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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Thursday, April 17, 2009

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guest: Jonathan Turley, Thomas Frank, Ahmed Rashid, Ben Affleck, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

The Obama administration released four Bush-era memos today.  Each of which lays out in mind-bending, gross (ph) detail the Bush administration‘s legal justifications for torturing people in CIA custody.  One of the memos released today, written by a man named Jay Bybee, who was then an assistant attorney general into now - remarkably—is a federal judge.

His memo authorized these 10 specific techniques to be used against one prisoner.  Quote, “Attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, inspects placed in confinement box, and the waterboard.”  Then Judge Bybee explains in his memo how it is that things like sleep deprivation or insects placed in a confinement box, let alone walling, to his brilliant legal mind, do not constitute torture.

On waterboarding, specifically, he says, quote, “We find that the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death”—which would seem to constitute torture.  Except that, quote, “Although the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death, prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the anti-torture statute.  In the absence of prolonged mental harm, no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted and the use of these procedures would not constitute torture.”

You got that?  Since who is to say if being tied down and forcibly drowned actually causes you any trouble in the long run—go for it.

Mr. Bybee goes on to say, quote, “The waterboard could not be said to inflict severe suffering.”  Really?  By which species‘ standards?

Not only did they say that waterboarding someone was not inflicting severe suffering on them, they also said, even if pain and suffering did result from, say, slamming a person into a wall or locking them inside a dark confined box stuffed with insects, that resulting pain and suffering would be unintentional pain and suffering.  And you know how you can tell it‘s unintentional?  Quote, “The constant presence of personnel with medical training indicates that it is not your intent to cause severe physical pain.”

So as long as the doctor‘s in the room, carry on.  Wow.

Civil libertarians today cheered the Obama administration‘s decision to make these memos public—particularly in light of the CIA‘s well-broadcast efforts to keep them secret.  In keeping with past statements, the president also said that CIA officers who carried out officially-authorized torture will not be prosecuted.  He said, quote, “In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carrying out—who carried their duties”—excuse me—“who in carrying out their duties relying on good faith upon the legal advice of the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”

Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated, telling the CIA, quote, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.”  Well, how about prosecuting the people who did the sanctioning, then?

Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School.

Professor Turley, thank you so much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW:  So, in this White House statement today, President Obama said, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution; nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”  I have to ask you if you think he‘s promising to not prosecute official who sanctioned torture or is he just saying that he won‘t prosecute CIA officers who carried out the orders?

TURLEY:  It‘s very hard to say because the officials, of course, wrote these memos and approved them, and the memos went to the people who conducted torture.  But what is really disturbing is that President Obama‘s obviously referring to criminal investigation and prosecution, that somehow he‘s equating the enforcement of federal laws that he took an oath to enforce, to uphold the Constitution and our laws—and he‘s equating that with an act of retribution, and some sort of hissy fit or blame game.

You know, it‘s not retribution to enforce criminal laws.  But it is obstruction to prevent that enforcement and that is exactly what he has done thus far.  He is trying to lay the groundwork, to look principled when he‘s doing an utterly unprincipled thing.

There‘s very few things worse for a president to do than to protect accused war criminals, and that‘s what we‘re talking about here.  President Obama himself has said that waterboarding is torture.  And torture violates at least four treaties and is considered a war crime.

So, the refusal to let it be investigated is to try to obstruct a war crime investigation that put it‘s in the same category as Serbia and other countries that have refused to allow investigations to occur.

MADDOW:  Can a president actually decide who gets prosecuted for breaking a law and who doesn‘t?

TURLEY:  Well, he‘s not supposed to.  You know, what‘s amazing is that we‘ve gotten used to senators and our president and the attorney general talking about whether it‘s a convenient time, whether this is a good time for us to investigate, whether we‘ve got other things to do.

There aren‘t any convenient or inconvenient times to investigate war crimes.  You don‘t have a choice.  You don‘t wait for the perfect moment.  You have an obligation to do it.

And what I think the president is desperately trying to do is to sell this idea that somehow it‘s a principled thing not to investigate war crimes because it‘s going to really be painful.  And, quite frankly, I think the motive is obvious.  He knows that it will be politically unpopular, because an investigation will go directly to the doorstep of President Bush and he knows it.  And there‘s not going to be a lot of defenses that could be raised for ordering a torture program.

MADDOW:  The ACLU today, in response to these memos—and the reason, it should be noted the reason that we got them is because of their dogged legal work.  They‘re afraid of an information act request to get these—to get these memos out there.  And today, in response to their release, they‘re calling for a special prosecutor to move forward on enforcing the law here.

I get confused about special prosecutor versus the other types of things that aren‘t just regular prosecutors.


MADDOW:  Is a special prosecutor the right way forward?  The special investigator, special counsel, special prosecutor—it gets a little wooly?

