Bill Moyers explores the uses and abuses of political language and how the democratic conversation has been frustrated and trivialized by the jargon of politics. The discussion includes members of Congress, academia, and the press.
Sen. KENT CONRAD (D-ND): [retiring] Mr. President, there is a tremendous air of cynicism in the country and I don’t want to contribute to it.
BILL BILL MOYERS: It’s an election year, but the low tone of politics has some on the run-
Sen. WARREN RUDMAN (R-NH) : That is not a good formulation for winning elections in America.
BILL MOYERS: -and some not running at all.
Rep. DENNIS ECKHART (D-OH) : [retiring] Americans are deeply and justly offended by the crass and manipulative level of some of our political discourse and by the modern political equivalent of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – fund-raiser, sound bite, poll, attack ad.
Sen. TIMOTHY WIRTH (D-CO) : [retiring] I don’t expect or want to return to the naive if charming boosterism that once made the press in Colorado an automatic ally of the state’s business and political leaders. But in their place, we too often see a reflexive cynicism in the print press and a hysterical superficiality in the electronic media’s focus on sensational themes.
BILL MOYERS: Tonight, “Can We Govern?” part II.
Good evening. I’m Bill Moyers. Tonight we’re going to talk about the talk of politics, how politicians talk to each other, how they talk to the voters and how we in the press cover and communicate the whole process.
The subject comes up every four years, but there is a new angle this year. Over 50 members of Congress are not seeking re-election. They give many reasons, most obviously the public furor over the check-writing affair. Listening to them, however, I’ve heard a recurring note that actually prompted our broadcast. Over and over in their resignation speeches, the politicians refer to how difficult it is to govern when a cynical, sensationalist press makes a mockery of what they say. You’ll hear politicians say just that later in the hour, but let’s begin with an example of what riles them, how the Democratic primary here in New York became what some called a “media circus.”
PHIL PHIL DONAHUE: May I ask you to welcome the Democratic candidate for president, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton?
EMCEE: [Jerry Brown fundraiser with the B-52’s] I’d like to introduce the next president of the United States, Jerry Brown!
PHIL DONAHUE: [“Donahue”] Let me just talk to you for a moment about Gennifer Flowers.
Gov. BILL CLINTON: I told you the only facts I think you’re entitled to know.
NEWS READER: [“Imus in the Morning,” WFAN Radio, New York] For the better part of half an hour, Clinton and Donahue engaged in a tense encounter that focused basically on the personal stuff, the charges that have hounded his candidacy, as well as his anger over the treatment by the media.
PHIL DONAHUE: [“Donahue”] You went to Africa with Linda Ronstadt. Did you go anywhere else with anybody else?
Gov. JERRY BROWN: If you want to know do I go out with girls, yes, I do. If you want their names and their phone numbers, I’m not going to give them to you.
GOV. BILL CLINTON: [“Donahue”] I’m going to sit here a long time in silence, Phil. I’m not going to answer any more of these questions. I’ve answered them till I’m blue in the face. You are responsible for the cynicism in this country. You don’t want to talk about the real issues.
DON IMUS: [“Imus in the Morning,” WFAN Radio, New York] Lighten up, Governor. Relax, here. Come on.
CO-HOST: It’s the Donahue show.
DON IMUS: It’s the Phil Donahue show. You went on this thing. What did you think they were going to talk about?
CO-HOST: It was Donahue.
DON IMUS: It was Phil Donahue, not MacNeil/Lehrer.
CO-HOST: What’s tonight, Geraldo and Now It Can Be Told?
DON IMUS: Yeah, I mean, come on, here. Jesus.
CO-HOST: The Jane show.
DON IMUS: If I’d have been Clinton, I’d have said, “Yes, I’ve been sleeping with a lesbian Martian for 12 years. Now what, Phil?”
CO-HOST: Next question.
DON IMUS: Let’s move on.
BILL MOYERS: Some people make fascinating careers out of watching politicians on television like that, and figuring out what it all means. One of them is Kathleen Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication in Philadelphia, whose books about political commercials and the lost art of political eloquence have made her a leading analyst of the talk of politics.
What does that little summary tell you about the conversation of democracy so far this year?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, Dean, The Annenberg School for Communication: I think what it asks is a series of questions. It asks, “Is there substance there?” When there’s substance there, does it get through the media filter? And when it gets through the media filter, is that what people want? Do they pay attention? The day that Donahue asked that question that you showed of Bill Clinton, a woman in the audience stood up and said to Donahue, “There’s education to deal with, environment to deal with. Why are you giving us this instead?” “I don’t even support Bill Clinton,” says another member of the audience, ”but I’m fed up with this. I’d like to know where the guy stands.” That same day, Bill Clinton delivered a major, important foreign policy address. Most of what got through the media filter wasn’t that important foreign policy address, it was Gennifer Flowers.
BILL MOYERS: That’s what the press covered that evening on the evening news and the next morning in the printed press?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The press treated the questions about Gennifer Flowers by Donahue as if they were equal to Bill Clinton’s major statement on foreign policy. And the interesting question is, did they do that because they thought that’s what the public wanted? And if that’s why they covered it, were they right?
BILL MOYERS: That very same day that Bill Clinton made his speech and then went on the Donahue show, President Bush also made a major foreign policy speech. Did you look – did you compare how those speeches were covered?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes. What’s interesting about that is Bush got his message through, and that’s the good news. I mean, the President of the United States articulated a major position on foreign policy, which is virtually identical to Bill Clinton’s, and Bush’s message got through. The bad news is that in the speech that Clinton delivered, 20 percent of the time in that speech he attacked Bush or differentiated. Differentiation is important. I don’t mean to dismiss it. But 80 percent of the time, he laid out his foreign policy alternative in a speech that actually provided the rationale for Bush’s positions better than Bush himself had. But what got through the media filter was not the substance of the speech, but rather the attacks.
BILL MOYERS: What do you make of that? Are people getting serious information from this campaign so far?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: People who watched C-Span that evening…
BILL MOYERS: Oh, but that’s a very, very tiny-
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: A very small portion of the audience, although 54 percent of the homes in the United States could have. That evening, you could have watched the Bush speech. You could have watched the Clinton speech. And you would have known that whether you had Bush or Clinton, you essentially would have the same foreign policy, an important piece of information. The question is, if you’d watched the network evening news, would you have known that? And you wouldn’t have.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You would have known that Donahue attacked about Gennifer Flowers and you would have known that Clinton attacked Bush on a lot of grounds. You wouldn’t have known that Clinton and Bush basically came out with the same positions.
