Need to Know
ALISON STEWART: I’m Alison Stewart.
JON MEACHAM: And I’m Jon Meacham. And here’s what you need to know.
ALISON STEWART: The debate over U.S. Afghanistan strategy grows louder. We’re with American soldiers on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border as they prepare Afghan troops to go it alone.
JON MEACHAM: A portrait of war through the eyes of an artist.
STEVE MUMFORD: I just wanted to be true to how it felt to me, to make people understand what it felt like to be there.
ALISON STEWART: And in Texas…Rewriting history.
DON MCLEROY: I’ve been mocked because I’m a, quote, creationist. Well that’s my religious belief.
ALISON STEWART: The battle over Texas textbooks… and how it might affect what children in other states learn.
JON MEACHAM: And…Andy Borowitz….
ALISON STEWART: All that and more coming up…on Need to Know.
ANNOUNCER: From New York, Alison Stewart and Jon Meacham.
JON MEACHAM: Hello. Thanks for joining us, and welcome to Need to Know.
ALISON STEWART: When it comes to America’s involvement in Afghanistan, this summer there’s been a lot of turmoil. The firing of General McChrystal; the WikiLeaks document dump; the growing opposition within the Democratic party to continue funding the war. There are a few options available. One is to support General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy. Another is to leave as soon as possible, abandoning the plan to bolster the Afghan army before a US exit.
JON MEACHAM: With so many questions about policy and strategy, one question seems to be missing. How’s it going day to day for American troops tasked with training the Afghan military to take over the battle? Our first story tonight will help answer that question. It’s adapted from a documentary called “The Last Outpost.” An intimate look at Americans training their Afghan comrades in a remote region along the border with Pakistan. And as you will see, success is far from assured.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN TO AN AMERICAN SOLDIER: This is Afghanistan and the backside of that is the border.
NARRATOR: Major Nicholas Fleischman of the California National Guard is a military mentor. His mission: to train the Afghan National Army – the ANA — in the art of modern warfare.
Major Fleischman (ITW): The helicopters and fast movers need to be able to see us, we’re on the ground. So we use infrared lights, so I figured this time I would provide, the Afghan Army too, with these IR Kem lights. But I told them, I said “Hey, take these Kem lights with you but don’t break them and don’t use them until I tell you too.” The first sergeant says, “Hey sir, are you guys getting ready to have a rave?” And I was like, “What is going on here?” So I picked up the night vision goggles. “Oh my God. Are you getting this on film? (Yeah he’s got it).” And all the freaking ANA are glowing in the dark because they cut their Kem lights open and took the liquid inside and put it on their faces, and on their hands and we just started cracking. Even though they live in a war-torn country and they always have a smile and a big heart and I think that is kind of where this came from. So, but uh, this isn’t the worse thing that I have seen. It is probably the funniest thing I have seen though.
NARRATOR: Formed after the U.S. deposed the Taliban, this edition of the Afghan National Army is less than a decade old. It may lack the training and discipline of a seasoned military force. But if Major Fleischman – a Fresno cop in civilian life – has seen some of its soldiers’ failings, he has also seen their strengths.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN (ITW): The Afghan National Army soldiers that I have been with have always been there to protect me, keep an eye on me, keep me out of trouble….have never run from a fight. If anything they’ve run to a fight. We’ve lost soldiers, both American-Afghans, together we’ve shed blood, killed the enemies of their country, so yeah, they’re my brothers.
NARRATOR: Here at Spera Outpost, near the Pakistani border, the troops are under frequent fire. Major Fleischman’s counterpart, Commander Ibrahim, fought the Taliban when he was a resistance fighter, and the Taliban ruled the country.
COMMONDANTE IBRAHIM (ITW): When the Taliban controlled Kabul they arrested my father and tortured him because I was a commander and they wanted to know how many weapons I had and where they were kept. The Taliban also took my cousin and tortured him to death.
NARRATOR: Ibrahim organizes a patrol to the border. It’s barely half a mile. But on jagged terrain at more than 8,000 feet, it takes an hour to get there.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: That’s where we are going.
NARRATOR: Perched on this high ground, Observation Post East is a small camp that watches over the Spera combat outpost.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: See the triangle patch of trees? Follow that triangle patch to the left, you see that wall. Right in that general area is 9 times out of 10 where they fire the mortars from.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN (ITW): I can point the houses where the Taliban fighters launch their attacks from. I can tell you where they shoot the mortars at us from. I can tell you all that, but it’s all inside Pakistan. It is frustrating that we do not have authority to conduct the attacks inside the sovereign nation of Pakistan.
NARRATOR: So on the frontline of this murky war, the ANA are more often the targets than the attackers. Lieutenant Faisl commands a platoon of 35 Afghan soldiers here. He is concerned his troops are not always prepared.
