May 2, 2008
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.
I once asked a reporter back from Vietnam, "Who's telling the truth over there?" "Everyone," he said. "Everyone sees what's happening through the lens of their own experience." That's how people see Jeremiah Wright. In my conversation with him on this broadcast a week ago and in his dramatic public appearances since, he revealed himself to be far more complex than the sound bites that propelled him onto the public stage. Over 2000 of you have written me about him, and your opinions vary widely. Some sting: "Jeremiah Wright is nothing more than a race-hustling, American hating radical," one viewer wrote. A "nut case," said another. Others were far more were sympathetic to him.
Many of you have asked for some rational explanation for Wright's transition from reasonable conversation to shocking anger at the National Press Club. A psychologist might pull back some of the layers and see this complicated man more clearly, but I'm not a psychologist. Many black preachers I've known scholarly, smart, and gentle in person uncorked fire and brimstone in the pulpit. Of course I've known many white preachers like that, too.
But where I grew up in the south, before the civil rights movement, the pulpit was a safe place for black men to express anger for which they would have been punished anywhere else; a safe place for the fierce thunder of dignity denied, justice delayed. I think I would have been angry if my ancestors had been transported thousands of miles in the hellish hole of a slave ship, then sold at auction, humiliated, whipped, and lynched. Or if my great-great grandfather had been but three-fifths of a person in a constitution that proclaimed, "We the people." Or if my own parents had been subjected to the racial vitriol of Jim Crow, Strom Thurmond, Bull Connor, and Jesse Helms. Even so, the anger of black preachers I've known and heard about and reported on was, for them, very personal and cathartic.
That's not how Jeremiah Wright came across in those sound bites or in his defiant performances this week. What white America is hearing in his most inflammatory words is an attack on the America they cherish and that many of their sons have died for in battle ? forgetting that black Americans have fought and bled beside them, and that Wright himself has a record of honored service in the Navy. Hardly anyone took the "chickens come home to roost" remark to convey the message that intervention in the political battles of other nations is sure to bring retaliation in some form, which is not to justify the particular savagery of 9/11 but to understand that actions have consequences. My friend Bernard Weisberger, the historian, says, yes, people are understandably seething with indignation over Wright's absurd charge that the United States deliberately brought an HIV epidemic into being. But it is a fact, he says, that within living memory the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study that deliberately deceived black men with syphilis into believing that they were being treated, while actually letting them die for the sake of a scientific test. Does this excuse Wright's anger? His exaggerations or distortions? You'll have to decide or yourself. At least it helps me to understand the why of them.
But in this multimedia age the pulpit isn't only available on Sunday mornings. There's round the clock media the beast whose hunger is never satisfied, especially for the fast food with emotional content. So the preacher starts with rational discussion and after much prodding throws more and more gasoline on the fire that will eventually consume everything it touches. He had help people who for their own reasons set out to conflate the man in the pulpit who wasn't running for president with the man in the pew who was.
Behold the double standard: John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering Catholic-bashing Texas preacher who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins. But no one suggests McCain shares Hagee's delusions, or thinks AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and asked God to remove Supreme Court justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right. After 9/11 Jerry Falwell said the attack was God's judgment on America for having been driven out of our schools and the public square, but when McCain goes after the endorsement of the preacher he once condemned as an agent of intolerance, the press gives him a pass.
Jon Stewart recently played a tape from the Nixon White House in which Billy Graham talks in the oval office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are undermining America. This is crazy; this is wrong -- white preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren't.
Which means it is all about race, isn't it? Wright's offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently. He doesn't fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone's neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school. What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettle some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship. We are often exposed us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I've never seen anything like this ? this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner before our very eyes. Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said "beware the terrible simplifiers".
BILL MOYERS: There's good news tonight: Kathleen Hall Jamieson is back after an extended leave from her duties as our resident scholar of common sense on politics and the media. The director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania returns from a prolonged trip just in time to help us sort out the barrage of messages saturating the airwaves in North Carolina and Indiana, where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are spending more than $100,000 a day on TV ads to sway the undecided, shore up the faithful, and turn out the vote in next Tuesday's primaries. In addition to decoding the spin of politics, Kathleen Hall Jamieson is scrutinizing how democracy works. Her latest book is just out Presidents-Creating the Presidency, Deeds Done in Words. Co-authored with Karyln Kohrs Campbell of the University of Minnesota. It's good to have you back.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's good to be back.
BILL MOYERS: And I'm almost prepared to forgive you for going AWOL.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: Here we are in a weekend in which Obama and Clinton are back and forth in Indiana and North Carolina, pressing their case. What's the story, this weekend, they're trying to tell what each thinks will close the deal?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The context, in which Senator Obama is responding to the Wright controversy, is one that is familiar to me from studying history. When the concern is that you've been, for some reason, cast as being extreme or frightening in some way, the way a candidate who is skillful responds, is to go back to basics.
To re-tell the biography. But also to move into formats in which the communication itself becomes a form of rebuttal. Historically, Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 by doing that. President Carter, in his campaign, wanted to cast Governor Reagan as out of the mainstream, extremist and scary.
