'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Read the transcript to the Wednesday show
Guest Host: Martin Bashir
Guests: Thanh Troung, Pete Williams, Al Sharpton, Laura Moye, Ron Suskind, Jonathan Alter, Joe McGinniss
MARTIN BASHIR, GUEST HOST: Good evening from New York. Lawrence
O`Donnell is taking a well-earned rest tonight.
And we have breaking news out of Georgia where state corrections
officials delayed the execution of Troy Davis, waiting for a decision from
the U.S. Supreme Court. Davis was convicted in 1991 of killing a Savannah,
Georgia, police officer. Seven of the nine witnesses recanted their
original testimony against him. And three jurors who sentenced him want
his life spared.
This case has garnered worldwide attention and for more condemnation.
But, for now, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to issue a
stay of execution, the Georgia Department of Corrections says, quote, "We
are in a delay. There has not been a reprieve issued."
Joining us now, is NBC`s Thanh Troung outside the prison tonight.
And, Thanh, I understand that in about 7:12 p.m. this evening, people
outside the prison started singing, "We shall overcome" hearing that this
young man may well have received some kind of reprieve, some kind of stay.
THANH TROUNG, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it`s hard to get word
and confirmation on the decision at this point, Martin. There have been
sporadic cheers and then moments of silence as people wait to get any type
of word on whether this execution is going to move ahead or is going to be
further delayed at this point.
At this hour right now, there`s a large show of force of riot police.
They`re in full gear at this point. More than 100 I would say.
On the other side of highway 36, the Georgia Diagnostic Prison is
located on Highway 36 in Jackson, Georgia. Across the street, it`s just an
average truck stop, but lining the highway right now are hundreds of
supporters and protesters. It`s on the opposite side you have hundreds and
hundreds of protester protesters. On the other side, you have the large
show of force, Georgia riot police in full gear.
And we`re assuming obviously that this is probably going to be a
preventative and preemptive measure just in case anything breaks out.
Depending on where they go with this execution at this point.
And there is a pit area, if we can call it that, where more protesters
are inside the fences of the diagnostic prison. They`ve been waiting here,
chanting, holding vigil, trying to get any word of whether this execution
is going to move ahead.
And there was a scene about 20 minutes ago that as I stood from where
I`m standing right now, my vantage point, I saw the sun going down and
there was this orange glow. And you could see below that that pit of
protesters inside, people praying and hoping there`s going to be some type
of stay of execution at this point.
But at this hour, we`re still trying to get some confirmation from the
Georgia Department of Corrections whether Troy Davis is going to be
We know that three of the surviving members of the MacPhail family,
Officer MacPhail was the officer from Savannah that was shot and killed in
this whole situation back in 1989. His wife, his widow, his surviving son,
and also his surviving daughter, are all in the execution chamber. They`ve
been anticipating this execution for quite some time.
They say they`re not thirsty for blood. They`re thirsty for justice.
This has been delayed several times through the years and obviously, right
now, they just want to get it over with.
They say all the talk of the recanting of the statements of the seven
of the nine witnesses, they said, all of that is bunk. Look, they said,
this has gone through the process and under the legal process and outside
of the legal process now. These witnesses are recanting their statements.
They say it shouldn`t be accepted -- Martin.
BASHIR: Mr. Davis was due to be executed at 7:00 p.m. Am I right to
assume he had eaten his last meal, he was prepared and taken down to the
place where he would be executed?
TROUNG: He has, martin. And we haven`t gotten confirmation from
that. As you can imagine, the Georgia Department of Corrections went
through the process as this was going to move ahead.
There`s been some type of stay or delay at this point. I shouldn`t
use the word stay. There`s been a delay in the execution. The Georgia
Department of Corrections right now is just waiting to hear from the U.S.
And we understand that he did decline, Troy Davis did decline when
offered the choice of a last meal, he declined it. He spent six hours with
his family today from 9:00 to 3:00 p.m., family and friends. He declined
that choice for a last meal. Instead, he had the prison standard, as they
call it, of a cheeseburger, baked beans and potatoes -- Martin.
BASHIR: Thanh Troung, stay with us. We`ll be back to you later in
But joining me now is NBC News justice correspondent, Pete Williams.
And, Pete, why has it taken until today for the Supreme Court to
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, because it
wasn`t ready to go to the Supreme Court yet. It started with the clemency
process in Georgia. Then it went through the courts and only when all the
options were cleared away in the state of Georgia were the lawyers and in
any legal position to come to the U.S. Supreme Court. They didn`t file
here until just after 6:00 tonight one hour -- I suppose just a few minutes
less than the scheduled execution time. About 23 or 24 minutes after that,
the state attorney general from Georgia filed with the Supreme Court and
basically opposed in stay.
