Why does politics make for such great satire? Bill Moyers talks with comedian Jon Stewart, host of cable’s critically acclaimed news parody THE DAILY SHOW about his unique brand of news delivery and why on his half-hour daily has a unique niche in a sea of cable news and talk shows.
WATCH THE INTERVIEW WITH JON STEWART
You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
Also on this episode: In 2003, there was a battle in the Beltway over President Bush’s judicial nominee Bill Pryor. Then the attorney general of Alabama, Pryor’s strong views on Roe v. Wade and gay rights had some Democrats worried that as a Circuit Court of Appeals judge, he would be unduly influenced by his ideological convictions. Republicans contended that once on the bench, Pryor would aside his personal beliefs and uphold the law. This episode of NOW spotlighted Pryor and what was shaping up to be one of President Bush’s most controversial nominations yet.
And finally, what did Dick Cheney not want you to know about his Energy Task Force? The courts had just refused to stop a lawsuit delving into the vice president’s contact with energy industry insiders as the White House drafted America’s energy policy. The ruling rejected the administration’s arguments that the suit was unconstitutional and an intrusion on the operations of the executive. Bill Moyers interviewed Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel for Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group that brought the case.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. The most ferocious power struggle in America since the fight over who won the last presidential election is going on even as we speak.
That battle in the year 2000 was decided by the Supreme Court. This battle is about control of all federal courts. It’s partisan, it’s mean, it’s riveting. It brings out the best and worst in all the combatants.
And although the outcome affects anyone whose life is touched by government — and that’s all of us — many people hardly know it’s happening.
It’s the fight over nominees to the Federal Judiciary, especially to the United States Courts of Appeals, the judges one step below the Supreme Court.
There are 179 of these appellate judges.
They are appointed for life, and they greatly impact our public and private lives.
President Bush is trying to fill 19 vacancies on these courts with judges who share his conservative values.
It’s his chance to transform the federal judiciary.
Democrats, for their part, are resisting at every turn — the way Republicans fought President Clinton’s nominees not so long ago.
Both parties know the stakes are high.
We saw that in the recent hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee cross-examining one of the President’s most conservative and controversial nominees.
Take a look.
You are looking at a rising star in the conservative sky.
PRYOR: I can think of no higher calling for an American than to serve as a federal judge in the American system of government and to have the responsibility of protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States.
MOYERS: His name is William Pryor and he’s the Attorney General of Alabama. He’s 41 years old and President Bush has nominated him for a lifetime appointment to the United States Court of Appeals. If confirmed by the Senate, Pryor will be one the most powerful judges in the country. That prospect delights his supporters.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UTAH: Look, I wish we could find more people like you to be on the federal bench. We’d be a lot better off in this country.
MOYERS: Not so fast, say Pryor’s opponents. They see him as a radical — too partisan to be a judge.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: Bill Pryor is a proud and distinguished ideological warrior. I respect that. That’s part of America. But I don’t believe that ideological warriors, whether from the left or the right, should predominate on the bench. They tend to make law, not interpret law. And that’s not what any of us should want from our judges.
MOYERS: Pryor has always freely expressed his beliefs. Those beliefs have made him a darling of the right and Democrats suspect that President Bush nominated him to turn those beliefs into law.
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: I think the very legitimate issue in question with your nomination is whether you have an agenda.
MOYERS: Senator Charles Schumer of New York laid out the Democrats’ case, point by point by point.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: Mr. Pryor has said he opposes abortion even in the cases of rape or incest, and would limit the right to choose to narrow circumstances where a woman’s life is at stake.
MOYERS: On crime and punishment…
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: Attorney General Pryor defended his state’s practice of handcuffing prisoners to hitching posts in the hot Alabama sun for seven hours without giving them even a drop of water to drink. And then, when this Supreme Court held the practice violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, he accused the Supreme Court justices of, quote, “applying their own subjective views on appropriate methods of prison discipline.”
MOYERS: On limiting the right of women to sue under a federal law called the Violence Against Women Act.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: As Alabama’s attorney general, Mr. Pryor filed the only amicus brief from among the 50 states urging the court to undo significant portions of the Violence Against Women Act.
MOYERS: On states rights…
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: At the same time he was conceding that Alabama had failed to fulfill the requirements of a federal consent decree regarding the operation of the state’s child welfare system, he was demanding that the state be let out of the deal. Attorney General Pryor said, quote, “My job is to make sure the state of Alabama isn’t run by the federal courts. My job isn’t to come here and help children.” Unquote.
MOYERS: And on that lingering sore from the election of 2000…
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: Bill Pryor was the only state attorney general to file an amicus brief supporting the Supreme Court’s intervention in Florida’s election dispute during Bush v. Gore. It appears that when the attorney general likes the outcome, he’s on the states’ rights side. But in this important case, where the Supreme Court overruled the state’s position, there he was with federal intervention.
MOYERS: Republicans, for their part, were indignant at how Democrats were reading Pryor’s record:
SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS, R-AL: The caricature that the attack groups have created of Bill Pryor is just not true. It’s false. He is a breath of fresh air.
MOYERS: The chairman of the committee, Orrin Hatch, set out to clear the air:
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: You’ve been criticized because of litigation regarding the Violence Against Women Act, as though your position on that bill was improper. Now, tell me about that.
