The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
JIM LEHRER: Good evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. On the NewsHour tonight, Ray Suarez examines the measuring and importance of consumer confidence. Terence Smith reports the arrival of the electronic book. Haynes Johnson, Michael Beschloss, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Richard Norton Smith, and Roger Wilkins ponder the first 100 days of the George W. Bushpresidency. And Margaret Warner talks to the author of a book about the war over Chechnya. It all follows our summary of the news this Monday.
JIM LEHRER: Consumer spending is up; consumer confidence is down. That was the sum total of two economic reports out today. The Commerce Department said spending grew 0.3% in March, slightly more than expected. A sharp drop in consumer confidence in April was reported in a study released by the University of Michigan. We'll have more on this story right after the News Summary. Vice President Cheney outlined a new energy strategy today. It relies heavily on producing more oil, gas, and nuclear power. He spoke to a meeting of the Associated Press in Toronto, Canada, and previewed recommendations his energy task force is considering. He warned the whole country could face California-type power blackouts unless production increases, and he said unconventional forms of energy were still unreliable.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Years down the road, alternative fuels may become a great deal more plentiful than they are today. But we are not yet in any position to stake our economy and our way of life on that possibility. For now, we must take the facts as they are. Whatever our hopes for developing alternative sources and for conserving energy-- and that's part of our plan-- the reality is that fossil fuels supply virtually 100% of our transportation needs and an overwhelming share of our electricity requirements. For years down the road, this will continue to be true.
JIM LEHRER: The Vice President said the country needs as many as 1,900 new power plants over the next 20 years, just to meet projected demand. He said that means building more nuclear power plants, since they don't generate greenhouse gases.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Fortunately for the environment, one-fifth, that is, 20% of, our electricity today is generated by nuclear power plants, but the Government has not granted a single new nuclear power permit in more than 20 years, and many existing plants are going to be shutting down. If we're serious about environmental protection, then we must seriously question the wisdom of backing away from what is as a matter of record a safe, clean, very plentiful energy source.
JIM LEHRER: The Cheney task force is to present its recommendations to President Bush by the end of May. The President took notice today of his first 100 days in office. He did so with a White House luncheon for Congress. All 535 members of the House and Senate were invited. About 200 attended, most of them Republicans. Mr. Bush said the lawmakers were helping him restore civility to national politics. We'll have more on this story later in the program tonight. An American inspection team flew to Hawaii today, on the way to China to examine a grounded U.S. surveillance plane. The Associated Press reported the group was made up of five civilian defense contractors. The plane is on Hainan Island. It landed there April 1 after colliding with a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea. China said Sunday it would allow access to the aircraft. Ultimately, it may be taken apart and shipped back to the United States. Its crew was released earlier this month. President Bush today nominated Clark Randt to be ambassador to China. He's a 55-year-old lawyer who has lived in the Asia-Pacific region for most of his adult life. He was also a Yale classmate of the President. If the Senate confirms him, he'll succeed Joseph Prueher as ambassador. The first paying visitor to space arrived at the international space station today. California businessman Dennis Tito was carried there on a Russian capsule. He paid the Russians $20 million for a six-day stay. NASA opposed the trip on safety grounds, and said Tito may not enter U.S. modules without an escort. Also, he must pay for anything he breaks. Despite the restrictions, Tito said today he loves being in space. That's it for the News Summary tonight. Now it's on to feeling down about the economy; the new world of e-books; the first 100 days of the George W. Bush presidency; and a conversation about Chechnya.
FOCUS - FEELING DOWN
JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez assesses consumer confidence.
RAY SUAREZ: Consumer spending up; consumer confidence down; uncertainty in the American economy; more uncertainty in today's numbers: The American consumer's spending and saving habits are closely watched for telltale signs of how the economy is doing today, and might do tomorrow. Joining us are three consumer watchers. Richard Curtin is the director of the Consumer Survey at the University of Michigan, which issued its monthly report today. Lynn Stout teaches law and economics at Georgetown University. And Drazen Prelec is a psychologist who studies consumer behavior and teaches at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
RAY SUAREZ: Richard Curtin, that number is down precipitously from its peek of just a year ago. What goes into the consumer sentiment number and the consumer expectation number? What does it measure?
RICHARD CURTIN: The Index of Consumer Sentiment measures the changes people have in the optimism or pessimism they see in their future financial situation. The Index is composed of five questions, constructed more than 50 years ago: Two of the questions on personal finances, two on the outlook for the national economy, which reflects people's overall prospects for future income and job growth; and one question on buying conditions, which reflects people's sense of price and interest-rate trends on their buying plans.
RAY SUAREZ: And in that 20-point drop from last April, are there some of those five questions that have declined more than others, some parts of consumers' self-diagnosis that has remained stronger than others?
RICHARD CURTIN: Well, consumers are very concerned about rising unemployment from slow economic growth, and the outlook for the national economy suffered significantly through February of this year. More recently, people's assessments of their own financial situation declined significantly; at the present time we have a third of all households who think their financial situation worsened during the past
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a split in how people diagnose their own situation -- between their own situation and how they see the economy at large, friends, neighbors, their town, their region?
RICHARD CURTIN: In early phases of a downturn, people tend to think that others will be hurt by unemployment more than they will themselves. And that's certainly true in this situation. Consumers are fairly upbeat about their own personal finances; nonetheless, they think unemployment is going to rise and rise close to 5% by the year end.
