After 11 years in network television, Chuck Lewis founded the Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to provide the American people with the findings of their investigations and analyses of public service, government accountability and ethics related issues. In this 2003 episode of NOW With Bill Moyers, Bill interviews Chuck Lewis on the Patriot Act and the balance of security and liberty in our government.
Meanwhile, smallpox, the killer disease that was officially declared eradicated more than 20 years prior, had returned to the forefront of public health concerns. While government officials feared that samples of the virus may have fallen into the hands of countries like Iraq and North Korea, many wondered if the threat was great enough for the United States to commit substantial resources to combat the potential outbreak of this deadly plague. NOW analyzed the threat of smallpox as a bio-weapon, examined the safety concerns over the President’s three-phase vaccination proposal, and looked at the human and financial cost of protecting the United States against this virulent disease.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW, there’s an important story developing tonight at the Justice Department. We’ve obtained a closely-guarded document that shows plans for a sweeping expansion of the government’s police powers.
Until now, few people outside of the department, not even members of key congressional committees, have seen this draft legislation. It could lead to increased surveillance and greater secrecy all in the name of the war on terror. It raises questions about how we balance liberty and security, the rights of individuals versus the rule of law.
The document was obtained by journalists at the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity.
Here’s more on the story from our senior Washington correspondent, Roberta Baskin, and NOW producer Brenda Breslauer.
BASKIN: In Washington, the big scoop often begins with a simple phone call.
LEWIS: I got a phone call from someone who said, “are you interested in legislation involving national security and surveillance and secrecy and those kind of issues?”
BASKIN: When you got it and read it what went through your mind?
LEWIS: I got it. I read it. Holy moly. I was incredulous really about the document. I realized this is a pretty historic piece of legislation. This isn’t just another bill.
BASKIN: What surprised Chuck Lewis was this document, leaked to him by a confidential source and shared exclusively with NOW. It’s a Justice Department draft of a law called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act. It has enormous implications for everyone’s civil liberties and for national security. Yet only a few in Washington have even laid eyes on it.
LEWIS: The reason the Justice Department I think wants to keep it under wraps is, they know it’s a hot potato. They know it’s controversial and they want to keep it quiet for as long as possible until the right precise moment.
BASKIN: And that moment is when?
LEWIS: When we’re at war with Iraq.
BASKIN: In wartime, public opinion often favors national security over civil liberties — which is what this draft legislation appears to do — expanding law enforcement and intelligence gathering, reducing judicial oversight of surveillance, even authorizing secret arrests.
To understand the importance of this draft bill, we need to look back at the Patriot Act, rushed into law just weeks after the September 11th attacks.
BUSH: This legislation is essential not only to pursuing and punishing terrorists but also preventing more atrocities in the hands of the evil ones.
BASKIN: In the name of the war on terror, the Patriot Act of 2001 allowed the government to use secret searches, wiretaps and other covert surveillance with less oversight. It broadened the government’s ability to access email and monitor the Internet and it authorized the Attorney General to lock up foreign terror suspects without a hearing.
COLE: Principally what the Patriot Act did was to expand the government’s ability to conduct surveillance on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike without the same kinds of judicial oversight that had previously been in existence. But much of that surveillance is conducted in secret.
BASKIN: David Cole teaches law at Georgetown University. He says in the fall of 2001, he and other advocates of civil liberties were ignored in the haste to pass the Patriot Act.
BASKIN: The Patriot Act moved through Congress with unprecedented speed. There were few public hearings and very little debate and some members now have questions about the very legislation they approved overwhelmingly. Nevertheless, the Justice Department has now drafted an even tougher sequel. Insiders are calling it, “Patriot Act II.”
BASKIN: This draft legislation has been a closely guarded secret. Cole reviewed the confidential draft at Georgetown Law School and gave us his evaluation.
COLE: I think this is quite a radical proposal. It authorizes secret arrests. Never before in this country have we authorized secret arrests. Arrests have always been public. And that’s for a good reason. To take someone off the street and lock him up is the most serious thing that a state can do to its citizenry, short of executing them.
BASKIN: And Cole says the draft legislation is worrisome because it is so broadly written.
COLE: It would give the Attorney General essentially unchecked authority to deport anyone who he thought was a danger to our economic interests. It would strip citizenship from people for lawful political associations.
BASKIN: Cole says the proposed changes in the powers of government will be very controversial.
COLE: Many of these provisions I think will trouble Republicans. Will trouble conservatives. Will trouble people who are concerned about too much government.
BASKIN: But very few people outside the Justice Department have even had a chance to see the draft bill. NOW has obtained a cover letter for the draft that shows only one member of Congress has received it: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee which would oversee this type of legislation. But when we caught up with him yesterday at Union Station, we were the first to show it to him.
BASKIN: What do you think of the Justice Department’s new proposal, it’s being called Patriot Act II?
GRASSLEY: I’m going to be very cautious about that legislation. Quite frankly I’m not going to be for dramatic expansion of it even knowing the environment of terrorism I know is now a threat to Americans. I think we need to move very cautiously. And I think we’ve had about enough expansion as we should have for a while.
BASKIN: Grassley says before Congress even considers any new type of terror legislation, he wants answers from the Justice Department about the law already passed in 2001. For months, Senators with oversight over the Patriot Act say Attorney General John Ashcroft has refused to answer key questions.