Ronald Reagan's campaign responded with an ad that was aired so often that people in the campaign got complaints from their own supporters saying, "If I see that ad one more time, I'm not- I'm gonna stop watching television." But the ad reconnected Ronald Reagan to his biography in a way that made it harder to cast him as extremist or scary.
BILL MOYERS: What was the main point of that biography?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Boy from Illinois. Grew up. Radio announcer. Lifeguard. Went on air about baseball. Went to California. Worked as a Union member. Very basic things. What he had done as governor. By the time you finished with that ad it was very difficult to say scary extremist. And they ran the ad so often that they put in a biographical rebuttal.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: So fast-forward to this week. Driven by the Rev. Wright controversy. What Senator Obama has done is gone back to the basics of his biography in his speech. Basic speech to audiences- getting picked up in news. And taken that biography into environments, news environments, in which his manner becomes a kind of rebuttal.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: He sits down and has interviews with female reporters in news context in which he has extended answers with Michelle Obama seated next to him, in his low-key, engaged, thoughtful fashion.
SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: I think it is fair to say that both Michelle and I grew up in much less privileged circumstances than either of my two other potential opponents.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's easier to identify him with the Reverend Wright showcased in your sympathetic interview last week, than it is to identify him with the Reverend Wright of the histrionics of the Sunday and Monday performances. And to the extent that he locks that persona, which is consistent with what you've known of 'em in the past, back to biography that now stresses some things that he hasn't stressed in the past. Grandfather who was a veteran. Now we're taking on the patriotic issue raised by some of those comments.
BILL MOYERS: Obama's grandfather. Yes.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Obama's grandfather. He's also saying that he was a civil rights lawyer. Not that he was a Constitutional law professor. Now, he could say either one of those two things. A civil rights lawyer. Now put those two things together and the biography that he's filling out in those context, in an extended fashion, in a low-key, and thoughtful manner is one that is reassuring.
But what is important is, the linkage of the argument from biography. And the identification as a civil rights lawyer. Hence what is he not? A Black Power advocate. Grandfather, veteran. What is he not? In some way identified with an anti-US position.And then, he reminds people, as he did in his statement this week. That his speech to the Democratic Convention wasn't a speech that was against the United States--
BILL MOYERS: 2004.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: --2004. But rather one that expressed his love for the country. Now he's drawing back something that many people in the audience had as their first experience of him. And asking you to test that moment in that interview with his wife seated next to him and the story he's telling, drawing in your first experience with him, against the inferences that you might have been invited to draw about his relationship with Reverend Wright. It's very effective rebuttal.
And that's why I think the format is so important. Now contrast that to Senator Clinton going on The O'Reilly Factor. If Barack Obama responded to the Reverend Wright controversy by going on to The O'Reilly Factor, first he wouldn't have a chance to complete sentences and engage in a length exposition, in a context in which he has the capacity to give you a real sense of who he is, because there's an adversarial structure built in to the Hillary Clinton interview with Bill O'Reilly, that isn't there in the same way when he's being interviewed on CNN, and when he's being interviewed on The Today Show.
BILL MOYERS: How does Hillary Clinton deal with this biographical story that Obama is spinning out with Michelle at his side? That he's not Jeremiah Wright. How does she do it?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: She doesn't. When she's asked the question about Jeremiah Wright she says, he wouldn't have been my pastor. I would have left the church. And then she steps back from the controversy. But what she's doing in The O'Reilly Factor is as important as the move that Senator Obama makes into these interviews where he can lay in place facets of the biography that haven't been featured before and give you a chance to ask, does this seem like the kind of person about whom you could draw the inferences that are being invited from the Wright controversy. She's doing something that is very different.
BILL MOYERS: Which is?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: She's moving on to Fox News into the most adversarial format you're going to find on Fox News with Bill O'Reilly. Now my backdrop for this is Jay Leno. When the Democrats refused to be part of a Fox News debate, Jay Leno quipped, how are they gonna handle the terrorists if they can't even handle Fox News?
BILL O'REILLY: All right. So I'm getting a 6.5 percent bump. And so is Bill Clinton.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: Well, it's only for the people making more than $250,000.
BILL O'REILLY: No, that's me. That's me. You're talking to him.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: I know.
BILL O'REILLY: OK. All right. All right. All right.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: And I am very happy...
BILL O'REILLY: So 6.5 percent.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: ... that you're going to pay more...
BILL O'REILLY: I know you are.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: ... so that we can cut middle class taxes...
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Hillary Clinton is featuring her toughness. She's featuring the fact that she commands detail. That she can take on a tough interrogator. And that she will hold her own and she will give no ground. What is she stressing? By simply being in that format, before you've ever heard an answer, she's stressing, she's tough enough to be Commander-in-Chief.
She's ready to be president. She's experienced enough to handle the job, because of the command of detail in her answers.
This week, both of those candidates moved into venues that did exactly what they needed to do. The formats reinforced what they needed to argue. And also, they showcased strengths that they each have that advantaged them with the electorate.
BILL MOYERS: But they did so here in New York. The primaries, the decisive primaries next Tuesday are in Indiana and North Carolina.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Here's what we know about how people are consuming information, in general and this year. People who are interested in making a political decision. That is, they're undecided but they know they're going to vote become information seekers. So you hear that there's a Barack Obama interview that's gonna happen on The Today Show. You tune in.
