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Crisis in Iraq; Crisis in the Middle East; Ebola Outbreak: What is the Truth about Ebola?; Mideast Crisis: Israel and Hamas at War Again; Israel and Hamas at War Again; Are Foreign Crises Obama's Fault?
Aired August 9, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Devastating strikes conducted by the United States in Iraq. Israel and militants in Gaza are striking at each other again. And all this as the President kicks off a two-week- long vacation. Plus, Ebola rumors are spreading fast and furious via social media. And has an innocent man been put to death in the United States?
I'm Michael Smerconish. Let's get started.
My first headline is from ABC News: "Airstrikes undertaken as U.S. re- engages in Iraq.
Some three years ago, President Obama ended America's combat role in Iraq amid cries from many detractors that the job wasn't finished and he'd find himself dealing with it later. Well, later turns out to be now, with the U.S. having launched airstrikes Friday against the brazen and well-armed Islamic terror group ISIS.
ISIS has marauded through northern Iraq after spilling in from Syria, seizing towns and sending Iraqi troops into panicked retreat. They've executed opponents and forced several hundred thousand Iraqis to flee their own homes in fear.
The U.S. says it had to do something. The plan going forward? TBD - to be determined. With me live from Orlando, Lt. General Mark Hertling, U.S. Army,
retired. Gen. Hertling spent nearly four years of his life in Iraq. And from Washington, Tom Rogan, columnist for the National Review and the Daily Telegraph of London.
General, allow me to show you - Jess, if you put that up on the screen - something that Senator Dianne Feinstein said just yesterday with regard to the situation in Iraq. She said, "It takes an army to defeat an army, and I believe that we either we confront ISIL now or we will be forced to deal with an even stronger enemy in the future."
Is she right, General?
LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Partly. It certainly takes an army to defeat an army. But I'm not sure our army is the right one to do this now and I think the president's strategy of contributing a little bit and doing the assessment as he has done for over a month now with the limited number of advisers in Iraq is a good move. But it's got to be the Iraqi army that does this. It has been the Peshmerga that has been fighting very hard recently. The rest of the Iraqi army has to get involved. We used to have an expression, Michael, when we were there, is they have got to want it more than we do. And until that time comes, we're going to have some challenges with a growing terrorist threat within Iraq. But it's not our problem. It's Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi government's problem.
SMERCONISH: And I certainly understand your point. I'm also wondering from the sidelines, where is the U.N. and where is the European community in all of this, General?
HERTLING: It's a very good question, Michael, and I think especially when you're talking about the northern part of Iraq because there are certain threats to Turkey. There are certainly threats to the rest of the European Union as some of these terrorists become more and more emboldened as they potentially pass through - as you know - my last job was in Europe and we were beginning to see some of the terrorist movements pass through the Schengen zone places where you just need a European passport. So this is critical and I think we have to get the U.N. involved and we have to get the European Union involved and the Gulf Cooperation Council as well.
SMERCONISH: Tom Rogan, even if 40,000 Yazidis are evacuated, that won't alleviate the bigger picture problem with ISIS?
TOM ROGAN, COLUMNIST, UK DAILY TELEGRAPH: No, it won't, and that's why I think what we need to see here is a more comprehensive campaign. I completely understand and, in many ways, agree with General Hertling in the sense that over the long-term, this definitely requires an Iraqi solution - both an Iraqi political solution and a military solution. But in the short-term, what we're going to need to see is the degrading of ISIS and specifically, I think what U.S. air power can do is to limit their maneuverability, limit their ability to move convoys very quickly against formations of Kurdish fighters or Iraqi army units. But in the short-term, there is an urgent threat and only the United States can deal with it. And just going back to what we were talking about with the U.N. and E.U. - the sad reality of this, the RAF, Britain - America's closest allies - only sending one plane. It is America alone. And that is a real tragedy. But the European Union - you speak to British intelligence people, they will be very open about their concern of ISIS - European members of ISIS - coming back and then using their passports, potentially even travel to the United States for terrorism.
SMERCONISH: General Hertling, the president sat down for nearly an hour with Tom Friedman from the New York Times yesterday and he said that there's a - really a two-fold analysis now that he brings to situations like this. One is should we intervene, and equally important, do we have an answer the day after? Isn't that the big picture problem? We intervene now but then, to use the old Colin Powell comment, "We've broken it and we own it." What do we then do going forward?
