Going it Alone? World Reaction to the State of the Union Address

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Gallup showed that by a two-to-one margin, Americans thought President Bush made a convincing case for military action against Iraq in his 2002 State of the Union. But the president had yet to bring around two other important audiences — America’s old allies in Europe, and the rough and tumble Middle East. This episode of NOW with Bill Moyers reported on foreign reactions to the SOTU and what the president was saying to win support around the world.

Next, Bill talked to John R. MacArthur, publisher of HARPER’S MAGAZINE and author of the book SECOND FRONT: CENSORSHIP AND PROPAGANDA IN THE GULF WAR. He told NOW his thoughts on the State of the Union address and the PR spin that the government can exert on the media.

Finally, California — a pioneer in air quality protection — had just passed the first US law aimed at slowing global warming by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cars. Other states were poised to follow. And, in the midst of SUVs coming under increasing criticism, President Bush wanted to spend $1.2 billion developing a car that runs on hydrogen power. NOW examined the debate over fuel efficiency and went inside the grassroots movements led by Hollywood and religious groups to create consumer demand for cleaner burning cars.


MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. President Bush made his case for war this week, and the first scores are in on how he did.

The Gallup poll shows that by a 2-1 margin, Americans who watched the speech think he is making a convincing case for military action against Iraq.

But the President must also bring around two other important audiences, America’s old allies in Europe and the rough and tumble Middle East.

We have this report by NPR’s Deborah Amos and NOW’s Peter Meryash.

AMOS: The President’s speech, too late for prime time overseas, came with the morning coffee for America’s friends and allies. The President presented the case for war with Iraq to an increasingly skeptical international audience.

His words were an invitation to join in the campaign, but there was a warning, too. America is prepared to go alone.

BUSH [State of the Union]: All free nations have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks and we’re asking them to join us and many are doing so. Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.

KUPCHAN: Those words ruffle feathers in Europe and around the world, where the United States is seen as putting itself above the law.

AMOS: Georgetown University Professor Charles Kupchan writes about Europe and the United States in his new book, THE END OF THE AMERICAN ERA.

KUPCHAN: By trying to win votes here in the United States, by building support for the war here, he creates further estrangement between the United States and those countries listening abroad.

AMOS: And those countries are asking, why war now? UN inspectors have failed to find any solid evidence that Saddam is hiding an arsenal. Many say the inspectors need more to work and why should Washington choose war? That’s the job of the United Nations. Plus world leaders say an invasion now is a distraction from a more important concern — the war on terrorism.

Demonstrations are growing as protest movements gain momentum.

Russia has warned the U.S. against acting alone.

French and German leaders have raised sharp concerns over what they see as Washington’s rush to war. But even though Europe’s two powerhouses are balking, the administration seems unconcerned.

KUPCHAN: There is no question that President Bush would like to get as many European countries on board, would rather do this with a UN blessing than without, but I don’t think that European opposition at this point looks like it will be able to forestall a U.S. decision for war.

AMOS: What President Bush is counting on is what he calls a “coalition of the willing.” This week eight European leaders signed up in an op-ed article pledging support: Spain, Britain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Portugal.

The most willing partner by far is British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The United Kingdom is sending 30 thousand troops to the Gulf — one quarter of the country’s standing army. An armada of 15 British ships are already on the way.

BLAIR: We are the ally of the U.S. not because they are powerful, but because we share their values.

AMOS: But at home, Blair faces a revolt in his own party, and public opinion polls that question his crusade.

It was very different a decade ago when most of Europe sent soldiers to the Gulf to fight alongside George Bush, Sr. Now only two European nations — Britain and the Czech Republic — are sending troops. Is this a major rift in America’s European alliance? Many who study Europe say yes, and the strain will last long after the Iraq campaign is done.

KUPCHAN: The fundamental partnership that has really paved the way for progress in the international system since World War Two could be put at stake. The U.S. and Europe could be working against rather than with each other. And I think that really does open up a brand new era, and an era that neither side of the Atlantic will find particularly welcoming.

AMOS: Many of Iraq’s Middle East neighbors worry a new era is in store for them, too. So commentators pored over every word of the President’s speech.

Al Jazeera, the most popular Arab news channel, offered extensive coverage, including an interview with Paul Wolfowitz, a top ranking official at the Pentagon — one of the architects of the hard line towards Iraq.

ADEEB: I think Mr. Bush is going to take America and to take his allies and to take the world into big danger. I’m not convinced of what he has said, not because I’m anti-American, but he is not selling a marketable idea.

AMOS: Emad Edin Adeeb, an Egyptian talk show host, is the Larry King of the region. Like many Arabs, he’s now convinced Saddam is a bad and dangerous man, but more dangerous still, the daily violence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That issue rated just one line in the President’s speech. The Arab world took notice.

ADEEB: He’s neglecting his allies in Europe and he’s neglecting his friends in the Middle East. What he’s doing, he is creating a climate of terrorism.

AMOS: In Israel, terrorism, the homegrown kind, defined the national elections this week. The campaign overshadowed concerns about Iraq. Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon was returned to office. A close ally of President Bush, Sharon shares the President’s vision for Baghdad.

