In the days leading up to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s decision of whether to allow big media to get even bigger, why did many see the result of the vote as a foregone conclusion? Do major media corporations have influence over government decision-making and data? In an examination of big media companies’ access to the FCC, NOW heard from Chuck Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity.
Next, Bill Moyers interviewed British political commentator Will Hutton, who says the US must re-engage the rest of the world for its own long-term survival. Hutton is a weekly columnist for London’s THE OBSERVER, chief executive of Britain’s The Work Foundation, and author of A DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE: WHY AMERICA SHOULD JOIN THE WORLD.
NOW also went behind the scenes with Los Lobos, a band that uses influences from many countries and eras to create a new American sound. “What is really truly American?” asks band member Louie Perez, “The purest definition of American music would be a band like ourselves, that take our own culture and tradition and interpret it and then pass it on. That’s America, for us.”
And ahead of Memorial Day, Bill Moyers reflects on the courage of American soldiers who have fought for our democracy.
WATCH THE ESSAY
You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. If you have small children, you may want to put them to bed. This is not an X-rated show, but we are about to show you how democracy works in Washington.
It isn’t Mister Rogers. What you’re about to see would turn Barney into a cynic worthy of H.L. Mencken and send the Teletubbies to the barricades.
In just ten days, on June 2, a decision will be announced in Washington with very important consequences.
June 2 is when the Federal Communications Commission will let us know if a handful of big and powerful corporations will get the go-ahead to get even bigger and more powerful.
It’s the job of the FCC to make sure broadcasters and satellite, cable and broadband providers serve the public interest, to be our watchdog.
But that’s been called into question.
So tuck the kids in where visions of democracy can dance in their heads undisturbed, and consider the evidence in this report by my colleague Peter Meryash.
Needless to say, this is no fairy tale.
This is the Center For Public Integrity, the non-partisan watchdog that keeps an eye on how things really work in our nation’s capital. This week, the Center finished examining the close ties between the Federal Communications Commission and the very corporations it regulates.
WILLIAMS: We were really shocked. I mean, it was pretty amazing.
MOYERS: Bob Williams is one of the investigators. What the team found is that media companies gained extraordinary access to the very people at the FCC who are making the decisions about those companies. And how did they gain this access? They paid for it.
According to FCC data obtained by the Center, the broadcast and telecom industry paid for FCC commissioners and staff to make more than 2500 trips during the past eight years at a cost of almost three million dollars.
Money well spent.
WILLIAMS: If the only people you’re spending time with outside of the office are industry people, you’re gonna be influenced by that. And I don’t care who you are. But you’re gonna be influenced by the people that you spend time with. And it’s like these FCC officials don’t see themselves as the public being the people they’re supposed to serve. There really is a mindset over there that we serve these industries. We serve the broadcasters.
MOYERS: It starts at the very top. Last year alone, FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who favors relaxing the media ownership rules, took eight trips on the industry dime.
Robert Pepper is a key member of the FCC staff. He heads the Office of Plans and Policy. Industry paid for more than 100 of his trips over the past seven years.
Las Vegas seems to have become a favorite destination of Washington insiders. The Chairman of the FCC went there last year, courtesy of the National Association of Broadcasters, the industry’s lobbying group. The NAB is the biggest sponsor of FCC travel. These folks know where to place their bets.
WILLIAMS: One of the most shocking things is the number of FCC officials, both commissioners and senior staff people, that go to certain conferences, like the National Association of Broadcasters’ Conference. There’s a couple of dozen people that go. I mean they literally clean out the eighth floor, which is at FCC headquarters, and relocate, on the industry tab, out to Las Vegas for a week.
MOYERS: Over the past 5 years, the NAB has paid for a hundred trips, flying FCC members and staff to these conferences where they can rub shoulders with lots of industry’s top guns. Business gets done at meetings like this, where there’s no pesky public peering over their shoulders.
Consider what happened during the convention just last month. FCC Chairman Powell was there and he met privately with a group of medium-sized broadcasters to discuss media ownership rules.
On the agenda: the proposal before the FCC to relax the ownership cap, which would allow the media giants to own more television stations. The mid-sized broadcasters Powell met with were on record opposing that change. But they had favors of their own to ask of the FCC and Chairman Powell knew it.
So behind closed doors, according to THE NEW YORK TIMES, he did a little horse trading. The paper reported that Powell asked these broadcasters if they would “support an increase in the ownership cap” — that is, remove some of the restrictions — “if the FCC ruled favorably on some aspects of their petition?”
Powell denies this was a quid-pro-quo. We asked him for an interview — his spokesman said he didn’t have the time. But we do know this: the Belo Corporation was at that meeting. Belo owns lots of media properties, including 19 TV stations and 4 daily newspapers, the DALLAS MORNING NEWS among them. When Belo went back home to Dallas, it did an about-face.
Only one week later, in fact, Belo filed a notice with the FCC stating that it now supports raising “… the national ownership cap … in return for favorable commission action …” on other matters important to Belo.