LIEUTENANT FAISAL: Get in position! Guys don’t you understand what I’m telling you? For once be prepared before the attack! After they start shooting, that’s when you’ll run into the foxhole? These people! They are at the bottom of that mountain over there. In the trees over there in that mountain. Hey! Look at this. Bring the RPGs here. There is more space here to shoot them from.
AFGHAN SOLDIER: Here?
LIEUTENANT FAISAL: Don’t close your eyes and you shoot into the sky, like one of you did the other day.
NARRATOR: There’s a lull in Taliban attacks. So, the ANA soldiers decide to radio the enemy, across the border. In this odd warfare, one side will sometimes call the other to confuse or intimidate them.
AFGHAN SOLDIER: Go on, call the Taliban, if they are there.
AFGHAN SOLDIER ON WALKIE TALKIE: Hello my friends! Where are you now?
TALIBAN ON WALKIE TALKIE: I can’t tell you exactly where I am right now. So what is happening on your side?
AFGHAN SOLDIER ON WALKIE TALKIE: Nothing special on my side. All is calm. What?
TALIBAN ON WALKIE TALKIE: What does Barack Obama tell you to do?
AFGHAN SOLDIER: Are you from Waziristan?
TALIBAN: I’m from Waziristan, Afghanistan.
AFGHAN SOLDIER: So Afghanistan and Waziristan are one?
TALIBAN: Yes, that’s right.
AFGHAN SOLDIER: Then come over here.
TALIBAN: If I come over there I would be killed by the Mujahideen.
AFGHAN SOLDIER: Mujahideen? Why would we kill you?
TALIBAN: No. My Mujahideen would kill me.
AFGHAN SOLDIER: Your Mujahideen would kill you?
TALIBAN: Yes. OK, I’m going to sleep now.
AFGHAN SOLDIER: Be careful. You should sleep with one eye open.
NARRATOR: The radio call underscore the commonality of Afghan soldiers and their enemies. Out here, it’s the ANA’s American allies who are very different.
COMMANDANT IBRAHIM (ITW): There’s a big difference between our Afghan soldiers and the American soldiers. Most of the Afghan people are uneducated and illiterate. While the Americans are 100% educated. The American army has 300 years of experience, we only have 7 years.
NARRATOR: In a conflict of surprise attacks, inside sources are crucial. Here at Spera Outpost, the United States and ANA commanders must decide whether they can trust the son of a local tribal leader, Mozafar Khan.
MOZAFAR (ITW): There is plenty of gossip about people at the bazaars, but I have good sources for my information.
MOZAFAR: The Taliban have warned the villagers not to work with the government or take money from it, and not to join the anti-Taliban militias.
MOZAFAR (ITW): If the Taliban catch me they will chop my head off. I wouldn’t even have time for a last cigarette.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN: What are they up to after they got those guys killed, are they planning anything right now?
MOZAFAR: Two days ago three vehicles arrived in the area and yesterday six more vehicles turned up. They are planning to avenge the four you killed during the last battle.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN: You will let me know when they are gonna try to hit?
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN (ITW):At first, I was very cautious about dealing with Mozafar, he might play both sides of the coin you know what I say, he might provide information about us and then he provides information about the enemy. As our relationship has developed I think that is minimal to the point where I am probably incorrect.
NARRATOR: After one recent Taliban incursion, the ANA capture 3 men crossing the border from Pakistan. One is a local village elder, Sheradeen, with his son. The third is a stranger to the soldiers. He says his name is Arabistan.
COMMANDANT IBRAHIM’S TRANSLATOR: Were you in Pakistan?
ARABISTAN: No, no. We were in Afghanistan.
NARRATOR: Using a trick he learned as a cop, Feischman claims he has surveillance photos, taken from the sky, that look just like the prisoner.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN: So the pictures that I have in my computer from the American bird, it’s not him. (Answers: No, no, no)
COMMANDANT IBRAHIM: Were you in Tangarai at the elder’s house at seven a.m.?
COMMANDANT IBRAHIM: Did you hear the gunfire?
ARABISTAN: We were inside the house. We didn’t hear anything.
COMMANDANT IBRAHIM: Who’s house?
ARABISTAN: His name is… On the tip of my tongue.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN: So once again, the pictures that I have in my computer that the birds sent down to my computer while they were flying over Tangarai that looks exactly like him is not him?
ARABISTAN: This is all just talk. If you have real evidence that I’m Taliban, then punish me.
NARRATOR: The commanders hold Arabistan for further questioning. But they let the village elder, Sheradeen, and his son go free. It’s a matter of counterinsurgency strategy. They hope that demonstrating that they don’t take prisoners unduly will gain them local support. The Afghan commander gets new intelligence from his informant about the elder he has let go – Sheradeen – and the man he has detained – Arabistan.
MOZAFAR: I know him very well. He is a big shot. If you bring me someone I can tell you who they are but I can’t vouch for them. Go on, bring me someone. The old man, Sheradeen, the one you set free – he is the cousin of the top Taliban commander around here.