But that approach worries Yael Dyan. A former government minister and the daughter of Moise Dyan, one of Israel’s most famous war heros.

Dyan believes President Bush’s plan to attack Iraq could actually backfire by producing more terrorists.

DYAN: I’m not convinced. Perhaps from our own experience Israel has been using force and excessive force to combat terror, with no positive results.

AMOS: And Dyan says, like his father, this George Bush should look for a lot of partners…not try to go it alone.

DYAN: The last Gulf War was certainly based on a large coalition including Arab countries. I think this is of great importance so much so that I would be very careful if I had to take a decision…to take a war decision…without a very wide coalition.

AMOS: Any effective coalition must include Turkey. War with Iraq is on its border.

TV reporter Umit Enginsoy translated the President’s words for a wary audience back home.

Turkey, a crucial ally, was the first to sign on to the Gulf War coalition more than a decade ago; but times have changed.

ENGINSOY: The Turkish people want to see solid evidence that Saddam is really, really, really dangerous. And I suspect so far they have failed to see that.

AMOS: But with Turkey’s strategic border, the U.S. is pressing for more access to Turkish ports and airfields to open a northern front with Iraq.

ENGINSOY: Major, major, major damage will be felt if Turkey does not help the United States on this. Now, the relations between the two countries are defined in terms of a strategic partnership. And the U.S. can say, okay, we needed you at this time and you didn’t help us.

AMOS: Turkey wants help, too. With a failing economy, the government expects at least four billion dollars for their cooperation.

ENGINSOY: America will most probably prevail in Iraq. And if Turkey doesn’t cooperate, many people feel that Turkey will pay a price for that.

AMOS: For us or against us: after September 11th, President George Bush laid out the rules. It’s a whole new ball game that may come with a price.

KUPCHAN: The real peril ahead is that he will do so much damage to the international system in attacking Iraq that the gains to American security achieved through the fall of Saddam Hussein may be quite small compared to the fact that the United States wakes up in a very lonely world.

AMOS: A world the President appears prepared to accept.

MOYERS: Almost 100 years ago, Mark Twain made a speech in New York. He said, “There are two forces that carry light to all corners of the globe — the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here.”

These days, it’s radio and television that carry a President’s words to all corners of the globe. Naturally, every President tries to influence how reporters see the light. So on Tuesday, President Bush invited 11 television anchors and correspondents to lunch in the family quarters of the White House. He fed them well and tipped them off to what he was going to tell the world that night.

Dan Rather was there, Peter Jennings, Judy Woodruff and Wolf Blitzer, Tom Brokaw, Brit Hume and Jim Lehrer. John R. MacArthur was not there, and that’s no surprise.

John MacArthur, he’s called Rick, is publisher of “Harper’s Magazine,” the oldest political journal in the country. He’s also the author of this book, SECOND FRONT: CENSORSHIP AND PROPAGANDA IN THE GULF WAR. In it, he looks at how the government tried to shape the news coverage during the first Gulf War. He joins me now.


MACARTHUR: Thank you.

MOYERS: Full disclosure. I was, as you know, the press secretary in the first 18 months of the Vietnam War. My job was to put the best face on our efforts there. I am not, therefore, mentioned very favorably in your book.

But I came away from that experience with an even deeper concern for the importance of language in describing what’s happening in a war. What’s happening to the language in the build up to this war?

MACARTHUR: Public relations and advertising techniques have taken over the political discourse, especially when it concerns military matters, to a degree I don’t think the founding fathers could have imagined possible.

So now we talk about things like collateral damage, surgical strikes, regime change, flipping countries.

This is Newspeak. This is what George Orwell was describing in 1984.

And it’s become so pervasive now that the news media parrots it. They regurgitate it. And it deceives people.

“Well, collateral damage doesn’t really kill anybody. It’s not really bloody.” What they’re talking about, of course, is dead civilians.

A regime change is overthrow of governments — invasion and overthrow.

MOYERS: I want to show a very good report that aired earlier this week on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.

It’s by an able Pentagon correspondent, David Martin, and it goes right to this issue of language and reality.

Here it is.

MARTIN: If the Pentagon sticks to its current war plan, one day in March, the Air Force and Navy will launch between three and four hundred cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. More than were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War.

On the second day, the plan calls for launching another three to four hundred cruise missiles.

There will not be a safe place in Baghdad, said one Pentagon official, who has been briefed on the plan.

The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.

The battle plan is based on a concept developed here at the National Defense University.

It’s called “Shock and Awe,” and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy’s will to fight, rather than on the physical destruction of his military forces.

MOYERS: What do you think of as you watch that piece?

MACARTHUR: I look at the two words “shock” and “awe.” And “Shock and Awe” to me sounds like an advertising slogan designed to distract you from the idea that we’re going to have a firestorm in Baghdad that could kill tens of thousands of people.

If they really did what they’re contemplating doing in that report, you’re talking about tens of thousands of dead civilians. But “Shock and Awe” makes it sound like they’re just going to be standing there shocked and awed by the might of American power.

