What happens when America’s airwaves are filled with hate? The Journal takes a tough look at the hostile industry of “shock jock” media and its effects on our nation’s political discourse. Then, media experts Brooke Gladstone and Les Payne weigh in on propaganda in the 2008 election. Also in this episode, viewers show support for the National Guard and a big news story on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
BILL MOYERS:Welcome to the JOURNAL.How ugly will it get? Very. The campaign has hit bottom this very first week, and seems to thrive there, down where the wild things are, while the country chokes on “Froth and Scum.” By the way, FROTH AND SCUM is the title of a book, written by a former colleague, the historian Andie Tucher, on the sensationalist press in 19th Century America. Back then, the American author Oliver Wendell Holmes said that language is sacred, and wrote that its abuse should be as criminal as murder. He called it “…verbicide…violent treatment of a word with fatal results to its legitimate meaning…” America has yet to make “verbicide” a hanging offense. Indeed under the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, pretty much anything goes. There are some limits — Holmes’ son was the Supreme Court justice who noted in a famous opinion that you cannot falsely shout fire in a crowded theater. That’s because words have consequences and not just in politics. People in Knoxville, Tennessee, are asking if one of those consequences could be murder. Our correspondent Rick Karr traveled there to investigate. Let me warn you — some of the language you’ll hear is graphic, provocative and downright raw.
RICK KARR: On a steamy Sunday morning in July, a man armed with a twelve-gauge shotgun burst into this church in Knoxville, Tennessee and opened fire. Seconds later, one person lay dead, another mortally wounded, and six injured.
REVEREND CHRIS BUICE: The man who walked into this sanctuary on July 27th was armed with a gun but he was also armed with hatred. He was armed with bitterness. He was armed with resentments. He was armed with indiscriminate anger. He was armed in body and spirit.
RICK KARR: Members of the congregation wrestled a fifty-eight-year-old, unemployed truck driver named Jim David Adkisson to the floor and held him until police came. At first it seemed like just another inexplicable outburst of violence until a police news conference the next day.
POLICE CHIEF STERLING OWEN: It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement.
RICK KARR: Why did Adkisson hate “the liberal movement”? Police said that he told them “that all liberals should be killed … because they were … ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and … ruined every institution in America….” Police said that Adkisson had targeted the Unitarian Universalist Church “because of its liberal teachings.” The church advocates social justice and tolerance, and it openly welcomes gay, lesbian, and transgendered members. According to police, Adkisson said that, “Because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would target those that had voted them in to office.”In the weeks following the tragedy, the congregation and its pastor, Reverend Chris Buice struggled with what they were learning about Adkisson.
REVEREND CHRIS BUICE: Some have suggested that his spiritual attitudes, his hatred of liberals and gays, was reinforced by the right wing media figures. And it is beyond dispute that there are a plethora of books which have labeled liberals as evil, unpatriotic, godless and treasonous.
RICK KARR: During that recent sermon Buice told his congregation, some of who had risked their own lives to stop the shooting, that he has been reading some of those books.
REVEREND CHRIS BUICE: One of the books has the title, DELIVER US FROM EVIL: DEFEATING TERRORISM, DESPOTISM AND LIBERALISM. If that author was here in this room right now I would introduce him to some good liberals who acted decisively on that Sunday, acted quickly and courageously to stop the terror that came into our church building. I would introduce him to some good liberals who know how to fight terror with more than just their mouths.
RICK KARR: Buice says even with the outpouring of sympathy from around Knoxville and across the country, Adkisson’s lethal anger has left him angry and full of questions.
REVEREND CHRIS BUICE: People were killed in my sanctuary of my church which should be the holy place, a safe place. People were injured. A man came in here totally dehumanized us. Members of our church were not human to him. Where did he get that? Where did he get that sense that we were not human?
RICK KARR: Buice admits that no one knows for sure and says that Adkisson alone, is responsible for the shootings. But he keeps thinking about some books that police found in Adkisson’s apartment, books by popular right-wing talk-radio personalities who berate and denigrate liberals. One of the books police found in Adkisson’s apartment was Michael Savage’s LIBERALISM IS A MENTAL DISORDER. In it, Savage calls liberals “the enemy within our country;” “an enemy more dangerous than Hitler”; “traitors” who are “dangerous to your survival” and who “should be placed in a straightjacket”. Like Adkisson, Savage accuses liberals of “[tying] the hands of our military”.
Savage isn’t just a best-selling author: he also hosts a syndicated radio show.
ANNOUNCER:“And now American’s most exciting radio talk show…THE SAVAGE NATION…THE MICHAEL SAVAGE SHOW.”
RICK KARR: Savage reaches more than eight and a quarter million listeners a week. And when it comes to demonizing liberals, he’s the same on the air as he is in print.
