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January 11, 2008

Bill Moyers talks with Kathleen Hall Jamieson

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL. It was, as you know, a good week for John McCain and Hillary Clinton.


BILL MOYERS: But not for pundits in the polls. Just take a look.

NEWS COVERAGE: In New Hampshire today, change is the campaign buzz word but Hillary Clinton maybe feeling like she's running into a buzz saw. I think what you're seeing in the Clinton campaign is a campaign that's reeling. How does she kill this impending sense of execution? This sort of sick feeling that this woman is going down. A definite sense that the Clinton campaign if not imploding is definitely beginning to fall into a crater. Here's another thing to look at Edwards could come in second. He did that four years ago. And that would be the end for Hillary Clinton. I think this thing is so over that if she has a 100 million dollars she better spend 95 of the 100 million in New York State cause she'll lose there too.

BILL MOYERS: Not exactly. The race wasn't over it was just beginning.

NEWS COVERAGE: A new day in New Hampshire at this hour and what appears to be…A lot of scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly what happened here. I'm going to spend the next year in analysis trying to figure out why we were so wrong. No, I mean all the pundits were wrong. I will never underestimate Hillary Clinton again.

BILL MOYERS: For our take on the story of the week, we turn again to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She keeps an expert eye on politics in the press and the habits of voters. Her calling is to mine the facts hidden in all the spin. You'll find a video of our conversation last week on along with a list of many of her incisive and helpful books. Quite a week, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes. Very interesting week.

BILL MOYERS: What's the story now?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think there's a story under the story. In the final days between Iowa and New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton and John McCain both conducted a campaign in a very similar fashion. They sat down or stood up but engaged voters. They listened to questions. They engaged in substantive detail and at length. And in McCain's case, interestingly, he's done this in the past, when the voter disagreed, he would hand the microphone back to see if he'd persuaded the voter and let the voter speak again. Take the microphone and continue the exchange. This is the kind of campaigning that gives Iowa and New Hampshire a privileged place in the order for a reason if the nation's able to see it. But what did you have to do to see it? Well, you had to watch a whole lot of CSPAN.

BILL MOYERS: The real story to me in New Hampshire was this incredible organizing campaign that Hillary Clinton not just in the five days between Iowa and New Hampshire but in the weeks leading up to New Hampshire.They had 4,000 volunteers. They knocked on 105,000 doors in New Hampshire. I mean, that's almost a third of the households. They had an amazing organization out there to turn out the vote. And the press never picked up on it.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: But that's not the whole story. In the Hillary moment, characterized very differently by people-

BILL MOYERS: The moisty moment?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, whatever adjective or adverb you use, Hillary Clinton has this moment in the diner.

BILL MOYERS: The national press was cynical. Clinton is hoping that showing that other side will bring women in particular to the polls, almost as if she had done it deliberate. We don't know whether she did or not. But the two significant newspapers in New Hampshire didn't cover the event at all. And local television coverage in New Hampshire was pretty matter of fact about it. It became a bigger national story than it did a local story.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Mm-hm. But what's also interesting to me is you're not sure whether she did it deliberately or not.


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I live in a different world. When Governor Romney becomes emotional talking about soldiers coming back from the war in Iraq in the context of having sons-- when he gets emotional talking about his father, as he did Thursday of this week-- when President Bush reports becoming emotional and you see him being emotional in circumstances, when President Reagan, in one of the finest speeches of his presidency, recalls the boys of Pointe du Hoc and the men who took the cliffs and his voice is quavering and he speaks of Lisa Zanatta Henn who came back to Normandy because her father, who has since died, wanted to come back and she's representing him, and he is on the edge of tears when he says it, we don't say, "Is that real?" We accept it.

Why is it that we raise the question about whether it's feigned with Hillary Clinton? Is it that we assume that because Hillary Clinton is so calculating, she must be able to do this? Is it because we assume that that's not really who she is? Must be fake? Or alternatively, do we have a view of personality that says we all have a range of possible facets of personality and sometimes some are on display and others are not? Why would we not accept at face value expressions of emotions from candidates? I do. I don't question it. Now, you know, you may say that's naïve. But I don't think someone not trained as an actor is going to be able to counterfeit emotion in a credible fashion. And I find all of these expressions, Democratic and Republican, to be credible.

