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Need to Know, May 21, 2010

In this episode of Need to Know, we take a hard look at the drug wars plaguing Mexico and particularly the border town of Juarez. Need to Know explores the problem from the viewpoint of the victims of the violence, the community leaders and lawyers trying to find political solutions, youth who are at the center of the issues and the U.S. government agencies who are policing the border.

Also, the recent Supreme Court ruling that effectively outlawed a sentence of life without parole for juvenile offenders in non-murder cases, California medical marijuana clinics, hate speech, and of course, Next Week’s News with Andy Borowitz.


  • Sheilah Hill

    Excellent! Thank you for this information we definitely need to know.

  • Deborah Steinmetz

    The quote from Newt Gringrich was used dishonestly as well as the clips from a few angry and not too intelligent people, that was used to represent millions of Americans who are unhappy with the POLICIES of the Obama administration. The “hate speech” or “racist” labels are always used by those who want to avoid an honest debate about the real issues and policies .

  • Eli Fincannon

    The move away from life without parole for juveniles is indeed a very good thing, but it should be kept in mind how inhumanely all juveniles charged with crimes are treated. It is of course a shameful thing when any adult is wrongfully incriminated. When a juvenile is dealt with in the same way they are forced, whatever the situation, to shed any vestments of youth and face the cruel world as an adult with their undeveloped and immature psyches. If they happen to be innocent they can no longer entertain any faith in a society which can be so ruthless. Either this is inhumane or the social sequestering of youth is a sham which might as well be done away with.
    I say this because only six years ago, when I was sixteen, I was persecuted as a Goth kid by the conservative community where I lived for supposedly planning a “columbine-style” attack at my high school. Subsequently I have been incarcerated in juvenile, state, and federal prisons, and all wrongfully, for the allegations against me were erroneous. The psychological issues this caused me I can scarcely describe, but now I am working to establish a non-profit association called Sorrow Kids ( to help prevent unreasonable persecution and prosecution of youth; opposing all life sentences for juveniles, among other things, in light of the psychological devastation such social condemnation can wreak upon a young mind.

  • Matt Wion

    A very fine episode this evening. I think the show is getting better and that you guys have great promise.

    I believed that the criticism of the first couple episodes was idealogically based and premature, and your show tonight gives me great reason to believe I am right.

    I still think you have a way to go to find your dintincitive voice and “hit your stride,” but I strongly believe you guys are on the right track.

    The essay on Gingrich was a fine op-ed, the story on Juveniles informed me of a great deal that I did not know; and, finally, your stories on Pot and on the drug war were very thought provoking and instructive.

    I’m still not on board with the comedic “Next Week’s News” segement, but my fiancee laughed quite a bit while watching.

    Keep up the good work and keep getting better!

  • Guillermo Farell

    Excellent program today.
    One little detail about the merida deal, about the 1 billion plus money sent by the US, the money sent to Mexico so far is less than 200 million, the rest is still tied up in tramits, not by politics, but by burocracy.

  • Ben Tremblay

    A fabulous addition to our lives; thanks so much.

    RFE: separate items, please. Even if only using time-code. I’d very much like to link directly to your Hate Speech item.

    keep on keepin’ on!

  • Margaret Jenkins

    Several hours ago I returned home just in time to see a small segment of a new program “Need To Know”, which at that moment involved “hate speech”. I have no comment on Newt Gingrich’s thought that Obama’s policies are more dangerous for America than the Cold War, Nazi Germany, etc. etc. – I have not read that book and have no idea of the real context. However, I was stunned to hear a string of threatening and vitriolic comments played, identified by the host as people opposed to the health care legislation which recently passed. Such hate speech, announced the host, is most often from the “right” and .has developed since the “rise of Obama”.

    To say that I am stunned is an understatement. When I think of the hate speech poured out by so many on the left against any who oppose their views, the vitriole that has always been heaped on Presidents by the few crazed radicals who exist on the fringes of political life, the screams of “racist” any and every time a current government policy is opposed by concerned citizens, I find the message of “Need to Know” unbelievable. It would be quite easy to find and weld together a long string of violent, hate filled audio clips from the few of every political persuasion and easy to generalize that they were representative. That is not credible “Journalism”, it is politically directed fiction. You do the “right” and concerned citizens a great disservice.

