What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Shields and Brooks on reconciling with Cuba, Sony censorship

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the choice to censor a Hollywood film about the assassination of Kim Jong-un, President Obama’s move to renew U.S. ties with Cuba and early signs that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could be a 2016 presidential candidate.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to talk about a full week of news, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, so much to talk about.

    David, the story today, the headline story is North Korea, the administration confirming that they are behind this cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

    First of all, the president said flat out today that Sony made a mistake. What do you think?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I guess I think so.

    You know, it’s — like the president said, we can’t have a country where people are self-censoring, and based on some foreign attack. If this was — if they had done a movie about a civil rights figure and a bunch of racists said, we’re going to do something to your company unless you pull this movie, and they pulled the movie, it would have been clear it would have been a disgraceful thing to do.

    And I think this is somewhat similar. I do have some sympathy for Sony. They’re out there all alone against a country spending apparently hundreds of millions of dollars to target them. This is a collective action problem. The companies have to stick together. The government has to say an attack on a U.S. company or any company sited in the U.S. is an attack on the country, and the government has to step in. And, frankly, journalists have to step in.

    I…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Step in? What do you mean?

  • David Brooks:

    When these — when the e-mails were leaked, I think reputable news organizations shouldn’t participate in publicizing them.

    Now, obviously, they’re going to be out on the Web somewhere. Somebody is going to publicize what was in the e-mails. I do not think we should be involved in that business. It’s sort of — let somebody else do it. It is sort of aiding what is basically a terrorist act.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think David’s call for self-censoring on e-mails is high-minded. I don’t think it’s practical.

    And I think this did contribute in part to Sony’s action. I mean, there’s an old Earl Long expression. Never write what you can speak, never speak what you can whisper, never whisper what you can nod, and never nod what you can wink.

    And I think the e-mails were embarrassing to — not simply professionally, but personally to the people there. And I agree they’re trafficking in gossip. I think that accelerated Sony’s decision. And the question as to what happened between them and the theater owners is open, whether, in fact, Sony really did want the theater owners to say, take the pressure off us by saying you don’t want to show the film.

    I mean, the president, I thought, was quite forceful. He was very measured. And he has let it know — I mean, proportionally, we don’t know what form it will take. I thought the ambassador made good points in the previous piece as to what form it can take, given the fact that there is no economic commerce between the two countries.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, is there a clear path for the — in a situation like this, David, where you have a government going after a private company?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. Well, you know, the president said that he spends twice as much time as his predecessor as cyber-security and his successor will spend twice as much time than him.

    And so this is clearly going to be a gigantic issue. And among the cyber-security people — believe me, I’m no expert — but they talk about going on offense and that you have to have deterrents. We talk so much about smart and soft power.

    This is a new form of hard power. It’s a kind of warfare that is being waged on us. And you simply have to intimidate and deter. And so the U.S. has to, as it does, obviously, have a capability to deter. And that means going on offense against the people who are doing bad things whether they’re in China, North Korea, Russia or anywhere else.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, some have looked at this and said, should there be limits on what movies are made about or what books are written about? If you’re going to go after a sitting leader of a country, are you opening yourself up for something like this?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I mean, I assume it was discussed at some point.

    I mean, David’s point, are you going to be inhibited by making a biographical piece on Martin Luther King or John Lewis because some racists say you can’t do it, or Mandela, or whatever the case, you can’t be stampeded.

    There had to be some consideration given to the marketability and what the impact would be of making — on a closed society, on someone who is not simply just paranoid, but obviously a self-deity as well. So, it’s a — I guess you substitute any other country. I mean, would you do it — would you make a satire on the assassination of the prime minister of Israel, of the pope, of the queen of England?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are there any limits here?

  • David Brooks:

    No, of course not. If a guy is a dictator, a ruthless dictator like this guy, you almost have a moral responsibility to write negative things about them.

    And that’s the job of what we do. Now, it’s complicated because we have had so many of these cases involving Islam. Now, in another faith, then you want to show respect, obviously, because it’s a faith. But that doesn’t mean if somebody is an Islamist radical, you couldn’t — shouldn’t go after them.

    And there have been cases obviously, in Europe particularly, where theater companies, where newspapers have backed down in the face of that threat. But you sort of have a moral responsibility. And being what we do it’s not that complicated, it’s not that dangerous, but we do have some responsibility to criticize people who deserve criticism.

  • Mark Shields:

    Those of us a certain age do remember Charlie Chaplin’s Hitler, and, you know, the idea, and the brilliance of a piece like “The Producers,” of being able to make — enable people to laugh at somebody, which is the last thing in the world that a despot can live with.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let’s talk another big story this week, and it’s Cuba opening up to this country, David, after 53, 54 years.

    Was it the right thing to do for the president to do this on his own and to say, we’re going to — we have given it a shot for half-a-century, it’s time to do something else?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I think it was the right move.

    Listen, this policy has been in place longer than I have been alive and it’s failed all that time. So, eventually, maybe you try something else. And so this is about regime change. And I think Marco Rubio, who objected so strongly, has a case.

    Venezuela is now poor because of the price of oil. They can’t afford to subsidize Cuba. Maybe the Cuban regime would have fallen faster and maybe we’re giving them a lifeline by opening up some trade and giving them some economic support.