BILL MOYERS: In watching the Obama camp respond to her victory in New Hampshire, I thought we saw a precursor of the campaign to come. I want to show you a little sound bite of Jesse Jackson, Jr., Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.-- who is a strong supporter of Obama, as he tries to put Hillary Clinton's camp on the defensive about, quote, the Hillary moment. Take a look at this.

JESSE JACKSON, JR.: We saw a sensitivity factor…But there are a lot of issues for which we can be emotion on this campaign.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Much of the commentary about that moment is simply a Rorschach read on people's ideological relationship to Hillary Clinton. The question for the electorate at large is: Does it speak to her capacity to lead? It's the same question that one should ask of everything one sees of candidates.

BILL MOYERS: It wasn't just Clinton the press got wrong. I mean, McCain made a comeback, too. But listen to what the press said of him after Tuesday. McCain has been left for dead, Chris Matthews said. This is the guy who was left for dead, Chris Wallace. Left for dead months ago, New York Daily News. Left for dead politically, Washington Post. Pretty much considered all washed up, which I guess is better than being dead, Katie Couric. Nearly written off just a few months ago, Tucker Carlson, MSNBC. But who had buried McCain in the first place? The press. What do you make of this?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, now, first, when you blow through a whole lot of money that you've raised and you've got a staff shake-up that's not simply the press. The press was reporting something out there in the external world. But the death metaphors in this last week have-- they've been astonishing. Coming into Iowa there was a headline on one of the cable networks that said, "Death match." And it was Romney versus McCain. And then a person says-on MSNBC, "For her to beat Barack Obama, she'd have to tear his head off." Well, if you tear someone's head off, you kill them.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: NBC says it's been described as a death match. Well, where was it described as a death match? On MSNBC. Another pundit said, "It's do or die for John McCain." You know, John McCain actually did face death. I don't think death by metaphor is probably going to be lethal to him. But what this does to your sense of what's happening in the election is it demeans it. It creates a context for viewing this that makes no sense if you're trying to find political substance. It's the ultimate of tactical coverage. In the past, I used to worry about sports metaphors. You know, will you land the knockout punch? 'Cause I didn't like the idea that you had to knock someone down in order to win. I didn't see how you could do that anyway with discourse. But now it's worse than that. Now you're going to actually kill the person.

BILL MOYERS: Mark Feldstein teaches journalism at George Washington University and he's quoted in the Washington Post this week describing political reporters as superficial sports writers. Covering the campaign is like joining a cult with a cocoon-like bubble as you travel from event to event. There's a lemming-like quality. I mean, he's talking about all of us in politics. There's some truth in there, isn't there?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Actually that point is relevant when you're talking about sports coverage. But this is even worse than that. In what context would this talk be appropriate? "It's Rome. It's the coliseum. These are gladiators and one of them won't come out alive." Now, imagine if the electorates being positioned as the people in the bread and circuses of Rome watching gladiators. That's the only context that makes sense of those metaphors to me. And if you look at McCain coming back from the dead, you know, this is a medical story. That's much more interesting than politics.

BILL MOYERS: Well, it's a theological and religious story.


BILL MOYERS: Talking about John McCain. John McCain had a very good week for a 71-year-old man who, just a few years ago, was either dead or toast, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And the operative word in this sentence is "71 year old." The press is, with ruthless efficiency, reminding people of age. And John McCain, by maintaining a campaign schedule that would be daunting to any of the much younger candidates, is saying back, "I can handle this." He also, whenever he's questioned about the age issue, does something that's interesting. He goes back to his youth when he first swore the oath that took him into the military. And from that he argues that he's shown leadership that demonstrated-- leadership for-- he says for patriotism, not for profit, a sly dig at Governor Romney when he led a squadron.

And you then are reminded he doesn't have to say it about his time as a prisoner of war. Then he talks about 20 years fighting in Washington and being involved in every major national security debate of the time. He's trying to translate that age indictment into an affirmation that he's able to do it. But his most effective moment was not his; it was Governor Huckabee who stepped in a debate and said about Senator McCain, "If you knew his 90-some-year-old mother, you just wouldn't raise that question."

