THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
June 16, 2014
Guest: Elise Jordan
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That`s right. Well done, Chris. Thank you
very, very much. Appreciate it, man.
And let me start the show today by saying happy birthday to my mom. Happy
OK. Thank you for joining us this hour. Now we will start the regular
Every year, there is a religious holiday that is observed by Shia Muslims.
And this particular holiday always gets a disproportionate amount of TV
You know how every Easter all of a sudden there`s a ton of TV coverage in
photo journalism about the faith of Christians in the Philippines? That`s
because in the Philippines at Easter, there`s a yearly gory ritual in which
Filipino Christian men re-enact the crucifixion of Christ literally. They
nail themselves to crosses. And every year, it is cringe-inducing and
worse to see all the footage of this ritual, but it is a reliable
international news story every year when it happens.
Well, the Muslim equivalent of that disproportionately TV covered holiday
is a holiday called Ashura. And Ashura happens everywhere in the world
where there are Muslims but in it is most meaningful to Shia Muslims. It`s
centered on this holy shrine in the Iraqi city of Karbula. That city and
specifically this walled off holy section of that city are thought to be
the site of a great battle that took place in the seventh century in the
And I say it was a great battle in the sense that it has great theological
and historical significance, but in terms of the way the battle itself
worked out, it did not go so great. One of the grandsons of the Prophet
Mohamed, his side in the battle consisted of himself and 72 other fighters.
That`s one side. The other side in the battle was an army of thousands.
And the army of thousands won the battle decisively. Imam Hussein, the
prophet`s grandson, and his 72 fellow fighters, they were all killed, every
last one of them. They went up against a much larger force and the much
larger force won, slaughtered them all.
And that loss, that terrible and complete loss in battle is what Shia
Muslims commemorate every year on the holiday of Ashura, and it is often a
bloody spectacle. The most diehard men beat themselves with chains.
Really tearing themselves up in the process. It is literally bloody. They
cut themselves with blades and swords.
The idea of Ashura is to never forget, and indeed to celebrate, not just --
to celebrate not a military victory, but rather a military disaster and the
martyrdom of a revered descendant of the prophet and the fighters who died
There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. 1.6 billion. Almost all of
them are Sunni Muslims. Less than 15 percent of the world`s Muslims are
Shia Muslims. But in the history and the theology and the religious
observance and the overall culture of the Shias, that is where you see the
role of martyrdom play a really prominent role.
If you talk to people who`ve been able to visit Tehran, if you look at
street-level imagery from day-to-day life in Tehran, you come back again
and again to the fact that it is basically visually suffused with martyrs.
I mean, every country honors their war dead. But in the most Shia-
dominated country on earth, in 90 percent Shia Muslim Iran, the war dead,
the martyrs are everywhere.
They`re on bus stops, they`re on banners, they`re on murals, they`re on
billboards. The streets are named for them. And it`s not just a handful
of celebrated or famous or religiously significant martyrs, it`s everyday
Iranian men who were killed in war or who otherwise died somehow defending
the regime or serving the regime.
Well, today in Iran, it`s being reported that a number of hardlined anti-
Western blogs and Web sites are claiming that Iran now has its newest
martyr. He`s reportedly a member of Iran`s Revolutionary Guard. It`s
being reported that he was killed in Iraq. In fighting against the Sunni
militant group that has taken over a wide swath of Iraq in recent days.
Pictures of the man`s funeral were posted to a Revolutionary Guard Web site
in Iran. Pictures showed dozens of people carrying his casket covered in
the Iranian flag. It`s also being reported that a general from Iran`s
Revolutionary Guard has arrived in Iraq, has left Iran and gone to Iraq to
fight the Sunni militant groups that`s taken over big parts of Iraq.
American officials on Friday said that this particular general flew to Iraq
with dozens of his officers. A Shiite member of parliament in Baghdad told
"The New York Times" that it was more than that. They say that this
general arrived in Iraq with 200 Iranian officers. All of whom are
expected to stay behind in Iraq and help lead a multinational Shia Muslim
fight against these Sunni forces.
And that is the fundamental dynamic at work here, right? This is Shia
Muslims versus Sunni Muslims. Shiites versus Sunnis. Sunni militants,
this al Qaeda-aligned group of a few thousand fighters, they are trying to
topple the government in Iraq which is now Shia. Shia Muslims are the
majority population in Iraq. They always have been. But Saddam Hussein
was not a Shia Muslim. He was a Sunni. So was his government, so was his
When Saddam and therefore the Sunnis got toppled from Iraq after the U.S.
invaded that country more than a decade ago, the Sunnis, pushed out of
power, they regrouped into militias and tribes and they fought a powerful
and resilient insurgency while the U.S. was there. It never left, though.
