"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
President Obama campaigns in western states to rally Democrats. A federal appeals court keeps the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy intact for now. And Toyota issues another massive recall. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Naftali Bendavid national correspondent, The Wall Street Journal; author of "The Thumpin': How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution."
- John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. With midterm elections fast approaching, President Obama tries to shore up the base in a western state campaign swing. The Pentagon changes its procedure for enforcing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And Juan Williams lands a multimillion dollar Fox News contract after being fired by NPR. Joining us for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup, John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS, Susan Page of USA Today, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal. Throughout the hour, I invite you to join us. I know many of you will have comments, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com. We've already received messages on Facebook and Twitter. We'll get to those very shortly. Good morning, everybody.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning, Diane.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood morning.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
REHMNice to see you all. John Dickerson, the message behind President Obama's campaign swing through western states this week, trying to shore up that base?
DICKERSONThat's right. He's -- you know, the geography is limited. It's to the coasts, and now it's in the cities in terms of Democrats. And the voters they're going after is limited. It's the Democratic base. There is a push and a worry, a real worry, about women voters, suburban women voters who've traditionally been in the Democratic camp not being in that camp. They also are late deciders. And to the extent that there are any independents or a late-deciding people in some of these key races, he's going after them. But the pitch is essentially the one we've heard for a while -- let's go forward, not backwards. And give me -- be patient, and what you voted for in 2008 takes time. And in order to see that dream survive, the president says, you've got to give me majorities in Congress I can work with.
REHMAnd the other way is he's trying to shore up that base, going on Jon Stewart's program on the 27th of October.
PAGEWe -- you know, we've seen this kind of new places politicians go since Bill Clinton in 1992 when he went on Arsenio Hall. Jon Stewart has become a way a lot of young people get news and information. So it has become a big forum, and it's one with the young voters who are important to this election. They're important because they turned out for Democrats two years ago, and there are lots of signs that they are not going to turn out this year for Democrats in the midterms.
REHMNaftali, what are some of the key races that are beginning to tighten out?
BENDAVIDWell, it's -- that has been a very interesting development, particularly on the Senate side of the equation, where we've seen some Democrats who are sort of written off or lost completely -- like, Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania comes to mind, as well as perhaps Michael Bennet in Colorado. Suddenly, you don't want to say surging exactly but seeming to pull even and even slightly ahead of their Republican opponents. On the other hand, you see some Democratic senators like Barbara Boxer in California and Patty Murray in Washington who are thought to be putting distance between their opponents, and they seem to have a little trouble getting liftoff. And so the upshot is we have this unbelievably fluid competitive Senate playing field, more so than we've seen perhaps in decades. There are about nine Senate seats that are really too close to call less than two weeks before the election, and it speaks to a very volatile, almost explosive electorate.
REHMExplosive electorate in terms, certainly, of numbers, but what are the issues, Susan? What are voters looking at this year?
PAGEVoters are looking at the economy and jobs. And you hear candidates talk about some other issues. But when I go and talk to voters, which I do all the time. I was out in Nevada a couple of days ago on that Senate race. Voters care about where the economy is going. What's happening with their families? Can they get a job? Their unemployed neighbor down the street, is he going to be able to find a job?
REHMOkay. But what are the differences you see between candidates on the economy and on jobs?
DICKERSONWell, it's a question of -- the Democratic candidates have said, in tough times, the government is here to shore up that safety net. If you've lost your job and don't have your healthcare, we provided you with healthcare. When the economy was about to go over the brink, the government jumped in. And Harry Reid, in his debate and on the stump, talks about the specific jobs he brought home to Nevada. When I was out there, he was up in Reno in an event, and a local politician was talking about the eight policemen who are on the beat now because of Harry Reid. I mean, it has gotten -- and Sharron Angle's argument, and the argument among all -- John Raese in West Virginia and all Republic candidates is, we -- you're not supposed to bring home specific jobs. You're supposed to create the conditions for job creation and that this is a fundamental difference in the way the two look at what the role of government is.
PAGEYou know, voters have a stark choice here between two sides with different views about the size -- proper size and scope and role of the government, and this has been an issue. The idea that the government has gotten too big, it costs too much, we're spending too much is -- has really driven this whole Tea Party movement that has been the most interesting development this year in politics.