HERTLING: Well, first, Mike, I think Tom's article - Tom Friedman's article was an excellent piece. It showed just the complexity that the president and his national security team are dealing with in this area. We had over 100,000-plus soldiers in Iraq at one time. We had a very large air force so the question is how do you intervene? I think the mission that General Austin is the Central Commander has right now is a good one. It has certain constraints and restraints on it. But he is executing that mission very well and I think even the very limited tactical strikes that occurred yesterday - that are being made such a big deal of today - at least gave a little bit of emphasis toward the Kurdish partners and they are certainly a great partner of ours. Not an ally but a partner as part of Iraq. But it gave them a psychological push, if you will, by saying, "Hey, they will help." They will prevent people from coming into Erbil and perhaps threatening the American presence there. The same thing may be true of Baghdad. But, as Mr. Friedman's piece pointed out, we cannot become Iraq's air force and allow Mr. Maliki to get off the hook. They've got to establish a better government and provide security for their own people.
SMERCONISH: Tom Rogan, I like to say that my real job is to answer phones for a living because by day, I host a radio program and I hear from people all across the country on a variety of matters. My sense of the American pulse is that people don't wish to see us re-engage in Iraq. They don't want anything more than the humanitarian effort that's now underway.
ROGAN: I think you're absolutely right. And I think it's incumbent upon people like myself who believe that we should be more involved to say why. In specific terms, the argument is that what we have seen over the past couple of years with our isolation both from Syria and Iraq is this developing situation on the ground now - humanitarian catastrophe, terrorism spreading westwards in very significant tangible ways - and that if we don't take a different step as the president is beginning to do, what I would like to see him do more, what we will see is continuing destabilization and also the spread across the middle east of these current sub sectarian - political sectarianism overwhelming dialogue. I mean, one of the great successes of the U.S. military in Iraq which General Hertling was very much part of was the role of U.S. military leadership and diplomats and actually serving into (IA) relationships in Iraq. And our absence from Iraq has, I think, caused or it has not caused but has facilitated some of these problems. I wish we just kept some more people at the embassy and maintain those relationships - both in terms of intelligence, logistics, but also political relationships.
SMERCONISH: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you as always. Tom Rogan, we appreciate your perspective.
You remember that original headline: "Airstrikes undertaken as U.S. re-engages in Iraq"? What I would have written? "Sinjar solution won't stop ISIS."
So how's this for timing? As the commander-in-chief starts his break in Martha's Vineyard today, bombings, beheadings, barbarism, terror across the middle east.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. MARGARET CHAN, W.H.O. DIRECTOR-GENERAL: I am declaring the current outbreak of the Ebola virus disease a public health emergency of international concern.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: There are rumors and there are truths about the virus. We'll clear it up for you.
And many now wonder whether an innocent man was put to death and the governor who could have stopped it and didn't.
SMERCONISH: My next headline comes from the New York Times: "Can the U.S. still be a leader in the middle east?"
With the U.S dropping bombs in Iraq and the extremely delicate ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas, there are profound domestic political ramifications to look at.
With me now from Washington, editor and blogger Crystal Wright. Her website's called ConservativeBlackChick.com. And from Chicago, LZ Granderson, CNN commentator and senior writer at ESPN.
Crystal, I understand - based on a conversation that you had with my producer - that you believe the president acted in the manner that he has in Iraq because of his low approval rating, 36-37 percent, relative to foreign policy. First of all, is that accurate? Is that your perspective?
CRYSTAL WRIGHT, CONSERVATIVEBLACKCHICK.COM EDITOR & BLOGGER: That is my perspective. I think it's very convenient that President Obama's approval ratings on foreign policy dipped to an all-time low of 36 percent and now, all of a sudden, he has found his "President Bush" voice. He has started using the word "terrorist" again. All of a sudden, he finds a need for military intervention. This president hasn't acted on the world stage in five-and-a-half years. The last time he acted was in Libya and he only was drawn into Libya after Britain and France led the way to bomb Libya and get Gaddafi out of the way. So I don't know how - he has no credibility on the world stage. I don't know how President Obama is going to dig us out of this Iraq hole and frankly, the message he's sending to Netanyahu over the
last year, signing this nuclear deal with Iran, is that "Israel, you cannot count on us." He has not come out, neither he nor his administration or President - I'm sorry - Secretary Kerry have come out and said, "Hamas is a terrorist organization. Hamas started this attack on Israel. We are sorry for the loss of lives, but frankly, it's because of Hamas you have these huge casualties in Gaza." So I'm perplexed.