RAY SUAREZ: Drazen Prelec, is there a sense in which these numbers about sentiments, about feelings, about expectations are every bit as real as the hard numbers that economists like to work with, auto sales, refrigerator sales, borrowing, spending?
DRAZEN PRELEC: Well, we know from previous evidence that consumer sentiment, especially their fears about unemployment, does have a real impact on their future spending. So what we don't know is whether consumers' concerns really are a form of playback of what they hear in the popular press about lay-offs because it's certainly not monitoring unemployment statistics. But statistically it has been shown that when consumers become nervous about their own job prospects, they will actually cut back on spending. Now, the current evidence is-- what's really interesting about the current situation is that consumers are relatively optimistic - they're relatively happy about their current economic situation. Still, they're pessimistic about what is going to happen six months from now. But that hasn't yet affected their purchasing plans even for the big ticket items so they seem to be on target in terms of spending even though their forecasts are relatively pessimistic.
RAY SUAREZ: So, when it comes to something like sentiment or forecasts, do you believe that major American players could, for instance, talk down the economy?
DRAZEN PRELEC: Oh, I think that's happened. I think what you've seen in the last six months has been something like equivalent to an advertising attack campaign against the U.S. economy. Partly this was driven by objective factors, partly by political statements, and I think consumers to a large extent -- when they're asked about what's going to happen to the economy six months from now-- are feeding back the information they've heard in the popular press. Now, just because they're feeding it back doesn't mean this isn't going to have a real impact at some point. It's not having a real impact yet. But it could have it if it persists. And this would be -- I think one thing we have to watch out for is if consumption really starts to break down it's going to be quite hard to get it back to current levels. Consumers, once their confidence wilts, there's an asymmetry in their response. They're not going to come back as quickly as they've cut back on spending.
RAY SUAREZ: Lynn Stout, do you find consumers to be reliable canaries in the coal mine? Do they know something is up often before economists do?
LYNN STOUT: Well, in this case we have got a very peculiar situation where consumers are saying one thing and behaving in another fashion entirely so it's not quite clear what the canary is doing in this case. Part of it may be the hypothesis that people tend to be overoptimistic about their own prospects. This is the "unemployment is what happens to somebody else theory." But there may be something else going on that has to do with the wealth effect that we've heard so much about from the Federal Reserve. People may be a little bit more worried about job prospects generally. They may even be more worried about job prospects for themselves. In the past five years the stock market has put a tremendous amount of money into people's pockets, even with the latest bubbles and breaking of the bubble, you've seen about $10 trillion in wealth created over the past five years. It may be, it seems to me it's plausible that even though people feel that their employment prospects are a little more iffy, particularly in the short run, they're still feeling like they're in pretty good shape, they're pretty wealthy, and they're ready to spend.
RAY SUAREZ: You heard Richard Curtin has measured a decline in consumer sentiment and expectations. Last Friday we got the news that the Gross Domestic Product increased faster in this first quarter of this year than last year. We recently got the news that home sales were posting new records. How do all these inputs mesh? Do they seem to run on the same track with you?
LYNN STOUT: I don't think they mesh very well. So the question is, what is the answer to the puzzle? Are people optimistic about their own prospects and pessimistic about every one else's, or could it be concern concerns about the economy are not as relevant as they were before the stock market put lots of money in your pocket?
RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead, Richard Curtin.
RICHARD CURTIN: I sort of disagree with that interpretation. It is certainly true that the wealth effect has played an important part in determining the decline in savings rates and the strength in consumer spending. On the other hand, if you look at the details of the first quarter data, sales declined through the quarter of... from January to March -- March was negative and the savings rate increased by half a percent. People are concerned about the future of their financial situation and they have taken some action to redress these concerns. Just because the consumers don't react immediately is not an indication that there isn't a concern and that they will not react in the future. I think we'll see that April sales -vehicles -- are very poor, decline substantially from the first quarter average, and the other point is that interest rates have declined significantly since January, a very rare occurrence during the first phase of this slowdown. And that's why home sales have been so positive and why vehicle sales have been positive. But now consumers' concerns about their future financial situation are causing them to even cut back on vehicle purchases -- and not that I expect a recession from what we're seeing. In fact, the Index of Consumer Sentiment is still above its long-term average -- but that there will be a prolonged period of slow economic growth that the consumer will be part of.
RAY SUAREZ: How do you respond?
LYNN STOUT: Well, I think that that is certainly... Part of that is... Makes quite a bit of sense. Traditionally historically there is a lag between the bad economic news comings out in the numbers and consumers eventually responding. And it could be that we will see a period of slow growth. But I think there's a more optimistic scenario that is possible; and that is that absent some dramatic negative change in the economic fundamentals-- real spike in commodities prices, energy prices-- it may be that people's willingness to spend, based perhaps in part on recent wealth gains, will sustain the economy and basically keep us from seeing a very bad downward spiral. We could pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps to some extent.
RAY SUAREZ: Alan Greenspan recently said he was watching the consumers' sentiments numbers very closely because he thought they were highly predictive, as opposed to other feedbacks that we get from the economy. What do you think about that?
LYNN STOUT: Well, we'll find out. We'll see how long the lag is and whether or not that shows up six months down the road.
