This week, news circulated suggesting that President Barack Obama sent emissaries to attempt to convinced New York Governor David Paterson to exit the 2010 New York gubernatorial race. I have heard some argue that the president’s attempt is anti-democratic and that the voters of New York should decide who their governor will be. Of course, all would agree that New Yorkers should elect their governor. However, given that the president is the de facto head of the Democratic Party, he has an obligation to do what he can to ensure that the person New Yorkers elect is a Democrat and that the person running at the top of the ticket is as strong as possible. The stakes for the Democratic Party in the 2010 New York election are large. A weak candidate may weaken turnout and affect down-ticket races. Given that Sen. Gillibrand is crucial to count to 60 Democrats in the Senate, a strong gubernatorial candidate is important for reasons important to the national Democratic Party and its agenda. As important is the redistricting that will occur in the wake of the 2010 Census. The map that a Republican governor would endorse is likely to be far different than the one a Democratic governor would endorse. Congressional seats may be in the balance. If these are the concerns that drove Pres. Obama to encourage Paterson (and those who would have challenged Sen. Gillibrand) out of the New York primaries, his actions may be perfectly understandable and somewhat necessary as the head of the party. Of course, the president may be wrong about the parade of horribles that could follow a Gov. Paterson primary run (and possible win) but that is a very different question than whether he should have gotten involved at all.
Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category
Interestingly enough, this week has seen the release of the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at President Bush on his trip to Iraq last year as well as the continued discussion of the Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) “You lie” lie thrown at President Obama during his address to Congress last week. Interestingly, the two incidents and their aftermath are instructive. The shoe-throwing journalist tried to make a point with respect to President Bush’s policy in Iraq and the resulting carnage that resulted. His conduct was inappropriate, but one can understand that he felt compelled to do something after witnessing the carnage that he had witnessed in his own country. His disrespect for President Bush, based on President Bush’s policies and their effect, was clear. Nonetheless, he was, of course, arrested and sent to jail. Rep. Wilson tossed his lie at President Obama not after witnessing carnage and not after seeing the effects of President Obama’s plans. He tossed his lie at his president at an inappropriate place at an inappropriate time on an issue about which Wilson was inappropriately confused. He showed disrespect to President Obama and the office of the President not based on what the president has done and not based on the substance of what the president said as the statement that precipitated the insult was true. Rather, Wilson showed supreme disrespect for President Obama because he did not like what the president said and, I fear, because of who the president is. The political price for Rep. Wilson’s actions as measured by the regard in which the public and his fellow legislators hold him should be significant. However, almost certainly, the price will be a pittance.
Has American public discourse ever been as vitriolic and dangerous as it is now? If not, what’s the explanation? Is it protecting the wealthy by concentrating on relatively distractions such as the Obama “takeover,” and other issues that don’t go to the heart of the inegalitarian character of American society? It is possible for us to reverse the trend? What steps are needed to do so? Last night a cable station broadcast presented an exchange between a preacher and a gay talk show host. The preacher indicated that he would not have a problem with someone assassinating the president and told the talk show host that he should die of brain cancer like Teddy Kennedy. Can we just write this off as the Kooky fringe? Or should we be alarmed? And if the latter, what’s the remedy? The only remedy can be a concerted effort on the part of the responsible figures–are there any left?–on all sides of the political spectrum to denounce such discourse. Vitriol can lead to violence and even when it doesn’t, it certainly prevents intelligent discussion about fundamental matters of national concern.
The question of the role of corporate funds (“speech”) in the marketplace of ideas is one that is vital to democracy. Again Bill Moyers provides a forum for an essential debate soon to be heard before the Court.
September 4, 2009
BILL MOYERS: Joining us now is Trevor Potter who had a hand in creating the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. On its behalf, he has filed one of the more than 50 friend-of-the-court briefs submitted in this current Supreme Court case.
Trevor Potter heads the political activity law practice of the firm Caplin & Drysdale in Washington and served as general counsel to John McCain during the Senator’s 2000 and 2008 Presidential Campaigns. He’s former chairman of the federal election commission. And he’s the founding president of the campaign legal center. A nonpartisan group committed to quote: “Representing the public interest in the enforcement of campaign and media law.” Good to have you.
TREVOR POTTER: Thank you very much.
BILL MOYERS: What’s the public interest in this case?
TREVOR POTTER: The public interest in this case is enormous. It has grown significantly as the Supreme Court has changed the case. It started with a question of whether a particular film funded with for-profit corporate money could be advertised on television. It has morphed, or the Supreme Court has turned it, into a case about whether 100 years of American tradition of regulating the speech of for-profit corporations in election should be changed. Whether the Supreme Court should legislate that what the government has done for 100 years, starting with Theodore Roosevelt, what more than 22 states do, in terms of restricting corporate spending in elections should be overturned. That’s a big deal.
BILL MOYERS: I’ve read your brief. And you clearly think it’s dangerous– you didn’t use that word. But dangerous to allow corporations and unions to spend so much money in an election, and at certain times. I mean, but don’t they have important questions to address?
TREVOR POTTER: Well, let’s start with a couple things. First, everyone says corporations and unions and it sounds as if there’s some parody here. This is a case about corporate money. If this case is won by the corporation, we will be in the ironic situation where corporations will have no limits on what they can spend in elections and unions still will. So, it’s important to remember we’re talking about corporations.
BILL MOYERS: But aren’t those corporations, don’t they have important things to say, important issues?
TREVOR POTTER: They probably have a lot to say. The question is, first of all, who are they? Now, you and I have never seen a corporation walking down the street and we haven’t seen one in the voting booth. That’s because corporations are creatures of the state. That sounds like some piece of law school mumbo jumbo, but it’s not. Corporations exist, because government said, “We’re going to give you limited liability for commercial, for economic purposes. We’re going to take somebody who might have lost everything they invested and we’re going to say you can limit your liability by having a corporate form. You only lose what you invest.”
That was an economic revolution when it happened. But it was done for economic purposes. Corporations exist because somebody creates them, goes down, files the paper with the state. The state blesses them and gives them a special status. So, what I think is that corporations exist for economic purposes, commercial purposes. And that the notion that they have full First Amendment free speech rights, as well, doesn’t make any sense for this artificial creation that exists for economic, not political purposes.
BILL MOYERS: In the briefs she filed for the government, our Solicitor General, Elena Kagan, makes that same case. She says they’re artificial persons. They don’t die. They don’t get sick. They amass great wealth. And because the state created them, the state has the right to try to limit their activities in non-economic or political–
TREVOR POTTER: I think that’s true, but it goes beyond that. Corporations exist solely to make money. Amassing economic power. They want, if they could get it out of government, monopolies. They want the ability to defeat their competitors. And if they can use government to do that, they will. Individuals have a whole range of interests. Individuals go to church, they care about religious and social issues, they care about the future of the country. They’re voters.
