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05.6.05
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DAVID BRANCACCIO: NOW on PBS…

An outspoken liberal says as media conglomerates get bigger and bigger, the audience is deserting them.

JANEANE GAROFALO: They're going to blogs and alternative media, or they're not watching. Well the reason is is because it's crap.

BRANCACCIO: Janeane Garafolo, co-host of The Majority Report on Air America radio.

And, an outspoken conservative says as the government is getting bigger it's trampling on the rights of citizens.

BOB BARR: It's far too easy for the government to go to a library or your doctor's office or a gun shop and get your private information.

BRANCACCIO: Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr on the state of our democracy.

BRANCACCIO: Welcome.

What better place to start a special edition of NOW than on the Erie Canal. Upstream from where a key event in democracy took place. Seneca Falls, 1848, a group came together to press for a woman's right to vote.

Today the fight for democracy continues. On our program, we have two outspoken voices that span the political spectrum: from the right: conservative former Congressman Bob Barr. But first, a voice from the left: actor and comedian Janeane Garofalo, who now also hosts a show on Air America radio.

BRANCACCIO: Janeane, great to meet you.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Thank you. Nice to meet you, too.

BRANCACCIO: So I just spent a total of about 12 hours on trains in the past day and a half, running around, and I was overhearing conversations, and virtually all of them seemed to be about Paula Abdul and was there or was there not nookie involving an AMERICAN IDOL contestant. I'm not hearing things like more crucial things to our democracy like maybe judicial nominations. JANEANE GAROFALO: Uh-huh.

BRANCACCIO: What accounts for that?

JANEANE GAROFALO: Well, I would say that there's a incredibly flawed media-- news media, if you're gonna talk about what's called mainstream news media, but it's not mainstream, cause--

BRANCACCIO: What? We talk about the wrong things? JANEANE GAROFALO: It's absolutely, and that's deliberate. You have less and less quality coverage. You have less and less analysis, historical context, and actual news.

And so you have an electorate having their time wasted by pop culture stuff like Paula Abdul, the runaway bride, Robert Blake, whatever it is. And it's a way to not have to spend money and actually do good news gathering and investigative journalism. It's a way to keep the electorate sort of misinformed and dumbed down. It's laziness, and it's a misunderstanding of the society. People saying, you know, we're losing viewers left, right and center, they're going to blogs and alternative media, and or they're not watching.

Well the reason is is because it's crap. They know what they're watching. It's not because they're not interested. If you did news based on truth. If you actually dealt with the facts, it's fascinating. It is far more interesting than watching stories about Paula Abdul or a CNN poll on "is Britney Spears pregnant." Now Fox News isn't really even worth talking about a lot of times, because that it's like talking about the NATIONAL ENQUIRER. It's really basically the same thing.

BRANCACCIO: You're not just saying this because you disagree with them politically?

JANEANE GAROFALO: No. Absolutely not. That is a myth. Now the-- right wing noise machine in the last 40 years has spent an enormous amount of money and time convincing the people that the truth is a liberal bias. They have-- on their continuing war on the English language, they have taken the word "liberal" and turned it into a pejorative term.

BRANCACCIO: Janeane, you need to be deprogrammed, here. I mean, you're using the word "liberal." You're not saying "progressive." But I think more seriously- let's work through a couple of these things.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Sure.

BRANCACCIO: OK. You're not supposed to say taking prisoners and sending them to countries that torture, you're supposed to say "rendition."

JANEANE GAROFALO: Extraordinary rendition.

BRANCACCIO: And whatever you do, do not say-- do not say drilling for oil, you're supposed to say, "responsible energy exploration."

JANEANE GAROFALO: Right.

BRANCACCIO: I mean, the list goes on, actually.

JANEANE GAROFALO: It's Orwellian. OK.

BRANCACCIO: But you gotta get with the program. I mean, you're not using the right words.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Right. Well, I will not get with the program, and it's unfortunate when so many people in the news, "news"-- news-tainment, get with the program. Now there's no such thing, as another example, there's no such thing as partial-birth abortion. It does not exist. You know, we have a law against partial-birth abortion, so we've got a law on the books that's against something that doesn't exist. It's a fiction.