RAY SUAREZ: Richard Curtin, watching consumer sentiments as opposed to prices and sales and other more traditional indices?
RICHARD CURTIN: Well, I think that watching consumer sentiment is an important test for any forecaster, but we should expect, for example, some of the positives that were just mentioned not to occur. We expect some energy problems this summer - a rising price of gasoline which will hit consumers particularly hard because now gasoline may go over $2 a gallon and other problems with the cost of electricity. So we're certainly not out of the woods, and there is many further troubles that will affect consumer confidence.
RAY SUAREZ: Drazen Prelec, people are assumed to be experts about their own lives. When they are reporting one thing about themselves and doing another, does one eventually have to catch up with the other? Will they start feeling the way they're spending or spending the way they're feeling?
DRAZEN PRELEC: Well, you know, it's very easy to change your opinion about how the economy is heading because that's just an intellectual response. But when you have to actually cut back consumption, that hurts. So it makes very good sense that consumers are going to try to persist in their consumption patterns in the face of economic uncertainty as long as they can. On the other hand when they're asked questions on sentiment surveys it's an intellectual response and they can essentially it's like taking a test, they can repeat the information they've heard. But cutting back spending is a very painful gesture. One thing we have seen recently is a rise in credit card debt, which is not really matched by a comparable rise in consumption. What could be happening, what people suspect might be happening is that consumers are financing more of a necessary routine expenditures off their credit cards which can't go on indefinitely.
RAY SUAREZ: Lynn Stout, watch the dead overhang?
LYNN STOUT: I think it's very important. There are two parts to the economy really. There are the economic fundamentals but there is a psychological layer. For example, it seems pretty plausible that when you get -- fall on hard economic times, those times can be made much worse if people respond by putting their money in a coffee can under the bed, taking it out of the stock market and refusing to spend. And probably it works perhaps to a far more limited degree in the other direction. But the fact is the economic fundamentals do matter, and if there are... If there is more economic bad news-- higher commodities prices, higher energy prices-- consumers are spending more than they're bringing in. That is creeping up credit levels that will have an effect. You can't deny reality forever.
RAY SUAREZ: Lynn Stout, Drazen Prelec, Richard Curtin, thank you all.
FOCUS - BRAVE NEW WORLD
JIM LEHRER: The new world of e-books: Media Correspondent Terence Smith reports.
TERENCE SMITH: M.J. Rose is an e- book evangelist.
M.J. ROSE: We are real. We are published. We are read. There were over five million e- books downloaded and read last year. They weren't all paid for, but they were read. (Laughter)
TERENCE SMITH: She helped organize a special day at the Virginia Festival of the Book this year to discuss, sell, and for the first time honor e-books.
SPOKESPERSON: ...And the winner is "Nessy and the Living Stone" by Lois June Wickstrom and Jean Lorrah. (Applause)
TERENCE SMITH: E-books are books made available in electronic, digital format for use on various palms, computers, and specialized reading devices currently priced anywhere from $100 to $600. So far, fewer than 100,000 of the readers have been sold, but e-books are nonetheless changing the publishing business, and in some cases they're changing authors' lives.
M.J. ROSE: I was at a point in my life where I really needed to know that I had readers.
TERENCE SMITH: An unpublished author, M.J. Rose posted her first book on the Internet.
M. J. ROSE: I thought if I put my book up on the internet as a file that you could download, and I told people about it, maybe some people would download it and read it, and maybe I could get some response.
TERENCE SMITH: Eventually her steamy novel, entitled "Lip Service," created such a buzz on the Internet that it caught the eye of an editor at Doubleday. The editor featured it on a book list that typically includes best-sellers. Two weeks later, Simon & Schuster agreed to publish the book on paper. This year, Simon & Schuster put Rose's second novel out as an e- book three weeks prior to the print release. She sold a brisk 25,000 books in both formats in the first eight weeks.
TERENCE SMITH: So these two books by you in paper would not even be here if it wasn't for e-books.
M.J. ROSE: No, that's true. It started on the Internet, and it wound up in a store.
TERENCE SMITH: The e-book universe is tiny compared to the world of print. There are slightly over 20,000 titles available electronically, but there are more than 100,000 printed titles in this bookstore alone. E-books may someday cause a revolution like the one Gutenberg began with his Bible, but today they are in large part promotional devices for authors.
M. J. ROSE: For a mid-list author, anybody that's under the, you know, best-selling level, I think that they're marvelous marketing devices. They're samplers, they're browsing tools, they're giveaways. I have contests myself for my web site, and I give away 50 at a time, and I really get a lot out of that.
TERENCE SMITH: Major publishers now often freely release the first chapters of new books online at retail sites like Amazon and barnesandnoble.Com. That seems to be all most people are willing to read on a screen.
SPOKESMAN: When we first got into e- books, we had a kind of a "gee whiz, isn't this cool, and everybody's going to be reading e-books in a week."
TERENCE SMITH: A year after Stephen King made a splash by publishing a short novel as an e-book, Larry Kirshbaum, chairman of Time Warner Trade Publishing, concedes that he still prefers print for most of his reading. You said you struggle with it. What do you struggle with?
LAWRENCE KIRSHBAUM: Well, you struggle with, with, with all of it, Terry. You struggle with the technology part of it, downloading it and making sure that you've got the book that you want, and you struggle with the reader.