That prompted a quick reply from Jim Goodmon. Jim Goodmon owns 5 television stations in North Carolina. He’s on record against lifting the ownership cap, even though that change could make him a lot of money. He wrote Powell to protest the private deal-making and then told a recent senate hearing:
GOODMON: I think there’s been some maneuvering in order to get the votes.
MOYERS: Business as usual, says Bob Williams.
WILLIAMS: The spokespeople at these various industry associations, what they will say is, “This is our chance to educate these people about what really goes on with our business.” Okay, that’s fine. As long as there’s a counterbalance of the public having that same sort of input, that works out fine. But I think where the problem is, there is no counterbalance there.
MOYERS: That’s indeed an issue here. Industry has a right to make itself heard at the FCC. But this is a one-sided conversation.
Truth is, the public has had little access to Chairman Powell, or the other two commissioners who favor industry’s viewpoint: Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin. They’ve been no-shows at most of the public hearings on this crucial matter of media consolidation.
Powell attended only two hearings… and dismissed the need for more.
Meanwhile, the media moguls have not lacked for an audience at FCC headquarters.
The big players met with commissioners and staff at least 45 times in the past year alone to discuss this issue.
Viacom had twelve private meetings to plead their case. They already own more TV stations than the limit allows. So if the FCC rules against them, Viacom could be forced to sell some of their 39 TV stations.
The Center for Public Integrity discovered something else about the FCC — that it lacks some basic information about the very industry it regulates. What it does have is either supplied by industry or is often inadequate.
DUNBAR: The information is either non-existent, too difficult to obtain or incomplete.
MOYERS: John Dunbar is the project manager for the Center’s investigation. What he wanted from the FCC was a simple list of every radio and television station in the country. The FCC, after all, awards those stations their licenses.
DUNBAR: The original goal was just to get a list. All I wanted was a list. And you would think that I was asking for something that was crazy. That it was a crazy request.
MOYERS: Initially, the FCC told Dunbar to find the information somewhere else. They referred him to some groups that sell that information for a profit.
DUNBAR: I mean the idea that we’d call up the FCC and try to get basic information on cable subscribers, basic information on media ownership, and were immediately referred to private groups, the proprietary databases that you pay through the nose for, is, alarming, to say the least.
COPPS: We ought to realize by now that we need our own credible and viable and reliable information so we can intelligently regulate.
MOYERS: Commissioner Michael Copps recognizes the public is cut out of the loop.
COPPS: We’re talking about an industry here that’s going to go through tens of billions of dollars of mergers and acquisitions as a result of these rules. We need to know with detail and some finality exactly what is going on out there. And too often, as you say, we rely on what the industry produces.
MOYERS: Not good enough, says the Center for Public Integrity. So its staff put together a database and a Web site the public can use to find out exactly who owns supposedly local media.
DUNBAR: If you look at Birmingham, Alabama, for example, you’ll notice that the radio dial is dominated by three very large out-of-state radio broadcasting holding companies. They own 15 stations in Birmingham alone. You’ll also notice that the four network affiliates in Birmingham… all four are owned by very large out-of-state media companies as well. On top that, the cable television system is owned by the same company that owns the dominant newspaper in Birmingham.
MOYERS: The media concentration in Birmingham is hardly unusual, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
And if Chairman Powell has his way, every city in America could be another Birmingham. Its news and information controlled by just a few, and often from afar.
What do Americans think about all this? Well, a recent CNN poll found 96% of the people surveyed say too few corporations own too many media outlets.
So, an improbable coalition of citizen groups is also challenging the FCC giveaway — groups as different as Common Cause, the Parents Television Council, and the National Rifle Association all oppose lifting the restrictions on ownership. Fearing big media has an anti-gun bias, NRA members have been sending in postcards by the thousands.
With the public protest growing every day, Commissioners Copps and Jonathan Adelstein have been asking Chairman Powell to postpone the decision on June 2 and take more time to consider the stakes and listen to the public.
COPPS: Now the American people are beginning to focus on this. Why not let them focus on this for 60 days? Why not put these proposals out for some comment and then vote on them instead of rushing to judgment? We’re just basically saying, “OK, now you’re interested? That’s fine. But sorry, you’re too late.”
MOYERS: Chairman Powell won’t budge. So now some members of Congress are also sounding the alarm. They have watched a handful of big companies grow more and more powerful since the 1996 Telecommunications Act triggered a gold rush of media mergers.
DORGAN: Since we passed the ’96 Act, there has been galloping concentration in virtually every area of the media in this country. I spoke recently about some of the consequences of that. But it seems to me that it’s really hard to make the case that what we need is more concentration, more opportunity for concentration, given what has happened in recent years, yet here we are with the FCC poised to march to the rear on this issue. And I just don’t understand it.
MOYERS: Just last week, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced bills to slow down, even stop, further media concentration.
SNOWE: We’re not talking about a cursory review. We’re talking about a review process that potentially could open the door to the last barrier of restrictions to unfettered ownership within the industry.
MOYERS: Earlier this spring some members of Congress of both parties sent this letter to the FCC calling for more time and more debate.
But the Bush Administration responded with a letter of its own urging Chairman Powell to move ahead.