WILLIAM PRYOR: Well, my position, Mr. Chairman, was the position adopted by the Supreme Court of the United States in the Morrisson case.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: In other words, you followed not only the law, but you won in the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
PRYOR: The argument I presented was the position adopted by the court, that’s right.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: So if anybody’s out of the mainstream here, it has to be the Supreme Court, I guess?
PRYOR: Well, I would suggest that the court is within the mainstream.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: I think so too. That’s the point I’m trying to make.
MOYERS: But Pryor’s critics claim he is far to the right of the American mainstream. Take the question of abortion and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision upholding a woman’s right to choose.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: You’ve said on several occasions that Roe v. Wade is, quote, “the worst abomination of the history of constitutional law.” A: Do you believe that as of right now?
WILLIAM PRYOR: I do.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: Okay, I appreciate your candor; I really do. And second, would you endorse the court’s reversing Roe v. Wade at the first opportunity, just as you argued for the court to constrict the Violence Against Women Act, and you got five justices to agree with you?
PRYOR: Well, obviously if I had the opportunity to be a court of appeals judge, I wouldn’t be in the position to do that, Senator Schumer.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: But right now, as a person, would you endorse the court’s reversing Roe v. Wade at the first opportunity.
PRYOR: Senator, I don’t know what that opportunity would be, and that is a hard thing to speculate about. And unless I know more about what the case involves…
MOYERS: A pro-choice Republican and critical swing vote on the committee — Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania wanted to know more about Pryor’s opinion of Roe v. Wade.
SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA: Why do you consider it an abomination, Attorney General Pryor?
PRYOR: Well, I believe that not only is the case unsupported by the text and structure of the Constitution, but it has led to a morally wrong result. It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children. That’s my personal belief.
SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA: With that personal belief, Attorney General Pryor, what assurances can you give to the many who are raising the question as to whether, when you characterized it as an abomination and slaughter, that you can follow the decision of the United States Supreme Court, which you consider an abomination and having led to slaughter.
PRYOR: I would invite anyone to look at my record as attorney general, where I’ve done just that. We had a partial-birth abortion law in our state that was challenged by abortion clinics in Alabama in l997. It could have been interpreted broadly or it could have been interpreted narrowly. I ordered the district attorneys of Alabama to give it its narrowest construction.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: You directed prosecutors to enforce the state partial birth abortion ban only to the extent permitted by the Supreme Court. Is that right?
PRYOR: That was what I was trying to do.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: Even though you had people— even though you had people pushing you to go farther—
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: —to try and expand that law beyond what the Supreme Court had said.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: So you went along with the Supreme Court, which is the law of the land—
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: Even though you might have believed otherwise—
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: Even though you did believe otherwise.
MOYERS: But that didn’t satisfy Democratic Senator Schumer…
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: How do you square feeling so vehemently— Many people believe abortion is wrong — but when you believe it is murder, how can you square that with, or how can you give comfort to women throughout America, the majority of whom believe in the right to choose, that you can be fair and dispassionate? I don’t think it’s enough for us to simply hear you say, “I will follow the law.” What can you say directly to that woman, not in a legal way, but in a personal way, that might reassure her?
PRYOR: I would say that that woman should be comforted by looking at my record as attorney general; by looking at the fact that though I have vehemently disagreed with Roe versus Wade on the one hand, as attorney general, where I have had a constitutional duty to uphold and enforce the law on the other hand, I have done my duty.
MOYERS: And that, Pryor told the Senators, is also what he will do on issues of church and state if his beliefs come in conflict with the law.
Still he makes no apologies for his advocacy of government-sponsored prayer and religious symbols in public life. When he was sworn in as Attorney General in 1997, he said, quote, “With trust in God, and his son, Jesus Christ, we will continue the American experiment of liberty in law.”
That same year he spoke at a rally in favor of keeping a monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court building. Pryor said, quote, “God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians….to save our country and save our courts.”
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CA: I want to quote something you said, and I quote: “The American experiment is not a theocracy and does not establish an official religion, but the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rooted in a Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of man. The challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective.”
What are others to think of that statement as to how you would maintain something that is important to this plural society, and that is an absolute separation of church and state?
PRYOR: I would invite anyone to look at my record as attorney general, Senator, and see how I have faithfully applied the law in the area of the First Amendment.
MOYERS: Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin wanted further clarification.
SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN, D-IL: What I’m asking you is, do you not understand that that type of statement in a diverse society like America raises concerns of those who don’t happen to be Christian that you are asserting an agenda of your own, a religious belief of your own, inconsistent with separation of church and state, which we have honored since the beginning of this republic?
PRYOR: No, Senator, I think that would be a misunderstanding if someone came away with that impression. It goes to the core of my being that I have a moral obligation that is informed by my religious faith to uphold my oath of office, to uphold the Constitution of the United States, which protects freedom of religion and freedom of religious expression. My record as attorney general has been just that.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: What is your religious affiliation?
PRYOR: I’m a Roman Catholic.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: Are you active in your church?
PRYOR: I am.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: You’re a practicing Roman Catholic?
PRYOR: I am.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: You believe in your religion?
PRYOR: I do.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: You worked tirelessly to promote the passage of the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment to the Alabama constitution. And that applies to people of all faiths, doesn’t it?
PRYOR: It does, Senator— Chairman.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: And you were advocating for that?
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: As a committed Catholic.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH, R-UT: For everybody, regardless of religious belief.
MOYERS: Senators questioned how Pryor’s personal views of homosexuality would influence his legal judgment. In the recent case of Lawrence v. Texas he had filed a brief arguing that the State of Texas should be able to punish private homosexual conduct as a crime. The Supreme Court ruled otherwise.
SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD, D-WI: In a recent brief to the Supreme Court, you equated private, consensual sexual activity between homosexuals to prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, incest and pedophilia. In light of this record, can you understand why a gay plaintiff or defendant would feel uncomfortable coming before you as a judge? And I’d like to give you this opportunity to explain why these concerns may or may not be justified.
PRYOR: I think my record as attorney general shows that I will uphold and enforce the law.
MOYERS: Democrats challenged Pryor on a wide range of other issues
On his opposition to gun control:
SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN, D-IL: Can you explain why you went out of your way to say that a man that’s under a restraining order for domestic violence, who had threatened the life of his wife or former wife’s boyfriend, should be allowed to carry a gun?
PRYOR: There were some confusing aspects to the federal statute in question that I thought the court ought to look at. The court ended up looking at that and rejected my argument.
MOYERS: On his testimony two years ago about the possibility of error in capital punishment cases:
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY, D-VT: There’s been about a dozen since then, about a dozen death row inmates have been exonerated and released. They found they had the wrong person, some within days of their execution time. Do you still think the death penalty system in America is the most accurate criminal sanction in the world?
PRYOR: My judgment is that the system of capital punishment has extraordinary safeguards, many safeguards, to ensure that we review every death sentence to ensure that, number one, we’re executing only the guilty; number two, that it’s free from discrimination; and number three, that it’s in cases of extreme and heinous crimes. There’s no question that that system catches errors. That’s what the system is supposed to do.
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY, D-VT: Do you think that there have been…you think there have never been people executed who were innocent?
PRYOR: If someone has a case that they would like to present to me, I would certainly review it objectively, but I’m not aware of one.
MOYERS: On his rebuke of the Supreme Court for staying the execution of an Alabama death row inmate who was about to be electrocuted. The condemned man had asked the court to consider that the electric chair is a form of “cruel and unusual” punishment:
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: You actually ridiculed the Supreme Court of the United States by saying: “This issue should not be decided by nine octogenarian lawyers who happen to sit on the Supreme Court.”
Do you think that’s an appropriate way to refer to the Supreme Court of the United States?
PRYOR: It was probably overheated political rhetoric on my part, Senator.
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: What was overheated? What were the circumstances that would get you overheated where you’d make that kind of comment about this?
PRYOR: I don’t remember the exact context. I’m a political figure, and I know that it was not a statement that I made in any court of law and would not have made in any court of law.
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: Well, it’s entirely improper, is it not?
PRYOR: I think that was overheated.
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: Well, it’s improper. Even overheated or not overheated. It’s improper, is it not?
PRYOR: I think it was an inappropriate remark, Senator.
MOYERS: And then there’s the issue of capital punishment for convicted criminals considered mentally retarded. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Pryor disagreed with the court’s ruling and Alabama went forward with plans to execute a man named Glenn Holladay, said by his attorney to have an IQ of 64. The Supreme Court and more recently the 11th Circuit Court have intervened to stay Holladay’s execution.
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: Do you believe the 11th Circuit was wrong to stay Holladay’s—
PRYOR: I haven’t really formed a judgment about that. I—because I haven’t read in detail that— It was a very recent ruling. I would say, however—
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: Well, that should make it easier for you to remember. You don’t remember—
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: —the issue on the execution of a mentally retarded person and your intervention and your characterization?
PRYOR: No, Senator, the question as I understood it was whether I agreed with the ruling or not. I have not read that recent 11th Circuit ruling in detail. I know that we’re now going forward—
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: Do you agree with its outcome, it’s conclusion?
PRYOR: I don’t know. We’re going forward with an evidentiary hearing where we’re going to determine whether Mr. Holladay is mentally retarded or not and subject to capital punishment or not.
SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: Well, the 11th Circuit—this is amazing that you’re effectively ducking that.
MOYERS: Pryor was also challenged about an organization known as RAGA: the Republican Attorneys General Association. The group raises money for candidates running for state attorney general, but until the campaign finance reforms of last year, it could hide which corporations give to which candidates by channeling the funds through the Republican National Committee. Pryor helped found RAGA in 1999 and was its treasurer.
SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD, D-WI: A number of Democratic and Republican state attorney generals criticized your organization as unnecessarily partisan, and some have characterized its fundraising practices as fraught with, quote, ethical land mines.” Do you think it’s appropriate for attorneys general to solicit funds or receive funds from corporations whom they may later have to investigate?
PRYOR: Well, I wasn’t receiving, in that instance, a direct contribution, of course, from a corporation. I was receiving it from the Republican National State Elections Committee.
The system that we have in America of elections requires candidates to raise funds to wage campaigns. I have done that, and I have disclosed every donation that my campaign has ever received.
SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD, D-WI: All right. Then will you provide to the committee a comprehensive list of RAGA’s Contributors and the amounts and dates of their contribution?
PRYOR: I don’t have such a list, Senator.
SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD, D-WI: Who does?
PRYOR: The Republican National Committee.
SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD, D-WI: Will you urge them to provide that list?
PRYOR: I would ask you, if you need that kind of list, that you really need to seek it from them. I—
SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD, D-WI: I’m asking whether you will help us, as a former treasurer of RAGA, an officer of RAGA, to receive this information, since you just stated that you were in favor of full disclosure.
PRYOR: I’m in favor of the full disclosure according to the letter of the law.
SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD, D-WI: You oppose the disclosure of this information?
PRYOR: I’m not saying that I oppose it or I favor it. I support the Republican National Committee making its decisions of what it has to do to follow the law.
SENATOR RUSSELL FEINGOLD, D-WI: I’m taking this as a refusal to urge the release of this information.
MOYERS: Nothing Pryor said at the hearing changed the Democrats’ opinion that as a judge he would shape the law to fit his ideology. Pryor kept assuring them that he would put aside his personal views once he reached the court.
PRYOR: I urge people to look at my record. My record is one that, whatever my political philosophy might be on the one hand, that when it comes to my record as attorney general and making tough decisions, I strive to follow the law. And I would urge people to show otherwise. I believe that my record shows that I strive to follow the law.
MOYERS: Some Republicans conceded that Pryor had indeed been an ideological and political partisan, but that when it comes to the federal court, the past is not necessarily prologue.
SENATOR JOHN CORNYN, R-TX: I believe what your testimony here today and that you view the role as an advocate, your current job as attorney general, far differently from that of a federal judge, and that when you do put your hand on the Bible and take that oath, that you will hang up your boxing gloves, your instruments as an advocate, and you will accept and embrace your new responsibility as a judge and follow the law.
MOYERS: The Democrats weren’t buying.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: It’s just not enough to say “I will follow the law.” And what I worry about— I don’t like nominees too far left or too far right, because ideologues tend to want to make law, not do what the founding fathers said judges should do, interpret the law. And in General Pryor’s case, his beliefs are so well known, so deeply held that it’s very hard to believe, very hard to believe that they’re not going to deeply influence the way he comes about saying, “I will follow the law.”
MOYERS: You’ll hear it said in Washington that the battle over William Pryor is a warm-up for what’s coming when President Bush has his first chance to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on William Pryor’s nomination next Thursday.
It’s said to be close: ten to nine, either way.
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania whom you saw there asking Pryor about Roe versus Wade, looks like the swing vote, and he’s under enormous pressure.
He’s a Republican, and he’s in a tough primary fight next year against a conservative challenger.
If you want to see how these ferocious battles in Washington play out politically downstream, keep your eye on that one.
ANNOUNCER: There’s more to come on NOW. Beyond the wisecracks on THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART, there’s truth-telling.
STEWART: Of course, our show obviously is at a disadvantage compared to the many other news sources that we are competing with, at a disadvantage in several respects.
For one thing, we are fake.
MOYERS: We had a reminder this week of the role courts play in how democracy works and for whom. Faithful viewers of this program know that from our very first broadcast 18 months ago, we’ve been following the fight over the public’s right to know which corporate executives and lobbyists helped Vice President Cheney write the administration’s energy plan. The plan calls for opening public lands to oil and gas drilling, greater reliance on nuclear power and many other steps backed by industry.
The White House has fought tooth and nail to keep from disclosing exactly who came to advise them on this plan. This week, the Federal Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia upheld a lower court’s order that the Vice President release that information or give very good and detailed reasons why not. Larry Klayman is here to discuss the court’s decision.
He’s the founder and chairman of Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group that along with the Sierra Club, the big environmental organization, filed lawsuits demanding that Vice President Cheney release his records. Welcome back to NOW.
KLAYMAN: Bill. Good to see you.
MOYERS: Why was this decision so important to you?
KLAYMAN: It’s a huge decision, because it really sets a precedent. It lays a marker down for the Bush-Cheney administration that they have to be more open. That they don’t— they shouldn’t practice this policy of secrecy. And in fact as a conservative organization that believes that the individual should have rights, that wants lesser government, the Bush administration should, being conservative as well, so it claims, welcome this decision.
Because you want the people to know what’s going on. That’s how you develop confidence. And the administration’s gonna need that going forward, particularly over some of the uncertainty about the intelligence in the war of Iraq and things like that.
MOYERS: Exactly what did the court decide this week?
KLAYMAN: The court said, number one, that you can’t take an appeal before the case is over. And the administration obviously knew that. They were just trying to delay things.
MOYERS: What do you mean? I don’t understand that.
KLAYMAN: In other words, the Bush administration had already lost in this case about three or four times. They were—
MOYERS: In the lower court?
KLAYMAN: In the lower court. And there were orders saying, “You have to produce these documents about how you formulated energy policy inside your task force at the White House.” But despite those decisions, the Bush administration disobeyed those decisions and decided to go up to the higher court.
MOYERS: Will the White House take this to the Supreme Court?
KLAYMAN: They may try to do that. I think they’d be ill advised to do that. I think what they should do right now, Bill, is just to roll with the punch. And say, “Let’s disclose the documents that aren’t legitimately privileged. Let’s come out with it right now.”
And it’s in their advantage to do that because of some of the questions that have arisen about whether or not the administration was being totally candid going into the war of Iraq. Let’s have a new open policy. And I think it’ll help the Republican party and help Bush if he does it.
MOYERS: The administration’s energy bill is being debated even as we speak in Congress. Is there an effort on the part of the administration to keep this legal fight— to postpone this legal fight, delay it as long as possible, until what you’re trying to find out about how that energy plan was put together is moot?
KLAYMAN: Certainly, Bill. Look, we’re already three years into this administration. We just got a ruling from the D.C. appellate court to start turning over the documents. They’ve almost run it out beyond the year 2004.