TERENCE SMITH: What is necessary for e-books to take off?
LAWRENCE KIRSHBAUM: The devices have to get better. They have to get cheaper. I don't think that people want to carry a separate reader just in order to read books. They want to have a reader that is also in part a computer, which may offer other services.
TERENCE SMITH: Walter Mossberg has tested lots of e-books and other gadgets as personal technology columnist at the "Wall Street Journal." He thinks manufacturers of e- book readers should focus on improving the reading experience.
WALTER MOSSBERG: E-books as a fact of our lives are not going to take off based on devices that were made for other things. They're going to take off when we get the right price, the right screen, the right battery life, the right durability.
TERENCE SMITH: Among the current devices made for reading e-books is Mossberg's favorite, the Gemstar-RCA e-book.
WALTER MOSSBERG: I could select that paragraph, and there's the bookmark, and then later...
TERENCE SMITH: It can be used independently of a PC, but can read only a limited list of books. It costs $299.
WALTER MOSSBERG: This feels good in your hand. It's got kind of a tactile feel here. It's got a couple of very simple buttons for turning pages, and four icons for doing certain others things like arranging the font and switching from book to book, and it has a plausible battery life, something like seven or eight hours of battery life. Even though this is better, you're not taking this to many of the places you would read a book. You're not taking this to the beach because you'd be terrified you'd get sand in it and break down. In many cases you're not reading it outside because the screen isn't particularly good outside, and when the battery runs out, wherever you are in the middle of the book, you're kind of stuck.
TERENCE SMITH: But at the University of Virginia, e-books are being used in an experimental English literature course. Graduate student Kristin Jensen is excited by the versatility of her pocket PC.
KRISTEN JENSEN: With the e-books, I don't have to come here to special collections and sign out the book, wait in line with the 18 other people in class, take my turn reading a very rare, valuable old volume. I can take it anywhere. I can read it at home at 1:00 AM. I can read it at the bus stop.
TERENCE SMITH: The digital library in Jensen's hand allows her to search quickly through huge volumes without feeling the weight. David Seaman is a director of the Electronic Text Center and a leader in the field.
DAVID SEAMAN: The simple fact that you have all of your books all of the time is beginning to change the dynamic in the classroom in some cases. You can ask questions about things that you haven't read yet because you can pull out your gadget, and there they, there they are.
TERENCE SMITH: At a recent book summit in New York sponsored by "Publishers Weekly" and "Inside" magazines, Kirshbaum, whose corporate partner is AOL, the nation's largest internet service provider, said e-books were already having an impact on his industry.
LAWRENCE KIRSHBAUM: The Internet can match, if you will, buyer and seller much more efficiently than anything that we've had before. So one of the great benefits to publishers in this early-adopter stage of electronic publishing is that we are learning how to find those target audiences of readers.
TERENCE SMITH: Many publishers are convinced that digital ventures such as e-books represent the future of the book business because of the ease of distribution they offer.
LAWRENCE KIRSHBAUM: I'm certainly looking at a timeframe that is no more than five years, where digital books will be a major part of the business, and by major, I mean at least 10%, and possibly even 15% or 20%.
TERENCE SMITH: In contrast to hard-covers, e-books can be constantly updated.
LAWRENCE KIRSHBAUM: Right now a print book has a gestation period that might be anywhere from six months to a year and a half. Well, if you're doing a book on Cellular Biology, you can't wait a year and a half because the whole landscape is likely to change. So the idea of putting a book into a digital database and then having it updated periodically and then printed out as you need it is, I think, an enormously appealing one, and these are the key to the future because they will lead us to the ability to distribute content instantaneously all over the world.
TERENCE SMITH: Given the savings, how cheap should e-books be?
LAWRENCE KIRSHBAUM: Well, that is a primary strategic issue publishers face right now. There's no question that somewhere between free distribution, which we of course abhor, and the current print retail prices there's a middle ground. A $35 hard cover will tend to be $16 to $18 when it comes out in an oversized paperback. So that may very well be a model for electronic books as well-- we will try to hit that 50% margin.
TERENCE SMITH: Priced at that level or potentially even lower, e-books, M.J. Rose thinks, could mushroom in popularity.
M.J. ROSE: I think e-books eventually will start to replace mass- market paperbacks, but we're five years from that, until we have the devices to read e-books on that are really friendly and comfy.
TERENCE SMITH: Most of the e-book story lies in the future. Promising new devices like the Hie-book, and the Tablet PC are due out later this year. Industry experts say stores will soon have ATM-like devices capable of printing books on demand.
LAWRENCE KIRSHBAUM: You'll be able to print that book out in a store, have it bound right there while you go have a cup of coffee.
TERENCE SMITH: While someday people may read the Bible on something like this, Mr. Gutenberg can still rest easy. Based on current sales, the public's love affair with page turning and the printed word seems as strong as ever.
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight the big 100 day mark and a book about Chechnya.
