NOW tells the inside story behind the radical expansion of Medicare, which some say was packaged to court crucial senior votes in an election year. Then, Bill takes a closer look at the faith-based pro-choice movement before sitting down with Morning Edition’s Bob Edwards to talk about the state of the press in America. He ends the show with an essay on “shock and awe” in Fallujah.
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You can access the original web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. When Congress passed the Medicare prescription bill that was a big priority for President Bush, it was a very close vote. Opponents said “buyer beware.” Well, it turns out they were right. Election year politics has produced a pig in a poke. Sylvia Chase set out to find out what went wrong. Like millions of you — and me — she has a personal stake in the results. Here’s her report, produced by Brenda Breslauer.
CHASE: Tommy Thompson leaves the Capitol at dawn after a long, but triumphant night’s work, yet the sweet smell of early morning success will shortly take on the sour odor of scandal for the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The President’s man has helped strongarm a reluctant Congress to pass a new Medicare law. Left in the secretary’s wake, a House floor littered with bruised egos, twisted arms and political IOU’s written in red ink. All on behalf of a White House courting the elderly vote for a Republican President.
Nearly half a century ago, Medicare was a brainchild of Democrats, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson with former President Harry Truman sitting beside him — the sort of big tax-supported program for which liberals have always been criticized.
Now a conservative President has proudly signed a measure to grow Medicare. It adds hundreds of billions of dollars in debt for U.S. taxpayers over the next ten years and delivers huge chunks of those funds to corporations.
The story of how that came about is a long and twisting tale, laced with the kind of intrigue that gives Washington politics a bad name. We’ll get to that.
But first you need to know that “new Medicare” provides prescription drug benefits for all seniors, regardless of financial need. Some conservatives say that just means more red ink for the nation. Former official in the Reagan administration, Dr. Robert Moffit:
MOFFIT: One of the difficulties that we’re facing with the Medicare program is that we’re going to treat the retired librarian or the retired teacher the same way we treat Donald Trump and Bill Gates. It’s a mistake.
CHASE: Moffit, now shapes health policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation. One in five voters is over 65, a reality he says motivated fellow Republicans to compromise principle.
MOFFIT: Overwhelmingly their political advisors said “Look, if you’re gonna get out and make an argument for Medicare expansion, don’t exclude anybody. Cover everybody. That is the way you get votes. This is an attractive thing to do. And you will steal the issue from the Democrats.” And that’s what’s happened.
CHASE: So this is politics, this is politics.
MOFFIT: It’s always been politics. Medicare is about politics.
CHASE: And from left to right and in between, there’s profound exasperation. Congressman Charles Rangel, a Democrat.
RANGEL: I voted no because I thought in the long run this would be the end of Medicare.
CHASE: Republican Congressman Dan Burton also voted “no” on new Medicare.
BURTON: This is one thing I hope you’ll put in your interview. I am a very strong supporter of President Bush. And I hope he’s reelected. However, I think the passage of this bill was a major mistake.
CHASE: Some disclosure now, I am a card carrying member of the Medicare generation. Like most seniors, I knew little more than the vague outlines of the new Medicare law when I took this assignment. I’ve learned the good thing is almost 5 million seniors will benefit immediately from this bill. They’re low income people, expected to apply next week for subsidized drug discount cards.
But parts of the program that go into effect in 2006, well after the election, ought to have taxpayers — and that includes most seniors — fearful for their checkbooks.
First, there’s the so-called doughnut hole, a wacky coverage gap that will be discovered by seniors who decide to buy into the new drug plans. For the majority of seniors, it will work like this.
After you pay a monthly fee and annual deductible, the plan pays 75% of prescription drug costs until your drug expenses reach $2250.
Then coverage stops; you’re on your own paying 100% of drug costs. That’s why they call it the donut hole, because the center of the benefit is cut out. Until you reach $5100 in drug spending.
Then the plan kicks in again, paying 95% of drug costs.
If you get to this level of coverage, add in monthly fees and deductible you’ve paid out a total of $4020.
MOFFIT: The question was, how could you provide a universal benefit without the donut hole? And the answer is, you couldn’t. Because if you didn’t have the donut hole, the cost of the benefit would explode beyond the budget allocated amount.
CHASE: And there’s an unintended consequence of the new law. Retirees who today have prescription coverage from former employers are in jeopardy of losing it.
MOFFITT: Employers are going to look at this. They’re gonna say, “Look why should I pick up the tab for retirees if the taxpayers are gonna pay for the drug benefit?”
CHASE: So what did Congress do? It tacked on an $89-billion subsidy to encourage employers to continue retiree medical coverage, but nothing in the law prevents companies from taking the subsidies and scaling back benefits anyway.