MOYERS: I was home on election night last November, and at 9:00 just as the first returns were coming in up on my cable channel news that was watching came two ads out of nowhere. I’d never seen them before, haven’t seen them since. But they were designed to air at just the moment the maximum political audience was watching.

Here they are.

ANNOUNCER: Even when the weather turns ugly, the forecast remains strikingly clear. Precision strike, Northrop Grumman, defining the future.

ANNOUNCER: Pulsing sounds bent on total destruction. What a cool game. If it were a game. Information warfare, bring it on. Northrop Grumman, defining the future.

MOYERS: What do they say to you?

MACARTHUR: Oh, it’s depressing. It’s treating people like children or babies. It’s saying to them that war is a video game, war is almost fun. And war is, of course, clean and bloodless.

It has nothing to do with war. But it has everything to do with people’s impression of the American style of doing war now. And it is, again, an example of what I would call subversion of the democratic process, because this sort of image is so pervasive now that people are beginning to believe it’s real.

MOYERS: It is real in the sense that it has true consequences.

I want to show you a report from the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw about the use of some of this precision bombing, some of this modern warfare with real consequences. Take a look at this.

This is Pentagon footage from Afghanistan. People begin emerging from the mosque. That’s one right there, a human being.

The signal is given…the button is pushed. There you go.

MACARTHUR: The misleading thing about that, again, is that, I’ll remind you, this is also something that people just don’t know. 90% of the bombs dropped in the first Gulf War were dumb bombs, conventional bombs. The real story of the first Gulf War is carpet bombing, from B-52s, Vietnam-era B-52s.

And these are facts that the Air Force will not dispute. Anybody who wants to call up can ask them.

The point is, is that people are treated to images of the 10% or the 15%. Maybe it’ll be a higher percentage this time of the precision bombs, some of which do work, many of which do work, that always hit their targets. And never show any blood, and never tear people’s bodies apart and never kill women and children.

MOYERS: Now, what we just saw happened in Afghanistan. We have the video given by the Pentagon, ostensibly, to the Nightly News. But no reporter could go to that village, could get there and see whether that… those bodies, were those terrorists, Al Qaeda operatives? Or whether they were ordinary worshippers coming out of the mosque.

MACARTHUR: Right. Now we’re onto the subject of censorship.

There is now change, of course, since Vietnam days when Lyndon Johnson permitted open coverage. There was no censorship to speak of in Vietnam. We’ve gotten to a point now where the American people cannot get a clear view of what happens in wartime because our government will not permit them to. They will not permit reporters to go to the front and see what happens in wartime.

MOYERS: You said in the SECOND FRONT that almost… that very few journalists got to see what was actually happening until much after the fact. They were in Saudi Arabia getting briefings from Schwarzkopf and others everyday. But they rarely left their hotels.

MACARTHUR: They rarely left their hotels. And the ones that went out in pools, as they called them, of reporters, got to see nothing.

They never managed to see any actual fighting. One reporter, John Balzar, of the Los Angeles Times got to watch a video of Iraqi soldiers being killed. It was an accident. He wasn’t supposed to see it. He wrote the story up and got in a lot of trouble. They never let him see any other videos because people back in Los Angeles got very upset by his description.

That’s, of course, what they’re trying to avoid, getting the American people upset about the consequences of fighting a war. Not just killing civilians, but killing soldiers, seeing our own soldiers killed or maimed. It’s all very upsetting. And it gives people a real notion of what our army is doing in our name.

This is a fundamental right, I think, in the American — it’s not written in the constitution — but it’s a fundamental right for Americans to know what the American military’s doing in its name.

MOYERS: The Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, they’re all saying that they’ve learned something from your book from the first Gulf War and they’re going to let journalists get up and see what’s happening at the front.

MACARTHUR: I think this is utter nonsense and you have to look at what they do, not what they say.

Look what they did in Afghanistan where there was no coverage, no front line coverage of combat and where even when reporters tried to go into villages that we bombed after the bombing, they were, in some cases like Doug Struck, of the Washington Post, held at gunpoint for hours.


MACARTHUR: By American army officers saying, “You are not allowed to come in and examine the damage that the American Air Force did.” Now, some reporters did get in.

MOYERS: Can you have freedom of the press in a war?

MACARTHUR: Sure you can. You had it in Vietnam, or at least you can have rules governing the press that permit them to see the action and report it in a reasonable way. Reasonably rapid fashion.

MOYERS: But the difference, Rick, is that we’re in a war were terrorism. I don’t deny that. I mean, these people want to kill us. This is a different kind of war we’re fighting now. Doesn’t national security prevail here?

MACARTHUR: Well, that’s, of course, what everybody says in wartime, that this is special.

That’s what they said in World War I when they passed the Espionage Act and during the Palmer Raids after World War I when they were rounding up left-wingers and so on and so forth.

This is special. Do we change the Constitution? Do we subvert the Constitution every time there’s a war, there’s a special circumstance? I would think not.