And now they`re back on the march. And this Sunni militant group, people
who don`t want that Sunni militant group to succeed, people who want to try
to prop up the government in Iraq, the post-Saddam, Shia-led government in
Iraq, obviously those people include the Shia population of Iraq and the
Shia militias that have organized themselves there, right?
But also, the other people who want to prop up the government there and
fight those Sunni militant fighters that are trying to topple the
government, the other pro-government forces effectively in this fight are
the other Shia Muslim governments and forces in the region.
Again, in the global population of Muslims, the Shia are not at all a
majority. They are a relatively tiny minority, but when you look at the
map, really, they are the majority of the population and they make up the
regime in Iran and Iran, of course, has a long porous border with Iraq.
Shias are not the majority population in Syria, which also has a long
porous border with Iraq, but the ruling regime in Syria, Bashar al-Assad`s
regime, is a Shiite sect called the Alawites.
So if we want to jump in, if the United States wants to jump back into Iraq
to go into this particular fight now, to go after these al Qaeda-aligned
brutal Sunni militants that have taken over swaths of Iraq, we are going to
be joining a fight that is already in progress. And that is not just
internal to Iraq. And our natural alliance in this fight will be us and
the Shia-dominated government of Nouri al Maliki in Iraq which we installed
after we toppled Saddam, but also the government of Iran and also the
government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
That would be our side in this fight. Boy, that`s awkward. And in a
larger strategic sense, that is basically impossible. I mean, it`s
impossible to see that alliance, that existing alliance in any sort of
clear strategic sense for the United States or for anybody else in that
group because it is not clear or necessarily strategic. It`s just the
facts of how the sides line up in this particular fight.
When President Obama announced today in a letter to Congress that up to 275
American troops would be deploying back into Iraq, 2 1/2 years after the
last U.S. forces left there, this is the fight that he`s sending them into.
And this impossible geography for the fight between the Sunnis and the
Shias with Iraq sandwiched between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Sunni Jordan on
one side and Shia Iran on the other, and war-torn Sunni majority but Shia-
led Syria on yet another side, well, yes, this impossible geography is the
permanent tinderbox of the Sunni/Shia split in the Middle East which is
what the United States risked sparking by deciding to topple Saddam Hussein
Especially when we made the decision to do that, to set this thing alight
with zero plan as to what we would do next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There is not a history of clashes that are
violent between Sunnis and Shias. So I think they can probably get along.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: There`s been none of the
record of Iraq of ethnic militias fighting one another that produced so
much bloodshed and permanent scars in Bosnia. We have no idea of what kind
of ethnic strife might appear in the future, although as I`ve noted it has
not been the history of Iraq`s recent past.
WILLIAM KRISTOL CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Whatever else you can say about
this war -- let me just make one point. George Bush is not fighting this
like Vietnam. Whatever the -- we don`t need to re-fight the whole history
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saddam may be. That`s the danger --
KRISTOL: That is not going to happen. It`s not going to happen. This is
going to be a two-month war not an eight year war.
DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: It could last, you know, six
days, six weeks. I doubt six months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Has anybody booked Donald Rumsfeld for one of the Sunday shows yet
this week? When do we get the list of Sunday show guests? Who wants to
bet on Donald Rumsfeld? Because all the rest of those guys we just showed,
they`re not only still around, but now after being so disastrously wrong
about what it would mean for the United States to toss a match into the
tinderbox of the Middle East by toppling Saddam, all those guys who were so
wrong, they either never went away in the first place or they have recently
been dug back up in the last few weeks simply for the purpose of arguing
that we ought to go invade Iraq again.
America ought to get right back in there into the middle of the Sunni/Shia
fight that we somehow are the key to fixing this problem. So far the Sunni
militant group that has swept across a wide swath of Iraq, the areas that
they have moved through so quickly and that they have taken over, those
areas have mostly been Sunni-dominated areas. And again, they are a Sunni
militant group. And they say they are marching on to Baghdad, but Baghdad
is not Sunni dominated the way the rest of the areas are that they have
The group has also recently released videos and put up postings on social
media claiming that they massacred Iraqi soldiers wearing plain clothes.
NBC News has not been able to independently verify the videos. The videos
are horrific. The group claims that they have killed 1700 men in Iraq.