So, they have a range of issues at stake that corporations don’t have. Corporations just want to make money. So, if you let the corporation with a privileged economic legal position loose in the political sphere, when we’re deciding who to elect, I think you are giving them an enormous advantage over individuals and not a healthy one for our democracy.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think will be the result if Floyd Abrams and his side prevail next week with the Supreme Court?
TREVOR POTTER: I think we would see an enormous change in the way our democracy is conducted. And that’s really dangerous to think that that would happen in a case that, you know, as I say, the Supreme Court has largely created, because there are very narrow ways to deal with this issue, and one that would be contrary to what the Congress has done again and again in 1907, ’25, Taft-Hartley in ’47, federal campaign law in ’74, McCain-Feingold. All of these are part of that tradition of saying that individuals speak and vote and are citizens and corporations have a different status. And they ought to be focused on the economic marketplace and not the political marketplace.
TREVOR POTTER: I think there’s some risk here that the court will forget. That it is dealing with laws passed over a century by Congress, by the other branches of government, that, in my view, have worked well. And so, in some ways, what you have here is a solution in search of a problem. And that’s worrisome.
BILL MOYERS: What did you think as you heard Floyd talk about the fact that yes, maybe in a corporation there should be some limitations, but when it comes to free speech, no limitation.
TREVOR POTTER: I respectfully — and I have enormous respect for Floyd and his career as a First Amendment lawyer — I thought it was backwards, because it seemed to me that corporations ought to have great latitude as economic competitors, restricted by the laws that Congress has put in place on competition. But basically, corporations exist for economic reasons. That’s where you want them competing. These courts have never said corporations have full First Amendment rights.
And I think that’s the right balance. Floyd talked, “Well, if corporations are too powerful, then we should make them smaller.” But I don’t think that makes sense in society, when we’re trying to have corporations competing in a global marketplace. So, to me it’s backwards to say we’re going to give them political rights and then we’re going to turn them into different size corporations to deal with that.
Seems to me you want them to be good competitors in the world and you don’t want them to be overpowering the political marketplace at home. And that raises another issue here which no one has really been talking about. And that is corporations are global. We have international corporations. We have had a long tradition in this country of saying that foreign nationals may not participate in U.S. elections and that includes a ban on political speech. What about foreign corporations? What about multi-national corporations? I think you’re opening a can of worms on that.
BILL MOYERS: Are you opening a can of worms?
FLOYD ABRAMS: You’re opening the faucet, so to speak, so that more speech can occur. I don’t think it’s a can of worms to say that corporations, and it is unions as well, ought to be able to participate in the give and take of the democratic processes in the country. From my perspective, at least, the notion of saying that corporations and unions should be out of the picture either because they’re too powerful, or because of the way their money has been created, is so inconsistent with the sort of First Amendment approach that we take in everything else, where we say over and over again, we don’t care who the speaker is, we don’t care where the speaker’s coming from. And speech, we think, is, as a generality, a good thing.
TREVOR POTTER: We do think speech is a good thing. The question though is should it be citizens, individuals, voters, who are speaking? Or should it be this artificial corporate entity, which we have, through law, given enormous economic power to. And what the court has said all along is there is a difference between the two. The court has never said that corporations have the right to unlimited independent political speech.
BILL MOYERS: This movie’s not the issue.
TREVOR POTTER: The movie started as the issue. And as Floyd has noted, it’s becoming a much bigger case with a fundamental issue in it. And I look at it and say, “Why? What is wrong with the law as it stands?” And I don’t see the answer.
FLOYD ABRAMS: I think one of the reasons it’s become a much bigger case is the candor of the representative of the Solicitor General’s office. Who, answering a hypothetical question asked, during the argument in March, said, yes — as a constitutional matter, Congress has the power not just to deal with television and cable and the like, but books. Yes, if — he said — yes, if a book is partially funded by a corporation, Congress has the power to say that within certain time zones, et cetera, during an election campaign, that the publication of the book can be a crime. And there was some audible intakes of breath on the Supreme Court when that was said. Now I happen to agree, that’s been the law for awhile.
FLOYD ABRAMS: But I don’t think we can live with that.
TREVOR POTTER: I’m laughing, because I think that is the epitome of a red herring here. The Solicitor General was answering what Floyd correctly says was a hypothetical. That’s where you are in law school, and they say, “Well, just supposed the facts weren’t as they are, but they were something else entirely.” The reality is there has never been a case in all the years we have had these laws prohibiting corporate spending prosecuting anyone for publishing a book.
The law itself has an exemption for commercial speech. So, if somebody is engaged in selling a book, it’s completely exempt anyway. There’s an exemption for press activity. So, this goes to my point, what we’re doing here — and I think this is why it’s dangerous — is we’re essentially having a high level law school seminar on the Supreme Court about hypothetical, constitutional questions. But the potential result of that, because it is the Supreme Court, is they could end up changing the real world, when the real world actually functions without any book banning at all.
FLOYD ABRAMS: See, but what I think is going on is that the court acting properly, acting it should, is sort of exclaiming if you can do it to a movie, you can do it to a book. Tell us the difference. The answer is, “There’s no difference.”
TREVOR POTTER: No, the answer is the law doesn’t do it to books. And the law–
FLOYD ABRAMS: But–
TREVOR POTTER: –only restricts corporate money for movies, if you construct this sort of a case to make sure that the activity is not covered by any of the exceptions that are in existing law.
BILL MOYERS: But both of you have conceded that this is about more than a movie or a book. This is go fundamentally to the role of corporations in our political elections. And this concerns you, because you say in your brief that this is dangerous.
TREVOR POTTER: Well, if you just look at the numbers here you are dealing with a world we just have never seen in elections. Exxon Mobil has a political action committee, which means voluntary contributions given by shareholders and executives, about 900 thousand dollars in the last cycle. It made last year 85 billion dollars.
Now, there’s just a world of difference in the resources available if you say to a corporation, “You can spend money to defeat global– candidates who are in favor of global warming legislation.” If coal companies can go out and say, “If you don’t sign our pledge to support coal we’re going to defeat you. We’re going to spend money against you.” You take those enormous economic resources and you use them for something that we’ve never seen before. That I think is the radical nature.
FLOYD ABRAMS: I think that’s a real exaggeration about the likely impact if the side I’m on happens to win this case. We have 28 states now that allow unrestricted contributions, as well as independent expenditures. We haven’t seen anything in the way of corporate control. And it’s easier to control a state than it is the country. Coming about or distortion of the processes coming about as a result of the fact that corporations can give and can spend in all these states.
