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Transcript:

September 5, 2008

BILL MOYERS:Welcome to the Journal.

It was the Republicans' turn this week and they left the convention in Saint Paul united by what they're against. The culture wars are on again and the press is in the no-man's land. We'll get to that in a moment with our resident guide, Kathleen Hall Jamieson. But first, a brief reality check.

Fifty million American children went back to school this week. But as reporter Sam Dillon writes in the "New York Times", more of them than ever are homeless and poor enough to need free meals. Mortgage foreclosures are throwing hundreds of families out of their homes each month. With fuel and food costs rising, with tax revenues falling, school budgets are in retreat. Detroit, for example, has laid off 700 teachers. We're not talking about just a few isolated places. This is nationwide.

Across the country schools are shortening the school week, cutting bus stops or eliminating bus service altogether, canceling field trips, and hiking the price of cafeteria lunches. You can read Sam Dillon's story on our website at PBS.org. Then look around where you live, and see if there's something you and your neighbors can do to help struggling schools in your district.

Also on our site is a map showing the whereabouts of Vice President Cheney. To the relief of many Republicans, he was a no-show at their convention, but now he's popped up in Central Asia, the vital crossroads for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea. No sooner had he landed in one of the former Soviet republics than he met with two giant oil companies — BP and Chevron.

Meanwhile, back in Washington...

CONDOLEEZZA RICE:Good afternoon.

BILL MOYERS:The Bush Administration was announcing an increase in American aid to Georgia by more than 1500 percent.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE:...the Georgian economy...

BILL MOYERS:From 64 million dollars this year to one billion dollars next year. A billion dollars. You can only wonder how many American kids a billion dollars could put back on the buses, back in class, and back in the cafeteria line. If you noticed that these important issues were not discussed very much at either convention, you're not alone.

With me now is Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She and her colleague, Joseph Capella, have written this new book, "Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment."Welcome back.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Thank you.

BILL MOYERS:This convention this week was to have been John McCain's story and John McCain's show. But Sarah Palin really made it her show and her story. She became the star. How do you think this has changed the campaign?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:It's changed the campaign in the obvious ways. It's energized the Republicans' social conservative base. But it's done something else. By naming her and energizing that convention around that pick, he's made it more difficult for him to do what he wanted to do in the acceptance speech that he gave and that is signal to the Independents that he is the maverick who, on climate change, on immigration, on closing Guantanamo, on standing up to President Bush on terror, had differed substantially from this administration. On embryonic stem cell research, differs with many in his own party.

And so when people say, well, why didn't he go through that litany of his real accomplishments not only of reaching across the aisle but of you know, addressing serious problems that face the nation, because he would have been booed potentially by that audience.

And there's the tension inside this nomination. They wanted to simultaneously have Governor Palin speak to part of the audience, Senator McCain speak to another. But he couldn't without potentially alienating the audience that was being drawn to her candidacy.

BILL MOYERS:Well, I think you put your finger on what is the strategy for the third election running. It's pure Karl Rove. Divide and polarize. It's the cultural wars all over again. God, guns, gays, beliefs, prayer, empire. And it seems to me the question has to be will it work a third time in a row?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Here's the question. Do you still see Senator McCain as the maverick after this pick? And with the press visibility on Governor Palin now and then potentially on some facets of her record, does that hurt the maverick image? Or does her record and parts of that record are holding up well of tax cutting and opposing some forms of special interest politics, standing up to big oil, for example, does that part of her record feature McCain the maverick?

And we don't know at this point where that definition is going to go. But I can tell you the likely story for the McCain campaign is not the story that you just told. The story that Senator McCain will tell is that he named a reformer with a proven history of tax cutting and social responsibility and high accountability in taking on special interests such as the oil companies.

BILL MOYERS:But...

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:And energy expert.

BILL MOYERS:S...

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Energy expert.

BILL MOYERS:If they win, she will only be President-in-waiting and he will be the President. And he talked so much about reform on Thursday night. Can a candidate go to Washington to reform Washington when his campaign is being run by Washington lobbyists?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Well, we don't know. You don't know whether the people who are surrounding Senator McCain and running the campaign and are tied to the lobbying community are going to be those that come into the White House. And that rhetoric frames some people as lobbyists and has that those nasty, evil, corrupting influences and not others.

