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Pete Williams, Government Operations and Getting it Right

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Brian Resnick of National Journal has a fascinating piece up about why Pete Williams of NBC News is winning plaudits for consistently getting it right (and being measured in his reporting) during the Boston bombing aftermath.

Part of it is simply taking time and care before you broadcast anything. But part of it also stems from Williams' experience working in government. Resnick notes that Williams has been in Washington since 1986, when he served as press secretary to then-Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming. He became Cheney's spokesman at the Pentagon when Cheney was appointed Defense secretary in 1989. Williams didn't turn to journalism until 1993, when he joined NBC.

Resnick notes that PBS recently profiled Williams, and includes this quote from him:

I decided—and I think that this is just the right way to think about it—that governments have an understandable and legitimate need to keep some things secret. It’s not keeping it secret from the citizens, it’s that certain operations work better if they are confidential and secret …

Having worked on the inside, I think you get a better sense of when the government is truly rightly keeping something secret, and when it’s doing it for a very stupid reason …

Good reporters don't take everything government officials say at face value. But the best ones also take the time to understand how government really works. 

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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