MICHAEL SAVAGE:“Liberalism is, in essence, the HIV virus, and it weakens the defense cells of a nation. What are the defense cells of a nation? Well, the church. They’ve attacked particularly the Catholic Church for 30 straight years. The police, attacked for the last 50 straight years by the ACLU viruses. And the military, attacked for the last 50 years by the Barbara Boxer viruses on our planet.”
RICK KARR: Political liberals aren’t the only targets of Savage’s wrath. Back when he had a cable TV show, he bashed gay men.
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “So, you’re one of the sodomites. Are you a sodomite?”
CALLER: “Yes, I am.”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “Oh, you’re one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis.”
RICK KARR: And earlier this year on his radio show, he targeted kids with autism.
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.'”
PROTESTORS: “Fire Savage now! Fire Savage now!”
RICK KARR: That outburst prompted protests by outraged parents, and a few stations dropped Savage’s show. So did an advertiser. But Savage hasn’t apologized and he’s still on the air.
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “America is being overrun by an invasion force from Mexico that’ll soon take over the country[…]you psychotic liberals don’t even know you’re digging your own grave and throwing lime in there. All that’s missing is the worm from the tequila bottle to go with it.”
RICK KARR: Michael Savage isn’t the only right-wing talk-radio host who launches blistering, even violent, verbal attacks on people and groups he doesn’t like. Glenn Beck, for instance, fantasized about murdering a liberal filmmaker.
GLENN BECK:“I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out of him. Is this wrong?”
RICK KARR: Michael Reagan, son of the former president, suggested that people who claim that “nine-eleven was an inside job,” a U.S. government conspiracy, deserve to die.
MICHAEL REAGAN: “Take them out and shoot them. They are traitors to this country, and shoot them. But anybody who would do that doesn’t deserve to live. You shoot them. You call them traitors, that’s what they are, and you shoot them dead. I’ll pay for the bullet.”
RICK KARR: Neal Boortz went after victims of Hurricane Katrina.
NEAL BOORTZ:“That wasn’t the cries of the downtrodden. That’s the cries of the useless, the worthless. New Orleans was a welfare city, a city of parasites, a city of people who could not, and had no desire to fend for themselves. You have a hurricane descending on them and they sit on their fat asses and wait for somebody else to come rescue them.”
RICK KARR: Muslims are some of Boortz’s favorite targets.
NEAL BOORTZ:“It’s Ramadan and Muslims in your workplace might be offended if they see you eating at your desk. Why? I guess it’s because Muslims don’t eat during the day during Ramadan. They fast during the day and eat at night. Sorta like cockroaches.”
RICK KARR: Reverend Chris Buice says he’s heard that kind of language before.
REVEREND CHRIS BUICE: If you look at the history of like situations like in Rwanda in 1994, the talk radio was a big part of leading to the conditions that created a genocide. The Hutu radio disc jockeys would call the Tutsi cockroaches. There’s the sense that these aren’t human beings. You know, they’re not human beings with children or grandchildren. These are cockroaches. And when you hear in talk radio that liberals are evil, that they are traitors, that they are godless, that they are on the side of the terrorist. That’s hate language. You don’t negotiate with evil people. You don’t live in community with people you consider to be traitors.
RICK KARR: Millions of Americans tune in to right-wing talk radio every day. Rory O’Connor is a media critic and a liberal himself who’s written a book on shock-talkers. He says not all of these broadcasters use violent language. But they do all share a predilection for outrage and, he says, they’re all practically addicted to constantly cranking up that outrage.
RORY O’CONNOR: Here’s the real problem. When you shock somebody, if you come back the next time and you apply the same stimulus, it’s not shocking any longer. It’s already happened. So you have to ratchet it up a little bit. So how do you cut through? How do you really shock? I think that in order to continue to outrage, you have to constantly be jacking up the pressure. And ultimately, there’s gonna be some deranged person out there in that audience who’s gonna say, “You know what? That’s a good idea. Let me act on that.”
GLENN BECK:“The fusion of entertainment and enlightenment.”
RICK KARR: Entertainers — that’s what a lot of the shock-talkers call themselves. O’Connor says, maybe. But their words can motivate their listeners to act.
RORY O’CONNOR: Now first and foremost, we have to recognize that many of them are employed across multiple platforms. So they may say something on their radio show, but they may repeat it on their television show. They may then repeat it in their newspaper column. They may repackage the ideas into their best-selling books.
RICK KARR: Last year’s debate over the immigration reform bill became a case study for Rory O’Connor. As arguments went back and forth, some of the language turned venomous. Hosts amped up their audiences’ outrage with attacks on the bill’s supporters and verbal assaults on immigrants.
NEAL BOORTZ: “I already have received at least one brilliant email today about the immigration problem […]this person sent me an email, said when we defeat this illegal alien amnesty bill and when we yank out the welcome mat and they all start going back to Mexico, as a going-away gift let’s all give them a box of nuclear waste[…]tell ’em it can, it’ll heat tortillas.”