Powell and the two other Republican members of the commission have refused all requests to delay the June 2nd vote or conduct more public hearings.
Broadcaster Jim Goodmon says he knows why they’re in such a hurry. As he told the Senate:
GOODMON: The hurry is they have the votes at the Commission. And the hurry is this is very important for the investment and financial sector in the country, because what they see is there’s going to be, as there was last time when the rules changed, a whole lot of station trading. There’s going to be a lot of money loaned and there’s going to be a lot of commissions.
MOYERS: Every week, says Goodmon, he gets letters and phone calls from some big Wall Street firm encouraging him to sell his television stations.
And look at this recent report from the giant investment firm, Merrill Lynch: “The Gold Rush Begins. ” The Wall Street firm is telling investors to expect the megamedia giants such as Viacom, Newscorp/Fox and Disney “… to make targeted acquisitions, most likely radio or TV stations in larger markets …” and that “…midsize and small newspaper companies …” will be seen as “… take-out candidates …” targets to be gobbled up by bigger fish.
Here to talk about this is the founder and Executive Director for the Center for Public Integrity, Chuck Lewis. His organization as you just saw researched the investigation of the FCC. We’re old allies, Lewis and I, going back ten years when the Schumann Foundation was an early funder of the center. Welcome back.
MOYERS: What’s the main conclusion you take away from this? What’s going on here?
LEWIS: Well, I think this is a sad story of a federal government regulatory agency that’s been captured by the industry it’s supposed regulate. It’s gotten so close over so many years that it’s doing the bidding for the industry and it’s not protecting the public. That’s what it looks like to me.
MOYERS: It’s a sad story but it’s not a new story. I mean, haven’t many of the regulatory agencies been subverted by the industries they were supposed to monitor?
LEWIS: Well, they have. And some business schools teach it. It’s called capture theory. And you know there might be some regulations. But if you do certain things you can overwhelm and overtake the agencies. If you hire some of their staff over time, if you get to the committee that has oversight over that agency and make sure you ply them with lots of money and you start to control the agenda of the agency and the purse strings of the agency.
It’s called the Iron Triangle in Washington. It’s how it works with a lot of agencies. And this one is no different. This is part and parcel of how Washington works. If you want to get face time with the regulator then you take them on a trip.
It’s not just the trip to Bellagio and the $300 or $400 a night rooms and the time there. It’s that you’re with them the whole time. There’s no staff. There’s no one guarding you from all these lobbyists. They swarm like locusts around these people. And they do become captives to them.
MOYERS: But it is a given that regulators need to talk to the businesses, the executives, the representatives of the industry they are covering. And they discuss the issues, the policies. You accept that, don’t you?
LEWIS: I absolutely do. But the problem here we found 2,500 all-expense paid trips. Trips to places like Rio and Paris. No one gets trips like that. There were no public interest groups or consumer groups. There were not a single trip paid for by those groups. That means they did not have that kind of access. They did not have that kind of influence. And they’re not as close to this agency as the industry.
MOYERS: Here you have the chairman of the commission, Michael Powell, offering an industry group a deal. “You support what Rupert Murdoch and Viacom CBS and General Electric NBC want and I’ll support what you want.”
MOYERS: I mean, that’s real inside trading.
LEWIS: Well, it is inside trading. And, you know, Chairman Powell took 44 all-expense paid trips, more than any other active commissioner in the last eight years. And when he became chairman, the cost of his trips doubled, we noticed.
MOYERS: And Commissioner Michael Copps sat right where you are and said to us that there was very little, almost no money in the FCC budget for him to hold these public hearings or travel to these public hearings. So you’ve got further opportunities to go out and talk to industry but no expenses to go out and talk to the public.
LEWIS: Well, and that’s right. And there’s also a lack of consultation here. Chairman Powell and some of the commissioners do not want to have any more conversation about this. There’s a little bit of a charade going on here where they’re trying to make it pretend they’ve consulted the public when they’ve mostly been hanging out with the industry.
MOYERS: Weren’t they put there to do what business wants?
LEWIS: They absolutely were put there because that’s what business wants. And actually if you look at the history of the Federal Communication Commission over 20 years there’s been a slow steady pattern of deregulation. And the industry has been pretty much dictating what happens here for the last 20 years. This is just the last chapter maybe.
MOYERS: When I read your report, when I read The New York Times story, watched Peter Meryash’s report I thought if an umpire in the World Series allowed one of the two opposing teams to put him up overnight on the night before the seventh and decisive game I don’t think I would expect that umpire to be neutral in that decisive game. I mean, can we expect the FCC commissioners to be neutral when the industries have so much access and influence over them?
LEWIS: I don’t think we can expect them to be neutral. And most fans wouldn’t go to that game, would they? Most of this is under the nose of the American people. Most Americans don’t know what these guys do day to day. And most journalists don’t cover this day to day. This whole subject is not being covered frankly very well by the media.
MOYERS: In fact, CBS News and Fox, just to take two, are owned by the two media conglomerates with the most to gain from this decision. And they have not covered this story. What does that say to you?