LEAHY: We really do want answers to the requests that we send. We have 23 outstanding requests to various parts of the Department of Justice dating back a year, July of last year.
SPECTER: How do we communicate with you? And are you really too busy too respond? And as I’ve already said, I’ll accept that as an answer.
GRASSLEY: You know, it’s just like pulling teeth to get information out of a lot of bureaucracy. But where it comes to this issue the Justice Department has been very difficult.
BASKIN: The Justice Department declined NOW’s request for an interview, but confirmed in a statement that additional anti-terrorism measures are under active review.
Professor Cole says if lawmakers do receive new legislative proposals, they should recall that none of the provisions of the draft bill, or the 2001 law, would have prevented the 9/11 attacks.
COLE: There’s been no showing that if the Patriot Act had been on the books, September 11th wouldn’t have happened. In fact, the evidence that we have about the failure to stop the September 11th plot indicates that it was not through an absence of ability to gather intelligence. It was rather through a failure of analysis.
BASKIN: Given that we’re in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, wouldn’t these proposals help us fight the war on terror and protect American lives?
COLE: They might. It’s always been a balance between keeping us secure and keeping us secure from the government. Our liberties are most tested in times like this. But they were put into place precisely for times like this. So if we give them up at times like this without very careful consideration, without a very strong showing, then we’ve given up what this country stands for.
MOYERS: Chuck Lewis, whom you just saw in that piece is with me now. He is the Executive Director of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, the organization responsible for obtaining that document. Chuck Lewis, thank you for joining us.
LEWIS: Thank you.
MOYERS: The Patriot Act was passed six weeks after 9/11. We know now that it greatly changed the balance between liberty and security in this nation’s framework. What do you think — what’s the significance of this new document, called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003?
LEWIS: I think the significance is it just deepens and broadens, further extends the first Patriot Act. That act in 2001, they had six weeks, which was not a lot of time to throw something together. Now there’s been 18 months of all kinds of things that have happened and court decisions that have tried to roll back some of the Patriot Act.
And other concerns, law enforcement, people have, and so they’ve had time to sift and sort what they want. And it’s arguably might be a more thorough rendering of all the things law enforcement and intelligence agencies would like to have in a perfect world. It’s sort of how I look at it, and I think it’s a very tough document when it comes to secrecy and surveillance.
I understand the concerns about fear of terrorism. And it certainly…
MOYERS: We all have those…
LEWIS: We all have those and there are things in the legislation that make sense, and that are reasonable, I think for any American. But there are other things that really take some of the Patriot Act civil liberties issues that folks were concerned about and go even further. And I think it’s gonna be very controversial. Some of these sections are gonna be debated for weeks and months.
MOYERS: So many of these powers latent in this draft legislation were powers that were taken away from the intelligence community some years ago because they were abused.
LEWIS: That’s right.
MOYERS: Do you see any protection in here against potential abuse?
LEWIS: I don’t think there’s very much — there’s a lot more authority and power for government. There’s less oversight and information about what government is doing. That’s the headline and that’s the theme. And the safeguards seem to be pretty minimal to me.
MOYERS: I just go through here, you know? It would give the Attorney General the unchecked power to deport any foreigner…
MOYERS: Including lawful permanent resident aliens. It would give the government the power to keep certain arrests secret until an indictment is found never in our history have we permitted secret arrests. It would give the government power to bypass courts and grand juries in order to conduct surveillance without a judge’s permission. I mean these do really further upend the balance between liberty on the one hand and security on the other.
LEWIS: Well, they do. They reduce judicial oversight with the secret intelligence courts instead of saying the court may do this now it’s the court will do this. They can have ex parte conversations where they go into the judge without anyone else around. In terms of information about detainees, not only can they detain anyone they’d like to detain, there is no public information about it.
Journalists cannot find out the names, so we detained over a thousand people after September 11th because we thought they might all be terrorists. Not one of them was really found with any criminal charges to be a terrorist. And we don’t know the names of almost all those people, still. And so it does appear that everything that folks might be concerned about with the Patriot Act, this is times five or times ten is what I look at it. I see it very serious.
MOYERS: You and I have had this kind of discussion often, we go back a long way together. The foundation that I serve on has been a big supporter of yours and you’ve been a big supporter of our journalism. If we were fighting terrorists instead of being journalists, wouldn’t we want this kind of power in our hands?
LEWIS: Well, we would, but we operate in a democracy and there’s other considerations. I mean I think, you know, there’s no question, if you’re in law enforcement, this is gonna make it easier for you to do your job. The problem is, we have a history in our country, just in our lifetime, in the last quarter century, where we’ve seen FBI and CIA abuses of ordinary citizens. Where mail has been opened, where homes have been broken into. Where infiltration has occurred in political groups. Informants have been used, misused. People’s lives have been ruined. People have committed suicide because of the pressures brought against them by the government, by these kinds of secret intelligence agencies.
This is not a completely crazy idea to worry about the power of the government. And it was curbed and rolled back in the ’70s. And there is something obviously occurring here in the public space around the whole issue of liberty and security right now.
And it is clearly changing and it’s moving towards security. And the question for us as a people is what is the right balance. And I think my biggest personal concern is that there ought to be a debate about this. So the Patriot Act jammed through Congress in six weeks.
There was a Congressional — there was a Senate hearing that lasted an hour and a half, there were no questions to the Attorney General by the senators. This is too important for our country. Whatever anyone’s point of view, this should be a conversation that the country should have.