SMERCONISH: But LZ, with regard to the 36 or 37 percent approval, I have studied the internals of those polls and something interesting emerges which is that it's true - as Crystal says - in the overall, Americans say that they're dissatisfied with the foreign policy approach of this administration, but when you look at issue by issue under that foreign policy umbrella, people are in general agreement with his approach which has been - I would describe it as "methodical" or "planning" and the antithesis of frankly what got us into a lot of these situations. You take the floor.
LZ GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, as - obviously, I disagree with pretty much 99.9 percent of what Crystal had to say, with all due respect. I don't think the President is looking at poll numbers before deciding whether or not to put American lives in harm's way. That's what he does when he decides to go forward with military action. I think that's a very cynical way of looking at this presidency. I think it's a very simple way of looking at the presidency as an - as an office, that somehow poll numbers dictate foreign policy. What I will say is that you are absolutely correct, Michael, is that when you start to fillet the question beyond the simplicity, "Do you like what the president is doing with foreign policy?" because quite frankly, people answer that question based upon the situation at hand. When you start asking about the strategy, "Do you want boots on the ground?", "Do you want more aid?", "Do you support this country over that country?", you find more and more Americans on both sides of the aisle in line with what the president is doing. What you're finding with the 37 percent that's being thrown around is that people are not happy with what's happening in the middle east and they fault the president for it. But once they think about it, they realize what the president is doing is the thing they would do if they were in his shoes.
SMERCONISH: Crystal, do you disagree with that? I mean, it seems as if the American people don't want us getting more involved in Iraq, don't want us getting more involved in Syria, don't want us - you can fill in the blank?
WRIGHT: Right. No. I agree with - I actually agree with one percent of what LZ said and I agree with you, Michael. When you go issue by issue, did Americans want us to get involved in Syria? No. Do Americans want more boots on the ground in Iraq? No. But what Americans do want is a foreign policy plan from this president and leadership, and that's why we see the overall rating for this president on foreign policy at 36-
GRANDERSON: You have the leadership.
WRIGHT: --excuse me. Let me - he has no foreign policy plan. Disengagement from the world stage is not a foreign policy plan. I would argue the American people want diplomacy from this president, engagement, which he has not done. He did not engage in the Arab Spring. He hasn't murmured. Remember--.
SMERCONISH: I've got to (IA).
GRANDERSON: This is (IA) ridiculous.
SMERCONISH: The good news is you're both sticking around. Crystal Wright, LZ Granderson, stay here. We'll talk more in a couple of minutes. You remember that original headline, the one from the New York Times that reads: "Can the U.S. still be a leader in the middle east?". What I would have written? "Low marks for a president who does what the public wants."
The Ebola virus has been declared an international emergency. And now that infected patients are here in the U.S., the rumors have been flying all over social media. Relax. We'll let you know what to believe and what to throw out.
And inside the hidden tunnels going in and out of Gaza. Alan Dershowitz has been there. He joins us along with Rula Jebreal.
SMERCONISH: Looking at the Ebola epidemic today, my next headline comes from Slate.com: "Can my keyboard spread Ebola?"
The Ebola epidemic that began as a spark in March is now an inferno raging over parts of western Africa. It's killed close to 1,000 people. It's the biggest such outbreak ever and it constitutes a global health emergency, according to the World Health Organization.
In the U.S., the arrival of two infected American health workers triggered a brief spasm of worry, even as the Centers for Disease Control emphatically tried to shoot down cause for concern.
Christina Warren is a writer and blogger and senior tech analyst for the website Mashable and joins me now.
I want to show you two tweets from the Donald, if I might. Jess, if you could put those up on the screen.
"The fact that we are taking the Ebola patients, while others from the area are fleeing to the United States is absolutely CRAZY-Stupid pols."
And one more from the Donald: "The bigger problem with Ebola is all of the people coming into the U.S. from West Africa who may be infected with the disease. STOP THE FLIGHTS!"
And yet, there's a lot of good being done in contrast to that, right, via social media in terms of an education campaign. So I guess my question is on balance - is social media a help or a hindrance in a circumstance like this?
CHRISTINA WARREN, SENIOR TECH ANALYST, MASHABLE.COM: Well, it's interesting because you point out the exact dichotomy. On the one hand, you have Donald trump being Donald trump and riling people up. And on the other hand, you have health organizations and governments and officials actually using it as a way to educate. I think on the balance, really, the outrage is really coming from fear and the goal that the organizations are using social media for is to try to educate, to mitigate that fear. So I think on the balance, social media is helping, but it's sometimes difficult to get over the amplified noise especially if you're a well-known blowhard. SMERCONISH: And I guess what should be noted is that the folks most affected by this in West Africa probably have the least access to the air waves of the type that we're talking about.