So, I don’t think there’s a real reason to think that the large corporate entities in this country are going to run the risk of public wrath, stockholder suits, new attempt at legislation, coming out against, a popular president or an unpopular Congress? I mean, I think as a practical matter we really shouldn’t fear so much the impact of having a greater amount of corporate money in play in allowing them to speak out.
BILL MOYERS: Would you disagree with the claim that big business dominates the political discussion today? Whether it’s the drug industry or the health insurance industry? Big business is the dominant force in Washington. I mean, I see that as a journalist.
TREVOR POTTER: Well, if that’s true. Just wait till you have unlimited spending by corporations, because you’re saying they dominate in a world in which they have very limited PAC contributions. And they can’t go out and advocate the election defeat of candidates. I would disagree with Floyd, I think, on what we know about the states. First of all, there’s no record in this case, because this issue was not litigated on this basis at the lower courts. So, we don’t– there’s no opportunity to brief for the Supreme Court–
FLOYD ABRAMS: Well, I think we’ve had a lot of–
TREVOR POTTER: What we have learned–
FLOYD ABRAMS: –supplemental briefs.
TREVOR POTTER: Well, I mean, they’re 15 pages long. We haven’t had a trial court look at the information from the states. There was just a recent study out of California, which is one of the states that allows full corporate spending, in which that state’s campaign finance board said there’s an enormous amount of corporate spending. It is directly influencing candidates and elections. And it’s hidden, because it’s going through all these groups that are front groups and sound like the, you know, Committee for a Better California. And it’s really corporate spending, which, of course, avoids those angry shareholders, ’cause they don’t know about it.
In judicial elections, there is an increasing record of spending by the chamber of commerce and other business groups to elect judges who will rule in their favor, because that’s in their economic interest. If you open this up at the federal level, just imagine the incentive for a corporation that only needs a little piece of this bill, a little piece over there to make their competitive position better than their commercial opponents.
FLOYD ABRAMS: And that’s why we’ve banned contributions. But in terms of having speech from the corporations, speech from the unions, the notion that allowing that will therefore result in vast changes in the political system is not only untested but unlikely. And I’d add another note. And that is I don’t know and none of us know the consequences of allowing more speech in this area. We don’t usually judge in the First Amendment area on the basis of what we suspect consequences might be.
If speech is allowed, it’s allowed. If speech is of the sort that we permit, which is just about everything, from just about everybody and just about everything, we don’t say, “You know, come to think of it, if we have too much Glenn Beck the country is going to really suffer from it.” We don’t live like that. We start–
BILL MOYERS: But we’re not talking about free press issues here. We’re talking about the power of an organized economic interest to spend vast sums of money that individuals can’t spend.
FLOYD ABRAMS: I don’t hear you using the word speech. I mean, it’s all very well just to characterize this and diminish the problem by calling it just spending a lot of money. It’s more than that. It is participating in the political process. It is speaking out. It is being heard. I’m in favor of more disclosure to deal with the secret sort of problems that Trevor has correctly identified. But in terms of saying that it is as a policy matter, let alone a legal matter, but even as a policy matter something we should avoid and fear if we have more active, loud, public participation in the political process, my reaction is that is the core indeed of what the First Amendment has always been thought to be about.
BILL MOYERS: Do you really believe that the founders, the men who wrote the Constitution included corporations in the idea of free speech
FLOYD ABRAMS: I don’t know.
BILL MOYERS: Jefferson in 1816 wrote a famous letter about the aristocratic, moneyed corporations, and how they were a danger to us. And the evidence seems to me to the contrary, that they were worried about the power of these economic entities to dominate the political process.
TREVOR POTTER: Well, they thought we were a representative– they wanted us to be a representative democracy, representing the electors. And the electors are not corporations, which are not individuals and don’t vote.
BILL MOYERS: What about that? That seems to me, the real basis of this. Is a corporation the same as an individual for the purposes of free speech?
FLOYD ABRAMS: Well, media corporations certainly are, are they not?
BILL MOYERS: Well, that’s First Amendment free press.
FLOYD ABRAMS: Thanks a lot. But that’s free press, you say. Why is it that large corporate entities, which own newspapers and broadcasters are treated, indeed as I think they should be, but treated as if Congress can’t touch them in this area. The notion of saying, General Electric ought to get more power and more rights than General Motors? I don’t find that in the Constitution.
TREVOR POTTER: Absolutely not. But what–
FLOYD ABRAMS: And the fact that General Electric owns NBC doesn’t change that dynamic. And the fact that Viacom had ownership interest of CBS doesn’t change that or shouldn’t change that. I mean, the First Amendment is not just the property of the press. The press deserves, and gets, but deserves the broadest protection. But so do all other speakers. And once we get an institutional press-only First Amendment we’re going to have a lot more problems than we’re bargaining for.
TREVOR POTTER: My point is I think we’ve had a press First Amendment for almost 100 years and we have not had problems. The example that Floyd gives I think proves it. Which is NBC has freedom of the press, because that’s its function. Its owner, GE, has a more limited speech freedom, which is, under current law, to speak to its shareholders speak to its executives, internally endorse candidates, but not go out and spend the billions of dollars it has in the general political marketplace. The press is in a position where it is able to speak with full constitutional protection. That is not true of the seller of shoes or automobiles, where you and I go out and buy them irrespective of their political views and may not know their political views. We just want their product where their shareholders are in it for economic gain, not to advance political views.
BILL MOYERS: But this is not an issue of free press. It really isn’t. This is an issue of free–
FLOYD ABRAMS: This is an issue of free speech.
BILL MOYERS: And you’re– I come back–
FLOYD ABRAMS: And why are we limiting free speech? If the movie had been funded in a different way, if the funds had come from different sources, then respectfully, but thanks very much– then it would be protected. But because the funding came from a corporation. Because of that, we can make it a crime to put the movie out. That I think is an unacceptable articulation of not only what the First Amendment has meant. But what it ought to mean, as well. We should not make technical distinctions about the degree of First Amendment free speech rights, depending on the nature of the entity that engages in the speech.
If a company wants to speak out beyond an issue. If they want to condemn a Senator who is opposing legislation that has an impact on the company’s interest, economic or otherwise to me it’s just anathema to the notion of free speech to say, “Well, you have to understand it’s a company. Their funding is different.” That’s not the way we ought to go about deciding the limits of free speech.