REHMSo we've seen some early voting results. What's happening, Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, the early voting results have surprised some people in that they seem to be more favorable for the Democrats than people thought. It's not like there's this huge Democratic surge, but it's widely thought that the Democrats were going to stay home to a great degree this year and the Republicans would be coming out in force. And instead it has been a little bit more even than, and in some states, it has actually been a little bit of a Democratic advantage. And I think this points out one of the great difficulties that pollsters are having in figuring out exactly how this campaign is going to go, and that is figuring out who's a likely voter. If you're doing a poll, you're not really interested in what registered voters overall think. You're interested in how voters who are actually going to come to the polls are going to vote. But figuring out who that is, is very difficult. And pollers are right now struggling and disagreeing with each other on how to determine exactly who is a likely voter.
REHMBecause there are scare tactics on both sides, and you find yourself wondering, okay, these people are talking about what they're going to do. How do we know what they're going to do if they get into office, John?
DICKERSONWell, I -- we don't know. We don't know...
DICKERSON...particularly on this question of spending, I mean, and what's actually going to be done to shrink the size of the federal government and to get a hold of the budget. There is disagreement within the Republican and conservative ranks about issues -- let's take defense spending, for one. You know, in Kentucky, Mr. Paul is talking about, you know, the fact that we have to cut defense spending. There are lots of other members of the Tea Party movement - Sarah Palin and others -- who've said, no, defense should be left alone. Now, defense is just one portion -- 4 percent, I think -- of GDP in -- is spent on defense. And that's just one portion. Entitlement is -- the entitlements are another huge question that nobody's talking about at all.
DICKERSONSo we have no idea on the key question they're running on exactly what they would do.
REHMAnd, of course, money in this campaign -- there had been the focus on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now, there is focus on the American Federation of State, County and Municipal.
PAGEWell, we have competing lead stories in The Wall Street Journal this morning. The lead story is on how AFSCME has -- is the biggest outside spender in this election, $87.5 million, which is a lot of money. And then the lead story in The New York Times chronicles how big companies are pouring money into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is also a huge spender in this year's election because they have interest on specific things that Congress is going to do.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, I think one of the big developments of the campaign this year is the inordinate amount of money that's being spent. People have focused on the Tea Party, which is an incredibly interesting development, but the other side of that is the amount of cash that's flowing in. And you have a few developments. For one thing, due to a recent Supreme Court decision, companies and unions can now give directly to campaigns in a way that they couldn't before. You also have these large organizations that don't reveal their donors, and so you have a lot of money going to certain races.
BENDAVIDAnd people don't know exactly where it comes from. But there's a third phenomenon -- it's always with us, but perhaps more so this year -- and that is the self-funder, where people who are just very wealthy are spending a lot of their own money. And you're seeing that most dramatically in California, where Republican gubernatorial candidate, Meg Whitman, is spending something like $140 million, much of it directly from her own pockets. And it's having a huge impact on a lot of these races.
PAGEYou know, Diane, you ask, how do we know what candidates are going to do? In a lot of cases, candidates are not talking about what they're going to do. They're talking about how unacceptable their opponent is. In Nevada, where John and I just have just been, almost all the -- I don't think I saw a positive ad when I was there, that the Republican ads talked about Harry Reid as someone who has helped drive the economy into the ditch. And the Democratic ads talk about Sharron Angle as someone who is "so extreme that she's dangerous." I think that's true...
REHMBut see, how can voters really understand anything with that kind of language?
PAGEAnd when you know that we're going to face tough choices after the election...
PAGE...on issues like spending and taxes, there's not much of a road map for voters to figure out exactly who's going to represent their interest.
BENDAVIDWell, in fact, I think there's a great likelihood that we're not going to get a whole lot done in the next two years. I mean, I hate to say it, but if you think of what the landscape is going to look like after the election, it's going to be deeply split. No matter how much -- you know, the Republicans may do a little better, they may do a little worse, but they're going to make gains. The Senate is going to be split right down the middle with some Tea Party people in it, a lot of liberal Democrats still in it. It's hard to see how they're going to get anything done.
DICKERSONIt's also hard to see if Republicans take control of the House or Senate, the message, it seems to me, from the primaries to Republicans is, you know, you must pay very careful attention to your conservative base, to the Tea Party. And there will be new members coming into town, and there will also be Republican people trying to run for the 2012 nomination. And all of the weight and energy will be towards being absolutely firm, not compromising with the Democrats. And to -- and there will be people out there on the sidelines watching to call the first instance in which there's a capitulation by Republican leaders.
PAGEAnd the handful of Republicans who have been willing to engage in conversations with Democrats are going to be looking over their shoulder at primary challenges next time around, like those that knocked off a couple incumbent Republicans, who were seen -- not that -- it's not really that they were moderate. But they were kind of willing to engage in discussion with the other side.
REHMAnd is any of you willing to call the Nevada race, Naftali?