BILL MOYERS: Explain this to me. Last week on television before New Hampshire-- McCain said he didn't think the American people minded if we were in Iraq for 10,000 years. Earlier he had said it would be fine with him if we're in Iraq a hundred years. And despite those statements, he had a big advantage in New Hampshire among Republicans who disapprove of the war in Iraq. Exactly contrarian to what he has said is his position. What do you think of that?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, first, his statement in context is analogizing this into the fact that we have troops still in a number of places around the world.


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And that we're not concerned about that. We're concerned when we take loss of life. So we have to be careful not to misread his original statement. But more importantly, when one of the pundits on Wednesday night on television said, "Look at this. He's-- people who disagree with this position support him and this position support him. They just didn't know what his positions were," there's an alternative interpretation. They knew exactly what his positions were. And they said, "He's a man of integrity. He told us what his position was on the war. And he said, 'I'd be willing to lose the presidency rather than do what's wrong for the country.'" And he took that position on the war when it was unpopular. And he continued to take it with people in New Hampshire who said, "I oppose your position." And he's taken positions on a number of issues that Republicans don't approve of. And he hasn't been backing down.

If people say a person has integrity and consistency, they may vote for him for president because that's what they're looking for in a president. And they may simultaneously say, "I disagree with you on the issues." And I know this will seem like a strange segue, but that's part of the reason that George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. People went into the voting booth saying, "I don't agree with some of his stands on issues, but I know where he stands.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: One of the things that intrigues me about the way in which Senator McCain is campaigning is that he's putting things on the table that I think need to be on the table, including global warming. One of the things that I think is important about the candidacy that Fred Thompson is offering is that he's talking about Social Security and he's put together a detailed, and as a result, a controversial plan. I think we need to ask the entitlement question. We need to find a way to discuss it intelligently and we need to take it on, Medicare and Social Security. But overall, what isn't being talked about the future? The big tough issues in which there are tough choices.

BILL MOYERS: As you are talking, I'm thinking that just a couple of days ago the U.S. dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs on a suburb of Baghdad we don't know anything about the casualties. The Pentagon is hinting that it's going to send another 3,000 to 4,000 troops to Afghanistan where 27,000 troops are now bogged down in a war that's not going well. Atlanta and the Southeast are running out of water. A huge public hospital in Atlanta has gone under. Two million Americans may be losing their homes in the next few months because of the subprime mortgage crisis. And yet these are not being talked about in the campaign.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, and what I think is a concern is in places that we could talk about them, we're not talking about them well. Look at the exchange between Governor Romney and Governor Huckabee in the debate in which Governor Huckabee is essentially being challenged by Governor Romney about in net raising taxes over a ten-plus-year period.

MR. ROMNEY: Now, I asked you a question to begin with. And that was, net-net, did you raise taxes in your state by half a billion dollars?

MR. HUCKABEE: We raised jobs, we rebuilt our roads.

MR. ROMNEY: You know, that's political speak.

MR. HUCKABEE: You know, Mitt -

MR. ROMNEY: The question is -- you can avoid this issue by just saying --

MR. HUCKABEE: -- you spent tens of millions of dollars sayings all negative things about me. If someone raises a question, you say it's a personal attack. In fact…

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Governor Huckabee is not acknowledging the tax increase. And I wish he would simply say, "Yes, I did in net. And here's what I did with it." But what he says instead is, "I built roads. Essentially I invested in infrastructure. I dealt with schools." If there's a penalty for the candidates who raise taxes in order to build infrastructure and the country's facing a situation in which we've neglected our infrastructure for 40 years. We had a cryptosporidium outbreak in one of our cities because-




KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You drink water, you become ill. Outbreak, particularly if your immune system is vulnerable. We have an infrastructure problem that we are postponing and postponing. A bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. And now Governor Huckabee, as governor, did, in my judgment, was the correct thing to do. He invested in infrastructure and the campaign structure is set to penalize him because, you know, he raised some taxes in order to do that.

