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Debate on California Recall, Media, Sean Penn and the Iraq War

Aired August 8, 2003 - 12:41   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A number of stories that we've been talking about all week, especially the deadly attacks in Iraq and the candidate scramble in California's recall election.
Adding their voices in Washington, D.C., the syndicated columnist Joel Mowbray and Norman Solomon. He's joining us from San Francisco. He's with the institute for public accuracy. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Norman, let me begin with you. You're a liberal. What do you make of the prospect that Arnold Schwarzenegger might be your next governor out in California?

NORMAN SOLOMON, AUTHOR, "TARGET: IRAQ": Well we're told that Mr. Schwarzenegger has a bust of Ronald Reagan in his office. And I think there's reason to believe that a Governor Schwarzenegger might be Ronald Reagan on steroids. We have somebody with a very simplistic belief in the so-called free market to the point of supporting exactly the deregulation efforts, let corporations do what they want, that helped get California in this mess in the first place.

BLITZER: Joel, what do you say?

JOEL MOWBRAY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes, that's what we don't want in California, more businesses coming in, more jobs being created, more economic growth. That would be devastating to a state that has a $38 billion deficit and a state in which people have a difficult time finding work.

So, no. I think Norman's right. We really don't want more free market in California.


SOLOMON: Excuse me, Joel. The per capita deficit in this state is lower than nationally brought to us by the president of the United States.

The fact is that deregulation in this state has been the political downfall of Governor Davis. And he was a lousy governor, by the way, nine months ago when he was reelected. He's a lousy governor now. The question is whether you want to have a couple of million dollars laid down to buy a recall election?

BLITZER: Let's move on and get to a caller. Terry in Florida has a question. Go ahead, Terry. CALLER: Yes, it looks like the Republican party used Darrell Issa and his money to start recall ball rolling and then dumped him for Schwarzenegger. Pretty rotten even for Republicans.

BLITZER: All right, Darrell Issa. She means the Republican from Southern California. What about that, Joel?

MOWBRAY: Well, look, Darrell Issa made a decision that Gray Davis was s guy who needed to be recalled. He helped fund the effort, and I think many people applaud his for that.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the Republican Party has to stand behind him and support him in the election. I think he saw that this was going to be an almost unwinnable position for him. There are other conservatives in the race. There's Arnold Schwarzenegger, lots of other media attention going to everyone else but him.

And I think he probably made the wise decision. He earned a lot of gratitude and a lot goodwill brownie points among Republicans by funding the recall. And now he's got a chance to save political face.

BLITZER: All right, let me ask Norman this question. When you go into the ballot, when you go vote on October 7 in California, what are you going to do?

SOLOMON: Well personally, I'm going to vote against the recall because I think this is a cycle that involves what goes around comes around.

The fact is that the threshold for retaining your office in the governor's mansion is a lot higher than winning the office in a recall. And in other words, let's say Arnold Schwarzenegger wins this election. You could then have people on the streets the next day, somebody else, a Darrell Issa who's liberal, pull out a checkbook, pay a couple million dollars get a recall for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And Schwarzenegger won't be able to win that one the way he will, perhaps, on October 7.

BLITZER: But you could vote against the recall, Norman. You can also vote for a candidate who's on the ballot. Who do you like the most among those who have come forward so far? Arianna Huffington?

SOLOMON: Well, I think that she's somebody who's willing to discuss the issues. And I frankly haven't heard that from the hacks out of Sacramento, the Democrats who are stepping forward. Nor have I heard it from Mr. Schwarzenegger.

BLITZER: Sounds like you're going to vote for Arianna Huffington, but I'm not going to hold you to it right now.

Let's get to another e-mail. This from Kenneth. "Americans are being killed, wounded and you concentrate ion an NBA star and a Hollywood want-to-be in California. What a waste of time to be devoted to really important issues. Why not focus on wounded American from Iraq and see how he is doing?" Kenneth, we spend a lot of time, obviously, covering the situation in Iraq.

But let me ask Joel. Are we going overboard and reporting on what's happening in California now that Arnold Schwarzenegger has thrown his hat into the ring? Are we going overboard on the Kobe Bryant sexual assault charge? Should we be ignoring those stories? What do you say, Joel?