FOCUS - THE FIRST 100 DAYS
JIM LEHRER: Yesterday, was the 100th day of George W. Bush's presidency. Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: The President hosted a White House luncheon today to note the benchmark of 100 days in office. Less than half the guest lists of all the members of Congress attended. White House organizers knew in advance the group would be smaller in part because many members don't return from their home states until late on Monday. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was there but House Speaker Dennis Hastert was not. Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman attended but Democratic leaders Tom Daschle from the Senate and Dick Gephardt from the House did not. Just under 200 members were on hand and Republicans outnumbered Democrats 3-to-1. However, President Bush made no mention of the political imbalance among his guests.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Today marks our 100th day of working together for the American people. We've had some good debates, we've made some good progress, and it looks like we're going to pass some good law. I've now met with most of you, and here's what I think: I think America's lucky to have such distinguished citizens coming to Washington to represent them. I've been impressed by the caliber of the person. I've been impressed by the conviction that you brought to the Oval Office. Oh, I know we always don't agree. But we're beginning to get a spirit here in Washington where we're more agreeable -- where we're setting a different tone. So when the good folks of this country look at our nation's capital, they can see something they'd be proud of. I know this: That whatever your views on a particular issue are, that we share a common goal, and that's to serve our country. It's okay sometimes to share a meal, and that's why we're here.
KWAME HOLMAN: With that, the President and the lawmakers moved into the White House East Room where they dined on salad, filet mignon with rice, and desert.
JIM LEHRER: Now, some perspective on the last hundred days, from NewsHour regulars: Presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, and journalist and author Haynes Johnson; plus two other frequent guests, presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, and Roger Wilkins, professor of history at George Mason University. First, Richard, give us a history lesson. Where did this 100-day thing begin?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Actually to put it in perspective, Jim, today as fate would have it is the 212th anniversary of George Washington's first inauguration. I went back and checked the clippings and - believe it or not -- journalists did not obsess on his first 100 days.
JIM LEHRER: When did we begin, Richard?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: It made a lot of sense. There was a real crisis atmosphere gripping the country. There were doubts about the survival of Democratic capitalism and the presidency. Franklin Roosevelt took office, ushered in a great wave of reform, sent bill after bill after bill to Congress, which sometimes passed them without even bothering to read them. And so at the end of the 100 days there was a sense that the country's psychological mood at least had been transformed.
JIM LEHRER: Doris, anything to add or subtract from that?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: The only thing I would add is that I suspect every president since Roosevelt wishes that the term "100 days -- -- could be exorcised from the language. I mean, in some ways it's so unfair to compare the extraordinary accomplishment in the time of crisis when the country needed presidential action with ordinary Presidents in ordinary. In fact, the story is told at one point a speech was written for John Kennedy in which he said all these promises I have made will not be accomplished in the next 100 days. And he angrily slashed out the 100 days and made it 1,000 days instead not wanting to be compared to Roosevelt, at which point of course that 1,000 days would end with his own life which he could never have predicted at that time.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. Roger, it's a tough standard is it not because of the way it began?
ROGER WILKINS: Well, Roosevelt had the whole country falling apart and he had this massive demand "do something, do anything." And he had a Congress that was ready to do something. It was producing bills. So it's really not fair to compare anybody to the extraordinary....
JIM LEHRER: But we're not going to let that stand in our way, are we? Michael, what about some more history here -- it kind of goes back even further to your theory, does it not?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: It goes all the way back to napoleon. Many things in life do, Jim. This was 1815, 100 days he spent in Paris after escaping from exile and then after the defeat at Waterloo, the king came back. That was the end of his. He wouldn't have gotten great ratings from us. But I think the thing is that....
JIM LEHRER: Now, wait a minute, Michael. You're not going to get away that cheaply on this. What happened between Napoleon and Franklin Roosevelt?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: There were very few journalistic or historical discussions of Chester Arthur's 100 days or anyone else but there had been a President since then and it's probably not a great way to mark these things because 100 days you see some things about a President that you couldn't have known before they came to the White House. But at the same time, odd things happened. If we were doing this in '61 we would have been talking about John Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, an important milestone but didn't tell us perhaps the most important thing about his administration. If we were doing the same thing for LBJ in 1965, we would have been talking about Johnson and the war but the war would have been a war in the Dominican Republic, barely remembered nowadays but a big deal at the time. So, I think it's great for us to look at President Bush but to some extent take what we're saying with a grain of salt.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Haynes, when you look back on past 100 days, what do you see?
HAYNES JOHNSON: I'm very disappointed. I thought it was George Washington all along and then I thought it was Napoleon and here we are today - we're talking about this thing. No, I mean, we've all made the same point. It's a foolish standard to apply to any President. Roosevelt was facing the gravest crisis since the Civil War. The country had 25% unemployment. There was no unemployment insurance. If the banks folded, you didn't get federal insurance. And we were in a desperate state. And he acted almost like a dictator. We haven't seen anything much as we've covered since then.
JIM LEHRER: All right. All of that aside, Richard, how would you characterize the first 100 days of the George W. Bush presidency?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Well it's been revealing. You know, we've trashed this artificial yardstick but it does actually apply to untested Presidents who inspire some uncertainties even after they're elected. As Michael said, JFK in '61, Reagan in '81 tested by a would-be assassin. The tests of George W. Bush have been less dramatic. That may reflect the world we live in and a somewhat down sized presidency, post Cold War presidency. The whole Chinese plane incident was dramatic but it certainly didn't compare with the would-be assassination or the Bay of Pigs. Yet on the other hand there have been some things revealed. The tests I think that Bush have faced have been incremental. For example, a lot of people wondered if he was up to the job. I think at the end of the 100 days whatever you think of the policies -- there have been some missteps, no doubt, the Saturday night live caricature has been defanged. The other thing is of course that modern Presidents are judged for their ability to set the agenda. You know, who would have predicted a year ago that Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, would claim victory if the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion tax cut? That's no small achievement.