NARRATOR: Whether Muzafar is credible or not, the allies decide not to pursue the allegation against Sheradeen. In fact, when he returns unexpectedly to ask for the release of the prisoner, Arabistan, they try to win him and other locals over to the ANA side. It’s another part of the counterinsurgency strategy, which U.S. troops have been promoting to the ANA.
COMMANDANT IBRAHIM: The ANA and the government are not against the Taliban. We divide the Taliban into two groups. If the Taliban are students of religion, we respect them. The Afghan army is against those who use the Taliban name and want to destroy the country. Our soldiers are Muslims too. They accept the Quaran, they believe in God and pray five times a day. It’s the enemy who are away from Islam. They attack us. What do you think about that?
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN: My friends have a good day. Please know that the ANA and the Americans are here to support you guys.
NARRATOR: For the American major, this war can be a hall of mirrors – invisible borders that can’t be crossed, informants who may or may not be playing both sides, troops who are ill-prepared – And, when the next gunfire comes, it’s not from the Taliban. An ANA private who has seemed depressed – snaps. He shoots two of his own comrades, including one he says sexually assaulted him.
COMMANDANT IBRAHIM ON WALKIE TALKIE: Have you handcuffed the soldier that went crazy?
AMERICAN SOLDIER TO LT. FAILS: Where? Where? In the head? In the eye?
AMERICAN SOLDIER: The second casualty looks pretty stable.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Hey if you’re not a doctor get over there!
MAJOR: Hey is he gone doc? (Yeah) Then go to the other guy. Hurry up. Just take your bag with you over to the other guy.
NARRATOR: Two days later, time for a troop rotation. Both American and Afghan soldiers will be replaced. Fleischman is training and motivating to the last hour.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN: I do not want you guys running to the helicopters as soon as they land, ok. That is (BLEEP) and that is not how we do it in ANA.
NARRATOR: New Afghan and American troops will take their place. But there will come a day in 2011, when the Americans will begin to leave for good.
COMMANDANT IBRAHIM (ITW): If the American president or the American people decide to pull their troops out of Afghanistan soon it would be very dangerous for them. The terrorists would retake power here and attack the U.S once again worse than they did on 9/11.
MAJOR FLEISCHMAN (ITW):
I truly believe deep in my heart that the Afghan people will eventually say enough is enough; we are not taking this crap no more. We want to live in peace, and we want to have a nice life. So, how long that will take, I’ll use my favorite Afghan term, inshala, which means “God willing.”
ALISON STEWART: By the end of this summer, the number of American troops in Afghanistan will outnumber those in Iraq by 50,000 according to the Department of Defense. We now introduce you to someone with a keen understanding of what it’s like for soldiers on the ground…As an embedded artist, Steve Mumford has traveled to Iraq six times. There he’s seen – and experienced – life in Iraq in a way few civilians have. Armed only with pens and watercolors, he produces quick, beautifully rendered depictions of daily life in the war zone. But when he returns home to his studio, Mumford turns those experiences into large, provocative oil paintings. Taken together, his work offers a portrait of life during wartime, and its aftermath.
ALISON STEWART: I’ve read descriptions of what you do — you’ve been described as a “combat illustrator,” a “war artist” and “combat artist.” How do you describe what you do?
STEVE MUMFORD: I describe myself as just an artist. I think every artist has the potential to go out and work from life which is what I like to do. I often use the term combat artist when I am in Iraq because it’s a term the soldiers understand, but combat art implies that you’re in combat all the time and most of the time I was in Iraq I was not in direct combat, although on occasion it did happen. But sometimes I felt like I wasn’t so much drawing the bombs, I was drawing the spaces in between, and that says as much about the war zones as when the bullets are actually flying.
ALISON STEWART: What part of your training came into play when you were in Iraq that you maybe didn’t know would come into play as a combat artist?
STEVE MUMFORD :Well, that’s an interesting question, because you don’t really get trained that much in art school to draw quickly from life with an audience around you. I not only had the U.S. soldiers watching what I was doing, if I was in an embedment, but if I wasn’t, I had a crowd of Iraqis around me, and usually Iraqis’ sense of personal space is like this. So they were literally rubbing elbows with me while I was drawing and commenting on the drawing as I was drawing, and even sometimes getting into my field of vision and posing for me.
NARRATION: In Mumford’s drawings and watercolors (these were all done during the first six years of the Iraq war), violence and combat occasionally appear. He was also granted access to scenes where photographers weren’t… Like these prisoners in a holding cell.
But the overall impression you get is of the ordinariness of life in a war zone.