There's a process called dilation and extraction that is used on women very rarely and usually if the woman's life is in danger. It would be like calling an appendectomy an "organ ripper." You know what I mean? Like-- that's what the right wing does. The right wing and all of their think tanks and periodicals and their news and their right-wing radio is all about disinformation and re-- defining words to-- sort of get the public to vote against their best interests.

BRANCACCIO: But you have to hand it-- I mean, essentially, you are handing it to the Conservative movement, they're very, very good at it. I mean, even now over something as obtuse and complicated and sometimes boring, it would seem, as-- as the judicial nominees, there's the label "activist judges."

JANEANE GAROFALO: Uh-huh.

BRANCACCIO: That's really perhaps it could be considered another one of these.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Right. Activist judges. That's another-- that's exactly right. Now there's what is an activist judge? An activist judge, according to the right wing, basically is the judge that adheres to the law. That basically-- you know, they would probably label Brown versus the Board of Education, activist judges, right? They would say that Roe v. Wade was an activist decision. Now, really what this is all about is, from the right wing, an activist judge is someone that doesn't agree with them. Now, if you're gonna talk about the war on the judiciary that is going on right now via the Republican Party, they are trying to nominate extreme judges.

BRANCACCIO: Can you blame, them, though? Isn't it a function of the fact that they have power? I mean, FDR, tried to, quote, "pack the court."

JANEANE GAROFALO: Right, and look what happened. JANEANE GAROFALO: They still talk about it.

BRANCACCIO: Yeah, they still--

JANEANE GAROFALO: They still bring it up. The right wing is incapable of dealing with the here and now. They must-- if they can blame the Clintons for anything that is the go-to thing--

BRANCACCIO: So how do we dig ourselves out of this mess? How do we go forward to make a society that you would feel more comfortable in if, you know, they're doing their thing off to the right. You're doing your thing off to the progressive side.

JANEANE GAROFALO: It's not about me feeling more comfortable. It's not about me at all. It's also society is moving forward without them. I mean it always does. If the conservatives, traditionalists, the Bible thumpers had their way, this entire society would be very different. And, I wouldn't be voting and I wouldn't-- you wouldn't have seatbelts in your car and you and your wife wouldn't use birth control. You know I mean, all those kinds of things.

Progress happens without them. It's gonna happen. But they continually try and obstruct progress. It just always will happen. Society is not reflected by today's conservative movement. They are a very small yet vocal and powerful group.

Now they're tryin' to make it seem like they represent the majority. That's just absurd. There's-- no way that the right wing of any country represents the majority because inherently policies of a right wing body-- a powerful body, no matter what the nation or what the era, never has the majority in mind.

BRANCACCIO: Well, depending on how you define right wing. But, the Republicans won the last election.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Maybe. I have no idea. There's a-- you know, and-- that's not tin foil hat time by the way. In other countries when we read about election fraud, we accept it unquestioningly. We accept it. Uzbekistan there's fraud? In Togo there's fraud? In, you know in Robert Mugabe rigged the elections? Whatever it is.

BRANCACCIO: In Zimbabwe, yeah.

JANEANE GAROFALO: In Zimbabwe, we accept it. If somebody says-- I want you to examine the possibility of the Bush administration riggin' the elections as they did in 2000 with Katherine Harris and the voter roll scrubbing. And the recount was stopped. You know, the recount was stopped here too in Ohio. And there was complaint after complaint in district after district of voter anomalies, problems with the voting machines.

BRANCACCIO: You do have to sort of admit that even if it was closer than you thought or would have gone the other way, in Ohio that--

JANEANE GAROFALO: It's not just Ohio.

BRANCACCIO: But there's still like about four million more people that voted for Bush than voted for the other guy.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Actually it's not. It's not four million. I think it-- if we are to believe what the main media tells us is around three million I think. He won with the slimmest mandate of any incumbent second slimmest mandate. I mean

BRANCACCIO: Well exactly. And so I sort of come up with a vision of America that's fairly divided. It's not that there are it's not that they that nobody's conservative in America. There seems to be a decent number of people who support the Republican party perhaps enough to tip an election, seems like that was the case.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Yeah, they fooled enough people enough of the time. Now, like I said, if the truth were told about what the Republican Party is doing and has been doing since 2000 there'd be very little support. But the military industrial newstainment complex, make sure that the electorate is largely uninformed. That's, you know, that's just the way it works.