So, here`s where it stands. What the lawyers for Troy Davis have done
is they`ve gone to the U.S. Supreme Court and they`ve said, look, we`re
going to file an appeal with you. We haven`t done it yet. It`s coming
shortly -- was the term they used. But in the meantime, we want you to put
a hold on his excuse because it will do nobody any good for you to look at
his appeal, decide, yes, you`re going to take the appeal and find out in
the meantime he`s been executed. So, while you wait for the appeal, please
hold off on the execution.
This is a fairly standard request in death penalty cases. What`s
unusual about this, of course, is it comes less than an hour before the
BASHIR: Pete, what is the procedure now in terms of the Supreme
Court? Does there need to be a majority vote?
WILLIAMS: Yes. Yes. It takes five -- there are nine justices. It
takes five votes to grant a stay. It would take -- this may seem odd to
you, but it would take four votes to hear an appeal from someone. In the
normal course of business when the Supreme Court decides to take a case, it
only takes four of the nine justices to agree to hear a case. But it takes
five votes to grant a stay.
So, you know, the justices are not in the Supreme Court building
tonight. They`re all over the place. I don`t factually know where they
all are. The court session doesn`t start. The new term doesn`t begin for
a little over a week.
So, they`re -- some of them are in town, some of them are out of town.
But this is what the court does all the time in these emergency appeal
cases where there`s a clerk of the court who notifies the justices that
they may be called upon to make a decision and, you know, faxes or gets
them on the phone or whatever is required here. But it would take a vote
of five justices to grant a stay.
Now, you know, and the stay will either be granted or denied and we`ll
never know precisely which justices voted which way. That`s not the way
these things are handed down. We will simply get an order that says, in
this case, this stay is granted or the stay is denied and that`s it.
But the reason it didn`t come to the Supreme Court until tonight is
that there wasn`t -- it procedurally was not in a posture where they could
have come to the Supreme Court. And so, everything is jammed up here at
the end. But that`s the way these cases often happen.
BASHIR: Pete, you`ve explained that you and many of us don`t know
where these justices are. So, do you think that there will be a formal
decision on this stay this evening --
BASHIR: -- or you think there will be tonight?
WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. I`d be very surprised. I mean, the justices, you
know, they go at their own pace but they know what`s going on here.
They`re not ignorant of the fact that the execution was scheduled for 7:00.
They`re aware that there`s -- the state of Georgia is in essence waiting
for the Supreme Court to do something.
So, I`d be stunned if the Supreme Court doesn`t do something here
within the next hour or so.
Martin, just for your information, we went through something like this
last week in the case of a Texas man named Duane Buck who was arguing that
his sentencing hearing was flawed because it was racially -- there was
racially tainted testimony. His execution date was set -- his lawyers made
a last minute appeal to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court`s order
granting a stay of execution came two hours of the time scheduled for Duane
So, the state of Texas waited as the state of Georgia is going now.
BASHIR: Pete Williams, as ever, thank you for your expertise on this.
And we`ll be back to you I`m sure as the evening progresses.
Joining me live now from Atlanta is the Reverend Al Sharpton, host of
"POLITICS NATION" on MSNBC.
Good evening, Al.
AL SHARPTON, "POLITICS NATION" HOST: Good evening.
BASHIR: Your reaction, your immediate reaction to this remarkable
news this evening, literally at the final minutes that this is currently in
reprieve of some kind. We don`t know whether the stay is going to be
granted. We don`t know if Mr. Davis will be executed this evening. Your
SHARPTON: Well, you know, it reminds me of 2008. I`d been involved
in this case for the last 3 1/2 years. His sisters came to National Action
Network, the civil rights group I head, and we looked into it. We delved
into it, and we became involved -- which is why we held a vigil today that
is still going on.
And I was there in 2008, Martin, where we stood in that same courtyard
that we were having the vigil all day and I was holding Troy Davis`
Ninety minutes before his scheduled execution and the Supreme Court
stated and she pointed and told me, look -- and I looked and saw the hearse
that Troy Davis` body was to be taken out of at execution leave the
And she started jumping up and down. His mother has since died. But
tonight I almost feel the same way as I talked to his sisters, both of whom
I saw before I came from Jackson to the studio to do these shows tonight.
And I feel like we`re where we were in `08. I hope it`s a stay.
The only thing we don`t know is whether or not this is going to be an
official reprieve or a stay, as we were just told by Pete, we don`t know
until they find all of the justices and see if five vote for a stay.
Clearly, there`s enough, in my judgment, for them to at least wait and hear
what the appeal is going to be judging on these merits.
