April 21, 2004
Bill Press, Progressive Pundit and Author of the Upcoming "Bush Must Go! -- Top Ten Reasons Why George W. Bush Doesnít Deserve A Second Term."
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Bill Press has for many years now, worked to un-spin the right-wing attack machine. Press is one of the few progressive pundits on cable television news who is foremost on the side of the truth, and who believes that being a political pundit should still carry with it the responsibility to be credible, accurate, and honest. In short, Bill Press has an integrity unseen in many of the faces that dot cable news. He has the thankless task of correcting misinformation with facts, balancing shrill rhetoric from the right with thoughtful perspective, and focusing attention on important stories that have been drowned out or ignored by the media. His next book will be published by Dutton in June 2004, Bush Must Go! Ė Top Ten Reasons Why George W. Bush Doesnít Deserve A Second Term. Press is also a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, whose weekly column is distributed by Tribune Media Services to newspapers across the country.
Bill is the former co-host with Pat Buchanan of MSNBCís Buchanan and Press, a lively debate show on current issues. Prior to joining MSNBC, Press was co-host of Crossfire, CNNís dynamic political debate program, for six years. At CNN, he also co-hosted The Spin Room with Tucker Carlson.
Press is the author of "Spin This!" in which he explores the culture of spin. He investigates exactly what spin is, who does it and why, and the impact it has on American society.
In addition, Press is an award-winning radio talk show host and television commentator. He began his career as political commentator on KABC-TV and later on KCOP-TV, both in Los Angeles. He hosted Bill Press: True American on KFI-AM, Southern Californiaís number one AM radio station.
Press has received numerous awards for his work, including four Emmys and a Golden Mike Award. He was named "Best Commentator of the Year" by the Associated Press in 1992.
Bill Press is a native of Delaware, still keeps a home in California and now lives in Washington, D.C. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Niagara University and a Bachelorís in Theology from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Bill and his wife Carol have two sons, Mark and David.
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BuzzFlash: I thought of a possible theme for the Kerry campaign against Bush, echoing the political genius of James Carvilleís strategy to elect Clinton back in í92. "Itís the credibility, stupid."
Youíve written a lot about Bushís lack of credibility, so let me ask you: What do feel are the most glaring instances of Bushís pattern of willful deception to the American people?
Bill Press: I think credibility is the central issue, or should be the central issue in this campaign. I hope Kerry makes it the central issue in this campaign, because I think it is where George Bush is most vulnerable. I compare Bush to Baghdad Bob. If we remember when the bombs were falling on Iraq, Baghdad Bob was out there saying, "We have crushed them! We have destroyed the Americans!" And he said that the missiles were all just Hollywood special effects. You know, I think Baghdad George has as much credibility as Baghdad Bob.
Letís start on Iraq. The list is so long. Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where are the unmanned drones? Where are the mobile weapons labs? Where are the terrorist training camps? Where are the people who were going to run out and greet us as liberators? All of it proved to be just lies. Look at the domestic front. Where are the 5.5 million new jobs that George Bush promised? Where is the balanced budget that he promised? Where is the fiscal responsibility he promised to bring to Washington? And speaking of bringing things to Washington, where is the new tone of civility that he was going to introduce into American politics? I think the biggest evidence of Bushís credibility gap of all may be his failed campaign promise, "Iím a uniter, not a divider." Bush has proven to be the most divisive President in modern history.
If it comes down to credibility, "bring it on" is what I would say. I think George Bush has a credibility gap big enough to drive a Humvee through.
BuzzFlash: You have this new book coming out in June, "Bush Must Go: Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesnít Deserve a Second Term." What do you think are the most important reasons why George W. Bush should be fired?
Bill Press: One of them is certainly the credibility gap. Another is the unwise and unnecessary war in Iraq. But one of the most important ones I think we have to talk about is the war on terror. I really believe that when you look at what George Bush has actually done, as opposed to what heís said, that he has left us more vulnerable to terrorism. He has made us less safe, not more safe.
