Transcript, September 17, 2004
BRANCACCIO: Tonight on NOW, the war in Iraq comes to a town near you. National Guard troops are shipping out, saying goodbye to their families and putting their lives on hold.
WOMAN: You'll be in our prayers.
BRANCACCIO: These citizen soldiers will be fighting for months, even years.
DARDIS: The last year and a half to two years has been the largest mobilization we've experienced in Iowa since World War II.
BRANCACCIO: Life and death in small-town America.
And a foot soldier just back from Iraq on what it's like on the ground.
MURPHY: I saw the security situation deteriorate month by month. It seems the enemy is getting smarter. It seems that they're multiplying.
BRANCACCIO: And changes come to a meadow high in the Rockies.
HARTE: We are definitely looking into the future. It's starting to look more like Nevada up here in the Colorado Rockies.
BRANCACCIO: What's ahead for the earth.
And Kevin Phillips and Kathleen Hall Jamieson on war, politics, and the press.
ANNOUNCER: All that tonight on NOW with Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio, the weekly newsmagazine from PBS.
ANNOUNCER: From our studios in New York, David Brancaccio and Bill Moyers.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.
All across America thousands of the people next door our neighbors are getting their orders to pack up and ship out to Iraq.
They're members of the National Guard. They are normally not full-time soldiers. They hold down regular day jobs and typically spend a few weeks a year training with their units. Most of the action they see is during hurricanes, floods, national disasters and other emergencies closer to home. But this war is different. The regular military doesn't have the manpower to meet its needs for boots on the ground and so our part time soldiers have been pressed into service and are bearing a large part of the burden. About 75-thousand National Guard and Army reservists are in Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly one out of every two soldiers.
Compare that to Vietnam, where the National Guard accounted for only one in every 300 soldiers.
BRANCACCIO: National Guard troops have become a key part of the war effort. But a report released this week by the GAO the congressional watchdog agency found the Pentagon may run out of National Guard and reserve troops for the war on terror. The only way around it may be to re-mobilize them for up to 24 consecutive months, over and over again… something the report says the government considered and rejected without offering another solution.
All over the nation, the mobilizations continue. Producer Bryan Myers and I went to Iowa to see what impact they're having.
BRANCACCIO: This is how America says goodbye. The small town of Sheldon, Iowa has gathered to send loved ones off to the war in Iraq, soldiers from the local unit of the Iowa National Guard.
PA ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentleman, it's my pleasure to present the 2168th Transportation Company, Iowa Army National Guard!
BRANCACCIO: These men and women carry on the tradition of the original minutemen. Like the minutemen, they're known as "citizen-soldiers," that is, civilians who get called into duty in times of crisis. The National Guard is often used by governors to respond to state emergencies. But the Guard has another important role: fighting alongside the regular army when extra troops are needed overseas.
WOMAN: You'll be in our prayers every night and I really hate to see you go.
BRANCACCIO: Now the Guard is being mobilized in record numbers to fill a desperate shortage of troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. But a growing number of critics say these part-time soldiers were not intended to be used so heavily for so long and as a result, they, and the communities they come from, are bearing too much of today's military burden.
Major general Ron Dardis is the commander of the Iowa National Guard.
DARDIS: The last year and a half to two years has been the largest mobilization we've experienced in Iowa since World War II.
BRANCACCIO: Almost half of all the troops now in Iraq and Afghanistan are part-time soldiers from state National Guard and Army Reserve units. Over 160,000 of them are currently on active duty worldwide. And since 9/11, Iowa has been among the top states in the percentage of guard troops called to duty.
WOMAN: These are our boys, we're proud of them.
BRANCACCIO: Small towns like Sheldon get hit especially hard when guardsmen and women are sent overseas. Unlike the regular Army, where units are made up of soldiers from all over the place, guard units are usually made up of local townspeople.
DARDIS: We live in and we make up the communities in which we reside. We have 50 some armories throughout the state. We have over 105 units throughout the state of Iowa. So, when you touch the Iowa Guard, you touch many communities throughout the state.
BRANCACCIO: Sheldon, population 4900, is a storybook Iowa farm town, located in the northwest corner of the state. And in the center of town is a National Guard armory. It's home to the 2168th transportation company. A trucking unit, their motto is, "You call, we haul."
MLOCEK: Good Morning 2168!
BRANCACCIO: Captain Jennifer Mlocek is the commander of the 170 men and women who make up the unit. Unlike her soldiers, the guard is her full time job. She used to be in the regular army, but found the constant moving a strain on family life.
MLOCEK: The National Guard is a wonderful opportunity for me to be full time military but also have the ability to grow roots so that my husband can have a career.
BRANCACCIO: That is one of the keys to the National Guard, is that it does have often roots in a particular region.
MLOCEK: Absolutely. Sheldon is a perfect example of that. If you look at many of the soldiers that are in this company, they are from northwestern Iowa.
MLOCEK: Company, attention!
BRANCACCIO: Spend a little time with the 2168th, and you'll realize just how much it reflects Sheldon. There are married couples in the unit, brothers, godparents of each other's kids. There's even a few of the AARP crowd, long past the age for most to be a soldier. Wendell DeBeer, 56, is a welder, and has five grandkids.
BRANCACCIO: How is it that a man of your life experience is still doing this?