That delay was effectively used not just by this Bush administration, but by the prior administration. And they learn from each other. They perfect the technique. And they also believe that if they can stretch it out long enough, the public will lose interest. It’ll— the attention span’ll be less.
MOYERS: The White House claims that you and the Sierra Club are private groups and that you simply are not entitled to access to inside information about what was going on at the White House. You’re private groups.
KLAYMAN: If you’re a conservative, you believe that the individual, the citizen, has rights. That’s the fundamental principle of being a conservative. That the government is not all-powerful and is not like Big Brother and gets to hide things from you and make decisions for you.
So I don’t understand the White House’s policy. They would be well advised to change it. And it would be good for them politically to change it because they’re creating a terrible impression with the American people that there’s something there that’s being hidden.
Were there energy executives behind closed doors offering up contributions for special deals? Now we know we uncovered one document in the— at the Energy Department. Not inside the bowels of the White House. And that document was from Chevron.
And it said, “We’d like you to relax the restrictions on doing business with the terrorist state of Libya.” That was right before 9/11. Now arr those the kinds of things that administration doesn’t want the American to see? The American people to see? Let’s be out with it. And let’s debate it.
MOYERS: Do you think the administration, as has been charged by some Democrats and others, some media— do you think the administration is stonewalling the investigation into what happened on 9/11?
KLAYMAN: I do. And it’s exactly the same thing that’s occurring right now. The 9/11 commission, which is composed of various recycled politicians and others. I wish they aren’t politicians, but let’s take it as it is.
The 9/11 commission is being denied access to documents. It’s being denied access to talking to certain people. We’re already almost two years after 9/11. We’re on the outer edges of perhaps another terrorist attack. Osama bin Laden works at two year intervals.
We know that. We represent some active FBI agents and retired FBI agents. That’s what they believe. And we need to know what we didn’t do correctly up to 9/11 to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And unless you have full disclosure to this commission, how can you do it?
The secrecy that led up to 9/11 was due to politicians not talking about how we hadn’t protected our populace from Osama bin Laden and others.
Now, we’ve got to peel off that secrecy to correct the situation. And this Homeland Security Department, that’s just like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. In fact, maybe it was put together in one department to further secrecy.
MOYERS: The decision this week was two to one for you. The two votes were Democratic appointees to the appellate court. The one vote against you was a Republican appointed by George Bush’s father. Does this say anything to you about the importance of making sure that the judiciary is always balanced?
KLAYMAN: I just came back from Paris. As the French would say, “Quelle coincidence.” You know I can go into court and I can predict with unbelievable certainty, Bill, just based on the political affiliations of judges how they’re gonna vote before I even make my argument.
And here I had two Democrat judges voting for me here. Voting for Larry Klayman, a conservative. And the conservative judge really stretching things. I mean he really went way out on a limb and said, “This act, this Federal Advisory Committee Act, where we’re seeking these documents is unconstitutional.”
And the arguments which he relied upon where not even in the briefs of the Bush administration. He was stretching. He was doing the administration a favor. And that does tell you something about the judiciary. That we need non-political, non-biased judges who follow the law, and it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a conservative or a liberal. When you go in the court, you should get an honest decision.
MOYERS: Do you think our courts are becoming too political, too polarized?
KLAYMAN: They are. And Democrats and Republicans are both responsible for that. The Democrats had their maneuvers to delay judges when the Republicans wanted them. That’s happening now and the Republicans did the same thing during the Clinton administration.
And we need good judges. But we need honest people in the bench. I’m talking intellectually honest, who don’t do things because of their political ideology. The law is the law.
MOYERS: When do you think you will actually get your hands on some of these documents?
KLAYMAN: Very soon. You’ll start seeing these documents coming out in the latter part of this year.
And they may show no wrongdoing by the Bush administration. We’ve never presumed that there were— there were illegal acts. But we need to have full disclosure. Because energy policy is so much tied to the war in terrorism that it’s even a matter of national security that the American people know what’s going on.
MOYERS: When you get your hands on those documents, will you come back and tell us what you’ve found?
KLAYMAN: I’ll be happy to.
MOYERS: Larry Klayman, Judicial Watch. Thank you for being with us on NOW.
KLAYMAN: You’re welcome. Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW: The government has known for years that too much mercury in fish is dangerous. Here’s something they’re not telling you.
HOULIHAN: FDA had firm advice that women need to limit their consumption of canned tuna. And now we find that those warnings are nowhere to be found in FDA’s public message.
ANNOUNCER: NOW investigates mercury in seafood. Next week on NOW.
And connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS Online at pbs.org.
Federal Appeals Court nominee William Pryor: where does he stand on the issues? Read his legal opinions. Government secrecy and Vice President Cheney: review this week’s court decision. Political satire in America, an historical perspective.
Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
MOYERS: When future historians come to write the political story of our times, they will first have to review hundreds of hours of a cable television program called THE DAILY SHOW. You simply can’t understand American politics in the new millennium without THE DAILY SHOW.
For example, if you’re my age, you no doubt remember the Lincoln-Douglas Debates as the epitome of political discourse. If you’re a little younger, you were taught to study the Kennedy-Nixon debates for their revelation of strong opinions, strongly expressed.
But, Lincoln-Douglas, Kennedy-Nixon are nothing compared to a debate conducted recently on THE DAILY SHOW. Moderated not by Public Television’s Jim Lehrer, but by a man many consider to be the preeminent political analyst of our time, the distinguished commentator and anchorman, Jon Stewart. Take a look.