You hear that the Hillary Clinton interview is gonna happen on The O'Reilly Factor. You tune in. So first, the likelihood that the audiences for those kinds of presentations were increased in those days, very high. Secondly, we know something about how the electorate is using the new media environment.
BILL MOYERS: The new media environment being?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Meaning lots of cable channels that you have an option to go to, even when you're watching traditional, mainstream broadcast.
People aren't watching 30 minutes of NBC or CBS or ABC anymore. There's a whole part of the electorate that is watching a segment of it. It gets what it needs of politics, and it starts to channel-surf to find other political information.
And over a third of the electorate says, it's done that at least once or twice in this most recent viewing experience. And so here's what's important about that. It means that you're willing to channel-surf over to be finding information on channels you might not otherwise go to. Fox News is not a place that you would ordinarily expect a very large number of Democrats.
You'll certainly find some. But what are you going to find there? You're going to find people who are part of a constituency that Hillary Clinton and Senator would like to reach.
BILL MOYERS: Then why are they still spending $100,000 a day each in Indiana on local TV ads and $120,000 plus in North Carolina on TV ads? Why are they spending all of that money on advertising?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's not just that they're advertising and that they're using these news formats. And I consider the O'Reilly structure with Hillary Clinton a news format. But also, they're moving into places in which the voters they most need to reach are watching. They're moving on to The View in order to present their case to people we know a lot about.
And so, if you simply look at the appearances of these candidates what you realize is, first, they've had a chance in an extended format, to articulate their basic message to an audience they would like to reach to vote. It's a voting audience. It's is not a high news consuming audience.
But you realize, as well, that this is very healthy for democracy. Because this is a format that gives them the extra time to make the case. It moves out of some of sound-byte journalism. And something else happened. When Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made the decision to go on to Fox, they're breaking out of the ideological enclave in which the viewers disposed to hear their message are more likely to be, and they're starting to appeal across parties.
We've heard that conservatives are more likely to be going to places like Fox. Liberals are more likely to be going to places like MSNBC. Particularly Olberman and Hard Ball. What does that mean? If you're going to get messages framed from your ideological perspective, you'll still get some exposure to the other side.
BILL MOYERS: In Indiana, both Obama and Clinton are presenting themselves as just folks. Does this just folks appeal go over?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: In politics, politicians from the beginning of political campaigning have tried to find all of the avenues that they could to identify with the people who largely are not going to be as well-off as they are. That's just the nature of the structure that produces political candidacies.
I mean essentially, one has to make the assumption that candidates are capable of governing with an understanding of the circumstances of people who don't live the kind of lives they live. Because no one can live a life as varied as the lives that taken together constitute America.
McCain certainly- Senator McCain certainly speaks to people who were not in the military. And he speaks to people who weren't in the Hanoi Hilton. It doesn't mean that he can't understand their lives. The question is, how do they find a way to understand the circumstances out there? And then how do they address it in a way that makes sense to the people who are actually experiencing those problems.
But there's always a danger when a candidate does that. We forget that the most iconic moment of the Dukakis' campaign of '88. Dukakis in the tank.
BILL MOYERS: The tank. Yes.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Occurred because Governor Dukakis was trying to illustrate a difference in a speech he'd given that day. That he believed would get no network coverage unless he found a visual. He got into the tank to illustrate it. Now it was a poor choice of a visual. But you can understand that because news wasn't going to cover his speech he was looking for the tag.
BILL MOYERS: The Democratic National Committee has rolled out some ads. MOVEON.ORG last night rolled out an ad taking McCain to task over this statement he's alleged to have made about- or he did make about staying in Iraq for a 100 years.
POLITICAL AD: Now we need to know how long we'd be in Iraq if John McCain were president. "I don't think Americans are concerned if we're there for 100 years, 1,000 years or 10,000 years". A hundred years in Iraq? And you thought no one could be worse than George Bush
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: We're going to be seeing a lot of ads this year that are going to contrast what Senator McCain has said on Iraq, with what the Democrats vision is on Iraq because they have very different policy positions.
But what is interesting about this, in a large context is what it is not doing. We are not moving forward into a debate about what Senator McCain means by saying that we will have some presence there. That he's open to having some presence there.
His statement about 100 years is being routinely taken out of context. Because he's not saying we are going to be in a war of the sort that we are in for 100 years and that would be acceptable to him. But the statement that says that we might have a presence there under a circumstance analogous to our presence in South Korea or Japan or Germany-
BILL MOYERS: Right.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: --needs explication that it hasn't yet gotten. We should be trying to find a way to move the debate forward on both sides -the Democratic side and the Republican side. About what US involvement, if any, is going to look like if one is able to bring this war to a close.
It's certainly an important question. It deserves to be answered rather than focusing on misstatement saying, we're going to stay there 100 years. Implying it's going to be in a bloody conflict with high casualties.