WARREN: They do and they don't. So they're going to be less exposed to the ramblings of Donald Trump, but actually, the mobile phone penetration in Nigeria is 75 percent. So it's actually quite high. And more people have access to mobile phones and even things like SMS messages than they do to radio and TV broadcasts. So as a way to actually get the message out, using social media or SMS or digital to spread the word actually it's a really good communication method.
SMERCONISH: I love social media but it also occurs to me in a circumstance like this that it becomes the water cooler equivalent of spreading rumor and innuendo. And it's not just the Ebola virus. When anything happens in the news, a catastrophe of some kind, unfortunately, some people's worst inclination is to use their 140 characters for a purpose that doesn't serve us well.
WARREN: That's exactly right. And so that's why I think it's important for the CDC and the World Health Organization and for people who actually know what they're talking about to then use social media and say, "OK. Chill out. This is what's actually happening", where the CDC has been answering questions and doing chats. There've been the author of The Hot Zone with - on Reddit doing an ask-me-anything. So there's been a lot of information campaigns out there. But you're right. It's kind of necessary because our inclination with social media is to just kind of use it to say whatever we are feeling.
SMERCONISH: Any suggestion that you would offer the CDC or any of the other - the World Health Organization - any of those governmental or quasi-governmental entities that have a role in keeping us all of us safe in terms of how they can better manage their social media?
WARREN: One of the first things is to look at whatever the popular hashtags are and frankly, if something is getting a lot of attention like the Donald Trump tweet, if I were the CDC, I would actually pay to have a promoted tweet with the real information near it so that anybody who's seen that tweet might see a promoted tweet from the CDC that's showing the real facts.
SMERCONISH: Good suggestion.
Christina Warren, thank you for your time. We appreciate it.
You remember that original headline - the headline that came from Slate and read, "Can my keyboard spread Ebola?"? What I would have written? "Uninformed opinions are contagious."
Massive plumes of thick black smoke rise over Gaza city. As cease- fire talks break down, strikes resume. Stuck in the middle? Many innocents.
Alan Dershowitz and Rula Jebreal are here to discuss.
And the first family going to Martha's Vineyard. A closer look at the optics of the president's vacation.
SMERCONISH: My next headline looks at the failed cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas. This one comes from CNN.com and reads, "Israel carries out strikes on Gaza after rocket fire resumes."
The blame game in the middle east between Israel and Hamas is back on again. Israel waited several hours Friday before resuming attacks on Gaza, even after militants resumed rocket fire at Israel. Talks to end their three-day cease-fire failed when Hamas reportedly didn't see its key demands being met. Each side now blaming the other.
With us now from Massachusetts, professor Alan Dershowitz - professor emeritus now at the Harvard Law School, author of the memoir "Taking the Stand" and other books which include the case for Israel.
Professor, with regard to negotiating a permanent cease-fire, can there be both a lifting of the blockade and demilitarization of Gaza? Is there - in other words - a means by which Israel's safety could be protected while giving Gaza residents access to the materials that they desperately need rebuild?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Yes, you put your finger exactly on the issue. Israel is prepared to lift much of the blockade - everything except the importation of rockets and cement and other material that have been building these terror tunnels and the rockets - but they're not prepared to lift the blockade if Hamas continues to fire rockets.
Just this morning, Hamas threatened and I'll read you the quote, "If our demands are not met by Sunday, we will attack Tel Aviv." In other words, they are threatening a war crime in which thousands of people could be killed. The Iron Dome is only 85 percent effective. And they built the terror tunnels in which death squads are supposed to emerge and as a report done on the Jewish New York, Rosh Hashanah this year, they were expecting 400 to 500 Hamas terrorists to come out of the tunnels and murder Israeli children and kindergarteners in the kibbutzim.
I was in those tunnels and I saw where they come -- the tunnel I was in was yards away from a kindergarten with 57 children. And there are explosives in the tunnels right under kindergartens and right under schools.
So, we're talking about an organization that specializes in double war crimes. It attacks Israeli civilians, threatening to blow up Tel Aviv, from areas of high density population, hoping that Israel will respond and kill as many civilians as possible so that the networks all over the world will show pictures of dead children.
Now, Palestinian mothers love their children as much as anybody else. But Hamas is prepared to sacrifice Palestinian children in order to get positive publicity for itself and negative publicity against Israel. It's hard to make peace with organizations like that or ISIS or others that do not value human life. SMERCONISH: Let me bring into the conversation from South Hampton,
New York, Rula Jebreal. She's a journalist and foreign policy analyst.