BASHIR: We`re hearing that three members of the officer who was
killed were waiting to observe this execution and as far as they`re
concerned, these recantations of testimony are worthless, they feel Mr.
Davis has been through the criminal justice process and deserves to be
executed. Your reaction to their view.
SHARPTON: You mean three members of his family?
SHARPTON: Well, I think that anyone would understand a family who has
lost a son, a brother, wants to see some form of justice and should get all
of the justice that the state can give them. I`m against the death
penalty, but I also think that the job of the justice system is not to be
swayed by emotion or passion, understandable and justified or not, on
either side of this.
The fact of the matter is that if the wrong man is executed, that is
an injustice to Officer MacPhail and Officer MacPhail`s family. So where
it is understandable how they feel, the state`s responsibility is to make
sure whatever they do is beyond a reasonable doubt.
You cannot say when there`s been recanted testimony -- and the
testimony of the eyewitnesses, Martin, was the only evidence this man was
convicted on. There was no physical evidence. There was no DNA. There
was no recovery of a weapon.
Since the only thing you had was the eyewitness testimonies, and
that`s been recanted, you can`t say there is not reasonable doubt there to
stop an execution. Now, if you recanted but there were physical evidence,
DNA evidence or other evidence, you can say that doesn`t mean anything.
But when that`s the only thing that was used and now when you have jurors
in the trial come forward and said, I wouldn`t have voted to convict him if
I knew the ballistic evidence did not lead to where they said it was, that
is a whole lot to overlook and say I`m going to take a man`s life. There
is huge reasonable doubt here.
BASHIR: Reverend Al, a remarkable insight. It`s great to have you on
this network because your perspective as a civil rights activist,
relationships with some of the members of M. Davis` family and your
prospective as a broadcaster -- we`re grateful to you for the moment.
SHARPTON: Thank you, Martin.
BASHIR: We go now on the phone to Laura Moye, who`s director of
Amnesty International. She`s inside the gates at the prison.
Laura, I wonder if I can ask you for your immediate reaction to
learning that there has been this delay in the execution of Mr. Davis.
LAURA MOYE, DIRECTOR, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (via telephone): Well,
you know, it`s a very emotional scene down here. People are a little bit
more calm. I`m on the grounds of the prison where a couple hundred
supporters are gathered around the Davis family and I think everybody is
just on pins and needles. And there was a bit of false information that
came from the several hundred people who are on the other side of the
highway who are waiting for some kind of word. And people got the wrong
information that there was a stay and it turned out it just was simply a
So, it`s been a very intense evening. The security here is incredibly
intense despite the fact that nobody is doing anything to provoke any sort
of situation. People are just gathered here very peacefully even though
sometimes there are some loud chanting of people who are very just upset
about what may happen here.
But I don`t think it`s that unusual for the Supreme Court to create a
delay. There are always these last-minute appeals. Sometimes people get
stays of execution. I was down here in Georgia when a man got three stays
of execution in one week and at the end of the week was executed.
So, it`s a very torturous process. People need to understand that
about the death penalty. It`s not a clean clinical procedure like it`s
designed to appear.
BASHIR: Laura, why did Amnesty International take up this man`s case?
MOYE: Well, in 2007, we issued a report called "Where is the Justice
for Me?" We decided that Troy Davis` case has salient issues in it that
were emblematic of the problems with the justice system, problems with the
death penalty system and we felt like we had an opportunity to help one man
but also to shine a light on a larger system where, you know -- shine a
light on this larger system that is so terribly broken and biased.
You know, we are really just amazed to see the outpouring of support.
Almost a million people signed the petition for clemency. Thousands
marched in Atlanta on Friday. We had concurrent events, hundreds of them.
We haven`t seen this sort of support. Mr. Davis` case is galvanizing
movement to abolish the death penalty because it just speaks volumes of how
wrong it is for the state to be in this position to take human life. And
here is the state of Georgia poised to take a man`s life and we can`t even
be sure that he`s guilty of the crime for which he would pay with his life.
BASHIR: Laura Moye of Amnesty International -- thank you very much
for joining us.
MOYE: You got it. Thank you.
BASHIR: And we will continue to follow developments from Georgia
tonight in the case of Troy Davis.
Up next, Ron Suskind`s new book tells a controversial story of what
happened inside the White House during the financial crisis. Ron Suskind
joins me next.
BASHIR: We continue to follow breaking news from Jackson, Georgia,
where people are holding a vigil waiting to see what will happen. Troy
Davis who was sentenced to be executed at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. The execution
has been delayed. More coming up.
And next, Ron Suskind on his book about the inner workings of the
White House during the financial crisis.