DEBEER: I enjoy being in the Guard with all the other people. I enjoy the people.
BRANCACCIO: Now, DeBeer and the rest of these men and women are headed to the Persian Gulf. They were preparing to leave the week we visited.
Charles and Billi Crockett, both 25, are one of three married couples in the 2168th. Charles is an auto mechanic, Billi a supervisor of nurses at a residential care facility. They joined the guard years ago as juniors in high school, while they were still dating. At the time, Charles thought about staying in the family farming business, but wanted options.
SGT. CHARLES CROCKETT: I'm like, well, I get some college money, get some experience, grow up a little bit. So that was the main reason. And nine years later, I'm still doing it.
BRANCACCIO: Charles and Billi have since moved out of the area, but for them, the 2168th is a way to stay in touch with the gang back home. Guard units typically get together for training one weekend a month, and two weeks a summer.
SGT. CHARLES CROCKETT: What brings me to drill is it's fun to be there with my friends that I haven't seen through the course of a month, sometimes two months…
SGT. BILLI CROCKETT: We're a big family.
SGT. CHARLES CROCKETT: It is exactly. That's the perfect word. It's a big family.
MLOCEK: Specialist Crockett, ready to be called Sergeant Crockett?
BRANCACCIO: The Army has big plans for this big family. It's expected they'll be running convoys in Iraq. They could be gone for as long as one and a half years.
MLOCEK: Well, one of the major challenges that we're facing with this deployment is that we have a number of soldiers who are still fairly green. It could be argued that I am somewhat of a green commander.
MLOCEK: You are further ordered to active duty…
BRANCACCIO: Captain Mlocek took over the 2168th only days before it got activated for duty, so she relies on people like First Sergeant Barry Bannister. An aircraft electronics mechanic in civilian life, he's known as the "old man" of the unit. He's the senior enlisted soldier.
BRANCACCIO: Is there anyway that the people who haven't been through this before have any sense of what's coming?
BANNISTER: Absolutely not. Right now, they're in kind of the exciting, what I call exciting portion. It's almost like it's a party. It hasn't absorbed into them yet because they haven't been in combat, but I know it will, and it will absorb hard.
BRANCACCIO: Bannister's been there before. He's seen action several times, going back to Vietnam.
BANNISTER: There will be a lot of emotion. It will go on when these soldiers leave because in this community they're leaving family, grandparents, cousins, plus good friends. So it touches the whole community deeply.
BRANCACCIO: You've actually seen this.
BANNISTER: Oh yes, too many times.
BRANCACCIO: What about you yourself? Has your family adjusted to this latest mission of yours and the prospect of not seeing much of you for a little while?
BANNISTER: I'd like to think so, but probably not. It's kind of like a death in the family.
BRANCACCIO: And war is very much interrupting the lives of the Crockett family. The guard has activated both parents for the same mission at the same time. And those two little girls, Leah, age 5, and Taylor, age 3, they're going to live with grandma and grandpa for a while.
LEAH CROCKETT: I love you.
SGT. BILLI CROCKETT: I love you too, silly.
BRANCACCIO: Just what are your feelings about going into active duty. I mean, you're trained for this.
SGT. BILLI CROCKETT: I knew it was a possibility from the time I was 17 and signed my name on the line. So this is something I have to do. And I'll go over and I'll do it, and I'll come home and re-live my life again.
TAYLOR CROCKETT: I want to hug you.
SGT. CHARLES CROCKETT: What I'm going to miss is I'm going to miss at least one birthday, out of both of them…missing the first day of kindergarten. Missing just little things that you tend to take for granted when you're always there, like fall down, skin a knee, just little things that I'm going to miss. And granted, when we get back, it's all going to be back in a big happy family again, but right now, it's a little bit broken.
BRANCACCIO: The emotional cost on families of the Iraq war is enormous. The town suffers too. Remember, Guard members like the Crocketts have regular everyday jobs. When hundreds of them get sent from a single town, it can have a real impact on the local economy.
BANNISTER: For some of these small businesses, they have five or six employees and something may come up, especially in a small town, where three of those employees are in the Guard. So now you've lost 50% of their work force and they have to figure out how to readjust.
BRANCACCIO: But it's not just the private sector that getting hit hard. Cities and towns are losing firemen, EMT's, and cops. According to one survey, 44% of police departments nationwide have lost personnel to National Guard call-ups. That issue recently came to a head in the Iowa capital of Des Moines. Last month, Des Moines police chief William McCarthy, himself a Vietnam Vet, lashed out at the Pentagon after the Guard took an officer he considered vital to homeland security efforts. McCarthy condemned the Pentagon for, quote, "lying and manipulating its troops," calling it "evil."
MCCARTHY: The response that we got back is that…
BRANCACCIO: What got McCarthy upset is the Pentagon's controversial "Stop Loss" policy. It's aimed at the Army's current shortage of regular troops. That policy forces soldiers whose units are activated for duty to remain in the military beyond the end of their enlistment period.
Take Charles Crockett for example. His enlistment is supposed to end in three months that would be a chance to leave the military if he wanted. Instead, he's looking at a year and a half in Iraq. And the same for his wife Billi; her enlistment is also supposed to end in the next few months.
SGT. CHARLES CROCKETT: It'd be nice to know when we're going to be home, but it's not something we can count on.
