preventing surveillance abuse in the digital age can—and will—unite Americans.
In a time of open hatred in American politics, there is one area where the far left and far right agree: the ability of the U.S. government to track our movements, monitor our political views, and invade our personal lives is expanding exponentially in the digital age. Trump supporters fear the "Deep State". Liberals fear the "military industrial complex". The general counsel of the NSA recently argued that the real threat to privacy is Facebook, Google and other tech giants who will soon collect more data about Americans than the government. Amidst the claims and counter-claims, Rohde found reasons for optimism while researching his book In Deep: the FBI, the CIA and the Truth about America's 'Deep State. There is no organized "deep state". The situation is not hopeless. Fears of surveillance are being exaggerated for political gain. There are, in fact, mechanisms for protecting our privacy—from protecting government whistleblowers, to consumer boycotts, to the courts and Congress. The problem is that the hyper-partisanship of the Trump-era has created paralysis, as well vast confusion. Quietly, behind the scenes, deals are being made—an unlikely alliance to protect privacy. Surveillance, Rohde believes, represents an opportunity for a grand political bargain. Preventing surveillance abuse in the digital age can and will unite Americans.
Covering an American presidency should be relatively easy compared to covering wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia. But overseeing news coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency for NewYorker.com has been one of the most challenging and unsettling experiences of David Rohde’s twenty-year career in journalism. Rohde is alarmed by the parallels between American political culture and the dynamics that sparked the brutal civil wars he covered in the past. Commonly accepted facts are becoming increasingly elusive as alternate realities emerge between Trump supporters and opponents. The country’s political divides are volatile, cavernous, and growing.
In this keynote, Rohde describes how now, more than ever, we need lucid, principled reporting—a free press that stands up to power (or, as The New Yorker argues, fights fake stories with real ones). At the same time, journalists cannot make mistakes or cut corners. He argues that the news organizations must hold themselves to a higher standard than the members of the current administration who repeatedly make false statements. To Rohde, the danger for the United States is that the ruthless pursuit of no-holds-barred political advantage will divide, confuse, and stoke fear to such an extent that longstanding democratic norms will erode. Troubling signs are already emerging. A Washington Post poll found that fifty-two percent of Republicans would delay the 2020 elections if Trump said it was necessary to prevent millions of illegal immigrants from voting. Journalists must respond to our polarized political perspectives with facts, Rohde argues, and work to prevent what he witnessed overseas from emerging here at home.