I would think that the glory of the United States and what makes us better, and certainly even from George Bush’s point of view, better than the sort of world that Saddam Hussein wants to live in or that Osama bin Laden wants to live in is the very notion of self-government.

That we’re responsible enough and intelligent enough and free enough to look at the information and make an informed judgment about what’s best for our country. And I don’t see that happening now.

I see a compliant media that just doesn’t fight back.

MOYERS: What grade would you give the American press in separating the spin from the facts?

MACARTHUR: I’d give the American press an “F,” a resounding “F.”

MOYERS: If you give the press an “F,” that means the propaganda must be working, the spin-meisters are working so you’d have to give the administration what, an “A”?

MACARTHUR: I’d give the administration an “A-plus.”

Not even Ronald Reagan does it as well as President Bush and Reagan was a natural actor.

With Bush you’re working with a guy who’s not a natural actor and they’ve managed to turn him into a great statesman and a great war leader and a guy who’s on the verge of launching a very, very risky military enterprise.

MOYERS: I thought that the President was very effective tonight in using plain language and simple terms to portray Saddam Hussein for the evil deeds that he has done. He didn’t seem to be making anything up on Tuesday night.

MACARTHUR: Yeah. There’s no question that his delivery has improved. But the veracity of his claims has not. The propaganda campaign this time you can date really from September 7th when Bush and Tony Blair come out and say, “There’s a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency that says that Saddam Hussein is six months away from building a nuclear weapon.” And Bush says, and I think I’m quoting, “I don’t know what more evidence we need.”

BUSH: We just heard the Prime Minister talk about the new report. I would remind you that, when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied, finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic… The IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon.

I don’t know what more evidence we need.

MOYERS: What happened to that evidence?

MACARTHUR: Okay, that story is floated over millions of television sets, and it takes three weeks for a newspaper to refute it. And of all newspapers, it’s not the New York Times or the Washington Post. It’s the Washington Times, a very conservative newspaper, right-wing I guess you could say, run by Sun Myung Moon.

Finally a reporter there does his job and calls a spokesman at Indiana for the IAEA And he says, “Not only was there no new report saying that Saddam Hussein was six months away from having a nuclear weapon; we’ve never issued any such report.”

But the spin meisters, the P.R. guys at the White House know that if they put a story out like this, they can count on the media being very slow to refute it, very slow on the uptake.

But at the time, it sowed panic and it drove the Congress more than anything else into voting for an open-ended war resolution.

MOYERS: There was also the story about the aluminum tubes and that proved not to be the case. What was that story?

MACARTHUR: Well, the day after the press conference we just watched, the White House leaks a story to a willing recipient, Judith Miller of the New York Times, saying that the Iraqis are acquiring aluminum tubes that are destined for a nuclear weapons program. Dick Cheney is on all the talk shows.

It’s called “blocking” in advertising terms, where you buy time on all the networks for products at the same time, so that everybody sees the same message at the same time.

The difference is that the White House gets it for free. They put everybody on the talk shows saying, “Aluminum tubes, aluminum tubes.” We’re heading towards a nuclear Armageddon because of the aluminum tubes. Now, it took, again, two, three months for this story to be refuted.

MOYERS: Both of these stories were false…

MACARTHUR: They were false, or…

MOYERS: And yet, the Senate… the Senate acted, in part, on those two stories?

MACARTHUR: Right. Senators and Congressmen were voting on false information.

MOYERS: But you know, there is great outcry about the press’s role in all of this. Maybe people don’t want a skeptical truth-telling press. Maybe they just want Americans to win the war.

MACARTHUR: Well, it’s one of those chicken-and-egg things.

If you ask people today: are they sorry that the American press was in Vietnam and told us at least part of the truth about Vietnam — because they didn’t tell us the whole truth about Vietnam they couldn’t — but they did tell us part of it, substantial parts of it.

Are we sorry that he we pulled out of Vietnam finally, in part thanks to the press? Are we sorry that one reporter stayed in Mogadishu in 1992 and took the photograph of the dead army ranger being dragged through the streets, which changed our policy, caused Bill Clinton to pull out of Somalia? Are we sorry that that photographer was there? We don’t know what we don’t know.

We can’t make a judgment about whether we need to know this information unless we’ve got it.

MOYERS: I saw this video of President Bush talking about Osama bin Laden last year.

Take a look at this:

BUSH: I want justice. And there’s an old poster out west, as I recall that said “Wanted: dead or alive.”

MOYERS: It has occurred to me that all the talk about getting Osama bin Laden means nobody’s asking where’s Osama bin Laden?

MACARTHUR: You saw in the State of the Union address that Bush mentioned Osama bin Laden not once.

He has disappeared in media terms and in public relations terms they’ve decided that he’s a nonperson and they’ve simply shifted the focus to Saddam Hussein.

They’ve also successfully shifted the focus away from Saudi Arabia.

MOYERS: You’re a journalist. You’re also an American citizen, you’re a father, you’re a husband, you’re all these things. How do you feel about all of this?