LEWIS: Well, the media doesn’t want to cover itself. They don’t want to shine the light on their own greed and self-interest and ambition as a company. They’re happy to do it about every other industry sector but not themselves.
MOYERS: Did you see this column this week by the conservative columnist William Safire in THE NEW YORK TIMES? I mean, he sounds a mighty trumpet in this column. He says, quote, “The concentration of power, political, corporate, media, cultural, should be anathema to conservatives.” This is not just a liberal issue.
LEWIS: No, it is not a liberal issue. Conservatives all over America for years, for decades, for centuries have believed in the decentralization of power and the power of small and local businesses and decentralization across America. This is exactly the opposite of that. And I understand exactly why Safire is upset.
MOYERS: There’s a CNN poll that says 96 percent of the people think too many media outlets are owned by too few corporations. I mean, people don’t like — like Bill Safire — they don’t like this conglomeration of media.
LEWIS: No, they don’t. And the public doesn’t quite know what to do about it.
They don’t know where you go to complain about it. How do you change it? There’s a short circuit between the citizens of this country and these kinds of issues. They don’t quite know what to do.
MOYERS: If people want to access your database and find out who owns the newspapers and television and radio stations in their communities, what do they do?
LEWIS: They just go to our web site: publicintegrity.org. O-R-G.
MOYERS: Chuck Lewis, the director of the Center for Public Integrity, thank you for coming back to NOW.
LEWIS: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: There’s more to come on NOW. British journalist Will Hutton: is America using its power to bully the world?
MOYERS: You no doubt have been reading that Hispanics have become America’s largest minority. For most of us, part of being American is knowing that some time, somehow, you or your ancestors came here from somewhere else. That reality leads many, artists in particular, to forge past and current lives into a distinct, often hybrid identity.
So it is with a band from East Los Angeles that for 30 years has taken the traditional music of Mexico and the barrio, blended it with rock, folk, and even punk to create a uniquely American sound.
They call themselves Los Lobos.
ROSAS: Los Lobos music is… it’s a perfect blend of different musical styles, one being very much a roots, Mexican folk music. And the other is very sort of American, if you will. You know? Rock and roll, or rhythm and blues, or whatever it is.
PEREZ: The Mexican-American has always kinda been perceived by Mexican nationals as, you know, “What are you? Are you Mexican? Are you an American?” They don’t totally accept us.
And of course, here on this side of the border in the United States, you know, the Mexican-American people aren’t totally accepted as Americans. So what do we do with that?
LOZANO: When people were playing rock and roll we decided to play Mexican folk music. You know, we all had our rock and roll bands and we all went through that whole thing of being… wanting to be rock and roll stars. And then, you know, five or six years into our small little careers of learning how to play music we decided we wanted to learn how to play Mexican folk music. We wanted to learn a little bit about our roots via the music. And that’s what we did.
HIDALGO: We were trying to capture the essence of the music, you know? And make it our own. We finally figured out that we were onto something that had meaning, it wasn’t just, mariachis playing in a Mexican restaurant.
We were playing for our moms we all got together just for laughs. We got to Louie’s mom’s house and we played these songs and she started crying. You know, I was like, “Wow, man, this is…” It wasn’t the response we expected. We were reaching into something that was bigger than what we thought, you know? It was actually… this music actually meant something to a lot of people.
LOZANO: So, we learned how to play that music and learned how to play the instruments, learned how to play the different techniques or the different styles of music. There’s a whole bunch of did styles of music that comes from Mexico. And each region has it’s own style and own instrumentation. So, you have to learn how to play that stuff and that’s what we did. And it took us ten years — we studied it for ten years. And then we got back into rock and roll.
BERLIN: Musically we are, I guess, patriots of our own country. Our imaginary country of Loboland where ’60s British blues and 200 year old Mexican folklore traditions coexist in a happy planet. It was extraordinary that, you know, a kid like me growing in Philadelphia and, you know, four of those guys growing up in East L.A., we shared so much musically.
But instantly, and from the very beginning, from the first rehearsal I ever sat in on, it was always just a musical brotherhood. The only thing that I had to learn was the folkloric tradition and where that saxophone fit into it, which was a joy for me.
But I think it’s… as much as anything we’re just trying to forge our own vocabulary. And then, you know, expand that vocabulary.
HIDALGO: Like when we were playing, you could feel something where it grows, you know? Where everyone is actually playing together and it just starts to go somewhere. And you don’t know where you’re headed but you’re on your way and you feel it. It’s like, wow, man, that those are the moments that make music worth playing, you know?
LOZANO: Friendship has probably been the most important thing in this band. Where we’ve become very good friends. Our families have grown together, grown up together. You have to have an understanding family.
Come on, Ali. Come on, boy. Fact or opinion? The world is round.
JOSHUA: Fact or opinion? Is a dinosaur’s tummy bigger than yours?
LOZANO: Get out of here. Quit messing around with my tummy. You’re gonna get fat too one of these days.
If the family doesn’t understand, if your wife doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do, you ain’t gonna do it, brother. You know? I would not leave my family for my music, I’ll tell you that right now.