BILL O’REILLY: “But do you understand what THE NEW YORK TIMES wants? And the far left want? They want to break down the white, Christian male power structure which you are a part and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have.”
RICK KARR: O’Connor says the result stunned Washington.
RORY O’CONNOR: There were massive numbers of emails and letters and phone calls. You know, senators said, they had to have two or three people in their office answering the calls. That was all that they could do. They were inundated. And beyond that, how do you get their attention? Well, I tell you. If you send those threatening letter to a senator’s home, that gets his attention pretty fast.
RICK KARR: Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez got a threatening letter at home. North Carolina Republican Richard Burr got a threatening call at his office. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham told THE NEW YORK TIMES that he and others had received threats, too. The TIMES also reported that a mass email opposing the bill suggested that its supporters needed to be “taken out by any means.” The bipartisan support collapsed, the bill died and right-wing talk-radio hosts took credit.
RORY O’CONNOR: This is evidence of their vast power. I mean, you know, President George Bush was pulling out all his political capital to get immigration reform passed. Trent Lott was backing him up with everything he had. And guess what? The President and the Republican leadership and Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership, they all lost. And they lost to a bunch of radio jocks.
RICK KARR: Right-wing talk radio hosts usually reserve their ad hominem attacks for liberal figures. Jim Quinn has his own name for the National Organization for Women.
JIM QUINN: “The National Organization for Whores, they’re whores for liberal politics in general, and they were whores for Bill Clinton in particular.”
RICK KARR: Glenn Beck tried to connect former Vice President Al Gore’s efforts against global warming with Nazism.
GLENN BECK: “What was the first thing they did to get people to exterminate the Jews? Now, I’m not saying that anybody’s going to, you know, Al Gore’s not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however[…]you got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler’s plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore’s enemy, the U.N.’s enemy: global warming.”
RICK KARR: During this year’s Democratic primaries, Rush Limbaugh urged his listeners to vote for Senator Hillary Clinton to foster division in the Democratic Party in the hope that that would lead to violence in the streets of Denver. He called it “Operation Chaos”.
RUSH LIMBAUGH:“This is about chaos, this is why it is called Operation Chaos[…]the dream end, if people say what is your exit strategy. The dream end is this keeps up to the convention. And that we have a replay of Chicago 1968, with burning cars, protests, fires, literal riots and all of that. That’s the objective here.”
RICK KARR: American politics has always been a rough game. But political scientist Jeffrey Feldman, who’s written a book on the effects of angry political rhetoric, says this is different.
JEFFREY FELDMAN: Our system is a deliberative democracy. And that deliberative democracy depends on a certain kind of talk, a certain conversation in order to function well. What right-wing rhetoric does, when it reaches that violent pitch, is it undermines that particular conversation, such that the focus of political debate, becomes increasingly hamstrung by fear, and the ability of citizens to engage in the basic act of civics becomes gummed up. That conversation breaks down.
RICK KARR: Knoxville pastor Chris Buice agrees.
REVEREND CHRIS BUICE: When you blame all your problems on some minority group then everyone else is exonerated. We exonerate ourselves. We don’t have to look at ourselves to see what sort of ways we contribute to the problems of the world. We don’t have to examine ourselves, to see what we are doing that is helping to create the problems that we’re so concerned about.
RICK KARR: In other words, Buice says, angry talk-radio rhetoric simply sets up scapegoats for society’s problems. And ever since Jim David Adkisson walked into his church and opened fire he can’t help but wonder whether that might lead to more violence.
REVEREND CHRIS BUICE: I just think a lot of people are hurling insults from the safety of television studios, the safety of radio studio, the safety of cyberspace, which they would not throw if they had to stand right next to a person and look in their face and say the same thing. And so that’s a void in our community, the chance to be in the same room and to have these exchanges and remember the humanity of the person on the other side.
BILL MOYERS: We may never know what finally triggered the killer’s rage, unless he chooses at his trial or later to tell us. But not for a moment do I think any of the talk show hosts mentioned by the police would have wished it to happen.
We asked several radio hosts to come on this broadcast and talk about the story; they either declined or didn’t return our calls. The issue of course is not their right to say anything they want on the air. The First Amendment guarantees their free speech as it does mine. Government shouldn’t be the arbiter of what the Bill of Rights leaves to one’s own sense of fair play. Watching that report, however, I was reminded of a story from folk lore about the tribal elder telling his grandson about the battle the old man was waging within himself. He said, “My son it is between two wolves. One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The boy took this in for a few minutes and then asked, “Which wolf won?” His grandfather answered, “The one I feed.” So, too, America’s public life. The wolf that wins is the wolf we feed. Media provides the fodder.