TREVOR POTTER: I think you, though, understate the enormous amount of speech that exists in the current system, which is essentially full free speech for individuals; the ability of a corporation or a union to have a political action committee gather individual funds and spend that, the exemption that exists for the press; the commercial exemption that exists; the exemption that the Supreme Court created for nonprofit corporations, as long as they’re not a conduit for corporate funds.
Everybody has the ability to participate in the political process, meaning here the election or defeat of candidates, except the for-profit corporations using the shareholders’ treasury funds. That, it seems to me, is a appropriately narrow exemption given whose money that is, the shareholders and the circumstances under which it was created. They can still go out and attack a Senator. They do all the time.
BILL MOYERS: Why should the executive of a board of a big corporation be able to take– you know, I have 401(k)s and retirements and I’m invested in those firms. Why should they be able to take money from the shareholders and back particular candidates or run particular-ads?
TREVOR POTTER: Well, that, of course, is a whole different issue, which we really haven’t talked about. Which is, wait a minute, whose money is this anyway? It is not the CEO’s, who’s making the decision. If you’re going to say corporations should have speech, then you open the whole question of, “Well, who decides what that speech should be? Don’t you consult the shareholders? Do you allow shareholders to opt out? The way you allow union members to opt out of having their money used?”
FLOYD ABRAMS: But–
TREVOR POTTER: But it seems to me you don’t need to get there, because you have the political action committee already.
BILL MOYERS: There’s no shortage of corporate speech in this country, right?
TREVOR POTTER: That would appear to be the case if you look at–
FLOYD ABRAMS: Well, I think you’re wrong, Bill.
TREVOR POTTER: –any daily television.
FLOYD ABRAMS: I think you’re wrong. To say, “Well, we can just carve out this area. We can carve out the speech of these entities, the entities, corporations, not their officers. Not their boards. The corporation, as determined by the folks that run it and the shareholders and whatever way state law determines to say that those entities may not be heard in their own voice, with respect to continue with the–”
BILL MOYERS: Their own voice? Whose voice?
FLOYD ABRAMS: The corporate voice. Who runs the corporation? Management runs a corporation. Shareholders can–
BILL MOYERS: So, this is the speech of the managers of the corporation?
FLOYD ABRAMS: No, it’s not just that. I mean, you’re not objecting to the notion of corporations, in general, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: I object to the notion–
FLOYD ABRAMS: I mean, corporations–
BILL MOYERS: –that a corporation is equal to an individual.
FLOYD ABRAMS: The fact that we’re suspicious of corporations sometimes and of unions, sometimes, not only because of what they say, but because of their power and what they might do, is just not a good reason to say that they have to be silenced.
TREVOR POTTER: I think the difference here is that Floyd presents that as a dangerous and novel idea. And says we shouldn’t go there. I respond by saying, we are there. We have been there for many, many years. The system has functioned, I think, well. So, to me, it is Floyd who has the dangerous and novel idea, which is we should change what has worked, has been held constitutional and go to a system when we have no idea what the effect will be, but based on what we can see, and have seen in the past, we could really have some bad affects on our democracy.
BILL MOYERS: Well, the–
FLOYD ABRAMS: My novel idea goes something like this. “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” I don’t think that those words are consistent with a regime, a system of law, which bars the amount of speech that we’re talking about today.
TREVOR POTTER: I think that my historical perspective is oddly longer than Floyd’s. And that we would be going back before 1907 and Theodore Roosevelt and the prohibitions on corporate activity in federal elections. We’d be going back to the senator from Standard Oil. That would be a very different world and one that no one alive has ever seen.
BILL MOYERS: We know all this started because it was revealed that Theodore Roosevelt had received secret contributions from New York insurance companies, when he was running, because they wanted legislation out of Congress that would benefit their position. And when the revelation was made, not before, but when the revelation was made, Roosevelt was so embarrassed, he raced right up to Congress and said, “We’ve got to do something about this.”
FLOYD ABRAMS: That’s why we have to be afraid of Congress and politicians making decisions in this area.
BILL MOYERS: But these are positions that you leave to legislatures. I thought conservatives–
FLOYD ABRAMS: You don’t leave free speech decisions to legislatures.
TREVOR POTTER: I would say that legislatures are uniquely knowledgeable here about how legislation has actually made. And your point is that legislators then knew that corporate money was influencing their decisions.
BILL MOYERS: Senator from Standard Oil.
TREVOR POTTER: And what came out of Congress to govern the rest of us. That was what was shown in the long record in the McCain-Feingold litigation. Members of Congress said corporate money is affecting directly amendments, what is voted on, the final language of legislation that has a disproportionate, corrupting influence on what is happening in Congress.
FLOYD ABRAMS: I asked Senator McCain–
TREVOR POTTER: That’s the worry.
FLOYD ABRAMS: –when I took his deposition, in that case, to give me an example of a vote that was changed because of contributions or independent expenditures. And he did not and could not do that.
TREVOR POTTER: Senator McCain is a very polite man, who respects his colleagues and if you go back and look at the record there were a number of affidavits from former members. Interestingly, it’s the former members in this who are the truth tellers. They’re always the ones who say, “Let me tell you what happened when I was there.” And why is that? Because they don’t have to deal with their colleagues, they’re not up before the voters and admitting something terrible. So, they can say, “This is what I really saw.”
And I think that’s the other piece of this whole case, is we’re not just talking about the ephemeral or the broad idea of what is a free speech right of a corporation. We’re talking about how does the legislative process actually work. And what sort of corruption or apparent corruption would you have if you had the ability to spend this money?
BILL MOYERS: As a journalist, I have seen over the years, done documentaries, have reported on this issue, money and politics. And I’ve seen the consequences of huge sums of money in our political process result in legislation biased for the corporation.
But on this point, we will close now. But I want to give both of you a chance to wrap up your case by giving me your response to what the Solicitor General of the United States, Elena Kagan, will say to the Supreme Court next Wednesday. In her brief, she argues that the use of corporate treasury funds is quote, “inherently likely to corrode the political system, both by actually corrupting public office holders and by creating the appearance of corruption.” Do you think that is a justifiable concern?
FLOYD ABRAMS: I don’t think it’s true. I also know the record from the McConnell case. God knows how long it is. And there wasn’t any proof of corruption. So, my reaction is, I think she’s exaggerating on the one hand. And I think she’s ignoring on the other because she doesn’t even acknowledge that this is a free speech issue.
We are confronted with competing values here. And the values of speech are at odds in this area with the desire of well-meaning and very serious people, to do what they think they should to make the system work better. And my view is that the speech interests here are very high, very important, very serious and that when you take them into account you can’t sustain the sort of statutes that we now have on the books and that the Supreme Court is, essentially, taking a second look at.