JIM LEHRER: Roger, what would you say about the first 100 days of George W. Bush?
ROGER WILKINS: Well, I think the pundits have to be careful. His distant relationship with the English language is used as a proxy for "that guy is not very smart." It's just as Ford's stumbling was a proxy for the same idea. But I don't know whether it's Bush or whether it's the people around him, but they've been pretty smart. They came in; they've managed the White House carefully. They get to meetings on time. They look grown up as opposed to the prior group.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Richard that they're setting the agenda?
ROGER WILKINS: Oh, yeah, they stay on message. And they know something. They know that saying "it's your money" trumps every kind of abstraction that you can throw at it, like "pay down the debt" "protect social security." They just bang on it and bang on it and bang on it. So, I think it has been a pretty impressive first 100 days.
JIM LEHRER: Impressive to you, Haynes?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yeah, but I really think there's something here that fascinates me because I think the biggest thing that's happened with George Bush is there's no doubt that he's the authentic, legitimate President of the United States. And if we think back where we were just 100 days ago with that inauguration and the bitterness and the fraudulency and the anger. We were all watching that and talking about you on that day. He couldn't govern; the country was falling apart. He was the....
JIM LEHRER: Coalition government right here on this program.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Absolutely; right on this program. And the idea that he is... There's no doubt in the public mind he's accepted as the President. That is partly their own care. Their careful choices of people, moving very cautiously and another part it's the antidote to Bill Clinton. The way Clinton left gave him a great gift - he - Bush; it made him look good, he, Bush. And I also think the public wanted to see a President get back to work. I think all of these things have combined to give him a very good beginning. That doesn't mean he solved any problems or he won't have problems later. But I think there's no question that he now has a chance to see what he can govern.
JIM LEHRER: Doris?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I agree, there's no question that he's got a smooth transition going. It was much smoother in terms of the appointments than Clinton's was. He's created a loyal team that doesn't seem to have the in-fighting that Reagan's team had. And he certainly didn't screw around with his allies the same way that Carter did in those first days where he tried to undo all the pet projects of his famous Democratic allies. On the other hand, the one area that he still hasn't made the progress that a President needs to is engaging the public at large in his presidency. I think he's overreacted to Clinton's overexposure and he's kept himself back too much from really using that bully pulpit to make people feel engaged. You don't have the feeling that people at large are banging on Congress's doors to get his own programs passed. You know, it's so interesting if you look at the evaluation of Mr. Bush Sr. at the end of his 100 days, it almost could apply to the son. They said that Mr. Bush Sr. was reacting against the theatrics of Ronald Reagan, thought the presidency was too overexposed so he wanted to be more reserved. Yet people said that minimalism is not memorable. And I still think he hasn't found the voice that he needs to, to really make the public feel he's my President and I want to follow him but he's done a remarkably good job in all the management part of the government.
JIM LEHRER: Michael, what do you think about that, good manager but he hasn't gotten people involved yet?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, I think that's right, but that doesn't have to happen within the first 100 days. And that's the problem with our rating a President at this moment. Dwight Eisenhower in '53 made a very big effort essentially to say, you know, the country has been through 12, 16 very difficult years -- Great Depression, World War II, the beginning of the Cold War -- a very bitter time. McCarthyism. The public needs a rest. Its nerves are frayed. It didn't mean that later on when he had to go to the public for sacrifice he couldn't do it, he did. Gerald Ford, I think, did the same thing in 1974. He was able to say, look, the country has been through hell with Watergate and the near end of the Vietnam War. The public does not want to go through a period right now where a President is haranguing and asking them for a sacrifice. That can come later on. So I think Bush is very much in that tradition.
JIM LEHRER: You think he's adjusted his presidency to the times and the needs of the country rather than to his own psyche, is that..
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. Bill Clinton could not have stood even if he thought it was necessary being quiet and not saying much for those first 100 days. He actually said, there's a quote on record, elect me and you'll have 100 days of the most successful congressional record of any President in the 20th century, just setting himself up. It's sort of nice to see the opposite. But my point is that what Eisenhower did in '53, what Ford did in '74 after Nixon's resignation, they were able to restore confidence, give the public a rest. It didn't just happen. There were big political skills. I think the same is true of this President Bush.
ROGER WILKINS: I'm not sure that I agree with that. I'm not sure that this 100 days hasn't shown that this man has yet to develop the personal qualities that permit him to impose himself on the American people's consciousness. Eisenhower....
JIM LEHRER: Doris' point.
ROGER WILKINS: Eisenhower had the command presence and this glittering war resume. Kennedy got right around the Bay of Pigs because he was so adroit with the press, so....
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: But actually made a big mistake, if I might say for a second.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Kennedy rolled out a program he had vetoed earlier to land a man on the moon by 1970. That was just as a quick fix to shore up his credibility, just the kind of mistake a President can make not that the program was a mistake but when it gets he gets too spooked by these ratings.