STEWART: We’re gonna have an honest, open debate between the President of the United States and the one man we believe has the insight and the cahones to stand up to him.
Thank you, Governor. Mr. President, you won the coin toss. The first question will go to you.
Why is the United States of America using its power to change governments in foreign countries?
BUSH: We must stand up for our security and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind.
STEWART: Well, certainly that represents a bold new doctrine in foreign policy, Mr. President. Governor Bush, do you agree with that?
BUSH: Yeah, I’m not so sure that the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, “This is the way it’s gotta be.”
STEWART: Well, that’s interesting. Well, that’s a difference of opinion, and certainly that’s what this country is about. Differences of opinion. Mr. President, let me just get specific. Why are in Iraq?
BUSH: We will be umm, changing the regime of Iraq for the good of the Iraqi people.
STEWART: Governor, then I’d like to hear your response on that.
BUSH: If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is to go around the world saying we do it this way, so should you.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
MOYERS: The masterful moderator of that demonstration of man’s ability to hold two contradictory opinions is with me now. Jon Stewart has anchored Comedy Central’s THE DAILY SHOW for four-and-a-half-years. A compendium of news, interviews and features, held up to a fractured mirror to reveal a greater truth. THE DAILY SHOW is many things, but most important, and simply, it is very smart and very funny. Welcome to NOW.
STEWART: Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here.
MOYERS: I do not know— I have a confession.
MOYERS: I do not know whether you are practicing a old form of parody and satire.
MOYERS: Or a new form of journalism.
STEWART: Well then that either speaks to the sad state of comedy or the sad state of news. I can’t figure out which one. I think, honestly, we’re practicing a new form of desperation. Where we just are so inundated with mixed messages from the media and from politicians that we’re just trying to sort it out for ourselves.
MOYERS: What do—
STEWART: The show’s a selfish pursuit.
MOYERS: What do you see that we journalists don’t see?
STEWART: I don’t think… I think we see exactly what you do see. And— but for some reason, don’t analyze it in that manner or put it on the air in that manner. I can’t tell you how many times we’ll run into a journalist and go, “Boy that’s—I wish we could be saying that. That’s exactly the way we see it and that’s exactly the way we’d like to be saying that.” And I always think, “Well, why don’t you?”
MOYERS: But when I report the news on this broadcast, people say I’m making it up. When you make it up, they say you’re telling the truth.
STEWART: Yes. Exactly. It’s funny. I was talking to Jayson Blair about this.
MOYERS: He’s our next guest.
STEWART: Is he really?
MOYERS: Yeah. We use him as a kind of analyst of—
STEWART: Does he come in different disguises?
STEWART: For me it was just exciting to see fake news catching on like that. We don’t— you know, it’s interesting. I think we don’t make things up. We just distill it to, hopefully, its most humorous nugget. And in that sense it seems faked and skewed just because we don’t have to be subjective or pretend to be objective. We can just put it out there.
MOYERS: You certainly see journalists in a way we don’t see ourselves. One of my favorite sketches of all time is about your far-flung correspondent whom you have now flung into Baghdad. Take a look at this.
STEWART: Word here is that the attack will actually come in the form of a full blown assault on the city of Baghdad itself, a massive overwhelming strike that will instantly cripple the Iraqi infrastructure.
CARELL: Really? I did not know that.
STEWART: Many of your colleagues have already fled the city and the country in anticipation of an immediate attack. Some believe it could be a matter of hours.
CARELL: It would’ve been nice for one of my colleagues to fill me in about that. Left a message on my voicemail perhaps.
STEWART: Steve, please, while you’re still there, tell us. Bush is still offering the option of exile for Saddam. Now, is that a possibility, or is Saddam going to hold firm on this?
CARELL: Well, John, the possibility of Saddam accepting exile seems unlikely given his defiance and continued hopes that the Arab world will united behind him.
STEWART: Steve, what about the long-term damage to some of our key European relationships?
CARELL: Will you hold on one second? Are you kidding me? I asked for Peppercorn Ranch, this is vinaigrette. And if this a sourdough roll, than I’m Walter Cronkite. Thank you.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
MOYERS: Where do you get these guys?
STEWART: These guys are very talented improv comedians and actors and writers. And we get lucky enough to cast a net and catch some of them to come over and work for us. And they’re a tremendous troop of guys.
MOYERS: Which is funnier? CROSSFIRE or HARDBALL?
STEWART: CROSSFIRE or HARDBALL? Which is funnier? Which is more soul-crushing, do you mean? Both are equally dispiriting in their— you know, the whole idea that political discourse has degenerated into shows that have to be entitled CROSSFIRE and HARDBALL. And you know, “I’m Gonna Beat Your Ass” or whatever they’re calling them these days is mind-boggling.
CROSSFIRE, especially, is completely an apropos name. It’s what innocent bystanders are caught in when gangs are fighting. And it just boggles my mind that that’s given a half hour, an hour a day to— I don’t understand how issues can be dissected from the left and from the right as though— even cartoon characters have more than left and right. They have up and down.
I mean, how… it’s so two-dimensional to think that any analysis can come from, “It’s the left and it’s the right and well, we’ve had that discussion and that’s done.”
MOYERS: You don’t think of yourself as a social critic, do you?
STEWART: Social critic? No.
MOYERS: Media critic?
MOYERS: You don’t?