TURLEY:  Well, it is the right way to go, that if the president needs to appoint someone outside the Justice Department.  But the important thing is, if he wants to guarantee that it‘s not retribution and not the blame game, all he has to do is pick an independent person, someone who is manifestly not partisan—and have them make a decision based on the law.

Isn‘t that the easiest thing to do?  Not have a politician decide whether this is a convenient time to enforce the law, but to give it to a career prosecutor and ask him to take the investigation wherever illegality may be found.  That‘s the easiest way to guarantee there‘s no retribution, there‘s just simply the enforcement of our laws.

MADDOW:  Jonathan, one last quick question for you.  In reading the Bybee memo today, I have to say that I am troubled by the fact that the guy who reasoned out that waterboarding doesn‘t inflict suffering is now a sitting federal judge.  Is that forever?  Is there any way that that gets undone?

TURLEY:  Only if he resigns or he‘s impeached.  It is a very obnoxious thought to think that the author of this memo is rendering judgments on American citizens and has a lifetime tenure.  It is even more disturbing that the Democrats did comparatively little to block the nomination, even though they knew he was involved in this controversy.  They refused to take steps they could stepped—they could have taken that would have prevented him from going on the bench.  And so, we have this now incredible image of the author of these unbelievable memos, is sitting in judgment and enforcing the law against hundreds of citizens during his lifetime tenure as a judge.

MADDOW:  There is that impeachment idea, I suppose.

Jonathan Turley, constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School—Jonathan, thank you so much for your time tonight.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, appears to have his sights set on higher office.  What is higher office if you‘re already governor in Texas?  Of course, that would be president of Texas.

The return of confederacy in American politics as seceding from the union comes back into Republican fashion.  That‘s coming up next.


MADDOW:  George W. Bush said the U.S. did not torture.  Dick Cheney said he didn‘t think enhanced interrogation techniques torture—were torture.  Colin Powell told us that he did not know that torture had been authorized.  But now, Colin Powell‘s second in command, Richard Armitage, says maybe he should have resigned over the issue.  He said so to the TV network Al Jazeera.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So when you knew that the administration of which you were apart was departing from the Geneva Conventions and sidelining them, why didn‘t you quit?

RICHARD ARMITAGE, FMR. U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE:  In hindsight, maybe I should have.


MADDOW:  Mr. Armitage added that he believes waterboarding is torture.  He should know.  He himself underwent waterboarding as part of his military training.

Al Jazeera‘s full interview with Mr. Armitage is actually a remarkable piece of journalism.  But trust me, you will not be able to see it on your cable system, as Al Jazeera English is all but banned in the United States.  We thank the network for making that short clip available to us.



GOV. RICK PERRY, ® TEXAS:  Texas is a unique place.  When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.  If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.


MADDOW:  Who knows what might come of it.  That was the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, flirting to the point of adultery with the idea of his state seceding from the union.

What the governor‘s argument has in political potency is perhaps making up for its lack of historical accuracy.  The Texas Constitution does not actually grant the state the right to secede from the country.  A fact that even the Texas secede organization acknowledges.  But even though he‘s talking about secession generally, Governor Perry isn‘t actually pursuing it right now.  Instead, he has endorsed legislation that just asserts Texas‘ sovereignty.

And Texas is, by no stretch of the imagination, a lone state on this issue.  Oklahoma passed its own sovereignty resolution yesterday.  Other states, including Arizona, Montana, Michigan, Missouri and Washington have all had similar resolutions introduced this year.  There are also known sovereignty movements reported under way in at least 20 other states, including Pennsylvania, California, and Alaska—the very state whose governor, Sarah Palin, is married to a man who is twice a registered member of the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party.

It‘s beginning to feel a little like 1860, isn‘t it?  Except the states aren‘t clinging to a slave-based economy despite its immorality.  This time they‘re mad about—the economic stimulus package, maybe?  I don‘t know exactly.

Here now is “Wall Street Journal” columnist, Thomas Frank, author of the book, “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.”

Mr. Frank, thank you so much for joining us.

THOMAS FRANK, WALL STREET JOURNAL COLUMNIST:  How are you doing today, Rachel?

MADDOW:  Great.  A little weirded out by the Civil War theme in politics.  This is not a new idea.

FRANK:  Yes, it‘s taken a sharp turn, hasn‘t it?


FRANK:  Now, it‘s .

MADDOW:  I mean, these folks have been around for a long time, but now, it seems like really mainstream folks are jumping on this very strange bus.

FRANK:  You know, that‘s exactly the point I was going to make that this is—what you‘re seeing and what‘s one of the sort of surprising things about these tea parties, or surprising to, you know, to people like you and me, is how mainstream extremism is in the Republican Party and the conservative movement.  You know, and this is—this goes back quite a ways, you know, back to—well, when the conservative movement discovered populism and discovered how to start marketing itself to a mass audience.  It sort of took this extremist bent and it‘s never looked back.