BILL MOYERS: Once upon a time, as recently as two years ago when the Democrats took control of Congress again, everyone assumed the Iraq war would be the central issue in this 2008 election year. But it's virtually disappeared from the campaign trail. How come?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The families that have service people in Iraq are directly experiencing the war. But most of us may have some connection through family or friends and community, but we don't have that kind of direct day-to-day contact.
When we don't see it on the news, we don't see it on the front page, the sense of its importance in a political debate begins to recede. What the candidates do is respond in part to the news agenda. And in part, they try to set their own proposals in a way that suggests that they are uniquely qualified to address these problems by projecting solutions into the future. Each one is going back to something they've done in the past.
He passed ethics legislation. She opposed that Energy Bill. To argue that the statements they're currently making-- her gas tax proposal, her windfall profits tax, his taking on special interest if he's elected, will translate into governance. The importance of that in ad structure is incredible. Because, what it does, it gives what otherwise are just simply promises the ballast in past facts that let people say, maybe this candidate has some special credibility.
BILL MOYERS: A good ad has to be grounded in performance in the past right? Before it can be trusted about the future?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The best ads are grounded in performance in the past and make an argument that this candidate who has that past differs from that candidate. And, as a result, here are the current promises differently. The one with that background is more likely to deliver what you care about. And what you care about are those things you've been seeing in the news, and you've been seeing in your daily lives. When news reflects the economy, it's reflecting concerns that Americans have. Pocket book translates into political reality very quickly. We can all see the prices going up in the grocery store. We can all see the prices going up for oil.
BILL MOYERS: Interesting reemergence on the political scene in the last few days of Elizabeth Edwards. What's going on there?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: News media are trying to get her to endorse.
BILL MOYERS: They want her to endorse either--
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: They want her to en--
BILL MOYERS: --Obama or Clinton?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And they want Senator Edwards to endorse, because his endorsement is the single most important endorsement out there other than Al Gore's.
BILL MOYERS: Let's look at this.
MEREDITH VIEIRA: Let's talk about John McCain's health care plan, because you have been very critical of it. He says he is the only one who has a plan to control cost, but you say that under his plan people with pre-existing conditions, like you with breast cancer or he having had melanoma, would not be able to get any health insurance. What do you mean by that, that you'd be left outside the clinic door?
ELIZABETH EDWARDS: What that means, of course, is that maybe we can get a policy, but it'd be incredibly expensive. Now, John McCain and I can afford it, but the vast number of Americans, the people that I'm going to see this morning when I go over to the clinic for my treatment, a lot of those people will not be able to get coverage, and that is enormously important.
BILL MOYERS: I see that. How do I read it?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: That is a more effective statement of attack against the McCain healthcare proposal than any ad could ever be. Here is a woman with a great deal of credibility arguing very effectively that there is, in his- the earlier version of his plan, a fatal flaw.
One, Elizabeth Edwards wouldn't be able to get coverage. Senator McCain wouldn't be able to get coverage. This week, in his health proposal, he put in place an answer to that objection, before that objection could get into attack ads by the Democrats.
I believe Elizabeth Edwards' effectiveness in using many different news interviews to make the point about that difference, changed the nature of the debate between the Democrats and the Republicans-
BILL MOYERS: This week?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: --about pre-existing conditions.
BILL MOYERS: You think so? This week?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: This week. The proposal that Senator McCain offered this week now has--
BILL MOYERS: Do you think he was paying attention to her?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think that the political I'd never say that I can read candidates minds. I think the campaign communication people on the Republican side, realized that there was a very effective sound-byte there that could be plausibly argued about his proposal.
And instead of taking it on directly in the general election against a Democratic candidate, created a facet of his proposal, when he offered his major speech this past week that would create a response.
BILL MOYERS: Let me go back for a moment to this emphasis you were making when we began. You talk about biography.
You talk about the biographies. The candidates trying to tell us their story. One of the young people on my staff wants to know if we've entered what he calls the post-political era. A campaign that's more about identity than it is about issues. You know, are people more swayed by Barack Obama's bowling and Hillary Clinton's boxing gloves than they are about what's happening in Iraq?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: You can't separate the two. And it's not as if in the past we had campaigns that pivoted centrally on issues and were divorced from the credibility claims of candidates. We just haven't had that. Because the policy issues gained their plausibility as you forecast them into governance, because you believe the person making them can deliver on them.
How do you know? Biography. John Kennedy argued in 1960 from PT-109 identity. John McCain argues from Hanoi Hilton. Richard Nixon argues in 1960 from his international experience. They understand history demands
Candidates have routinely, across the history of the presidency, argued to what they would do from who they are and what they've already done. As a result, you can't ask the question, have we ever had a non-identity politics? This year with age, race and gender at issue, we have a different kind of identity politics. Because, up to this point, the identity politics has been shall we say somewhat white and somewhat male. And so, when we differentiated it, it would be around such issues as the Catholicity of John Kennedy. The Quaker religious affiliation of Richard Nixon.
BILL MOYERS: So, we're not stuck in a vicious era of identity politics. It's just more of the same.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: If by identity politics you mean the identification with gender, Hillary Clinton, with race, Barack Obama, and with age, John McCain. I think we do have a different kind of campaign because we have a lot of sub-text operating. And some people are hearing sub-text where other people don't.