STEWART: I think of myself as a comedian who has the pleasure of writing jokes about things that I actually care about. And that’s really it. You know, if I really wanted to enact social change— I have great respect for people who are in the front lines and the trenches of trying to enact social change. I am far lazier than that.
I am a tiny, neurotic man, standing in the back of the room throwing tomatoes at the chalk board. And that’s really it. And what we do is we come in in the morning and we go, “Did you see that thing last night? Aahh!” And then we spend the next 8 or 9 hours trying to take this and make it into something funny.
MOYERS: You mean something like this. Friday, front page headline: “War’s Costs Bring Democratic Anger.” I mean, these are the guys who voted for the war.
STEWART: You don’t want to get the Democrats angry, because then they’ll maybe meet in private. And you don’t want that. If that’s what it takes to get the Democrats angry, I feel badly for the Democrats right now. This is, Bush has raised $200 million. I mean, he’s gonna raise $200 million. And he’s gonna need all of that money to defeat this Democratic field. This is a rough—
I mean, think about it, you’ve got Senator Kerry who’s like Gore but without you know all the charisma. And then you’ve got Lieberman, who is for the war. And thinks the tax cuts could really help. He’s basically for people who want to vote for Bush but don’t think Bush is Jewish enough.
Then you have Dean who’s raised a tremendous amount of money. It’s gonna be tough for Bush to defeat any of these guys.
MOYERS: Let’s take a look at a recent clip about Dean on your show.
STEWART: Speaking of the Democratic contenders — and someone’s got to — Vermont Governor Howard Dean recently became the first to release a campaign ad.
DEAN: I’m Howard Dean. It’s time for the truth because the truth is that George Bush’s foreign policy isn’t making us safer.
STEWART: Wow, if you listen closely you can almost hear Al Gore saying, “Dude, Loosen up.”
DEAN: I believe it’s time to put Americans back to work, to provide health insurance for every American. It’s time for Democrats to be Democrats again. That’s why I’m running for President. And that’s why I approved this message.
STEWART: That’s why I approved this message?! Alright! A can-do guy who’s in charge of the things that comes out of his own mouth!
[END VIDEO CLIP]
STEWART: I’m looking forward to Dean as President. We haven’t had a President whose neck is larger than his head in a long time. And it’s time that changed.
MOYERS: Is that a healthy criterion for voting?
STEWART: It’s a very healthy criterion for voting. To be fair, him saying, that’s why I approved that message, is based on the new campaign laws. So.
MOYERS: You have to say at the end, “I paid for this message.”
STEWART: “I paid for this message.” Exactly. I don’t know that you actually have to say, “I approved this message.” I think if you’re in the message, it sort of stands to reason that you might have approved it.
MOYERS: Which have been the best years for you? The Clinton years or the Bush years?
STEWART: Both were vexing but in somewhat different ways. I feel like the Clinton years were — and by the way, when you say great years, I feel awful about that because it does—
MOYERS: Best years. Funniest years.
STEWART: Funniest years is different. Because you do feel a little bit like, I don’t know if you play craps. Have you ever been to Vegas with, let’s say, Bennett? But, if you roll craps there’s— you can bet with the line or against the line. If you bet with the line you’re sort of betting with the table for everybody to do well. Or you can bet against the line. If a guy craps out, then you do well.
That’s what it’s like to be a comedian. You basically stand and stare at the world and hope it craps out cause that’s a good year for you. So that’s not a pleasant feeling. But the Clinton years were vexing in this idea that, here’s someone who stands for values and interests that I think— that I would hold dear. And yet, throws it all away on appetites he can’t control. And that’s upsetting.
These years are upsetting because I feel like we’re being gas lit as a country in that what we see going on is just being described as the opposite but relentlessly by, you know, the administration. So it’s a different problem.
MOYERS: And what is the media doing to help us sort us out?
STEWART: Oh. they’re not. Yeah, no. That’s, yeah, they sat this one out. Yeah, they’re not getting involved. It’s very tiring. And they have weather reports to give. Nah, the media is not interested in fairness. The media is— Look, politicians have figured out the media. Let’s face facts. When television first appeared it proved itself to be a vital insight into the process.
Nixon — you mentioned the Nixon-Kennedy debates. It was— at that point, politicians didn’t know how to handle the media. So Nixon could say, “I look fine. I don’t need make-up. These lights won’t make me sweat. I’m sure I’ll come off as calm and collected and eloquent.”
And then, as he was sweating and looked, you know, maniacal, he ended up losing. Well, at this point— so at that point television was ahead of the game. Politicians have caught up. They understand that 24-hour news networks? They don’t have time for journalism. They only have time for reporting. They only have time to be handed things and go, this is what I’ve just been handed by the administration. And they read it.
So now that the administration knows that, and they’re very disciplined, they can manipulate what goes on the air and what sets the agenda. And that’s what they do.
MOYERS: You were the first to call attention, if I remember correctly, to the fact that the war in Iraq was over as far as the media were concerned. Let’s take a look at this clip.
STEWART: What could it be? All that fanfare. I know the president is in the Middle East trying to jumpstart the peace process. Or they finally found those weapons of mass destruction we’ve heard so much about.
COMMENTATOR: Martha Stewart has been indicted.
COMMENTATOR: Nine count indictment.
COMMENTATOR: Martha Stewart has taken the walk into the Federal Courthouse.
COMMENTATOR: But it certainly is a tragedy.
COMMENTATOR: 10 years jail time.
COMMENTATOR: Bear with me here, because it’s a pretty lengthy indictment.
