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Spring 2003 | Volume 26, Number 2 | Features
Breakfast With Paul Gigot

Wall Street Journal Opinion Editor Headlines Downtown Event

Particularly during periods of crisis or controversy — such as the war in Iraq controversy — such as the war in Iraq Particularly during periods of crisis or — newspaper columnists and radio and — newspaper columnists and radio and TV analysts play a prominent role in public TV analysts play a prominent role in public debate. On April 3, Seattle Pacifi c University brought one such editorial voice to town: The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot.

The online magazine Slate has written that Paul Gigot is “the sort of conservative with whom liberals can do business” and that he’s “not one to bark or throw insults, like most TV jabberers.” An American Profile biography describes his style as “gentle-manly, conservative punditry.”

As featured speaker for this year’s Greater Seattle Community Breakfast, sponsored by SPU and held at the downtown Sheraton Seattle Hotel, Gigot spoke to nearly 900 local business and community leaders about “The U.S., Iraq and the War on Terrorism.” His comments ranged from the prospects for post-war reconstruction of Iraq to the experiment of embedded reporting. The Wall Street Journal editorial-page editor also visited SPU’s campus for a luncheon, hosted by the president, with students majoring in communication and business, and for a public question-and-answer session that drew several hundred more people.

To paraphrase: When Gigot talks, people listen. And for good reason. Whether or not you agree with his decidedly conservative views, he is thoughtful and informed — with an impressive résumé to back him up.

Raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in a family with French and Belgian roots, Gigot graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College in 1977. He joined The Wall Street Journal as a reporter in 1980, fi rst in Chicago, then as the paper’s Asian correspondent in Hong Kong. While living and working in that global hotspot, he won an Overseas Press Club award for reports on the Philippines. In 1984, Gigot became the fi rst editorial-page editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal. In 1987, he moved to the paper’s Washington, D.C., bureau and turned his attention to political analysis, writing a weekly column, “Potomac Watch,” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2000.

Gigot became a familiar face on public television in 1994, appearing as a commentator on The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,where he served as conservative counterweight to the liberal analysis of Washington Post columnist Mark Shields. In late 2001, Gigot left The NewsHour and Washington, D.C., for New York to become The Wall Street Journal’s editorial-page editor.

Based on circulation numbers alone, Gigot’s position has considerable infl uence. According to the paper’s own count, almost two million U.S. readers pick up a copy of The Wall Street Journal every day, including some of the country’s most infl uential people, from top executives to key decision-makers. “Paul Gigot is at the center of America’s political, economic and foreign policy debates,” says Seattle Pacific President Philip Eaton. “He conducts his work as an opinion-shaper with intelligence and integrity. This is the kind of person we like to feature at our annual breakfast, the kind of person who prompts thoughtful refl ection, and even healthy disagreement, on issues of the day.

” Despite “the bizarre native rituals” Gigot says he observed inside the Beltway, he remains optimistic about the political system he has critiqued for so many years. “Convictions still count for the most in politics,” he wrote in his final “Potomac Watch” in August 2001. “…The politicians who have the most impact are those who are passionate and tenacious about their convictions.” The same might be said of Paul Gigot.

A View From Wall Street:Paul Gigot Engages With SPU

In an interview with Response, and at each of the April 3 events, Paul Gigot answered questions on a broad range of topics, from the war in Iraq to journalism and his role at The Wall Street Journal. Here is a sampling of those exchanges:

Q | What do you think the world will look like after the war in Iraq?
A | You’re asking me a question that is unanswerable with any certainty. But I can give you the argument for why I think things have a chance to be better.

We have had this dictator [Saddam Hussein] in that part of the world for a long time. With a successful war, you’ve got the immediate removal of the threat he represents to that region and the rest of the world. You get rid of a madman who happens to want weapons of mass destruction. Second, you get the possibility of rebuilding Iraq in a much more stable, democratic way. And I say democracy with some caution. I understand it’s not going to turn into Westminster immediately, or even for a long while. What I’m talking about is much more self-government, some kind of federal system that allows the Kurds in the north and the Sunnis in the middle and the Shi’ites in the south to have a stake in their own government.