BILL MOYERS: Kathleen Hill Jamieson, it's very good to talk to you again.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's good to be back.
BILL MOYERS: Every year at this time for five years now, we're reminded of the armistice that never happened. On may first, 2003, the White House staged a spectacular photo opportunity for the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
BILL MOYERS: You've been seeing these images all week...our president landing on the USS Lincoln, announcing peace was at hand.
REPORTER: President made history today. It was a historic day.
REPORTER II: This one could be called historic.
REPORTER III: The first sitting president to land on a carrier.
REPORTER IV: Congratulating them on a mission accomplished.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed!
BILL MOYERS: Unfortunately, that was not true. The war had just begun...Once again the official version of reality was false. The experts, remember, had all agreed: there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH ...of uranium from Africa
BILL MOYERS: ....Saddam Hussein had ties to the terrorists...
DONALD RUMSFELD: ...Al Qaeda members.
BILL MOYERS: The war would be a slam dunk...and quickly over.
DONALD RUMSFELD: It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.
BILL MOYERS: No one had pushed the war more than vigorously than Vice President Cheney. He said..."I think it'll go relatively quickly...weeks rather than months."
BILL MOYERS: And, said the experts, it won't take many troops or require much sacrifice...Rumsfeld's deputy Paul Wolfowitz...
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: ...we can say with reasonable confidence that the notion of hundreds of thousands of American troops is way off the mark...
BILL MOYERS: And the cost to the taxpayer, the experts assured us -- practically nothing.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: ...we are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.
BILL MOYERS: Ted Koppel put the question to America's top aid official on Nightline:
TED KOPPEL: ...you're not suggesting that the rebuilding of Iraq is gonna be done for $1.7 billion?
ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, in terms of the American taxpayers' contribution, I do; this is it for the U.S. the rest of the rebuilding of Iraq will be done by other countries who have already made pledges...
BILL MOYERS: And now, mission accomplished, experts savored the triumph. The editor of The Weekly Standard William Kristol, "The first two battles of this new era are now over. The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably."
BILL MOYERS: The neo-conservative warrior Richard Perle told doubters to get over it. The war, he said "...ended quickly with few civilian casualties and with little damage to Iraq's cities, towns or infrastructure...it ended... without the quagmire [the war's critics] predicted...relax and enjoy it."
BILL MOYERS: Said columnist Mona Charen of the Commander in Chief, "the man who slept through many classes at Yale and partied the nights away stands revealed as a profound and great leader who will reshape the world for the better. The United States is lucky once again."
BILL MOYERS: And columnist Charles Krauthammer said, "The only people who think this wasn't a victory are Upper West Side liberals and a few people here in Washington."
BILL MOYERS: The Iraqis, said the experts, were sure to rally 'round...
WILLIAM KRISTOL: "I think there's been a certain amount of frankly, Terry, pop sociology in America...that...the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular."
BILL MOYERS: You'll find these quotes and many others like them in this new book, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! OR HOW WE WON THE WAR IN IRAQ. It's an in-depth study and analysis of five years of expert commentary on the Iraq war. The authors have somewhat sadly, if not reluctantly, concluded that the most distinguished cast of experts ever before assembled reached a grand consensus on the Iraq war and that all of them got it wrong. How did it happen? The whole thing is so tragic perhaps only satire can give us the answer.
Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky are here to answer that question. They are the founders of The Institute of Expertology that's right. The Institute of Expertology. They also have day jobs.
Christopher Cerf is the satirist and composer whose music helped make SESAME STREET one of the most popular programs in television history. He's also the executive producer of the PBS literary education series, BETWEEN THE LINES, as well as the co-editor of the highly acclaimed IRAQ WAR READER.
Victor Navasky was for many years the editor and publisher of THE NATION founded in 1865, when he was a preschooler, one of the country's oldest journals of opinion. Winner of the National Book Award for the book NAMING NAMES, Victor Navasky is now Chairman of the COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW. Gentlemen, welcome to The Journal.
VICTOR NAVASKY: Good to be here.
BILL MOYERS: How did we win the war in Iraq?
VICTOR NAVASKY: Well, at every stage, there was someone who proclaimed that it was over. And-- when this book came out, we were told isn't it a shame that it's coming out now, because the country has reached a turning point with the surge. And based on our research at the Institute of Expertology-
BILL MOYERS: Somewhere between the Brookings Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
VICTOR NAVASKY: Well, yeah. And the American Enterprise Institute. I mean, we consider them rivals, however, in our study. But we were sympathetic to the point of view that we've reached a turning point. Because, as we show in the book, in 2003, we were told by the President of the United States that we've reached a turning point. And then, in 2004, we were told we had reached a turning point.
And then, in 2005, we were told by Donald Rumsfeld we have reached a turning point. And then-- So every year, three or four times, we seem to have reached a turning point. So that's one of the ways that we have triumphed.
BILL MOYERS: In other words, the experts said we won the war, so we won the war?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: And they keep saying it. In fact, when the Basra invasion by the Iraqi Army, that was supposed to clean up the Shiites in Basra began. You may recall the president said that day that it was a decisive moment in the history of a free Iraq. And you can tell, since then, we-- it's practically over, right?