BENDAVIDI hesitate to call that. I mean, I think that that one has been -- from the moment Sharron Angle got that nomination, it was -- it has been razor thin. There's always been the sense that maybe Harry Reid would pull away a little bit because Sharron Angle has some unorthodox views, and it has never quite happened. Or if it has happened a little bit, he's always falling back into a tie with her. So I think that's one of, like I say, as many as nine races that you just can't tell. And that's why we just -- it's one of the most unusual races in a long time because we had a pretty good sense of what was going to happen the last couple elections, for example. But the scope of, for example, the Republican gains in the Senate is really hard to say right now.
PAGEYou know, it really pitches the energy in the race, which is on Sharron Angle's side, with an incredible get-out-to-vote operation by the Democratic Party and by unions in Nevada. And I don't know which way it's going to go.
DICKERSONAnd that's the template for the whole country. I mean, Democrats are hoping that their turnout operation will be able to counter this incredible enthusiasm.
REHMJohn Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS, Susan Page of USA Today, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal.
REHMWelcome back to our Friday News Roundup, the domestic hour this week with Susan Page of USA Today. Naftali Bendavid, he's with The Wall Street Journal, author of "The Thumpin': How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution." John Dickerson of Slate.com, he's a CBS political analyst and author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star." I want to ask you all about the economy and how much the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could end up costing taxpayers. Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, there's a projection that's just out that it could be a lot more than was initially anticipated. So far, the Treasury has spent $148 billion on that bailout, and now there are projections that it could go as high as $363 billion. But we need to be cautious and say that that's possible. It also could be a lot less than that. But it has to do very much with the housing market, which as we know, remains in turmoil in part because of the foreclosure crisis. And also these projections do stand in contrast to some of the other bailouts. In other words, TARP, which is much vilified, nonetheless, has returned a lot more money to the government than people initially thought.
BENDAVIDAnd the auto bailout, too, seems to have been relatively successful. Many people still think it was a bad idea. But the auto companies seem to be doing okay. But Fannie and Freddie, you know, they're very dependent on how the auto -- how the -- I'm sorry, how the housing market goes, and that's something that's very unpredictable at the moment.
REHMExactly. And now you've got banks who resume foreclosure sales despite questionable paperwork. John.
DICKERSONWell, that -- that's exactly right. And so you have the banks. So there's the investigation into the foreclosures on whether those are being done in an honest and forthright way. And there are a couple of different investigations going into that. And then now there's this huge battle brewing over putbacks, which is basically charging these banks for the mortgage-backed securities that were such a disaster and a part of the underlying economic troubles we've just been through. And it could cost banks as much as $120 billion and spend -- and be months and months and months in the courts as the banks defend against bond holders, who say, you know, you didn't follow proper practices when you were handling these mortgages that you then bundled and sold as securities. So this is another -- sort of another chapter in this fight over these mortgage-backed securities.
REHMAnd we've got another big issue out there this week -- Don't Ask, Don't Tell. President Obama is riding a fine line on that one, Susan.
PAGEWell, here we have the administration fighting -- appealing a court order that does what they want to do, which is to end the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and allow gay men and lesbians to openly serve in the U.S. military. I think the administration is trying to kind of get this issue, put it aside, or settle it a little bit by changing the procedures by which service members can be expelled for being openly gay. Now, yesterday, they announced -- the Pentagon announced that this decision has to go to one of the five service secretaries. You can hardly -- you know, you have to go to the commander-in-chief to go much higher than that. And I think this is likely to slow down the process. It adds another review level. Certainly, it's not going to be the priority of the service chiefs to be routing out people who are in the military but are openly gay.
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, think of the turmoil that the military is going through now. On the one hand, you have a federal judge who said that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is completely unconstitutional. It needs to be ended now. Then you have a federal court that's saying, well, maybe not now. We'll look at it. But for now, you can't -- there's no injunction against the policy. This is certain to end up at the Supreme Court.
BENDAVIDOn the other hand, you have Congress, which is supposedly trying to take some action on it. The House of Representatives repealed the ban. The Senate has so far refused to do so. Then you have the president, who is, on the one hand, in favor of repealing the whole thing but is in court defending it. And the military is a big institution, and they've got to figure out what they're supposed to do here. And I think, as Susan says, they've come out with this sort of rule that makes it hard to implement Don't Ask, Don't Tell but leaves it nominally enforced. And that seems to be their path ahead for the time being.
REHMAnd Valerie Jarrett was on this program yesterday, saying that what the president truly wants to happen is for the Congress to take charge on this issue.