BRANCACCIO: Billi, do you deal well with uncertainty?
SGT. BILLI CROCKETT: No, I don't. I like to know where I'm going to be and when, and for how long, but...
VILSACK: I think what I hear from the folks in the Guard is not so much that they are concerned about the fact they have to serve, it's the predictability of the service.
BRANCACCIO: Democrat Tom Vilsack is the governor of Iowa.
VILSACK: When the Army tells you that you're going to be in for 12 months, and then just before that 12 months expires, they tell you, "Oops, we're going to take another three months out of your life, or another six months out of your life," or they do that repeatedly, it's the inconsistency, it's the uncertainty that is so difficult for the soldiers and particularly their families and communities.
BRANCACCIO: Vilsack was part of a group of 30 governors 17 Democrats and 13 Republicans who recently met with the Bush administration about the strains on the National Guard.
VILSACK: The homeland is secure when the hometowns are secure…
BRANCACCIO: A lot of governors need the National Guard at home to respond to disasters, like forest fires & hurricanes. One Republican governor, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, has said, quote, "We have to step back and rethink the whole picture." Vilsack agrees.
VILSACK: Well, I think the administration had a wonderful war plan, but they didn't have a peace plan. They didn't have a concrete understanding of the extent of personnel that would be required to win the peace in Iraq.
BRANCACCIO: Even high ranking Pentagon officials have expressed concerns about the manpower needed to secure Iraq. In a congressional hearing before the start of the war, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki had this to say when asked how many troops would be required to occupy Iraq.
SHINSEKI: Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required.
BRANCACCIO: That assessment was later rejected by the Bush administration. So it's National Guard troops that are being asked to fulfill the mission and being put in harm's way. And now, it's the turn of the 2168th.
BRANCACCIO: It's dangerous duty over there. Have you thought about it?
SGT. BILLI CROCKETT: All the time.
SGT. CHARLES CROCKETT: As little as possible.
BRANCACCIO: Death has already been a visitor to the unit. One soldier from the 2168th, PFC David Kirchhoff died on a previous tour of duty in Iraq. Shortly after we completed filming this story, two other soldiers died in a truck accident as the unit was preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf: Staff Sgt. Bruce Pollema and Specialist Dustin Colby.
And it's not just in Sheldon. November 2nd, 2003 is a day the residents of Boone, Iowa remember well. Boone is home to a helicopter unit of the Iowa National Guard. At one point, Boone had more guardsmen serving in Iraq than any other town in Iowa. On that day, Iraqi insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter in one of the deadliest attacks against Americans of the war. 16 soldiers died. Two had trained with the Boone unit: the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Bruce Smith, age 41, and a crew member Sergeant Paul Fisher, 39.
VILSACK: In small communities, a casualty, or a fatality, is a very personal matter. It's very personal, it extends way beyond just family and friends. Every community member gets impacted and affected by the story, by the tragedy of a young life being ended too soon.
BRANCACCIO: These big strains on small towns have affected how Iowans feel about the war. "Iowans frown on heavier Guard burden" read a headline in the DES MOINES REGISTER. A poll found that a majority of Iowa residents, 53%, disapprove of how the Army is using the National Guard.
VILSACK: I think Iowans, traditionally, have always viewed conflict with a wary eye. We're ready to serve. We'll do our job, but we want to make sure we fully understand the mission and that the mission is what it needs to be to advance the country.
BRANCACCIO: With departure looming for the 2168th, it's time to face the nitty gritty. Forms for health care, life insurance, and wills. Crucial things for a family man like Charles Crockett getting his affairs in order.
SGT. CHARLES CROCKETT: Help me, what are you looking for?
WOMAN: All your financial stuff.
BRANCACCIO: An early morning on a late summer Thursday, time to go. Time to board the buses, the first stage of a journey to war. A chance for a hug, a whispered reassurance and to say farewell.
MILLIE DEBEER: You take care and you come back.
BRANCACCIO: For citizen soldiers and parents Charles and Billi Crockett, the final touch of civilian life.
SGT. BILLI CROCKETT: I try not to think about it. A year or more sounds like such a long time. I don't know, if I don't think about it, it doesn't go away, but it makes it a little bit easier right now. It's been a hard month, just knowing we're leaving. And it's been hard.
BRANCACCIO: Joining me now to describe what those Iowa National Guard troops will find on the ground when they arrive in Iraq is specialist Richard Murphy. He's just back from a 15 month tour in Iraq with the US Army Reserve. Eight days ago, he came off active duty and plans to return to his studies at George Washington University Law School. Richard, welcome to NOW.
MURPHY: It's good to be here.
BRANCACCIO: Richard, give me a sense, based on your experience, of what it's going to be like when they get there.
MURPHY: To be perfectly honest, my 15 months in Iraq I saw the security situation deteriorate each month.
BRANCACCIO: What gave you that impression?
MURPHY: Well, just the attacks. Mortar attacks on our bases. And you don't know where it's coming from. And there's really nothing you can do about it.
BRANCACCIO: You'd hear them? You'd feel them?
MURPHY: All the time. The dozens of mortar attacks. But you just pray that you don't get hit. And the roadside bombs. Most of the time when they go off you don't know who set the bomb off. So you're out there and you don't know who the enemy is. And you don't know where the attacks are coming from.