VICTOR NAVASKY: And, but to be fair, they don't all say that we won the war. There are a whole school of experts who say that we'll know in six months whether or not we've won the war.
BILL MOYERS: That's a repetitive litany in your book-
VICTOR NAVASKY: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: --all the people who keep saying three more months, six more months-- and it's a bipartisan litany. I mean, John McCain, Hillary Clinton-
VICTOR NAVASKY: John McCain, well, they had a disagreement. Hillary said in 2002, I believe, that it would be three to six months. And then, McCain said in 2003, it would be three months. Or vice-versa. It really doesn't matter, because what matters, that McCain has been mis-portrayed in the media now as saying he was an opponent of the war all along. This is an unfair attack on his patriotism. He was very supportive of this war and predicted it would be over in a matter of a short time.
BILL MOYERS: So how do you decide who is an expert? What makes an expert?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Well, I think if you are in the government this is one of the problems we have in the country you are, by definition, an expert. In fact, you're unpatriotic if you disagree with someone in the government. And your expertise, if you had any before, becomes suspect.
BILL MOYERS: But these experts also included scholars, pundits, columnists.
VICTOR NAVASKY: People are believed to be experts who proclaim their expertise. Some of them do it directly. Others do it by using jargon, by parading the number of articles they've published, by their titles, and by their uniforms. And then, people who have positions of status and power, whether in the press, who are supposed to be adversaries of the establishment. Or, you know, the heads of departments great departments of government are assumed to know what they're talking about.So anyone who is presumed to know what he is talking about, we, at the Institute of Expertology are ready to say, as an expert, but you have to trust us they don't.
BILL MOYERS: How many years did you study to become experts on expertology?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Well, it really began when we did our book 24 years ago, called The Experts Speak, which was a definitive compendium of misinformation. And we set out with the idea that probably just by chance, by sheer probability, the experts would be right 50 percent of the time. We just weren't able to find any experts who were right.
VICTOR NAVASKY: And also-- just to-- not to interrupt, but to interrupt-
BILL MOYERSYou're an expert at that
VICTOR NAVASKY: an expert at that. Well, no. You think you are flattering us, you know, start calling us experts on the experts. We consider ourselves meta experts. Because we have lost any faith in the views of experts. And we don't want to be tarred with that description.
BILL MOYERS: Well, this is not a new phenomenon, as you've said. I mean, in that book, The Experts Speak, which I got 24 years ago, the same things were being said about Vietnam, 1962. We're turning the tide against the Viet Cong in Vietnam, by the Army Vice-Chief of Staff. 1963. The spearhead of aggression has been blunted in Vietnam. John F. Kennedy. 1964. I didn't just screw Ho Chi Minh, I... LBJ. 1965. The Viet Cong are going to collapse within weeks. Not months, but weeks. Walt Rostow, State Department. I mean, there seems to be something that expertise seems to be passed from one generation of powerful people to another, right?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Absolutely. In fact, one of my favorite quotes in The Experts Speak comes from a general in the Civil War. They were doing it even then. General Sedgewick, who surveyed the enemy battle lines. He was a Union general. And he looked out over the Confederate lines, and he said, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dis--." Those were his last words, actually.
VICTOR NAVASKY: And it's not just from generation to generation. It happens within weeks. So, Condoleezza Rice said, "We don't want the smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud." Her great image, talking about what's gonna- And then, President Bush, a few weeks later, said, "We don't want the smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud." They borrow each other's language and they reinforce each other's message.
BILL MOYERS: Do experts have to work hard to be so wrong? It's not easy to achieve a grand consensus, right?
VICTOR NAVASKY: Well, I think it comes pretty naturally to them. And it's not only that they're wrong. It's that they are arrogant in their erroneousness. I mean, to take one of your colleagues in the press, Bill O'Reilly. I mean, he not only "it will be over in a matter of weeks." He would say-- he made a bet and said, "I will bet anybody and buy them a dinner" where was the dinner going to be?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: It was gonna be in the Gaslight District of San Diego.
VICTOR NAVASKY: San Diego, right. "If I'm wrong that this lasts more than a few weeks." And so, they have contempt for those who don't agree with them. And that's part of a personality that goes with some of this expertise.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: The scary part is that at least in recent years, reporters will lose access to the news if they don't toe the line. And, of course, we just saw that with the Pentagon and the military experts. And those guys were all afraid that they wouldn't get briefings any more if they disagreed. And-
BILL MOYERS: The guys at the networks?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Yeah. They're all the military-
BILL MOYERS: But also, the fellows at the networks were worried that if they didn't put these guys on, they wouldn't have access again to the government. Right?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Well, that's true.
VICTOR NAVASKY: Now, the press is a story unto itself though. But I think I remember, you know, recently, there was a controversy about whether Barack Obama should be wearing a flag pin on his lapel. And I remember at the outbreak of the Iraq war, there was an argument about whether anchors should be wearing a pin or not. And I remember Dan Rather saying he didn't wear one himself, but he didn't care if other people did. It was up to them, or not. And while they're have this debate on one of the cable networks, in the lower left hand corner of the screen, there's an American flag flapping away. So it's just they're oblivious to what's going on.