And I’m afraid they’re waiting for a war or something and then they’re gonna pop this baby out and then try to jam it through.
MOYERS: You mean that if it were not rolled out and discussed publicly until the United States is at war in Iraq, people might not pay as much attention to it as they would now.
LEWIS: They wouldn’t pay as much attention and you know, our worries and our fears are gonna be different than they are now. And there will be less of — all these things will melt away. These are nice concerns about liberties but we’ll be at war. And we’ll have Presidents and attorneys general and other government officials telling us things. And I just see a — I see that it wouldn’t work quite as easily for them if it comes out in the next few weeks as opposed to then.
MOYERS: Congressman Burton, Dan Burton, of Indiana, a very conservative congressman, who is Chairman on the Committee on Government Reform. He said recently, “An iron veil is descending over the executive branch.”
Now your forte is moving information around in Washington trying to find out what’s going on. Would you agree with what Congressman Burton has said here?
LEWIS: I absolutely agree with what he’s saying. I mean there have been 300 roll-backs of the Freedom of Information Act since September 11th. All over America, at the state and local level, as well as the federal government. The Attorney General sent a message to every federal employee: “when in doubt, deny any Freedom of Information request.”
We have other things like presidential papers being sealed off. We have reporters trying to cover things in Afghanistan being locked in a warehouse and not able to file their stories. Even before September 11th, we had one reporter’s home phone records seized by a grand jury without telling him or his news organization.
There’s a lot of things happening with information, access to information, and efforts to stop journalism that I have not seen in 20 plus years of watching Washington and journalism and government interact. And it’s not just information. It’s not information for information’s sake. This is about health, safety, lives…
MOYERS: What do you mean?
LEWIS: Well, you have this whole thing in this current draft legislation that there’s a worst case scenario type requirement that every company that is making hazardous or toxic materials has to make that information available to the public. So if something terrible does happen they know that it’s possible that it could happen and there’s some sort of assessment about it. Well now that is not gonna be required. Chemical companies will not have to tell the world about these problems.
And they will — the citizens in that community will not have access to that information in an easy accessible way. And that’s new and that affects their life. If some problem occurs, they’re unrelated to the terrorism. Something just goes wrong, they will not know anything about that in their community.
So we’re rolling back health and safety and environmental and other considerations and sensitivities that have been in our culture now for decades. Are melting away because of — all in the name of fighting terrorism.
MOYERS: What would be the Attorney General’s justification for wanting to restrict access to information about toxic chemicals?
LEWIS: Well, the — I haven’t heard one. But I think the rationale is that terrorists could get information about a chemical plant and its security, bad security, inadequate security and somehow then bring about a threat.
But the problem is sunlight is the best disinfectant. If these plants have bad security or they’re not being well run and they’re actually unsafe it’s usually exposing it and talking about it and the public being aware of it that ends up improving the plant or the facility or whatever it is.
I actually find that that’s how change occurs usually. And so the ostensible rationale is to keep it away from terrorists. But I think it’s also a rationale to protect companies frankly in this instance. Well I happen to know that’s been the chemical lobbyist’s dream for a long time.
A long time before 9/11. They did not want this information made available.
LEWIS: I see a lot of opportunism here around the fear and paranoia in the wake of September 11th. And taking advantage of the insecurity that we all feel today. And that is, to me, incredibly offensive. And that’s why a conversation about it, there’s 40 sections in this thing. The public needs to have a sense what exactly are we getting here. There needs to be a chewing over. This should not jam through Congress. This should be out there and being — be talked about. I mean the realm between public and private, between foreign and domestic, all these things have morphed into the citizen against all of this out there — this morass of regulations and rules and intrusions. And at the same time they can come after you, get your credit card data, your library records, your Internet searching, everything. And they’ll decide whether or not you’re a suspect or not.
Whether or not they like you. If you’re a disfavored political group, or from the wrong ethnic background, then you might become on the radar screen of some folks that you don’t know about, you can’t find out about, and they can do things. They have — this is incredible power.
MOYERS: One of the provisions in here as I understand it is that the government could actually strip citizenship from someone if — for example, if you were found, according to this, if you were found making what you thought was a legitimate contribution to some non profit organization.
MOYERS: Foundation. And months from then, that foundation were deemed by the government or that organization were deemed by the government to have been in some way supporting terrorists, you could lose your citizenship because of your contribution, even if you didn’t know…
LEWIS: That’s right.
MOYERS: …that you were contributing to an organization like that.
LEWIS: No, that’s absolutely — they have that power. They can also extradite all over world, even if we don’t have treaties. I mean, some of the things in here are — strain credulity for legal scholars. They’re not sure, they’ve never seen these kinds of provisions trotted out. I mean, a lot of the question is if it does pass Congress, what would the courts do with it later.
I mean I think there are some legitimate issues there.
MOYERS: What do you make of this? This is the document that went from the Department of Justice with this draft legislation to certain very key people in government. Among them, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Vice President Richard Cheney for their comments on this obviously confidential document.
Why the Speaker of the House and the Vice President and not the committee chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate or the appropriate committee in the House?
LEWIS: It’s a way to say you’ve consulted Congress to some extent by sending it to the Speaker and not really consulting Congress.