STEVE MUMFORD: I didn’t set out to draw the horror of war. And you know there are artists who I greatly admire, for example Otto Dix and he was in the First World War and he did a horrifying and intense series of life in the trenches. You know, his line was almost like a scream on the paper or on the canvas – that, for the most part, wasn’t my experience and I just wanted to be true to how it felt to me, to make people understand what it felt like to be there. I don’t want to give a false impression that everything is nice here. On the other hand, that usually is how life is in a war zone, you know, until something bad happens. And the Iraqis just made it a point to go about their business – they just wouldn’t stop what they were doing. And I think that was in part, in a way, their personal pride as citizens of Baghdad. “We’re not going to stop what we are doing just because there’s this thing going on… we’re going to try to live our lives as normally as we can.”
STEVE MUMFORD: This particular trip, I saw some interesting stuff one day when a bunch of prisoners were being transferred and there were lines of people like this all over the tarmac. That was a situation where I couldn’t take photographs – I was told because of the Geneva Convention – no photographs of insurgents or suspects.
This was a young Iraqi girl who was shot in the bottom. They extracted the bullet without any problems but of course she terrified and wailing to be in the hospital. That’s her dad there next to her, who held her hand.
ALISON STEWART: You describe what you did in Iraq, your work in Iraq as recording and documenting. Was it actually documenting or were you interpreting what you saw?
STEVE MUMFORD: I think of myself as being an artist who tries to create realism, you know, I work in a realist way. I want the viewer to feel like they’re almost in the picture. On the other hand, I think that every time you’re drawing instead of taking a photograph it’s inherently a subjective act. It takes me 45 minutes to make a drawing and the scene changes, often a lot, in 45 minutes. So I’m constantly making editing decisions on my own according to who is coming in and out of the picture. So, I’m somewhere between an artist and a reporter, when I’m drawing there in Iraq.
NARRATOR: In between trips, Mumford returns to the quiet of his Manhattan studio, and there, he produces a very different type of work. Gone are the days of a quick watercolor done in 45 minutes. Mumford now spends weeks, sometimes months, on a large oil painting. And gone, too, is the quiet observation of real-life scenes in Iraq. Back here, Mumford works with models and photographs, recreating scenes from memory and imagination.
Those works were recently on display at the Postmasters Gallery in New York City.
In a painting decorated with flowers and wrapped in faux explosives, a young man says a tearful goodbye to a friend who’s leaving on a suicide mission, the bomb pack strapped to his chest.
Across the gallery, Mumford shows the awful toll those suicide- bombers can take: these are the last minutes of an American soldier’s life, inside the Baghdad ER.
Another painting depicts two Iraqi prostitutes, floating alone in a hotel swimming pool inside the green zone.
ALISON STEWART: This is the guest book from Mumford’s show. It’s what people sign when they’ve come to the gallery, and of course, it’s full of congratulations for him from friends. But it also offers a glimpse into the complex reactions to the art work, and the subject matter. On this one page there’s a comment that says “I wish a peace.” On the very next page, the comment reads: “Just bomb the place and get over with it.”
ALISON STEWART (To Mumford): I’m curious about the difference between the work you did in Iraq and the work that’s in your show at Postmasters Gallery. The work in the gallery is a lot more provocative and evocative even just in the subject matter you chose. Why the change? Why the difference between the two?
STEVE MUMFORD: You know, I think one has time to think about one’s experiences, and scenes that might not have made a big impression on me at the time, I began to feel they had more and more significance. Like the painting with the prostitutes — that was a barbeque I went to at one of the more expensive hotels, and I had been told by an Iraqi friend the week before that he had gone to high schools with those girls and they were working as prostitutes. You know, this would be a tremendous taboo in Iraqi society, and I think these girls knew they couldn’t leave because they would probably be executed by some religious militia, because Iraqis knew what they were doing there. So it struck me that they completely thrown in their lot with these Americans and were probably hoping to somehow be taken out of the country by them. It hit me while I was there just how alone they were, and I just thought later, there’s something — a metaphor there about the whole war, about the people that are stuck in between. They have to make these difficult choices and that was the choices these two made.
ALISON STEWART: Just six weeks ago, Steve Mumford returned from his latest war zone tour. This time…he was in Afghanistan. There he followed a squad of American marines and Afghan army soldiers in Marja as they fought to force the Taliban from the area. You can see some of his latest work from Afghanistan on the Need to Know web site.
JON MEACHAM: Deep in the heart of Texas, a state school board has earned notoriety for its line-by-line review of its state textbook standards. When we caught up with the school board, they were considering changes to their social studies textbooks. Critics complained the board was distorting some events in American history. The board’s analysis is the first step in the process of deciding what should and shouldn’t be included in the books their students study. Why do we need to know this? Why should anyone care? Because as one of the biggest textbook buyers in the country, Texas could influence what kids learn in other states, as well.
DON MCLEROY: Mornin.’
ALISON STEWART: Don McLeroy has three jobs and he loves them all.
SECRETARY: Good morning, Dr. Mcleroy’s office…
ALISON STEWART: Job number one – dentist.
DON MCLEROY: I love dentistry. First you’re doing with your hands, you gotta use your mind, and you have to relate with people all day long.