BRANCACCIO: Richard, taking a look at some photographs. Here you are. Looking pretty gung-ho. Although you have what? Armored…
MURPHY: That's just…
BRANCACCIO: …vests on you?
MURPHY: …my body armor, yes, sir.
BRANCACCIO: That's a luxury not every soldier is afforded when they get there.
MURPHY: Well, now everybody does have body armor. But when we landed in the theater, about 40,000 troops did not have body armor. And I was one of them.
BRANCACCIO: What'd they give you?
MURPHY: They gave me a, well, I did have body armor. It was a Vietnam-era flak jacket that cannot stop an AK47 round.
BRANCACCIO: Which is being used against you. That's what they're shooting at you.
MURPHY: Yes, AK47s are very popular in Iraq. It's the most prevalent kind of weapon.
BRANCACCIO: So what'd you do? Is there anything to be done?
MURPHY: Well, I called my mother. An elementary school art teacher. And I said, "You know, hold off on the cookies for a little bit. I need body armor." So she went on the internet, she found a company that sold it based specifically to stop an AK47 round, and she bought it and shipped it over to me.
My body armor was $650 dollars. You know, a pretty steep price for an elementary school art teacher. And other soldiers ranged anywhere from $500 to you know, $2,000.
BRANCACCIO: Looking through at the pictures. Here's a picture of you. Who are you standing with?
MURPHY: That is a great friend of mine whose name is Akram Ali Hussein. He is a translator.
BRANCACCIO: What was his background?
MURPHY: Well, he had been a political prisoner under Saddam Hussein. When he was at Baghdad University as a young man, he agitated against the Iraq-Iran War. He told his fellow students, "Don't join the military." And Saddam's secret police found that he was doing this and they arrested him. And they imprisoned him at Abu Ghraib.
BRANCACCIO: Well, given that and given that one of the stated aims of this war would be to liberate men like this from the oppression of a dictator, do you feel that your actions over there were, in fact, useful and justified?
MURPHY: They were. But there's so much more to do. Akram was happy that Saddam was gone. But at the same time, he was upset that the United States had made lots of promises about rebuilding their country and we hadn't fulfilled the promises. And he can't leave his house with his family.
I still contact with him over email. He feels unsafe in the streets. At least he says at least under Saddam he felt safe in the streets.
BRANCACCIO: What about this key controversial issue? Does he feel that you were an occupier?
MURPHY: He does. And the news they get is very anti-American. It's paranoid.
BRANCACCIO: Give me an example of what they're hearing.
MURPHY: One of the prevalent things in the Arab media is that the United States had a hand in September 11th. And even educated Iraqis, I've heard this, that the United States knocked down the Twin Towers, to justify its invasion of Iraq.
And it boggles my mind, that they could possibly believe that. But it's a problem, when those sorts of ideas are accepted by educated people.
BRANCACCIO: You even have to have this conversation with someone like your translator friend.
MURPHY: Yeah. And he's a very intelligent person, speaks excellent English. But they are so… they don't trust the United States. And it's frustrating as a soldier on the ground there, to try to bridge that gap of trust.
BRANCACCIO: And then normally what? Your tour of duty would have ended after a year?
MURPHY: A year. We were told, well, at first we had no idea how long it was going to be. And in the first Gulf War the average deployment was about six months for Reserve and National Guard. So we were expecting maybe six months, nine months. And then we were told one year boots on the ground.
So fine. You know, we said, "Okay." And it was nice to know when we were going to go home. But in April, I guess there was uptake in the insurgency. And a few days from flying out we were in Kuwait, ready to go home. I told all my family, "I'm coming home." I was excited. We were going to have parties. Colonel visited us and said, "You're going back north."
BRANCACCIO: Must have been hard.
MURPHY: It was difficult. I mean, I've seen more grown men cry than I would ever want to in my entire life.
BRANCACCIO: So they extended it. What'd they make you do?
MURPHY: Well, then we were tasked the mission, we had to guard Kellogg, Brown and Root truck drivers.
BRANCACCIO: This is civilian contractors.
MURPHY: Yes, sir.
BRANCACCIO: Kellogg, Brown and Root I think is a subsidiary of Halliburton. And you guarded them?
MURPHY: Yes, sir. We rode shotgun in their trucks. We sat next to them in their big rigs. And it was dangerous. You're guarding a civilian who is unarmed, not military, usually out of shape, who can come and go as they please.
BRANCACCIO: How did that make you feel working alongside these civilians?
MURPHY: We resented it. I resented it. You have a civilian contractor making three or four times my modest salary, tax-free.
BRANCACCIO: What's your salary ballpark?
MURPHY: Specialists' base salary is around 20,000.
BRANCACCIO: And these guys are making more than that. The civilians.
MURPHY: They start at 70. And also got overtime tax-free.
BRANCACCIO: This ever come up as a topic of conversation between the two of you? Or you'd sit there in silence just thinking about it?
MURPHY: Every mission they would somehow drop in what their salary was. And…
BRANCACCIO: That's nice.
MURPHY: It was hard not to resent it. And one particularly telling story about the difference in treatment was on our last mission we got hit with a roadside bomb and some small arms fire in a city in the south that had previously been very friendly. And right after the contact all our blood is pumping. You got the adrenaline.