  • Darin Johnson

    Most of the show was great. The pieces were a bit too brief to be substantive on complex issues, but basically informative and objective. Thanks.
    On the other hand, “Next Week’s News with Andy Borowitz,” while humorous, ends the show on the same lowest common denominator that the silly big networks supply to no end (Fox, MSNBC, and the rest). If you are committed to a little comic relief along with serious news, please just throw in a thirty second joke and get it over with. Yikes!
    Oh, and to Deborah’s defense of Newt Gingrich’s indefensible diatribe and the wingnuts from the related story, I encourage you to set yourself apart from the crazies with comments about real issues (not the Tea Party’s vapid talking points of phony victimhood or paranoid references to Nazi Germany). Where did reason go? The nation’s founders would be appalled.

  • Sharon Silva

    I am appalled at the comments of Newt Gingrich. Is his speech not treson? Aren’t we at war? How is it we as a country are putting up with that kind of hatred and possible incitment to violence? The program is informative, but certainly not as compelling as Bill Moyer’s show. I miss him and hope his form of journalism is not lost. Sometimes Need to Know reminds me of the news on Saturday Night Live. Good luck with the new program.

  • Neil Grepke

    I found the segment on “hate speech” dripping with hypocrisy. Talking about Newt Gingerich while showing video of Timothy McVeigh and Lee Harvey Oswald was outrageous. Quite frankly, if one looks at the facts, Gingerich’s claim is far easier to support. Our current president’s policies have already made a greater negative impact on the American way of life than anything those foreign despots did. Need To Know should attempt a fact-based look at that claim, rather than treat it as a joke, then propagandize the idea of opposing a political point of view as synonymous with hate.

    I am SO tired of the perpetuation of the myth that those on “right” corner the market on hate. Anyone can come up with a few video clips to paint whatever picture they like. Why PBS needs yet another unbalanced look at the news is beyond me. Please use some journalistic ethics in the future. A far more noteworthy recent comment was Nancy Pelosi’s encouragement that people quit their jobs to pursue more creative activities because taxpayers would cover their health care costs. In fact, this alone is proof of Gingerich’s statement. I missed the your segment on this outrageous advice by the Speaker.

  • Terrence

    The mistitled “Need To Know” should devote its whole hour to one topic and do it well. The interviewees are not asked the types of questions that either probe, challenge, or enlighten with the the same depth as say a Bill Moyers or Terry Gross. They remind me of SNL’s fake Couric-Palin interview. The people interviewed left me cold, and lacked credibility or expertise, though this could have come across this way by suboptimal interviewing and production.

    The woman who went to Juarez, population 1 to 2 million, wearing a moo-moo, to interview its mayor, who spoke English better than the majority of Americans, showed as little respect as the subsequent guest, with his dribble about “policy,” as regards the real blood and guts this involves. Interviewer sort of ever-so-gently admonished the interviewee about his “nation-building” stance, which smacked of the intellectualism and primacy policies of Dr. Wolfowitz and other Bush advisors who led us into war .

    I’d given up on this show after watching Week One, whose saving grace was Borowitz’ hilarious
    bit at the end. As interesting as the content of this week’s segments on weapons and MCDs
    were, there came the one glimmer of hope with the segment on Joe Sullivan, imprisoned since he
    was 13. The follow-up interview with the rising star, hope-inspiring associate law professor was riveting and informative, and MAY have me coming back to give this show it’s chance for its “third strike.”

    Need to Know may eventually make its mark, but that mark will be a shallow mark. Its lack of depth and focus is a poor substitute for the Moyers Journal. I agree with commenter Anne — bring in a Rachel Maddow or a true investigative journalist. Then we can move Need to Know over to Fox, and let it be Fox’s “Dateline.”

    The problem may be in our need for true public broadcast journalism; and, failing that, the large corporate sponsorship of programming on the Corporation for Public Broadcast, PBS’ superset. How balanced can journalism be when so many of its sponsor are defense and finance sector entities?

  • Randall Fuerst

    Next Week’s News was absolutely hilarious. A great note to end the show on.