BASHIR: We`re watching developments from Jackson, Georgia, tonight,
where there is a delay in the execution of Troy Davis.
The state of Georgia has delayed the execution waiting for the Supreme
Court to respond to a request for a stay of execution.
NBC`s Kristin Welker at the White House has just gotten a response
from Press Secretary Jay Carney who says, quote, "It is not appropriate for
the president of the United States to weigh in on specific cases like this
one which is a state prosecution." We`ll continue to watch that case.
The president today delivered a strong measured address to the United
Nations General Assembly that thread carefully on the intransigence on both
sides of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In the 47-minute speech, the
president declared Palestinians must first make peace with Israel before
statehood is a possibility and reiterated his position that the U.S. will
oppose the effort by the Palestinian Authority to seek U.N. recognition of
a Palestinian state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Peace is hard work.
Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United
Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.
Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side
by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and Palestinians, not us, who must
reach agreement on issues that divide them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASHIR: And here`s how the prime minister of Israel scored President
Obama`s handling of the attempt to secure U.N. sanction statehood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANHAYU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I think that standing
your ground, taking this position of principle, which is also I think is
the right position to achieve peace, I think this is -- this is a badge of
honor. And I want to thank you for wearing that badge of honor and also I
express my hope that others will follow your example, Mr. President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASHIR: The leading Republican presidential candidates disagreed with
the prime minister of Israel on how the president handled Israel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Obama policy of
moral equivalency which gives stances of grievances of Israelis and
Palestinians including the orchestrators of terror is a very dangerous
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president should not be
negotiating for his ally, Israel. The president should stand behind
Israel. In part, the president`s failure to stand by Israel during a time
of need over the last couple years has been very unfortunate for that part
of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASHIR: So, despite the president`s handling of the Palestinian
situation receiving gushing praise from Israel`s prim minister, whose
opinion appears to matter most in the Republican mind. It was somehow not
good enough for the Republican presidential candidates.
Such attacks seem misplaced considering the president`s support of the
security of Israel`s borders have been consistent with his Republican
predecessor and that has demonstrated considerable talent in matters of
foreign policy through leading successful missions to topple Libyan
dictator Moammar Gadhafi and capture and kill Osama bin Laden -- all
without the loss of one American soldier`s life or inciting a mass anti-
American uprising among people in the region.
This president, though, cannot catch a break on matters outside of
U.S.`s border. And if that`s not enough, within the confines of the White
House as well.
A new book from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind entitled
"Confidence Men" alleges that President Obama presided over an
administration that unfairly treated women serving in the White House and
failed to properly respond to the economic crisis due to dissent amongst
its economic staff -- a failure to effectively carry out the president`s
orders and the lack of decisiveness from the president, himself.
And joining us now, I`m delighted to say, is Ron Suskind, the author
of "Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a
Good evening, sir.
RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, "CONFIDENCE MEN": Nice to be here.
BASHIR: The last time I saw such a host of individual run for the
hills is when the 12 disciples renounced Jesus with (INAUDIBLE) curses and
ran away. Why is it -- why do you think so many of your sources have come
up and denounced your book as frankly an overheated set of falsifications?
SUSKIND: Well, you know, to the trained eye, I`m sure yours among
others, most of those are non-denial denials. This is what happens when a
book like this comes out. When a curtain gets pulled back on an
administration really for the first time, many of the folks have a moment
of what you call buyers` remorse. It`s difficult. You try to bring
sources up to the moment.
OK, the book`s ready. I went over the quotes with them prior to
publication. But when the lights come up, and the heat, it`s difficult.
This is something that is being written about quite a bit right now, the
Washington walk back, how it works.
There are a few instances, one, of Anita Dunn with one of the key
quotes which you probably want to mention here. It`s a signature quote.
Why don`t you read it? You probably have it right in front of you.
BASHIR: Well, I`ll come to that in a moment. But here`s the
interesting thing. Many of these individuals who are now denouncing the
book as a fabrication --
SUSKIND: Well, no, they`re not. If you really look at what they said
BASHIR: Well, I`ll come to that in a moment.
SUSKIND: No one is doing that.
BASHIR: In the book -- well, you say no one is doing that.
SUSKIND: No, they`re not.
BASHIR: In the book, you allege the president was not prepared for
the baptism of fire caused by the financial crisis.
SUSKIND: Absolutely right.
BASHIR: And you said he was repeatedly undermined by his economic
advisers. Who told you that?
SUSKIND: All the economic advisers extensively sat --
BASHIR: Did Larry Summers tell you that?
SUSKIND: Summers, Geithner, Orszag, every -- Christina Romer. All of
them sat with me hour after hour for interviews.