MACARTHUR: I feel very, very angry. And I also feel very unhappy because I did grow up during the Vietnam-Watergate era when I really did believe… you know, people say things are terrible now. I think things were worse in the ’60s between the race riots and Vietnam and all the trouble we had domestically. But we saw, as a people, that we could change the policy of our government, we could change leaders, we could stop a crazy war, we could address some issues dealing with race that would improve society.

And the journalists were part of the process. Seymour Hirsch and Woodward and Bernstein, just to name three, were the sort of people you could count on to go out and get the story, come hell or high water, and without fear of favor and inform the American people to help them make a change in their political lives.

But I’m also, as a citizen, I’m very angry because I don’t want to see my sovereignty and the sovereignty of the people I ride the subway with every day subverted.

I don’t think they’re getting a fair shake.

I think they’re getting… they’re being sold a bill of goods by slick advertising and P.R. people.

MOYERS: What if the President of the United States is right about Saddam Hussein?

MACARTHUR: Well, if the President of the United States is right, he’s right.

And I’m wrong, although I don’t think I disagree with the President of the United States about the fundamental character of Saddam Hussein. I think we disagree about other things, about process, about whether it’s right to invade or not.

But what if the President of the United States is wrong and we don’t know it? What if he’s wrong factually, he’s wrong morally and he’s wrong politically? On all these grounds, he’s wrong.

I hope, and I sincerely hope that Carl Rove, his political advisor, has a second scenario written, which goes like this. It says, “We declare victory. The Bush Administration has put steel in the spine of the UN Weapons Inspection process for the first time in memory. And we’re going to leave the inspectors in Iraq semi-permanently. And now let’s move on to North Korea. Let’s move on to Iran. Let’s expand the power of the UN rather than just focusing on Saddam Hussein.” That’s something I would approve of. I think that’s something that everybody would approve of.

And I’m hoping that in the next few days or the next few weeks that the democratic debate is revived to a degree that the administration says to itself, “You know, it might be better to declare victory and not invade Iraq.” But that, I’m afraid, is not likely to happen.

I think it’s gone too far now.

MOYERS: Rick MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine and author of SECOND FRONT: CENSORSHIP AND PROPAGANDA IN THE GULF WAR. Thank you very much.

MACARTHUR: Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW: Smallpox.

We thought it couldn’t happen again, but now the experts are worried.

What happens if terrorists use it as a weapon? President Bush has endorsed an aggressive defense and millions of vaccinations, but there’s a catch.

MAN: The vaccine itself can make you sick and can have serious adverse effects.

ANNOUNCER: The smallpox scare. Next week on NOW.

ANNOUNCER: And connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS Online at pbs.org.

Auto emissions — find out if your car is part of the problem. Explore world opinion about Iraq. And propaganda and history: the selling of war. Connect to NOW at pbs.org.

Once again, Bill Moyers.

MOYERS: Early in the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, we were introduced to a concept that must have struck millions of listeners as downright esoteric: hydrogen-powered automobiles.

There was President of the United States sounding as if he were an MIT scientist on a NOVA special.

BUSH [State of the Union]: A simple chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car, producing only water, not exhaust fumes.

MOYERS: The President said he wants to spend $1.2 billion for a car of the future, a car that’s at least a generation away.

It was the first time Mr. Bush has given any hint that he thinks fumes from our exhaust pipes can be a problem to our health.

And it was important coming from such a staunch friend of fossil fuel, the stuff we use now in our cars and trucks and much of which we get from the Middle East.

His announcement comes as the biggest gas-guzzlers of all are coming under increasing criticism, giving Mr. Bush a chance to do something about pollution now, long before any of us push the pedal to the metal of a hydrogen car.

NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling and NOW’s Brenda Breslauer report.

ZWERDLING: It’s one of the most amazing marketing stories in history. Twenty years ago, you’d never even heard of an “SUV” — a sports utility vehicle. Since then, the auto industry has convinced millions of Americans that they should drive a truck.

It’s an EXPENSIVE fantasy.

Many of the most popular SUVs are built on the bodies of pickup trucks. They get only 12 or 13 miles per gallon. Critics say that SUVs guzzle so much gas that they’re warping the nation’s policies. President Bush wants to drill oil in the Arctic wilderness. Critics say it’s partly to fuel SUVs.

BUSH [Energy speech]: As long as cars and trucks run on gasoline, we will need oil… and we should produce more of it at home.

ZWERDLING: The President’s threatening to invade Iraq over weapons of mass destruction, but SOME people are thinking about the oil.

Critics say if SUVs would just get better mileage, the country could save more oil than it’d get from Iraq and the Arctic combined. Some activists argue that SUVs are hurting the war on terrorism. Maybe you’ve seen this ad:


ZWERDLING: The critics say they’re not blaming consumers who buy SUVs. They say they’ve had it with executives who make them, and they’re fed up with politicians who protect them. It all goes back to the energy crisis in the 1970s. Arab countries cut oil shipments to the U.S., to protest American policies in the Middle East. Congress ordered the auto companies to make cars get way better gas mileage, so we’d depend less on foreign oil. But industry lobbyists got Congress to make an exception for so-called “light trucks” which now include SUVs. Today, activists across the country want to bypass Congress and force the auto industry to change.