MOFFIT: The coverage will be lower. The value of the drug benefit will be less. And the blame for this will go on the Congress.
CHASE: Well, do they deserve the blame?
MOFFIT: Yes, they do.
CHASE: It isn’t only what is “in” the law that is controversial. When Medicare started to promote the new law to seniors, paying for advertising with taxpayer money, there was more than met the eye.
Exhibit A: Medicare’s “Video News Release.” It’s really a commercial, dressed up to look like a news report with no indication it came from the government. Taxpayers paid for it. Television news directors around the country received it. And forty stations actually used it; in this case, introducing it as if it were a reporter’s work.
Frank Clemente of the watchdog group Public Citizen calls it Bush propaganda.
CLEMENTE: And so, this is almost like free advertising for him. And the taxpayer paying for free advertising for him.
CHASE: The Government Accounting Office is investigating. There were headlines when it was revealed that the paid narrator is a public relations consultant, posing as a reporter. The public had no way to know it was a fake news story.
But savvy media watchers weren’t fooled. This is Comedy Central’s DAILY SHOW.
CORDDRY: Jon, in my 25 years as THE DAILY SHOW’s senior media ethicist, I have never seen anything like this. It’s more than a little embarrassing.
STEWART: You’re embarrassed for this White House?
CORDDRY: No, Jon. I’m embarrassed for us. I mean, we’re the ones who are supposed to know how to do the fake news. I saw that Medicare piece. They are kicking our a**.
STEWART: Well, I don’t—
CORDDRY: Jon. They created a whole new category of fake news, a hybrid. “Info-ganda.”
CHASE: There is nothing fake about the anger some conservative Republicans feel about the high costs of this new Medicare law and their unsuccessful attempts to limit them.
BURTON: In the Medicare prescription drug bill, the government of the United States, the Health and Human Services Agency cannot negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for lower prices. In other words, we have to pay the price that they want to charge. There’s no negotiation whatsoever.
CHASE: Congressman Burton believes in free markets, and in making the best deal you can. He reasoned that lower costs would result if the government used its enormous purchasing power to negotiate the best price on prescriptions for seniors. But thanks to drug-industry lobbying, the bill forbids it, says Burton.
Do I understand you to say that it was the pharmaceutical and drug industry that put that measure into the bill which forbids the United States government from negotiating prices?
BURTON: The pharmaceutical industry has over 600 lobbyists in Washington. We only have 535 members of the House and Senate. There’s more than one per member. And they’re up here all over the place, lobbying.
EMERSON: It’s very frustrating to have to deal with an army of lobbyists. It’s very frustrating to deal with an industry that refuses to put people before profit.
CHASE: Missouri Republican Joann Emerson helped lead the fight in the House against the drug lobby on another cost-cutting issue, making it legal and safe to buy prescription drugs in Canada and Europe.
EMERSON: A bottle of Tamoxifan used to fight breast cancer costs $360 in the United States. It costs $60 in Germany.
My goal was pretty simple. And that was to try to give the senior citizens an ability to buy their prescription drugs at the same cost as people in Canada or the European Union buy their drugs
EMERSON: Our seniors deserve better.
CHASE: Emerson lost. And so, say other critics, did seniors pointing out new Medicare’s intention to change profoundly the way many seniors get their health care. 88% today go to doctors of their own choice. The administration expects to spend $46-billion over the next decade, though, to subsidize managed care companies so that seniors find the benefits in the private plans more attractive — even though they often end up limiting your choice of doctor. These managed care companies, known as HMO’s and PPO’s, are mostly for-profit corporations.
CLEMENTE: They’re getting a huge windfall out of this legislation.
CHASE: Doesn’t private enterprise work better than the government?
CLEMENTE: The ironic thing about the Republican administration which, you know, feels very strongly about free enterprise— and they’re— This to me is total corporate subsidy.
CHASE: Frank Clemente is a former Democratic congressional aide. As a director of Public Citizen, he now scours public records on lobbying. His forthcoming report shows that in 2003, the managed care industry employed 207 lobbyists to work on Medicare, spending, according to a preliminary estimate, more than $32 million. Only the tip of the iceberg, according to this tally. The drug industry spent an estimated $100 million to send 750 lobbyists to try to influence Congress.
CLEMENTE: It’s the most powerful lobby in Washington DC. They’re like a giant octopus. They’ve got their tentacles everywhere.
Was money talking when new Medicare entered its final passage last fall? It ended up in a conference committee, a forum where Senators and Representatives from both parties traditionally hammer out differences, but when it came time to meet, House Democrats like Charles Rangel were shut out.
RANGEL: They would move the meetings around. They would not say that there were conferences. They did make some public statement that the only Democrats that would be invited to participate in the conference which I was appointed to would be those Democrats that were willing to cooperate.