BASHIR: Larry Summers says, "The hearsay attributed to me is a
combination of fiction, distortion and words taken out of context."
SUSKIND: I think --
BASHIR: Timothy Geithner says, "Reports about this book bear no
resemblance to the reality we lived."
SUSKIND: All of their --
BASHIR: That`s not a soft walk back.
SUSKIND: No, no, well, it is if you read the book, because the fact
is on Timothy Geithner, for one, he has extensive responses to everything
in the book that is in the book. What we did is we had an interview prior
to publication, 35 minutes. We went through letter and verse. And he has
a very full explanation for what`s in the book. He offers a denial, but
not really a denial.
If you read that, you`ll find that --
BASHIR: A combination of fiction, distortion and words taken out of
context, Larry Summers.
SUSKIND: Larry Summers is another example. Larry and I talked many
times. At the end of the day, Larry`s speaking about a specific thing.
You should be more specific --
BASHIR: I`ll come to that. In the book, you allege that Larry
Summers told Peter Orszag --
SUSKIND: That`s right. I`m not alleging it.
BASHIR: We`re home alone.
SUSKIND: That`s right.
BASHIR: There`s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made
Was it Peter Orszag who told you that?
SUSKIND: Peter Orszag is quoted in the book. You should look at it.
BASHIR: I have. So, Peter Orszag told you --
SUSKIND: You bet. Peter Orszag is quoted saying that. Summers said
it not just to Orszag. He said it to many people. It was called the home
alone riff. Many folks heard it.
When Peter heard it for one, same with many of them, he was unsettled
by it. You know, what is Larry saying? Is Larry right? And what`s
interesting is Orszag meditates on the Larry Summers home loan quote on a
good page or two pages, is Larry right or not? Yea or nay?
BASHIR: Is it possible that Mr. Orszag who was hardly garlanded with
praise when he left the White House, and he may have seen this as an
opportunity to seek some kind of revenge.
SUSKIND: No, not at all.
BASHIR: Why not?
SUSKIND: Well, the fact is the home alone quote from Larry Summers
comes from many people. Many people heard it. It was something that I
talked to Larry about at the end of the day. I said Larry you need to
listen to this. And he said, oh, right, I laid it out.
BASHIR: Isn`t it interesting that Mr. Orszag is the one individual
who has not walked back anything in the book? Mr. Orszag has been silent.
He`s the one individual who many people would suggest here has a reason for
saying these kinds of things because he may be seeking some kind of
SUSKIND: Well, you`re way off here. The fact of the matter is, is
that Orszag is one of many, many people, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers,
Orszag, Romer, all the way through and the president, himself, who was
presented the evidence reported in the book did not deny it, went through
explanations, as the president does in our interview.
More importantly -- more importantly, let`s be clear here, is that
when Larry was confronted with the home alone quote, at first he said, no,
I didn`t say it. I said, look, Larry, a lot of people heard you say it, I
went through letter and verse of when they heard it. And he said, all
right, I`ll offer a response. It`s in the book. He says, we`re
overwhelmed, there was a great deal going on, five times as many problems,
without five times as many people.
You know, I think it`s important to note that the quote, itself, is
not what we`re talking about. There are many examples, evidence throughout
the book of episode and incident where the president wasn`t aware what was
happening. He was often surprised. Things were moving forward by virtue
of the advisers` decisions without him being aware of it.
So quotes are the framing but the actual disclosures are different.
BASHIR: Let`s move on from the economic team to the issue of the
president allowing what you describe as a potential hostile, almost
misogynistic atmosphere in the White House. You write, "The president has
a real woman problem with the assessment of another high ranking female
SUSKIND: You bet.
BASHIR: "The idea of a boys club being just Larry and Rahm isn`t
fair. He, the president, was just as responsible, himself." You believe
SUSKIND: That`s what the senior officials involved --
BASHIR: You`re persuaded that Mr. Obama allowed a hostile
SUSKIND: The people most directly involved who spent their time in
the White House, senior female officials, that is from their lips -- as
well as the quotes on the record about this issue. And mind you, it`s
important to note that the issue of the gender battles in the White House
did get reported. It was reported in Jonathan Alter`s book.
BASHIR: I read it.
SUSKIND: Mark Liebowitz, Richard --
BASHIR: Here`s the point, though, they never quoted anyone saying
they felt like a piece of meat.
SUSKIND: These stories evolve. These people --
BASHIR: They certainly do. Let me put to you what Christina Romer
told the "Washington Post." She cannot imagine ever having said this.
Anita Dunn said, point blank, the White House was not a hostile
SUSKIND: OK, let`s talk about Anita Dunn. All right? Anita Dunn and
I discussed this. The White House actually directed me to Anita Dunn,
saying, look, we feel like the president has done an OK job with this.