As far as I can tell, and we have not polled every member or anything like that, but it appears that virtually no one on Capitol Hill, except for the Speaker, has seen this legislation. I’m talking about the people at the judiciary committees in the House and Senate don’t have this legislation. And have even been kind of yanked around a little bit for months about whether there will even be legislation.
MOYERS: The House Judiciary Committee actually asked the FBI a few months ago how it had used the new powers that had been given to it under the Patriot Act. And the Justice department said, “We can’t tell you that information, it’s classified.”
And this prompted then-Congressman Bob Barr from Georgia — another conservative, by the way — he said the attitude of the Justice Department seems to be that even Congress isn’t entitled to know how they are using the authority that Congress gave them.
LEWIS: It’s incredible. I mean, if Congress doesn’t have oversight over the Justice Department and these programs, who does? That’s how it’s supposed to work in our constitution and in our set up for government.
MOYERS: That’s one of your real concerns, isn’t it? That there’s no oversight when secrecy is this tight.
LEWIS: Absolutely. The Congress is the people’s chance to monitor the executive branch. That is the only… it is the closest branch of government to the people. The House members are up for election every two years. If the House of Representatives and the Congress in general cannot keep a watch on the executive branch and cannot be informed about their activities, there’s something very serious here.
MOYERS: Chuck, I hear people out there in the audience thinking, you know, I’m scared. We’re — this is a new ballgame, to put it trivially. War on terrorists, they came on 9/11, we keep getting reports they’re coming again, who knows where it’ll happen. Everybody’s scared.
You guys are living in Lotus Land, you journalists talking about this sort of thing. Because we really want the government to protect us from another World Trade Center attack on the Pentagon, which is not far from where your office is in Washington.
MOYERS: What about that?
LEWIS: Look, I wanna be protected by the government as much as anyone.
But actually, in some ways that’s beside the point. There are also freedoms and rights and liberties that, you know, millions of Americas have fought for over 200 years to make sure that this is a special kind of country. And isn’t it possible to be secure and have liberties?
Why give all the power and authority and have no oversight and accountability? What are the safeguards? And that’s the question.
MOYERS: When someone inside government, inside the Justice Department, presumably, gives you a confidential document marked, “Not For Distribution,” The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, knowing that this administration has been cracking down on watchdogs and leaks from inside government, do you consider this person a patriot?
LEWIS: I really do. I think it takes incredible guts to take something that bothers someone, and for whatever reason, they feel they must give it out. And they know they’re gonna be polygraphed, they’re gonna be questioned. There’s gonna be a clampdown, there’s gonna be a witch-hunt after this occurs. They could very likely not only lose their job but maybe worse.
MOYERS: Be sued by the government?
LEWIS: Be sued by the government and otherwise ruined professionally. That is the most incredible kind of courage. And I have an incredible respect for anyone who does that.
MOYERS: I should make this clear this is not marked “Top Secret” — this is not a classified document. It is stamped “Confidential” but nobody is betraying the Secrets Act.
LEWIS: Yeah, that’s right, I mean, I’ve — I’m glad to say that that’s right.
MOYERS: There was a story this week in Congressional Quarterly, which is a very respected non-partisan journal in Washington. It says “Pentagon’s Proposed Changes Strike Some as Difficult, Dangerous and Destabilizing.” And one of the things Donald Rumsfeld wants is wavers of environmental laws so that troops can conduct more “realistic exercises.”
And then this magazine, which is non-partisan, says “this is part of the administration’s broad campaign to run the federal government more like a private business.” And with private businesses you have more control over employees, you have more control over information. Do you see that developing as a syndrome of this administration?
LEWIS: I think it’s incredible what’s happening. I see a wholesale assault on access to information in this country that has not really been seen, I have to just say it, since Richard Nixon.
When you look at the roll-backs of Freedom of Information, when you look at things like meeting of energy companies with the Vice President. It’s simple things though in government property with government officials getting paid by taxpayer money and it’s not available to the public.
When you see some of the things that we have talked about earlier with reporters from detainees to military actions not being able to see things. I see a lot of very aggressive behavior by government officials towards the act of getting information out and information itself. I think that we’re in a very unusual situation right now. And it really worries me actually.
MOYERS: Chuck Lewis, Center for Public Integrity, thank you very much.
LEWIS: Thank you.
MOYERS: Once upon a time, smallpox killed millions. Then we wiped it out — or so we thought.
But as Colin Powell suggested this week, terrorists have many weapons at their disposal today, including, possibly, the smallpox virus.
That’s why the President recently ordered a massive smallpox vaccination program, and the debate has begun.
NOW producer William Brangham went to two states, Tennessee and New York, to see what’s going on.
BRANGHAM: Day one of the President’s vaccination drive last month was national news. The President is proposing that millions of people get inoculated for a disease that doesn’t exist in nature.
The disease is smallpox, one of the deadliest the world has ever seen, and one we thought we’d eliminated decades ago. But government officials worry the genie is back out of the bottle. They fear the smallpox virus is in the hands of people who will use it as a weapon.
PRESIDENT BUSH (FROM TAPE): One potential danger to America is the use of the smallpox virus as a weapon of terror.
BRANGHAM: So the President says, we simply have to prepare. But his plan has sparked a fierce debate: Just how real is the threat of a smallpox attack? What would happen if smallpox was used as a weapon? And are the steps we’re taking today the right way to prepare?