And the driver says, the civilian says, "I'm getting out of Iraq. Next trip up to Baghdad I'm flying out."
BRANCACCIO: "I am out of here."
MURPHY: And I thought, "You know, it would be nice to at least have that option." But soldiers, you know, you're there and you're doing your duty.
BRANCACCIO: Why did you enlist? Why did you sign up for this duty?
MURPHY: Well, I was in Washington, DC on September 11th. I was in law school. And I watched the Pentagon burn from the roof of my apartment. And I went back to class. I remember sitting there, watching the professor teach, thinking, "This is not the place for me right now." It was one of those decisions that I just had to make. So I went to the recruiter, and signed up.
BRANCACCIO: Do you feel it was the right decision?
MURPHY: Definitely. One of the most difficult decisions of my life, but one of the most important, and one of the best decisions of my life. I mean, I love America. I love the military. And I just want to see us succeed in Iraq.
BRANCACCIO: Because there are some watching who might say, "Well, if he loves America so much, maybe he should be quiet when he comes back from this difficult situation."
MURPHY: Sure. I mean, that is somewhat part of the military culture. But I think it's also important that the American people understand what's going on from, you know, regular foot soldiers like me. There seems to be since I've come home and watched the news, there seems to be a disconnect between the perception of what's going on in Iraq, and the reality on the ground. Every time a major declaration is made, like the end of major combat operations, people think it's getting better. But that's just on paper. In reality, the situation was getting worse.
You know, when they changed the government over in the summer, it looked good on paper, but in reality, the situation's still getting worse.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Richard Murphy, thank you very much for your time and all your work over there.
MURPHY: Thanks for having me.
BRANCACCIO: You can find more about the experiences of Richard Murphy and other soldiers in Iraq at Optruth.org. It's run by a brand new, nonpartisan, pro-soldier organization. Richard Murphy joined the group last week.
BRANCACCIO: There's more to come on NOW.
High in an alpine meadow, a look into the future, and the kind of damage global warming can do.
HARTE: We are creating a climate on these plots in the meadow that is the climate projected around 50 years from now.
BRANCACCIO: Are we ready for this?
MOYERS: We turn now to Jamieson and Phillips, our regular analysts, to talk about war, the press and politics. Kathleen Hall Jamieson is the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She's one of the country's renowned students of how politicians and journalists do their jobs, or not.
Kevin Phillips pores over the entrails of every political species known to our democracy. His best-selling books make up a small and formidable library of the politics of the last 40 years. Welcome back.
JAMIESON: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: Thank you.
MOYERS: This has been a big week in this campaign. What was the biggest thing from your standpoint that happened this week?
JAMIESON: National intelligence estimates released by the NEW YORK TIMES, available to Bush in early summer, suggests that the situation in Iraq is bleaker than the administration has suggested and that many people had hoped.
This is the week in which the debate shifted to center on Iraq with a Democratic move in advertising and in a Kerry speech to the National Guard to say, this is important. The issue for Bush is truth-telling. There was another way to do it.
MOYERS: One month ago, the WASHINGTON POST said Iraq was likely to be the trump card that most sways swing voters. This week the WALL STREET JOURNAL says Bush has succeeded in tying the invasion of Iraq to the broader fight against terror and that he's going to weather what's happening in Iraq right now.
PHILLIPS: I don't think either of those interpretations is wholly correct. I think there's some truth in each. Bush was successful in muting the effect of Iraq with the convention and the tying of it to terrorism.
But I think that's worn off. And if Kerry who now seems for the first time to have a serious and politically effective position on Iraq, if he can drive that home, I think what the Bushes have put in place isn't enough. But if Kerry can't drive it home, if he waffles again, then in the end, I think, Bush triumphs. Iraq can be trump if it becomes a synonym for the enormous failure of a President who you can't trust.
MOYERS: You had a new survey out this week. What does it say?
JAMIESON: It says that the convention bounce for Bush was largely a function of an increased focus on terror. That is, he's more likely to protect us in case of terror and secondly better numbers on Commander-in-Chief. But that the underlying fundamentals didn't change.
Perceptions the economy wasn't doing well didn't change. Perception that a war in Iraq wasn't doing well didn't change. And that underlying all of this was one important piece of information. And that is, the public perceives that Bush does not have a plan and this includes the Bush supporters does not have a plan for what to do in Iraq ultimately to make this successful to the United States. The bad news for Kerry is the public doesn't perceive that Kerry does either.
MOYERS: A week ago the polls were showing George Bush pulling ahead of Kerry. So much so that every Democrat you ran into was wringing his hands despondent and saying it's over. Now yesterday there's this new poll that shows they're at a statistical dead heat. I mean, can we rely on the polls?
JAMIESON: One of the problems with having reporters rely on polls is that when they assume that someone is ahead, the coverage shifts against the person who is perceived to be behind. And that person can't get his message through. The stories talk about the campaign in disarray. Everything the person does is viewed as a tactical adjustment in order to increase the poll standings.
MOYERS: Yeah, one story said dead in the water. The Kerry campaign is dead in the water.
JAMIESON: And the public loses because in that process we don't have a chance to feature either the positions of the person who's ahead or the positions of the person who's behind at a time when learning needs to take place. But there's something else that's problematic. Polls can be really, really wrong.