BILL MOYERS: What does that say to you?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The substance is available. At least, it’s available that day. The media filter doesn’t let all of what is substantive get through and the question is, is that because they believe, justly or unjustly, that that’s not what the American people are willing to pay attention to?
BILL MOYERS: See, that’s what a lot of the politicians tell me. They say, ”You cannot make people watch serious broadcasts or read serious newspapers if they don’t want to.”
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You found in 1988 excellent biographies on the candidates, the Frontline documentaries, minuscule audience. C-Span provides primary access to substance. The question becomes, if we don’t reward the candidates for producing it, do we ultimately extinguish it? And I think that’s what Warren Rudman is contributing to this dialogue. He’s asking, have we created a climate in which substance isn’t rewarded anymore, and as a result, we don’t get it?
BILL MOYERS: That’s what he said on this broadcast last week. We all see and talk about the circus atmosphere that surrounds American politics. Politics has become a sport. It’s become, as some say, a circus. But have there been some serious and positive moments in this campaign?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes. They – and – there’s a tendency ever election year to say, “This is the worst in human history.” This isn’t the worst in human history, at least not yet. We saw at least three very important debates in this primary season. The MacNeil / Lehrer debate is just a model of democratic discourse. You learn where the candidates stand, how they differ and where they’re similar, and you learned it in large part because MacNeil and Lehrer know how to listen. They weren’t there in order to position themselves on the national stage, but to help us understand the candidates’ positions.
BILL MOYERS: That’s one.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: That’s one. Secondly, the Jennings debate on ABC establishes that commercial television can host substance, as well.
BILL MOYERS: That’s when he sort of set back and let the two of – the candidates go at each other. They ran the debate.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: They ran the debate. And the third instance occurs on Donahue. Donahue, I think in a moment of repentance, let them debate on the whole Donahue show. And what it established was, we don’t need the filter of the journalists to get at the political substance. In those three instances, we learned an immense amount about where the candidates stood and the discourse between the candidates was civil.
BILL MOYERS: Well, some mainstream journalists feel discomfited over the fact that the candidates take the campaign out of their hands and go directly to forums like Donahue, Imus in the Morning, which is a popular radio show here in New York. Do you sense that on the part of the mainstream press? “Hey, wait a minute. It’s our campaign. Give it back'”
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes, and that’s good. Let the mainstream press be uncomfortable about it because it’s not the press’s campaign. It’s the people’s campaign. And the question ought to be, “How do we get the substance that’s there rewarded so there’s more of it, and get it to people so that they have some intelligent basis for voting?” I suspect in 1988, if you said to people, “Are you willing to pay over a trillion dollars for something you’ve never discussed?” you could get them to pay attention to the S&L crisis instead of furloughs and nag factories, but they weren’t ever asked the question that way.
BILL MOYERS: Also with us tonight is Edwin Diamond, media commentator for New York magazine and professor of journalism at N.Y.U.
Ed Diamond, is there – is trivia driving out serious discussion?
EDWIN DIAMOND, Media Critic, “New York” Magazine: First I want to say, I’m in an enviable position here of disagreeing with everything that – trivia’s not – trivia is adding to the mix. You know, the notion that people can’t get substance, that there’s lack of choice or that there’s something called a “media filter,” the media filter, like on a cigarette or something, and also the description of “most people,” you know, there aren’t “most people.” There are various different audiences. There’s an audience for you. There’s an audience for Imus. There’s an audience for Donahue. Mr. Clinton’s problem that day was not the press. It was his own dumbness in scheduling a major foreign policy address the same day he went on Donahue. If he’s got something important to say, the first thing you learn in political campaigning is “Don’t step on your own lines.” So I mean, “beat the press” is an interesting game, but I think it’s the wrong game to be playing.
BILL MOYERS: What specifically do you disagree with Kathleen Jamieson on?
EDWIN DIAMOND: Well, I disagree with the fact that – the notion that there’s this media filter that prevents the public from getting access to information. The information is out there. I could read Clinton’s foreign address – foreign policy address. I could see him on C-Span. I could read the accounts in the daily newspaper. The world is not the CBS Evening News or Peter Jennings. There’s no such thing as “the press,” by the way. There’s 1,700 newspapers, you know, six television networks now, 10,000 magazines.
BILL MOYERS: You wrote a piece in New York magazine in which you said, “Hurray” because Clinton went on Imus and he went on Donahue.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Exactly.
BILL MOYERS: You thought that was really good democracy.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Your old boss, didn’t he say you’ve got to go hunting where the ducks are? If 180,000 people are in their cars listening to Imus in drive time, why shouldn’t Clinton go on Imus? In addition, he should do MacNeil/Lehrer and in addition, he should do Donahue. And then he went to The New York Times editorial board and met with them. What’s wrong with doing it all?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Ed’s wrong. He can’t read Clinton’s foreign policy speech. It appeared in no major newspaper in the United States. It appeared on no network television. It didn’t even appear in MacNeil/Lehrer. You had to watch C-Span to get that speech. The only way to get a text of it is to call the Clinton headquarters in Arkansas and pay to Fedex it or to call Washington, con his press secretary into sending it overnight because you’re about to talk to Bill Moyers about it. The typical citizen can’t say, “I want to talk to Bill Moyers about this, so please send me your speech, Bill Clinton.” The press has to carry information to the public in some for that is accessible. You could read Bush’s speech, Ed. You couldn’t read Clinton’s.
EDWIN DIAMOND: By the way, it’s only April or May. The election isn’t till November. If President Clinton wins, he doesn’t take over till January 20th. Are you suggesting this was our last chance, this snapshot of Clinton on foreign policy in April was our last chance to learn about this and we’re going to move on to other things and never come back to the subject again?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Part of what we know about how people learn is they don’t learn in single exposures. And so if we’re in fact going to inform the electorate about where the country ought to go in foreign policy, we need to engage in a debate that extends over a longer period of time. We missed the first opportunity to hear from Clinton.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Look, it’s up to him to run his campaign. They’re supposed to run their campaign and we, we media filters, report what they do. If and by the way, I think we’ll have plenty of chance to hear Bill Clinton on the third world, the fourth world, the old communist menace. It’s only May.