On one issue, there is universal agreement. The return of smallpox would be a nightmare. For those who don’t remember it smallpox was devastating. In the 20th century alone, it killed almost half a billion people.
SCHAFFNER: It’s one of the great pestilential diseases of humankind. The mortality rate was 30 to 40 percent. It’s an astounding illness.
BRANGHAM: Smallpox is once again worrying Dr. William Schaffner. He’s an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
SCHAFFNER: It was such an important disease that there were some societies where parents did not give their children formal names until the disease has come through, infected that child, and that child has survived. That was the extent of the impact of this disease in some societies.
BRANGHAM: Vivid depictions of smallpox — like these Aztec drawings — occur throughout history. Humanity was defenseless until 1796, when an English country doctor named Edward Jenner made a remarkable connection…
SCHAFFNER: He had heard rumors that milkmaids who got a disease called cowpox from milking cows were protected when smallpox went through the village. They didn’t get smallpox.
BRANGHAM: So Jenner wondered: Could he protect someone from smallpox by intentionally giving them cowpox? He tried out his theory on a young boy and when it worked, Jenner had found one of medicine’s greatest weapons. He’d invented vaccination.
SCHAFFNER: Jenner actually had the vision of eliminating this disease. He said, “I think I’ve now got the mechanism. All we need to do is apply it systematically.” It took the rest of us 150 years to pick up on the notion and do what Jenner had in mind.
BRANGHAM: Jenner’s dream began to come true in the 1960’s. The World Health Organization launched a massive campaign to take his vaccine to every corner of the world. If you’re over 30 years old, you’ve probably got that distinct, dime-sized scar on your shoulder or leg. After hundreds of millions of vaccinations the world finally conquered smallpox.
SCHAFFNER: This was one of the greatest public health triumphs of the 20th century. It ranks up there with antibiotics, for example, and the use of other vaccines to eliminate diseases, but smallpox was the first.
BRANGHAM: We killed the disease but decided to keep the virus alive. Two tiny samples were locked away for possible future research. One at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and another at a similar lab outside of Moscow.
But in the early 1990s, defecting Russian scientists stunned the world. They revealed that the Soviet military had for years been mass-producing smallpox for use as biological-weapons.
When the Soviet Union splintered so too did this secret weapons program. Today, no one can say for sure where it all went but the President believes some of it has fallen into the wrong hands.
PRESIDENT BUSH (FROM TAPE): We believe that regimes hostile to the United States may possess this dangerous virus. To protect our citizens in the aftermath of September the 11th, we are evaluating old threats in a new light.
BRANGHAM: CIA reports state that Iraq, North Korea, and Iran may have possession of the smallpox virus.
BRANGHAM: Jerry Hauer is one of the President’s chief emergency managers. He says, just that possibility is why we have to act now.
HAUER: We have a dictator in Iraq who possibly has the virus. We can’t afford to take the chance that if his regime falls, that in the process he decides to do something horrific and we’ve done nothing to prepare for it.
BRANGHAM: Is there any intelligence that a smallpox attack is more likely now than it was say, two years ago, five years ago?
HAUER: No. I think the potential for an attack is not imminent. And we have really no specifics that one is potentially near term.
SCHAFFNER: There’s a paradox, isn’t there? Because everyone has said very consistently that the risk of a bio-terrorist event is low. There is no new information and there is no urgency. Yet, we have a program that would suggest that the risk is greater than that and there certainly is some urgency. Doesn’t jibe, does it?
BRANGHAM: Urgent or not, the old smallpox vaccine is coming out of deep freeze so America can begin a massive vaccination program.
The President’s plan is entirely voluntary. It’s broken down into three phases:
Phase 1 involves vaccinating half a million medical workers in public health offices and emergency rooms all over the country.
Phase 2 is a big step up. Ten million people would now get the vaccine. This would include even more medical workers, plus paramedics, police officers and firefighters.
And finally, phase 3 involves making the vaccine available to anyone in the country who wants it. Potentially hundreds of millions of doses.
But a lot of medical professionals are saying the President’s plan has significant problems. In fact, at least 80 hospitals around the country have said they’re not going to participate at all. Many that want to participate are finding it hard to recruit volunteers.
That’s because the smallpox vaccine is considered the most dangerous vaccine around — not because it gives you smallpox — remember, the vaccine is derived from the cowpox virus. But even that can cause serious problems. Complications can range from a mild rash and fever to severe swelling of the brain. And its estimated that for every miilion people who get it, one of them will die.
EDWARDS: People have to understand that nothing is free. And, if we wanna vaccinate a million people, we’re gonna get one death. If we wanna vaccinate two million, we’re gonna get two deaths. Those are the risks. And we either assume them or we don’t.
BRANGHAM: Dr. Kathy Edwards at Vanderbilt University is right in the middle of two large federal studies of this vaccine. Edwards thinks that phase one of the President’s plan is a prudent thing to do — that’s vaccinating this core team of hospital workers all over the country. But that said, she doesn’t minimize the risks involved.
EDWARDS: Now, you may say one in a million is not a big deal, you know?
BRANGHAM: It’s like being struck by lightning.
EDWARDS: Exactly. And certainly that doesn’t usually happen. But what if it’s your wife?
BRANGHAM: Some people are more at risk than others: those with common skin conditions like eczema or damaged immune systems — like cancer patients or people with AIDS. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. population would fall into this category.