If you were to really go voter by voter and say, do you realize this has been done by the Bush adminis-- you realize they rolled by the Freedom of Information Act? Do you realize they reinstalled the global gag order? Do you realize that they lied about intelligence on Iraq? Do you realize that wire tapping and surveillance has gone through the roof?"

BRANCACCIO: All these things that you get to say though on air American and that people who are so inclined can find on the web, there's great Web sites about these very progressive take on the world. But so--

JANEANE GAROFALO: It's not a take on the world, David.

BRANCACCIO: You're about to say it's truth.

JANEANE GAROFALO: It's the truth. And, I'm not saying I personally am a truth teller all of the time. I'm not talkin' about me or Air America radio. It's not a progressive take on the world. It's historical fact. If you give facts to people about governments, even democratic governments, whatever, they don't like they're not gonna like what they see. And it doesn't represent their interest. You know all these kinds of things.

It's just very simple. How-- you know, I'm an idiot. How do I know these things? And I'm not making 'em up. You know what I mean? And it's not a liberal bias. It's called, go to the library. Read it. It's these things the mainstream media has now given fact and spin equal weight in a he said, she said.

BRANCACCIO: Do you feel beaten up for taking a position as a public liberal? They say, "Oh, Hollywood actress. Why is she weighing in on these political issues? What does she know?"

JANEANE GAROFALO: Before the invasion and occupation of Iraq, I was asked onto a Sunday night news program on Fox. And it was me to discuss the impending invasion of Iraq versus Ruth Wedgewood, who is a senior fellow of, you know, the-- this institute and that, and she's a--

BRANCACCIO: And a conservative?

JANEANE GAROFALO: So you have on the anti-war side, this actor that it's easy to hate. On the pro-war side, this senior fellow at this institute. Now if we had flipped that and during the buildup to the Iraq invasion, if you had had on the left a senior fellow of some astute-- a Pentagon official, a FBI person-- there was many voices anti-war in those areas. On the pro-war side, Kurt Russell. You know what I mean? If we had done that, the public perception of this would've been very, very different.

So what it turned out to be a lot of times, is people just supported Bush in the war, cause they'll be damned if they're gonna support Susan Sarandon. Do you know what I mean? Like that's deliberate. That's deliberate. Now, in their Rolodex, they don't have to call me. They could easily call Ray McGovern or some former ambassador-- something. And they don't do that--

BRANCACCIO: And you eventually woke up and saw the light, and you're not being used that way?

JANEANE GAROFALO: Well, I never wanted to do it, in the first place. I'm not good at it. I don't wanna do it. The thing is, though, if I don't go, and other people don't go when called, who's gonna go out there and say it? Who's gonna-- who's gonna go out there and say-- George Bush is a liar?

BRANCACCIO: Let me e get back to something which is, at some point you have to move on from just kvetching about the state of the world and there has to be a road map to making it better so that you--

JANEANE GAROFALO: Well who's kvetching? Your implication is that I am somehow stuck in just complaining. That's not true at all. It's not kvetching to say that we are being lied to by our current leader, who was installed in 2000 by Antonin Scalia. Who-- he and a couple of the other judges that installed George Bush should have recused themselves, because of conflicts of interest regarding--

BRANCACCIO: I'm not saying-- I'm not saying complaining incorrectly or something. But there's a tendency, maybe it's this point in history, for progressives feeling marginalized by the fact that they're out of power. And complaining about the state of the world. Some of it very legitimate. But how do you take action? And--

JANEANE GAROFALO: They do all the time. Progressives take action all the time. It was-- it's unbelievable what I saw-- during the build up to the elections. Unbelievable grassroots organizing. Unbelievable-- activism. It's not just kvetching. It's-- in fact, it's not kvetching at all.

There's no problem with pointing out these dangerous policies that are not good for us. That's not kvetching. Speaking truth to power is the only way is a society that votes are raised. You know what I mean? That-- we move towards justice, and we move towards enlightenment, and we move forward. What the right always hates is when somebody speaks truth to power.

BRANCACCIO: Well, Janeane, thank you very much. JANEANE GAROFALO: Thank you for having me.

BRANCACCIO: We'll catch you on the radio. JANEANE GAROFALO: OK.

BRANCACCIO:You can hear more from Janeane Garofalo on her show, The Majority Report, week nights on Air America radio.