BILL MOYERS: But what about her points? In 1988, we got a lot of Dukakis in the tank looking like Snoopy. We got the flag burn out – the flag factory. We got the Willie Horton ad. But nothing, nothing about the S&L costs of the bail-out, nothing about the huge deficit that was then mounting. That really never filtered through your filter.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Well, filtered through the filter or did Dukakis bring it up? You know, the point-
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes, Ed, he did.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Not – look, the savings and loans bastard baby is at the doorstep of both parties and that’s why we didn’t hear much of it.
BILL MOYERS: And people say that’s behind – that reveals this, in effect, conspiracy between the politicians not to talk about the hard choices and the press that doesn’t press them on the hard choices.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Well, you know, journalists, like other Americans, have limited attention spans, limited intelligence, limited energy. And they can deal with – if Dukakis gets in a tank and puts on a Snoopy helmet and Bruce Morton is damn well going to run with that on the CBS Evening News. If Dukakis had stayed out of the tank and talked about the savings and loan association, you know, he might be – he might be in Washington now rather than teaching school in Florida.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You’re saying two things that are contradictory. You say first you want the politician to go in places that will reach the public, the talk shows, you know, the popular formats. But simultaneously, you don’t want them to step on their own major speeches. There’s a finite amount of time. The candidate has got to do as much as is possible. What the candidates, because they’re trying to get into television, are attempting to do, and it often backfires on them, is to create a visual environment that dramatizes their speeches. Dukakis got in the tank because he didn’t think his serious foreign policy speech delivered that morning would get into network news if it didn’t have a visual. The speech didn’t get into network news. The tank did. And as a result, except in the Dallas Morning News, we didn’t learn that he favored a conventional build-up of those very tanks he was in, tanks that would be indispensable to Bush’s conduct of the Gulf War.
EDWIN DIAMOND: But there isn’t just the network news. There are many sources of information for people, from Imus to the people down at work that – you know, there are both formal and informal means of communication. And if you just look at the network news, which too many academic researchers do, I’m afraid, then they do get a skewed view of politics.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: But the message that Dukakis delivered about foreign policy go through only in the Dallas Morning News and in MacNeil/Lehrer. It got through nowhere else, in any major newspaper in 1988. Clinton’s message on foreign policy at least did get through to some extent. His attacks on Bush did get through. That, of itself, is an improvement.
BILL MOYERS: Here in 1992, I can give you an example of this. I was talking with four members of Congress recently about the substantive issues of the 1992 campaign and they told me how difficult it is to talk substance when the press is primarily interested in sound bites. Let’s listen to what they had to say.
If it is true that people are in discontent – economic discontent, standards of living are falling, the economic situation in America is depriving people of opportunity – what can the political system do – let’s not blame the other party. Let’s just say, how can our political system respond?
Rep. DAVE OBEY (D-WI) : If your old boss Lyndon Johnson was running this country, I’ll tell you what would happen. He would call Democratic and Republican leaders into a room. He would call the leaders of business, the leaders of labor. He would call some of the best academic people in the country into a room. He’d sit them down in the room, he’d lock the door and he wouldn’t let them out until they had an agreed plan to attack the problem.
Rep. SUSAN MOLINARI (R-NY) : By the way, the last time George Bush tried to do that, it was called “the budget summit,” and he got together Republicans and Democrats and put together a package that nobody liked and a lot of people voted for. And what came out of that was Republicans and Democrats cooperating and then the next day, television ads that say “George Bush broke his promise and he has raised taxes.” So I think that goes a lot to say why, necessarily, you can’t close the door between both political parties and come out with an honest product and an honest interpretation of the product.
Rep. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA) : Can I say what I would do? I think we can do it through the political process, but we need the cooperation of the press. We will have this year, I hope, an election in which the viewpoint Dave Obey and I have been expressing, that the time has come to shift substantial resources from overseas military expenditure to domestic purposes, not out of isolationism, but simply out of the thought that one job has been done and you move to the other. There will be real differences, I believe, between the Democratic nominee and George Bush on that. We’re talking about how to spend up to 2 or 3 percent of America’s gross domestic product, quite a lot of money. But part of that has to happen only if the press will stop asking people if they smoke marijuana and what their sex lives were many years ago and a lot of other things.
Rep. DAVE OBEY (D-WI) : I partially agree with Barney and partially disagree. I think there’s a tremendous amount of resources which we can use to attack our own problems by going to that pot of money, but I think there are other things we have to do. We have to have basic health care reform in this country. Health care reform will cost money and in my view, that’s the real issue that ought to be focused on in this campaign, “What are you going to do with the economic bleed in this country? What are you going to do with health care? What are you going to do on trade? And how do we get – how do we repeal the incentives which you now have in the way presidential campaigns are covered so that candidates are forced to trivialize their approach to each of those in order to get 60 seconds’ attention on the evening news?”
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Except we just have to say in defense, in Republicans watching the Democratic primaries, Paul Tsongas really did make, I think, a statement about the political process, the money – against it, in terms of the fact that he dropped out because he didn’t have money, but he wasn’t a five-second sound bite politician. He was somebody that even though I disagree with a lot of what he purported, [sic] he spent time in every debate and every time he talked to a reporter, to talk about very specific issues and suggestions. And the public seems to be coming along that way.
BILL MOYERS: That lament has been heard often by Anne Groer, who covers politics and Congress for the Orlando Sentinel.
Anne, the politicians you just heard say they’d like to talk substance, but you in the media won’t let them because you like stories about Tammy Wynette and inhaling and exhaling and all of that sort of thing.
ANNE GROER, National Correspondent, the “Orlando Sentinel”: I think we like stories about substance, as well, and particularly in Congress. I think one of the most informative sessions one can watch is early in the morning, opening business, the one-minute speeches. I mean, we are talking about 435 men and women in the House, 100 men and a couple of women in the Senate, who are always running for re-election and so they give these one-minute speeches. I mean, I have never seen such cynicism and posturing. I mean, I don’t want to say we are totally without sin in this matter
BILL MOYERS: Oh, go ahead and say it.