  • Sheilah Hill

    Newt Gingrich’s words are appalling. He has kept up a steady compaign to falsely paint the President as secular and socialist. He and Vince Haley of Renewing American Leadership falsely said that :”Obama edits Jesus out of Easter” This is easily proved false by listening to both of the President’s Easter messages:”My family will join other Christians all over the world in marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
    I have listened to the President’s Easter Breakfast message 10 times and took it to church for others to listen to. He speaks of Redemption and says so much in so few words. We need Redemption. He had an Iftar service for Moslems; a Passover for Jewish people and an Easter breakfast for Christians. How is he “secular”? On PBS Religion and Ethics, , about the faith of the candidates, he is said to be the most open about his faith. He prays and is a man of faith. For the National Day of Prayer he was a defendent for the court case that wanted to cancel it. He also wrote a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer. And yet lies came out that he canceled the National Day of Prayer. (See Snopes) It seems that Newt Gingrich does not know the President. I suggest he read “Audacity of Hope”.
    It appears that Newt Gingrich wants to stir up religious people against the President. After the “Obama Edits Jesus out of Easter” accusation, if you google, you will find pages and pages of derogatory hateful comments against the President because of this lie. Newt Gingrich is not an example to me of a godly person. He needs to look in the mirror and know that what he says about the President is true of himself–these lies and mean-spiritedness is what is most destructive to our democracy and he needs to be stopped. It is said that lies circle the globe while truth is getting just getting its boots on. Newt Gingrich speaks of stopping the President, Newt Gingrich will be stopped. He shall not prevail. “No false weapon formed against the President shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54: 17) ”
    “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21
    “But the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped . .” Psalm 63:11
    “O Thou that hearest prayer unto Thee shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail against (our nation), as for our transgressions, Thou shalt purge them away. . . Blessed art those whom Thou choosest, and causest to approach unto Thee, that they may dwell in Thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of Thy house, even of Thy holy temple. Psalm 65:2-4
    “He ruleth by His power forever; His eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah”
    “O bless our God, ye people, and make the Voice of His praise to be heard.”
    the text:
    In his Easter message the President said:
    “We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would kill him.”
    I are awed by the grace of the President.

    In contrast to the unfair accusations and to distill the negative energy directed toward him, I wish to express my gratitude and thankfulness for our President’s many fine qualities. (This does not mean I endorse all of his decision.). I’m thankful

    for his love of country and people,

    for his knowledge and intelligence–

    that he has diligently studied our history, our founders, and our Constitution,

    that he is appreciative of our diversity of cultures,

    that he stays calm under pressure,

    that he is a listener–that he wants to hear and consider opposing views and that he wants to be fair,

    for his wisdom and speaking ability,

    that he is forgiving and not vengeful, for his generous spirit,

    that he knows, as he has expressed, the importance of humility,

    for his sense of humor.

    I’m thankful for how noble he is and that we can be proud of him when he travels to other countries and gives speeches.

    I’m thankful for his dignity.

    I’m thankful for his family–for Michelle and his girls to whom he is a good husband and father.

    I’m thankful that he is a man of faith,

    for the message of redemption that he gave at Easter.

    Help him not to lean on his own understanding or seek to do things with the arm of the flesh without You.

    May he be given increasing wisdom and good counselors and may wrong counsel be defeated. May we be a people whose collective consciousness not only brings forth such a leader,

    but nourishes and protects our young President with our prayers and goodwill.

    May we see with vision the seeds of greatness within him,

    even as those in other countries have seen–some having given him the Nobel Peace Prize believing in the things he can do.

    May good seeds be watered and not uprooted with careless hands,

    enabling him to lead with THE AUDACITY OF HOPE and the greatness possible.

    Still the voices of ranker and false accusation. We want to uplift our president and not wear him down. May we deal with our differences as assets to enlarge our perceptions instead of liabilities to divide us. Help us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Amen.

    Presidential Proclamation–National Day of PrayerA PROCLAMATION
    Throughout our history, whether in times of great joy and thanksgiving, or in times of great challenge and

  • danny costello

    well done. the honeymoon was brief, and i am happy i married you, but can we please buy a table and some chairs that look more comfortable?!

    the pieces are quite in depth, and that pleases me; it makes for satisfying viewing. i have to agree with others that the comedic segment in the end just doesn’t work, and i don’t mean it is not humorous. the problem is more (in this week’s case) it’s juxtaposition to Jon Meacham’s compelling hate speech segment, which would have very effectively ended the program. it is the silence which follows that magnifies the thunder…

    but, i think you’re both great!

  • Flynn

    The comedy segment was hilarious. It’s the best and most distinctive feature on the show. Thanks for lightening my day – I needed the laughs.

  • Jim Koren

    I’ve now watched each of the first three episodes. Good story telling but you’re still not living up to your title. When someone tells me this is what you “need to know” I would assume it is “to make an informed decision”. But the needed depth is missing from all your stories. You’re just a run of the mill network news show. Here are some ideas:

    First, fewer stories, more depth. Look at the shows you claim to be replacing. Spend more time on how and why we got here. It’s easy to show the situation today. That is where the network news excel. It’s harder to tell the back story.