MOWBRAY: Well, you know, as much as I and many other conservatives like to criticize the media, there is definitely a free market element here, particularly with it comes to stories such as the Kobe Bryant case, such as what's going on in the California recall situation.

The people want to hear more about it. So the news media fills a free market obligation because they want viewers, they want readers to report on these cases. I don't really have a problem with that because there is actually a lot of reporting out there on Iraq. If you want to find it it's there, it's there, it's on the Net, it's on CNN, it's on other news networks.

So I don't think there's really pauseity (ph) of coverage or is suffering because of a focus on Kobe and Schwarzenegger and others. I think it's healthy for a democracy that people have a lot of options out there.

BLITZER: Norman, what do you say?

SOLOMON: Well it's really a myth the mass media simply give people what they want. People can't choose from choices that aren't readily available. It costs billions of dollars to get major networks up and running and sustain them through the start-up period. And the fact is people don't have media and democracy at the same time. They have basically the chance to choose from what's laid down from on high.

BLITZER: Here's an e-mail for you, Joel, from Steven. "I remember just a few short months ago during the pre-Iraq war debate that Republicans were incensed that left-wing celebrities were criticizing the president. The Republicans fired back that celebrities should stay out of politics. How does that apply to Arnold? Or is it OK because he is a Republican?"

SOLOMON: Well that's a great point, actually. You know, people get...


BLITZER: Let Joel respond to that.

MOWBRAY: Well, I think it also comes down it a certain amount knowledge and intelligence put into the thought of the politics. When you have someone like Alec Baldwin, who a couple of years ago, said he'd like to stone the family of Henry Hyde, that is not an intelligent comment. Why should anyone pay attention to that? When you have Sean Penn going to Saddam Hussein's Iraq and saying, You know, this guy's really not such a bad guy. You know what?


MOWBRAY: Norman, since you've interrupted, take the stage.

BLITZER: All right, Norman, go ahead.

SOLOMON: Well, you know, you have a right to your own opinion, not your own facts. If you want to talk about irresponsible celebrities, talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger who just went to Iraq and seemed to be unable to distinguish between real life and a line from one of his movies, "Hasta la vista, baby."

In fact, what you've said is incorrect about Sean Penn. He condemned Saddam Hussein before going, during and after. So you just don't get to make this stuff up without being called on it.


MOWBRAY: When you go to Saddam Hussein's Iraq for the purpose of shilling on his behalf it doesn't matter how many words you say before, during or after. You are still going...


MOWBRAY: ... to a country under that is under the thumb of a tyrant where anything you do to support that county is supporting the tyrant?


BLITZER: One the a time. Joel, hold on a second. I want Norman to have the last word.

Norman, I believe you went to Iraq too? Did you go with Sean Penn on the trip?

SOLOMON: I went three times including with Sean Penn and a Congressman an earlier time. The fact is that this war was based on lies. And to attack those who stuck their necks out to point that out before the war happened I think is really reprehensible.


BLITZER: Hold on, Joel. In fairness to Sean Penn, he did condemn Saddam Hussein personally even though he was very much against a war like a lot of others, including Norman were.

SOLOMON: That's right.

MOWBRAY: No, but, Wolf, the point is words cannot wipe away actions. And when you go there to stand beside Iraq and say, Well I'm against the war. And you go to the country that is a physical presence there, a country that is under the thumb of a tyrant, there's no way to support that without supporting the tyrant. And that's exactly what Sean Penn did. And that's what is taken correctly by people who saw the trip.

SOLOMON: I don't know what you mean by stand beside Iraq. You know, the pope stood beside Tariq Aziz. That didn't mean he was endorsing Tariq Aziz. It meant he saw some alternatives to dropping 2,000 pound bombs in urban areas. That's a defensible position.

BLITZER: I don't think the two of you are going to agree on the issue, but it was a good...

MOWBRAY: Probably not.

BLITZER: ... discussion, a good debate. And we'll continue it on another occasion. Let Sean Penn come out and defend himself at some point, too. We'd love to have him on this show.

Norman Solomon, as usual, thanks very much for joining us. Joel Mowbray as well.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

MOWBRAY: Thank you.



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