ANNE GROER: We’re sort of without sin in this matter, but there was a measure that was passed, catastrophic Medicare insurance. It was supposed to be terrific. The elderly in the nation arose and said, ”You creeps! What have you done to us?” And the Senate just buckled; said, “Oh, out of here! The electorate doesn’t like it.” They get flooded with letters. They back down and we’re the heavy? Uh-uh. Sorry.
BILL MOYERS: Whose fault is this? I mean, is it your editors driving you not to give them the story on the catastrophic health compromise in exchange for something more sexy, more interesting? Or is it the audience, the readers out there reading the Orlando Sentinel driving the editors? What is it?
ANNE GROER: Well, I think there are couple of things at work here. Number one, we have an electorate that is so stretched for time. You’ve got two working people in a family. You’ve got not only six networks, you’ve got MTV. I mean, if people don’t want to look at Bill Clinton or George Bush, they can look at Madonna. And-
BILL MOYERS: Well, but MTV is also doing its own political
ANNE GROER: And now covering the campaign, right.
BILL MOYERS: –covering the campaign-
ANNE GROER: And MTV could not get credentials to cover the State of the Union address, which is really too bad because in fact that’s another audience that may not get politics if they don’t get it from MTV. In some measure, I think we are doing our job, but we are a real easy scapegoat for members of Congress. They turn around and they say, ”You all are not covering us.” Excuse me, we are. And I’d like to give you, as an example, Congressman Newt Gingrich. Congressman Gingrich, who is a young, very ambitious, very articulate Republican, was one of those people who turned around and just creamed George Bush for backing down on the “no new taxes” pledge, supported it and then cast himself as the great reformer of the House, that this man was going to bring down the institutional corruption that had run rampant, all right? Newt Gingrich turns out to be an over-drafter of 22 checks. Newt Gingrich is now back in Georgia, fighting for his political life, saying, “Well, there’s a difference between a scandal and an embarrassment.” Now, I’m a reporter. Language is my business. I think it’s an embarrassment if Newt Gingrich does it. It’s a scandal if a Democrat does it. And yes, maybe the check issue is a red herring, but it’s symptomatic. Gingrich has spent the last six months trying to make insider privilege a big issue. And suddenly, if all of you out there in viewer land are looking for the buzzword of the 1992 campaign, “outsider,” in letters the size of Hollywood.
BILL MOYERS: What does that say about the language of politics, that insiders can suddenly run as outsiders? Ed?
EDWIN DIAMOND: Reach for your wallet. That’s what it says.
BILL MOYERS: Kathleen?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It says that’s the way we’ve always done it. It’s nothing new.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but you see, what’s happening even around this table is what’s happening in society at large. The Congress blames you, Anne-
ANNE GROER: Of course.
BILL MOYERS: -the way you cover what happens on Capitol Hill.
ANNE GROER: I, of course, say I am guiltless here, thank you. It’s your fault.
BILL MOYERS: We blame the Congress and the people out there blame both – and the studies show this, blame the press and the politicians. I mean, this won’t wash.
EDWIN DIAMOND: The public has to also look in the mirror every morning when they’re looking to apportion blame. They buy our papers. They watch our television stations, or don’t watch our stations, and they send these bozos and bozettes to Congress.
BILL MOYERS: There goes the language!
ANNE GROER: The – other thing is – and again, it is a chicken and egg sort of situation – the voting turn-out is lower and lower. I think it was 25 percent in the New York primary. It was 50 percent or 51 percent in the 1988 presidential election, which means essentially that one quarter of the eligible voters in the United States put George Bush in office. So, I mean, are we the reason that voters are staying home? Or am I doing the very best I can do to try to be the eyes and ears of my readers and they’re just not paying attention to me?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: But there is some good news. The voter turn-out in the Pennsylvania election, the Thornburgh-Wofford election, was up. That was an interesting election because a person far behind in the polls-
BILL MOYERS: Forty points behind.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: -forty points behind, took an issue, national health, in an economy in which the public was worried about health insurance, with the right message managed to overtake a popular governor, popular former governor, with a campaign that was a pretty substantive campaign. And the good news is, voter turn-out was up.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Now I want to agree with Kathleen.
BILL MOYERS: You want to agree with her?
EDWIN DIAMOND: When you put a substantive, important, down-home, hits-you-where-you-live issue on a ballot, people will show up. Put a – I’m proposing to put a boarder baby facility in your neighborhood. I’m going to build an incinerator. I’m going to close this school.
BILL MOYERS: That’s right.
EDWIN DIAMOND: People will show up, so the politicians have got to put those issues forward.
BILL MOYERS: Isn’t that what Anne is saying, though, that if they bring up a hot issue in Washington, they drop it quickly because they’re going to get a reaction from people who feel strongly about it?
ANNE GROER: Well, yes and no. I mean, I think the – what you’re going to see, for example, in this presidential election, which may bring out voters for a reason that voters did not come out in the past, is abortion. There is no hotter hot-button issue than abortion and there’s a possibility that Roe v. Wade, if not completely overturned by the high court, will be greatly eroded and you’re going to get voters on both sides of that issue saying, “On this matter alone, I’m going to make a choice.”
BILL MOYERS: And the voters, in that sense, will they not take it out of the hands of the press?
ANNE GROER: Well-
BILL MOYERS: With that arguably carried right head to head with each other.
ANNE GROER: But that’s an argument – that is an issue that’s in the press, in part because it is so emotional and because it is an issue on which no one can remain neutral. I don’t think there’s a great media conspiracy and I certainly don’t believe there’s a conspiracy between print and electronic, because actually print people are horrendously envious of electronic. They think – we make much less money than they do, so we resent them a lot. But nonetheless, there is some complicity and the campaigns are clever enough – I mean, I think your point earlier, Ed, about if you’re running a campaign, you ought to have the brains to not schedule two big events in a day-I mean, in 1988, we now learn that in the Bush campaign apparatus was someone whose job it was every day at 9:00 or 9:30 in the morning, to answer the telephone when network news directors called up and said what will be Bush’s message du jour. And-
BILL MOYERS: The message of the day.
ANNE GROER: Message of the day. And they were told by the campaign, “It will be patriotism” or “It will be law and order.”
BILL MOYERS: Well, there is complicity. I mean, that is a conspiracy.