BOWEN: I have listened to the Big 3 auto industry come in here and make an argument based on hiring lawyers and lobbyists and being obstructionist when they ought to hire engineers and make a better car. You’re gonna get eaten for lunch again.

ZWERDLING: One of the leaders of this insurrection is a state legislator in California named Fran Pavley. Pavley’s convinced that SUVs and other gas-guzzling cars are threatening the state’s future. That’s because the more gasoline that a car burns, the more carbon dioxide pollution it gives off. And studies suggest that carbon dioxide is one of the main causes of global warming.

PAVLEY: As the climate gets warmer, it’s going to affect the health and safety of people that live in our cities and our central valleys. It will have an impact on air pollution increases which is gonna affect people’s ability to breathe.

ZWERDLING: Pavley says the Bush administration is no help – in fact, it’s been trying to block a global treaty to prevent global warming.

PAVLEY: I was absolutely shocked with the lack of leadership in addressing this issue. And I was surprised at the level of anger by other countries around the world as they look to the United States to be a leader.

So she and fellow legislators decided that California should lead the way.

PAVLEY: Well, California, 35 million people, fifth biggest economy in the world. France, which has the sixth biggest economy and the United Kingdom, fourth biggest economy, they’re sure doing their fair share. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be.

ZWERDLING: In fact, the state has a long record of fighting pollution.

California’s auto pollution was so bad that the state started cracking down on the auto industry years before the federal government did. The state was the first to require catalytic converters. They were the first to demand cleaner gasoline. And last year, Pavley proposed a bill that said, Let’s require the auto companies to make sure that every car they sell in California produces less carbon dioxide pollution. The auto industry flipped. They blitzed the state with ads. The industry used a well-known car salesman as a front-man.


One of the industry’s most powerful allies was a radio show.

The John and Ken show doesn’t have any official connection to the auto industry but they gave the industry’s arguments a voice. A loud voice.

JOHN: What it comes down to is, they’re going take away your SUV and minivan. They’re not going to be able to sell them in the state of California anymore.

JOHN: It’s them telling us what to drive that we should drive cars based on the government’s terms.

ZWERDLING: And what’s wrong with that?

JOHN: Not on our personal preferences!

ZWERDLING: What’s wrong with that, given that there are environmental issues, global warming?

JOHN: I really, truly think that global warming is at this point exaggerated. Now come on. The sky is not falling and we’re not gonna all get drowned by the oceans here. It’s just hysteria. Haven’t you heard something like that every day of your life? Haven’t you heard about the world is gonna end since we were little kids? Doesn’t it get tiresome after a while? Yeah, yeah, yeah, the world is gonna end. Okay.

ZWERDLING: The show rallied listeners, they barraged the bill’s supporters with calls.

JOHN: You gotta keep calling everybody, you have to call and keep calling and calling, we’ve given out the number a thousand times.

ZWERDLING: In fact, the show’s callers reportedly paralyzed the phone systems at the governor’s and Pavley’s offices.

JOHN: Gee, isn’t that democracy? I mean everybody complains how apathetic everyone is and how people don’t take stands on issues and they don’t watch TV or listen to the radio and they’re not involved and they don’t know the details. So then we do it and suddenly we’re guerilla leaders. And we’re trying to sabotage the other side. We paid for those phone lines. We can call them up and say stop with your silly SUV law.

ZWERDLING: Despite what the auto industry implied in its campaign, Pavley’s bill did not say that the state could ban SUVs. The bill did say that the industry would have to redesign them as a way of fighting global warming.

PAVLEY: Well, I was absolutely shocked. My background is, you know, I’m a middle school teacher. And to see corporate America just come out so strongly against the bill especially with the approach they took in spreading the lies and misinformation.

ZWERDLING: But Pavley’s bill passed, and now it’s law.

GOVERNOR DAVIS: Our opponents will say the sky is falling. They said the sky was falling when we introduced unleaded gasoline. They said it about the catalytic converter. They even said it about seat belts and air bags. My friends, the sky is not falling. It’s just getting a lot cleaner.

ZWERDLING: California’s new law has shaken the automakers. The state buys ten percent of the nation’s cars, so when California wants things to change, the whole industry tends to follow.

WHITE: We’re going to get the car companies to build better cars sooner than they otherwise would.

ZWERDLING: John White is an environmental consultant. He helped lead the campaign to pass the bill.

WHITE: I think what we did in California is going to affect the future of automotive technology in the United States. And I think it’s also the first time a unit of government in the United States has stepped up to the challenge of global warming in the face of industry opposition and had the forces for protecting the planet win.

ZWERDLING: But the auto industry is threatening to sue California to overturn the law. Larry Burns is a vice president at General Motors. Burns says a state shouldn’t force industry to make more efficient cars — only the federal government has that power. Burns says if every state made its own rules, it’d put industry in a tough position.