Calls them dirty Shias. But while something undoubtedly terrible is going
on in those videos, the Iraqi government denies that a massacre took place
on that scale.
Whether or not the group did commit an atrocity that is as terrible as what
they say they did, the reason that you go and post tweets about it and
upload social media-ready videos about it rather than just do it is because
you want an action like that to have more than just its direct military
You want to terrorize, you want to instill fear against anybody who might
be thinking against fighting against you. You want populations to flee
ahead of your advance. But you also want to provoke the world, right? You
want to provoke a fight that is larger than the fight you are already
This group that`s taken over these big swaths of Iraq, it is an offshoot of
al Qaeda, and they very clearly want the Western world back in the Middle
East waging war with themselves. The true believers. Right? And yes, a
war with the Shias, a war with Iran and the Revolutionary Guards and the
Quds force, yes, that gets you part of the way there, we now know that may
already be under way. But you don`t just want a war with the Shia
heretics, you want a war with the Western infidels. You want a war with
And so now we have our own fight in our own country about whether or not
we`re going to give them more of war that they always wanted.
NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, of course, spent
several years reporting from Baghdad during the war. He is back inside
Baghdad tonight. Technical constraints notwithstanding, we think we`re
going to be hearing live from Richard in just a moment. But look at this
report he just filed from inside Baghdad. This is remarkable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: These Iraqi soldiers,
prisoners of ISIS, in a video not verified by NBC News, are being forced to
swear allegiance to the al Qaeda offshoot that overran their positions.
One refuses and is executed. The others agreed, but they, too, were later
They are getting stronger. Joined by supporters of Saddam Hussein and
Sunni tribal leaders. In Mosul, they marched together on their way to hang
an Iraqi soldier.
This weekend, the militants released pictures of dozens of Iraqi soldiers
being led to their death. The Iraqi Army is now fighting back with
airstrikes and thousands of new recruits. But the insurgents have their
sights on Baghdad. And if they can`t get to it, they may try to send in
suicide bombers instead.
It is strange to come back to Baghdad and see it like this. This is
normally the busiest market in the city. Today all of the shops are closed
and this street is normally full of traffic. Today, hardly anything.
There are gunmen on every corner.
Some are soldiers. Many are Shiite militiamen responding to a call to arms
from their religious leaders. They`re ready to defend the capital and the
Shiite faith. We did find one shop open. A grocery owned by Jamel Karesh
(ph). He thinks the ISIS radicals aren`t strong enough to enter Baghdad
now. Instead, he expects car bombs.
"People are afraid," he said. "We expect bombings will come at any
This is perhaps the most iconic place in Baghdad, Firdos Square. There
used to be a giant statue of Saddam Hussein right on top of that pedestal
until as we all saw U.S. Marines came right down this street, the statue
came down, and Saddam`s regime collapsed. Iraq was at a turning point then
and it may be at a turning point now.
As evening came, even fewer people around in the city of seven million.
Bracing for a new round of sectarian war. Perhaps the worst this country
has ever seen.
MADDOW: Joining us now from Baghdad is NBC News chief foreign
correspondent, Richard Engel. He joins us now by phone.
Richard, thanks very much for being with us in the middle of the night. I
appreciate your time, my friend.
ENGEL: Absolutely. I`m so sorry that I can`t be on camera. We`re having
some technical issues. As you can imagine, there`s a curfew in place here.
Communications are not great. We were out on the streets not that long ago
just sort of seeing what it was like in Baghdad under curfew. There is not
a soul walking around. Nobody but lots and lots of cops, checkpoints
everywhere, and these are checkpoints by police, by the Shia militias, by
Iranian guards, I think. I don`t know. You couldn`t really tell who they
were. But you could certainly tell the allegiance here.
This is a city on edge. This is a city where everyone is being checked
right now. There are intelligence agents all over the place. If somebody
came into town, one of these ISIS militants, a Sunni bomber, anybody who
looks suspicious, they will be stopped, they will be questioned, they will
be taken away.
MADDOW: Richard, obviously Baghdad is a city -- is a big city. Seven
million people. We`ve talked recently about how the city became more
segregated in terms of Shia and Sunni areas over the course of America`s
decade of war there.
What`s the situation with the Sunni population? The substantial Sunni
population in Baghdad? The footage obviously that we`ve got of those young
men signing up to defend Baghdad and being blessed under the holy book and
everything, those seemed very much to be Shia militia kind of images.