Now, a former Republican Congressman from that red state of Georgia, Bob Barr. Fellow conservative, William Saffire calls him "Mr Privacy."

BRANCACCIO: Well Bob, good to see you.

BOB BARR: It's good to be back. Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: We could talk about the Georgia bride-to-be who bailed from her wedding. But this is NOW. So we need to pick up on a thread from our previous conversation and talk about something more at the center of public policy, which is judicial nominations.

BOB BARR: It's certainly an issue that is important to conservatives as it is to liberals. These nominees are very, very important for a Federal Appeals Court and certainly for the US Supreme Court, and these are lifetime nominees-

These people might be there 20, 30, 40 years. So they take on added significance. They are very, very important and I understand why both sides view it as in some sense a life or death issue. But for heaven's sake, let's make a decision and move on with the business of the Senate.

BRANCACCIO: What about this crazy scenario? The Bush administration says: "Okay let's end this stuff by proposing some more moderate names."

BOB BARR: I'm not sure that that is really whether it's a more moderate name or perceived as a more moderate name. I think it really has to do with the fundamental judicial philosophy. And of course when you -- when you really get down to it and you look at the philosophy of most of these judges, they're pretty mainstream. They're not kooks.

BRANCACCIO: That's sort of a debate right there, there's plenty of Democrats who do think there are a few in the kook category.

BOB BARR: It's a tremendous issue to debate, you're right.

BRANCACCIO: The Attorney General of the United States was on Capitol Hill a couple of weeks ago. And he was testifying about an issue near and dear to your heart, which is The Patriot Act. And he said any attempt to dismantle the Patriot Act, some of the provisions with sunset would go away without Congressional action, any attempt to dismantle it would be tantamount to, I think his words were, "unilateral disarmament," in the war on terror. Do you worry that your efforts in this area is essentially handing one to the terrorists?

BOB BARR: No, not at all. I do question a lot about the Patriot Act, and I don't think that that helps the terrorists, I think that it helps our Bill of Rights and it helps our Constitutional form of government in this country. We need to have a healthy debate over it.

There are provisions in the USA Patriot Act that go too far. Not all of them, but some of them, that affect real citizens in their real lives.

BRANCACCIO: Give me a taste of what would make you happy on The Patriot Act. What needs to go away in your view?

BOB BARR: What needs to go away are a couple of things that are very fundamental. One is, the government should have to actually make out a bare bones case that they believe that a particular target of an investigation has actually done something wrong or indeed is suspected of being an agent of a foreign power before they should be able to start issuing orders and subpoenas to gather evidence on that person.

It's far too easy for the government to go to a library or your doctor's office or a gun shop if you exercise your second amendment rights, and get your private information. It ought not to be as easy as the Patriot Act makes it for the government to get that information. That's why we're calling for some limitations to be placed on how the government exercises these powers.

BRANCACCIO: Does it bug you that it's a Republican administration that's trying to push for the extension of The Patriot Act?

BOB BARR: It doesn't bug me. It mea-- really reflects simply something that I've noticed throughout my entire career, certainly in the Congress. And that is that we see these problems of the government trying to get more and more power and consequently reduce a person's privacy or reduce the power that we the people have, regardless of whether the government has an R or a D after its name. It really seems to matter very little whether it's Bill Clinton in the White House or whether it's George W. Bush. Both of them want more power.

BRANCACCIO: What do you think, Bob? Is privacy an issue that's starting to gel with wide stretches of the American public?

BOB BARR: It really is, much more than just a few years ago. And that's the result of several things. First of all, we've seen-- the beginning of this year public information now starting to come out on some real problems with the security of private and financial data that private companies, such as ChoicePoint, such as Lexis Nexis, such as Bank of America have been-- accumulating on people. And now we're finding out that there really aren't sufficient safeguards to protect that information.

BRANCACCIO: I mean-- I don't mean to be a wiseacre here, but isn't the solution to some of this protecting our private data-- bigger government?

BOB BARR: Well it's not bigger government. It's in a sense it's smarter government, government that really has as its core mission, helping the citizens, as opposed to just accumulating more and more information to use in more and more different ways on those citizens. And it's a very important, perhaps to some people, subtle but a very important philosophical perspective that we need to look at.

BRANCACCIO: As we speak, the House and Senate are moving toward a system which will demand that states check to be sure that you're in this country legally before giving you a driver's license. Now I know that you're pretty strict on issues like immigration. Do you support that?