CHASE: That was only the beginning of a peculiar series of events.
The conference committee posted a final version of the bill on a Web site at midday, November 21st, the printed version took up 678 pages. There was little time to read it, though, much less analyze it. Within hours, the Republican leadership was already calling for debate. It was nearing midnight on a Friday.
RANGEL: This must be a very important piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker. It is ten minutes to 12. When else would the majority bring out an important piece of legislation in the middle of the night?
CHASE: Next, the voting didn’t begin until 3 a.m.
Normally voting ends at 15 minutes, but by 3:16, the bill was losing, 209 to 194, with a number of Republican conservatives joining the no column. But the Republican leadership wanted to deliver a Medicare victory to the White House, despite conservative resistance. Voting continued for another two and a half hours.
BURTON: It’s extraordinary to keep the machine open, the voting machine open for more than 10, or 15 minutes, unless you have leadership or somebody coming back from the White House.
CHASE: The vote-courting was relentless.
EMERSON: When it comes down to one vote, two votes and you need to find every single person you can, obviously the leadership will look for all ‘no’ votes to see if they can switch them.
RANGEL: I’ve never seen anything like it in my life and I come from the hard ball school from the state of New York.
CHASE: On his way home from London, President Bush had gotten into the act earlier in the day, personally phoning members of Congress from Air Force One. No sooner had he hit the ground than he was at it again.
At 5 a.m. on Saturday, when the bill was still in trouble, he got on the phone again from the White House. The pressure from the President and his allies was fierce.
Jo Ann Emerson took refuge from fellow Republicans.
EMERSON: I was actually on the floor over on the Democratic side standing behind the back rail.
CHASE: So you were trying to stay out of harm’s way?
EMERSON: I was just hiding a little bit, yeah.
BURTON: I sat there, because I wanted to try to help my colleagues, who might be swayable, if you will, to hang tough. And I talked to some of them about that when they were surrounded, and they were trying to change their votes.
CHASE: One target: Congressman Nick Smith of Michigan. He said he was caught between House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Medicare’s boss of bosses, Secretary Tommy Thompson.
Smith later wrote on his Web site that the pressure from lobbyists and fellow Republican congressmen that night went over the line.
“Bribes and special deals were offered to convince members to vote yes,” he wrote. “I was targeted by lobbyists and the congressional leadership to change my vote. Other members and groups made offers of extensive financial campaign support and endorsements for my son Brad.”
Brad Smith is running for his father’s House seat this fall. Nick Smith told a Kalamazoo radio station there was a $100 thousand offer on the table to help Brad win.
NICK SMITH [on radio]: I said “No, I’m gonna stick to my guns on what I think is right for the constituents in my district.” They said, “Well, if you don’t change your vote — this is about 4 a.m. Saturday morning — then some of us are gonna work to make sure your son doesn’t get to Congress.”
CHASE: Nick Smith held fast that night but the House ethics committee has launched an investigation into the bribery allegation.
Other Republicans yielded to the fierce pressure. It took until 5:53 a.m., but the bill finally passed by a splinter-thin margin 220 to 215, with 16 Democrats joining the majority.
All told, it had taken nearly three hours, the longest vote in the history of the house.
HOYER: Democracy is about voting. And just as you cannot say on Tuesday of Election Day, “We’ll keep the polls open for 15 more hours until we get the result we want,” you ought not to be able to do it here, Mr. Speaker.
CHASE: There was more fallout to come and it was scandalous.
The pricetage on the Medicare bill the President signed was $395 billion. That was an important figure, because several fiscal conservatives said they wouldn’t vote for a bill costing over 400 billion dollars.
But it turns out, higher estimates had been calculated by the Medicare administration six months earlier.
BJORKLUND: We had suspected for many, many months that the administration had known all along that its estimates were significantly higher.
CHASE: Cybele Bjorklund is a senior staffer for Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee. She regrets that members of Congress didn’t know the full story about the cost of the bill when they voted on it.
BJORKLUND: They should’ve known that there was a higher estimate out there from a credible group of professional analysts.
CHASE: The man behind the higher estimate holds one of those jobs in Washington that seldom gets any attention but that makes the government run. Richard Foster is what’s called an actuary. He estimates costs for Medicare and traditionally shares his knowledge with Congress. Last June, calculating an early version of the bill, Foster wanted to tell Congress its estimates were too low, that the bill would actually cost 500 billion dollars or more. But Richard Foster was muzzled.
BJORKLUND: Foster confirmed for me that at least some of the analysis was complete. But said that he was unable to give it to me and that if he did so he might be fired.
CHASE: Foster had been threatened, he said, by Thomas Scully, then head of the Medicare administration.
So Cybele Bjorklund called Scully up.
BJORKLUND: When Mr. Scully and I eventually talked later that night, he said if Foster gave me the information he would fire him so fast his head would spin.