We’ll be back in just a bit with more about the media’s role in America’s public life and in this presidential campaign. But first, this is one of those times we remind you that you are the public in public broadcasting. This station needs your support and is waiting for your call. Thank you.
BILL MOYERS:A week ago we aired a report following several of the 2,800 New Jersey National Guard as they prepared to ship out to Iraq…
MINNIE HILLER-COUSINS:We have proven we are not ‘weekend warriors.’ Hooah!
BILL MOYERS:Many of them leaving behind families coping emotionally and financially with their loved ones’ deployments.
TINA PARKS:Makes me mad. I’m angry. I mean at the same time, I know that in Iraq, a lot of people are suffering badly for no reason, and I, you know, consider ourselves lucky, the country we live in, and the freedom we have in this country and those poor people don’t have it. And he—they go there to help them, but it still doesn’t make it easy for me.
BILL MOYERS: One woman, Ronnie Micciulla, has made it her mission to help the National Guard soldiers get by in any way she can. She runs a local non-profit organization called A.R.M.S., that raises money and goods.
RONNIE MICCIULLA: It’s sinful. It’s sinful when I have to watch these poor families whose husbands are over there really struggling. And you know what? It’s hard enough giving up the one you love for a year. That’s hard enough. They shouldn’t have to worry about, “How am I gonna put food on the table?”
BILL MOYERS: We received a number of powerful responses to that report and wanted to share a few…here’s some of what you had to say.
ELLEN: Thank you for sharing the lives of these National Guard members. As a mother and as an American, these stories tear my heart out. I feel like we are living in two Americas. One world is fighting this war and the upper classes are watching it on TV. We must bring these people home to their families.
MARTIN KOUGHAN: It’s hard not to notice the class and cultural factors that define the soldiers who serve in the National Guard. It is so immensely cruel that these are the people who have to bear the brunt of a misguided policy hatched by oil men to serve their oil friends.
JACK G. CAIG: One of the primary responsibilities of the Guard is to function as an integral part of the military when it is necessary. This is a given. All people who join the Guard know this before they take their oath. I resent your presenting this as if the Guard is being taken advantage of. Since before Vietnam, the National Guard has been an integral part of our military preparedness.
GARY W. DENNING, SSG: Now we, as soldiers, all know that this is a part of the ‘contract’, especially in time of war, but in retrospect it feels like only a small percentage (1-3%) of a nation at war are paying the price…And those of us who can survive and earn retirement with most of our health are the lucky ones, those who don’t are the true heroes whose families need more than just our thanks.
TERRI: This deployment is unjust, unfair, and just plain wrong. It is extracting a huge toll on our friends, neighbors, co-workers, their families and friends. And it will result in huge costs far into the future. Costs that not only the National Guard and their families will have to bear, but costs that residents across New Jersey will have to bear.
DOUG: I am a retired reservist who also served in the Guard and on active duty. I am as opposed to the war in Iraq as anyone…however, I looked at those families and the sacrifices they are making and ask, what can I do? My goal on Monday is to find a way to support those families left behind and it will not be “lip service” or a magnetic yellow ribbon on the back of my car.
BILL MOYERS:To find out how you can help the National Guard soldiers and their families — or soldiers from any branch of the service — go to our map of resources on our website at pbs.org. You’ll learn there more about your local National Guard unit, and how to contact the groups — like A.R.M.S. — that support them. Many of these groups depend upon donations to keep going, and the faltering economy has hit them hard, leaving them barely able to survive.
The novelist Russell Banks, in his first book of non-fiction, just published, explains the Sarah Palin phenomenon even before it happened. In DREAMING UP AMERICA, he writes that we choose our presidents not on the basis of their experience or even their political views, but on how well they tap into our basic beliefs, our deepest communal desires, including our religious or spiritual beliefs. Our presidents, he writes, represent in some very personal way the imagination and the mythology of the people who elect them.
This helps us understand why the facts about Sarah Palin meant nothing when she suddenly materialized on the public stage, like Cinderella at the ball. You could see the convention delegates awed by the magical moment when the small-town girl, church-going hockey mom, mentored by her pastor to think upon the story of the biblical Queen Esther, became an overnight star. Leaping past “go” to the pinnacle of politics and the ultimate goal the cover of “People” magazine.
No wonder reality-based journalists are having a hard time with this story. Mythology is not their beat. But in the imagination of her tribe, Sarah Palin achieved an almost immaculate conception. Her lack of experience matters not to them. Nor do they care that her past is filled with contradictions, and nothing the press reports, no matter how grounded in fact, can shake their faith.