BOB BARR: I think that aspect of the federal law is good. I don't see that anybody who is in this country unlawfully has a right to get a government issued document that then allows them certain legal access and legal rights. I'm-- so I think that's entirely appropriate.

My concern is that we're developing now through this so-called Real ID program, for example, which Congress is poised now to enact into law, a national data base yet again, another national data base of more private information. And we're very soon going to find ourselves in the-- in the position where-- a federal agent anywhere can say, "Your papers, please," and demand to see that national ID.

BRANCACCIO: It's funny, you'd think Bob Barr would be just happier, the Republicans control the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate. Now's the time. This is the moment for the conservative movement and you don't seem to be fully happy.

BOB BARR: Well - I'm not fully happy because we see government growing bigger. We see bigger deficits. We see more spending. We see more pork. We see more regulations. We see less emphasis on civil liberties. And I'd say that all of those things tell me that the state of the conservative movement at least in Washington is not very healthy.

BRANCACCIO: You are a serious Libertarian. And-- Libertarians believe that the government shouldn't intrude into the things people do in their private lives. Why shouldn't that extend to a gay or lesbian's couple's ability to get hitched if they wanna be joined until death do they part?

BOB BARR: Well actually in many respects, I don't think that's certainly not the job of the federal government. And I've been against-- one of the measures that's near and dear to the hearts of many Republicans these days. And that is the Federal Marriage Amendment to prevent states from recognizing same sex marriages.

BRANCACCIO: You don't think that's a good idea?

BOB BARR: No, I don't think it's an appropriate idea for the federal government to do that. I do think it is an appropriate area for the states to reach those decisions. And if a particular state, whether it's Massachusetts or Oklahoma or anyplace else, decides that it wants to recognize a same sex marriage or some other permutation of a relationship between people of the same sex, it oughta be up to the people, the citizens, the voters, of that particular state without the federal government coming in and saying, "You can't do that."

BRANCACCIO: Well you are a serious states' rights person. So if there is a state that would condone gay marriage, you're okay with that.

BOB BARR: I personally am not a supporter of same sex marriage. But I do believe that that is an issue that is a decision that the people of each state ought to make. To me that's the magic and the strength of America. You can have different states reaching different conclusions on these important social relationship issues.

BRANCACCIO: Let me ask you about something else that's been in the news recently. You were the attack dog among them-- during the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair. You're very tough when--

BOB BARR: No, I'm just a pussycat--

BRANCACCIO: --you're just a little pussycat now. Maybe that explains this. When it comes to Tom DeLay, the House Majority Leader who appears to be in hot water, you seem more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt than you did with Mr. Clinton those years ago. Is that fair to say?

BOB BARR: It's fair to say. But there's a very good reason for it also. In the case of Mr. Clinton, we had very clear evidence basically irrefutable evidence. You had the tapes. You had videotapes of him lying under oath.

In the case of Tom DeLay, it's not nearly in that same category. Now if in fact Tom DeLay or any member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, did what he is alleged to have done, then certainly there oughta be repercussions. But the evidence I've seen thus far is one, certainly not clear cut on that. But what I'd like what I would like to see happen is what the Republicans are now sort of belatedly moving in the direction of. And that is to have a true objective, ethical committee look at this thing and determine whether or not violations did occur.

BRANCACCIO: Well, Bob, thank you very much.

BOB BARR: It's a pleasure and an honor, as always.

BRANCACCIO: I understand that your latest book about the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky stuff entitled THE MEANING OF IS, that you helpfully sent it over to the Clinton Library for the--

BOB BARR: Well I did. I figured it needed to be a part of their repository of the Bill Clinton legacy.

BRANCACCIO: Helpful of you. Thank you very much.

BOB BARR: Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: Next week on NOW, we're reporting on our returning veterans. And we'll be asking a key question: how will an already overburdened system cope with the thousands of wounded coming home from the war?

JEREMY LEWIS: My doctor told me almost the exact words; It's just a great shame to see what we're doing to our veterans now after all they've given us.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for now. From the mouth of the Erie Canal, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

Connect to NOW, online at pbs.org

Find out details of why Bob Barr is worried about the Patriot Act

Hear more from Janeane Garofalo

Talk back to the guests -- NOW'S Quotes of the Week

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