The Republican argument would be the influence of organized labor, of teachers' unions, of trial lawyers on the Democrats is equally powerful and they're going to have just as much access on the other side. And so the question becomes when these people, either one, moves into office, how do they keep faith with their promise to offer a different kind of politics not bound to special interests? Senator McCain is, after all, the person who took on his own party, and it cost him politically to try to pass and to ultimately successfully move legislation known as McCain-Feingold on campaign finance reform.

BILL MOYERS:True. But the fact that he wanted another vice president and took the one the Christian Right, the very people who opposed him in 2000 when he ran against George Bush for nomination, who spread the rumor in South Carolina that he had fathered a child out a black child out of wedlock, he surrendered to those people in his choice of a vice president.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:See, you've got one frame and let me offer you the other.

BILL MOYERS:Right.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:And then suggest that you can actually see either or both. There are two different strands apparent in Governor Palin's record. One is the strand that features maverick reformer who takes on her own party. She defeats her own party and acts against powerful interests. The other is this socially conservative individual. And there are some things that are appealing about the socially conservative individual. Even if you don't agree with the ideological implication politically of some of the policy positions on the social right, there is something appealing about a person who knows that she's carrying a Down syndrome child and makes a decision to carry to term with all of the consequences for the family as a result. That's a decision that should be applauded. And so you can ask...

BILL MOYERS:A decision she would deny others if she were president or vice president and that administration carried into law their position on Roe versus Wade or abortion, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:But the question becomes, as one looks at this, to what extent does one feature the policy positions that would come from her presidency? And how different they would be from Senator McCain's in any event? Senator McCain has said he favors repeal of Roe v. Wade. What is the difference between that and saying that Governor Palin is pro-life?

If he is taken at his word, and I believe we should take politicians at their word because forecasts of governance tend to be reliable, then he's going to appoint Justices who are going to have exactly the same impact on that principle, Roe v. Wade, or that Supreme Court holding, as she would if she ascended to the presidency.

So the question really becomes: Do you take his socially conservative positions now as articulated and defended to be real? If you do, then how consistent are they with what she would do as president? If they're consistent, there's no issue in ideological implication for her becoming president. The question is: Is she qualified to be the executive in foreign affairs under uncertain circumstances?

The areas in which they differ that we know about are embryonic stem cell research. We know they differ on climate change. We know they differ on ANWR, drilling in ANWR. We don't know some of the other areas that may emerge. Ordinarily, a vice president who had to come on and say she's going to support the other policies of the presidency. But I don't think they differ on a pro-choice/pro-life position. I think Senator McCain, in vote record, has a reliable pro-life vote record.

BILL MOYERS:So is it ageism to raise the question that because John McCain will be the oldest president ever to enter the White House in a first term and that he has been several times treated for cancer, is it ageism to question his choice of a president-in-waiting?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:No, it's never inappropriate to question the qualifications of the vice president regardless of the age of the president because of our history of vice presidents ascending to the presidency. And so, you know the, you do not know what's going to happen to any president...

BILL MOYERS:Right.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:...of the United States. Unanticipated things do happen. And under those circumstances, you want that person to be qualified. So those questions are always appropriate regardless of age and should be asked across party of all people who would be vice-presidential candidates. It is, however, raising the age issue in a subtle and I think very effective fashion when the Democrats, throughout the Republican Convention, offer an ad that shows Senator McCain in answering the question about number of houses.

MALE NARRATOR: How many houses does he own? John McCain says he can't even remember anymore.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:He can't even remember anymore. Then they move in that ad to show a section with Senator McCain talking with President Bush in the White House in which they slow the footage down to make him appear out of touch. He's blinking very slowly. He looks sleepy. What is the ad doing? It's evoking age and concerns about age. I would say age stereotypes. And I think doing that is unfair.

BILL MOYERS:We heard a lot, as I said, of charges about sexism this week. And I brought with me the press release put out by the McCain campaign and reported by the Associated Press. Quote, "This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States who has never been a part of the old boys' network that has come to dominate the news establishment of this country." But is it sexism to want to know about the record of someone who is suddenly thrust on the stage like she was a week ago?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Is it fair to ask about the experience of any candidate for vice president? Of course. Any candidate for president? Of course. And it isn't sexist or racist to raise that question.

It also isn't ageist to ask the question whether or not someone who has been in Washington for a very long time yet engages in certainly kinds of behaviors that are different than someone who's been in Washington a much shorter period of time. And so the question is, what's the standard you bring? And what is, as a result, the evaluation that you make?