PEREZ: A classic example is the time that we were up for a Grammy and we actually won. My mother-in-law was watching my son, then was baby. And we walked up to the door and walked in the door. And she congratulated me and then told me that we’re outta diapers.
So one minute I’m a rock star that won a Grammy award, and the next minute I was at the market, you know, buying diapers. So it’s kinda… stuff kinda really grounds you.
What is really truly American? The purest definition of American music would be, a band like ourselves, that take our own culture and tradition and interpret it and then pass it on.
That’s America for us.
ROSAS: Being an American musician is a privilege. In a second, I can be like, real Mexican, because that’s who I am. And the next moment I could be doing, you know, a John Lee Hooker song or something. And that feels very at home, too. So I live in both worlds and it’s not a bad place to be, you know?
PEREZ: On the creative level I think we find a lot of freedom, you know, we can just do whatever we want, because we realize that if we’re not totally accepted by either culture, then where do we belong? We belong everywhere.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW: is the number two man at the Department of the Interior an enemy of the environment?
SYKES: Steven Griles is just the poster child of the corporate influence on this administration.
ANNOUNCER: Conflicts of interest. Washington’s revolving door puts exploiters of the environment in charge of protecting it. Next week on NOW.
And connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS Online at pbs.org.
Find out who owns the media in your hometown. Listen to Los Lobos, songs that explore many cultures. This Memorial Day weekend, share your memories in our veterans’ scrapbook. Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
MOYERS: Anyone who’s been eating freedom fries or not knows there’s a bad taste befouling America’s relations with Europe.
Call it a lover’s quarrel among old allies, but it’s left some nasty scars.
The French, for example, are complaining that the Bush White House has been spreading ugly and false rumors about them for opposing the war in Iraq.
Early in the week, six French journalists were actually turned back by customs officials at the Los Angeles airport.
And there’ll be fewer American planes at the prestigious Paris Air Show next month.
In Europe, there’s a backlash against American companies and goods.
One restaurant chain in Hamburg declared the sale of Budweiser, Marlboros, and Coca-Cola verboten, and a German bicycle maker no longer will take supplies from American contractors.
But there have been some efforts this week to improve things, including the support France and Germany provided this week to a UN Security Council resolution giving the American-British coalition interim control over Iraq.
And the U.S. construction company Bechtel, the prime contractor in the rebuilding of Iraq, held a meeting in London today so that European firms could bid on the estimated 90% of the work that Bechtel plans to subcontract.
Will Hutton is here to talk about the friction between the United States and Europe. It’s the subject of his new book, A DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE: WHY AMERICA SHOULD JOIN THE WORLD.
An old friend of America’s, but a friendly critic as well, Will Hutton was for years Editor-in-Chief of one of Britain’s most influential newspapers, THE OBSERVER, for which he still writes a column.
Welcome to NOW.
HUTTON: Thank you.
MOYERS: Why do you feel compelled to write a book asking America to join the world? I mean, to many people, America’s all over the world, everywhere on the globe, as it is. It’s actually not only joining the world, but is shaping the world…
HUTTON: On America’s terms. It’s shaping the world on America’s terms. It’s shaping the world around American principles. It’s asking the rest of the world not just to benchmark themselves against America, but to be like America. To make the same kinds of economic, political, and social choices as America. And that is actually, I think, quite a dangerous thing. I think it makes the world less safe for America. So, that’s an important reason to write the book. And the other aspect of it is, is that the network of treaties, the network of security treaties, the approach to the environment, approach to the criminal court, approach to drugs, approach to terrorism, approach to the fight against Iraq, reconstruction in Iraq, everything, if you live outside America, is that comes at you in American terms.
Now, America is a good place. You know, America is, you know, the republic that actually is the most substantive power in the world. You know, the world needs it. But the way the world needs it is actually multilaterally. The way the world needs it is actually engaging with the rest of the world. Leading it, but co-governing it.
Not actually saying, “This is the deal. You know, take it or leave it. You’re for us — if you’re not for us, you’re against us.” That is actually the problem.
MOYERS: But you might hear it said while you’re in this country, that that’s what America wanted to do. That we’ve had this long — as you write about in your book — long philosophical partnership with today’s Europe. But that it was the Europeans, in particular the Germans and the French, who shattered that philosophical partnership, by not encouraging the United Nations to do something about Saddam Hussein. That it was Europe that took the initiative to shatter that governance, as you say.
HUTTON: Well, there’s two things there. First of all, I don’t think the French government actually played the Iraqi-UN issue particularly cleverly. There’s a lot of people within France, actually, who regard Chirac as having made a profound mistake. And the view is, is that he should have joined with the British, and sent troops to the Gulf.
There should have been 50,000 Frenchmen, 50,000 British soldiers, ready to go with American soldiers. But only if the second UN resolution had been passed. And that had he done that, he couldn’t have been accused of leading a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
MOYERS: For people who may not know, what are the surrender monkeys?
HUTTON: The surrender monkeys are the French.
MOYERS: Well, that’s what Americans think.