TREVOR POTTER: Well, I think the Solicitor General’s comments to the court are a warning bell in the night. That she is right that there are enormous implications to this case. I think, ironically, one of the reasons she’s right is because of the very natures of corporations. As we’ve discussed, they exist to make money. They are profit-maximizing. That’s their job.
So, we’re not talking about political speech by people who care about their country, who are concerned about changes in society, who are dealing fairly with friends and neighbors and all the things that get involved in politics. We’re talking about a potential spender here that has a single-minded purpose, which is to make more money, to maximize their value. And I think what we’re looking at here is not a First Amendment speech right, because the individuals who head those corporations have that now, their PAC’s have it now, their shareholders have it now. We’re talking about using the funds that are amassed under the preferential corporate treatment, to go out and seek economic gain, what they call economic rents, through legislation, by electing people who will give the corporation what it wants, whether or not is in the greater good. And I don’t think that’s the essence of democracy. And I don’t think it has been or should be the way the First Amendment is read.
As I watched Ted Kennedy’s funeral and listened to the coverage of his life and death last week, I heard the phrase “the end of an era” so many times, it convinced me that people should stop using the term “the end of an era.” What does an “era” mean? According to the Oxford English dictionary, an “era” is defined as “a system of chronology reckoning from a noteworthy event.” Perhaps the commentators mean their observation to refer to the era beginning with the birth of Joseph Kennedy Sr.’s children. True, a genertion of Kennedy brothers had passed away now, ending the era of that generation of the Kennedy brothers. True, many of us (including myself, born the year that Ted Kennedy entered the Senate) cannot remember a time when Ted Kennedy was not in the Senate. True, thousands of liberals in America can no longer count on Senator Ted Kennedy to always speak for us in the Senate, and never apologize for being liberal. But what is the point of calling this an “era?’ What more do we learn from this phraseology?
Perhaps those who called Ted Kennedy’s death “the end of an era” intend announce the end of liberalism in America that was most prevalent in the 1960s but lingered until Ted Kennedy’s death. If that is the case, then I must, most emphatically, object, not only to the phrasing but to the sentiment behind the phrase. There remains a strong progressive tradition in the Democratic party, shared by many members of he general public who dop not affiliate themselves with that party. The progressive tradition was most recently re-affirmed by the election of President Obama (with Ted Kennedy’s crucial support) and his numerous Demcratic colleagues in Congress. It is reaffirmed in the polls that show that despite months of the healthcare industry spending over a million dollars a day to fight health care reform, the American public still strongly supports it, and still demands a change to our health care system. So, let’s put an end to this talk about “the end of an era” and concentrate on what we need now. There’s never an end of the era of need for the poor and middle class folks in this country who demand health care reform.
What is “reasonableness” and what role should it play in American democracy? A casual description of “reasonableness” is the commitment to gather and balance as much information and evidence as one can about social and political issues as well as challenging and scrutinizing one’s own view as forcefully as one does the views of others. Are Americans reasonable? Certainly some are, but it seems to many are not. For example, the large percentage of Americans who dismiss global warming or who still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, not to mention the so-called “birthers” who insist that President Obama is not a natural born citizen. What accounts for such unreasonableness? It is almost as if certain segments of the society valorize unreasonableness, assuming that it is somehow beneficial to be unreasonable, feeling no need to respond to charges of unreasonableness in a manner likely to convince those making the charges. What is it about our culture as well as many different groups and individuals who populate this culture that permits us to believe despite the evidence in all sorts of propositions that will eventually be abandoned? It is not at all clear that democracy can thrive without an answer to this question.
Bullies galore! The recent attacks on speakers in Democratic town hall meetings who are guilty of nothing more than trying to explain the various health care proposals to the American people is nothing less than a frontal attack on deliberative democracy, the life-blood of the American republic. Everyone should have a chance to speak at these events, even those who choose to speak vigorously and with passion, but not all at once, and not with the purpose of cancelling out debate if that’s what their purpose is. Yet, teams of bullies have descended on these meetings in various parts of the nation apparently orchestrated by Republican deep-pockets to shut down debate. The only ones who benefit from these disruptions are the insurance companies and their corporate backers. But the cost of transmogrifying democratic discourse into targets for attack dogs cannot be underestimated regarding the stability of deliberative democracy. It’s not just defeating health care that’s the problem, although that’s certainly a significant problem; more important, is the harm such intimidation does to public discourse. Democrats must learn how to respond–through advertisements among other appropriate ways–so that the anti-democratic dimension of this warfare is revealed. In America, to reverse Von Clausewitz’s sentiment that war is politics by other means, in contemporary America, politics seems to be warfare by other means. This trend needs to be reversed; public discourse must be a no bully zone.
A deliberative democracy should inter alia address a diverse range of views to take seriously, critically evaluate, reject or accept as the circumstances indicate. Ghettoizing particular perspectives to that they are insulated from serious confrontation with other perspectives is anathema to deliberative democracy. While, American political argument thrives within the parameters of particular political paradigms, cross-paradigm argument is brutal, hostile, and blatantly dishonest. Consider the posturing of the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys in the media, and the Dick Cheneys in politics. (Yes, the Left has its share also.). Until fair, honest, and compassionate political attitudes define our political conversations, deliberative democracy will remain illusory and though we will speak and write volumes little consensus building will be possble.
In a ruling a few days ago, election officials in Washington, D.C. decided that a referendum on whether the District of Columbia could recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married in another jurisdiction could not occur. The officials determined that allowing a referendum on the issue would itself authorize discrimination that the D.C. human rights law forbids. Not surprisingly, the referendum’s backers were not happy. This issue is a variation on the question of whether a majority can vote to take away the rights of a minority. The answer to that question is, obviously, no. However, the answer begs the question of whether the subject of the referendum really is a right of the minority. Whether having one’s valid marriage from one state validated in another state is a right protected by a D.C. statute is the crux of the issue. Though the supporters of the referendum argue that the determination of that issue ought to go to the voters, there is little reason to agree. The majoritarian impulse to use 51% (or more) support for an issue to get that issue resolved in one’s favor is strong, but is sometimes wrong. Majoritarian impulses can be used to deal with a great many important issues. However, they cannot be used to deal with all of them. The initial determination of whether a right exists or can be abolished by referendum is a task best left to that most non-majoritarian of bodies – the courts. Given that the supporters of the referendum have vowed court action, that is just where the issue will be resolved.
I’m posting an enormously important discussion of the poverty of American media aired on the Bill Moyers’ Journal one of the more important television programs on American politics and society. I wish I were able to post the entire video.