DICKERSONRight. And part of that reason, obviously, is to give -- get everybody kind of in this process together so that it doesn't feel like it's happening by fiat. And it's also that -- what you hear from the Pentagon is that they -- this isn't just about the people who are serving. But it's about the culture of the families in the military, which needs a gradual process and movement into this, as opposed to a very quick, snap change in the policy.
PAGEYou know, public opinion on this has really been in the process of transition, particularly among young people, who, I think, see this as not such a big deal, and why is it such a big controversy. On the other hand, leaving it up to the next Congress to deal with? I mean, this is a Congress that's going to be more conservative, less likely to be in favor of repeal, less likely to work cooperatively with the White House in bringing about a repeal. So it's just what advocates of the repeal feared, that when this decision got put off, from the first two years of President Obama's administration, that it was going to become a much harder task to deal with through the Congress.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Jeff regarding the elections. He says, "Regarding polling numbers, the people who do polling usually do not include cell phones. Isn't that correct? This could introduce a bias against younger voters who normally vote Democratic."
PAGEWell, in the USA Today-Gallup poll, we do include cell phone -- we do call people on cell phones. And our first question to them is, are you on a cell phone? Are you driving? Should we call you back later? Because we don't want to contribute to higher rates of, you know, trouble on the highways. But our poll does include cell phone callers, people who use cell phones as their primary telephone. I don't think every polling firm does that. It's an expensive thing to do. But I think the major public polls are trying very hard to address the fact that people are using phones in different ways.
BENDAVIDI mean, not only that. Some pollsters do these robo-calls. In other words, they don't even have...
BENDAVIDAnd so there's always this debate about whether or not those polls are as accurate as polls where a live person talks to you. I mean, polling is really not a science. And so -- and I think particularly in a year like this, where there's a lot of turmoil, I think they become less reliable.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about NPR's firing of Juan Williams. First thing I want to say is that Juan Williams is a good personal friend of mine and has been for many years. Talk about the firing and why it came about, Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, just to talk about exactly what happened, Juan Williams, who is an NPR -- was an NPR analyst, appeared on Bill O'Reilly Show on Fox News. And the discussion had to do with Muslims and with the New York mosque and a series of issues relating to that. And he made the comment that people in Muslim garb, when he sees them in airports and airplanes, it makes him nervous. And NPR made the decision that that was an inappropriate comment for one of their analysts to make, and so they fired him. He was quickly rehired by Fox News.
BENDAVIDHe had already been doing some work for them, but was hired in a bigger context, with, I believe, a $2 million contract. And that's sort of where it stands. I mean, you know, the unfortunate thing, in a way, is people immediately sort of fell into their corners. And so conservatives are furious at NPR for letting him go. Liberals are mad at Fox News for hiring him. And I think everybody's kind of going back into their ideological, you know, corners, in a way that's unfortunate. It seems like everybody's yelling at each other right now over an issue that really originated in a discussion of Muslims and 9/11 and things that are kind of important to talk about.
REHMYou know, the other thing was that Bill O'Reilly went on to make further disparaging comments about Muslims, saying that it was they who were responsible for 9/11. And Juan quickly came back and said, you know, you cannot say that. It was a certain group of individuals. He said, you can't condemn all Christians for what Timothy McVeigh did. What do you think, Susan?
PAGEYou know, the headline on The Washington Post editorial this morning is rush to judgment. And I think that's the reaction of a lot of people, and some comparisons even to the case of Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department staffer who was fired. Two things we'd want NPR to do. One is to look at the entire interview, not just the clip that got pulled out about being nervous when he's at an airport and sees people in Muslim garb. Make sure that the context -- you're making a decision in the context of everything he said. The other thing, I think, was distressing is Juan Williams has worked as a -- for NPR for 10 years. You'd think he could deserve to be fired face to face.
PAGETo get a phone call and not have a chance to make your case, talk about, have a conversation about it, I think, is -- the process is distressing.
DICKERSONOne of the things that we all try to do, it seems to me -- and NPR joins in this -- is that there's a total lack of restraint in the public dialogue in that somebody will say something. It will be taken out of context. And immediately, everybody rushes to both sides, and there's a huge fight over the snippet of what they've said. And we all are supposed to run in and say, no, wait a minute. This was in a larger context. It was said in this way. It might have been misspeaking. It might have been something else. You know, think about the larger picture here. Don't fly off the handle. Don't -- as David Brooks says, live off the handle, which is where most of the dialogue takes place. And so it seems, in this case, that NPR has gone against -- by sort of joining in the off-the-handle behavior that, in the press, we kind of work to push against.