ENGEL: Oh, they are terrified. The Sunnis who live in this town are
terrified. They are worried about what`s going to happen to them. Think
about what happened in the past here. And by the way, the Iranian presence
here isn`t new. There have always been Quds force advisers here right from
The U.S. invaded this country. On day one, there were Iranian advisers,
Iranian special forces in the country advising the new politicians, trying
to lay the groundwork, trying to figure out what is going on here. Iran is
the biggest neighbor. Iran has the most interests in Iraq. It is the
Shiite state. It sees itself as the protector of the world Shia community.
Suddenly, Iran`s enemy neighbor is occupying -- the United States is
occupying its neighbor.
It has an enormous interest. It got here very quickly and it never left.
So now it`s coming back to make sure that it can defend the Shia territory
that it gained effectively or gained as a friendly neighbor after the fall.
The Sunni community here is very worried and I think they have good reason
to be worried because during the American occupation, when U.S. troops were
here, if there was a car bomb, the Iraqi troops, Iraqi SWAT teams, the
commandos, would go and start investigating these issues, these crimes and
they would start questioning people. Usually they would go through these
questionings in Sunni neighborhoods.
They would round of lots of people and horrible things would happen to the
people they rounded up, to the Sunni witness and people who may have been
peripherally associated with whatever kind of attack. And the Americans
would try and keep a lid on it. And sometimes the Americans would tell the
Iraqi army not to use excessive force or brutality or hold detainees in
Well, the Americans aren`t here doing that anymore, so the Sunnis are
worried if car bombs do start blowing up that they`re going to be detained
and they`re going to disappear and horrible things are going to happen to
them and I think that`s pretty likely, frankly.
MADDOW: NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel up in the
middle of the night in Baghdad under curfew.
Richard, thank you for being with us.
ENGEL: Back in Firdos Square. I was overlooking Firdos Square, I was
thinking of you.
Come back and talk about it. We talked about it exactly then. That this
sectarian fight never ended. This was a time bomb that exploded with the
U.S. invasion. It just ticked away, you know, at a sort of a low gear for
a little while, while the U.S. was here. U.S. left and it`s back, like,
MADDOW: We`re going to re-post our footage of our initial interview at
Firdos Square from last time that I was with you in Baghdad. We`re going
to post that at maddowblog.com tonight. It feels like -- it feels like
homework at this point for what`s about to happen next.
Richard, thanks for being with us, my friend.
ENGEL: All right.
MADDOW: Thank you. All right.
Next, President Obama stopped waiting on Congress and decided to go forward
with something that has been a priority for a long time. That story is
coming up. And lots more ahead. Stay with us.
MADDOW: If your boss finds out that you`re gay or if your boss thinks that
you`re gay, in 29 states in this country it is legal for your boss to fire
you for that reason and that reason alone. In three additional states, it
is illegal to fire you just for being gay, but it is still legal to fire
you for being transgender.
We have what`s called a patchwork of civil rights protections on this issue
in this country. It`s illegal everywhere in the country to fire someone or
refuse to hire them on the basis of their race or their religion or a bunch
of other factors. It`s race, religion, gender, age, national origin,
disability, genetic information. But when it comes to gender identity and
sexual orientation, those are not treated the same way.
The Democratic-led U.S. Senate passed legislation in November that would
have changed federal law to include employment protections for LGBT people,
but the Republican-led House of Representatives wouldn`t touch it. They
would not act on the bill. Republican House Speaker John Boehner memorably
explained that he thought it already was illegal to fire someone for being
And as nice as that might sound, he`s wrong about that and he is
technically a lawmaker which is weird. When it became clear that under
John Boehner, Mr. Denial, the House would never vote on the Employment
Nondiscrimination Act, more than 200 Democratic members of Congress wrote
to President Obama to ask him to please do as much as he could on the issue
just as president.
Could he please use the power of an executive order to try to extend these
protections to as many Americans as possible. Well today, the White House
said yes to that. President Obama is reportedly now drawing up an
executive order that will make it illegal for federal contractors to
discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Congress would have to pass a law to make this kind of thing apply to the
whole country but enough companies and particularly enough big companies
have federal contracts at some level that this executive order when it`s
signed it will extend these anti-discrimination protections to about 20
percent of the whole U.S. workforce.
One interesting detail here, and something to watch on this, the White
House is saying that President Obama is willing to sign this executive
order and that he wants one drawn up. But they are not saying when he is
planning on signing this executive order. So that means that if the House
wants to get out ahead on this issue and pass the Senate bill themselves so
Congress can be the ones to make law on this subject instead of the
president doing it unilaterally, well then they`ve still got time before he
signs it because he`s not signing it just yet.