Furthermore, news cycles once measured in hours, are now measured in minutes and second. We live inside a media hurricane, an unrelenting force of attacks and counterattacks hatched in partisan quarters and hurled into cyberspace with such velocity the poor little truth is blown away like signposts on the gulf coast. Try getting a false or misleading charge retracted once it’s made. You cannot un-ring a bell. Try and you’ll find yourself an “enemy of the people.” One Republican official told journalists in St. Paul, “We will get with you if you keep messing with us.” And as John McCain and Sarah Palin barnstormed the nation this week, crowds that came out to see them booed members of the press.
What’s a journalist to do? With me are two journalists of the old school who make reality, not mythology, their beat.
Brooke Gladstone is managing editor and co-host of the National Public Radio Weekly series “On the Media.” Previously, she was senior editor of NPR’s ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, as well as NPR’s media correspondent.
Les Payne won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, and went on to become a top editor at the New York newspaper NEWSDAY. He’s the founder and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Welcome to both of you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thanks.
LES PAYNE: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: So do facts matter, Les? Or is the truth getting through all this fog and smog of the campaign?
LES PAYNE: The truth does matter without question. I think I’m struck by your point. You can’t un-ring the bell. But I think that what we must now do in the press is to ring the bell and which is to say to gather that number of facts that bear on the case of who the next president’s going to be. And I think with the clutter out there now, it is something of a problem. But I think that I’m confident that we’ll begin to burn through it in due course. And we only have two weeks, two months.
BILL MOYERS: Fifty some odd days, right?
LES PAYNE: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right. You know, it’s funny. The journalistic profession is seen as so atheistic. But I think that they have to take a leap of faith here, as they always do, and fact check. Fact check incessantly. Whenever a false assertion is asserted, it has to be corrected in the same paragraph, not in a box of analysis on the side. It has to be done even though there are a number of studies now that show, as you say, that bell can’t be un-rung, that an idea first fixed is almost impossible to move. I mean, we know this from the whole weapons of mass destruction notice. As Sarah Palin said the other day when sending her son off, that he was going against the enemy that caused devastation here on 9/11. He’s going to Iraq. We know that didn’t have anything to do with 9/11. It’s stated again. It doesn’t seem to matter what the facts were, but it has to matter to us as journalists.
BILL MOYERS: When you say “us,” though, who are we talking about? I mean, we have 24/7 cable channels. We have talk radio all the time, night and day. We have the newspaper, periodicals, magazines, and journals. We have the blogosphere now. We have national television. We have PBS. We have local stations. And a lot of those people are caught up in actually promoting a partisan line or defending it. So who are we talking about when we’re talking about “the press”?
LES PAYNE: The press when I refer to it, and I’m a newspaper person. And I think of the reporters. And I think that reporters as distinguished from the columnists, who has quite a different bill of particulars.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I have to say, though, some of the best journalism is being done online. So it isn’t so much about the medium as it is about the intention. It’s a different way to provide information. But let me just say, and I think I know where you’re going with this, the responsibility is now on the news consumer. This is a caveat emptor world. And you need to-
BILL MOYERS: Let the buyer beware.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let the buyer beware. Trust but verify.
LES PAYNE:I think that in this political campaign, for instance, I think we need to use the military term “boots on the ground.” We need reporters on the ground to go sit, observe, listen, watch body language, and to being to use the BS detector to know when someone is spinning them, when someone is telling them an untruth, or when someone is lying. I think that the further you get away from the source with people who kind of filter out the information, I think the further you get away from credible collection of the facts.
BILL MOYERS:This week when Sarah Palin went back to Alaska for the first time since the convention, CNN and Fox News were there live on the tarmac as the plane arrived. Now, we can understand why Fox wants to give that kind of coverage to a Republican candidate, but CNN? I mean, where was the journalism in that? Let me show you a piece of this footage, and listen to David Gergen and some of his colleagues.
DAVID GERGEN: “Anderson, I’m rubbing my eyes in disbelief that we are all sitting here awaiting to watch the arrival of a vice presidential candidate. I mean, we don’t do this for presidential candidates. But there is an enormous public interest and yes we are all sort of curious how she is going to handle it. I think the most interesting is she got a teleprompter up there. That says to all of us that once again, she’s coming in with a script.”
ANDERSON COOPER: “John King, do we know much about what she’s going to say or I mean how this event is going to go?”
JOHN KING:“No. We just know mostly this is a welcome home rally for her and we do know the McCain campaign is proud of the fact that two weeks ago, Alaska was considered a bit of a battleground state. The Obama campaign was thinking about competing there. But we do know she’s traveling home not only to this big rally and not only to say farewell to her son, which is a big deal for the family obviously.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE:This is about celebrity. This is about putting your finger in the air and following the public mood. Is it news? No. Is it an audience generator? Yes. And as anybody will tell you who’s been following, boots on the ground, the campaign, McCain still isn’t drawing crowds unless Palin is there. The idea in a standard campaign is you have, you get to be in two places at once because you get to put the VP nominee one place, presidential nominee in another. You can multiply your forces. They have talked about, as far as I know from local reporters there, not doing that. Keeping these guys together. Letting them travel as a road show because she’s drawing crowds of thousands, even 10,000 people whereas McCain prior to that could only gather a couple of hundred.