BILL MOYERS: Did you find a single expert who got it right?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Well, strangely enough, we did. And it was Dick Cheney himself.
BILL MOYERS: How's that?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Because he was interviewed in 1994 by our rival institute, the American Enterprise Institute. And he was uncanny in his predictions. He said that if we tried to invade Iraq and go all the way to Baghdad, we'd find ourselves caught between the Sunnis and the Shiites. He said that Turkey wouldn't like that, and they could come down to try to deal with the Kurds. He worried about we could end up as an occupying power and be there for years. He was very prescient.
BILL MOYERSSo being prematurely right can be as dangerous as being prematurely wrong?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Well, it was certainly dangerous to him. He obviously decided he needed to change his position.
BILL MOYERS: Some people did get it right. Knight Ridder newspapers got it right at the time.
VICTOR NAVASKY: Well, yeah. But a lot of people, like THE NATION and others, who were who said this is a bad idea. But we don't count them as experts, because they're extremists. And therefore, they're not part of our databank at the Institute of Expertology.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: And they pollute our sample.
VICTOR NAVASKY: And they pollute our sample.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Yeah.
VICTOR NAVASKY: And people say, well, you have a partisan agenda. And we say, "No. We've got McCain. We've got Hillary." And they say, what about Barack Obama? Barack Obama had no experience, as everybody knows. And therefore, he didn't qualify as an expert. So--
BILL MOYERSBut so many of these experts have been writing books since all of this happened, saying, not our fault. Bush blew it. Right?
VICTOR NAVASKY: We have a whole section on why it wasn't their fault.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: "Who me?" is the name of the section in our book.
BILL MOYERSWhat about Douglas Feith, who was a senior official at the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld, and an architect of the war?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: He has a whole book out now, as I understand, or is coming out
BILL MOYERSWe have some clips here. Josh Marshall, who runs TalkingPointsMemo.com, a very interesting website, put together a montage of interviews of Feith since his new book came out. Take a look.
STEVE KROFT: One of the reasons we were told we were going to war with Iraq was that an imminent attack with weapons of mass destruction was about to happen.
DOUGLAS FEITH: I don't believe anybody in the US government said that.
STEVE KROFT: Uh, this is Donald Rumsfeld, "Iraq poses a serious and mounting threat to our country"
DONALD RUMSFELD: No terrorist poses a greater and more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSHThe Iraqi regime is a threat to any American.
DICK CHENEY: There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction, there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.
DOUGLAS FEITH: It is true that there was a serious error that the CIA made in saying that we would find WMD stockpiles, and it was a terrible mistake for the administration to have made those stockpiles in any way a part of the case for war. I don't think we needed to --
STEVE KROFT: You don't think we needed to?
DOUGLAS FEITH: I don't think we needed to.
STEVE KROFT: But isn't that the whole lynchpin for the war?
DOUGLAS FEITH: I don't believe so.
DOUGLAS FEITH: Would the rationale for the war have been sound, would it have been impressive, you know persuasive to the American people without the reliance on the erroneous intelligence, I think the answer's yes.
BILL MOYERS: Do experts ever learn anything?
VICTOR NAVASKY: I think that they based on our studies, anyway they learn to say it again in different ways. And they recycle the propositions that other people make. But they have such contempt for people who they don't consider worthy. That it's hard for them to absorb what they have to say. For example, when Hans Blix, who was in charge of the inspections of the-- whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, said they hadn't found any, who was it? Laura-
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Laura Ingram.
BILL MOYERS: Who is Laura Ingram?
VICTOR NAVASKY: Laura Ingram is a conservative columnist and a person whose accorded great respect as an expert, said "Hans Blix couldn't find the--"
CHRISTOPHER CERF: The stretch marks?
VICTOR NAVASKY: "The stretch marks on Rosie O'Donnell." That's what he said. So how is she gonna learn, if that's her attitude towards the guy who is charged with, and has all of these inspectors who are over there looking for the facts on the ground?
How is it, Chris, that so many people who were wrong about matters of life and death, keep getting, you know, promoted over the years? I mean, they've become New York Times columnists and contributors to the cable talk shows and all. How does that happen, when they've been so wrong about real issues of life and death?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Well, I think, you know, to be a little arrogant ourselves, and people don't go back and check. And that's what we've tried to do in our Mission Accomplished book. But now you-- the attention span of-- of the news and of the watchers of the news is very short. So people don't remember that Doug Feith said certain things five years ago, you know.
VICTOR NAVASKY: But there's another thing Chris too, which is that people who are in charge of promoting other people are the same come from the same power environment And so, they reward these predictions, and because it reaffirms their core beliefs in the first place.
BILL MOYERS: So why should we pay attention to the experts?
VICTOR NAVASKY: Well, there's one other thing before I-
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, sure.
VICTOR NAVASKY: --I tell you why we should. I mean, I-- you know. These are very complicated questions from the Institute. We spend a lot of-
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Yeah.