CHASE: And this internal email, made public by the WALL STREET JOURNAL, makes the point even clearer. A Scully deputy tells Foster, “Please work up the numbers and share them with Tom Scully only, no one else. “The consequences for insubordination are extremely severe.”
And that’s not all you need to know about Thomas Scully. Just a month before he muzzled Foster, Scully had consulted his agency’s ethics office and was granted a waiver of rules that forbid negotiating for a job in the private sector, rare for a senior policy official. It was signed by Secretary Tommy Thompson. Scully would ultimately talk to at least three law firms and two investment firms.
CLEMENTE: All five of those companies had very substantial clients or investments in health-related products or they were lobbying for the drug industry, for drug companies.
CHASE: Scully has been in and out of high-level government jobs. As a Washington lawyer and lobbyist, he has focused on healthcare. He had been running Medicare for more than two years when he asked for the ethics waiver — a questionable move, if not a conflict of interest, in Clemente’s opinion.
CLEMENTE: That was his point of maximum influence. He could have waited. And he could have come out and any company would have snatched him up in a matter of days.
CHASE: Scully resigned from Medicare three weeks after the bill passed and a week after the new law was signed, announcing he had accepted a job at Alston and Bird, a law firm that lobbies on behalf of several health industry clients that will be affected by the Medicare legislation.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I appreciate Tom Scully, the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for his good work.
CHASE: Remember, it was Scully who suppressed Medicare’s internal estimate of the cost of the bill. The suppressed estimate came to light after the bill was already law.
BURTON: After we passed it, we found out it wasn’t gonna cost $400 billion over ten years, it was gonna cost $534 billion. And so had that been known, I’m sure it wouldn’t have passed.
BJORKLUND: I work for politicians but I’m hired to provide them with advice and technical assistance on policy matters. And for me the matters in this bill are very serious on a policy level. And what’s upsetting to me having worked on these issues is to see something in law that I think is very dangerous and detrimental to the program and to the people it serves.
CHASE: And the actuary who calculated Medicare’s higher estimate, he finally got to share his story with Congress last month.
RANGEL: Did you feel that this type of response from Mr. Scully in any way interfered with your professionalism in terms of what traditionally had been your job as related to responding to members of Congress and their staff?
FOSTER: Yes, sir. I thought it was inappropriate. It struck me as a political basis for making that decision. I considered that inappropriate and, in fact, unethical.
CHASE: Foster’s ultimate boss, Secretary Thompson told reporters, “There seems to be a cloud over this department because of this,” and announced his inspector general would investigate Foster’s charge that he was muzzled.
Tom Scully has since said that he hadn’t threatened to fire Richard Foster, that he was only joking. He also said the furor over the exact cost of the Medicare bill was “all politics.”
MOYERS: You no doubt read or heard something about that huge March for Women’s Lives in Washington last weekend.
A single photograph captured it for me. Hundreds of thousands of people, spread across the mall in the heart of the nation’s capitol marching for choice. We took a closer look, and found something that the press all but ignored. Many of these people were there on faith. Our report is produced by Naomi Spinrad.
They came from all over the country to join the largest demonstration for a woman’s right to choose ever held in the nation’s capital.
Despite the sheer size of the crowd, this day was more than a matter of numbers. For thousands of these people, coming here was a pilgrimage. They came as an act of faith, a witness to deeply held beliefs about religion and conscience.
On the fringes of the march were their old adversaries from the religious right, who say the Bible teaches that abortion is murder. The mainstream media often seem to think theirs are the only religious opinions that count.
This weekend, however, the right is vastly outnumbered by other believers who read the same Bible and reach a different conclusion. This interpretation of scripture holds that the creator God bestowed on human beings the sacred gift of free will. This capacity to choose, they say, is at the heart of what it means to be a moral person.
REVEREND CARLTON VEAZEY: We are pro-choice because of our religion, we are pro-choice because of our religion.
MOYERS: The Reverend Carlton Veazey heads the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The faith-based organizations that march with its banner represent some 20 million Americans — Catholics, Jews, mainline Protestants and a smattering of others. On many matters of doctrine they are often at odds, but on one issue they are united: the state should not force a woman to bring a child into the world against her will. This conviction is the tie that binds these believers and brought them to Washington.
BISHOP: I believe that Jesus came to free women as well as men. And call women to follow their conscience as well as men.
MOYERS: Jacqui Bishop came to Washington on a train crowded with the faithful. For her, the miles to Washington are part and parcel of a spiritual journey she began many years ago.
BISHOP: I’m a Christian. It’s the center of my life. I don’t know who I’d be without it. And I’ve prayed about this.
MOYERS: She remembers the trauma of seeking to end a pregnancy back when the law made abortion a crime.