EDWIN DIAMOND: And then everybody-
ANNE GROER: Nine-thirty-
EDWIN DIAMOND: It’s not a conspiracy, though.
ANNE GROER: No, it’s not a conspiracy. It is –
BILL MOYERS: Not intentional.
ANNE GROER: It’s not – it’s a confluence of interests. And the problem is —
BILL MOYERS: You do like language, don’t you.
ANNE GROER: Well, I do. But the thing is, that what it tells me, as a print person who’s out there schlepping around to flag factories and prisons and also talking to people in shopping malls and diners about what’s on their minds, is that half a dozen people are saying, “OK, today George Bush is going to do X.” And then the wires will pick it up. It’ll be on the noon broad-casts. And my editor is going to say, “Wait a minute,” you know, “the wires are doing this and this is what’s on the news. What are you doing?” “Well, I actually thought I would find out about why people are disturbed about health care or why they’re really worried that the auto plant is closing down and moving to Mexico.” “Well, gee, that’s not what’s really going on.”
BILL MOYERS: I recently spoke to another journalist, whom I think all of you know. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post covers politics, like Anne does, and he’s the author of a book called Why Americans Hate Politics. Listen to what he had to say about politics and the press.
E.J. DIONNE, Author, “Why Americans Hate Politics”: There’s a tendency to say that all our problems grow out of sound-bite campaigns. I, for one, see nothing wrong with sound bites and I’ve always thought that if you go back to almost any major speech ever made, we still remember it by the sound bite. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” or the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal.” That’s a sound bite. Nothing wrong with that sound bite. You can say a lot of true things in a sound bite or you can tell a lot of lies with a sound bite. I think the question is, are people trying to say something, are they trying to talk about how they’ll solve a problem, or are they being manipulative? A lot of the stuff that comes into the system is not necessarily very substantive and I think voters themselves look at this stuff and say, ”Why are we talking about this stuff? Why are we,” you know, “talking about sex stories instead of how I’m going to get health insurance or send my kid to college?”
I think the problem lies in the way in which journalists are often so inclined to describe elections as a sporting event, that citizens go from viewing themselves as actors to viewing themselves as spectators. It’s amazing when you go out to talk to voters and they will say things that come straight out of insider politics, like, “I like his message,” or, you know, “I don’t think that sound bite was very good,” or “I wonder how he’s going to respond to that commercial,” so that you might as well sort of take all the political reporters, throw them aside and do sports commentary.
BILL MOYERS: Many of us who try to decode political language are indebted to William Strickland, professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts. He’s analyzed and written a lot about the uses of political speech.
What about that? In the end, are reporters and journalists just sports commentators who are covering politics?
WILLIAM STRICKLAND, Professor of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst: I think from part of the earlier discussion that actually there’s a tripartite blame. It’s partially the public, it’s partially the press and it’s partially the politicians. In order even to have sound bite availability, you have to have the money to put on sound bites. If you don’t have money to pay – I worked for Jesse both in ’84 and in ’88
BILL MOYERS: Jesse Jackson.
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: Jesse Jackson, not Jesse Helms, yes.
BILL MOYERS: Oh, shoot!
EDWIN DIAMOND: You had a scoop there.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I had a scoop there.
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: And if I remember correctly, it was $36,000 for a 30-second bite on network television here in New York City.
BILL MOYERS: For a commercial, to buy a commercial.
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: That’s right. So if you don’t have that, then you’re subject to free media. And if you’re subject to free media, then you’re subject to the spin of the people.
BILL MOYERS: The spin doctors.
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: The spin doctors who are- exactly, who are interpreting to the world what your message is. In Jesse’s case, most people didn’t – in 1984, most people didn’t see Jesse in his fullness until the Democratic convention in San Francisco when they heard him give the speech unedited, uncommented-upon, from beginning to end. Then they had a sense of what the campaign had been about. Prior to that, they had heard 7- or 8-second or 10- or 20-second interpretations of what Jesse was talking about on the network news.
BILL MOYERS: Well, how do you get substance through? You watched – you not only practice politics occasionally, you watch it a lot. How do you get messages of substance through when many of us in the press and a lot of people out there in the public are much more interested in talking about the sexual activities, the use of drugs, who’s doing what to whom? How do you get it through?
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: I don’t think that’s true and I think that when the politicians say that, they actually are patronizing the public. Bill Bradley gave a speech-
BILL MOYERS: Senator Bradley from New Jersey, yes.
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: -Senator Bradley from New Jersey, confronting racial code words by the administration, a wonderful speech. Tim Wirth gave a speech that you – part of which you showed earlier, about why he was resigning. People can understand substance. It might be easier because this is a very complicated process, plus the system is duplicitous. It does not always tell the truth. By and large, as I.F. Stone said, it lies all the time.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but – but Senator Bradley’s speech got very little attention in the electronic media and very little attention – did you hear it? Did you see it?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I saw it.
EDWIN DIAMOND: But it has legs, though, Bill. It has legs. It’s discussed. Columnists pick it up and refer to it. And just as Kathleen suggested, I wrote away to his office to get it. You can’t – I mean, you can’t just –
BILL MOYERS: Full coverage is not the issue?
EDWIN DIAMOND: Well, I think it’s over time. You know, over time Bradley’s speech has maybe oozed out, crept out, but it’s gotten out there. It’s become part of a national dialogue.
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: The question is how the operational mechanism of the administration and its supporters can introduce stories and they then define public discourse. There is no discussion about Panama, what’s happened – it cost us $2 billion. There’s no discussion about the $4 billion we spent in Afghanistan. There’s no discussion of the S&L’s when it is my understanding that the same problems that convulsed the nation safely after the November election are waiting to spring out again for another bail-out.
BILL MOYERS: In particular, the banking industry. People tell us that the banking industry is in serious trouble, but that both parties again, in Congress and in Washington, are keeping that off the radar scope. What about that, Anne?
ANNE GROER: Well, the banking story’s a very interesting one because, in fact, there was virtually no discussion of it in 1988. Michael Dukakis tried to bring it up for one day, to try and make it look as if the savings and loan debacle was a direct result of Republican de-regulation. And suddenly, a bunch of Democrats came to him and said, “Excuse me, Governor. We don’t really want to be getting into this in any serious way. There are a lot of us with fingerprints on that one, too.”