June 5, 2009
ANNOUNCER: We now return to Bill Moyers in the studio.BILL MOYERS: And now the news. Or what passes for news. It’s harder and harder to tell these days, because so often what passes itself off as journalism is nothing more than instant opinion with or without the facts.
Take President Obama’s big speech in Cairo this week. Because of the time difference, it aired so early in the morning, most of us didn’t see it live but that didn’t stop the pundits telling us what we should think about it.
JOHN ROBERTS: We’ve got some of the best minds on television-
LIZ CHENEY: I think it missed some fundamental points-
PAT BUCHANAN: I don’t think this speech was an apology speech.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Over and over again apologies and moral equivalencies-
BILL SAMMON: He quoted from the Koran three times and we did a search to see how many times as president he’s quoted from the Bible.
BILL MOYERS: Meanwhile, NBC news this week delivered a candygram to the president – two prime time specials called “Inside the Obama White House.” President Obama couldn’t have asked for a sweeter salute…
BRIAN WILLIAMS: People react strongly to this president. We’ve seen people moved to tears after just the briefest encounter with him.
BILL MOYERS: As for an exclusive revelation about your government from behind the White House’s closed doors, well, hold your breath, here it comes…
BRIAN WILLIAMS: There are apples everywhere. Orchards worth of them in bowls throughout the building. They are meant of course to promote healthy eating but what we saw more often is this: the West Wing may lead the western world in candy consumption.
WHITE HOUSE STAFFER: These are official White House M&Ms.
BILL MOYERS: Now, I’ve been there, done that and got the tie clip. I can tell you this is the kind of Valentine every White House press secretary yearns to hand the boss. And it’s not all that hard to achieve, because many of our watchdogs are as housebroken as Bo the White House puppy…
On the other hand, right wing pundits tried to sully the reputation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic appointment to the Supreme Court.
SEAN HANNITY: Is she the most activist nominee in the history of the court?
RICK SANCHEZ: Let me start with you Judge Sotomayor is a racist?
TOM TANCREDO: Certainly her words would indicate that that is the truth.
WENDY LONG: She said I think as a Latina woman I’d make better decisions than a white man… It’s offensive it’s racist, it’s sexist
GLENN BECK: She’s not that intellectually bright and she’s almost a bully. She just loves to hear herself talk.
BILL MOYERS: Here to comment on this week’s coverage are two knowledgeable observers and analysts. Brooke Gladstone is managing editor and co-host of the National Public Radio weekly series “On the Media.” Previously; she was Senior Editor of NPR’s “All Things Considered” as well as NPR’s media correspondent. She’s writing a book called, “The Influencing Machine.”
Jay Rosen is a Professor of Journalism at New York University, as well as a widely published writer and media critic. One of the founders of the citizen journalism movement, he’s the creator of a popular blog called “PressThink,” subtitled “Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine.” Ten years ago, he wrote a book asking, “What are Journalists For?” Something I keep wondering about.
Welcome back to both of you. The columnist E.J. Dionne, writing in “The Washington Post” this week, wrote, “A media environment that tilts to the right is obscuring what President Obama stands for and closing off political options that should be part of the public discussion. When Rush Limbaugh sneezes or Newt Gingrich tweets, their views ricochet from the internet to cable television and into the traditional media. It is remarkable how successful they are in setting what passes for the news agenda.” Do you agree with him?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What I see is that there’s a desperate need on the part of media all the time, and increasingly year after year, to respond to what they think are the concerns of the news consumer. And so, there’s a tendency to bend over backwards to prove they aren’t liberal. This is a canard that began with the Nixon administration, probably before, but really took off steam then. And they’re continually in an acrobatic position, trying to overbalance, show what they think are both sides, a side that isn’t being expressed by a mainstream media that is perceived to be liberal, or they believe it’s perceived to be liberal.
JAY ROSEN: I think there is a dynamic where it is in the interests of reporters to portray our political debate as standing between people like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich on the right, and Barack Obama on the left. And what E.J. Dionne was saying is that there are plenty of people to Obama’s left who deserve as large a platform as a Rush Limbaugh or a Newt Gingrich or perhaps even more so.
And I think this involves one of the subtler things that journalists do in our public life, Bill. Which is they set the terms of what a legitimate debate is. They marginalize certain people as not a part of it. And they include other people, who perhaps ought to be marginalized as a central part of it. And it’s very hard for us to hold them accountable for those decisions, because they are subtler than we sometimes recognize.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I do think, though, we have to be careful in not regarding the media as solely the mainstream media, as solely the mainstream television news outlets. Or even the big daily papers. There is a huge raucous, wide-ranging discussion going out there. And even though it is not the dominant media in this country yet, it will be a far more democratic discussion as we move forward.
BILL MOYERS: You’re talking about-
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I really do believe that.
BILL MOYERS: -the internet? Permanently?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I am talking about the internet. I’m talking about all the different conversations, local, national, and global that are outside the realm of these filters and these nervous Nellies who are concerned about being perceived as liberals.
BILL MOYERS: Yes, but the big megaphone belongs still to the networks. Both the commercial networks and the cable channels, right? So, ultimately, all this has to be filtered through their microphone.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Bill, and I’m asking you this honestly, ’cause I don’t know the answer. Do we know that Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich have managed the great task of tarring Sonia Sotomayor as a racist? I don’t think so. Rush Limbaugh backpedaled just as Gingrich had, to a certain extent, earlier this week. And said that he would support Sonia Sotomayor if she turned out to be pro-life. Well, that’s, you know, at least a policy question that Rush Limbaugh raised. Very out of character for him. Just as earlier Gingrich said, “I’m sorry I used the word racist.” He backed away from the word. He didn’t back away from the charge, as we know.
BILL MOYERS: Well, that’s a valid point, Brooke. But the fact of the matter is they still got away with some deplorable tactics.
I mean, here is the twitter that Newt Gingrich sent out. And which got huge play throughout that stage you were talking about. “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.” Now, that’s not ambiguous. That’s very clear. Sotomayor is a racist.
JAY ROSEN: I don’t think it’s true that what’s on television automatically influences the American people. Sometimes people look at what the shouting heads are saying. And they reject it. And certainly that may have happened with Gingrich in this case. But it’s true that because he is perceived as a legitimate political figure, he may say something that’s completely out of bounds, and yet it will ricochet around the political system.
Because we don’t have a press that’s willing to say, “this is not a legitimate argument this person is making.” We don’t have a press that’s willing to say, “this, he said it, but it’s completely out of bounds. Or it’s completely baseless. Or it has no grounding in reality.” We just don’t have a group of political interpreters who are willing to say that.