BISHOP: I know what it’s like to go through it. I’m 62. I went through it when it was terrible.
I think it was probably the most merciful thing I could have done at the time, for myself and for any potential children. I would not have been a good parent. So, it was critical that I have that choice. It saved my life.
VEAZEY: Abortion is a choice. Abortion can be a moral choice. And to have a child is a moral choice.
MOYERS: Like many moral choices, these marchers say, this one is not simple or easy. And it involves being pro-life.
DAUWAY: Nobody is pro-abortion, there’s no such thing as a stance to be pro-abortion.
MOYERS: Lois Dauway is on the staff of the women’s division at United Methodist Church, which has a membership of one million.
DAUWAY: The frustration of dealing with persons from the religious right on this issue is that they’ve created a box that is much too small. We are called as Christians to deal with the fullness of life. And once the child is born, you don’t hear from them anymore. Does a child eat? Does a child get a vaccination? Does that child go to school? Where do they live? Are they safe? That’s what we’re concerned about.
MOYERS: Susan Farrell spent two years in a Catholic convent.
FARRELL: Justice for women, and justice for the children that women do have is very important. And they should have the choice to decide the children that they will have and the children that they will love.
MOYERS: She believes the right of a woman to make decisions for herself comes right out of how the founder of her faith treated the women around him.
FARRELL: If you look through scripture and all of the stories that, where Jesus dealt with women with great respect for them. And I think that for me is a fundamental part of Christianity.
MOYERS: Farrell belongs to Catholics for a Free Choice, whose ambition is to change the policies on women of a church governed exclusively by men. As part of the march, they came to the Vatican Embassy in Washington to leave red carnations in memory, they said, of the women whose lives had been lost as a result of the church’s ban on abortion. Such coercion, she argues, runs counter to Christian teaching.
FARRELL: St. Paul tells us in Christ there is no Jew, nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. That we are all equal before the eyes of God. And we have to struggle to create that equality. And we have struggled and we’ll continue to struggle. And women’s right to choose is part of that struggle.
MOYERS: This belief in equality before God was shared by different generations at the march.
Amy-Ellen Duke is a Methodist seminary student. She came to Washington with her father, Ellery. He’s an ordained Methodist elder.
ELLERY DUKE: Overall, I think we need to look at the message of scripture that, and God’s action in history, which is always on the side of persons who are suffering, persons who are agonizing about decisions. That is where God stands in alliance.
AMY-ELLEN DUKE: God’s love is universal and all-encompassing and never-ending.
MOYERS: That’s a conviction these people are determined to get back into the national debate. So they came to Washington to counter the notion of the mainstream press that only the religious right takes religion seriously.
POWELL: I have the choice to come here today and speak for what I believe is true. And I believe that the right thing is for each woman to be able to choose for herself whether abortion is moral.
BROWN-LAVOIE: I feel it’s important for faithful people who are pro-choice to have a voice and to be out there when the religious right has monopolized the voice of the faithful and said that only people who are against abortions are moral and faith — and ethical.
VEAZEY: I believe that God in creating man gave us one thing, that was free will. Freedom of choice. Many people don’t understand or say, well, how does He give free will to do— free will to make the best decision that you can make that will lift you up, that will help you to have a fuller life.
MOYERS: Sunday morning, as the marchers were gathering, the voices of the prayerful were lifted up, to a God they believe has endowed them with equality of conscience.
A soulful reminder that choice has long been policy for a range of American denominations—including Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitarians, and reformed and conservative Jews.
HANSON: I think that if you don’t have the free will to make choices for yourself, that you’re, you’re less than human.
MOYERS: Ann Hanson heads the ministry for children, family and human sexuality of the United Church of Christ. She came from Cleveland to add her voice to the chorus.
HANSON: I think there is a lot of people that have no idea that there are people of faith that believe in a woman’s complete choice. Reproductive health. And they’re astonished sometimes to see the word Christian and pro-choice in the same sentence.
MOYERS: At dusk, on the eve of the march, a Jewish havdalah service marks the end of the Sabbath.
On this night, it also celebrates the moral right of a woman to make decisions according to her own religious beliefs.
SERVICE: The light of hope to illumine our way to a world where women are safe to make their own choices and where those who help them are honored and safe.
MOYERS: And also on this night, just as the havdalah service separates the Sabbath from the rest of the week, the worshippers reaffirm that the power of religion should be kept separate from the power of the state.
It was impossible to gauge how many of these hundreds of thousands of people in the march came from religious motivation. They were threaded throughout its ranks. And not everyone carried a banner, sign, or poster.
Faith, after all, is deeply personal, a matter of things unseen— and, for some who came out this day, less about doctrine and belief—than the experience of what can seldom be spoken.