HUTTON: The surrender monkeys, the great accusation was by the NEW YORK POST, I think, was that the French were no more than that.
But that doesn’t mean, because one country miscued one issue, that the whole of Europe should be tarred with the brush of being surrender monkeys, useless socialists, hopelessly wet and feeble, in these international issues. The European approach is fundamentally to look to co-govern the world with the United States.
And we know, actually, that the reality is that the U.S. has more military power. Much more than Europe. We don’t expect to reproduce it. There’s no point in having… America’s got nine nuclear battle fleets, you know, at sea. What is the point of the Europeans building nine? You know. It’s ridiculous.
MOYERS: Good question.
HUTTON: I mean, America doesn’t even need nine. It’d be absurd to have 18. You know. We can look to the Americans to do that. And we will accept our role. Our role, in doing what’s required. There’s aid. There’s debt. There’s trade. There’s all kinds of ways in which there’s peacekeeping. There’s all kinds of ways, which Europe can play its role in a multilateral framework.
MOYERS: Europe, of all places, knows what happens when a dictator understands there’s no cop on the block. And aren’t the Europeans just a teeny weeny bit pleased that the United States took out the Middle Eastern equivalent of Adolf Hitler?
HUTTON: Oh, there’s no question. There is no question that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. And there’s no question that actually, of the Middle Eastern countries, Iraq is very well-placed to actually be an Arab democracy. And an Arab capitalist state.
MOYERS: So, what’s the beef?
HUTTON: The beef is the way it’s done. There’s absolute shared ends here. The beef is the means. It was vital that this was done in a way the world considered to be legitimate.
MOYERS: But you’re…
HUTTON: And now you’re seeing it. You’re seeing it with America shouldering this burden, of reconstructing Iraq pretty much alone. The British are trying to do their bit, but pretty much alone. And actually, although the UN is not great, and some of the calls it would have made might have been cleverer than some of the calls Americans have made. It’s not reasonable or fair for the Americans to have to do it by themselves.
MOYERS: If the United States had not acted, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and there wouldn’t be this chance, which even you concede, that the potential democratic state, where a dictator once ruled. If we had just waited, do you think it would have happened? Wouldn’t Saddam Hussein still be in power?
HUTTON: Well, I’m with Tony Blair on this. And I was… and Tony Blair, as you know, supported your President.
MOYERS: The strongest support.
HUTTON: I mean, but Blair was very anxious that this was done in a multilateral framework. He was very anxious to get that second UN resolution. He was anxious. He is anxious to have the UN playing a central role in the reconstruction of Iraq.
He wants to mobilize the world behind the reconstruction of Iraq. He wants the world to be in there, trying to build a democracy in Iraq. Shouldering the responsibility of being in there for five, ten, 20 years. And I think that Blair and his line on this is right. And I think there’s a lot of Americans who actually don’t disagree with Blair, do they?
MOYERS: No. But he did go along with the President, when the President said, “It’s do or die.” And I just saw a poll last weekend that said that Blair’s standing is higher then it’s been in years, and he’s likely to be Prime Minister longer than anyone else in modern British history.
HUTTON: If he wants to go on that long, yeah.
MOYERS: Well, he’s a young man. Fifty years old.
HUTTON: I know. Well, he’s certainly gonna win the next election.
MOYERS: So, this didn’t hurt him, by joining forces with George W. Bush, when the rest of Europe said no.
HUTTON: It hurt him within the Labour Party. And it’s hurt him in his relationships with the rest of Europe. But the rest of Europe also know that actually Blair is their way back to recreating a reasonable relationship with America. So, it has hurt him. But it’s also strengthened him. It’s not a story of win-win-win. Blair’s taken some collateral damage in this.
MOYERS: You say in here that Britain actually has to cast its lot with Europe. But your Prime Minister has cast his lot with America. There’s a paradox there.
HUTTON: Mr. Blair is a pro-European like me. Mr. Blair believes in that the world, essentially, is about the relationship between the European Union and the United States. We are the two areas which have got the most wealth, the most GDP. We account for most of the world’s trade.
And if that relationship goes down on us, then actually, it’s a world of blocks that starts to appear. A European block, an American block, an Asian block. Down that road, you see enmity. Down that road you see unilateralism. Down that road, you see trade war. Down that road, you see a collapse of prosperity. It’s in our mutual interest to do that. And so he says, “Let’s get Europe together. And then let’s get together with the states.”
MOYERS: But the United States just showed what it can do without the European Union in the Middle East.
HUTTON: The United States trades with the rest of the world. And the United States actually needs our money. This is one of the great things about the United States, which actually isn’t talked about much here. The United States owes the rest of the world $3 trillion.
HUTTON: A half of America’s national debt is owned by Europeans, Japanese, Asians.
MOYERS: You say that’s one of our weaknesses right now.
HUTTON: Well, it’s a weakness in this sense: that if they decide to sell them at the same time, as not buying all the fresh assets that come on stream, because you run a big trade deficit, the dollar’s gonna go down the pan. And you’re gonna have… and either that’s gonna be something you live with, and say, “That’s fine.”