MADDOW:  Why are we seeing people like Sarah Palin, people like Rick Perry and these other sort of very ambitious mainstream Republican politicians flirt with this stuff now?  Why do you think it‘s happening now?

FRANK:  Well, I—for one thing—look, the—you know, obviously, the Obama and the stimulus package and the deficit stretching, you know, from here to eternity, you know, the Republican rank and file is not happy about this.  And they‘re, of course, pandering to the base; they‘re pandering to the kind of people who turn out for primary elections.

Look, they‘re trying to speak to the movement and there‘s also—I don‘t know if you know about this, Rachel, there‘s this competitor of yours that has come out.  There‘s this other network that‘s, you know, really, really, strongly embracing the tea parties and this kind of, you know, lunatic fringe.  And they want that network really, really badly.  They want that network to like them.

MADDOW:  Oh, well, I mean, I try not to—because I understand the waters in which I swim.  I try not to get .

FRANK:  Right.

MADDOW:  . too ostentatiously hyperbolic about things like patriotism.

FRANK:  Yes.

MADDOW:  But—and, you know, I try not to get too jingo-ey, but I wonder if there is not a risk of being called un-American here.  I mean, they do literally want to break up the country, right?

FRANK:  Right.  But you got to remember—un-American is what they have been calling people like you and me for a really long time.  That‘s what underlies this whole thing, is that conservatism—or I should say the conservative movement, the sort of, you know, the hardcore of the movement, not all conservatives and not all Republicans, I‘m talking about here, but the hardcore of the movement understand themselves as being more American than people like you and me.

I have a bumper sticker in my office that I always keep to remind me of this.  It says, “There are Americans and there are liberals,” right?

And you remember—you remember all the red state/blue state stuff from just a few years ago, where they were the heartland, they were authentic, they were purer, they were, you know, real hardworking Americans.  Whereas liberals were supposed to, you know, drink lattes, drive Volvos, do all these effective (ph) things.  Liberals are supposed to be part of an elite.  There‘s something kind of other-worldly about them.

And so, liberals are not really worthy of the respect of real conservatives.  And so, it‘s very easy for them to understand that they are the majority, that they are the rightful, you know, rulers of this country, even when they aren‘t.

MADDOW:  Thomas Frank .

FRANK:  There‘s—I mean, case after case, you know?

MADDOW:  Well, it is this idea that if also, that we‘d be sad to see them go.  It is a complicated thing here.


FRANK:  Check it out, they‘ve been gone for what—how long have they been gone, three months?


MADDOW:  Three months out of power.  Yes.  Now, it‘s time to break up the country.

FRANK:  Yes.


MADDOW:  Thomas Frank, author of the book, “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule”—thanks for joining us tonight, Thomas.  It‘s nice to see you.

FRANK:  Sure thing.  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  All right.  Coming up: Ben Affleck, his new movie, “State of Play,” is all about something that really, really matters: Newspaper reporting.  Mr. Affleck and I will get into about a ton of stuff, including almost no pop culture, because I am not qualified or licensed to do that sort of thing.

Stick around.


MADDOW:  How many lies can a person tell in 30 seconds?  Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann goes for the record.  Plus, Ben Affleck will be here in a moment to talk about his new movie, “State of Play.”

But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

In the National Statuary Hall Collection in the capitol complex in Washington, D.C., there‘s representation from every state.  The state of Virginia, for example, is represented by the commander of Virginia‘s Confederate forces, Robert E. Lee.  The state of Utah sent the statue of the Mormon leader, Brigham Young.  Representing the state of California, our Father Junipero Serra and Thomas Starr King.

Now, Thomas Starr King, once called “the orator who saved the nation,” is getting replaced by the gipper.  In June, a 500-pound bronze statue of Ronald Reagan in a business suit will replace the once famous Unitarian minister.

Abraham Lincoln credited Thomas Starr King with his impassioned pro-union, patriotic fiery speeches as the man who brought in and kept California in the union during the Civil War.  Despite its liberal reputation today, California had a strong pro-Confederate contingent at the start of the Civil War.  Thomas Starr King traveled all around the state, drawing huge crowds to his speeches and thereby sort of maybe saving the country in the process?

You know, if they‘re going to swap out the Thomas Starr King statue for Reagan, does that mean that the Thomas Starr King statue is up for grabs?  If so, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW would like dibs.  He would look great in our office.  We would take great care of him.

Finally, a follow-up on our discussion last night about North Carolina senator, Richard Burr.  Now, as we reported, Senator Burr told a home state audience on Monday that when the credit crisis started last fall, he called home and told his wife to get as much cash as she could from the ATM, over a three-day period.  In other words, he suggested that his family respond to the crisis he was learning about in Washington by making a very small run on their bank.