My sense is that these things are being covered. I – I – again, the press -”The Press,” the monolithic press – is getting a kind of bum rap.
BILL MOYERS: What about this issue that’s been raised recently, that the press is paying far more attention to Bill Clinton’s record and Jerry Brown’s record than the press, media, are paying to George Bush’s record?
ANNE GROER: I could sit down and analyze George Bush’s record, which I actually did last September before he came to visit Orlando, which was the trip where he discovered the electronic scanner. And I – and I can do that every six months, but I think my readers are going to say, “Oh, this one again.” Well, you know-
EDWIN DIAMOND: You know, Bill, some of us – everybody admires these other countries, England, Israel, where they do campaigns in three weeks. Well, they’re small countries. Maybe – this is a big country. It’s a diverse country racially, geographically. Maybe we do need from May to November to get this out.
ANNE GROER: We actually are starting to see stories about, for example, Bush’s children’s business dealings. I mean, there have been stories about George Bush’s energy holdings, about Jeb Bush, about Neil Bush. And at some point, that’s all going to be put together in a package and it’ll say, in terms of a character issue or in terms of an ethics issue, ”This is how the Bush children make their living. There are” – you know, “Are they capitalizing on their famous last name? It would appear so in some cases, maybe not in others.” I think we are actually doing it.
BILL MOYERS: How we talk about these issues in democracies is very important and I suggest the way we talk about it is not the only way. Let’s take a look at a real political debate, one that was full of substance and, at the same time, was both dramatic and revealing, more so than anything we see in this country. It shows British Prime Minister John Major in an open parliamentary debate with his challenger, Labor leader Neil Kinnock. Watch this.
NEIL KINNOCK: [House of Commons, Great Britain] Mr. Speaker, un-employment has risen by nearly a million in the time that the right honorable gentleman has been chancellor and prime minister. Still, he refuses to do anything useful to stop that remorseless rise. Isn’t it because he really does believe that 2.5 million people unemployed is really a price well worth paying?
JOHN MAJOR: The right honorable gentleman should not be so cheap over such a problem. Unemployment is greater – unemployment is greater than a year ago in every country in NAFTA and in every G-7 country except Netherlands. French unemployment is at its greatest level ever. The United States unemployment is higher than for the past five years. What the right honorable gentleman might also have fastened his mind upon is the fact that reported job vacancies are rising, the number of people placed in jobs are rising and there are half a million more people in work than in 1979. Those are some of the facts the right honorable gentleman should absorb.
NEIL KINNOCK: Mr. Speaker – Mr. Speaker, the right honorable gentleman is a dodger. In the last year – in the last year – [catcalls and jeers]
SPEAKER: Order. Order! Order! This takes a lot of time. Mr. Kinnock?
NEIL KINNOCK: In the last year, Mr. Speaker – in the last year – in the last year, employment in Britain went down by 873,000, Job vacancies are still 10,000 lower than they were this time last year. When Sir Nicholas Goodeson of the Trustee Savings Bank says this is the worst recession in living memory, is it any wonder that the whole country knows that this is the government of high unemployment?
JOHN MAJOR: Some people might say – some people might say on policy rather than personal matters that the right honorable gentleman is a tax dodger. He can give no lecture to us. He can give no lecture to us on unemployment. He can give no lecture to us. His policies would cut jobs across the whole country. [catcalls and jeers]
SPEAKER: Order! I don’t think that was meant in a personal sense.
BILL MOYERS: Kathleen Jamieson, we probably can’t have that kind of parliamentary debate that we saw in Britain, but can we do better?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The presidential debates are the single opportunity in the campaign for a mass audience to see the candidates comparatively. If in the general election we were to eliminate the two-minutes, one-minute format, which reduces the debates to ads, and focus on a single topic area, as the MacNeil/Lehrer debate in the primaries focused on the economy, and eliminate the intrusive grandstanding of reporters, we might, with the debates, provide the equivalent, but in a format more conducive to learning, which lets the candidates expose positions through argument, not assertion, and ultimately would help the electorate make an intelligent choice about the president.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Again, I have to agree with Kathleen. We don’t have a question period in the House of Commons, but we have another institution that was demonstrated in the primaries, the Phil Donahue show, where he came on, 10 seconds, introduced the two, Clinton and Brown, stepped back and let them talk to each other.
BILL MOYERS: But as-
EDWIN DIAMOND: If the election is – if the polls show in September and October – show the race is close enough, Bush will agree to go into that format with Clinton and we’ll get an hour of two of those two people talking, as Kinnock and Major have done.
ANNE GROER: I beg to differ with you. I think George Bush is going to try and give a debate as far a leaving alone as he can. I mean, in 1988, it was all that the Democrats could do to get the Bush people to agree to two debates, and I was one of those intrusive reporters and I would have been delighted to not have been there and to let them go at one another. And my sense is, there is no mechanism for forcing presidential candidates to debate, although there is legislation in Congress that ties the acceptance of F.E.C. matching funds to an absolute agreement to debate X number of times. And I think the more times these candidates go at each other, the better the public is served.
BILL MOYERS: Let’s pause right here for another excerpt from my conversation with the members of Congress. You mentioned Newt Gingrich earlier. We were talking in this group about how politicians use language in their campaigns and I brought up a pamphlet that had been mailed to Republican candidates around the country by an organization headed by Newt Gingrich, who’s the House Republican whip. The pamphlet was entitled, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” and it advised candidates to drop certain words into their speeches because they are politically effective, the way you might drop a cube of sugar in your own coffee or a poison pill in the enemy’s. Look at this.
This is a list of words sent out by a group headed by your own Newt Gingrich. The list says, “Optimistic, positive governing words. Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service,” words like “common sense, courage, crusade, dream, duty, family, freedom, liberty, light, moral, passionate, pro-environment, vision, workfare. Use these words in speeches to define your own program.” Now, here’s how the list of negative words was introduced – quote – “Apply these words to the opponent, his record, proposals and party. Anti-child, anti-flag, betrayed, bizarre, collapse, crisis, devour, greed, pathetic, radical, red tape, sick, steel, taxes, they, them, traitors, Welfare.”