BURNS: We truly believe that issues like carbon dioxide associated with the potential concern with global warming are best managed at a federal level.

ZWERDLING: And how’s the White House responding to California’s new law? Nothing official so far, but there are clues. The Justice Department has joined General Motors and DaimlerChrysler in a lawsuit to try to kill a similar California rule. Critics say it’s not surprising, when you consider that the former top lobbyist at General Motors is now Chief of Staff at the White House — Andrew Card. According to sources on Capitol Hill, Card led the industry’s campaign in the 1990s to quash efforts, to make SUVs and other cars more efficient. And all this makes John Burton furious. He’s head of the California Senate.

ZWERDLING: The Bush administration officials say this sort of law that you just passed to control pollution coming out of automobiles, this is something for the federal government to do.

BURTON: No, no, this is something they don’t want done. It’s got nothing to do with who’s gonna do it. They don’t want it done and they were able to kill it at the federal level. I mean so they aren’t saying you should have fuel efficiency at the federal level — they’re saying you shouldn’t have it.

ZWERDLING: Auto industry executives and Bush Administration officials have said that they might sue.

BURTON: I mean are you serious? Are you serious with the questions you’re asking? I mean, you quote the automobile industry like they’re just some kind of neutral force for good government that’s gonna sue. They don’t want anybody to tell them what to do. The auto industry could make these cars in a heartbeat.

ZWERDLING: Industry leaders say that’s ridiculous. Sue Cischke is one of top executives at Ford in charge of new technology.

CICSHKE: You know if you said tomorrow, ‘I can give you that size vehicle with all the attributes that you want and I can give it to you at 50 miles per gallon at the same cost as you do today,” do you think anybody would not want to do that? There’s nothing that’s holding us back, other than the laws of physics.

ZWERDLING: Why should anyone who’s listening to you now believe what you and other auto executives say? Let me talk about the history.

1966, Henry Ford says that if the companies have to install seat belts and safety windshields, they might have to close down. 1972, GM executives warn that if they’re forced to improve fuel economy, their factories might have to shut down. 1987, auto executives warn that if they have to reduce auto pollution, it could cripple the U.S. economy. And just last year, industry spokesmen said that the bipartisan Senate proposals to make cars more efficient would basically outlaw SUVs.

CISCHKE: Well, I think that we are unfortunately the victims of our own successes. Because all those challenges that you talked about were pretty daunting changes in those time frames. I think it’s unfair to say you guys have a track record of not telling us the truth. Because at the time when they said those things, we really did believe that.

WHITE: They aren’t changing the fundamental technology that’s available that could reduce pollution and make the vehicles more efficient because they don’t want to spend the money now.

ZWERDLING: He says of course executives don’t want to spend millions of dollars redesigning their SUVs. According to financial analysts, the companies make more money selling an SUV than just about any other car on the road. They average $5000 extra profit…per SUV.

WHITE: I think the temptation right now they’re succumbing to is that everything’s fine like it is. [They’re making money, they’re selling product. Let’s keep it going just a little bit longer.]

CISCHKE: Nobody’s holding back technology because we think we’re not going make as much money off of that. This is a competitive business. Don’t write us off as that we’re not trying to do this stuff because it’s in our best interest to do that.

ZWERDLING: But the National Academy of Sciences declared recently that the auto companies could easily make SUVs go farther on a gallon of gas and the cars could be just as powerful as they are today.

FRIEDMAN: Well the automakers, if they would put their engineers and production workers to work, we can get to 40 miles per gallon within the next 10 years.

ZWERDLING: David Friedman’s an engineer, he studies SUVs for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

FRIEDMAN: The reality is that the technology is out there so the consumers can get better cars, better SUVs with twice the fuel economy. And so consumers can have more choice.

ZWERDLING: A few weeks ago, the group called a rally in Los Angeles to show American automakers that the Japanese are showing them up again. These car owners are part of a new crop of activists who are determined to force the industry to change.

One of the biggest proselytizers is the actor, Ed Begley Jr.

BEGLEY: This is a hybrid electric vehicle. You never plug it in. You just put in gas like every car on the road. But it gets 51 miles per gallon. You can kick the tires.

ZWERDLING: These so-called “hybrids” run partly on electricity, partly on gasoline. Toyota and Honda started selling them a few years ago. These particular models are small, but advocates say the industry could use the same technology to transform SUVs.

ZWERDLING: I’m not going to know what I’m looking at by the way.

BEGLEY: Well, I’ll show you, I’ll talk you through it. Right here we have the electronic carburetor if you will. It’s called a controller.

The electric motor’s mounted on the trans axle.

ZWERDLING:It’s interesting, I mean there’s a sort of environmental chic thing happening in Hollywood right now.

BEGLEY: People want to put their money where their mouth is. They don’t just want to talk about these things, they want to do it.

ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT ANCHOR: Both Leo and Cameron have put their words into action. They drive the gas-electric hybrid Toyota Prius.

DICAPRIO: I just came up in mine.

MARIA: How do you like it?

DICAPRIO: It’s great.