AMY-ELLEN DUKE: If you decide that you’re going to get an abortion and you go to the abortion clinic. God is with you. When you walk in through that crowd of demonstrators. God is with you when you walk in that door. God is with you when you walk into that room. God is with you when you’re laying on that table. And God will be with you when you walk out and have to live with your decision. And God is offering comfort through all of that. Not judgment. Comfort.
ANNOUNCER: And connect to NOW online at pbs.org.
Ten things you need to know about your Medicare coverage. Find out how much you could pay for your drugs under the new prescription plan. Check out legislation your state is considering concerning reproductive rights.
Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
MOYERS: Yes, America, it’s true. Bob Edwards signed off for the last time today as anchor of NPR’s popular MORNING EDITION.
When he took over in 1979, Jimmy Carter was President, Leonid Brezhnev was running the Soviet Union, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were in the Super Bowl.
Over the past 24 years, millions of us woke up in the morning with Bob Edwards. We made toast as he talked. He drove to work with us. We thought it was forever. But broadcast executives being what they are — obsessed with who’s not listening and the talent that might yet attract them — NPR decided it’s time for a change. Tens of thousands of listeners wrote in protest, to no avail. So Bob Edwards signed off this morning, and the space around us seemed strangely empty. Fortunately, he and I had long ago planned to talk this week about his new book on EDWARD R. MURROW AND THE BIRTH OF BROADCAST JOURNALISM. We kept the date.
You made a wonderful speech a year ago in your native state of Kentucky, in which you quoted a high-class hooker known as the Mayflower Madame.
You quoted her as saying, “I was in the wrong business. But I did it with dignity.” Do you think of that as kind of a professional epithet for all of us journalists?
EDWARDS: That was a speech— I was angry. There are just— in this White House news conference, in which — this was the one where President Bush worked off of the list — and the questions were so inane, so unworthy of the White House press corps, on the eve of war. And everyone knew this was coming.
And you would think there would be some pointed, compelling questions to be asked. And I think the most penetrating question was about, “How do you pray?”
It was— I was furious. And I wrote a speech that just ripped the White House press corps because I expect better of them. Our jobs as journalists are to ask the tough questions, particularly the White House press corps.
MOYERS: I could tell from reading the speech that there was anger, that you were angry. But I’ve never heard you angry on the air.
EDWARDS: No. No. Who wants to listen to that? You’ve got that on talk radio. You don’t need that from Morning Edition.
MOYERS: You quoted a radio consultant who said that young people listening to Howard Stern thought he must be in the news business, because he occasionally talked about stories in the news.
EDWARDS: He’s talking even more about President Bush, these days. Maybe he’s even more of a journalist than we had known before.
MOYERS: But is it weird to be— I mean, I’m in the same business as Jerry Springer. How do you reconcile the weirdness of our craft?
EDWARDS: It’s a big tent, Bill. And there’s room for all of us. This is what we’ve come to. You’ve gotta have the starlet interview. You have to have the seemingly hard-hitting story that somehow never finds its way into the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies.
You know, where were the stories about Enron before that scandal erupted? Why wasn’t it journalism that exposed that wrongdoing? You have the disease of the week. There’s always a popular disease that comes along and needs to be talked about.
News has become entertainment in many instances.
So, it’s difficult for viewers and listeners to tell the two apart.
MOYERS: If you were starting over today, would you come into journalism?
EDWARDS: As it is now? I’d have to think about that. My model was Ed Murrow.
MOYERS: I was gonna ask you. If he came back, where do you think he’d be practicing today?
EDWARDS: He would be fine if he owned it. If he had his own channel, the Murrow Channel. I think he’d have great difficulty working for somebody else. He did when he was active and functioning.
MOYERS: Ultimately, he ended his career unhappily. I mean, he was, in effect, squeezed out, too.
EDWARDS: See, it changed after the war. Murrow built up all this enormous capital, goodwill with his war reporting from Europe. And after the war, everything changed. Back in New York, television came along.
CBS was a big powerful company by that time, not a fledgling radio network. Diversified, owned many types of businesses. Broadcasting was not the be-all and end-all. And it became important to increase the price of a share for a stockholder. That had nothing to do with what Murrow was doing, which were hard-hitting programs on the most controversial issues of the time.
MOYERS: And yet, he also did that very celebrated and lucrative PERSON-TO-PERSON, in which he visited well-known people, celebrities of his day, like Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy.
EDWARDS: And it was fluffier than anything you see in that era today. It makes ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT look like hard-hitting journalism.
MOYERS: How do you explain that schizophrenic quality to our hero?
EDWARDS: He thought it might deliver an audience to see it now. For another thing, it made him the only money he ever made in his life.
MOYERS: You told me something about Murrow that either I had forgotten or didn’t know, that he didn’t have any journalistic credentials. He changed his major on his resume. He added five years to his life.