BILL MOYERS: This is Rush Limbaugh speaking about Judge Sotomayor.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: How do you get promoted in the Barack Obama administration? By hating white people…She brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court. I don’t care if we’re not supposed to say it. We’re supposed to pretend it didn’t happen. We’re supposed to look at other things. But it’s the elephant in the room…How can a President nominate such a candidate? And how can a party get behind such a candidate? That’s what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive.
BILL MOYERS: Now, that played for several days. The press picks it up, beats the drum. I mean, he slathers mud everywhere, and then when the dirty work’s done, he conveniently takes it back, creating yet another news cycle for his so called retraction.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why did he take it back, though? Not because the dirty work was done, necessarily, but because the mud just didn’t stick. How often does Rush backpedal? And he has. Suddenly he sees her as a viable candidate if she would be pro-life. Which, you know, I don’t know where she stands on that. But the fact is that suddenly she is out of the realm of inadmissible to a policy discussion. Rush himself recently made that change. How come? Is it possible because he’s not longer speaking in such an impermeable echo chamber that these things can reverberate around without consequences.
BILL MOYERS: All right, but let’s talk about that echo chamber. I’m going to show you two clips, one of Andrea Mitchell talking to the right winger Pat Buchanan.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Do you agree with what Rush Limbaugh said?
PAT BUCHANAN: Yeah, I do agree. I don’t agree with some of the terms. But I do agree that Sonia Sotomayor, she does believe in race-based justice. Basically, at the expense of white males to advance people of color. But the truth is, that’s what Barack Obama believes, as well.
BILL MOYERS: To me, there’s no doubt this has an effect. ‘Cause let me show you a quote from Bob Schieffer on last Sunday’s “Face the Nation.” And then I have a question to both of you about it.
BOB SCHIEFFER I want to get right to the quote that has caused all of the controversy that Washington has been talking about all week. What Justice, or Judge Sotomayor said in the speech eight years ago. And here it is. She said, “I would hope that a Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male, who hasn’t lived that life.” Senator Kyl, is that enough to keep her from being confirmed as a Justice on the Supreme Court?
BILL MOYERS: So, instead of deconstructing the quote, Bob plays the beltway card: is this going to cause her not to be confirmed?
JAY ROSEN: Well, first of all, Bob Schieffer forgot to ask himself whether the controversy that had gripped Washington was a legitimate controversy. And surely that’s one thing we need him for.
BILL MOYERS: Who’s to decide that? Legitimacy-
JAY ROSEN: Well-
BILL MOYERS: -or illegitimacy?
JAY ROSEN: Well, Tom Goldstein, an author of the SCOTUSblog, which is a very carefully put together blog about the Supreme Court, and a law professor – looked at the record of Sotomayor’s decisions. In 96 cases, where there were discrimination claims before the court, she decided against the claim of discrimination 78 times. And there were only about ten where she sided at all with a plaintiff charging discrimination.
Now, if you know that, if you know that record, then the whole controversy looks kind of fake from the beginning. And so, what Bob Schieffer did was take what Washington is buzzing about, refused to fact check it, take it as a given, and ask a kind of insider political question. “Is this going to sink her nomination?” Which is premature and which abandons his role as a journalist in determining what is a legitimate controversy. What should we be arguing about? Which views have standing as facts, as fact-based?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s disappointing to be sure. And I’m really sorry that that responsibility was abrogated. On the other hand, what this is a clear example of, and I hope I don’t sound like a broken record at this point, is increasingly how the Washington punditocracy and those who preside over it, and the Republican Party are marginalizing themselves. By focusing on these people whose influence, whose direct influence seems to be, used to be broadly at the country at large. But if we are to believe the polls, and I guess that’s a whole different show for you, it seems that the importance of Rush as a mover of opinion, not as a generator of audience, necessarily. But as a mover of opinion- and Newt Gingrich is diminishing. Fewer and fewer people are identifying themselves as Republican.
So, you see this false balance being created in the news for the purposes of having something that generates a lot of heat without much light to talk about. And you see a medium, a class of experts. A political party. All in the process of marginalizing themselves in pursuit of generating some excitement on television.
BILL MOYERS: So, if you’re right, this is happening without what Jay identified earlier. Very few progressive voices to the left of Obama are having a role in the national debate. So, what’s happening that is bringing people around to challenge the Limbaughs and the Gingriches, when in fact those alternative voices are rarely heard?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s a fascinating question. And I venture to say, that it’s probably Obama. Obama is an enormously appealing character. And he has placed himself in front of the cameras everywhere. He’s given tons of so-called exclusive interviews everywhere. He has made himself the best spokesman for his own moderate position. And the country likes it. And that’s what the polls suggest. It seems quite simple, but that’s the stand in for the entire other side of the debate. And the people to the left of him, you are right, we don’t see them. And it would be useful to see more of them on television. But we do see them on the net.
JAY ROSEN: I think there’s a very interesting dynamic here, which is that Obama makes a living by not being what the right wing says he is. And it was very powerful in the election, when he showed up at the debates. He didn’t look anything like or sound anything like what the heated fantasies of the conservative wing had said. And simply by not being who Rush says he is, he ends up seeming way more trustworthy than perhaps he actually should be.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And makes Rush less credible.
JAY ROSEN: And makes Rush less credible. But even though I agree with you, Brooke that the conservative base is kind of marginalizing itself. It isn’t necessarily being marginalized by the news media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That’s for sure. I completely agree with you there.
JAY ROSEN: So, let’s marginalize them. If they’re self-marginalized.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean? Do you mean because they still, as E.J. Dionne wrote, they still are the dominant voices in the so-called mainstream media? Is that what you’re saying?
JAY ROSEN: What I’m saying is they’re still useful in presenting the journalist as the even-handed person sitting in the middle. And because they have that role, they don’t get eclipsed.
BILL MOYERS: I want to ask you about the health care debate. The swiftboating of health care reform has begun, right?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The fact that is that what has widely been regarded as a swiftboat event began, and was by some of the people who did the Kerry swiftboating, and by some of the people who sunk, many years earlier, the Clinton plan. And all the fact checked organizations have gotten on board, not to mention a profoundly aggressive campaign by the Obama administration itself, which likes using the word “swiftboat” all over the place, to short hand that, you know, you can’t believe anything these people say.
And in a way, it’s an effort to undercut any debate about the health care proposal. But at least it does place a spotlight on the outright lies.
BILL MOYERS: One of the subjects not in the debate over health care reform is single-payer. And contrary to what many people think about it being a far left proposal, the polls show that it has substantial support among a large swath of the American people. Many of whom would not call themselves far left.
