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Profile: Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer was a participant or observer in the following events:

In its escalating pressure against the besieged Montana Freemen (see March 25, 1996), the FBI shuts off the electricity to the Freemen’s compound. [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] The Freemen have at least one generator, so they are not entirely without electricity; it is possible that they could go for months without outside power. If the power shutdown elicts no response, the FBI has other options it can implement, including moving agents incrementally closer to the main buildings, disrupting the Freemen’s satellite feeds and other communications, and even blocking their access to outside food sources such as fish ponds and storage buildings. “In effect, we could shut them off from the world,” says one official, who adds that the steps would be put into effect gradually in the hope that any one of them might lead to negotiations. Officials say any escalation would have to be gradual to ensure that the situation does not escalate out of control. They say they have no plans to raid the compound at this time. FBI Director Louis Freeh is monitoring the standoff very closely, officials say, and has mediated discussions and disputes between his aides and his field commanders. [New York Times, 6/5/1996; Associated Press, 6/10/1996]
Dissenting Viewpoints on Efficacy of Power Shutdown - The next day, retired FBI agent Joe Conley tells PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer that he thinks the power shutdown is “basically going to send a signal. In and of itself, turning off the electricity isn’t going to prompt these people to come directly to the negotiating table, but it is telling them that the FBI is there, law enforcement is there, and law enforcement is not going to go away.” Freelance writer and reporter Lawrence Myers disagrees with Conley about the efficacy of shutting down the Freemen’s power, saying: “They, first of all, don’t recognize the jurisdictional authority of the people who have them surrounded. Second of all, as I recall looking into this, I flew up there last year to talk with these people and look into it, and the fact is that in the late 1980s, the electricity was shut off on the Clark ranch (see September 28, 1995 and After) for three years. Nobody came out. Nobody moved away.” State Senator Charles Duke (R-CO), who has come off a series of frustrating negotiations with the Freemen (see May 15-21, 1996), says while he believes the electricity shutdown will have a “helpful long-term” effect, the Freemen are not a unified whole: “Had it just been up to the Clarks, this would have been over sometime ago, I believe. But what you’ve got there are some destabilizing factors, such as Russ Landers, Dale Jacobi, and Rod Skurdal,” he says, and those men are influencing the others to stay put in defiance of the FBI. “[T]hose are the three main destabilizing factors, and my recommendation to the FBI when I left is that those three somehow be isolated from the remainder of the farm, if necessary by force. And I think the rest of the farm would capitulate. I have seen people who are prepared to die for their beliefs, and these people don’t strike me as that type of person.”
Senator: FBI Showing Admirable Restraint - In a sidebar to the conversation about the power shutdown, Duke tells Lehrer that he admires the FBI’s restraint in handling the Freemen. “I think they have been lenient deliberately,” he says. “That’s really to the FBI’s credit—not to say they will always do this, but they’re at least doing that in this case. I think it’s more going out of their way, even over-correcting, if necessary, in order to make sure that the constitutional rights of these people is observed, and an example of how far the FBI was willing to go is they were willing to step aside if these people on the Clark ranch would simply walk across the cattle guard, the FBI would step aside and let the county sheriff process this, these people or the Montana State Police, or the Montana state legislature.” Myers agrees, noting that Attorney General Janet Reno said if given the chance to redo the FBI siege in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of almost 80 Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), “she’d do a lot of things differently. Well, this is the opportunity to demonstrate what type of patience they’re willing to show with American citizens. I think they’re doing fine so far and I know it’s problematic.… I think [Duke] and I and Mr. Conley can agree, this is a very unique, very difficult, and incredibly complicated negotiating situation here.” [PBS, 6/4/1996]

Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Montana Freemen, Russell Dean Landers, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Lawrence Myers, Jim Lehrer, Dale Jacobi, Charles Duke, Janet Reno, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joe Conley

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman debate in Danville, Kentucky.Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman debate in Danville, Kentucky. [Source: On The Issues (.org)]During the single vice-presidential debate of the campaign, between Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joseph Lieberman, Cheney makes a number of assertions about his business experience that Lieberman does not challenge. No specific question is asked about Cheney’s tenure as CEO of Halliburton, but one is asked by the moderator, PBS newscaster Jim Lehrer, about “partisanship.” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein: “Cheney used his answer to burnish a myth that largely exists to this day. In it, he stars as the triumphant CEO, a self-reliant insider-turned-outsider who competently and ethically grew his company while increasing shareholder value. While politically useful, it happens to be a lie.” In the debate, Cheney says: “I’ve been out of Washington for the last eight years and spent the last five years running a company [sic] global concern. And been out in the private sector building a business, hiring people, creating jobs. I have a different perspective on Washington than I had when I was there in the past.” Dubose and Bernstein will note that Lieberman, a pro-corporate politician himself, fails to challenge Cheney’s self-assessment. Lieberman does make one wry observation: when Cheney challenges the common wisdom that most Americans are financially better off now than at the beginning of President Clinton’s tenure, Lieberman retorts: “I think if you asked most people in America today that famous question that Ronald Reagan asked, ‘Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?’ Most people would say yes. I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you’re better off than you were eight years ago, too.” Cheney replies, “I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.” Dubose and Bernstein call Cheney’s retort “a whopper of a falsehood—and one more that Lieberman failed to dispute.” Cheney has become a multi-millionaire during his tenure at Halliburton, and will continue to receive compensation from the firm years after he becomes vice president. During Cheney’s five-year term as Halliburton CEO, the company had suffered due to what Fortune magazine will call his “poor leadership.” However, the large profits Halliburton made under Cheney came largely from government contracts. [Commission on Presidential Debates, 10/5/2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 104-106]

Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, Clinton administration, Halliburton, Inc., Jim Lehrer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jake Bernstein, Ronald Reagan, Lou Dubose

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr and Ray McGovern about the firing of CIA official Mary McCarthy.Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr and Ray McGovern about the firing of CIA official Mary McCarthy. [Source: PBS]In an interview on PBS, two former CIA officials agree that fired CIA official Mary McCarthy should have been relieved of her duties by the agency (see April 21, 2006 and April 24, 2006), but have very different opinions on the context of the firing. News anchor Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA under President George H. W. Bush, and veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s intelligence policies.
Moral and Legal Responsibility to Disclose War Crimes - McGovern says that McCarthy “was cognizant of war crimes [committed by the Bush adminsitration]. She needed to do something about that, from a moral and a legal perspective. And she chose this way to do it, because the other ways were blocked for her.” Kerr disagrees, saying “[i]t’s not at all clear to me that his description of the activity is fitting.” Either way, Kerr says, as a junior officer, McCarthy had no right to take her concerns public in any manner. “There’s all kinds of ways to go through the organization to make your feelings known, to give your views of it,” Kerr says, “[a]nd I think going out independently, with that kind of discipline, no intelligence organization can work that way.” McGovern agrees in principle, but says that McCarthy’s case is “exceptional.” McCarthy knew that the CIA was torturing prisoners in secret prisons around the globe (see November 2-18, 2005), and had no other means to alert the public to the war crimes being committed by the agency at the behest of the White House. McGovern says that her boss, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, is “a creature of the director,” Porter Goss, who joined with Vice President Dick Cheney to push for authorization of torture, so she had no recourse by going through internal channels. Going to Congress would be pointless, McGovern says, because “the oversight committees—I hate to say this, but it’s a joke. She can’t get any redress from [Senator] Pat Roberts [(R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee]. I call him Patsy Roberts, because he’s a patsy for the administration.” She would fare no better in the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI). She had no other option, McGovern believes. “I knew Mary pretty well,” he says. “She’s got a lot of integrity. And, you know, you can argue that she has a moral responsibility and a legal responsibility.… [I]f she’s in the chain of command and she sees these kinds of crimes being perpetrated, under Nuremberg and other international law, she is required… to do something.” Kerr’s rejoinder: the nation is locked in “a different kind of war than we’ve been in before. We are going to take actions and be proactive in a way we’ve never done before. One of the real questions is: Do we operate within the values, the traditional values of the American culture, or do we stretch those and become very proactive? I don’t think it’s at all certain that we can operate the way we have in the past.”
Going through Channels and/or Resigning - Kerr disagrees with McGovern’s characterization of the situation and of Helgerson, saying, “[I]t may not be as easy to do that today as it was in the past, but I never found a time in 32 years where I couldn’t march up the organization and talk to people about concerns I had.” Kerr believes McCarthy should have resigned and then “argued against the policy” without revealing classified information. McGovern agrees, but continues to argue that the secret CIA prisons violate the War Crimes Act and therefore, “[t]his is not American. This is not the country that we serve. And when we see this happening, somebody has to speak out.” Resigning would not have made any difference, McGovern says, because McCarthy would still be bound by her secrecy agreement and therefore could not have spoken out in any meaningful sense. Kerr’s “is a specious argument,” McGovern says.
Making an Example - McGovern says McCarthy was fired for one simple reason: to make an example of her to deter other potential CIA leakers. “It’s sort of a deterrent sort of intimidation technique,” he says. “They’re running polygraph exams for everyone now. In our day, we got one every five years. Now they’re polygraphing everyone, so it’s part of this intimidation technique. But she took that risk. And I admire her for that.” Kerr says that while he sympathizes with McCarthy’s position, the agency must maintain internal discipline above all other concerns: “And one way to do that is to begin working leaks.” [PBS, 4/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Jim Lehrer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Helgerson, Pat Roberts, Ray McGovern, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss, Mary McCarthy

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer interviews Dan Balz, a national political correspondent for the Washington Post. Balz attempts to explain why billionaire television host and entrepeneur Donald Trump has become such a media sensation by reviving the “birther” controversy (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). Balz says: “I mean, I think that the press probably does bear some responsibility for this but there’s no question that what Donald Trump had done over the last month, in bringing this issue back to the forefront, at a time when I think most people thought it had been pretty well settled politically, not that—not that there wasn’t still some controversy, but that, for the most part, this wasn’t a live issue. But Donald Trump helped to make it a live issue. And all the press coverage attendant to that, some of it aimed at debunking what Donald Trump was saying, nonetheless contributed to this atmosphere.… [H]e is a master at drawing attention to himself and taking credit for things, whether he deserves it or not.” [PBS, 4/27/2011] Peter Hart of the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) takes exception to Balz’s explanation. Hart writes: “‘Issues’ are not brought ‘to the forefront’ and made a ‘live issue’ by some series of accidents, or the physical properties of magnets. Media outlets make decisions about what to cover. In Balz’s world, Trump started talking and the press simply had to cover it. Trump didn’t make anything a ‘live issue’—people who have television stations and newspapers decided to treat him as if he is a serious person.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 4/28/2011]

Entity Tags: Peter Hart, Dan Balz, Donald Trump, Jim Lehrer, Washington Post, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections


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