BILL MOYERS: The journalistic question to me out of that, you know, we see that, it’s celebrity. It’s impressive. But what are your lonely boots-on-the-ground journalists in Alaska digging through archives and records and old newspapers, how can they compete with that?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They don’t have to. They’re in a different medium.
LES PAYNE:I think they must. I think they must compete with the images. Because in a way those photos are digested, I mean, we will be a half a step away from the SURVIVOR show. I think that they need to go and to dig into for not just tax records but what is her management style from the very beginning? Not so much her family matter. What is her management, what is her temperament? I think that we need to know everything there is to know about every iota of information bearing on her ability to be vice president. And I think that what the reporters need to do is not simply to go for the visuals, they have to go behind the scenes. Even if reporters got a significant number of facts and to have a great story bearing on her ability either on her temperament, on her management style, on her views, then how do you get that story to burn through the chatter?
LES PAYNE:That is the question.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:That’s the real problem because you know, I don’t think there’s any question that there, I don’t think it’s a minuscule number of reporters that are up there. It’s true there are just fewer reporters at newspapers now. But the fact of the matter is, is that information is out there. And it’s been used for fact-checking purposes. The whole she was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it is now, you know, a standard rejoinder from, the fact checkers in the press whenever she makes that assertion. And she continues to make that assertion on the campaign trail. That stuff is happening. In terms of whether or not it can affect or compete with people’s first impressions and how television news, keeps reinforcing those impressions even as they profess to examine them is just sort of the conundrum of this media market.
BILL MOYERS: Your own network, NPR, this morning on MORNING EDITION had a fine piece of reporting from the field in which they interviewed people who were listening to Palin this week at the rallies. And one person after another said, “We’ve made up our minds. You know, she’s one of us. And don’t show me that, in effect. I don’t care about what you folks do,” right?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right. Well, and, you know, there’s always going to be a number of, a large section of the public that feels that way. But as you know, if we want to talk about something that’s happening in this campaign that bears heavily on the media, it’s the role of polls. And the fact of the matter is because every poll asks the question “Who would you vote for if the election were today?” instead of “Who are you going to vote for in November?” The number of genuine undecideds is hugely reduced.
Because if there were 30 percent undecided as there may well be even in the electorate today, nobody would be interested in the polls. So they ask this other question, forcing them to present their slight lean as a decision, so, therefore, the undecideds go into the single digits because the question is “Who would you vote for now?” instead of “Who will you be voting for in November?” There are a lot of people out there that can be affected by this information.
LES PAYNE: I think that media, and I use that term advisedly, too often go to ask the polling question as opposed to doing the reporting. We have to inform our readers first, as opposed to asking them what they think about something we have not told them about. So, to the question of if the election was held today, I mean, the answer is, ‘I would be very surprised because I thought it was in November.’
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I agree. I mean, I think we completely agree on this, Les. But the fact is, is that people are influenced about.
LES PAYNE: And I have two months to inform myself…
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right.
LES PAYNE: And into that vacuum has to move an aggressive amount of our Jeffersonian calling. And we can get away from this. And, sure, there are fewer reporters. And there are geometrically more, obstructions, both, internet and supermarket tabloids. But I think still the basic, if this republic is to stand almost, you know, I think, you know, we have to burn through this. And I think we can.
BILL MOYERS:“Burning through this.” But, you know, the McCain campaign made an early preemptive strike in this campaign. It clearly intended to send you reporters a message. It happened because CNN’s Campbell Brown…
BILL MOYERS: Pushed very hard against the Republican flak. Take a look at this.
TUCKER BOUNDS: “She’s been in executive office longer and in a more effective sense than Barack Obama’s been in the United States Senate. She’s been the Commander of the National Guard of the Alaska National Guard that’s been deployed overseas. That’s foreign policy experience.”
CAMPBELL BROWN: “If I can interrupt for one second because I’ve heard you guys say this a lot. Can you tell me one decision that she made as Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard, just one?”
TUCKER BOUNDS: “Yeah. She’s made, any decision she has made as the Commander of the National Guard that’s deployed overseas is more of a decision than Barack Obama’s been making as he’s been running for the president for the last two years.”
CAMPBELL BROWN:“So tell me. Tell me. Give me an example of one of those decisions. I’m curious, just one decision she made in her capacity as Commander in Chief of the National Guard.”
TUCKER BOUNDS: “Campbell, certainly you don’t mean to belittle, every experience, every judgment she makes as Commander of the National Guard…”
CAMPBELL BROWN:“I’m belittling nothing. I want to know one judgment or one decision. I want to know what one decision was. I’m not belittling anything, I am curious.”