BILL MOYERS: All right. The campaign changes every day. We'll be back to talk about it. What are you looking for next week?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: What I'm watching for next week is whether the substance of the candidates' positions will get through in news and in the debates. Will you be able to say before the next time that there is a vote or a primary, "I can tell you that this is how Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards differ and are similar on healthcare"? "I can tell you where the Democratic field differs from the Republican field on whether or not the Bush tax cuts should remain permanent." Where they stand in the Republican side on a pass to citizenship on immigration. Whether or not the candidates on each side have taken positions on the Iraq War and who supports a timetable, what is it, and what are its implications? Who supported the surge strategy first? And who now supports it?

If this next week is a good week for the electorate, more people will be able to answer those questions accurately and, as a result, cast an informed vote. And for those of us who can't vote next week, be on our way to casting ultimately an informed vote between the Democratic and Republican nominee.

BILL MOYERS: But if the press doesn't tell us that substance what does it say that our-- that as a democracy we allow our politics to be determined by bought ads and by a professional media whose interest is more often in personalities and bottom line than in the content of the candidates? I mean, our campaign seems designed to conceal rather than reveal the real world.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, and in moments that could be revealing, we don't seem to find a way to create mass access for the moment of revelation.


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, for example, I mean, take any of the exchanges in these days that help explain why Hillary Clinton and John McCain did so well, in which they engaged voters about real issue substance. Take those moments in which Senator Edwards talks about the patients' bill of rights and the dispute about what should and should not have been in it. It's a legitimate dispute.

There's a case to be made that some forms of lawsuits are bad and some forms of lawsuits are good. But let's hear the argument. And instead, we're engaging the politics at a high level of abstraction in which people are going to take on the special interests. But we're not exactly sure what that means. We're not exactly sure what they're going to be doing. And for practical purposes, everybody can fill in whatever that means to them. It's not actually a set of policy proposals. It's a kind of indictment of a certain form of status quo.

BILL MOYERS: But you notice that so often the mainstream press disparaged John Edwards for his anti-corporate-- anti-big money rhetoric. They dismissed him because of that.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The interesting thing to me about the Edwards candidacy is that he's making an argument that is consistent in some important ways with the argument made by Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and interestingly enough, Mike Huckabee, who takes on corporate greed. That doesn't seem to be a message that resonates very well when it moves into sound bites. And I'm somewhat bewildered about why not. And also, by the way, speaking of the Edwards candidacy, right now going into South Carolina, his home state where he's won a primary and has the endorsement of the steel workers in the state, he's being written off essentially as the third place candidate who basically can't survive beyond that. How, in fairness to his candidacy, can the media dismiss him when he may have at least some possibility of winning South Carolina? A possibility diminished greatly if you continue to talk about the fact that he can't win it.

So his message can't get through if he's in third. He got virtually no coverage on this last election night so his message couldn't get through there. And as a result, people aren't able to hear that message. And he's further disadvantaged because he's raised less money. And so if you want to ask, "How do you ensure that a message isn't able to get through?" put it in the voice of a candidate who carries, in the perspective of the media, no chance to be elected president.

BILL MOYERS: The campaign moves now from retail politics that you like in Iowa and New Hampshire 'cause the candidates can get close to the voters to big-- the wholesales you know in 20 states at one time. What changes?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The candidates who didn't have money had a chance in Iowa and New Hampshire. Notice what happens with Governor Huckabee in Iowa. You know, notice. You know, Senator Edwards is outspent and yet does well in Iowa. Notice that Senator McCain, outspent, does well in New Hampshire. You can do that when you have retail politics, when you're not contesting in many states simultaneously. You still do have retail politics able to happen in South Carolina and to some extent also able to happen in Michigan. More difficult in Michigan 'cause it's just a more difficult state to get around in. But once you begin to hit those times in which you've got large blocks of state, now money starts to matter.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And a disparity in resources potentially takes a candidate now, takes a candidate out of the race who might otherwise have survived had we still been able to see them in a retail environment which doesn't privilege money as strongly.

BILL MOYERS: Well, as this campaign moves on we'll be back to talk about it. Thank you, Kathleen Hall Jamieson.


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