BENDAVIDAlthough, I mean, one thing that NPR does say is, they are looking at the bigger context, and this isn't the first time for him. That if this was, perhaps, an isolated incident, they might have handled it differently. But that they've had repeated experiences like this with him, and this was just the last straw. That's how they portray it. I -- this is not coming from me, but that's certainly the case that they are making.
REHMHe did make a comment about Michelle Obama, saying that she was the Stokely Carmichael of her day in a...
PAGEIn a designer dress.
PAGEYou know, one of the issues here, one of the things that created, I think, problems from NPR's point of view is that Juan Williams -- who is also a friend of mine -- Juan Williams' role in the two outlets was different. In NPR, he is an analyst, supposed to be analyzing news, not comment on it. On Fox, he was a commentator. He was a liberal commentator offering that perspective on Fox. And they are different roles, and I think those of us who are journalists try hard to stay on one side of that line or the other. And to be on both sides, I think, was one of the things that created a problem...
REHMMmm. Makes it confusing. You know, interesting that Bill O'Reilly was on "The View" this week, offending people with his statement, Muslims killed us on 9/11.
BENDAVIDYeah, that was another one of these media kerfuffles. You know, he appeared on this program, "The View," and he made that comment that you allude to about Muslims killing us on 9/11. So two members of the host panel got up and walked out. And then he apologized, and then they walked back on. And that's what actually led to the discussion with Juan Williams. And so I think what all this stuff says to us, the discussion of the 9/11 -- for the mosque, of 9/11, these media episodes we've been talking about, is simply that the country is still in the throes of a very difficult discussion about Islam and Muslim extremists. And there's a lot of heated feelings in both sides. And those seem to me like issues that we just haven't resolved. And until we do, there's probably going to be further episodes like this.
REHMWould you agree with that, Susan? We're going to continue to -- you know, lots of people are saying, how come there wasn't this kind of outrage over Helen Thomas?
PAGEThere was a fair amount of outrage over Helen Thomas, and she...
REHMBut no one was supporting her.
PAGE...was forced to retire.
REHMNo one was supporting her. There were a lot of people who expressed outrage, saying she had no right to say those things -- very few people supporting her. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here is a message from Laura who says, "The Juan Williams firing came just a week over -- before the critical midterm elections, with Republicans poised to make strong gains. The firing has again fired up conservatives, even some moderates, against political correctness, Democrats and President Obama. Could this factor into the election? Will this help stop some of the tightening in the polls we've seen?" John Dickerson.
DICKERSONI'm not sure that the conservative base could be any more fired up than they already are. I mean, there are limits to, you know, gravity. And they are pretty darn fired up already. You know, obviously though, Newt Gingrich has tried to use this as an argument to get rid of NPR's funding. Sarah Palin also made the same claim, challenging the President to have a view on this. I think that this skit continues to keep the conservatives fired up. I think that liberals are angry on a number of different fronts, and many are angry with Mr. Williams for what he said. But I think, you know, at the end of the day, this election is about jobs and the way people are feeling.
REHMYeah, of course.
DICKERSONAnd this is -- for a lot of people, they look at this, and this is an irritating example of the sort of sideline fights we're engaged in and not the things that affect them in their lives.
REHMYou know, I must say Newt Gingrich himself seems to be on both sides of this debate about NPR. When he was Speaker of the House, he came in here to talk about his book. He was followed by a gaggle of television, radio, newspaper reporters who said to him, Mr. Speaker, you've been so against funding for NPR. Why are you here on "The Diane Rehm Show?" And the speaker's answer was, because I hear she sells books, so, you know, both sides of that coin. Susan?
PAGEAnd give Bill O'Reilly some credit for going on a form, you know, of show with people who have very different views. I mean, I think it's -- I think that's, like, the point, right? The point of a conversation about big issues is to hear from all different sides.
PAGEI do think -- I don't think this issue, this conflict, this dispute is going to affect the midterm election. It's about bigger things. I do think it's a debate we're going to hear a lot about with the new Congress in funding for NPR. The funding that NPR and public radio stations get is a miniscule part of the federal budget.
PAGEBut I predict it will get an excess of discussion and conflict.
REHMExactly, exactly. Let's talk about Justice Clarence Thomas' wife's call to Anita Hill on Saturday to request an apology. Why do you suppose she said -- did that, John?
DICKERSONWell, I -- who -- I mean, who knows? You have to get inside the mind of Ginny Thomas. I mean, she called in the morning to her office, obviously knowing that she wouldn't be there. I don't know if you have people you know who do that, who call and then they're surprised that you actually pick up the phone. But she left a message and said she'd love her to consider an apology and a full explanation of why she did what she did to her husband, meaning Justice Thomas. This is obviously still eating away at her, and it won't go away.