That’s an even bigger problem than it might seem, because the smallpox vaccine is the only vaccine in use today that is contagious. When you get inoculated, you get a small sore on your arm. The vaccine virus actually grows there. You can potentially spread that virus to other people through casual contact.
SCHAFFNER: The vaccine can be transmitted to others, others who didn’t volunteer and, indeed, may have medical contra-indications. That’s why some have said when we talk about a voluntary program it’s not really a voluntary program because we’re going to put some people at risk who didn’t volunteer.
BRANGHAM: But this was the same vaccine that we all shot into the arms of kids for decades in America, I mean, did we not know about the complications back then?
SCHAFFNER: We did it rather blithely back then for several reasons. One, there was real bad smallpox out there. So in comparison, okay, we’ll take a few risks. Number two, we’re just vastly more interested in keeping people healthy today and our tolerance for adverse events is much, much less.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Schaffner says the protection from those old shots has probably worn off, and so despite the risks, he recommended that Vanderbilt Hospital go ahead and vaccinate their E.R. personnel. But officials who run the hospital decided even that was too risky. Vanderbilt has now joined the growing list of hospitals nationwide who aren’t vaccinating anyone.
Dr. Cory Slovis is Vanderbilt’s head of emergency medicine. He says: unless there’s a known threat of a smallpox attack, there’s no reason to vaccinate.
SLOVIS: We’re saying there has not yet been a case. I am hoping there never is a case. And I’m not willing right now to tell our residents, our faculty, or our nurses we ought to do this.
BRANGHAM: Slovis points out that if there’s an outbreak, there’s still time to react. If you’ve been exposed to smallpox, you’ve got a three to four day window to get vaccinated and still remain protected. Given that, Slovis says, the hospital can get ready in time.
SLOVIS: Right now we’re not expecting a radiation emergency, but in the next 30 minutes we could be ready for one. We’re not prepared for 100 trauma victims this minute, but we could be shortly. And so we, we’re trying to gear up the right way for a potential smallpox case, or a potential smallpox mini-epidemic.
BRANGHAM: When experts think about how a terrorist might try to use smallpox as a weapon they say it’s probably going to be in a big city. They say the simplest way of trying to spread the virus is for someone to infect himself, and then quickly try and spread it person to person in some crowded space.
BRANGHAM: New York City Health Commisioner Dr. Thomas Frieden thinks that’s a relatively controllable scenario.
FRIEDEN: Smallpox doesn’t spread readily between people. You have to be generally within six feet. The person only spreads it when he is or she is quite ill. They have a very apparent rash and very unusual rash on the face, high fever. So I’m not terribly concerned that smallpox would spread very widely in the city if it were introduced by individuals. If, on the other hand, terrorists have learned or designed a way to spray the smallpox virus, then it could spread more rapidly and it could be a much greater concern.
BRANGHAM: Turning smallpox into an airborne weapon is considered extremely difficult to do… and with no public knowledge of exactly who possesses the virus let alone who has the know-how to spread it, public health officials have adopted a range of responses. Some, like those at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, are preparing for the worst.
HESSLER: My perspective would probably be different if I was in a different part of the United States. In New York City, I was here. I saw two World Trade Center towers crumple to the ground that a month before that I would have told you they’ll be there forever. So today when I think of smallpox, I have to say it’s not impossible.
BRANGHAM: Bellevue is participating in phase one of the President’s plan — it will try to get a hundred or so staffers to volunteer to be vaccinated. Dr. Robert Hessler believes the risk of a smallpox attack is low, but says the hospital can’t afford to be caught off guard.
HESSLER: We gotta have staff available, doctors, nurses, clerks, laundry personnel. We have to have a hospital that can function if we do have that first case.
BRANGHAM: But Hessler’s colleague, Dr. William Goldberg, isn’t sure whether he’ll volunteer for the program.
GOLDBERG: I think I have a responsibility. I’m not sure that by getting vaccinated, I’m serving that responsibility or providing the opposite, a disservice to the community by feeding into this — what I do see at times as a hysteria.
I see politicians coming out and discussing national vaccination which I don’t think is really supported by the medical community. And I think that’s a dangerous thing. And I think if this idea spreads, you’re in a lotta trouble both financially and potentially medically.
BRANGHAM: When you talk to people about the smallpox plan, the issue of money comes up a lot. For example: will hospitals or pharmaceutical companies be sued if someone gets sick from the vaccine? What about people who do get sick and have to be hospitalized or take time off of work? Will they be compensated?
The Homeland Security Act contains a liability provision – it shields the federal government and the vaccine manufacturers from any lawsuits arising out of this program. But individuals receive no such protection.
GOLDBERG: There seems to be a lot of support within our government to protect the drug companies, to protect the insurance companies, but not as much support to protect the individuals. And that’s definitely something that concerns me.
BRANGHAM: Money’s also a concern when you consider the total cost of the President’s plan. Its estimated that phases one and two could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Perhaps a billion. The President expects the states to pay for it.
The Bush administration did give the states some money last year for biodefense but that money has basically been spent. There’s no new federal money coming for the smallpox plan. And that has some public health officials worried. They say, “look, twenty thousand people died last year from the flu. How are we supposed to tackle those known killers when we’re spending all this time and money on smallpox?”
SCHAFFNER: Just immunizing, vaccinating Phase One personnel has taken a huge commitment out of our public health staff around the country. Going beyond that to ten million is almost unthinkable. And, clearly, we’ve already diverted resources from other public health programs. And that will continue.