So there`s one last chance for House Republicans to get on the
nondiscrimination side of this issue. Don`t hold your breath.
MADDOW: Over the weekend the Arlington County Board in Virginia voted to
demolish a parking garage in Roslin, Virginia. In the early 1970s that
particular parking garage was the meeting point for a young "Washington
Post" reporter named Bob Woodward and an FBI official who he had nicknamed
Deep Throat. And it was through those clandestine meetings in parking spot
32D that Bob Woodward and his reporting partner Carl Bernstein, they
ultimately cracked the Watergate case that led to President Richard Nixon`s
And while that now doomed parking garage became a symbol if not a monument
for one of the most celebrated accomplishments of the fourth estate,
Watergate was not our only modern experience of totally fearless, totally
dangerous groundbreaking American journalism and that story is the
interview tonight and that story is next.
MADDOW: Journalist Michael Hastings was killed in car accident in Los
Angeles a year ago this week. He was 33 years old. He was alone in the
vehicle when it crashed at high speed. And almost immediately after the
news broke that he had died, conspiracy theories started to circulate
online and elsewhere that his death could not have been an accident. He
must have been murdered. He must have been killed because of his work.
And in the year since he died, those conspiracy theories have largely faded
away except in the wilder corners of the Internet which never give up on a
conspiracy theory. But you don`t have to believe in those crazy theories
and I don`t to understand why people leapt to that kind of conclusion about
Michael Hastings was a young man who was still very much on the upward
trajectory of his career but in the time that we had with him here on
earth, he had a knack in his work for upsetting powerful people. His
reporting for "Rolling Stone" magazine piece called "the Runaway General"
won a George Polk Award and resulted in the resignation of the commander of
U.S. and NATO Forces in Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal.
Michael`s book "Panic 2012" took a scythe not just to the re-election
campaign of the sitting president, but also to the press corps that tries
to make its own bones every four years by covering campaigns like that
according to the campaign`s own rules.
In "Panic 2012" Michael Hastings turned to the phrase "off the record" into
an epithet that damned both the newsmakers setting that as a condition for
talking but also the journalists who accepted those terms. His book about
the Iraq war and the death of his American fiancee, my friend, Andi
Parhamovich. Andi died in a militant attack in Baghdad in 2007. That book
was a heartbreaking and personal story about the war and about that
But even then, Michael`s reporting pulled no punches and spared no feelings
when it came to apportioning blame for why that attack happened. And now,
a year since he`s been gone, and Michael`s work turns out is back at the
center of the news. And it turns out, no surprise, it`s as upsetting and
as relevant as ever and it`s happening on two different stories at the same
First, there`s the release of U.S. prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl after five
years imprisonment at the hands of the Taliban. When President Obama made
the shock announcement two weeks ago that Bowe Bergdahl had been released,
you want to know what happened all over the country? Coast to coast?
Every journalist in the country who was going to be covering that story
started reading Michael Hastings again, because Michael had written for
"Rolling Stone" the definitive profile of Sergeant Bergdahl and his family.
And he`d written it two years before the release happened. All the details
about Bowe Bergdahl`s unit having disciplinary problems and Sergeant
Bergdahl`s interests before he went to war and once he got there, his
detailed e-mails home about his combat experiences and how he felt about
the war. His father e-mailing Bowe Bergdahl that all caps subject line,
"OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE." How Bowe Bergdahl left the base that he left in
Afghanistan. All the U.S. intelligence intercepts of Taliban conversations
after he`d gone missing.
The fact that Sergeant Bergdahl was right at the center of American efforts
to negotiate peace terms with the Taliban. If you heard anyone talk about
those details about Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl when he first got out two weeks
ago is because the person you heard talking about it had just gone back and
read Michael Hastings` definitive profile of Bowe Bergdahl and the family.
To absolutely no acclaim and not much attention, but it was definitive
profile of Bowe Bergdahl and the Bergdahl family which "Rolling Stone" had
published in June 2012.
To absolutely no acclaim and not much attention but it was the definitive
account of what happened. When Bowe Bergdahl got out, the deal that sealed
his release was the exact same deal that was negotiated with the Taliban
fully two years beforehand. And we know that specifically because Michael
Hastings reported it two years ago. A year before he died. And tomorrow,
when this novel is published, Michael Hastings will once again be right
back in the center of the news. Right back in the middle of the most
important story in the country.