And third, I think there is the potential for a profound demonstration to the rest of the Arab world — which is still in many ways pre-modern — that a country like Iraq can actually begin to make strides in a democratic, self-governing fashion. I think that would be a lesson taken perhaps in Iran, where the mullahs are already under pressure from the population that doesn’t like their dictatorship, and in Saudi Arabia. Who knows what will happen in Syria and elsewhere? But I really think there is the potential for that region to be a much more stable place in the future. This is the maximum hope.

Q | Do you consider the situation in North Korea a crisis? How does it compare to the problem in Iraq?
A | North Korea is a big problem. I mean, I don’t think we want a person like Kim Jongil to be able to mass-produce nuclear weapons for his own purposes, or especially to proliferate those weapons. This is a country that’s shown that it’s willing to sell anything. And really the only thing it has to sell, the only thing it has to bargain with, is this nuclear capability.

A lot of people were saying, “This is a worse crisis than Iraq,” but I think some of that was just said so that we wouldn’t do anything about Iraq. And The Journal’s argument has been that it’s clear that Kim took the opportunity, when the United States was preoccupied in Iraq, to try to blackmail us with the threat of nuclear weapons as he did in 1994. That’s just not the kind of behavior you can tolerate in a world order; otherwise you’re going to get an awful lot more of it. And it’s a problem that does not lend itself to a military solution, since that could have an awful lot of dangerous, nasty consequences.

This issue can’t be solved by unilateral discussions with North Korea. I think it’s much better if we can get the other nations in that region to join us in putting pressure on the regime. The real solution in North Korea, like Iraq, is for the regime to change. And I think the U.S. and world policy should be to put pressure on North Korea for that to happen.

Q | You were a reporter before you became a commentator. How do you think that your background as a reporter influences your opinion writing?
A | I think there are a lot of similarities between reporting and so-called commentary in that both are fundamentally in the information business. The readers who turn to the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal aren’t just looking for an opinion. I think they’re also looking for information, things they haven’t seen elsewhere. And so the reporter’s training — the ability to recognize a story, the ability to think through a story and report it, and the ability to ask questions and ferret out information — isn’t all that different.

In fact, I often joke that had I known what I could get away with as a reporter in many of the front pages of American newspapers these days, I might never have gone into opinion. I mean it’s hard to tell the difference between reporting and opinion sometimes. Reporting is becoming a lot more opinionated, and in turn that kind of impinges on our domain. I tell the opinion staff at The Wall Street Journal that we have to become more reportorial in the sense that we have to bring more than just a point of view to the table each day for people to read us.

Q | What do you think about the embedded reporting system established for the Iraq War?
A | I think it has been a fascinating experiment, and it may be one of those rare instances where something is good for all parties: the press, the military and the public. For the press, it provided access we haven’t experienced since the Vietnam War. For the military, I think embedding served to bridge the gulf between an all-volunteer military force and the broader culture that knows little about what our soldiers do, how they train and how they go about their business. I think you’ll see soldiers coming home to a warm welcome, in part because people have seen how professional, compassionate and knowledgeable they are. For the public, I think we saw good, old-fashioned reporting, where reporters were telling us exactly what they were seeing and hearing — and not their opinions. The embedded system may be a winner all around.

Q | You have a French/Belgian background and have worked and lived in Asia. Did those experiences influence how you perceive the world, and how you write about it?
A | I hope so. I don’t think there’s any question that my background helped when I was writing about Washington, D.C., for as long as I was. Even now, when I’m in New York, writing a lot about the financial system, it helps to have been raised in Wisconsin. It gave me a better sense than you get in that hothouse of Washington about how Americans think. That’s served me very well. And I think you’re right — living abroad for a while really gives you a different perspective. It was decisive back in those days in cementing my view that markets work better than socialism. For me, seeing many places in Asia firsthand and seeing what works and what doesn’t was an absolute, definitive case for the superiority of markets in not only creating wealth, but also reducing poverty and improving life for average people.

Q | What role do you think that religion should play in the public debate about important issues?
A | I’m a Catholic and attended Catholic schools for 12 years. I think that religious people in this country have an obligation to be an active part of public dialogue — and because there’s a moral center to their beliefs, there may be more of an obligation. That said, we must be careful that organized churches don’t look like they’re trying to demand some kind of preference from the government. That was one reason why the founders came to America, to bring about a separation between church and state.