BILL MOYERS: Because Campbell Brown was tough on a partisan spin master, the McCain campaign canceled an interview that John McCain was to do with CNN’s Larry King. Do you think the press got the message, “You mess around with us and you’re in trouble?”
LES PAYNE:They cut off their nose to spite their face on that one. I mean, Larry King. That campaign should have been stampeding to Larry King’s show.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Frankly, I don’t think it really worked. And they, you know, during the RNC, we saw the, you know, “How Dare You?” campaign step up. And it still didn’t work. I think that the kind of sad thing about this Campbell Brown interview is it’s been played so much. We’ve all seen it. And it’s just so rare on television these days to interrupt somebody in live television. In live television, if you don’t stop people when they’re just filling in a lot of time with a lot of hot air then you’ve missed your opportunity. You have to interrupt.
BILL MOYERS: There was an interview that Chris Wallace did with John McCain‘s campaign manager, Rick Davis, in which Davis comes out and says, you know, they’re not going let Sarah Palin be interviewed until the media learn to afford her some respect and deference.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Deference is the word.
BILL MOYERS: Don’t you think we’ve had a lot of trouble because we journalists on the air pay politician too much deference? Look at the build up to the war? Weapons of mass destruction, all of that.
LES PAYNE: But I think we have to be immune to the kind of counterattack that the McCain campaign staged with CNN saying that we will not allow our candidate to go on your show unless you treat her with deference.
BILL MOYERS:Ah, but I have long thought that every American candidate for president, vice-president, all candidates, should be interviewed by the BBC.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:They interrupt.
BILL MOYERS: Because they interrupt. They think it’s bull “s,” you know? And they keep after them. But you can’t get away with that in this country however, some reporters keep trying. And some local television reporters. Let me show you something I came across last evening of a local reporter in Portland, Maine, questioning John McCain. Look at this.
ROB CALDWELL: “Let’s move on to what you say is the number one issue facing the United States in our time, and that is the challenge of addressing Islamist extremism. What credentials does Governor Palin have in national security, diplomacy, foreign policy that qualify her to be your partner on that issue, the fight against Islamist extremism?”
JOHN MCCAIN: “Well obviously, the economy is also a major challenge facing America, but –”
ROB CALDWELL: “I’m using your words, Senator McCain, you said this summer that the number one challenge of our time is Islamist extremism.”
JOHN MCCAIN: “I said the greatest challenge of our time is national security threats and I’ve also said jobs and economy is the number one issue facing America so, but the point is that Governor Palin is right on the issues.”
ROB CALDWELL: “You say you’re sure she has the experience, but again I’m just asking for an example. What experience does she have in the field of national security?”
JOHN MCCAIN:“Energy. She knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America. She is a governor of a state that 20 percent of America’s energy supply comes from there. And we all know that energy is a critical and vital national security issue we’ve got to stop sending 700 billon dollars of American money to countries that don’t like us very much.”
BILL MOYERS: What did you think watching that?
LES PAYNE: Well, I thought that is the question he did not want to answer, and he kept wanting to switch the subject. I think it’s a part of the cocoon in which they want to put her. I think they should just let her face the press, face the media and answer questions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Once again, it isn’t that the questions were so good, the questions were what they ought to have been. But, the answers are so bad. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is if all you have to say is, “Give me an example,” to play stump the candidate, then the problem isn’t with the questioner, it’s with the candidate.
BILL MOYERS: When the McCain people talk about a media pile-on as they did, about what the media would do to Sarah Palin, aren’t they talking about a relatively small number of news outlets that ask tough questions and dig for the truth? The very thing that the partisans on either side don’t want you journalists, we journalists, to report?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Not just that. That’s just part, the good part, of a much larger campaign. I mean, the chain e-mails that have branded Obama a Muslim extremist, the ones that keep coming back no matter how often they are disproved, similar e-mails have been sent out about Sarah Palin. There’s enough information without the waters being muddied by accusations that she cut the special needs budget there. I mean, I repeated that to a friend, I saw it in what I thought was a responsible e-mail, turns out, not true. She did inquire about banning books, but, there was this long chain e-mail about books she supposedly asked to have banned, which is a complete fake. I mean, and there’s several of them hadn’t even been published when apparently she made this request. So, you know, the problem is, is that it’s easy for the McCain campaign to conflate legitimate journalism, questions about real issues that pertain to her ability to lead, but they all, the rest the fog of nonsense that engulfs, you know, both candidates, more Obama than McCain certainly. But, Palin, once you become a celebrity, you get what celebrities get, and that’s good and bad.