I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that these are the words of a brain-dead politics and that that’s part of what’s happened to politics in this country. Words are used not to say what they mean or to mean what they say, but as attacks, as swords, as shields, as blame.
REP. DAVE OBEY: But let’s differentiate. You just referred to Newt Gingrich as “ours.” Newt Gingrich is not mine. [crosstalk] That film clip is an example of what I mean when I say, “I hate the game” because I detest what manipulation like that does not only to politics, but of the ability of the country to understand what’s happening in politics.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
REP. DAVE OBEY: I mean that that list – every time that you tell a candidate to, in essence, try to pain his opponent with the blackest possible brush by the use of terms like that, what you’re simply saying is that the end justifies the means. You’re engaging in public manipulation of symbols, again, in order to avoid having to discuss issues.
Rep. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R-FL) : Oh, come on!
REP. DAVE OBEY: It cheapens politics-.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: That gets done in Democrat circles, as well
BILL MOYERS: I agree with that, by the way.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: -only Ron Brown doesn’t put his name to it. [crosstalk] How many seminars has the Democratic Party put on where they discuss those things?
REP. DAVE OBEY: Whether it does or not
BILL MOYERS: That’s true, Ileana. That’s true.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: It’s not owned by Newt Gingrich or the Republican Party.
REP. DAVE OBEY: I don’t defend that whether it happens on the part of the Democrat or Republican, but I do hate the game. And I suggest that we’ve got individual responsibilities to avoid using manipulation such as that suggested by Mr. Gingrich.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: I agree, and I think that the list by Gingrich was contemptible, but we ought to be – let’s not blame the voters as much. Newt’s target is not primarily the voters. It’s primarily the media. And I – I -we should – these two questions of yours merge, Bill. Un-fortunately – and I think there’s been a deterioration in the way the media has done things. I think when I came here, they were much more substantive. Part of the problem is that they focus on the more trivial, sensationalist stuff. Part of the problem with that is, that drives out the other stuff. We had a major debate last week on the Wall’s Bill that will allow us to use foreign military spending for domestic spending. People could be on one side or the other, it was the single most important set of issues we’ve dealt with and you couldn’t buy space for it in the paper.
What Newt Gingrich is doing, he is very clever at responding to what your colleagues are going to pay attention to, and so there is a kind of a symbiosis between the kind of politicians who are prepared to do this, whether it’s to engage in putting bags over their heads or focus on things that are going to be attention-getting, and then things like health care and redirecting military spending and trying to get out of this recession just don’t get covered.
And the final link in that chain is the public then blames us because they don’t hear us talking about these things, when the reason they don’t is the media doesn’t want to talk about them.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: But that’s the kind of spin control – that’s just what Newt is talking about and that goes on in Democratic caucuses every day. It goes on in Republican caucuses every day.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Not to that degree. Neither of us-
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Every time that we have a tax package
REP. BARNEY FRANK: -engage in that kind of stuff, Ileana.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, Barney! Well, maybe not you, but
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Not with that kind of wording.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: -you know, everyone else-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: No, I do think there are qualitative differences. You don’t do that.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, come on!
REP. BARNEY FRANK: You do?
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: That means – every time there’s a tax-
REP. BARNEY FRANK: You do that?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: She’s going to call you “anti-child,” “anti-flag,” “pathetic” -[crosstalk]
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: Every time there’s a tax package
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Just one thing. You’ve got to be compassionate.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: -people get together and say, “What kind of a spin are we going to put on it?”
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: That’s right.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: “Let’s make sure that we label this as the Bush anti-family, the Bush anti-worker”-[crosstalk] You guys do it just as much.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: But I think what Barney’s arguing, it’s not necessarily Republican or Democrat, but if you don’t know how to put the spin on it, if in fact you can’t create a good sound bite, you’re not going to make it on the news. You’re not going to make a headline story. And therefore, eventually you’re perceived as being ineffective on the national level.
BILL MOYERS: William Strickland, what does this say about how politicians use language today?
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: I think if you reflect on the words that are used -“traitor,” “flag,” “radical” – actually, the right wing appropriated two fundamental means of smearing their opponents. One was anti-communism and the other is racism. They use racial code words. Willie Horton is still alive. This goes back to Kathleen’s point about single coverage versus constant propaganda, versus constant, unceasing propaganda. Now we have Mr. Bush came out two weeks ago and said, “Let us do nothing rather than confront the problems facing the American people and the society,” and he’s begun to use – for Willie Horton this year, he’s using Welfare, deadbeat dads.
BILL MOYERS: You say deadbeat dads and Welfare are racist in significance?
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: They are racial code words. You have a situation in this country where the politicians manipulate the politics of race and fear. The furlough program of which Willie Horton was a part was 98 percent successful. That program was scrapped because of the racist hysteria that was generated by the Bush attacks on Dukakis. Now you have a situation in prisons around the country where people can’t get parole because they’re afraid of being called “soft on crime.” Well, who is crime? Black people are crime.
EDWIN DIAMOND: If the Republicans use code words, you’re angry, rightly so. But at the same time, if not you, others say Democrats use those same code words too, play that game. I mean, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, “Let’s elevate the level of political discourse. Hey, go get Bush on you-know-who.” You can’t have it both ways. Journalists cannot be partisans.
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: My question was not partisan. It is true that some Democrats have capitulated. That’s what we’ve seen over the last decade and a half. They have let the right – the right has not only seized the government from the people, they have defined public discourse so that – and take the character issue with Bill Clinton. Why is Bill Clinton’s alleged adultery a question? Why is that a character question? Eisenhower had mistresses. Other presidents had mistresses.
EDWIN DIAMOND: We’ve changed the rules since then. [crosstalk]
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: Hold it. JFK handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. He’s alleged to have had one or two mistresses. What does the fact that he had a mistress have to do with the way in which he dealt with the Cuban crisis, in which all parties, right, left and center, give him good marks? The question of this adultery is irrelevant. It’s not a character issue, but the press has been pursuing it relentlessly instead of dealing with questions like the S&L, instead of dealing with questions about the crisis facing this society on almost all levels.
ANNE GROER: Well, in fact, it does appear to matter to voters. About a quarter of the electorate is very concerned, in terms of having as a president someone whom they can trust and they consider – quote – “morality” unquote – a character issue and something they want their president to possess. Now, it may well be that the voters, helped along by the press, has an unrealistic view of what a president’s character ought to be, but I think to say that that is not a relevant area of inquiry, at least in small measure in looking at who it is you’re going to sit next to the red phone, is to miss the point.