Here's where I have a problem with the vetting analysis. The press is eager to say she may not have been properly vetted by Senator McCain. And there's certainly evidence that she was vetted very, very quickly. How adequately we're finding out now as the press reporting moves forward. But that doesn't justify the press engaging in vetting which is also too quick and not properly informed. They actually seem to be vulnerable in some cases to the charge they're investigating about Senator McCain.

Let me give you an example. On CNN earlier this week Soledad O'Brien picks up something apparently from e-mails, although perhaps from bloggers because it's circulating in both places, and takes as fact that Governor Palin has cut special needs funding. Now, if she has, that evocative moment in the speech in which she promised to be the advocate for special needs children is an act of hypocrisy. So very important moment. However, it's raised on the assumption that it's true. It's asserted as true by Soledad O'Brien. When Soledad O'Brien raises it, the McCain spokesperson responds by defending what the governor will do in the future, the reasonable viewer watches and says, "Well, the McCain spokesperson isn't defending and saying she didn't do it. Perhaps she did."

Now you have a moment in which journalism has deceived its audience because in the rush to make this point about possible hypocrisy, a major commentator on a major network has asserted as fact something which doesn't hold up. It took the FactCheck.org researcher that I called on my staff about four hours to get back to the primary research documents.

BILL MOYERS:And it said?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:That Sarah Palin had increased funding for special needs children. There was a change in the category in the budget in which it was housed. And as a result, there was some confusion. And some people had generalized from the budget proposed by the predecessor that she defeated.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:And so the problem I have with some of the press coverage is that in the rush to vet, they made the mistake they were accusing the McCain campaign of. But I don't think that has anything to do with gender. I think that has something to do with the nature of 24-hour-a-day journalism.

BILL MOYERS:One that...

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:But I think it's problematic. However, in all of this, the press did something very important because it took another key claim that Governor Palin had made, that she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere. Well, as reporters quickly pointed out and accurately pointed out, she opposed it pretty much after she'd favored it and after it was all but gone anyway and the state did take the money. Now, there's an instance in which reporting was quick, but the reporting was accurate and the press performed its function effectively. None of that has to do with gender.

BILL MOYERS:So what does the, what do voters do? What do ordinary people out there who are not sure whether Sarah Palin really cut said one thing in her speech and then at home cut aid for needy children? Or the press that gets it right and the politicians say it's wrong? What does any ordinary viewer do?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:Well, the ordinary viewer should be able to step back and trust that the media are looking carefully and offering a factual basis apart from the partisan spin.

BILL MOYERS:What media, though? Fox News? CNN? PBS? Bloggers on the left to the right, as you said? Rush Limbaugh? Rachel Maddow?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:That's the problem. The problem is that one can't trust anymore from some of these sources that there's going to be a fidelity to fact in the presence of contest. One of the things that we showed in 2004, from the National Annenberg Election Survey, was that those who are reliant on Rush Limbaugh and on Fox News accepted the Republican view of the facts.

Those reliant on NPR and CNN were more likely to accept the Democratic view of the contested facts. Now sometimes there's legitimate contest. Sometimes, however, what you essentially had was spin and distortion on each side. Those who are relying on newspapers and traditional forms of news were still more likely to hold a non-contested view of those facts.

That's the answer to your question. Journalism that tries to balance, tries to have fidelity to fact, when it makes a mistake, corrects often enough that the public catches the correction, is still the place that one goes or one reads and watches both sides and tries to filter them through.

BILL MOYERS:After two weeks of conventions, what's the main storyline this week now?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:The main storyline this week is not, for me, about either of the conventions. We get wrapped up in convention world, forgetting that the outside world is experiencing a real life translated into headlines.

If people woke up this morning and see tonight on the evening news "unemployment up, stock market down," if they go to the gas pump and can't afford what they need to put in the gas tank, if they're facing crises at in foreclosures in homes, that kind of anxiety, that palpable of anxiety is the cast wrapped around these two conventions. And the question becomes not who gave what speech, what visual worked and what issues resonating but how are you going to address the anxiety in our lives? And how are you going to ensure that we're safe here, secure domestically in our own families and lives economically as well as secure abroad?

I don't think that either of the conventions did all that it needed to tie back to the kinds of concerns people are feeling now or the kinds of concerns that are being magnified out and the headlines they're going to see today and in the coming days.

BILL MOYERS:Kathleen Hall Jamieson, I'll see you again this fall. Thank you very much for being with us.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON:You're welcome.

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