Or you’re gonna say, “We want some support.” And you’re gonna look to the Europeans for support. The only central bank that’s got enough financial firepower to help out, if there was an absolute collapse of the dollar — which I’m not predicting, but I’m saying is a risk — would be the Europeans. I mean, Donald Rumsfeld would have to be part of an administration that actually turned to old Europe, who he absolutely detests, to actually support the dollar. I don’t think he’d ever do it. But that’s the financial reality.
MOYERS: In the opening, I mentioned several nascent acts of protest. The beginnings of some boycotts against American companies. What’s going on?
HUTTON: Well, what’s going on, is that for a long time America in Europe was, I mean, just seen as the best. Seen as modern. Seen as funky. Seen as the place to be. And you know, you want to drink Starbucks. You want to wear Nike shoes. You want to wear Levi jeans. You want to smoke Marlborough cigarettes. Sorry, but there are, Bill, still people that want to smoke in Europe.
You want you want to play American rock and roll. You want to use Microsoft and American IT technology. You know, not only because it’s good, but because it’s American. But for the first time in my lifetime, the fact of being American has actually… has now got downsized.
HUTTON: Because America is seen as a bully, actually. It’s seen as a country which is throwing its weight around. Making the world less secure. Not just for America, but for Europeans. And if the west is seen by the Arab world in particular and the rest of the world in general, as just a bunch of bullies who go into places, and open them up and then walk away again, we’re not gonna get the collaboration we need. This isn’t an argument about the ends. It’s an argument about means.
MOYERS: What specifically do you want America to do that we’re not doing right now?
HUTTON: I want America to get behind the United Nations. Maybe reform it, but get behind it. Not talk about isolating it. I want America to support and finance the IMF and World Bank.
I want America to really support the judgments that the World Trade Organization uses. And I want to work… I want it to sign the International Criminal Court. I want America to come in behind, maybe invent new institutions, with which we can govern globalization. It’ll always be, because it’s America, the most important voice at the table. It need never worry about that. It need never worry about that. But I want America to be at the table in a constructive way.
MOYERS: When you look at American democracy right now, what do you see that concerns you?
HUTTON: What concerns me about American democracy is the role of money. I think that since the 1970’s, money has been having a bigger and bigger influence on American politics. I’m very concerned about the structure of the way gerrymander is impacting on, you know, the character of Congressional districts, so that very little changes hands in national elections. So that, you know…
MOYERS: The incumbents have always the advantage. Because…
HUTTON: 98 percent of incumbents win in America, in elections. Which is amazing, by world democratic standards. It’s partly about the way Congressional districts are drawn. It’s partly about the role of money. At a national level.
At the local level, American democracy is really something I admire enormously. Then I’m very… that’s one thing I’m worried about. The second thing I’m worried about is the structure of your national debate.
MOYERS: The political debate?
HUTTON: The political debate. It has moved, in my view, not just so the center of gravity has moved to the right. You know, the center of gravity in countries moves to the right then moves back to the left. That’s fair enough. What I find disarming, is that the people who argue the liberal or the liberal left point of view and every democracy needs both. You need an argument in a democracy. You need…
MOYERS: An eagle needs two wings.
HUTTON: An eagle needs two wings. You need public debate. And you have…
MOYERS: You don’t find us having that?
HUTTON: I don’t find the liberal wing of American politics getting up there and saying things in a language that regular Americans understand and relate to sufficiently. My view is that Americans aren’t that different from Europeans. That you, like us, believe in an idea of the social contract, that proposition of the social contract is absolutely fundamental to a good society.
MOYERS: Give me your definition, in the kind of plain language you use here, of the social contract as you see it.
HUTTON: A social contract is everybody in a society coming together and insisting that the system works in a just and fair way. That they have access, that everyone has access to health.
MOYERS: But the…
HUTTON: That everyone has access to education. That everyone, at the starting gate of life, has the equal opportunity. And that all of life’s hazards — unemployment, growing old, having cancer — are taken care of by everybody underwriting it.
That is a social contract. The values about mutuality, about fairness, about generosity, about kindness. That is a social contract.
MOYERS: That’s what the philosopher Rawls called the infrastructure of justice? Is that what your point is?
HUTTON: That is what your American philosopher called an infrastructure of justice. And a good society has an infrastructure of justice. And Europeans have it. And actually, America, you know, this idea that America is somehow, you know, on a different planet from Europe, I find difficult to get hold of.
You know, an awful lot of Americans are the sons and daughters of European immigrants. And you hold the same values as we do. And you set about constructing your own social contract, starting with the New Deal, and following through with the Great Society program. That’s what you were doing. And you were right to do it.
Now, what American conservatives, it seems have been doing, is saying, “That’s coercive.” A social contract is coercive. Paying taxes is coercive.
And the notion that we the people can form a government that actually constructs a social contract that looks after our interests, has been written off as a socialist proposition. It’s not. It never was a socialist proposition.