We`re looking for moments where the president -- in the book, where he
exerted management authority.
Anita and I talked, a long, long interview in April of this year. She
went through letter and verse not just from the administration, but from
the campaign before, where there was a women`s issue. When she got to the
White House, she said it was much more pronounced. And what was
fascinating is that in that interview and other interviews, I found that it
was more pronounced and more pervasive than had been reported.
BASHIR: Why did you choose to be disingenuous in the way you
presented that quote? Because what she actually said to you was that
without the president, this would have been a hostile environment. Why did
you choose not to include that clause?
SUSKIND: Well, you want to know? Disingenuous, you`re way off there.
If you go off and go on the Internet, you`ll see the stories that happened
BASHIR: Suskind, you`re the author. We have you here.
SUSKIND: You`re really late on that part. That`s already been
essentially settled. Let me explain it to you. After the April interview,
I called -- before the book was published -- I called Anita back, as I do
with almost all the sources in the book, saying here`s what`s going next to
your name in the book.
BASHIR: Indeed. You have made that abundantly clear.
SUSKIND: We go through that letter and verse. We talked about that
quote, other quotes, that one specifically, though. I said, here`s the
quote, the longer quote, of course, that`s on the tape, the tape that the
"Washington Post" heard exactly in Anita`s voice, and published a few days
That fuller tape, that fuller quote is out there. We talked about the
fuller quote. I said, all right, here`s the fuller quote. You talked to
Valerie Jarrett during the administration. You said if it wasn`t for the
president, this would be considered a hostile workplace legally defined for
women, on and on.
I said, OK, two things, Anita said, gees, could we not make that in
present tense where I`m talking to Valerie? I`m saying it now. Let`s make
it in past tense, because frankly, Ron, I can`t be saying that I saw a
hostile legal workplace -- one minute. Let me finish -- a hostile legal
workplace with my husband being the general counsel to the president.
SUSKIND: She said, look, I tell you this, though, in April of 2011.
It is me looking back. So she said -- I said, fine, looking back. Now,
what about this thing about if it wasn`t for the president? I said, Anita,
it doesn`t really make sense. What do you mean by that? You know, if
there was a different president, but still a hostile workplace, you would
feel differently about it? That doesn`t make sense.
She says, all right, well, I just want to say that means that we all
were fascinated and love the president. We walk -- let me finish. I`m
almost done. We`d walk across hot coals for this guy. I said, Anita, that
doesn`t have anything to do with the rest of the quote. She said, that`s
I said, so what I`ll do is I will lead into the quote with this
feeling that the women -- they were not displeased with the president.
They love the man. Then we`ll have, looking back, the rest of the quote.
That will be in the book. That`s what is in the book. Anita agreed with
BASHIR: Finally -- finally -- finally, we don`t have anymore time --
SUSKIND: This is old news, by the way.
BASHIR: Let`s think for a moment about this president. Here`s a
president who acknowledges with gratitude that his grandmother nurtured
him. Here`s a president who appoints countless women to senior positions -
SUSKIND: Yeah. A murders row of accomplished women.
BASHIR: Here`s what he says in his book, "the Audacity of Hope," "the
opportunity for women to pursue careers, achieve economic independence and
realize their talents on an equal footing with the men has been one of the
great achievements of modern life."
You`re saying that president allowed a hostile environment for women.
SUSKIND: Well, you know, this president did allow it until he re-
recognized that, wow, this is a problem. They confronted him at a dinner
in November, after months and months. He was very attentive to them. He
said, look, I feel what you`re feeling, I feel your pain.
Ultimately, I think that helped. All the women felt a kind of relief
to have brought their appeal to the president. That was helpful, all in
the book. The point is that the president largely did engage here and he
really did solve this problem, largely when he recognized it. That`s what
the book says.
This book is about the evolution of this man to a president now, as he
says in the final interview, is fully realized in ways he had not been
before, for the moment America is in now.
BASHIR: Ron Suskind, author of "Confidence Man." thank you very much
for joining us this evening.
SUSKIND: My pleasure.
BASHIR: Coming up, the first reaction from President Obama about the
book. Jonathan Alter has that breaking news exclusive and he`s our guest.
And we`re awaiting word from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether there
will be a stay of execution for Troy Davis. Stay with us.
BASHIR: Though Troy Davis` attorneys say seven of nine key witnesses
against him have disputed all or parts of their testimony, state and
federal judges have repeatedly ruled against granting him a new trial. The
latest on his execution is ahead.
And next, MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter is here with the reaction to
Ron Suskind`s new book about the treatment of women inside the White House.