VICTOR NAVASKY: A lot of years thinking about it. The format of journalism is that you quote someone on one side, and then you quote someone on the other, and you have to pick experts. And the theory being that if you get two people who, as we found out in The Experts Speak, two experts who are wrong, that somehow you're gonna get the truth out of that. In the case of why did The Times hire Bill Kristol, however, there's a case where I think that it's a principle of the op-ed page. If you have people on one side Bob Herbert or someone like that and he happens to be right, you need someone who happens to be wrong on the other side. So, it's that's one of the principles of balance that happens in the news business. And--
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Fairness and balance.
BILL MOYERS: Do you have a favorite expert? I mean, some of these people are your friends. Do you have a favorite expert?
VICTOR NAVASKY: I have a favorite expert and a friend. And Chris, I'm sure, has his. But my favorite quote he's my favorite expert. But it's a quote by Paul Wolfowitz, who, you know, came from the academic community, and then had this very important career in the Defense Department, et cetera.
And he says, at one point, "I think foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq." Now, on the surface, I say, yeah, absolutely. And then I just say just just a minute. What are we? What are we doing over there? And the more you think about it, the more that quote resonates. And that's a really that's a big deal.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: It's very true. There's a quote from Trent Lott in the book that-
BILL MOYERS: Former Senator, now lobbyist.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Exactly. Shows a similar kind of attitude, where he says that he doesn't understand why Shiites kill Sunnis and Sunnis kill Shiites, 'cause they all look alike. And how do they tell the difference? Which shows again, the deep thought and the knowledge of hundreds of years of civilization that we've kind of stumbled into over there.
VICTOR NAVASKY: And speaking of our friends, Richard Cohen, who's a very smart, intelligent, liberal columnist for The Washington Post. After the Colin Powell gave his speech at the U.N., wrote a very compelling explanation of why, after listening to that evidence, he says that nobody could doubt that they have weapons of mass destruction. And then he says, "Only a fool, or possibly a Frenchman, could think otherwise." Now, the point about that is, you know, Richard is a great writer, and is very funny. And-- but it's also quote arrogant. And then, he may complain about us, because we don't point out in the book that he changed his mind about the war later on.But of course, I'm not-- it's out of context in that sense. But in fact, we think all the experts are out of context. And so, we're trying to respect their modus, and not correct the record when they correct the record.
BILL MOYERS: Now, to be fair and balanced - experts are bipartisan, right? I mean, your book is full of--
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: --Democrats, liberals-
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: --conservatives.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Al Gore.
BILL MOYERS: Al Gore, right.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Hillary Clinton. All in there.
BILL MOYERS: Right. But I have to ask you a tough question. Is it true that the Institute of Expertology is financed by earmarks?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: We're not really at liberty to reveal or financial sources now. But we will-- we plan to release them shortly.
BILL MOYERS: Will you give me some estimate of your annual budget?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: It's a lot larger than you think. We do have a sign. We invested $36 earlier this year in a sign that says "The Institute of Expertology". And you can see it in the back of our book. And when-- wherever we go to have a meeting, we bring that sign with us.
BILL MOYERS: You have a special bonus second at the end of Mission Accomplished. A sneak preview of our forthcoming book, THE EXPERTS SPEAK ABOUT IRAN. How seriously do you take all of this speculation in Washington that the Pentagon is preparing for a military strike against Iran?
VICTOR NAVASKY: Uh, If you read Norman Podhoretz's account in that section, you-- where he says that we have a carrier right off the coast of Iran, and all the president has to do is say "go". And that the non-military solutions have not worked. You can't not take it seriously.
BILL MOYERS: This is your special bonus section. And it begins with a quote from President George W. Bush. "This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table."
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Which is almost exactly word for word what he once said about the Iraq war.
BILL MOYERS: So you fellows have a lot of work to do, right?
CHRISTOPHER CERF: We do.
VICTOR NAVASKY: We have a lot of work. And people think that because there are some laughs in this book, that it's not serious. And you know, Mark Twain talked about the assault of laughter. And I think some of that's going on here.
VICTOR NAVASKYSatire is a part of the social dialogue. And you wouldn't want to accuse us of being satirists, 'cause we are serious scholars at the institute.
BILL MOYERS: I am an expert on satire. I mean, I know a satirist when I see one.
VICTOR NAVASKY: Yes. You are.
BILL MOYERS: And I'm in the presence of two. The book is MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: OR HOW WE WON THE WAR IN IRAQ. Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, thanks for being with us on The Journal.
VICTOR NAVASKY: Our pleasure.
CHRISTOPHER CERF: Thanks for having us.
VICTOR NAVASKY: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: When George Bush landed on the deck of the USS Lincoln, 139 American soldiers had died in Iraq. That was five years ago. Now more than 4000 have died, 30,000 have been wounded, over 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives, and nearly five million others have been displaced by the violence and destruction.
50 more American soldiers died last month the highest monthly figure since last September. Over 30 Iraqis were killed and at least 65 injured on Wednesday and Thursday by two suicide bombers. CBS NEWS and the WASHINGTON POST have both reported recently that the Pentagon is drawing up options for military strikes against Iran. The Secretary of Defense says that's not so. But Washington has moved a second carrier into the Persian Gulf the USS Lincoln, the very same ship on whose deck President Bush landed five years ago yesterday to announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
We'll see you next week.