REHMAnd Anita Hill promptly turned the message over to both the FBI and her university security. This morning, in The Washington Post, we hear from one of Clarence Thomas' ex-girlfriends, Lillian McEwan, who says she can verify what, in fact, Anita Hill said on testimony. Yet, she allowed Anita Hill to swing in the wind during those confirmation hearings. But now she has a new book out.
BENDAVIDYeah, it's probably not what Ginny Thomas had in mind is that when she made this call, first of all, that Anita Hill would play the tape for The New York Times and that it would end up on the front page of that newspaper, but then, also, that this woman would come out saying that some of the things Anita Hill resonated with her. I mean, I think this was an extraordinarily traumatic and bitter event back when it happened in 1991, and people who lived through it remember the incredible divisions. It seemed to be simmering down, and for whatever reason, this seems to have revived it.
REHMNaftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal. When we come back, your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd, of course, we're talking lots in here during the break. Now, it's time to take your calls. First to Hobe Sound, Fla. Good morning, Sharon. You're on the air.
SHARONGood morning. My comment has to do with the firing of Juan Williams. For quite some time, I thought that Juan had a conflict of interest with both of his positions with NPR and with Fox, and I'm not surprised that this has occurred. One of the things that I'm wondering about is that the issue doesn't seem to be addressed by the national media, that Fox is actually not a news station. It's concerned more with propaganda and tabloid, and it's having a very negative effect on this county...
SHARON...because a lot of people confuse their commentating with actual truth and news.
REHMOkay. Sharon, let me ask you a question, if I may. How do you feel about Mara Liasson's appearance on both Fox News and NPR?
SHARONI've not found the same comments coming from her that I find coming from Juan Williams.
REHMOkay. I appreciate your call. Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, certainly, the role of Fox News has been a subject of much debate. I think the White House itself described it as something like an arm of the Republican Party or something like that, and they've engaged in ongoing skirmishes with it. There's also groups like Media Matters and other liberal-leading groups that are -- they sort of watch Fox News and try to find incidents when it's misrepresenting things in their view or things like that. So the role of Fox News is a big topic of conversation. You know, conservatives see it as the one media organization that tells it like it is, and liberals see it as this completely biased operation.
BENDAVIDSo it's certainly -- it's not like there has been a lack of discussion about the role of Fox News.
REHMLet's go now to Regensburg, Germany. Good morning, Robert. Thanks for joining us.
ROBERTThank you. Good morning. My comment is also about Juan Williams. And I just have to say, as a long time listener of NPR and a viewer of Fox News, it's perplexing to see that Fox News goes out of its way to include balance by having all sorts of people, including Juan Williams, who would have more progressive or liberal viewpoints. And, yet, I don't notice much balance on NPR at all, and I'm scratching my head. And I also would say, I mean, is there any show on NPR at all that consistently presents an accurate -- in an accurate and fair way what is, you know, at least the 50 percent viewpoint in the country -- you know, more traditional and conservative views? And that's what confusing to me.
REHMOkay. And I must say that's what we try to do each and every day. If we do not succeed from your perspective, I can only tell you, we try our very best. And let's go now to an e-mail from Elizabeth who says, "The activities of the wife of Supreme Court Justice Thomas need to be discussed and their potential for damage to the entire court evaluated. This is more necessary now that Chief Justice Roberts has declared that the Supreme Court should not have to attend the State of the Union address as it is political." John.
DICKERSONWell, Justice Thomas' wife is being evaluated on -- outside of the phone call, and in fact, before the phone call took place, because she gets money for her activism. She has been active in trying to rid Washington of elites and is a Tea Party favorite -- hopefully, not the elites like the Supreme Court, which her husband is a member. But she has been popular and increasing her stature in the movement. And people have tried to say that if she's getting money for her causes, where is it coming from? And would that affect her husband's decisions as he rules on any interests that -- or have been donating to her in her causes?
REHMThe timing of the call was interesting, Susan.
PAGEThe call that Jenny Thomas made was on the morning that -- there was a front page story in The New York Times by Jackie Calmes -- who's often a member of the News Roundup team -- about questions about a group that she's head of called Liberty Central. It's a group that accepts big donations, doesn't have to disclose the donors. It's devoted to kind of setting up a structure, I think, to organize and sustain the Tea Party energy against what they see as a threat to American liberties. And in -- this does raise some questions about cases that come before the Supreme Court that might involve donors to her group, but we don't know who the donors to her group is. That is essentially part of the debate that was going on at the time she made this call.