BuzzFlash: One of the most recent examples of Bushís lack of credibility is the recent Medicare bill scandal. Itís become clear that the Bush administration not only knew the actual cost of the Medicare bill -- that it was going to cost $550 billion over 10 years, not $400 billion -- but incredulously, the Bush administration withheld the truth and intimidated actuaries and policy analysts from telling the truth to the American people. It has become painfully clear that Bushís modus operandi is to deceive the public, the media and the voters.
Bill Press: Exactly. Credibility should be the theme. It should be the theme of this campaign because it is the theme of the Bush administration, which is just one lie after another, thinking that they can hoodwink the American people.
Medicare is a great example. First of all, they lied about the fact that this was going to increase the benefits to senior citizens when it actually increases the benefits to the pharmaceutical companies, and it results in seniors getting less protection and paying more for it. The Bush administration deliberately lied to Congress about the price tag. And they threatened to fire the auditor of the Department of Health and Human Services who was well aware of what the full cost was and wanted to tell Congress. And the Bush administration said: "If you tell Congress, weíll fire you." I think thatís almost criminal.
There are just so many examples across the board. I donít think you can believe a word that Baghdad George says. You canít believe him when he talks about his military record. The only thing the White House can prove is that he showed up in Montgomery, Ala., one day for a dental appointment. My take on that is the only drill George Bush saw in Alabama was a dentistís.
BuzzFlash: This is where it gets difficult -- when Bush continues to lie about his past lies. How do you begin to unravel his persistent untruths?
Bill Press: I think you unravel it by exposing it. And thatís where I think John Kerry is already off to a great start. Kerry is a fighter. Kerry responds to every attack, or anticipates every attack. And I think you have to expose these people for the frauds that they are.
Letís talk about the latest attacks. Dick Cheney has the audacity to question John Kerryís credentials to be commander in chief, right? First, I remind everybody that Bush and Cheney have no war record. None. Zero war record. John Kerry on the other hand took three bullets in Vietnam, won three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and a Presidential Unit Citation for Extraordinary Heroism. Now contrast Kerry and Bush. You tell me which one has the experience necessary to be commander in chief.
Then Cheney says Kerry is soft on defense because he voted against the Apache helicopter. The fact is, when he was Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney killed the Apache helicopter. These guys are complete hypocrites. The record shows that Cheney, as Secretary of Defense, boasted to Congress that he had killed 81 different weapons programs. And then Cheney attacks Kerry for voting against the Apache helicopter. We canít let them get away with these lies. We have to expose every one of them. And I think the American people will see the truth and appreciate the truth.
BuzzFlash: Incredibly, Bush has gone on the offensive and attacked Kerryís credibility. Kerry seems to be doing a fairly good job of handling the smear campaign. What do you think Kerry needs to do to shake off the attacks? As we constantly say on BuzzFlash, define the debate or face being defined by your opponent.
Bill Press: Hereís what I believe Kerry has to do. He has to make this election a referendum on George Bushís record. To me, that is most important. And by the way, this is not like rocket science. Itís important to remember that in every reelection campaign for every President, itís not about the challenger. Itís about the incumbent and the record. Basically you ask the question: This guyís been there for four years, so what has he done? Does he deserve another four years? And when you look at George Bushís record the answer is no, no, no, and no. So Iíd say Kerry has got to make Bush defend his record on jobs, on the economy, on health care, on education, on Iraq, and on the war on terror. I think what weíre seeing is that the Bush campaign knows they canít defend their record, so theyíre attacking Kerry and trying to make Kerry the issue. Kerry has to make Bush the issue.
BuzzFlash: You have a shameless job being a liberal voice and pundit, predominantly on cable news programs. How did you find yourself in that position? You are part of a small group of people thatís dominated by right-wing media, thatís full of distortion and conjecture. How do you cope with that environment, and what do you see as your role as a liberal voice on TV?