And so if you demoralize one side because it thinks, for example, in 1996 that Dole is 15 points out as we close in the election. And the Republicans say, this isn't an election we really need to participate in. Our candidate's going to lose. And you find out on Election Day he was seven points out.
I don't trust anything we're seeing in terms of horserace polling. I think the polls coming out of the convention were wrong.
PHILLIPS: But I think something else is working this time. And I think the strategists now fully realize it. Kerry and Bush do not strike the average American as the absolute top of the drawer from which to select a President. They see the weaknesses. They don't like them. There an awful lot of people on both sides voting for both candidates who wish they didn't have to make the choice between these two people.
And so when you've got negatives coming out that are sharp and effective, it's like a Velcro moment. Things are going to stick. And as they stick, they take one or the other down significantly fairly quickly because people have these doubts about each that you can play to.
JAMIESON: One thing I agree with about Kevin's analysis is that when we talk about something it legitimizes it. And it raises doubts. One of the things our survey showed was that across the week since the CBS interview, the public doubts about whether Bush served honorably in the National Guard began to increase.
PHILLIPS: That's the way it always work. When you put things out, people grab onto it. Discussion breeds other connections. Watergate started without full proof out there. The Monica Lewinsky thing started with salacious thoughts. But that's the process.
MOYERS: So, you get it out and then it takes on a life of its own whether it's true or false.
MOYERS: There's a poll in THE ECONOMIST this week that asks the question, quote, "How important is Mr. Bush's service in the National Guard?" A majority of respondents said not important at all. Do you think that's right?
PHILLIPS: Well, I'm not certain whether that's what people think. But I think they're absolutely wrong. And partly because the issue of why it's relevant hasn't been drawn very sharply.
As far as I can tell, George W. Bush because of connections, was made a second lieutenant without having to go through all the military ROTC-type experience or the classes or anything like that. And as a result, he's nominally a former officer of the American military.
But he is military illiterate. He has no idea of these things. And we have, for the first time in American history, a President who's a former military man who has no real understanding of the military, has shown no strategic insights, and is probably there's no historic yardstick but probably the first person by National Guard definitions to have been the equivalent of AWOL.
Now how you can send American kids over to Iraq with Humvees that aren't armored, without bullet-proof vests, without decent arrangements for transportation and health and do this when you were a guy who didn't show up for your own military training. Didn't take the courses that you had to take to be an officer in the U.S. Services, but he got there anyway. I think this is an enormous issue.
MOYERS: Do you think the past is relevant? He says the past is very important here.
JAMIESON: I think the past is relevant if you can show that the past indicates character flaws that are currently at play in some important policy dispute. So, for example, if you said that the National Guard service of President Bush indicates that he doesn't tell the truth about things and covers them up when it's convenient, then you might say, if you're making that charge about Iraq, that there is a character flaw there.
On the other hand, if you say he served honorably in the National Guard. He did what it took to get to that, whatever that was, even if it was minimalist, then I think it becomes less relevant.
MOYERS: Is it conceivable that the public will say we want somebody who is not truthful but decisive?
PHILLIPS: Well, people sometimes do that. They're not sure what they want.
But I have a slightly interpretation of what's been going on in the last ten days. I think that during August the Republicans were scoring with their negatives. During the late winter and spring the Democrats and a lot of people who published books about Bush were scoring with a lot of negatives before Kerry got a negative himself to interfere with all of that.
MOYERS: You mean their attacks were hitting home.
PHILLIPS: yes, the attacks hit home. And you raised the negatives on George Bush enormously this year. Then the negatives on Kerry got raised during August. And now I think what we're seeing with 60 MINUTES, with Kitty Kelley, with a more aggressive set of Democrats is the negatives are going back up on Bush. Or the positives are being pulled way down.
MOYERS: How do you explain that CBS reports stumble so badly on this. I mean, CBS had an eyewitness, a player in the politics of Texas in the early 1970s, the then-Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes. And he said, I helped George Bush get preferential treatment. But then they go off with what appears to be these inauthentic documents that they cannot use to back up their claims. What do you think happens there?
JAMIESON: I think that this year, we've had a lot of questions raised about how things get into news and how they ought to. The Kitty Kelley book is an illustration. There are statements in the Kitty Kelley book that no news organization ran in the 1992 campaign, no reputable news organization about President Bush's father.
They snuck back into news in the guise of book reports of the Kitty Kelley book. Where is the gatekeeping function of the news organizations that they would traffic these things through in the form of a book that they wouldn't carry when they were originally raised in an earlier campaign? The same thing one can ask about the swift boat ads.
How do these ads get on the air uncritically for a week and a half before news organizations caught up and began to put facts in place about how Kerry earned his medals? And then in the Dan Rather case, how is that documents that apparently CBS's own experts raised questions about managed to go on the air? We've got a fairly serious question here about how journalism is done and what ought to be presented to the public. If there's no gatekeeping function for journalism, then there isn't any reason for mainstream journalism to have an impact in politics. We may as well simply turn to what's happening on the Internet and start filtering for ourselves.
MOYERS: Aren't the bloggers being the gatekeepers today? Aren't they holding the mainstream media accountable?