DON MCLEROY (to patient): Man, look at those shoes!
ALISON STEWART: Job number two – Sunday school teacher.
DON MCLEROY (to kids): Howdy, howdy, howdy!
DON MCLEROY: I love teaching that Sunday school class every Sunday. That’s what I look forward to. I just love it.
ALISON STEWART: And job number three: member of the Texas State Board of Education… a seat he’s held for the last 12 years. But it’s that third job which has put this dentist and Sunday school teacher from Bryan, Texas – into a national debate over what kids are taught in school. Critics have accused McLeroy of injecting his religious conservative beliefs into the curriculum.
DON MCLEROY: I’ve been mocked because I’m a quote “Creationist.” Well, that’s my religious belief, and for that to be made fun of, and people to sit there and think that disqualifies me from being a Board member, that’s not what made this country great.
ALISON STEWART: About every 10 years – the board revises the textbook standards for different subjects. Any books bought by the state must conform to these guidelines.
The last big battle was over the science standards.
DON MCLEROY: I disagree with these experts. Somebody’s got to stand up to these experts! I don’t know why they’re doing it. They’re wonderful people. But the fossil record…
ALISON STEWART: McLeroy was successful in getting language into the standards that questions the theory of evolution. This year – he’s tackling social studies. He says he and his like-minded Board members are determined to correct a liberal bias they see in the books.
DON MCLEROY: It makes me wonder what’s happening in our universities. Are the young teachers being taught history in a biased way? I think they are. I think it’s clearly academia has swung way, way, way over to the left, and they’re not presenting history right in our universities.
ALISON STEWART: This debate isn’t just about kids in the Lone Star state. According to publishing insiders – textbooks are often tailored to fit Texas’s standards… because Texas is the largest buyer of textbooks. That means the choices made here could determine books that other states will buy. And that’s led to a school fight that has the entire country looking on.
FOX NEWS: The Texas State Board of Education has now voted in favor of the proposed changes…
DON MCLEROY: To me, it’s drawn national attention, because the principles that we really want to teach are diametrically opposed to the way the left is trying to lead our country today.
So how does a dentist get on the state Board of Education anyway? He was elected – just like the insurance salesman from Beaumont, the real estate broker from El Paso and the lawyer from Lubbock. There are a few teachers on the board too. But it’s this group of conservatives including Don McLeroy that have been getting all the attention.
DON MCLEROY: My next amendment is standard 26…
ALISON STEWART: Their exhaustive debates all are captured on this web video. The board makes amendments to a draft of the standards produced by a group of experts, including educators. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a subtle tweaking of language that critics say shifts the entire curriculum.
BARBARA CARGILL: It seems that there now appears in the rough draft just some negatives. There seems to be a flow of negatives about Western institutions and beliefs and values.
ALISON STEWART: The conservative members on the board felt that some terms used in the textbooks portray America in a negative light. One of those words was “imperialism.” So Don McLeroy made an amendment to delete the word and replace it with “expansionism.”
DON MCLEROY: America is not imperialistic. That’s where you’re going to take over by force. Expansionism is a much, much better and more accurate word.
ALISON STEWART: McLeroy also wanted to eliminate the word “propaganda” from a discussion of American involvement in World War I. Pat Hardy, a history teacher on the board, noted America’s use of propaganda posters in the lead up to war and pleaded with members to leave the word in.
PAT HARDY: Guys, you’re rewriting history now. I beg of you, I’ll go a long with those other things but don’t mess with the propaganda thing.
ALISON STEWART: But they did mess with it – and “propaganda” was deleted. “Capitalist” has also become a dirty word. One member associated it with “capitalist pig.” So – the board voted to get rid of it, and replace it with “free enterprise.” Again, Pat Hardy was miffed.
PAT HARDY: I do not understand and if someone could explain to me where the resistance of capitalism is as a nasty word… I’m not getting it.
ALISON STEWART: Hardy argued that words like capitalism are used at the college level and kids should know them. But the majority on the board disagreed.
TERRI LEO: I support Mr. Mercer’s amendment to strike the word capitalism. And I see no need, frankly, to compromise with liberal professors from academia. That’s part of the problem of how we end up with distorted and liberal biased textbooks is because that’s who’s writing them.
ALISON STEWART: To further correct that liberal bias, McLeroy added a requirement to study the rise of conservative icons like Phyllis Schlafly, the heritage foundation and the moral majority. There’s a new emphasis on the role religion played in the founding of the country. And on the constitutional right to bear arms. In all there were over 300 amendments proposed to the social studies standards. Kathy Miller says – all those amendments will fundamentally change what kids are taught in school.
KATHY MILLER: Y’all it matters. If they learn this stuff all the way through school, their view of what it is to be a citizen of this state and of this nation will be skewed.
ALISON STEWART: Miller runs the Texas Freedom Network – a watchdog group that monitors the religious right. They’ve attended every state board meeting for the last 15 years.