COMMENTATOR: Martha Stewart knew what she was doing was wrong.
COMMENTATOR: After terrorism this is the number two priority for the Justice Department.
STEWART: Yes! Finally captured Martha Stewart. You know, with all the massive and almost completely unpunished fraud perpetrated on the American public by such companies as Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco and Adelphia, we finally got the ringleader. Maybe now we can lower the nation’s terror alert to periwinkle.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
MOYERS: The war is over.
STEWART: It’s over, baby. We’re back to the business of scandal mongering.
MOYERS: THE WASHINGTON POST said, since the first of the year, the Laci Petersen case has been featured 79 times on Greta van Susteren’s evening program on FOX news; 40 times on MSNBC’s THE ABRAMS REPORT; 34 times on CNN’s LARRY KING LIVE; and 20 times on HARDBALL.
STEWART: And I hope they get to the bottom of it. I hope they find out.
MOYERS: Is this why you’re able to say, without any challenge, that we’re being gas lighted? That we keep hearing one thing while something else is being done?
STEWART: No, there’s no question. There is…in your mind…look, you know they always talk about the news wants to be objective. Leaving FOX NEWS out of it because that’s sort of a different animal. And, by the way, a very entertaining animal. I enjoy watching FOX NEWS and I think every country should have their own Al-Jazeera.
MOYERS: They soon will.
STEWART: They soon will. But the other news networks, you know, they have this idea that they’re being objective. But news has never been objective. It’s always— what does every newscast start with? “Our top stories tonight.” That’s a list. That’s an object— that’s a subjective— some editor made a decision: “Here’s our top stories. #1: There’s a fire in the Bronx. #2: They arrested Martha Stewart.”
Whatever— however you place those stories, is a subjective ranking as much as AFI’s “100 Best Films in the World” is. So why not take advantage of that and actually analyze what you do think is important and make that— I will guarantee you, in the newsrooms across the country, they don’t believe the Laci Petersen story is the most important story that they have to deal with. I guarantee it!
MOYERS: Why is it that President Bush has to go to South Africa to be asked a critical question about nuclear weapons of mass destruction?
STEWART: Because in the United States, he doesn’t see anybody in the press. He’s in a small room, with a treadmill, that he runs on. And a little brush to clear diorama. Like he is not exposed in any way.
You know what’s great? Watch a Bush press conference, and then turn on Tony Blair and Parliament. Where he literally has to sit in front of his most vociferous critic. And that critic will say, “Sir, on the 13th, the dossier of the French…would not…the nuclear… You were hiding things. How do you answer, sir?”
“The distinguished gentleman is wrong. I can prove it in this way.”
Contrast that with the press conference that Bush had on the eve of war. “Uh, okay, the next question is Jim. Is there a Jim here? Yeah. You got the next one.”
“That is not the agreed upon question. We’re gonna move on. Ralph, you got something?” It’s an incredibly managed theatrical farce. And it’s incredible to me that people are playing along with it. And they say that they’re playing along with it because they’re afraid of losing access. You don’t have any access! There’s nothing to lose!
MOYERS: People say, “Jon Stewart speaks for the middle man. He speaks for guys between the left and the right.” And yet, I sometimes think you’re letting the American people off too easily. They watch all of this cable stuff.
STEWART: No. But this is—
MOYERS: And they vote for these politicians.
STEWART: No. They vote— less than 50 percent of the country. The country is, look, the general dialogue is being swayed by the people who are ideologically driven.
The five percent on each side that are so ideological driven that they will dictate the terms of the discussion. The other 90 percent of the country have lawns to mow, and kids to pick up from schools, and money to make, and things to do. Their lives are, they have entrusted— we live in a representative democracy.
And so, we elect representatives to go do our bidding, so that we can get the leaves out of the gutter, and do the things around the house that need to be done. What the representatives have done over 200 years is set up a periphery — I think they call it the Beltway — that is obtuse enough that we can’t penetrate it anymore, unless we spend all of our time. This is the way that it’s been set up purposefully by both sides. In the financial industry, as well. They don’t want average people to easily penetrate the workings because then we call them on it.
MOYERS: In the interest of full disclosure—
MOYERS: —I do want people to understand that you do not pass yourself off as Walter Lippman.
MOYERS: Am I right? Here’s a clip.
STEWART: But we are at war, and we here at THE DAILY SHOW will do our best to keep you informed of any late-breaking…humor we can find. Of course, our show is obviously at a disadvantage compared to the many news sources that we’re competing with— at a disadvantage in several respects. For one thing, we are fake. They are not. So in terms of credibility we are, well, oddly enough, actually about even. We’re about even.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
STEWART: I feel bad looking at that. I mean, I don’t mean to disparage. There’s tremendously talented, smart people in the news industry.
MOYERS: But I look at that, and I think there’s no hope for me.
STEWART: Well, that’s why I’m here today. This is really an intervention, Bill.
MOYERS: I’m ready.
MOYERS: You need a straight man?
STEWART: It’s got to start. I am the straight man. That’s the beautiful thing about being on my show.
I am surrounded by such talented people that I literally, I can just sit there, and advance the script. I am Dr. Exposition on the show. I just advance the script and then they take it from there.
MOYERS: Jon Stewart, THE DAILY SHOW. Thank you for joining us on NOW.
STEWART: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to be here.
MOYERS: And that’s it for NOW. Thanks for watching.
I’m Bill Moyers. Good night.
This transcript was entered on April 15, 2015.