JAMIESON: They're not being the gatekeepers because they will throw anything into the system. A gatekeeper has to stop some things. And the bloggers are largely doing it on ideological grounds.
And so, they push things in one direction or the other. But the gatekeeping function would say that before you push something, you check it out. And what the bloggers have done successfully is raise questions about what should be in news at all and then have occasionally challenged things that have gotten into news that shouldn't have been there. Good for them.
PHILLIPS: Well Kathleen, one of the things we have to look at, you're talking about gatekeepers. Funny thing about all these gatekeepers, they're all on the FORTUNE 500. I'm not certainly that's exactly the sort of gatekeeper the average American wants.
Howard Dean, who had his own huge problems with the media, has written a book that's about to come out in which he criticizes the media in a lot of ways. And one of the things he says is you can't tolerate having the information system of the United States run by corporate media, people that are part of a big corporation. I think he's right.
MOYERS: Aren't there two stories at play this week? One is the credibility of mainstream broadcast organization like CBS. And the other is the still missing records in Bush's service in the National Guard.
I mean, he did leave the National… He did stop flying for some reason that's still unexplained. And he disappeared from Texas for reasons that are still not clear. So, you've got… But that story, has it not been overtaken by the credibility problems of CBS? Or what does that say to you?
JAMIESON: It says that it's very difficult to have a story that doesn't have a focus. And when a major news organization makes what may have been a serious error in judgment, there is a legitimate interest on the part of the other corporate outlets that have an advantage in saying CBS goofed up to really investigate hard and to expose the CBS problem, the CBS weakness. And as a result, some of what's happening under this and if you watch the glee with which some of this has been covered in other places, there is a certain satisfaction…
MOYERS: What do you mean?
JAMIESON: …taking CBS down a peg. Oh, you see it reflected in the late night comedy. Listen to the glee with which Jay Leno, who is not on CBS, he's on NBC, takes the CBS letters and transforms them into other meanings. So, C-BS and there are other variations of that joke. There is some corporate jockeying here which says, we're advantaged if they're disadvantaged.
MOYERS: Is, in this close race, with all of this hurricane of information, misinformation, disinformation, real information coming at it, is the low road going to pay off?
PHILLIPS: Oh, I think the low road will pay off if you simultaneously have a high road and you're good at juggling that you stand for something important and positive at the same time as you know exactly how to swing the machete at the Achilles' heel. I mean, that's what makes a good politician. FDR, when he was President, was always spending about a third of his time figuring out how to knock off his enemies. Anybody good does that.
MOYERS: I want to…
JAMIESON: You know, I'm confused about something. Because when people are talking about the low road, mud-laden politics of the last couple of weeks, I'm not clear exactly what it is they're indicting. Are they indicting the fact that the level of attack is going up? Attack isn't problematic as long as it's accurate, it's focused on an issue, it's not personal and as long as it legitimately speaks to governance.
I think there's a tendency at some point in the fall campaign for the media to pick up as it's theme, it's now gone dirty. And before we say it's gone dirty, I'd like to know what constitutes dirty? What constitutes clean? And now we're in the process of saying dirty, clean obscuring the same discussion of the issues that you're concerned about when you say, are we focusing on CBS and its problem as opposed to the unchallenged part of the CBS interview, which is that Ben Barnes came forward and made a statement consistent with his earlier statements about helping President Bush get into the National Guard.
MOYERS: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Kevin Phillips, thank you for coming back. We'll be seeing you in the weeks to come.
PHILLIPS: You're welcome.
BRANCACCIO: Next week on NOW...
The debate over presidential debates. They can make or break a candidate. But did you know it's all part of a secret deal to stack the deck?
FARAH: The Commission on Presidential Debates exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to submit the demands of the Republican and Democratic nominees and conceal those demands from the American people.
BRANCACCIO: Next week on NOW.
MOYERS: We leave the campaign trail now for a detour off the beaten track. You won't find the candidates where we're about to go. And what a shame that is. Because if George W. Bush and John Kerry were to come with us to this place, it just might change their agenda. It might even change the future. Producer William Brangham takes us to where a thousand flowers bloom… at least they bloom for now.
MOYERS: On the southern branch of the Rocky Mountains lie meadows scattered with nature's jewels. Aspen sunflower, columbine, Indian paintbrush. It's been called the crown of the continent.
These meadows are changing, though. You wouldn't notice it on just one late summer afternoon but something profound is happening here.
HARTE: To me, this is like a cathedral. It just confounds me that the objects of our study are disappearing from this planet.
MOYERS: For almost thirty summers, John Harte and his wife Mel have been coming here from their home in Berkeley, where he is a University of California scientist researching global warming. This mountain meadow is his laboratory.
HARTE: The meadow is telling us that there are forces at work, forces that are much more intense, and more rapidly acting than we had thought.
MOYERS: His story begins here, the old mining town of Gothic, Colorado, now a biological research station. John Harte comes here to study how a warming planet will affect our lives.
Just about everyone agrees the earth is heating up. The 90s were the warmest decade on record, the first part of this decade hotter still.
Scientists have been using elaborate computer models to try and predict what a warming earth will actually look like but John Harte took a different approach. Rather than hypothesize about future warming, why not make it happen on a small scale, right now, right here?
HARTE: The motivation behind all of this was to see global warming before it sees us, which means, to get a preview of it.