Mr. Burr made the comments to a Henderson County Chamber of Commerce meeting on Monday.  They were reported in “The Hendersonville Times News” - - which is how we learned about them.

Now, Senator Burr‘s office is upset because of the way that we covered the story, sending us this statement, quote, “Last night, Rachel claimed that Senator Burr was operating on ‘insider information.‘  Unless newspapers, radio, the Internet and TV are considered insider information, this is factually inaccurate.  Not only is it inaccurate, it‘s defamation.”

What I actually said was that Senator Burr took action on the basis of what he learned in Washington about the financial crisis to protect his own family‘s resources.  That‘s self-evident from the anecdote that Senator Burr himself told, it therefore is not defamatory.

Senator Burr‘s office also told us today, quote, “You still haven‘t gotten the Duckworth issue right.  Senator Burr never blocked her nomination, as Rachel claimed last night.  Blocking refers to specific legislative action.”

Actually, it‘s a hold that is a specific legislative action, not a block, and Senator Burr did block the nomination of the Iraq veteran, double amputee helicopter pilot, renowned veterans advocate, Tammy Duckworth.  He blocked it by personally delaying consideration of her nomination over his “as yet” unspecified concerns about her.  So, I don‘t think I got anything wrong there, either.

But wait, there‘s more to the complaint.  Senator Burr‘s office also told us, quote, “Rachel said he was unqualified to serve as a senator because his job prior to running for politics office was a ‘lawnmower salesman,” as she so eloquently put it.  Does Rachel Maddow believe that average Americans aren‘t qualified to serve in public office?  If so, that is very interesting.”  Dot, dot, dot.  That was the end of the note—dot, dot, dot.

OK.  Senator Burr, I am more than happy to make corrections when I get something wrong.  Honestly.  But if you are going to tell me I got something wrong, I‘m going to check to see if I did, in fact, get something wrong.  And in your case, I really didn‘t.  What I said about your pre-public office life was that you worked for a lawnmower company as a salesman for a long time before getting into politics.  I asked the head of the Democratic Party of North Carolina how you ended up ascending so quickly to the ranks of U.S. senator.

In fact, Senator Burr‘s own campaign Web site notes that he was the national sales manager for the Carswell Distributing Company for 17 years.  Here is the Web site of the Carswell Distributing Company featuring the Yazoo-Kees Kutter hydro walk-behind commercial mower.

Senator Burr, as a former lawn care professional myself, a bad one, rest assured that I did not and would not cast aspersions on lawnmowers, on sales managers, or even, as you accuse me, on average Americans.  What I was actually casting aspersions, Senator, was the idea that a person could rise to the rank of U.S. senator while believing that personally taking $300 a day out of the ATM for three days would be the smart response to the nation‘s financial crisis.

I will correct the record when it needs correcting.  But I will not be bullied by the offices of United States senators into not covering legitimate news stories about how badly they do their jobs.


MADDOW:  There‘s word today from the Pentagon that four American troops have been killed in northeastern Afghanistan, near a place called Jalalabad.  That‘s about halfway between the city of Kabul in Afghanistan and the city of Peshawar in Pakistan. 

So these four troops were killed in the part of the world in which Americans have become very, very focused recently.  With more troops heading there, more drone-fired missile attacks there, more presidential attention, more diplomatic attention, more American resources of all kinds. 

Those troops were killed today, as I said, between Kabul and Peshawar by a roadside bomb.  Just north of Peshawar, there was another suicide bombing today, a suicide bombing that killed nine police officers and 10 civilians. 

Pakistan is not a country that we think of as being at war right now.  But you know, more people were killed in suicide bombings in Pakistan last year than were in Iraq.  Even as we think of suicide bombings as the hallmark of al-Qaeda and we think of Pakistan and Afghanistan as the home base for al-Qaeda, three years ago, there were a grand total of six suicide bombings in all of Pakistan for the entire year. 

Now, they‘re happening on average every few days.  Pakistan has 170 million people.  It‘s the world‘s second largest Muslim nation.  It is where the Taliban movement is essentially headquartered now.  It is suffering from a massive economic crisis that started even before the global downturn and of course has nuclear weapons.  And it‘s where the most - where most armchair extreme mythologists think that Osama Bin Laden lives. 

When the 9/11 attacks happened, there was precisely one major internationally available work of reporting and scholarship about the Taliban.  It was a book conveniently enough called “Taliban.”  It became a number one “New York Times” bestseller.  It was written by the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid who lives in Lahore.  He has since been sentenced to death in absentia by the Taliban in Pakistan.  His next book is called “Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.”  It‘s now out in paperback. 

Mr. Rashid, I am a great admirer of your work.  Thank you so much for coming in.  