And he claimed to have a master’s degree from Stanford that he didn’t have. All of this fabricated, and yet he went on to gain this incredible reputation for integrity. Now, what do you make of that?
EDWARDS: I make of that, that he was a kid from the working class, raised in the lumber camps of Pacific Northwest, who was very unsure of himself. And didn’t feel he had the goods.
Didn’t feel that going up against the Ivy Leaguers, he had the background that would help him stand up. And I think he acquired that confidence on his own, and realized he didn’t need that other stuff anymore.
So, it was when he was assigned overseas as director of European operations for CBS, and they had him fill out some insurance forms, and he said, “Now, that’s a mistake there, that’s— let’s correct that error,” so he straightened out his resume and was his own man at that point. And not his proudest moment, but he was, you know, an unsure kid.
MOYERS: In that speech last year, you said, “With the nation about to enter a war that’s decidedly unpopular anywhere but here in the United States, no one in White House press corps asked the hard questions.” You went on in that speech, to list several questions you would ask of the President if you could.
Quote, “Is it possible that the war in Iraq will result in regime change in Great Britain? If the liberation of Arab women is so important to your administration, then why is the United States not invading Saudi Arabia?” I mean, what are the questions you would ask George Bush today?
EDWARDS: Well, now wait a minute. Part of that was entertainment.
MOYERS: Wait a minute. You’re not supposed to cross that line, Mr. Edwards. I saw it as you asking the questions that any good anchorman is frustrated because he can’t ask on the air.
EDWARDS: It was a question, a tongue-in-cheek question but meant to create thought and stimulate conversation with the audience.
MOYERS: But this wasn’t for fun. Quote, the press didn’t wait until the intern scandal to ask tough questions of Bill Clinton. So, why is the incumbent getting a pass?
EDWARDS: You’re right. That was dead serious. That’s our job, to ask the tough questions.
MOYERS: Would you, if you had been on television instead of radio a year ago when the war broke out, would you have put an American flag in your lapel?
EDWARDS: I don’t think any sort of symbol, even an American flag, and I don’t doubt the patriotism of any journalist. But I think you open a door with the first flag.
After a flag, what do you get? Crosses? Stars of David? Pink triangles? You start advertising. Your lapel becomes like a t-shirt is today. I don’t think we cross that line. Not even for a flag. And I know, you know, people get very emotional about that. And they make one exception, and that would be the flag. But I think you make one exception, you make the second and the third. And I don’t think we should be advertising.
You know, you see local television sometimes, when they talk about so-and-so “on your side.” That’s their slogan. And then they’ll do the news. Well, on your side, are we taking sides?
Are we supposed to be on anybody’s side? Are we supposed to be independent? What does that mean? It means ingratiating yourself to an audience. We want to be their friends, their pals. And we want big numbers, big ratings.
And yet, we’re supposed to be something else. We’re supposed to— if we were doing our jobs right, we shouldn’t have any friends at all. And some of us don’t.
We should be telling you facts that make you upset. We’re delivering the bad news. We’re coming into your homes, into your living rooms, into your automobiles, with bad news. That doesn’t make us friends with anybody. But that’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to do. So it’s a contradiction.
MOYERS: What troubles you most about this field we work in today?
EDWARDS: The money. The money, the need to make money, the news division as profit center. Because that’s what’s different from Murrow’s time and ours. News wasn’t expected to make money then. News was a loss leader. You did news because it was a good thing to do.
MOYERS: Go to public service. I know that sounds a little old-fashioned.
EDWARDS: That’s what broadcasters did. But the owners today are not really broadcasters. They’re entrepreneurs. They are the CEOs of huge conglomerates, much bigger than even Paley would dream of. And they look to the news division to be just like their theater chain, their business properties, their real estate holdings. They’re supposed to turn a profit, just like all the other profit centers.
MOYERS: When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?
EDWARDS: For certain, I think the ’60s. I know I wanted to be in broadcasting. And I thought what Murrow did was very cool. I was very young.
MOYERS: What he did was—
EDWARDS: What he was doing—
MOYERS: —on the air?
EDWARDS: Yes. It was cool.
EDWARDS: Cool. But the ’60s, I went to college from ’65 through ’69, the most horrendous years in society in quite some time. The cities were on fire. Civil rights protests, anti-war protests, the Democratic Convention of ’68, the assassinations of John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. George Wallace. Czechoslovakia.
1968, alone, was just staggering. I don’t know how any of us got through that. It was just one hellacious event after another. The Tet Offensive. And you couldn’t not be intensely interested in what was going on in the world. I think I wanted to be a part of it but not a participant. Not—
MOYERS: You wanted to observe, right?