DIAZ: I love my new little car. It gets 52 miles per gallon in the city.

ZWERDLING: The political columnist Arianna Huffington got her epiphany behind the wheel.

HUFFINGTON: I was doing carpool one day, taking my then ten-year-old to school. And I saw this SUV next to me that had four American flags on it. And I thought to myself, “You know what? It would be much more patriotic to just dump the thing than festoon it with American flags.”

And then I thought, “What about my SUV?”

ZWERDLING: Huffington traded in her Lincoln Navigator — it got about 13 miles per gallon — and she bought a Japanese hybrid instead. Now she’s organized a group that’s using guilt as their weapon. They’re trying to place controversial ads around the country.

And now there’s one more group of activists who are trying to convert the automakers and transform SUVs.

BALL: We’ve been asking this question, what would Jesus drive?

ZWERDLING: Jim Ball says the slogan is partly a gimmick.

BALL: We pose it to capture people’s attention. Our hope was that after they had said, “Oh gosh, isn’t that amusing? What would Jesus drive, ha, ha” that they would actually start taking the question seriously.

ZWERDLING: Ball’s a minister, he grew up southern Baptist. He’s running this campaign for the Evangelical Environmental Network.

BALL: I started looking at all the ways that we impact God’s creation. And then I started reading that transportation is the single largest way that we impact God’s creation. The single largest way that we contribute to pollution.

ZWERDLING: Just before Christmas, Ball and other religious leaders went to the mountaintop. They went to see the automakers in Detroit.

A group of nuns chauffeured them in a small fleet of Japanese hybrids.

BALL: We’re going to visit with Mr. Ford at Ford headquarters.

ZWERDLING: As Jim Ball drove to the meetings, he coached himself with a passage from the Bible: “Be wise as a serpent.”

BALL: To be wise as a serpent in terms of meeting with Bill Ford is to know that he runs a huge company that is in the business of making a profit, and that sometimes can conflict with moral concerns.

ZWERDLING: Ball had moral support from other ministers, a nun and a rabbi.

CISCHKE: I was part of the meeting and I think that what was a little bit of a surprise to me is kind of the reaction that only a small group of people care about the environment.

ZWERDLING: So the religious leaders offended you a little bit?

CISCHKE: No, I wouldn’t say that. I just think that one of the things that came out in the dialogue is we’re human beings also and we care about the same things they care about.

ZWERDLING: And there are signs that the executives are starting to hear the clamor…or maybe they’re worrying about competition from Japan. All of a sudden, it seems like industry leaders are jockeying to be the first to sell an efficient SUV. Ford’s promising to sell one model of their SUVs that’ll get 40 miles a gallon, by next year. GM just announced that they’ll test-market several hybrid models. And both companies are working on the futuristic car that President Bush talked about, in his State of the Union speech: a car that runs on hydrogen.

BURNS: And we believe we’re at a point in the history of the automobile to dramatically reinvent the automobile. That’ll allow us to give our customers the kinds of cars and trucks they truly aspire to own.

ZWERDLING: Although the Energy Department has predicted that there won’t be many of those for another couple of decades. And history is littered with industry roadblocks.

And history suggests that the companies make sweeping changes only when government demands them. So far, there’s no sign that this government is about to do that. Administration officials said recently that they’re finally going to force the industry to improve all SUVs and other light trucks a tiny bit. Over the next few years, they’ll have to get an extra 1½ miles per gallon.

MOYERS: A footnote: when the President talked about those fuel-efficient hydrogen cars, he didn’t mention SUVs. He didn’t tell us that tucked into his economic plan is a little proposal that could triple the tax deduction that a business can use to buy those gas-guzzlers.

Listening to the president’s State of the Union speech, I was reminded of my own experience working on presidential speeches many years ago for LBJ.

We, too, practiced the adage to “accentuate the positive.” What we didn’t say was often more telling than what we did; we never put a price tag on the Vietnam War, for example; we wanted a cheap war and a great society, and got neither.

Mr. Bush this week was expansive on what he wants, and silent on the total bill for it. You may remember he fired the adviser who publicly predicted the war against Iraq would cost as much as $200 billion; now no one’s talking, except to admit the Pentagon has no reliable estimate of the ultimate price.

In his State of the Union speech last year, Mr. Bush said the federal budget deficit “will be small and short term.”

He said nothing about it this year, although we now know that the budget to be released on Monday will show a deficit of $300 billion or more — the largest deficit in American history. The largest — and that’s before the cost of the war is added on, or the cost of occupying Iraq once Saddam Hussein is gone.

Watching Mr. Bush grow intense and animated and eloquent as he made the case for war — and hearing the exuberance that filled Washington and the pundits’ chatter afterward — I was reminded of a speech by Abraham Lincoln back in 1848.

He was Congressman Lincoln then, he voted against war with Mexico, and he lamented the coming of that “attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood, that serpent’s eye that charms to destroy.”

The price of Mr. Bush’s war is yet to be reckoned.

That’s it for NOW. I’m Bill Moyers.

This trancript was entered on March 30, 2015.

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