BASHIR: We just heard Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind
defend his new book, "Confidence Men," that alleges President Obama
presided over an administration that unfairly treated women in the White
House and failed to provide proper leadership during the financial crisis.
My next guest is also a veteran journalist who`s written a book on the
early days of the Obama White House. Joining me now, MSNBC political
analyst Jonathan Alter, columnist for "Bloomberg View" and the author of
"The Promise: President Obama Year One."
JONATHAN ALTER, "BLOOMBERG VIEW": Hi, Martin.
BASHIR: Good afternoon. Or good evening even. Before I get to your
thoughts on Ron Suskind`s book, you have -- I understand it -- managed to
get some kind of response from the White House in relation to this book?
ALTER: All that I`ve heard is that the word got passed down to the
staff, don`t turn on each other over this book. We don`t want to -- we
don`t have time to waste, you know, pointing fingers at who was the source
of this or that.
I mean, a lot of the sources are long gone from the White House. But
the president didn`t want time wasted on recriminations over this book.
BASHIR: Of course, many of those sources are still there. You just
watched that interview with Mr. Suskind. What`s your reaction?
ALTER: Well, you know, I don`t agree with Ron that any time you pull
back the curtain, everybody says this is untrue. I mean, I pulled back the
curtain on my book, a number a people didn`t like it. Larry Summers hated
the book and wouldn`t talk to me for a year and a half. Christie Romer did
not like the book at all and there were others.
But there wasn`t one person who came forward to say, either publicly
or privately to me, that I`d gotten things wrong.
BASHIR: Or indeed nobody suggested that it was fiction or a
ALTER: Right. So I just -- that`s true of other authors as well.
I`m not the only one. So this notion that it somehow proves that it`s a
good book if people are saying parts of it are not true I don`t think holds
BASHIR: He implied -- he implied in that interview that he had
literally spoken to everyone in the administration economics team. Is that
ALTER: No, actually it`s not. In the last few days, I have heard
from, you know, several people I talked to on the economic team. One of
them I think I can mention, Austan Goolsbee, cooperated a lot with me, you
know, became chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
BASHIR: Somewhat significant position.
ALTER: He didn`t talk to Ron. So, you know, there -- we have all got
our takes on this. The problem is -- to me, is not these kind of
methodological questions. It`s silly for me to get into some sort of --
BASHIR: With another author. I get that.
ALTER: People can make their own judgments when they read the books.
But it`s a question of the larger take and whether the evidence is there
for that. So is the evidence there that this was not just a boys club,
which I reported in reported in my book, and that they had this dinner and
I outlined who was at the dinner.
BASHIR: I read that story in "The Promise." And I assumed that Ron
Suskind had actually taken it from your book.
ALTER: He re-reported it, which is fine. But there`s a distinction
between something being a boys club and hostile work environment.
BASHIR: And a misogynistic one.
ALTER: And basically the White House is like this newsroom or a lot
of tough companies, where it`s tough up there. But the point is Larry
Summers and Rahm Emanuel treated men and women in very harsh ways. But
there was not a distinction between them, where somehow these guys were
horrible misogynists and engaged in creating a hostile work environment.
Now, the response to that might be, well, she said it; Anita Dunn said
it. You know? Just because one person in a kind of a got you situation
may have said something doesn`t make it true. And the role of the author
is to sort through all the many different things that sources say, on the
record and off, to try to paint a true picture.
Something can be an accurate quote, but not an accurate reflection.
We all know that when it`s reported in the wider world, people just get the
short end. Most people aren`t reading these books, right? So all they get
is Barack Obama, sexist White House. That`s not fair and it`s not true.
So we have to take some responsibility of the impressions, the larger
impressions that we convey from our reporting. I think that`s also true of
him as a decision maker. Now this idea that they were home alone because
the president was so much worse than Clinton, that`s not what I found in my
I found -- I talked to a number of people who had interviewed both
Clinton -- they worked for both Clinton and Obama. They preferred Clinton
on some things but they preferred Obama as a decisive leader in a time of
crisis. So to pick him as somehow not decisive at a time of crisis is just
BASHIR: Columnist for "the Bloomberg View." Jonathan Alter, thank you
very much for joining us.
ALTER: Thanks, martin.
BASHIR: Ahead on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow will have the latest on the
Troy Davis execution. Davis convinced hundreds of thousands of people he
did not kill an off duty police officer, but not the justice system. His
execution had been set to begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
And still to come on THE LAST WORD, the author who moved into a house
next door to Sarah Palin to write his book, "Rogue," will join us.
BASHIR: A new poll out today shows non-presidential candidate Sarah
Palin now trailing the actual president by only five points in a head to
head match up, and tied for third among Republican candidates, if both she
and Rudy Giuliani were to jump into the race.