MOYERS: But the conservatives say that ran its course. It was exhausted. It created an over-weaning, and burdensome government. And somehow along the way, the very people whom you say have made a moral argument for, say, intervention in the world, in Iraq, also have a moral claim on their argument. Their idea, that there’s an alternative in the social contract.
HUTTON: We all know that, you know, character matters. And what they’ve done is, they’ve said, “Let’s place at the heart of the argument, good character.”
Let’s say that a good character is a man who will work hard. A man who’s industrious. A bad character is someone who doesn’t work hard, and who is poor. And let’s actually… a good character is someone who’s not gonna want support from the state. The good character’s going to want to pay less tax.
A good character is going to be rich. In fact, the rich must be good characters. Otherwise, they couldn’t be rich. And you’re getting yourself into a kind of unbelievable world, in which poor people are seen as having poor characters, because they’re poor.
MOYERS: But this message seems to resonate with many voters’ sense of reality.
HUTTON: There’s a kind of crooked half-truth at the bottom of it. Because of course, character does matter. But character matters in the context of the social contract, then.
And so what American liberals have done, is just given up the… they haven’t, you know, made the case. They haven’t returned fire, if you like. They haven’t used, you know, good American language, that regular American people understand, in putting the counter-case. And they’ve fled the field.
And as a result, America’s social contract is in tatters. Your social mobility is falling. You have all kinds of problems that I think are avoidable. And, you know, what’s more — and here’s me as a Briton speaking — that has influenced the way thinking has developed in the rest of the world. That’s influenced the way thinking has developed in Europe. And that’s why I want to — not only want to get the Europeans to stand up for these ideas — but I also want American liberals to stand up for these ideas.
MOYERS: Have you, on your visit here, eaten any Freedom Fries?
HUTTON: I haven’t been offered any Freedom Fries. But if I’m offered them, I’ll certainly eat them.
MOYERS: Will Hutton, A DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE: WHY AMERICA SHOULD JOIN THE WORLD. Thank you for joining us.
HUTTON: Thank you very much for inviting me.
MOYERS: From your letters I know some of you are curious as to why journalists like me keep opening the Pandora’s box of democracy; why we come round and round to what ails America…things like the bribing of Congress, the desecration of the environment, corporate tax havens, secrecy, fraud on Wall Street, the arrogance of ideology or the pretensions of power. Do we delight in the dark side of human experience, you ask? Do we journalists never see good in the world?
I can only speak for myself, of course. And I confess to thinking of journalism as the social equivalent to a medical diagnosis. My doctor owes me candor; I pay him for it. Candor could save my life.
I like to think journalists are paid for candor, too; society needs to know what could kill us, whether it’s too many lies or too much pollution. Napoleon left instructions that he was not to be awakened if the news from the front were good; with good news, he told his secretary, there is no hurry. But if the news were bad, he said, “rouse me instantly, for then there is not a moment to be lost.” Think of journalism as a kind of early warning system — iceberg spotting in the choppy waters of democracy.
But there’s another reason for what we do. I’m reminded of it every year at this time, when my thoughts about the honor and respect we pay to our nation’s soldiers on Memorial Day are colored by its proximity to D-Day.
I was just ten years old when the allies landed on Normandy on June 6, 1944. I couldn’t then imagine what it must have been like on those beaches when our world was up for grabs and men spilled their blood and guts to save it. I never knew what it was like until fifteen years ago when I accompanied some veterans from Texas who had fought at Normandy and survived, and were now returning to retrace their steps. That’s Jose Lopez.
LOPEZ: I was really very, very afraid. That I want to scream. I want to cry and we see other people was laying wounded and screaming and everything and it’s nothing you could do. We could see them groaning in the water and we keep walkin’.
MOYERS: Jose Lopez went on to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest honor for gallantry in action. But searching for the place he had landed that day, he didn’t want to talk about the Medal of Honor. He just wanted to be alone with his thoughts.
Howard Randall took a bullet in his ankle and almost had his leg amputated. His buddy Edward Myers wasn’t so lucky.
RANDALL: He’s from the State of Washington, Puyallup, Washington. March 1, 1945. That was the same day I was wounded. He was behind me probably a hundred yards, maybe 200 yards. And he caught a piece of mortar fragment in the stomach, lived until that night. I didn’t know he’d died until a couple of days later.
MOYERS: Every Memorial Day I think about what these men did and what we owe them. They didn’t go through hell so Kenny Boy Lay could betray his investors and workers at Enron, or for a political system built on legal bribery. It wasn’t for corporate tax havens in Bermuda, or an economic system driven by the law of the jungle, or so that a handful of media buccaneers could turn the public airwaves into private sewers.
Sure, to paraphase Donald Rumsfeld, freedom makes it possible for people to be crooks, but so does communism, and fascism, and monarchy. Democracy is about doing better. It’s about fairness, justice, human rights, and yes, it’s about equality, too; look it up.
I was never called on to do what soldiers do; I’ll never know if I might have had their courage. But a journalist can help keep the record straight, on their behalf. They thought democracy was worth fighting for, even dying for. The least we can do is make democracy worthy of them.
That’s it for NOW. Thanks for watching. I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on April 10, 2015.