BRANGHAM: So that’s where it stands: the country is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight a disease that may never show up.
So most Americans are left weighing the unknowable risk of bioterrorism against the known risk of an old, but effective vaccine.
EDWARDS: This smallpox story has been an amazing example of how do you decide what risks and benefits are? How do you let people decide what risks and benefits that they want to assume? If you lived right next to the World Trade Center I would say that your perception of the risk of smallpox would be much greater than perhaps someone who lives in rural Tennessee. Because risk is personal. Risk is, you know, it’s not a one in a million. It’s yes or no.
WALLACE: Revered, reviled, and always rich. Our guest is Frank Rich, theater critic turned op-ed columnist, now Associate Editor at the NEW YORK TIMES. He’ll have, starting in March, an essay in every Sunday’s Arts and Leisure section. He’s a man of many words and he doesn’t mince them. He joins us tonight. Welcome to NOW, Mr. Rich.
RICH: Thanks for having me, I’m glad to be here.
WALLACE: Your memoir, GHOST LIGHT. Very, very evocative memoir.
RICH: Thank you.
WALLACE: You escaped an emotionally difficult, sometimes downright troubled childhood.
WALLACE: Through the arts, through your love of music, and stage.
RICH: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
RICH: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).
WALLACE: You became a theater critic. You spent all those years having people cower from you on Broadway. Then you spent all these years with a front-row seat on the larger world. Where do you find more truth? The real world, or the unreal world of the arts?
RICH: The whole premise of my writing and I realized it even, going back before I realized it, is that they’re permeable. That these things intersect.
And as a drama critic, in the 1980’s, I suddenly discovered that happening on the beat of reviewing plays in New York was a major news story. Which was the advent of AIDS, the discovery of AIDS. And at a certain point, it literally came knocking down walls in the theater, by killing people, and ultimately by becoming the subject of plays. In some cases, great plays, like ANGELS IN AMERICA, which happened when I was on that beat.
WALLACE: Is there more truth for you in the emotional chord struck by something artistic?
RICH: Yes. There is. I mean, than in politics? There’s no question about it. I mean, first of all, I find so much of politics synthetic. And this has nothing to do with ideology, or political party, or anything of the kind. That — politicians now are so scripted, they all are. Doesn’t matter what their political views. Everyone has a script. Everyone is quaffed to the nines. You know, it’s… if a candidate…
WALLACE: Or done over…
RICH: …doesn’t know the price of milk, is asked a question — that’s like, considered a major event in this political culture. But who writes those scripts? They’re written basically by pollsters. Focus group guys, and so on. They’re completely…
WALLACE: So they’re like bad drama.
RICH: They’re like bad drama. They’re synthetic. They’re contrived. A lot of the art’s not great. Most of it isn’t. Most of it’s mediocre. But when something really comes from the soul, I think it has a truth that you cannot find in politics.
WALLACE: This change of job, where you’re gonna be the — an essay every week, starting in March, on the front of Arts and Leisure, this is something you want?
RICH: Yeah. I mean, the thing is to write a long — I mean, not long, but, 14, 1500 word essay, the same as I was doing in Op-Ed — and broaden the sweep. It’ll still have some politics in it. And certainly news. But add more culture, and a little bit less Washington.
I mean, it is kind of tedious after a while, to parse politicians doing the same thing over and over again. The facts change from week to week, but the sort of masquerade doesn’t. And it’d be fun to mix that up, and look at the culture, too. Particularly since so much of news now happens through the culture.
WALLACE: What do you mean by that, news happens through the culture?
RICH: Here’s an example. I wrote this piece for the TIMES MAGAZINE in the fall, about Eminem. And what fascinated me about Eminem was, here he was a guy that two years ago was the subject of Congressional hearings, condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike. Lynn Cheney testified against him. And he was, you know, the enemy of America’s youth. Here it is, two years later. And he had a movie coming out, as we all know now, 8 MILE. But he had songs of, you know, a new album, THE EMINEM SHOW that came out over the summer that was just as incendiary. It ended — one song in it ended with, you know, urinating on the White House lawn, and crying out obscenities at both Lynn Cheney and Tipper Gore.
And you didn’t hear a peep from Washington. Now, what’s that about? Eminem really hadn’t changed.
WALLACE: What’s it about?
RICH: It’s about a change in the news and the culture. After 9/11, we realized that all these silly culture wars, and arguing about rock lyrics…
WALLACE: Aren’t worth it.
RICH: What the hell is it, who cares? You know, we suddenly remembered what our real problems are. And the reaction to Eminem, to me, is a barometer of that. And that kind of stuff fascinates me.
WALLACE: I’m reading you back to yourself : “Our history still repeats itself. First as a tragedy, then as a farce. But most of all, as entertainment. With a full line of merchandise and an undertow of nostalgia. Only the time frame has been compressed. In merely a year, ‘Let’s roll’ has gone from being a hero’s brave cry, to a Neil Young song, to the Florida State Football Team’s official slogan, to a t-shirt, to number one on next week’s TIMES best-seller list.”
“This is all reassuring. If the terrorists’ aim was in part to wreck America’s premiere export, our culture, we can say with confidence they have not won.”
RICH: The fact is, that, you know, most people now get their news through the culture in that way. So, when “Let’s Roll,” became a song, it probably meant much more to people than — particularly people who aren’t news junkies the way we are — than it did to people who read it in the newspaper.