AHMED RASHID, AUTHOR, “DESCENT INTO CHAOS”:  It‘s a great pleasure. 

Thank you. 

MADDOW:  You have described Pakistan as being on a steep, steady slide into chaos.  How does that mean things have changed, specifically in a city like Lahore, where you live, or in a city like Peshawar? 

RASHID:  Well, Lahore is very far away from the tribal areas where the Taliban live.  We‘ve had three major suicide attacks in the last one month.  People are very, very scared.  In our towns around Lahore, you‘ve got people coming up to women and telling them to cover up.  You‘ve got demands that co-education should end. 

So that kind of Taliban movement is now reaching Punjab that is the heartland of Pakistan where 60 percent of the population live.  So it‘s moving out of the mountains, out of the tribal areas, out of northern Pakistan, now into central Pakistan. 

MADDOW:  Does it mean, when you describe changes like that, does it mean that extremists, people who I consider to be extremists, have a wider reach than they otherwise had but there‘s the same number of them?  Or does that mean that there are a lot more people ascribing to extremist ideology and beliefs? 

RASHID:  Well, you know, there was a very large extremist movement that is sponsored by the army in the ‘80s and ‘90s, first to support a Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and then to fight the wars in Kashmir against India. 

And these extremists have really all united with the Taliban.  They‘re now a common alliance between them.  So what you have is - you have the Pakistani Taliban, who initially befriended al-Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban linking up now to these groups who either have been fighting in Kashmir or were local extremists isolated from one another.  Now they will come together in an alliance, working together basically to topple the government.  

MADDOW:  They want to topple the government of Pakistan which is remarkable when you consider the origins in terms of the support from the army for extremist groups.  It‘s almost like the groups that they created are now turning back on their benefactors.  

RASHID:  Exactly.  Exactly.  This is what is the most worrying thing.  And even today, the army is still in denial about this.  The army still says that the main enemy they face is India.  Eighty percent of the Pakistan army is deployed against India.  They‘re not really accepting publicly the fact that the real threat is now internal.  That‘s what, you know, most Pakistanis are feeling.  

MADDOW:  Is it common wisdom in Pakistan that the idea of war on terror, that the United States having a presence in that part of the world to combat extremist and terrorist groups is an American problem and not a Pakistani problem? 

RASHID:  It is a very widespread belief along those lines exactly, and that even the belief that, you know, if Americans were to leave Afghanistan, all these Taliban will go home and sit quietly, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I don‘t believe that to be true simply because the Taliban now have a very concrete political and social agenda as they‘ve demonstrated in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, which they took over after defeating the army.  And now, the government has conceded Islamic law there, which is in complete contradiction to the constitution.  

MADDOW:  Do you think that the Taliban is going to win?  Do you think that they‘re going to be able to topple the government? 

RASHID:  Well, I mean, they can‘t win.  Pakistan is a big country.  And you know, they can‘t win in the near future.  I hope that the army, the government, civil society, plus all the international allies of Pakistan come together and help Pakistan defeat this problem. 

But, you know, it‘s going to be more and more difficult, because we have, as you said, an economic crisis.  We have a political crisis because the politicians are not working together.  And plus, you have to convince the army to take on these militants. 

MADDOW:  When Pakistan is discussed now in U.S. politics, it means a lot more than it used to be.  It‘s in the context of the Afghanistan war.  We have so many troops in Afghanistan.  They said there will not be troops in Pakistan.  But can the U.S. do things in Pakistan that would shore up the government, that would help and not hurt, that could help defeat the Taliban? 

RASHID:  Well, certainly.  I mean, what is happening right now, the U.S. is trying to put together a package of $1.5 billion a year for the next five years.  The big issue in Pakistan has been the lack of U.S.  commitment over long periods of time. 

And I think this administration is really trying to show that they‘re going to be committed to Pakistan.  So there‘s an aid package coming.  There are attempts by Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to try and patch up the political differences in the country. 

There are attempts by the U.S. Military, the chairman of the joint chiefs, Admiral Mullen who was just over there just now trying to convince the Pakistan military to take on the extremists and to accept a training, possibly, in counterinsurgency. 

So there are a lot of efforts.  And the point is that this administration has just come in.  We‘re just seeing these efforts over the last two months since they‘ve been around.  The problem with the previous administration was is that they had literally ignored Pakistan.  They have ignored the problems that were just being swept under the carpet both by the administration and by the Pakistan army. 

MADDOW:  Ahmed Rashid is the author of “Decent into Chaos: The U.S.  and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.”  It is out in paper back.  It has a new final chapter.  It‘s sort of mandatory reading for anybody who needs to understand Pakistan and that‘s sort of all of us.  So it‘s such an honor to meet you. 

RASHID:  Thank you very much. 

MADDOW:  I‘m such an admirer of your work.  Thank you for coming in. 

Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith gets to the bottom of teabagging with Janeane Garofalo.  Next on this show, Ben Affleck joins us to talk about movies and politics and journalism and collateralized debt obligations.  Yay!


MADDOW:  Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann appears to be building a permanent home in the political wilderness.  Here‘s what the good congresswoman said in a recent radio interview about the so-called flying imams, the six Muslim clerics who were taken off a flight and detained in the Minneapolis airport in 2006 after other passengers expressed concern about them.  See if you can identify the slur here amid the torrent of lies. 


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA CONGRESSWOMAN:  The imams were actually attending Congressman Keith Ellison‘s victory celebration when he won as a member of congress.  And the imams went to the Minneapolis Airport to leave and go home.  While they were there, they were shouting phrases, anti-bush, anti-America. 


MADDOW:  Wow.  Get it here?  Because Congressman Keith Ellison is a Muslim and all Muslims are, you know, in cahoots for evil, of course, the Muslim clerics must have been going to his party.  They were actually in Minnesota for a conference of the North American Imams Federation.  And there‘s no record of them shouting anti-Bush, anti-American phrases anywhere.  But why let the facts get in the way of a good, totally fact-free rant? 


MADDOW:  Buyer‘s remorse is not exactly an uncommon condition in the American economy right now.  And this week, Sam Zell, chairman and CEO of the Tribune Company, admitted to an $8.2 billion case of buyer‘s remorse.  He told “Bloomberg News” that his decision to buy the Tribune Company, a bundle of newspapers that includes “The Chicago Tribune” and “The L.A.  Times” - he said that was a mistake.  He said the newspaper model in its current form does not work. 

In just the last couple of months, of course, we‘ve seen the demise of “The Rocky Mountain News,” “The Ann Arbor News,” as well as the death of the print versions of “The Christian Science Monitor” and the “Seattle Post Intelligencer.”

Newspapers are literally disappearing.  Thinking of newspapers as physical objects that are sort of a nice, romanticize-able old-world thing to have around makes us realize that we‘ll be sad to see them go. 

But thinking of newspapers instead as the institution that employs almost all of the people who work as reporters in America make it almost a hair on fire emergency that newspapers are shutting down. 

Whatever shakes out of the great business media - great media business plan collapse of the early 21st century, as a country, as a democracy, we can‘t really survive without a lot of people having it as their full-time job to report and edit and print and publish somehow the news. 

Everyone talks so much smack about the media, I know.  But with newspapers going away, and with newspapers being the institution that employs the vast majority of the nation‘s reporters, we are approaching the time where we may need to get patriotic, a little passionate at least, about reporting. 

I‘m starting to feel like we need a ballad of the investigative reporter.  Oh, hey, here‘s one now.  The new film adapted from a BBC miniseries that was - they‘re really awesome - called “State of Play.”  The film is just out, opens this week, stars Russell Crowe, Rachael McAdams, Helen Mirren and our next guest, Ben Affleck.  Here‘s a clip.


RUSSELL CROWE, ACTOR:  One way or another, they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a billion good reasons want you out of the way.  You‘ve got to go on the record, swing the spotlight back on them.  You‘ve got to protect yourself, man.  

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR:  You go out there and find the evidence linking Sonia‘s death to Point Corp(ph).  I will go on the record.  I will shout this thing from the rooftops. 

CROWE:  I can do that. 

AFFLECK:  All right.  I‘ve got to get back.  I‘ll be in touch. 

CROWE:  Stephen? 


CROWE:  Just watch your back. 

AFFLECK:  You, too. 


MADDOW:  Hi.  

AFFLECK:  Hi, how are you? 

MADDOW:  I‘m good.  Ben Affleck, nice to see you.  Thank you for coming in.

AFFLECK:  Thank you for having me.  I‘m such a big fan.  I‘m in the actual place that I watch on television.  It‘s a little bit surreal.  

MADDOW:  Is it bigger or smaller than it looks? 

AFFLECK:  It‘s like being on the real Gilligan‘s Island.  I can‘t believe - with the actual skippers, boat - you know.  This is great.  Thank you.  

MADDOW:  Well, thank you.  I‘ve got to - I gave you sort of a weird introduction here.  

AFFLECK:  That was the longest introduction I‘ve ever had.  It‘s amazing.

MADDOW:  Sorry.  

AFFLECK:  Next time - if ever I go back on “The Tonight Show,” I‘m going to say, “Listen, I brought my intro with me from the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  

MADDOW:  And I do run on a bit.  I‘m known for that, but I‘ve got to ask if you buy “the ballad of the investigative reporter” idea?  This is about the glory of journalism.

AFFLECK:  Yes.  I think the movie definitely, I guess, glorifies or lionizes journalism to a certain extent.  I definitely think it‘s the last movie that‘s not a period movie that will be set in a newsroom. 