Still, most Republicans apparently are not ready to go rogue. When
asked if they`d like Sarah Palin to run for president, a whopping 72
percent said absolutely not. Only 24 percent said yes. So what does Palin
have to say about whether she`ll run for president?
Cue an appearance on her favorite television network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I would say by November, you got to
make your decision, though, right?
SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: You do. I mean, legally you
do, because you have to start getting your ducks lined up to have your name
on these ballots. Whether we are candidates or whether we are supporters
of the right candidacies, we`re going to be out there working so hard in
these next 14 months, but a lot is going to happen in these next 14 months.
Mark my word, it is going to be an unconventional type of election
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASHIR: Wow. That was Sarah Palin giving her first interview since
publication of a controversial new book, "The Rogue: Searching For the Real
Sarah Palin." Of course, since the author of that book doesn`t work for
Fox News, not a single question was asked about it.
But there`s plenty to get your teeth into, including allegations that
she once snorted cocaine and had a one night stand with a former basketball
player. Joining us now is the author of the book in question, Joe
McGinniss. Good evening, Joe.
JOE MCGINNISS, AUTHOR, "THE ROGUE": Good evening.
BASHIR: Congratulations. You have single handedly managed to
persuade numbers of Americans no longer to loathe Sarah Palin but to like
her. Even "the New York Times" says "although most of "the Rogue" is
dated, petty and easily available to anyone with Internet access, Mr.
McGinniss used his time in Alaska to chase caustic, unsubstantiated gossip
about the Palins, often from unnamed sources like, quote, one resident and
a friend, and these stories need not to be consistent."
Is that fair?
MCGINNISS: No, it`s not fair. Janet didn`t like the book. That`s
pretty obvious. But when you say, "the New York Times," I wish you would
also read something from the article that Sam Tanenhaus has, the "Sunday
Times" book editor wrote last Sunday in the Sunday -- the front page of the
"Sunday Review" section because he felt very differently about it.
You try to pick out the worst paragraph of the worst review by anybody
who`s yet read the book and lead off the interview like that. I don`t
think that`s fair either.
BASHIR: In the book, you say that while Sarah Palin was a sports
reporter in Alaska, she had a one-night stand with a then NBA star to be,
Glenn Rice. But she wasn`t married at the time, so why did you include
MCGINNISS: Let me tell you why. That`s a good question. Now, that`s
a fair question, OK? The story that I first heard was that Sarah had had a
sexual encounter with a black athlete from the University of Alaska, and
that she had been so traumatized by this experience that people of color
made her uncomfortable forever after.
And it is a fact, and I write this in "the rogue" that when she became
governor, one of her first acts -- when she saw there were people of color
working in the state office building, she told her chief of staff to fire
them because seeing so many black faces around made her uncomfortable.
BASHIR: Would you have included that story --
MCGINNISS: Let me finish.
BASHIR: Would you have included that story if it was a white
MCGINNISS: The point is about racism. The point is about racism.
The point is -- this is key is, which I`ll get to very quickly -- is that
the story turned out to be wrong. She didn`t have a bad reaction. I`ve
spent months and finally found the individual in question, who was Glenn
When I talked to Glenn Rice, he said, no, it was nothing like that at
all. And if you read the book, you`ll see that he has only good things to
say about Sarah Palin. So I put that in there to counter the allegation
that others were making that this was the cause of her ongoing racism.
I do believe she`s a racist. She married a racist bully in Todd
Palin. When Todd was in 12th grade at Wasilla High School, he and two
buddies took a seventh grade black boy out to a rock quarry behind the high
school and beat him up because he was black. That`s the man she chose for
BASHIR: You said on "The Today Show" that at best Sarah Palin is a
hypocrite, at worst she`s a vindictive hypocrite. Why?
MCGINNISS: Why? Her -- her hypocrisy in pretending that she`s a
practicing Christian, family values, mother of a large, close family is
belied by the facts of the past 20 years when her children were growing up.
I have example after example after example of the fact she and her husband,
Todd, have never been close, that are always on the verge of divorce, that
she was never a caregiver to her children, and that her Christianity, while
I do believe she wants America to be a Christian republic, is not something
she practices in a way that the right wing thinks she does.
BASHIR: Joe McGinnis, author of "The Rogue." thanks so much for
joining us this evening. We`ll be right back.
BASHIR: Lawrence O`Donnell is back tomorrow night. You can see my
show every weekday at 3:00 p.m., right here on MSNBC.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" is up next with the latest out of Georgia on
the Troy Davis case. Here`s the most erudite woman on American television.
Good evening, Rachel.
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