BILL MOYERS: One of the – what’s changed, though – as Ed said, the rules have changed. I was in Washington in 19 – in the early 60’s and when there was knowledge or rumors or allegations about John F. Kennedy’s womanizing or the drinking habits of very, very well-known members of Congress who were alcoholics, drunks, in the old term, the press would not report that. There was-
EDWIN DIAMOND: We knew this and never shared it with our readers.
BILL MOYERS: Now, what’s happened to change this? Is it the change in the press or the change in public mores or what, Kathleen?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: See, I’m more interested in asking, was the public damaged by the fact that you didn’t report those things, because we actually have a control. There was a whole period in which the press didn’t.
EDWIN DIAMOND: Who are we to say what the public should know? [crosstalk] We’re journalists. If we find something out, we should put it in the paper.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Was democracy disadvantaged because you didn’t report about the mistresses and the alcoholics in the 1960’s and 70’s?
ANNE GROER: If one of Jack Kennedy’s mistresses was, in fact, an agent for East Germany, I think perhaps there’s a real issue there.
EDWIN DIAMOND: And if another was also sleeping with a Mafia chieftain, we were wrong. I was in Washington in the 60’s and 60’s and we knew things and we didn’t share it with our readers and journalists are not supposed to play God. If we find something out, we should put it in the paper.
BILL MOYERS: Is everything fair game, then, anything you can find out? If you think it will interest the public, you publish it? [crosstalk] Do you know secrets that you’re not publishing?
EDWIN DIAMOND: Do you publish things because it interests the public or do you publish them because they’re news?
ANNE GROER: I think a little of each and yes, there are things that I’m not telling.
BILL MOYERS: Come on, tell us.
ANNE GROER: No. I can trust you?
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: I’d like to come back to Annie’s point, which I wasn’t in disagreement. It is true that this question has been raised, character, and you now have – and the people are being responsive to it. That’s why it continues to be used. I’m saying that the press has a responsibility not to fixate on these micro issues-
ANNE GROER: I agree.
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: -when we have macro issues of fundamental importance that need to be elucidated.
BILL MOYERS: You would have us not focus on what in order to focus on what?
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: Well, let us take – go back to the Welfare. Welfare is going to be used, evidently, by Mr. Bush.
BILL MOYERS: Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans are concerned about-about the-
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: But it’s foolishness. The budget – the Welfare in the national budget is 1 percent. The state budget, it’s 2.5 percent. The greatest – the greatest growing part of our budget is debt service. We need to be explaining to people about the deficit.
ANNE GROER: The problem is that when you start to talk about issues like the deficit and the debt and tax structure and entitlements, and you go into an entire arcane vocabulary, people’s eyes glaze over. And our – and I am here to tell you that in high school, I – in college, I failed economics and had to repeat it.
BILL MOYERS: So you became a reporter.
ANNE GROER: I became a reporter and I’m desperately
BILL MOYERS: Me, too! (crosstalk)
EDWIN DIAMOND: Your fall-back is politics. Let me offer-
ANNE GROER: But we are trying. We really – and I – and I think that what happens, though, is you have a politicians, for example, like Paul Tsongas, who comes along arid says “Middle class tax relief is bogus, it’s hokum . . What we need is an industrial policy. What we need – excuse me, voters. You’re going to have to pay a little more money.” And suddenly people say, “uh-uh,” and-
EDWIN DIAMOND: Let me offer boldly a unified field here. Most people out there have older parents, maybe, they have to put in a nursing home, kids who are not doing well in school, jobs. They’re balancing a lot. They’ve got a lot of things on their minds. Every four years, an election comes along and we start them so early, right? They declared in November of ’91. But between November of ’91 and November of ’92, all of the issues that you’ve all talked about around this table, from Gennifer Flowers to Welfare, will be aired, re-aired and re-re-aired. And eventually, in a crazy, inefficient way which is called democracy, by November 2nd people will be more or less informed about Gennifer Flowers and Welfare. I mean, question mark. I’ll put it as a question mark.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The danger is that, come November, in fact these things will all have been laid out, but in verbal and visual telegraphy that never asks the question, “Who is on Welfare? Why are they on Welfare? How many people of what race and ethnicity for how long with how many children?” What we saw happening in Louisiana was a direct confirmation that voters are not stupid. Voters in Louisiana were offered by David Duke Welfare as a major issue. He was going to reform Welfare and the implication was, all those shiftless blacks with all kinds of children, who are just having babies in order to generate money. By the day of the election, the people we talked to in our focus groups, both educated and uneducated, could tell us what percent in Louisiana on Welfare were white, what percent black, what percent of the total budget was being spent on Welfare – a minuscule percent – and that Welfare was not primarily a state budgetary matter, but a federal budgetary matter. In that case, voters were able to say, “David Duke, no, we don’t favor what you say, regardless of the prejudices and fears that you’ve played to.”
BILL MOYERS: Bill Strickland, can we do better?
WILLIAM STRICKLAND: If we have the will and if we will make people accountable to tell the truth and speak the truth to the American people.
BILL MOYERS: On that hopeful note, we run out of time. I want to thank you, Ed Diamond, Anne Groer, Bill Strickland, Kathleen Jamieson for joining in this discussion, talk about talk. And I want to thank you for being with us as we listen to America. Join us next time. I’m Bill Moyers.
TELEVISION COMMERCIAL: Recently, DuPont announced that its energy unit would pioneer the use of new double-hulled oil tankers in order to safeguard the environment.
BILL MOYERS: Corporate America tells us they care about the planet, but people at the grass roots tell a different story.
1ST MAN: I’ll make you a choice, either cancer or unemployment.
TELEVISION COMMERCIAL: Do people need to create places so nature can spread its wings? People do.
2nd MAN: But I’m the one that’s got to breathe that stuff at night. I’m the one going to be laying around here, going [gasps], “I wonder, can I get my breath?”
ACTIVIST: We are not going to just stretch out and allow corporate America to walk on us.
BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) “Politics, People and Pollution,” next time on Listening to America.
This transcript was entered on April 2, 2015.