But Senator Baucus said, its not in the discussion because we’ve gone too far now to go back and consider single-payer. There it seems to me is a very good example of how a legitimate idea gets delegitimated in the debate between the powers that be.
JAY ROSEN: I think it’s a classic example of the real religion of the Washington press, which is savviness. And from a problem-solving point of view, we would certainly want to consider single-payer, because it’s an important option in a debate. But from a savvy point of view, the inside players know that single-payer is never going to be the answer. And they’re already factoring that into their political calculations about what’s likely to result.
Which in a way cuts off the debate that we need to have. And so, the inside players in Washington are able to kind of contain the debate by anticipating the outcome, and then talking about the things that are most likely within that set of assumptions. And this is a normal process in Washington that goes on all the time. And it’s one of the ways that journalists shape the terms of debate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You make an important point when you talk about the fact that Baucus himself said it’s off the table. The fact is that reporters most often take their cues on almost any subject from national security to domestic legislation from the debate on Capitol Hill. If they are constraining their own debate, reporters who go outside and report on these other issues are seen as outliers. Are seen as activists pushing the discussion in one direction or another.
So, then you have to raise the question, “Why isn’t it being raised on Capitol Hill?” Which is the question you raised. And I honestly think that our Democratic Party is suffering under the same paranoid concerns that the press are. That this putatively liberal party may be too liberal.
BILL MOYERS: Let me show you a clip from a commercial that’s being run by groups that are opposed to a public option in the health care debate. And then I have a question for you.
RICK SCOTT: Before Congress rushes into overall health care, listen to those who already have government run health care.
FEMALE VOICE: In Britain, Katie Brickell. Denied the Pap test that could have saved her from cervical cancer. Kate Spall. Her mother suffered on a wait list as her renal cancer became terminal. Angela French. Cost cutting keeps her waiting for the medication she needs to stay alive.
RICK SCOTT: For those tragic stories and more at CPRights.org. Tell Congress to listen, too.
BILL MOYERS: CPRights.org is sponsored by Richard Scott, who had to leave his company. The largest health care chain in the world, Columbia/HCA. After the company was caught ripping off the feds and state governments for hundreds of millions dollars in bogus Medicare and Medicaid payments. He waltzed away with a $10 million severance deal. And $300 million worth of stock. And here he is telling us that his way of health reform is the way the public should go. Now, how does the public get the facts about an ad like that. And a guy like Rick Scott?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How did you get the facts? The fact is that I’ve seen Scott being identified, more or less, as you did, in every single story about this campaign. You know, I think that there is now a willingness, as there wasn’t even during the Kerry swiftboating earlier on, and certainly not during the sinking of the Clinton health care plan, to acknowledge the source of these ads. I think that all of us, as news consumers, as the American people, are becoming more and more aware that just because you see it on TV doesn’t mean that it’s true.
JAY ROSEN: I agree with Brooke in this sense.
. . . . .
JAY ROSEN: I think that an ad like that is assuming that the receiver of it is an isolated person, who hearing these scary tales of government-run health care will therefore pick up the phone and pressure Congress. And the way the ad imagines the viewer is in social isolation. Where no other messages will get through. And I think that is what’s changing. Is that people are not isolated anymore. They’re not sitting on the end of their television sets and receiving messages from the center only.
And in a way you could see these kinds of campaigns where you raise money from rich people to scare less educated people. Or low information voters, as they call them in the political trade. As a sign of weakness. The rhetoric might be more furious, the ads might be more outrageous. But it’s because this kind of communication is actually weaker and it’s working less.
BILL MOYERS: This is going to be a long, hot summer. We’ve got so many issues on the front burners. Afghanistan, health care, Supreme Court nominations, and who knows what else is coming? What will you be looking for this summer, as the news cycle unfolds?
JAY ROSEN: Well, I’m looking for a press that recognizes that the world has changed. And that the political class in Washington created a lot of these huge problems, and doesn’t necessarily have the answers to them. And that the way of doing politics that has sufficed in the capitol for so long, of you take your polls, you raise your money, you run the ads, you scare people, you win the controversy of the day, you win the news cycle. That that system itself is failing. And those who participate in it are, month by month, losing credibility.
And I don’t think that the press has realized that they are a part of that system that is failing. And that they, too, need a new approach. Let’s take David Gregory, for example, the host of “Meet the Press.” He hasn’t quite realized yet that he’s got to go outside the political class. To bring in new thinkers, new ideas, different parts of the political spectrum.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What are you talking about? He’s twittering.
JAY ROSEN: He’s twittering, but he’s not listening. And twitter doesn’t update you. It’s just a trendy thing.
BILL MOYERS: No. You get Newt Gingrich twittering, right? About racism.
JAY ROSEN: I mean, the political class in this country has failed. And if we have a talk show system that is nothing but the same old players, then that system is going to fail.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I am really interested in what’s going to happen to what’s increasingly called the media ecosystem this summer. Precisely because of all these sources for optimism that I seem to have. There are a number of polls where people talking about the media and how horrible it is and the echo chamber phenomenon online. And the biased or lopsided discussion on television. And they always say, in greater and greater numbers, you know, I’m not really worried about me. It’s the other people. They’re going to get all manipulated by this. They’re going to get all fooled by this. It’s the other people. Quote unquote, you know? The “stupid people.” Who aren’t going to be able to figure their way out of this.
And if all of those people answering the polls aren’t worrying about themselves, and they’re just worried about the stupid people, then maybe those people, besides from being a bit arrogant, are increasingly engaged. And what I think we are going to see is a greater positive symbiosis. Not the negative ones we’ve seen between, you know, the early symbiosis. Where you know, the blogs will start, you know, an obsession.
Did Michelle Obama actually say “whitey?” And then it makes its way onto the cable news. But a more positive symbiosis, where there is a charge made in one place. It’s fact checked in another. The fact check ricochets in more places. Corrections happen more quickly. So that symbiosis. And then another symbiosis between the online world and news consumers that don’t have their own blogs that are willing to, but who are nevertheless willing to participate and present their own facts and experiences, and send that stuff onto the blogs, where it can be, you know, processed and then bounced back and forth. It’s going to be a really interesting summer, because there’s so much fuel. And it’s just going to be interesting to see what kind of energy comes out of it, and whether there’s a lot of pollution or whether it’s clean energy.
BILL MOYERS: Well, there really two places I heartily recommend my viewers go. One is to “On The Media” at NPR.org and to PressThink.org. Jay Rosen and Brooke Gladstone, thanks for being with me again on the Journal.
JAY ROSEN: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. To read additional media analysis from Jay Rosen and Brooke Gladstone, go to the Moyers Web site at PBS.org. You can also find out more from Jeremy Scahill and about the current situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.