I think it‘s pretty sure that, you know, we‘re seeing the end of newspapers.  For better or for worse, they‘re going away.  “The Boston Globe” in my hometown was, you know, faced with an ultimatum to, like, cut - I don‘t know - $30 million or something.  You have to cut $30 million or that‘s going away as well. 

And it is a scary state of affairs, and I don‘t think anyone knows exactly how it‘s going to shake out in terms of what happens to new media and how they will sort of absorb the old media.  

MADDOW:  I felt like it was this great character allegory in “State of Play” when the newspaper reporter, just like the hard-bitten, old school, print-only newspaper reporter totally dismisses the blogger who turns out herself to be a good reporter.  He dismisses her and he‘s mean to her and he ostentatiously falls in love with her and everything works out great.  That was like, “Oh, it‘s a character allegory for how “Huffington Post” is going to be fine.”  Right? 

AFFLECK:  Yes, but I do think it may be symbolic for how, you know - it‘s true.  On the one hand, new media is just technologically-speaking probably pushing out newspapers.  I‘ll probably have a conversation with my daughters when they‘re much older.  They‘ll go like, “Wait a minute.  You mean they used to printout on paper the news and bring it to every single person‘s house individually?” 

And I‘ll say, like, “Yes, I know.  It was very wasteful.”  But also, you know, newspapers haven‘t helped themselves over the last 10 years.  You know, we historically have looked forward to this day, to be the voice of criticism, to ask the hard questions, to confront institutions about things like weapons of mass destruction, about things like, you know, whether the real estate prices going up to 20 percent every year is sustainable, to look at these financial instruments and whether or not you know, these things were the real deal or whether they posed a danger to us. 

And when these, you know, media institutions didn‘t do that job and people turned to new media, that was the place where people were really asking the tough questions.  So to go back to your metaphor, you know, the blogger, that young girl played by Rachael McAdams in this movie - those were the people out there asking those questions. 

And so naturally, I think, you know, the consumer migrated to those folks, and the newspapers kind of lost a big share of that audience by kind of abdicating that role of the critic asking the tough question.  

MADDOW:  And yet, like, you know, today‘s “New York Times” with the reporting on the NSA doing all these things that we didn‘t know they did.  It‘s one of those reminders. 

You look at somebody like James Risen, who is on “COUNTDOWN” tonight with Keith, I should say.  And you think, wow, I‘m not sure that that kind of reporting could happen if somebody were doing this work as an after-school special, as a hobby, as an extracurricular thing.  People have to be employed to do this full-time.  

AFFLECK:  Absolutely.  There‘s no doubt about this.  There are extraordinary journalists out there.  There‘s incredible editorial work.  There‘s all this vetting and sourcing.  There‘s this stuff had to be taught and handed down ...


AFFLECK:  ... with this incredible institution that we can‘t let go and abandon.  And you know, for all the scandal-mongering and silliness that‘s out there, there are also 10 extraordinary people doing this stuff.  And it is - it‘s important and hopefully the movie, you know, speaks to that to a certain extent.  

MADDOW:  You play a young up-and-coming member of Congress in the film, which is I think kind of the way that I have thought of you for a while anyway.  

AFFLECK:  Well, I don‘t know how to take that. 

MADDOW:  In a good way.  You talked about having an interest in politics years ago.  Obviously, you‘re a full-time actor, full-time director involved in the movie business.  But your political opinions are known and your interest in politics is well known.  Does it scratch your political itch to play a role like this? 

AFFLECK:  You know, it was really interesting.  You know, you can sit at home and watch your television show and think like, “Oh, you know, I‘m learning about politics.  I‘m getting to know this stuff.” 

But it definitely is another layer when you get to go to Washington and get a little bit of exposure and kind of wander around the House and meet congressmen and women and see what it is that they really do and get kind of a deeper understanding for it.  On the one hand, gain a deeper respect for it and on the other hand see the extent to which money really dominates the process and the extent to which there is a lot of compromise. 

And, you know, while I can‘t say I saw corruption, I can say that there is - the influence of money is so pervasive that, you know, it‘s why you see so many incumbents who are just sort there.  So that was a bit disillusioning, you know. 

I would say that doing this movie made me appreciate being where I am and made me appreciate all the fine people in Washington.  

MADDOW:  But in the research, the meeting with members of Congress in order to get ready for this role, did you ever think, “I‘d like that job”? 

AFFLECK:  You know, doing this job, I met with like - you know, I met with some really extraordinary folks.  I met with Patrick Murphy who is a congressman from, you know, in Pennsylvania, who served in Iraq and came back and spoke out about what was going on there, both, you know, the extraordinary service that our troops were giving and also the ways in which he thought we could do better there and some of the mistakes that were being made.  And I saw, you know Anthony Weiner who is a great congressman from New York. 

