Five Key Takeaways from CLA Speaks with John Walcott

Award-winning journalist and author John Walcott talked with Cal Poly on November 4 about the obligation for journalists to seek out the truth. He visited campus as part of the College of Liberal Arts’ CLA Speaks series.

Patti Piburn leading the CLA Speaks discussion with John Walcott
Patti Piburn leading the CLA Speaks discussion
with John Walcott

By Brooke Cashin

Walcott has a distinguished career covering foreign policy and national security for The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Bloomberg and more. He is currently a contributing editor for Time magazine and is most well known for his role as bureau chief of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, the subject of the Rob Reiner film, “Shock and Awe.”

The event featured a screening of the film, based on Walcott’s true story of daring transparency in the face of one of our nation’s greatest controversies. The film depicts Walcott, played by Reiner, and a group of fellow skeptical journalists at the bureau who questioned the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction while the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq.

Shock and Awe film poster
Shock and Awe film poster

Following the screening, Walcott talked about the challenges facing journalists. Here are five key takeaways from the discussion:

  1. “The job of a free press is to hold the people in power accountable…We don’t work for the president of the United States; we work for the people of the United States.”
  2. “Listening is more important than talking, especially the people you don’t agree with. Hear them out and ask why they feel the way they do.”
  3. “The most important job we have is to separate out the nonsense, because when someone says something, it doesn’t make it true.”
  4. “It’s important to see how America is seen by other countries. If you think it’s hard here, try being a journalist elsewhere, risking lives every day. Our job is not to be popular.”
  5. “We in Washington get so invested in Washington politics. I think we lose sight of the other 99.9% of the country. There are temptations to be like the entertainment business.” 

Related Content