KATHY MILLER: The state board of education is a 15-member body…
ALISON STEWART: She says few people even know who their elected state Board of Education rep is. So she’s been talking to people around the state about what Don McLeroy and the Board of Ed are doing.
KATHY MILLER: I think that Dr. McLeroy is very well meaning, and he believes that the curriculum is skewed in one direction or another, but just as I’m not an expert, and I can’t decide what every student in Texas should learn about American history and government, neither is he. He’s a dentist.
DON MCLEROY: I believe that…
ALISON STEWART: Miller says she was troubled by McLeroy’s amendments to the section on civil rights. He proposed changing the standard so it didn’t focus on how women and minorities fought to win their own civil and voting rights.
DON MCLEROY: It took the majority vote. It wasn’t the minorities that got the majority vote. I mean it wasn’t minorities that got the Civil Rights Act. It was the majority that did it. Understand what I’m saying? (Yes sir.) Ok, for instance the women’s right to vote. The women didn’t vote on it. The men did. The men passed it for the women.
KATHY MILLER: I do not necessarily believe that it was only because men just decided that day, “You know what? We’ve been messing around with those womenfolk. They need to vote.” I think that we struggled for a really long time to get that vote. And that notion is being lost in the way this Board is trying to erase challenges and struggles in American history.
ALISON STEWART: What’s happening on the state Board is nothing new. Miller says – back in the 90’s – the Board was also steered by a group of Christian conservatives.
KATHY MILLER: We saw them remove a line drawing of a woman’s breast to teach young women self-breast exams, because they thought it was offensive. We saw them suggest removing a picture of a woman carrying a briefcase, and suggest replacing it with a picture of a woman baking cookies to align with their ideas about gender roles.
ALISON STEWART: She says what’s missing in this whole debate is how best to prepare our kids for higher education.
KATHY MILLER: We need to find a way for academic experts at our colleges and universities who are going to get so many of these students when they graduate to say, “Yeah, this is what they need to know in order to be successful here.”
ALISON STEWART: Hundreds of historians from around the country signed this open letter to the Texas State Board of Education. It said, quote “Those of us who teach and conduct research in colleges and universities have grown concerned however, that social studies curriculum standards in Texas do not meet student needs.” Miller says – at the very least –the board should be required to have experts present while they are making their amendments. Right now – that’s not the case – and that has led to some amendments that have been just plain wrong. For example, Bill Martin, Jr. – the author of the beloved children’s book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” was removed because the board said he had written a book on Marxism.
GAIL LOWE: Are there any objections to the deletion of Bill Martin Jr? Hearing none, goodbye! (laughter)
ALISON STEWART: The only problem was, they got the wrong Bill Martin. However, Don McLeroy says it’s a democratic process that works.
DON MCLEROY: The process is outstanding, but like in any process, somebody is going to have to make a decision. And so the people have chosen us, elected officials, and we get to go in, just like any other elected officials, to make decisions.
INTERVIEWER: What about some of the mistakes that were made along the way?
DON MCLEROY: That’s embarrassing.
McLeroy points out that the board did put Bill Martin Jr. back in the standards.
THOMAS RATLIFF: I, like a lot of folks, you know, two years ago didn’t even know much about the State Board of Education. And the more I watched, the less I liked.
ALISON STEWART: Thomas Ratliff lives in Mt. Pleasant with his wife and 2 kids and works as a corporate lobbyist in Dallas. He decided to run against McLeroy in his district’s state Board election.
Like McLeroy, he’s a Republican and says his Christian faith informs everything he does.
THOMAS RATLIFF: It’s pretty simple, we’re all trying to head to the same place….
ALISON STEWART: But Ratliff says, his faith has led him to a different understanding of the world around him.
THOMAS RATLIFF: My faith is not threatened by the discussion of evolution. I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. And why it has to be that if you believe in evolution, you don’t believe that God created the heavens and the earth, it — it just; it’s crazy.
ALISON STEWART: He believes it’s wrong to force his ideology onto others – and was disappointed that many of the Board’s amendments seemed to do just that. He says amendments should be the exception — not the rule.
THOMAS RATLIFF: We’re lawyers, we’re insurance salesmen, we’re lobbyists, we’re, you know, teachers. We’re normal citizens. And for us to elevate ourselves to a point where we can take that work product and totally redo it, I don’t think that’s what the process is designed to do.
DON MCLEROY: My goal is to win…
ALISON STEWART: On March 2nd, election day, the voters got to decide between the dentist from Bryan and the lobbyist from Mt. Pleasant. In the end, Thomas Ratliff narrowly defeated Don McLeroy.
THOMAS RATLIFF: I think my faith will give me a certain dose of humility. I’m not goin’ down there because I think I have all the right ideas. I’m goin’ down there because the people that do have the right ideas aren’t being listened to.