BENDAVIDIt's a tough call because on the one hand, she's a private citizen, and we can't really necessarily restrict the activities of a private citizen who wants to engage in political activism. On the other hand, she's married to a Supreme Court justice who rules on a lot of issues that presumably affect the people who donate to her group. And that's why this is a discussion, and it's an interesting one.
REHMAll right. To Homad (sp?) in Arlington, Texas. Good morning. You're on the air.
HOMADGood morning, Diane. I just actually wanted to go back to the Juan Williams topic, and I wanted to applaud NPR's termination. NPR is really one of the few non-partisan media outlets that we have in this country today. For almost every news outlet is either run or funded by a major corporation, with its own political or business agenda, and I believe that NPR's decision was -- to terminate was based on its non-partisanship. And also NPR recently sent out a memo to all of the employees, I believe, stating that their employees were not to attend the Jon Stewart's rally to restore sanity even though that rally is completely non-partisan because of the remote possibility that it could show some political bias.
HOMADAnd one other point is that if Juan Williams had made the statement about any other minority, people would be applauding his termination. Rick Sanchez was recently fired by CNN for an offensive but a lot more innocuous comment a few weeks ago. And, Diane, I think you brought up the Helen Thomas issue. So, I mean, First Amendment rights do exists for all citizens, but when your partisan politics damage your credibility as a journalist, as a neutral journalist that's analyzing, then perhaps you're better suited for a network that relies more on commenting or being a commentator and...
REHMYes, I think, Susan, you put your finger on that dichotomy and that difficulty of balancing one's role as an analyst in one network and commentator in another.
PAGEI think that's right. And I think, you know, I've been on Fox News in the past. I've been on MSNBC and other outlets. And you try hard -- I'm sure, imperfectly -- to analyze news without commenting on it 'cause no one cares about my point of view. It's the things that I see in reporting, covering things and try to bring some insights to that that you try to offer. But it's a new media world where there are these cable TV outlets and talk radio that have a lot of energy and that thrive on the sort of conflict that leads Bill O'Reilly to have people walk out on him on a panel. I mean, that is the kind of thing that shows like that like to have because it engages readers in an emotional way.
BENDAVIDYeah, it's a complicated question because I think we all agree that we want to have vigorous conversations...
BENDAVID...and people should be able to be honest about what they're feeling. On the other hand, we've always agreed as a society that certain things are out of bounds and off limits in these kinds of conversations. And so the question is where you draw that line. And I've heard more than one person say that if Juan Williams had said something like, well, when I see a black person in a quiet street, man, it really makes me nervous, that there'd be an outcry, and no one would be defending him. And so the question is why is it different to make the comment about Muslims? And so I think that's why these are such tough issues.
DICKERSONBut and that -- but that was the territory in which he was fumbling around, which was to say there's something here because of the -- because it was airplanes involved, and it was a specific attack as opposed to other kinds of racism which are, you know, there's not a specific event associated with it. He was stumbling around in the complexity of this. And the argument from his defenders is the only way you can handle the complexity of this is to acknowledge it, is to embrace it and say, look, I have this one feeling here. But on the other hand you can't paint Muslims with this enormous broad brush. And so let's -- instead of ignoring the complexity of this, let's try and handle it in some fashion. And that active inquiry should be encouraged as opposed to slapped down.
REHMJohn Dickerson of Slate.com, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And here's an e-mail from Janet, regarding the Jenny Thomas phone call. She says, "As for me, I'm sorry that such a serious charge as sexual harassment was not punished and is still so difficult to avert in the workplace. I don't know a single woman in the workplace who has not experienced sexual harassment." Do you believe that that is still the case, Susan, that with more than 50 percent of the workforce now made up of women, that that is an existing problem?
PAGEAbsolutely. I think sexual harassment continues to be problem. But I will say that 19 years ago, the Clarence Thomas hearings really prompted a national conversation about it, and it is less of a problem and one in which, I think, women have more tools to fight back than they had at that time.
BENDAVIDI mean, actually that particularly episode also had enormous political ramifications because a lot women were then elected to Congress -- of course, still not nearly in numbers comparable to men, but nonetheless, there was sort of a surge of women office holders. And since then, there's been just a higher profile for women in politics. And I think it, in some ways, can be dated to that event and to the reaction that people had to this group of men -- led by Joe Biden -- who were trying to examine this issue and yet clearly hadn't had experience of being sexually harassed. And I think that led to a real reaction that we're still seeing the results of.
