Chief Washington correspondent says journalists put issues on national agenda

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    David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, said freedom of the press was intended for public discourse during a speech Monday night.

    “Journalists don’t have the ability to decide anything, but they do have the ability to put issues on the national agenda,” Sanger said. "I think that's what the founding fathers had in mind."

    Sanger, the 2013 Cecil H. and Ida Green Honors Chair for the Schieffer School of Journalism, spoke on campus about journalism coverage of national security. Sanger’s lecture focused on the Obama administration and the rise of cyber weaponry worldwide.

    Cyber weaponry refers to the potential use of cyberspace networks for attacking opposing forces. This could mean targeting air traffic control systems or electric power supply grids, among other possibilities.

    While the national government may want to privatize its strategies toward national security, Sanger said his news team has to consider when the public needs to be informed versus when it is necessary to conceal military strategies.

    “As a reporter, I’ve learned that the silence, what doesn’t get discussed in Washington, is more important than what does get discussed,” he said.

    Sanger used drones as a primary example of a topic that needs to be discussed in the public realm. Drones are unmanned, remote-controlled air crafts that can be used for launching missiles, dropping bombs or surveilling.

    Sanger paralleled this need for discussion with the informed public decision about nuclear weapons in World War II.

    “Eventually we decided we would only use nuclear weapons for the most extreme national emergency. That was the product of a pretty well-informed public debate,” Sanger said. “We need to have that debate about what kind of targets we would use drones against and whether we should use armed drones or unarmed ones. We need to have that debate in cyber as well.”

    Alex Ogle, a senior studio art major, and other members of the audience had questions for Sanger. Ogle, who said he enjoys creating paintings of drones, asked a question about the future of drone warfare and if it can be stopped. 

    Other questions included how much the U.S. should be concerned with the recent military threats from North Korea and how the U.S. can keep radar on other countries who do not seem to be immediately threatening.

    Students in the audience posted more than 80 tweets with quotes and questions followed by the hashtag “#tcusanger.”

    Sanger stayed after the lecture to sign copies of his most recent book titled “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” and he said he plans to visit university journalism classes Tuesday.