BILL MOYERS: What’s a citizen to do? A viewer, a reader, a listener, you know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Don’t believe what comes into your e-mails, number one, just don’t. Whenever you see an insertion made, “They are now available online,” really reputable groups that are non-partisan that check these facts, you know, PolitiFact is one, FactCheck.org is another. You need to check everything you’re told these days.
LES PAYNE: There’s some good journalism, and some good reporting that is going on. I think they need to read newspapers and never give them up, for now, or read the online version, which is fine, and just as well, I think that we have to, I agree with you, that we should stay away from the rumor chasing and that’s going on, on the internet. But, I think that reporters need to disregard these things as well. I think they need to look for datelines. For instance, to see if this person is in Wasilla, if this person is in Juneau, or if this person is in some bar in New York making a phone call to this supposed negative source in Alaska. And I think too much of that is going on. And I think that the real reporting that is going on, and there has to find a way to burn through this clutter.
BILL MOYERS: What does the press do, your end of the press, do if the campaign, as they always do, keep promoting distortion, lies, smears, attacks, counter attacks. What do you do?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I think the answer there is pretty clear. You have to continue for those viewers, those listeners, those readers who care, you have to give them information that they can rely on, so that they can cut through the muck. The fact of the matter is, these tools are available, they’re in the hands of journalists, they have the forum, use it to sort of propagate real information. Obviously, the problem with a lot of these situations, like, the recent “lipstick on a pig,” kerfuffle is that they are generated because they’re outrageous. These are ads that like, that one was a web ad, that was, that the McCain ad, that the McCain campaign asked people to help distribute. I don’t know how much money went into that, I don’t think any I don’t think it was paid for, that they had to buy any time for it.
BILL MOYERS:Well, the media picked it up.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But, how much time did they get? The same thing happened with an earlier ad after an Obama trip to Berlin. There was maybe the ten ads, ten placements were paid for that ad, it got millions of dollars of television coverage. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of propagating stuff in order to dispel it, but, that just is a judgment call every single time. Has this reached the level in which it needs to be addressed, and not just pick up everything.
BILL MOYERS: Brooke Gladstone and Les Payne, thank you very much for being with me on the Journal.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you.
LES PAYNE: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: Speaking of good journalism, check out the front page story in THE NEW YORK TIMES by Jackie Calmes. We’ll post it on our website at pbs.org. Calmes joined the TIMES after 18 years at THE WALL STREET JOURNAL covering politics, economics and public policy.
In the TIMES this week, she tells an important back story to the government’s takeover of the mortgage banks Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is a move that could drive up the national debt by as much as $200 billion. To come up with the cash, the Bush Administration is reaching deep into you and your kids’ pockets. With the help of the Center for Responsive Politics, Jackie Calmes came up with facts to help us try to understand how, over so many years, such wild mismanagement of both corporations was allowed to happen. Why weren’t the watchdogs barking? Where were the people’s representatives? The answer? Follow the money.
Both Barack Obama and John McCain say the Fannie and Freddie mess is the result of the cozy ties between lobbyists and politicians, the very thing they will “change” if elected. But guess what? Neither one of them has ever had, quote, “A record of directly challenging the companies.”
To the contrary, Obama is second among members of Congress in donations from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s employees and political action committees, even though he’s only been in the Senate since 2005. The former chairman of Fannie Mae originally led Obama’s vice presidential search committee but had to step down in a controversy over favorable loans he received, while at Fannie, from a company doing business with Fannie.
Among Obama’s contributors are three directors and one senior vice president of the two companies. Furthermore, Obama’s fellow Democrats in Congress have long been enablers of both corporations.
And what about John McCain? His entire campaign team stepped right out of a predator’s ball. His confidante and top adviser lobbied several years for Freddie Mac. His deputy fundraiser lobbied Fannie Mae, and his campaign manager lobbied for both of them, leading a coalition of beltway insiders whose goal was to “stave off regulations” that might have short circuited this nightmare.
One wealthy member of Freddie Mac’s board has contributed more than $70,000 to McCain and Republican Party members working for McCain’s election.
Even the guy who vetted John McCain‘s vice presidential options is a former lobbyist for Fannie Mae.
This week, both Obama and McCain are speaking up for taxpayers, like you and me, who have to foot the bill. But locking the beltway barn door after the horse is gone leaves the stable smelling like you know what.
Now, Senator Obama denounces “golden parachutes” for the deposed execs of the two institutions. Now, John McCain blames Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s troubles on “cronyism” and “special interest lobbyists.” Beg pardon? Does McCain know that if he really intends to throw the bums out he’ll have to start with his own inner circle. As we’ve heard, you can rewrite the myth but you can’t rewrite the facts.
And that’s it for the JOURNAL. Remember, read Jackie Calmes’ story on our website at pbs.org. And we’ll also link you to the Center for Responsive Politics and some more delicious treats on the money trail.
I’m Bill Moyers, goodnight.
This transcript was entered on June 11, 2015.