JIM LEHRER: Richard, when you look back at the relevance of a 100-day mark, what do you see? In other words, was the first 100 days of the boom, boom presidency that revealing about the presidency when it finally ended four years later, eight years later? Has it been relevant?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: It certainly in the case of FDR, who was a great experimenter, a great improviser. The New Deal was very made up as he went along. I mean, literally at one point he would meet with the Secretary of Treasury in his bedroom and over scrambled eggs they would set the price of gold that day. That was characteristic of FDR; try something. That was the mood of the country as well. But, you know, speaking of FDR, we almost have to go to pre-New Deal, pre-Roosevelt to find a comparison. Calvin Coolidge of all people once said that it a is a great advantage to a President and a major source of safety to the country for him to know that he's not a great man. One senses some of that personal modesty --even institutional modesty about this President. But that should not be confused with the agenda. Anyone who thought George Bush was going to be chastened by the lack of a mandate last November, I mean, again this tax cut is more about restricting public spending than it is about encouraging private investment. I think that's one reason, to take Doris' point, it's hard to sell because I think it's not a stimulative tax cut, and I don't think the White House wants to say the real purpose of this tax cut is to put a straitjacket on the federal government.
JIM LEHRER: I'm sure Doris would love to comment, but unfortunately we have a technical problem and we've lost audio to Boston so she's not going to be able to. We saw her... We saw her just now but we cannot hear her.
HAYNES JOHNSON: I was going to pick up on Doris' point. I do think there's one thing about Mr. Bush so far. The country doesn't quite know who he is yet. And I think that's a problem he's going to have. There's no imprint on the public of him. He's moderate. Or he's conservative. Or he's this or he's that. You're not quite sure where he's going. He's handled himself very well in the way he now speaks. He's much more comfortable in the forums in which he appears but I don't think you still have a picture of exactly who he is. And down the road that's going to be important. He's got time to do it. But you don't have the sense of the voice of the President as he speaks out. I think that's been missing so far.
JIM LEHRER: Roger, how do you look at the relevancy, in other words, what the first 100 days of a presidency tells us about a President in the long run?
ROGER WILKINS: Not much except in these traits that we're trying to tease out in this conversation. The traits or lack of them, I think, turn out to be important.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, if Haynes is right and George W. Bush still has this problem two years from now or three years from now, then it could be a problem if, in fact, you agree with Haynes?
ROGER WILKINS: And there's another... Well, there's another trait that I'd like to throw in the mix that maybe helps us. The guy who hated fuzzy math also hates fuzzy policy. You know? I'm not going to fool around with these North Koreans. I mean just bing. And he does it time and time again. Kyoto Treaty. All that stuff. He just bing, bing, bing. The other day in his 100-day interview with the "Washington Post," he was asked about the representational rights of a half million people who live in the District of Columbia...said, "I'm against Senators." They said well, what about representation in the house? I guess I'm against Senators; I'm against House vote too. Well, there's something dismiss I have about the way he approaches, I mean, that's a serious issue. Kyoto is a serious issue. So I think these are traits that will come back to haunt him if he doesn't fix them.
JIM LEHRER: Well, we have to leave it there. Doris, if you can read a transcript, I'm now going to say good night to you and to your four male companions. Sorry we didn't get back to you.
JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, a conversation about a new book, and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: The book is "Chienne De Boerre", "Dog of War" in French. The author is Ann Nivat. Moscow correspondent for the French daily newspaper "Liberation." The book recounts her travels in the breakaway Republic of Chechnya beginning in September of 1999, a period coinciding with a renewed Russian military assault launched by then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Nivat was deported by authorities in February 2000, the same month that the Russian military declared victory in what's been called the second Chechen war.
ANNE NIVAT: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Tell us first how you got into Chechnya. This was a time when the Russian authorities were not letting western journalists travel independently.
ANNE NIVAT: Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't really care about what the Russian authorities were allowing or not allowing. I'm a journalist, and I do my job. So I arrived in Chechnya right before the war broke out. So that's probably how... It helped me a great deal to be already there when it all started. It doesn't mean it was easier, but it helped.
MARGARET WARNER: But you also went in disguise, essentially.
ANNE NIVAT: Yes, because that was the only way I could do my job as a reporter. Well, now I don't really feel like having been disguised, but then, you know, it was, like, normal, natural. I just realized that, in order to do my job, I should just get completely unnoticed, be only a woman, just a woman among other women, and I just, you know, noticed that every Chechen woman wear a scarf and long skirt, and I just decided to put long skirt and a scarf, and here I was, you know, crossing the checkpoints, the Russian military checkpoints, without being noticed by them.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you also speak Russian.
ANNE NIVAT: I do, yes. Speaking Russian was, of course, of a great help. Being a woman, speaking Russian, knowing the region, and being ready to stay for a while, and not for one or two or three days as usually journalists do, was really good... of a great help to me.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, how were you able to file your stories?
ANNE NIVAT: It was difficult. I had a satellite phone with me because, as youcan imagine, there is no normal phone lines in Chechnya, no computers working, no electricity, no heating, no nothing. So I was just writing my articles by hand and dictating them on the phone back to Paris. Paris had provided me with a sat phone which I had strapped on my belly.
MARGARET WARNER: So you were on the ground when this assault began. Tell us what it was like.