Because it turns out that as the media right now is once again turning
credulously to members of the George W. Bush administration to have them
spin a case for yet more war in Iraq, it turns out that while we are doing
that again as a country right now, the novel that Michael Hastings had
lurking on his computer hard drive which is being published tomorrow, turns
out that book is a laugh out loud, totally uncompromising screamer of a
novel about how the media blew it so badly when it came to the war in Iraq.
The magazine in the book is a very, very thinly disguised "Newsweek"
magazine where Michael indeed worked as an intern and later as a reporter.
That`s where he was working when I first met him and made friends with him.
Fareed Zakaria and Jonathan Meacham have again very, very thinly veiled
starring roles as media personalities, media brands, and not in a good way.
There`s a Web site called wretched.com which seems to be 90 percent
gawker.com and maybe 10 percent media matters, although I`m happy to be
stood corrected if need be.
One of the go invade Iraq guys named Daniel Pipes, he makes an appearance
in Michael`s book as Daniel Tubes, tubes instead of pipes. Another go
invade Iraq guy Kenneth Pollack, he makes an appearance in Michael`s book
as just Kenneth Pollack, the go invade Iraq guy. But what is uncanny about
the book coming out right now is that Kenneth Pollack just this week is,
again, getting quoted credulously again by "The New York Times." By a
media that, again, is showing itself to be fully capable of sleepwalking
the country back into another Iraq war on the say-so of the people they
quoted to get us there so disastrously the last time.
And some people come off better than others. There`s what I think is maybe
a Michael Isikoff character doing real reporting. There`s Tom Friedman
from "The New York Times" cheerleading for the war. There`s direct quotes
from the "The New York Times," itself, and from "Newsweek" all written from
perspective of 2002 and 2003 as those outlets were failing and then failing
to even notice that they were failing, while the journalism industry
treated the war as an opportunity for career advancement and not as
something that ought to call up a rather sacred trust with the public to
try to get it right.
And in the middle of it all, in the middle of what turns out to be a gonzo
and very funny and very profane story is a "Newsweek" intern who in the
book is named Michael M. Hastings. Character Mr. Hastings very
transparently named right after himself. And in the book, Michael M.
Hastings is a character that is not particularly sympathetically rendered,
but he is there. Very recognizable in the middle of it all. Writing it
all down with the uncompromising willing to burn every bridge, willing to
upset the powerful courage that we know from Michael Hastings in real life.
The book is called "The Last Magazine." It`s a novel. It`s out tomorrow.
And Michael has been gone for a year now, but he has never been more in the
middle of it all than he is with this trenchant punch in the media`s guts
at a time when we really need one.
Joining us now for the interview is Elise Jordan. She`s a former
speechwriter for the White House and the State Department and she`s the
wife of the late Michael Hastings.
Elise, thank you so much for being here.
ELISE JORDAN, WIFE OF THE LATE MICHAEL HASTINGS: Thanks for having me and
thanks for that beautiful memory of Michael`s reporting.
MADDOW: Well, I mean, I have to ask, if I know you through Michael. We
didn`t know each other except through your relationship. And did you --
did you see his reporting the way that those of us who knew him
professionally saw it? Did he -- did he know that he was poking people in
the eye as much as he was poking people in the eye when he was doing it?
JORDAN: Oh, absolutely. He didn`t care what other people said about him,
but he cared about the people in his stories. He cared about the human
stories. He cared about getting it right, getting it accurate. He knew
that sometimes he had to be confrontational. He definitely, you know, paid
a huge price after he wrote the profile of General McChrystal in terms of
all of the just anger from his colleagues in the press.
JORDAN: And he, you know, dealt with it at a really young age. And that`s
why when, you know, recently when the Bowe Bergdahl story came out, I mean,
it held up so well because he did such amazing reporting back two years
ago, but it, you know, just showed that he thought that he was going to be
hugely attacked for that story then and then it would become politicized
and today, move to today, and it has become horribly politicized.
MADDOW: You wrote about that, it was for "TIME" magazine this weekend?
You wrote about that saying that he thought when he wrote that Bowe
Bergdahl piece that that was going to be the most important story that he
had ever written, anticipating the kind of hatred toward Bergdahl and sort
of -- I guess, sort of internalizing hatred about lots of things being put
on him in a way that did sort of happen on a delayed reaction once the
Is that what you meant?
JORDAN: Well, that`s what`s so sad about it, and just at the time,
JORDAN: You could barely hear anything. There was no response in the
media to that story. And I thought it was his best story that he`d ever
written and he felt it was the most important story because there was --
because a life was at stake. Something that he wrote he was so worried
could anger the Taliban, maybe, you know, this -- he really wanted to see
Bowe Bergdahl free and that was -- you know, that was really emotional for
I just -- you know, I`m so happy for Bowe and for the Bergdahl family that
he, you know, is safe and hopefully getting the medical care he needs.