REHMAll right. To Jason in St. Louis, Mo. Good morning. You're on the air.
JASONGood morning. Actually, I appreciated some of the discussion about the role of the media in a couple of different kerfuffles -- I think the word was used. But the specific incident I'm interested in is a comment made earlier about how voters are getting to choose between their opinions of the size and role of government. I'm hoping that somebody at some point in the mainstream media is going to point out the very diametrically opposite positions taken by many Republicans that are currently running, especially during the Bush years when they were all for increasing the size of government, increasing participation in various expeditions around the world that wound up costing us a lot of money. But, now, anything that's going to increase government expenditures is an anathema.
PAGEYou know, Jason, that's such a smart comment 'cause one of the things we hear from Tea Party folks is how much they dislike what the Bush administration did when it came to big government, the expansion, for instance, a new entitlement on Medicare part D drug benefits. So I think that the actions of the Bush administration to expand the government is one of prime factors that made some conservatives feel disengaged from the Republican Party and willing to launch this new Tea Party movement.
BENDAVIDAnd I think equally interesting is that you hear Republicans over and over and over again say, well, we're not going to be like the Democrats, but we're also not going to be like the Republicans just were. I mean, they're trying retake the House four years after having lost it. And so I've heard any number of times top Republicans say, look, we made a lot of mistakes, and we're going to be just as different from our former selves as we're going to be from the Democrats.
PAGEAnd I'll tell you something that's happening this year that's so interesting. Republicans are poised to make these huge gains in two weeks, even though the Republicans...
REHMSo the polls tell us.
PAGEWell, I would wage there's going to be a pretty nice Republican night for Republicans on Nov. 2. At the same time, the Republican Party is held in very low regard. People do not favor the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party. This will be a challenge for Republicans. Say they do take over the House, to try to convince the voters that elected them that they're doing a better job than they did the last time around.
DICKERSONAnd the promise is already -- the promises so far on spending from the Washington Republicans have been modest. And as Naftali said, they are now walking away from those. But just to give you one figure, the Republicans in the House have said we want to cut basically 20 percent of discretionary spending. In history, never more than 5 percent has been cut. That 20 percent is already more modest than the Tea Party forces would like, so they are -- the modesty of the action compared to the size of the revolution being called for, it -- the gulf there is vast.
REHMAll right. And finally to Edgewood, Md. Good morning, Michael. I know you've been waiting a while.
MICHAELGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to say, you know, I applaud NPR for firing Juan Williams. I mean, I couldn't stand hearing him on NPR all these years and knowing that he was taking blood money from Fox News. And I also want to say, where was all of this phony-baloney moral outrage and calls for freedom of speech from conservatives, you know, over this Helen Thomas comments or, you know, the comments from moveon.org, you know, about General Petraeus or Jeremiah Wright's comments? I mean, I just -- I don't understand anything about, you know, conservative mindset. I mean, they want to maintain the Bush tax cuts, you know, when we've already had, you know, the biggest economic collapse since The Depression. So how is maintaining what we've already had going to somehow, you know, magically improve the economy?
REHMAll right. Michael, you've raised lots of issues. Susan.
PAGEYeah, and, you know, it's true. I think Naftali said that everyone runs to their corners and takes their positions, and maybe it's good to have a little conversation in the middle of that.
BENDAVIDI mean, yeah, he raised a lot of interesting issues. And they're -- you know, you even talked about the Helen Thomas thing. And I think one thing that this really underlines is the way we're still struggling with the idea of Muslim extremists and the difference between Islam and Muslim extremists and how we handle that. We all know you can't say anything bad about Jews. That's just not done. But I think with Muslims, we're still wrestling and working our way through that. And I think that's one reason that this episode is so volatile.
DICKERSONAnd also, in order to -- you know, more context that Naftali brought in originally -- I mean, we not only have the volatility issue, we have changing standards in the press. We have the question of -- context of Juan William's previous remarks, it -- that -- all of which has gotten jumbled up. And then we have this ongoing antipathy between a lot of NPR listeners early from the calls and Fox News, which is -- you know, has nothing to do with the specifics of what was said in this instance. It was just sitting there, waiting to burst through this piece of news. All of that is roiled into this mess, and so it's hard to pick apart what was cause -- if there was cause -- to get rid of Mr. Williams and what was ongoing, underlying tumult.
REHMDoes anybody think that NPR might change its mind because of the tumult?
DICKERSONI have no idea.
PAGEI can't imagine, but who knows?
BENDAVIDAt this stage of the game, it seems like things are a little too far gone for that.
REHMNaftali Bendavid at The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today, John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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