I mean, there were extraordinary people that I saw there and I

thought, “You know what?  These guys are, you know, not just anybody can do

this.  And I also thought, I really like, you know, kind of being -

MADDOW:  Leaving? 

AFFLECK:  I‘d like to be able to go home at the end of the day and not making a bunch of phone calls and shake hands and ask people for money.  

MADDOW:  I have one question that is actually a sort of a request.  Will you please make a smart cliffhanger about collateralized debt obligations? 

AFFLECK:  Sure.  

MADDOW:  So that we all understand how to get us out of this mess? 

AFFLECK:  Definitely.  Cliffhanger - that doesn‘t tell you how to get

out of this mess.  All right.  Is this the Geithner plan or does it end

with nationalization.  Or does it have like an RTC ending or -

MADDOW:  It depends if it is a comedy or a drama in terms of how - I mean, there is an extent to which mass cultural media can have really strong explanatory power.  And the problems that we‘ve got right now as a country need really good explanations because they‘re hard to understand. 

It‘s hard to understand what to do in Afghanistan.  It‘s hard to understand what to do in the financial crisis.  Do you ever think about cultural production, the kind you do, as a sort of public service? 

AFFLECK:  I think it can be really tricky because I think you have to think of it as a storyteller first.  Because, I think when it becomes didactic, you know, it is off-putting.  And I think you have to tell a good story.  I think at the root of good stories is humanity.  And if you‘re telling stories that have a kind of humanity in it, I think, those naturally play - I think - play to the values inherent to liberal democracy, which value people - which empathizes with the struggles of people who work for a living and cares about the value of human life.

And you know, to me, that kind of dovetails with the kind of values I care about.  I think when you start banging on it too hard and, you know, you want to re-make the jungle, it feels a little bit like - it can feel a little strident. 

I think doing documentaries, for example, is sort of a better way to get at that.  Michael Moore, obviously, has been very effective at doing that.  There are a lot of different ways to, you know, kind of use artistic expression to effect social change. 

I do think that‘s an appropriate way to do it as an artist.  And I think it‘s a way that we can kind of fit in.  I‘ve tried to do that making documentaries and making movies but only in ways where I think it can be effective. 

MADDOW:  Collateralized debt obligations - I‘m telling you, there‘s some drama there.  

AFFLECK:  All right.  You got it.  I‘ll do my best.  

MADDOW:  Ben Affleck, really nice of you to come in.  “State of Play” opens tomorrow everywhere.  Good luck to you.  Thanks a lot.  

AFFLECK:  Thanks.  I really appreciate you having me.  

MADDOW:  Thanks.  It‘s opening day at the brand-new Yankee Stadium.  Coming up, we will have a special report in which I promise to not say the word “Fenway.” 


MADDOW:  I‘ve got a baseball cocktail moment for you.  Today was opening day at the brand-new Yankee stadium.  I was at work.  I didn‘t get to see much of the game.  So for information on it, we will turn to NPR, our national pastime reporter, Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.  What happened today? 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  Oh, plenty, plenty.  Watch this.  


JONES (voice-over):  Big day in the Bronx, sunshine and sold-out crowd.  As a totem to inspire the current Yankees, Babe Ruth‘s bat was laid across home plate - paging Dr. Freud. 

Then, as action got underway, the first single in the new stadium was hit by Johnny Damon or some like to call him Johnny (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Damon.  However, the ghost of the Babe didn‘t help as Cleveland went on to crush the Bombers 10 to 2, powered by Grady Sizemore‘s grand slam in the seventh. 

A fan then threw the first slammy ever hit in the new stadium back on the field, perhaps never having heard of eBay. 


JONES:  10 to 2, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  10 to 2?  Oh, my gosh.  

JONES:  Goner.  Not close.  

MADDOW:  Yankee Stadium looks very official.  

JONES:  Oh, yes.  Definitely.  You know, “The Gothamist” Web site pointed out that the new Yankee Stadium looks an awful lot like the Federal Reserve building in Washington.  

MADDOW:  Oh, my god.  

JONES:  Look at that.  

MADDOW:  I can‘t even tell which one is which.  

JONES:  They‘re both temples of money.  

MADDOW:  Wow.  Assuming that the Fed doesn‘t have a Gate 3. 

JONES:  Yes.  In A-Rod we trust.  

MADDOW:  So they have to empty out the Fed to pay for the new stadiums?

JONES:  Almost.  The new Yankee stadium cost $1.5 billion.  

MADDOW:  My god.  

JONES:  And I read that cost more than the ballparks in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Texas combined.  And the way Cleveland played today - they are very impressed by that fact, very impressed.  

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  I appreciate that.

JONES:  Sure.  

MADDOW:  Thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you here again tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. 



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