    Nonetheless, I think the way to look at it is, are we strengthening Cuban society with American influence? That regime is going to fall. We want Cuba to be a decent place to live after that regime falls. It’s better to have American influence there economically, culturally, intellectually. It will be a better society, so when the regime finally does fall, the transition, which we now know is so hard, from communism will be a little easier. I think the president did the right thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you say, Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    David Brooks has been more successful in his five decades than has been this policy toward Cuba.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    You can make the case, Judy, that sanctions have worked economically. And I think they have — I think they’re working right now against Russia. They certainly worked against South Africa.

    They worked — I think you can make the case they brought Iran to the bargaining table. They have not worked with Cuba. They were intended, when they were installed, to put pressure through the Cuban people on the Castro regime and it would topple.

    The reverse occurred. It made, if anything, the administration — the regime became stronger and more entrenched. And so — and irrespective of Senator Rubio’s arguments, which may be — have historic validity, I think we want to acknowledge what we have done is wrong, it’s made no sense.

    And if we do want to hasten that change and be part of that change, be an agent of that change and to make — help make Cuba a freer and fairer and better country, then I think that we believe in our exchange, a free exchange. So I commend the president for it. I think he did the right thing.

    Politically, I would just point this out. John Kerry in — Al Gore in 2000 got 29 percent of the Cuban American vote in 2004. And Florida is the epicenter of what — Cuban Americans politically in this country. Al Gore got 29 percent in 2004. Barack Obama got 35 percent in 2008. And they split the vote in 2012.

    So it is more of a political opportunity than it is a political liability.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, the fact the president did it on his own, he didn’t wait for Congress to get rid of the trade embargo?

  • David Brooks:

    I think that’s fine. I have conniptions when he does something on immigration, on domestic policy. But on foreign policy, the president has a lot more leeway. And I so think it’s fine that he did it.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    I mean, no, wait for the Congress, Judy? Come on.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    Let’s be — I’m serious about this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did I say something crazy?

  • Mark Shields:

    We have a Republican primary coming up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, well, speaking of Florida politicians — you both mentioned Marco Rubio — there is another Florida politician, David, Jeb Bush, the former governor, who hasn’t had his name on a ballot I guess in 12 years.

    But he is moving closer to running. He’s going to set up an exploratory committee. What do you think? What does it look like?

  • David Brooks:

    I think he’s the favorite.

    I wouldn’t say he’s a huge favorite, by any means, but I think he’s a plausible candidate. He was a successful governor from a swing state, and he has a good reputation in the party. He’s pretty conservative, not so much on immigration, but compared to Republican presidents in the past, he’s pretty conservative, not as conservative as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul,.

    But he is sort of where the mainstream of the party is and I believe the party is coming back from its Tea Party phase. And it’s coming back to about where Jeb Bush is. And, basically, obviously, the obvious problem is he’s — last name is Bush. He has some hedge fund and some income issues he will have to deal with, but compared to the other candidates, the Christies, maybe the Rubio, the Paul, the Cruz, he has looked pretty — he looks less flawed than the other guys.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Whoa. That’s high praise.

  • Mark Shields:

    Less flawed.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    Even better than our Cuba policy.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    That’s right. That’s right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how do you size it up?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think that Jeb Bush had a good week.

    If you’re in the situation right now thinking about running for president, you want to postpone that as long as you can. You want to keep your powder dry. You don’t want to go through a two-year marathon endurance contest.

    So what he did was, he forced the issue. he forced the issue by his announcement of an exploratory committee. Let it be noted that no exploratory committee in the history of American politics has ever come back and said anything but, there’s a groundswell out there for you, boss. Everybody wants you to run.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    But, by doing this, he did a couple of things.

    First of all, he said he was going to release all his e-mails. That puts pressure on who?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    From the time when he was governor.

  • Mark Shields:

    That’s right, when he was governor.

    That puts pressure on Chris Christie, the current governor of New Jersey, who has got some e-mails he’d just soon not have made public, and on Hillary Clinton, a possible opponent. She’s been reluctant to make public all her e-mails. He has also moved up the timetable for others to make the decision, smoked out people.

    I do not see him as this great moderate. In fact, he was an ardently conservative governor of Florida. On two issues, on Common Core, the education standards test, which was a Republican embrace and has now been moved and abandoned by virtually every Republican and shoe leather, and immigration, are the two that really make him, I guess, the king of moderates in the current Republican Party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you don’t think it hurts — or do you think it hurts that he’s a Bush, another, the father, one son and now the other son?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, it hurts.

    But if he wasn’t running against a Clinton, it would really hurt. But if he’s running against a Clinton, what are we going to choose? It’s George Washington vs. Thomas Jefferson. We have some old names here.

  • Mark Shields:

    Franklin Roosevelt, four times president of the United States, winner of World War II, saved the country in the Depression, his namesake, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., could get elected to the House of Representatives only from New York. He couldn’t even get elected attorney general.

    The idea that George Herbert Walker Bush, a thoroughly admirable and good patriotic American, would spawn two sons in the space of 20 years who become president, are we that thin on talent in this country of 315 million people  that we go back to the same family three times in less than a generation?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We may have to ponder that one over the holidays. We have got a few days to think about it.

    We’re not going to see the two of you before Christmas. I want to wish both of you a wonderful holiday, a merry Christmas.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a happy new year.

  • Mark Shields:

    Same to you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And thank you for 2014, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

  • David Brooks:

    Thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you very much.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News