ALISON STEWART: But Ratliff won’t take his seat on the board till next January. The current board – including Don McLeroy, will be voting on the final social studies standards next week. It will likely be a decade before they are considered again.
DON MCLEROY: I’ve had 12 years to serve, and I think I’ve been able to have an impact; it’s favored for all those great little kids that are created in the image of God. So, it’s my privilege. I’m thankful for what I’ve been able to do.
JON MEACHAM: A week after our story first aired, the Texas State Board approved the changes to the social studies curriculum standards. But the state is now mired in a deep budget crisis. Insiders say it could be as many as five years before the state has the funds to purchase books that reflect those new standards.
ALISON STEWART: This week online, in the wake of the Arizona immigration law controversy, Kavitha Rajagopalan explores why the U.S. economy is so dependent on an underclass of illegal immigrants. And WikiLeaks and Russian spies in the suburbs… Contributor G.W Schulz says the biggest risk of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands may come from the male libido. All that and more, at the Need to Know site.
ALISON STEWART: This weekend, a conference of women bloggers will meet in New York to attend workshops run by a nonpartisan group called the White House Project. As a matter of fact I’ll be moderating one of the panels. One of the goals of the conference is teaching women bloggers how to run for and win elected office — a testament to the fact that blogging has grown up…from the trendy fad to respected medium…with the potential to earn its practitioners political clout and pop culture cachet.
One of the women bloggers who definitely has clout and cachet is Heather Armstrong, the publisher of dooce.com. She’s a mom blogger, kind of a silly sounding term at first blush. But she happens to be on Forbes list of the most influential women in media – and her website generates enough revenue to support her entire family. What would be silly is to not take this dot com personality seriously.
ALISON STEWART: She’s a 33-year-old living in Salt Lake City, Utah with a husband, two kids, and two dogs. And she has problems that anyone could relate to.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: We went and spent a ton of money on a top of the line washer. We bought the 10 year warranty. And it broke within a couple weeks. And we had a repair guy come out three times. He ordered the wrong parts. We went months without a functioning washing machine. I called the place we bought it from, then I called headquarters and I went through a couple people at headquarters who were just like, “Yeah, no, we can’t help you.”
ALISON STEWART: They were saying that to the wrong person. Because unlike most American mothers, Heather Armstrong has the power to bring corporate America to its knees.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: And I said, “I’ve got a million followers on Twitter. If I say something there, will you help me?” And they’re like, “Oh, we know what Twitter is and no, it’s not going to help.”
And so, I sat down at the computer and I pulled up Twitter and I was like, “Do not ever buy a Maytag. Our experience has been horrible.” And it got re-tweeted and re-tweeted and re-tweeted.
And Home Depot contacted me, and Sears contacted me and Bosch appliances offered me a new washing machine. And by the end of the day, the headquarters of Maytag- one of the major manager vice presidents was on the phone with me the next morning and got my washing machine fixed within the day.
ALISON STEWART: Chalk one up to the blogosphere. Armstrong is now up to 1.6 million followers on twitter – half a million more than CNN can claim.
Why all the eyeballs? Because she’s the mastermind behind the wildly popular blog dooce.com.
In it, she writes about everything from health care reform to her own bout with shingles…from national politics to her daughter’s – well — poop.
And she does it all without apology.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: I don’t think that humans were meant to live the way we’re living right now. Especially mothers who are so isolated with their children at home alone.
I was one of the first women, I think, to come out and say, “You know what? I’m going to be completely, brutally honest about this experience. And I really don’t care that it may not be politically correct.”
ALISON STEWART: Her kind of candor, traditionally reserved for close friends and family, has led to the creation of a community whose power can be profound, as Armstrong learned after the birth of her first child in 2004. She faced crippling postpartum depression, checked herself into a hospital and wrote about her struggle.
I mean, it was a really, really bad case of not bonding with my child. Of wanting to commit suicide every day. Not seeing the end in sight. Hopelessness. And I wrote about it. And my audience was so supportive and I really credit them with saving my life.
ALISON STEWART: Armstrong first rocketed to internet stardom even before motherhood. In 2002, then-single Heather Hamilton was fired from her job for posting acerbic comments about her co-workers on her blog.
That company may have let her go. But as her traffic grew, other businesses came calling, wanting to pay her to run their ads on her site.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: We’ve had Microsoft. Target. Walmart. A lot of big names. Nike.
ALISON STEWART: Taking ads may be an easy choice now, but five years ago it was hard to be a trendsetter.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: And at the time, no personal blog was taking advertisements. And so, I resisted it for a long time. Because I knew that I was going to be on the front of this bus bursting through a wall and I was going to take the brunt of, “You’re selling out. I’ll never read you again.”
In 2005 in October a whole bunch of ad networks popped up and said, “Hey, you know, with your traffic numbers, this is what we can promise you. And I looked at Jon and I said, “Ok, we’re going to jump off this cliff together and I hope that we don’t die.”