MOYERS: So he set out to heat five patches of this meadow ever so slightly.
HARTE: What you're seeing here is what we call a heated plot because there are heaters above it. The plot that we actually study is inside the boundaries demarked by these strings. Over here is a control plot, which means it doesn't have a heater on it.
And the idea behind the heaters is really that they mimic to some extent what carbon dioxide does to the climate. Carbon dioxide is produced from fossil fuel burning. And up in the sky, it acts like a huge radiator. It radiates heat down to the surface. And that's why global warming occurs.
MOYERS: The planet will get about five degrees Fahrenheit warmer, if scientists are right, by the second half of this century. So that's exactly what Harte wanted to make happen on this meadow.
HARTE: We are creating a climate on these plots in the meadow that is the climate projected around 50 years from now.
MOYERS: He can already see the difference. The unheated plots look like normal late-summer meadows, full of lupine, monks-hood, showy daisies. But the heated plots are thick with sagebrush; sagebrush is an aggressive plant that crowds out the others.
This, says Harte, could happen to all of Colorado's flowering meadows.
HARTE: We are definitely looking into the future. It's starting to look more like Nevada up here in the Colorado Rockies.
MOYERS: But John Harte is learning something more here, something with implications far beyond this meadow. It's the possibility that global warming could be occurring faster and more severely than we thought.
The reason is something basic to earth and to life: carbon. We know about carbon as a gas, carbon dioxide. But carbon also exists everywhere on earth in the dirt beneath our feet, in trees and plants, in our very bones.
Scientists have long suspected that as the earth warms up, some of this trapped carbon might be released up into the atmosphere.
So Harte and his colleagues decided to track the levels of carbon in the soil of their plots. They take samples, sift through them and then weigh them. The soil is then cooked at a very high temperature to burn off the carbon. By weighing the soil once again, they can determine how much carbon has been lost.
HARTE: What we found by around the fourth year of this experiment is that our plots had lost about 20 percent of their carbon. It's now gone. It's disappeared and where is it? It's up in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. But carbon dioxide is the gas which is the culprit behind global warming.
MOYERS: His experiment suggests a kind of ecological feedback loop. As the climate warms up because we're putting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air from our cars and trucks, from our factories and air conditioning the earth itself then releases even more carbon dioxide, speeding up the warming.
HARTE: So, we have a situation where fossil fuel burning releases carbon dioxide, warms the planet, changes ecosystems in such a way as to cause them to release more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which further accentuates the warming.
MOYERS: In other words, as the old saying goes, you ain't seen nothing yet. It's going to get even hotter than we thought.
HARTE: We often hear criticism of global warming science from non-scientists who like to point out that there's uncertainty in the climate models, and that maybe the effect won't be as bad as we project. But what this scientific experiment is showing us is that if anything, our current climate models are underestimating the magnitude of future warming.
MOYERS: So why would we care if the earth gets five or six degrees warmer over the next fifty years?
HARTE: Well, it's important to understand that on a global basis, a six degree warming is a huge event. We're gonna see drought conditions, losses of wat er supplies, increased forest fire damage, heat waves. The consequences for everyday life, for everyday people, are going to be enormous and severe.
MOYERS: Given the evidence he's hearing from nature, John Harte is surprised he's not hearing more from our political leaders.
HARTE: I wish I knew what it was that causes our leaders in recent years to ignore the science, and pretend that these problems aren't real.
MOYERS: So what are we hearing from the candidates about global warming? Well, back when George W. Bush was first campaigning for the White House he made a promise:
BUSH: We will require all power plants to meet clean air standards in order to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide within a reasonable period of time.
MOYERS: Then less than 60 days after taking office, President Bush did a flip-flop. He backed off that campaign promise to push for mandatory limits on carbon dioxide. And he abandoned the international treaty signed by 84 other countries to try and reduce heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
Nonetheless, two years ago he had this to say: "My government has set two priorities: we must clean our air and we must address the issue of global climate change. We must also act in a serious and responsible way given the scientific uncertainties."
George W. Bush is about the only world leader who still thinks there are uncertainties about global warming. And contrary to what you just heard him say, he has mocked the science of global warming and silenced government scientists who take it seriously.
BRANCACCIO: So what about John Kerry? He used to talk about global warming quite a bit. He even compared the threat of global warming to the Cold War.
KERRY: I say that today, there is a different kind of threat that the leadership needs to define, and it is the threat, obviously, of global warming.
BRANCACCIO: As a Senator, Kerry has opposed White House efforts to overturn air quality protections. He's backed legislation that would make major cuts in power plant emissions.
But on the campaign stump he barely mentions global warming. And some critics say he's been making nice to the coal industry in an effort to carry mining states like West Virginia. Still, the League of Conservation Voters has endorsed Kerry, giving him a 92 percent score on his lifetime environmental record.
MOYERS: You'll find more on the environmental records of both Bush and Kerry on our Web site at pbs.org.
We'll also link you to NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. Its cover story this month is a stunning 74 pages of dramatic photographs and lucid prose about what global warming is doing to the earth.
That's it for NOW. David and I will be back next week.
BRANCACCIO: Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
Learn about the challenges facing America's citizen soldiers. Find out more on your state's National Guard units. Explore all sides of the global warming debate.
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