EDWARDS: —not be partisan. But wanted to be a part of the dialogue. I’ve often said, I guess for amusement in speeches, that we are voyeurs. We like to watch. It gets a laugh. But that’s what we do. We observe.
MOYERS: —beachcombers on the shores of other people’s experience and knowledge.
EDWARDS: Not only do we watch, we tell what we’ve seen. We’re— we spread it. But that is what we do. That’s our job. To see and hear, to be the eyes and ears of the public and then tell them, who were not there, what we saw and what we heard.
MOYERS: There is a secret that I wanna try to probe with you. Something that haunted me for a long time and I think it may have been the real reason I wanted to do this interview. What is the secret of getting up every morning at one o’clock and being at work at two o’clock morning after morning after morning?
EDWARDS: You put the alarm clock on the other side of the room so that you have to stand up and walk to the alarm clock. If it’s within arm’s reach, you turn it off and go back to sleep. At least I figured I would.
MOYERS: So, where you gonna put it Monday morning?
EDWARDS: I may get rid of it. I mean, it’s going to be— it’s going— this is the up side here. This is going to be good. Not worrying about— see, it’s more than just waking up at one o’clock in the morning. It’s the other end of it. It’s having to be in bed by six o’clock at night and then back-timing everything in your life so that you reach the point where you’re asleep at six o’clock because you’re so set on having that— at least that minimum of sleep.
So, this is no way to live. Back-timing, I have to do this in order to be in bed by six o’clock. And before I do that, I have to do this in time to do that. It’s ridiculous.
MOYERS: I mean, it’s mid-afternoon in Washington.
MOYERS: Beautiful spring mid-afternoon and we’re just three hours away from bedtime?
EDWARDS: I know. This is nuts. This is nuts to do this for 24 years. It’s no way to live. I should thank them. It’s gonna be good.
MOYERS: You keep telling yourself.
EDWARDS: Yeah, well, no. I think it’s probably good to be jostled from one’s world that one wouldn’t leave otherwise. And do something else. And I feel very good about that.
MOYERS: Bob Edwards, I’m one of the many millions of people to whom you are the most familiar person we’ve never met. I’m glad we had this conversation today. I wish you well in your new life. And I wish your fine book, EDWARD R. MURROW AND THE BIRTH OF BROADCAST JOURNALISM, well, too. Thank you for being on NOW.
EDWARDS: Oh, Bill, thank you so much.
MOYERS: President Bush says earlier in the week that Fallujah is returning to normal.
Then all hell breaks loose, and we get this headline in today’s NEW YORK TIMES: ‘A Full Range of Technology is Applied to Bomb Fallujah.”
F-l6s. Supercobra helicopters. Gunships. Hellfire missiles. Technology with such precision, we’re told, pilots can separate the bad guys from the really bad guys.
Just one problem. An Air Force commander in Iraq is quoted today saying, “Friendlies, civilians, and bad guys are all mixed together.”
Shock and awe; there goes the neighborhood. Here come the martyrs.
So now the U.S. is talking about turning Fallujah over to some of Saddam Hussein’s old henchmen, the very folks the invasion was supposed to get rid of. If this is normalcy, it’s crazy.
I talked by phone this week to a producer in Baghdad who works for one of the big networks. It’s become so dangerous he and the correspondents rarely leave their hotel. They send their Iraqi fixers out to film for them, then put on bullet proof vests and drive ten minutes in an armored car to attend official briefings, where they are told to look on the bright side.
One press release recently announced: “Beautification Plan for Baghdad Ready to Begin.”
The Associated Press, by the way, reports that one third of the civilians working in the government P.R. office in Baghdad are former partisan Republican operatives from Washington.
“One side is shooting at us,” the producer told me, “and the other side is lying to us.”
There’s no shooting at journalists here at home but it’s possible to kill off the truth without firing a shot. The government-friendly Sinclair Broadcast Group will not let its ABC affiliates carry NIGHTLINE tonight because Ted Koppel is showing the names and photos of all American soldiers killed in Iraq.
Meanwhile, a Capitol Hill newspaper says Congress is looking for ways to “finesse” those billions still needed for the war, hoping voters won’t catch on before the election.
As in Fallujah, so in Washington; truth is hard to come by.
As you know, the President and Vice President appeared yesterday before the 9/11 Commission—together, behind closed doors, with no transcript permitted.
Veteran reporter Helen Thomas asked who else had attended the meeting. A spokesman told her, “It was a private meeting, Helen.”
“It’s not a private meeting,” she answered. “It’s a public meeting. A matter of historical record.”
And you wonder, what are all of us losing when the war and truth are privatized?
That’s it for NOW. David Brancaccio is on assignment and will be back next week. I’m Bill Moyers. Thanks for joining us.
This transcript was entered on May 6, 2015.