And then — and as a t-shirt, it may mean as much as a best-selling book. I don’t know. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. People do get their news in different ways. Not everyone reads the NEW YORK TIMES, or watches PBS.
And that’s very important to monitor, too. And so in that sense, when a Bush or a Gore, or whomever, goes on David Letterman, that’s the news, too. It isn’t — in fact, it may be more the news than the canned statements that have been manicured for them…
WALLACE: Oh, yeah.
RICH: By their handlers.
WALLACE: What grabs you about the culture today that makes you wanna write? What grabs you?
RICH: Well, I think we have two tiers in a lot of the arts. For instance, in movies, yes. We have these big impersonal…
RICH: Bland, often gory movies, that are really not only lowest common denominator, but lowest international common denominator. You know, they’re designed so you know, they can be just dubbed in a million languages, and…
WALLACE: For young males in Yugoslavia. Yeah.
RICH: Exactly. So, they’re very unspecific. On the other hand, I may not like every one of them. But if you see movies like ABOUT SCHMIDT, or ADAPTATION, or THE PIANIST, those there may be — they may be technically not independent movies, but it’s a tier — those movies do have something to say. I’m not saying I like every one that I just mentioned. But they’re idiosyncratic, and they express the views of artists.
WALLACE: That indie streak.
RICH: Yeah, and similarly, on television — I mean, one of the good things about television is that there’s such alternatives now to what’s often homogenized network entertainment.
You know, when a show like SIX FEET UNDER, for instance, I think is as well-written and well-acted as anything I’ve ever seen on television. And you know, and I’ve also been a fan of THE SOPRANOS, too. And there’s, you know, and there’s interesting stuff that’s not on HBO as well.
You know, I’ve liked things like SOUTH PARK, for instance. There’s always something happening. And there’s…
WALLACE: THE SIMPSONS maintains its appeal in an unbelievable way.
RICH: THE SIMPSONS is an amazing phenomenon. It, and you know, and that really is made by a corporation. I mean, and so it sometimes happens even there. And it’s not as if HBO isn’t part of AOL Time-Warner, after all.
WALLACE: And one of the most interesting things I saw recently, is that culturally, now, the poll numbers weren’t different between black Americans and white Americans, about how they saw each other and themselves. What was different was their television viewing habits.
RICH: Yes. Yes.
WALLACE: They were watching different worlds.
RICH: They are. Although that’s very much about network television.
WALLACE: Yes. Shrewd.
RICH: Yeah. And…
WALLACE: But I’d never seen THE HUGHLEYS. Have you?
RICH: No, I haven’t. Fair enough. But I think — and look, sitcoms and networks, whether they’re pitched to minorities, or white people, or whatever, are never going to be that fascinating. Occasionally it does happen, as we know. There’ve been some wonderful shows, starting with I LOVE LUCY, and THE HONEYMOONERS. But it’s such a — I just find it such a window on America. I’m just fascinated.
RICH: By watching the commercials on the Super Bowl.
RICH: You know, even if you don’t give a damn about the Super Bowl — and I don’t — it’s just, it’s very interesting to me. And always has been. And I guess, you know, thinking of my book, I grew up in Washington, DC. But also loving the theater. So, I’ve always sort of felt these things intersected in a way that’s interesting.
WALLACE: As you look at the landscape now, are you hopeful about American culture?
RICH: Yeah. I’ll tell you what makes me hopeful. I am not hopeful about all of it. But after this period of tremendous consolidation by a few media companies, it seems to me that while there’ll always be a lot of junk, and there’s still a lot of sort of mass-produced junk, flowers sort of rise through the concrete. And it’s, you know, it’s amazing.
Some of the things happening in music, including hip-hop, in my mind, and also stuff in the movies. Stuff in television. Stuff certainly in books. The theater, a little bit. This is not a great period for the theater. I can’t argue that.
It’s cyclical, too. It — you know, culture — for instance, the theater is always dying. It’s called the fabulous invalid. But it always — and the theater will come back, too, eventually. But people love it. You know, movie attendance this past year has been at all-time records. And have, you know, VCR, and then the DVD were supposed to kill movies.
Well, what is that? It, people, there’s, you know, there’s something there that speaks to people, that’s profound. And people need it.
RICH: People — yeah. People need it. I’m always struck by the kids who turn up in New York and LA, and places in between. Chicago. Wanting to do theater, wanting to do independent film. Wanting to break into television or radio.
WALLACE: Needing to create.
RICH: Needing to create. And not all of them are talented, but many of them are. And it’s electrifying, when, you know. Someone like Eminem, I feel, is really a — he’s not so young any more. He’s 30. But…
RICH: But he, you know, he really is an authentic talent. And sure, for every one of him, there are 15 phonies in that business. Or 20, or 100. But those gems do emerge.
WALLACE: And they bubble up, and so do writers like Frank Rich.
We will miss you on the op-ed page. We will…
RICH: Well, thank you.
WALLACE: …look for you on the front of Arts & Leisure every Sunday, the NEW YORK TIMES, starting in March. Thank you for being our guest.
RICH: Delighted to be here. Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW: a rare look at how money opens doors. Buried deep in these court filings.
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Next week on NOW.
ANNOUNCER: And connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS Online, at pbs.org.
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This transcript was entered on March 30, 2015.