MADDOW: And tribute to Michael that he saw it coming.
JORDAN: Oh, yes.
MADDOW: Well, on the -- in terms of the novel, obviously I should mention
that the novel is profane in the most literal sense of that. And it`s
funny, it`s very gonzo which was always a very fun and sort of riveting
side of him. Both in his straight-up journalism and also just in his
personality. But I feel like the story is very much anti-journalism.
I mean, he -- the character of Michael Hastings who is clearly him keeps
citing other people`s analysis that`s it`s unconscionable to do in
journalism what we do today and keeps going back to this idea that the
people who are in journalism are in it for themselves and not for the story
and that even when they`re disproven, they slough it off as long as they
can keep moving up.
Was that his real view of it?
JORDAN: No, he had -- I mean, he had huge frustrations with what he felt
the establishment media held up the status quo and he thought that people
became too cozy with their sources. They started to see themselves as part
of the club rather than holding the club to account. And he -- at the same
time, though, he called himself a cynical idealist and it was kind of, you
know, just thinking back on him and how he felt about -- you know, he just
really took so much joy in reporting and joy in disrupting the status quo
and challenging authority and doing the best job for his readers and only
caring and being beholden to his readers.
MADDOW: Is it going -- doing the editing and discovering this in the first
place and doing the editing and putting together the different drafts that
exist, was it hard for you or was it a pleasure for you to have so much of
his real voice here?
JORDAN: It really on some levels just kept me going this year. When I
found it, it just -- his voice pops off of the page and he`s so alive. And
I just -- I didn`t want it to end. The first time I read it just because
it really is -- it`s him at his very best at the height of his powers.
MADDOW: And it`s really him.
JORDAN: It`s definitely him.
JORDAN: And I love that his sense of humor comes out because I think
people missed that a lot about him if you didn`t know him. But he`s just -
- he was so incredibly funny and just kept me laughing every day.
MADDOW: Yes. It`s the extended jokes and the extended riffs and also just
page after page of acute observation that bring him back.
I`m sure this was both hard and wonderful, Elise. Thank you so much. And
Elise Jordan is the wife of late Michael Hastings. The book is called "The
Last Magazine." It is a novel. It comes out tomorrow, but it is
absolutely about this moment right now in American media and politics and
you really ought to read it.
All right. Lots ahead. We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: For some time now, the United States has been in the company of
China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia when it comes to one of the very worst
top five lists in the world. See there we are at number five in the world
just above Somalia when it comes to the number of our nation`s prisoners
which we kill each year. We are number five in the world. We are number
five. We`re number five.
Recently, though, we have not been killing anyone in terms of our
prisoners. We`ve had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in this
country for about six weeks now. There hasn`t been another execution in
our country since the state of Oklahoma horribly botched and then tried to
stop a lethal injection that was already in progress. That was at the end
of April when the state of Oklahoma took 43 minutes to end a prisoner`s
life. A botched IV line apparently rendered the man neither dead nor
unconscious but clearly writhing in pain with the state not really knowing
what to do next.
The state ultimately tried to call off the execution midway through, they
lowered the shades so nobody could see what was happening, but then they
say the man later died of a heart attack. Since then executions have been
scheduled but none have been carried out anywhere in the country. There
hasn`t been one since then. Stays of execution have been handed down one
after the other in Oklahoma, that starting that very night, there was
supposed to be a second execution and they didn`t go ahead with it.
Ohio, Texas, Missouri. Over the past month and a half all of the scheduled
executions have been put off. But tomorrow night the state of Georgia is
poised to break the streak. At 7:00 p.m. local time tomorrow night Georgia
is scheduled to kill a prisoner by lethal injection using a single pose of
Pentobarbital. That`s a drug that the state`s only recently started using
to try to kill people. The execution drug that state previously used
became nearly impossible for them to get after companies around the world
stopped selling it to U.S. prisons.
For a while Georgia was importing that particular execution drug from a
pharmaceutical operation that doled them out from the back of a driving
school in west London in England. That led to the seizing those drugs from
the state or at least what was left after Georgia carried out two
executions using the driving school like this at injection drugs. Since
then Georgia has turned to buying its execution drugs from loosely
regulated domestic compounding pharmacies that can make drugs that are not
easily available for sale elsewhere.