    Second, provide solutions and options. Take a chance on spending more time on solutions. Provide expert commentary on how these issues can be resolved.

    Third, take ownership of your stories. Neither the video or the web pages list writers, producers or reporters. I wonder why that is? Also, no date is listed. This is typical of blogger, not professional reporters.

    Forth, tell your producers that they don’t work for a network news org anymore. These stories seem to follow the typical formula story development you see on the network. How can you be different if you are starting from the same script and same mindset.

    Lastly, ask Bill Moyer and his team for a critical critique. I always left his programs feeling challenged, thinking about the issues. Not so much with your show. I’ve spent most of my time trying to figure out what is missing!

  • Mary

    Good program, especially about the border drug war. The only nitpick I have was the reliance on closeup views showing only the speaker’s eye(s). Creepy. Surely there’s a more creative way to disguise the speaker’s identity than blurring the head or showing only someone’s eye.

  • Terrence

    It is eminently self-aggrandizing to call itself “Need to Know,” aim at a younger demographic, then launch with “The Anniversary of the Birth Control Pill” and a subservient Bill Clinton interview.

    Please. What young people may need to know is the dangers of spiking their ecstasy with their viagra, the diaspora of infections on the STD list, studies on the misnomered “multi-tasking” associated with texting while driving.

    Moyers is a gargantuan act to follow. But this is a programming snafu too, considering also that Moyers announced the show in its slot during his final show.

    PBS may have got away with placing something similar to Frontline, a wonderfully thoughtful, factual “product,” and placed NTK at different time. Somewhere vaguely between Sesame Street and the Newshour. Or maybe 4 am.

    The vast majority of comments here are significantly critical of NTK — and rightly so. The first show was a disaster. The third show had very interesting pieces, SO the ideal would have been for:

    1. plentiful compliments and positive feedback to the producers
    2. spirited discussion of the show’s content

    The Washington Post’s Tom Shales roundly blasted NTK as a “monstrosity,” “dreadful,” “a specious wheeze,” and the same “silly hyperbole and shameless ballyhoo” that’s been the signature of commercial broadcast TV for decades.

    I’ll still give them a chance, and see what they produce next week. But in the meantime for some hard-hitting journalism of this type I’ll stick to Stewart and Colbert.

  • David Cantwell

    We need more humor in our lives, and the segment at the end is just about perfect. Borowitz is a new name to me, but consider me a fan.

  • Philipp

    I have a major criticism about the interview related to Mexico’s drug war. It all seemed very self-congratulatory, suggesting the Mexico is akin to a failed state and that the US is nation building or even capacity building within Mexico. The discussion about the gun traffic seemed to totally miss the mark. Mexico is relatively poor nation with a relatively small population that is sleeping next to history’s most powerful economic juggernaut. Rather than focussing on Mexico and its corruption as the problem, I think a far more telling thesis is to examine self-critically the role that American policies play in setting up economic forces which Mexico’s small economic base is simply powerless to control. The main points are:

    1) Illegal drugs smuggling to the US is one of Mexico’s economy’s 3 largest sources of income from abroad. By failing to curb domestic demand for illegal drugs, Americans are providing the billions of dollars of funding which are driving this war. By keeping drugs illegal, the US keeps the drugs expensive and keeps their production and distribution in the hands of criminal cartels, injecting ever higher stakes and more ruthless players into the conflict. These same causes produce symptoms within the US as well that damage the strength of our social fabric.

    2) Hand guns and assault weapons are easily attainable in the United States. Not only does America provide the multi-billion dollar market which motivates the entire illegal drug trade, America also provides an ready source for military-grade weapons with which the outlaws can battle the Mexican government.

    3) One of Mexico’s other major sources of external revenue is money sent home from illegal immigrants in the US. This is a sad state of affairs given how little these workers make in the US, which just goes to show how weak the Mexican economy is. US immigration policy and NAFTA clearly have a major impact on the economic climate of Mexico which pushes more people into the drug war as one of the only viable ways to “get ahead” on the Mexican side of the US border.

    4) The violence occurs almost entirely within a few miles of the US border. If this were a truly Mexican problem, then the violence would be everywhere. But most of Mexico is quite peaceful. The violence is concentrated along the traffic corridors to the US. If this is not a clear indication of America’s role in this war, then I don’t know what is.