Ultimately, I believe the broader society benefits from religious points of view being brought to bear on public issues. In the last 15 years or so, there has been a greater focus on moral values in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal — because we’ve seen the need for this kind of discussion in our country. We ran a seminal editorial by Daniel Henninger titled “No Guardrails” about the danger to a society with no moral boundaries. I recommend it to you.

Q | Does the responsibility of such an important position with one of the world’s largest-circulation newspapers weigh heavily on you at all?
A | It’s difficult to answer that. It’s hard work, but a lot of people have hard jobs, so in that sense it’s not different than any other job with some responsibility. … But does it weigh heavily? In this sense it does: When you have a megaphone like The Wall Street Journal, when you have a piece of real estate that is as important as this one, you really do have to make sure that you are being fair, and that you are thinking about the impact you have. And we try to. Now, at the same time, you’re trying to keep the readers awake. You don’t want to sound like some pompous Olympian writer who is detached from the passions of the day. You want to write with some verve and passion, and the job of an editor is trying to make judgments about when you go too far and go overboard. The Journal is a big institution and has a big responsibility. In that sense, you can’t just shoot from the hip.

Q | You must bring certain values and principles to your job. What are they?
A | You bring to any job the sum total of your upbringing, your beliefs, your life and work experiences and how they’ve impressed themselves upon you. This infuses everything you do on a daily basis, and the way you conduct your work. If you want to run an operation that is ethical, honest and moral at its core, that means speaking up about those values every day and following them in the processes of your work.

I’ve spent my career in journalism; that’s all I’ve ever done. So I’d like to think that I’ve learned a few things about professionalism and the craft of journalism. Every single time you talk to a source, for instance, and say “this is off the record,” you are making a contract you have to honor. How fairly you treat your sources, the people you’re writing about and your readers are important ethical considerations.

In terms of the values of The Journal, our motto is “free markets, free people.” That’s the overriding ethic that we bring to our writing, and we have done that for 50 or 60 years. We believe in democracy and in people making their own decisions. We believe in markets, and markets tend not only to create economic efficiency, and therefore wealth, but they are also essential to human freedom and the ability for people to fulfill their grandest dreams and ambitions. That’s what we write about — whether it be trade, whether it be the war in Iraq, whether it be how we approach issues like entitlements. The big-picture ethic is free markets, free people. That I very much believe in.

SPU Breakfast Is One of the Hottest Tickets in Town

ACCORDING TO ANTHONY HORTON, catering sales manager for the downtown Sheraton Seattle Hotel, Seattle Pacific University is the hotel’s only client still able to pack the Grand Ballroom. Despite a sluggish economy and uncertain world conditions, the annual Greater Seattle Community Breakfast sponsored by SPU is one of the hottest tickets in town among business and civic leaders.

“This is ‘engaging the culture’ in action,” says Seattle Pacific President Philip Eaton. “I want us to think about the issues of the day. I want SPU to be a catalyst for open reflection and dialogue on important matters. We aim high and bring in some of the most important intellectual, moral, even spiritual voices of our day.”

Without facing a single appeal for funds, breakfast guests are met with a fast-paced, high-quality program that showcases student talent, presents the value of Christian higher education at Seattle Pacific, and provokes a thoughtful examination of pressing issues through the global prism of world-class thinkers.

“We hope not that everyone in the room agrees with the speaker, but that it gets them talking and thinking,” says Vice President for University Advancement Bob McIntosh. “We want people to walk away with a ‘wow!’ and go talk up SPU in the community.”

Awareness of the University in downtown Seattle and the professional community has grown significantly with stimulating, invitationonly breakfast visits from thoughtful and influential “big-picture” thinkers such as U.S. peace negotiator George Mitchell; Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will; and former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett. “This gives SPU real credibility in the city,” says Nancy Cahill, attorney in the law offices of Holman, Cahill, Garrett, Ives and Oliver. “There were people at our table this spring who had never come to the event before. It gave them a good introduction to the University. They saw and heard firsthand Phil Eaton’s message of hope and his passion for honesty, integrity and character.”


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