Bill Press: First of all, Iíve always been a Democrat, Iíve always been a liberal, and Iíve always loved debating the issues. Similar to Clinton, I love the intersection between policy and politics. And frankly, politics is how you get things done. I started out debating the issues on television and radio in Los Angeles, and I just got a lucky break. When Michael Kinsley left "Crossfire," I applied for the position and was hired. I went from "Crossfire" on to "The Spin Room," also at CNN, and then "Buchanan and Press" at MSNBC. Now Pat and I continue to be political commentators at MSNBC, and Iím hoping that someday soon weíll get our show back.
As to your second part of the question, I love it because I have a microphone. I have a forum, I get paid for expressing my opinion, and I get paid for trying to keep these people honest. Iím just grateful to have that opportunity. And believe me, as long as I have it, I will use it to the max.
BuzzFlash: Right-wing pundits have become the surrogates for Republican campaigns and candidates. They attack and demonize not only Democrats, but also bigger issues -- such as the role of government in society -- or they frame taxes and social programs as the quintessential evil. What has been the evolution of the role of pundits in the media from when you first started to what it is today?
Bill Press: One reality I think we have to face is that conservatives have been much smarter than liberals in building the kind of permanent institutions that give them power. Iím not talking just about political power in elected office. Even when conservatives were down and out, they started a whole set of think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation, and they started media operations with rapid response media spokespersons and public relations outfits. They also started dominating talk radio. And they tied it all together, so they have an incredible network for getting their ideas out and getting their attacks out.
Until recently we -- meaning liberals -- had nothing. It wasnít that we just had a weak operation compared to their strong operation; we had no operation. And now Iím very excited because thatís starting to change. Youíve got the Center for American Progress that John Podesta started. David Brock is starting a rapid response media watch operation. Harold Ickes has his media fund. Ellen Malcolm has this organization called America Coming Together, which is a grassroots operation. There are two liberal radio networks starting up. So weíre finally starting to build those kinds of institutions that the right-wing has. Thatís going to give us an opportunity to make this a level playing field.
Secondly, cable news and talk radio have changed the role of political commentators from people who give their opinion to people who are carrying water for the Republican Party. I just think we have to accept thatís who they are. I mean, they get the talking points and run with them. They feel they have a mission to go out and deliver not so much their own point of view as the party point of view. I think thatís regrettable and lamentable, and I must tell you, even though I express my liberal opinions, I donít consider myself there to shill for the Democratic Party.
I think right-wing pundits have surrendered their independence. Theyíre no longer telling you what they think, theyíre telling you what they think theyíre supposed to say because theyíre conservatives, and they repeat what the conservative mantra is. One of the things I respect about Pat Buchanan is that heíll take on George Bush when he disagrees with him, and heíll take on his fellow conservatives when he disagrees with them, like on this silly invasion of Iraq.
BuzzFlash: Defining the terms of the debate is so important in the world of politics. This is largely your job as a pundit. What advice do you have for would-be pundits, progressive thinkers or candidates about defining the debate and the issues?
Bill Press: First of all, you have to start with your own set of values, which I think you develop from a whole variety of sources from your parents, to school, to your own life experience. For me it boils down to the role of government is to help people who need help the most, and not to comfort the already comfortable. Then you have to know your facts and do your homework, and do your research. Lastly, I think you have to have the courage to speak your mind, in season and out of season. Stick to your beliefs, and not just follow the herd. And let me just say that my goal is not to convince the multitudes. My goal is just to stand up for what I believe, and if people hear my argument and are swayed, so be it. I donít feel that I have to go out there and say what people expect me to say, or whatís popular just so Iíll be loved and appreciated.
BuzzFlash: Bill Press, thank you for speaking with us.
Bill Press: My pleasure.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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Bill Press Web site and blog: http://www.billpress.com/bio.html
otherwise noted, all original