While the state refuses now to disclose information about the specific
compounding pharmacy they`re using to get their drugs now they have had to
disclose some details about their arrangement. So we know that in the last
year, for example, the state of Georgia has paid out -- has paid a doctor,
his identity is secret but we know the state has paid a doctor to write
prescriptions for lethal doses of Pentobarbital to be used in executions.
For this service the state has paid that doctor $5,000 and promised to set
aside $50,000 to defend the doctor if somebody should sue him or her for
participating in state executions.
Lawyers for the man who`s set to die tomorrow in Georgia are challenging
the legality of that prescription arrangement. They`re also challenging
the secrecy of the lethal injection drug`s source. Because tomorrow`s
execution will be the first time Georgia has used a compounded lethal
injection drug. When other states have used compounded drugs for their
executions it has often ended with some horrific complications. And
tomorrow night Georgia says they`re going to go ahead and try it anyway.
Given all the heightened scrutiny on the death penalty right now,
specifically on the effectiveness and origin of the drugs to try to kill
them, it`s been unclear when there would be another execution in this
country after what happened in Oklahoma. But we now know at least for now
it is due to be Georgia tomorrow night. Watch this space.
MADDOW: Looking back, maybe this was the first big clue that Idaho
Republicans were going sideways.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HURLEY BROWN (R), CANDIDATE FOR IDAHO GOVERNOR: I don`t like political
correctness. Can I say this? It sucks. It`s bondage. And I`m not -- I`m
about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punch bowl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Harley Brown, one of several Republican contenders for
Idaho governor this year. Last month Mr. Brown found himself in the
Republican Party`s actual televised debate at the insistence of incumbent
Republican Governor Butch Auder who thought it would be a great way to show
For state Republicans, it was kind of a hot mess, that debate. But it was
also a clue that the Republican Party in Idaho is maybe coming apart a
In Idaho, the Republican Party is really the only party. I don`t mean to
offend Democrats. But Republicans hold every statewide office, they hold
commanding majorities in the statehouse and in the state Senate. Mitt
Romney won Idaho by 32 points. Yes, you can find the blue dots in Idaho,
but that`s really what they are, blue dots. Idaho is Republican-land. And
so after the sometimes embarrassing and contentious primary that they had
last month, the Idaho Republican Party looked around, realized they ran the
place, decided they better issue a call for unity.
They issued a call for unity at the state convention. They said, now is
the time for freedom and unity. Did not work. On Saturday, Idaho
Republicans attempted to gavel in the convention with an opening roll call.
That alone took an hour and a half. Just trying to call the roll for all
the objections and requests for points of order. By lunchtime, Idaho
Republicans had accomplished nothing at the state convention.
By 3:00 Idaho Republicans were deadlocked over whether to kick out three
counties` entire slates of delegates to the convention. Elected officials
were openly calling the convention a fiasco. By 3:30 on Saturday Idaho
Republicans had given up, they adjourned their convention, they gaveled it
closed without electing a new party chairman, without approving a new party
platform, they did nothing, they gave and up sent everybody home without
doing anything except having a big fight with each other.
One state senator said it was just an epic failure telling the local
press, quote. "people who have been around a long time don`t remember
anything like this."
Idaho Republicans called for freedom and unity. They ended up with fiasco
and disaster. The convention it turns out was chaired by Idaho Republican
congressman. Raul Labrador says he is running for the House majority
leader job that Eric Cantor has to give up now that Eric Cantor just lost
a seat in Congress.
Well, Raul Labrador announced that he wanted to be elevated to the top
Republican job in the country that`s not Speaker John Boehner, and them he
flew in with Rand Paul to call for unity in his state party and -- Raul
Labrador had worked for three accounts by his own accounting. They broke
or some kind of deal for piece at the Idaho Republican Party convention
this week,. He says he worked day and night for it. But then fiasco.
Disaster one local professor told "Spokesman Review," it is hard to blame
all this on Raul Labrador but on the other hand this is has not strengthen
his credentials for a national leadership position either.
Congressman Labrador has been pitching himself as the one who can bridge
the gap between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party wing. That`s
been his pitch in Washington. And incredibly With the dust still falling
around his chairing of that convention back home, in Washington today
Congressman Labrador sent his Republican colleagues a letter making that
pitch yet again.
He writes, "The simple fact is, Republicans will never again unite the
country until we first unite our party."
Yes, the way he united those nice folks back home this after working three
weeks on a deal, flying in rand Paul, pleading and wheedling and charming
and pushing and then just finally giving up after you he accomplished
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