ANNE NIVAT: Horrifying, of course, and it is still horrifying. That's what I want to say today, is that this war is still going on, and although it's not the kind of blind bombing, shelling of civilians in villages I went through during the winter of '99, 2000, what's happening now might even be worse because when Putin and the Kremlin tell us, "well, this war is over--" that's basically as you've said it is over, that's what they've been saying since February of last year-- it's wrong. It's completely wrong. What is going on in Chechnya is that civilians are still being killed by the Russian army, and the Russian army so far did not arrest any of the top rebels.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, but let's... and let's go back to your book just a little bit, though, because the heart of your book is really the impact all this had on civilians. What does the West need to know about that?
ANNE NIVAT: Well, the West need to know that this war is a full-scale war, a nasty, dirty war, and it has nothing to do with a clean anti-terrorist operation as the Kremlin pictures it to us, to the outside world. What I saw myself many times, sharing my daily life with the life of the civilians, is that unfortunately the Russian army doesn't really care whom it is killing down there, and the civilians are suffering. That is the result. The result is that on the first hand you have the Russian army, and on the second hand you have the rebels, the Chechen rebels, and caught in between you have the civilians, thousands of people who have no life, who lost absolutely everything, and who just... they're just hoping that someday it will stop.
MARGARET WARNER: The Russians justified this second incursion by saying that they had to go back, even though they'd given Chechnya some autonomy, because there were Islamic guerillas that were making incursions into a neighboring republic, Dagestan, bombing buildings in Moscow. You talked to a lot of these rebel commanders. What's your sense of what's driving them?
ANNE NIVAT: Well, a lot of them don't really know what to do next. They don't really have a long- term strategy, but-- and they are divided-- but what is uniting them is the fact that they really want to kick out the Russians from their country, from Chechnya. Well, it doesn't mean that Chechnya will gain its independence the way they would like it to be, but that's what they want for now.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you get the sense that it's a religious war for them or is it a war of sort of national independence or liberation?
ANNE NIVAT: It's absolutely not a religious war, and again, that's easy for Moscow or for the Kremlin to pretend that it is and to sort of... Wanting to defend the outside world of the Islamic threat coming from Chechnya. Well, that's not what I saw in Chechnya. After six months, more than six months spent with this republic, I didn't see any kind of Islamic, Muslim extremism in this republic. The way the Chechen people practice Islam is a very sort of humble way, has nothing to do with extremists, even though, of course, there is a bunch of Chechen rebels who are extremists and fanatics, but it's a minority.
MARGARET WARNER: So how did the Chechen civilians feel? I mean, obviously they hate this war, but how do they feel about the war being fought in their name? I mean, where are their sympathies?
ANNE NIVAT: The Chechen people? The Chechen people are lost. They don't know what to think anymore. They are depressed, deeply depressed. I mean, when we talk about being depressed here in the west, I mean, here the people who are really depressed, and they have many reasons to be, that's why they don't trust anyone anymore. They lost their trust in their own elected President, Aslan Makhadov, who is one of the top rebels. They lost their trust in any kind of pro-Russian Chechen leader. They lost their trust in Russia. They only want one thing: This war to stop.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you said that even though Russia is saying publicly the war's over, essentially, and they're saying they're in full control, that that's not the case. But what's your... You went back there just a few months ago. What's your sense of the rebel commanders and how determined they are to continue this? Do you think they are?
ANNE NIVAT: Well, I was there not a few months ago, but a few weeks ago, back from Grozny. I was there three weeks ago. Of course the rebels will do something, probably soon, before the end of the summer, in order to change the situation because right now the situation is completely deadlocked. It's... nothing is moving, absolutely nothing, and that's why Russia pretends that, you know, the war is over, but in fact it is not over. Most of the rebels have nothing to lose. They already have lost everything, and that what makes them dangerous, of course.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, before we go, take us back to the end of your six-month stay there, sort of in disguise, and what finally happened when the Russian authorities find you out?
ANNE NIVAT: Well, they deported me back to Moscow. Basically they were so amazed to find me that the FSB, the former KGB, the Russian secretary's officer who found me, and he was my age, in his early thirties, and he could just not believe it, and he was... of course he was not pleased to see me, and he would not believe it. First of all they accused me of being a spy, and then, you know, they just said, "well, go back to Moscow, and we don't want you anymore here." But since then I returned.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Anne Nivat, thanks so much, and good luck with your book.
ANNE NIVAT: Thank you so much.
JIM LEHRER: Again, the major stories of this Monday. The Commerce Department reported consumer spending rose 0.3% last month. But a University of Michigan study found consumer confidence dropped sharply in April. And Vice President Cheney outlined a new energy strategy. It relies heavily on producing more oil, gas, and nuclear power. We'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you, and good night.
- The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
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- Episode Description
- This episode's headline: Feeling Down; Brave New World; Conversation. ANCHOR: JIM LEHRER; GUESTS: DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN; MICHAEL BESCHLOSS;HAYNES JOHNSON; RICHARD NORTON SMITH; ROGER WILKINS; ANNE NIVAT;CORRESPONDENTS: KWAME HOLMAN; RAY SUAREZ; SPENCER MICHELS; MARGARET WARNER; GWEN IFILL; TERENCE SMITH; KWAME HOLMAN
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- Politics and Government
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- Chicago: “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” 2001-04-30, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 30, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-4q7qn5zv33.
- MLA: “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” 2001-04-30. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-4q7qn5zv33>.
- APA: The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-4q7qn5zv33