ALISON STEWART: It could have been a risky proposition. Even today, the average American blogger only makes $5,000 a year from his or her site. As it turned out, dooce.com now takes in an estimated $40,000 a month. So armstrong’s husband, jon, could afford to quit his job at an internet ad agency.
The trade-off is that his most personal matters can be the subject of her posts.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: And he walked in and one of the women was like, “How’s your vasectomy healing, Jon?”
ALISON STEWART: With business booming as it is, though, it’s hard for him to complain.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: It’s no surprise to anyone that Jon pre-ordered an iPad the moment it was announced that they would be available. Last week it arrived and I haven’t seen him since. And then I go on to make fun of my husband. And that’s ok, right Jon?
JON ARMSTRONG: Yeah, no.
And Heather Armstrong is boosting profits for other women’s businesses as well. She often mentions their products on dooce.com.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: These were made by a woman in Australia and she does them in her spare time.
ALISON STEWART: After dooce featured another website, its traffic increased from 10 visits a day to 3,000 and sales jumped exponentially. That kind of taste making power has put her in the top tier of online influencers – a persuasive crowd.
According to a Nielsen survey, opinions posted on the internet are now considered a form of advertising. And one of the most trusted. But it can be difficult to tell where the ad starts and the opinion ends.
In October 2009, for example, a group of reporters and bloggers talked up their trip to Jamaica. An ethical controversy broke out on the internet when it became clear that the vacation was paid for by companies looking for promotion online.
The federal trade commission – the agency that regulates advertising – doesn’t want this kind of confusion.
MARY ENGLE: What’s new here is that we’re applying this principle in today’s world, in the world of social media where you can’t always recognize an advertisement just by looking at it.
ALISON STEWART: The FTC announced in December 2009, that bloggers must disclose any pay-for-play writing.
And it’s not just talk. In April, the agency issued its first warning after it learned a retailer had offered gift cards to bloggers in exchange for coverage.
Heather Armstrong isn’t worried. She blogs by her own strict code.
HEATHER ARMSTRONG: I will never say something positive about a company because they paid me to do it. I won’t cross that line. My readers have to trust that what I’m saying is coming from a true space.
Let’s go blog.
ALISON STEWART: On the next edition of Need to Know: On Chicago’s south side, the reality of life on the streets
AMEENA: This is an epidemic. This is a pandemic. We equate it to a public health issue because we’re trying to change behaviors, because what happens for so many years, people have been able to get away with their behaviors, it’s been acceptable.
JON MEACHAM: Youth violence as a public heath issue…on the next Need to Know.
There are many shows out there that can tell you about this week’s news, but only Need to Know can give you the scoop on things to come. Satirist and self-styled humorist Andy Borowitz joins us yet again with some brand new predictions for Next Week’s News. Andy?
ANDY BOROWITZ: Thanks, Alison, thanks, 2-Meach-his-own. Thank you. And welcome to a special pledge week edition of Next Week’s News. Now, normally, this segment is ninety seconds long, but PBS asked me to devote seventy of those seconds to pledge week. They originally wanted eighty seconds, but I bargained them down. We hope you’ll continue your support of public television, which is like public radio that you can see. And to show our thanks, we’re offering you these awesome pledge week premiums. First, we’ve got this amazing 10-dvd set, “Ken Burns’ Ken Burns.” From master storyteller Ken Burns comes the life story of Ken Burns as only Ken Burns can tell it: over the course of forty hours. Be the first person to watch it all the way to the end. Let’s watch a clip.
VOICEOVER: Ken Burns found himself at home, checking his e-mail. He had gotten a message from his aunt Kathy who let him know that she had received the thank you card he sent her, expressing gratitude for the sweater vest she had gotten him for his birthday. Upon hearing this, Ken made his way downstairs to make himself a sandwich….
ANDY BOROWITZ: And you won’t want to miss out on this: A collection of the greatest bloopers and outtakes from that PBS classic, “Masterpiece Theater.” Let’s have a listen.
ALISTAIR COOKE: Charles Dickens penned his masterpiece “Bleak House” in 1854 … Did I say 1854? I meant 1853! Oh dear! My bad! That’s me, my bad!
JON MEACHAM: Now, here are some special premiums for you “Need to Know” fans out there. Go to bed in style and comfort just like Jon Meacham does with a set of authentic Jon Meacham pajamas from the “Jonathan’s Secret” collection. And finally, the craze that’s sweeping the country: the “Need to Know” drinking game, deluxe home edition. Do a shot every time Alison or Jon says the phrase “Need to Know.” Whoa! I’m already wasted! Well, that’ll do it for our pledge week premiums. Alison, Jon?
JON MEACHAM: Thank you Professor Borowitz.
ALISON STEWART: That’s it for Need to Know on the air, but of course, you can find us online all the time, with new stories from our reporting teams added every day.
JON MEACHAM: See you next time.