    Instead of discussing Mexican corruption, which seems inevitable when you mix a poor country and a multi-billion dollar trade, it seems to make more sense to focus on OUR country and what policy changes we could make to stop the war. What effect would legalizing drugs have? What effect would banning assault weapons have? What effect is our border policy having? Should we spend more on border security or maybe figure out new protocols that will help border agents keep a watch on other border agents for corruption? Should we create a path to citizenship for illegal alien? How would that affect the drug war? Why are Americans buying so many illegal drugs? Can we help ourselves and one another to be better?

    These are important questions about our country which also affect the drug war in Mexico. I think we should examine ourselves before we start throwing stones.

  • Nancy

    Your segment on hate speech conveniently ignored the hate speech that went on for 8 years when our president was George W. Bush. Hate speech that came from elected officials like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and from TV commentators like Keith Obberman. Apparently when the speech comes from liberals its constructive but when conservatives express their opinions its hateful.

  • Adrianne Sternthal

    This was a very moving show. It is sad to believe that in this country, we would incarcerate a 12 year old for life for a non-homicide offense . Hurrah for the Supreme Court ruling and for people who are trying to help Joe Sullivan. Please keep us informed about his situation.

  • John Roberts

    Powerful story on juvenile justice (or injustice, in this case). Let’s hope the Supreme Court follows up soon with a ruling that juveniles cannot be held for life without the possibility of parole for any crime, including homicide.

  • Dee

    Excellent program this week.
    @Matt W: My previous criticism was not idealogically based.

  • Jana

    Mr. Meacham: I saw your show for the first time. After watching you on “The Daily Show” I was pleased to see you had a new job. I thought the op-ed was very good. Regarding those who have commented on the “few numbers of the crazed,” I’m wondering if your staff would know of the statistics involved. It seems to me that more than just a few are involved. I live in a conservative area and have been shocked by the whole hog acceptance of Glenn Beck’s propaganda and others like him, by main stream Americans. Maybe you could explore those statistics for a future program. You could probably include things like “The Tea Party” movement. I’ve always been an independent voter, but would really like to see the statistics on the followers journalistic charlatans.

  • heyTrud

    The Lord is your Shepard, you shall now want….You are kidding, right? I was appalled to see PBS run this biased segment. Social justice? That black kid was told exactly what to say, those words did not come from his brain! HE HAD BRAIN DAMAGE FROM BIRTH BECAUSE HIS MOTHER TOOK DRUGS WHILE SHE WAS PREGNANT! You people are not only blind, but stupid now? I don’t feel a thing for the repeated offender. Let him rape your daughter and see how you feel sheep! It’s a choice to be a repeat offender, and he makes up excuses and so do the lawyers. And if they are Addicted to drugs, so be it. Is everyone here on PBS that stupid? And if you continue to hear one side, you are called ignorant! The “Tea Party Movement” is here to stay and you will find that both parties, the Dem’s and the GOP will be losing eventually because there is too much Power & Greed addicted old boys and new girls clubs. New club coming back to America, The Tea Party; Constitutional law. How dare PBS knock down the GOP and what they’ve accomplished for many generations. Stop all of the whining and feeling so dam sorry for offenders. Glenn Beck is the only person on TV Right now that is telling the truth and you all want to HIDE FROM THE TRUTH? Are you people all that afraid of the TRUTH? If you are, then you are the sheep that Obama and his kind depend upon. You are the sheep that will fall off the cliff and you are choosing to become sheep falling off the cliff. Obviously, sheep don’t want to explore both sides of a story as PBS NEVER does now? Does PBS get govenment money now? I would venture to say YES! PBS is wrong! As does the MSM that are desperately in need of Govenment Bail outs now. What does this tell all of you? No one is watching Main Stream Median any longer! Because they distort the real truth. SC-HEWED REPORTING, SPECULATION REPORTING! WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE sheep. …the lord is my Shepard, I shall not want.

  • Chas

    A fine show. Thanks for all the hard work. I would suggest that passion, as Bill Moyers would demonstrate time and again, is not the enemy of a good journalist. A dispassionate reading of the story does a disservice to the viewer, especially today, when the impassioned cries come predominantly from those far less sincere.

    I was grateful for the clips showing just a small sample of the cacophany of hate speech now emanating from the right wing including Newt Gingrich. While other writers here are correct that members of the left have uttered inappropriate hate speech at conservative politicians, the volume, both audible and in quantity, is an order of magnitude louder and larger coming from those on the right.

    Congratulations on the show!

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