Rula, please respond to what you heard from Professor Dershowitz and if you'd also address my question of how do we get beyond this issue of Hamas in Gaza needing now to rebuild and Israelis having a legitimate concern as to their safety moving forward?
RULA JEBREAL, JOURNALIST: With politics. Simple. Regardless rhetoric, I would say we tried to bombard Gaza. Israel tried to bombard Gaza, '09, '012 and now '014. And they didn't topple them. They didn't weaken them, because simply when you live under military occupation, under blockade, resistance can become a strong narrative, whether we like it or not.
If we take out of the debate and conversation, the context of occupation and blockade, we can never understand what's happening on the ground. So, we need to apply policies. Military solution is not a solution. Didn't lead anywhere. It actually empowered extremists on the expense of moderates who were willing to sign with Israel any kind of peace deal.
Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, actually created and formed a unity government that include Hamas in a moment where Hamas was weakened politically and almost bankrupt financially. At that time, Hamas accepted the condition that the P.A., the Palestinian Authority, accepted, which is recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and above all, subscribing to all the previous agreements.
So, if we don't acknowledge the reality and if we keep, you know, talking about the clouds and about dreams and about -- no doubt we are ignoring today what's going on underground. So, when we talk about human right violation, we have to talk about human right violation taking place in Gaza for the last 47 years. To say --
SMERCONISH: Let me try to get a brief response if I may -- let me try and get a brief response from each of you to the aspect. Yesterday, the president sat down with Tom Friedman. He apparently said to Tom Friedman that Abbas is too weak and Bibi Netanyahu is too strong right now for there to be a resolution.
Professor, respond to that observation.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, first of all, I think it is important to remember from 2005 to 2007, there was no occupation. There was no blockade. There were simple controls of the border to make sure rockets did not come in and Hamas rocketed Israel repeatedly, thousands of rockets without occupation and without a blockade.
So, I think that your previous guest forgetting history, is very important.
As to Israel -- Israel can only make peace if it is strong. I think personally, this is the perfect opportunity for Netanyahu and Abbas to sit down and create a two-state solution. Hamas is the problem. Hamas is ISIS without the IDF. That is without the Israeli defense forces in Egypt, Hamas would be doing exactly what ISIS does. It's very hard to negotiate with ISIS or with Hamas.
The United States is not negotiating with ISIS. It's helping the Kurds to try to defeat them militarily. But I think Israel sitting down with the Palestinians now from a position of strength and a two- state solution would be a very, very good outcome.
SMERCONISH: Rula Jebreal, go ahead.
JEBREAL: Well, two things, that there is no blockade is deny -- it's like saying there is no global warming. It's just simple delusion. Even the United States government recognized the blockade as part of the occupation.
You know, Gaza is an open air with 1.8 million people living in complete isolation and in total poverty.
Another thing, no doubt we need a political solution to the issue, but it has to come hand by hand. Demilitarization and Palestinian state, with the end of the occupation. This is what -- and I think we have an opportunity, but I don't see this opportunity seized by Netanyahu who is going out and say, there is under no circumstances I will accept a Palestinian state.
I think Israel leadership have to come out --
DERSHOWITZ: He never said that. He never said that. That's just false.
JEBREAL: -- and think about the next generation and not the next election.
SMERCONISH: Alan Dershowitz and --
JEBREAL: He said that clearly.
SMERCONISH: Alan Dershowitz, Rula Jebreal, thank you so much.
JEBREAL: We need to think about the next generation.
SMERCONISH: Thank you. You remember that original headline, the one that read, Israel carries out strikes on Gaza after rocket fire resumes? What I would have written, fire may cease, but competing concerns over blockade and safety will continue.
We'll be right back.
SMERCONISH: Multiple crises around the world and the president takes off for a two-week vacation. That's sure to be fodder for critics.
Back with me now from Washington: Crystal Wright, and from Chicago, LZ Granderson.
Crystal, what do you make of the man vacationing at this moment?
CRYSTAL WRIGHT, EDITOR & BLOGGER: How can you be president of the United States of America, start a bombing campaign to eradicate terrorists from Iraq, and then, say, oh, I'm going to go to Martha's Vineyard for two weeks. It shows, you know, he has no credibility with the American people or with the world.
And as you pointed out, Michael, Ukraine is falling apart. We've got Syria still falling apart. And I think after the Russian separatists bomb the Malaysia Airline, the president was off in the diner in Delaware. And a month ago, as the war was happening in Gaza, he was off to fund-raisers in California.
I mean, is the president serious?
SMERCONISH: But, you know, L.Z., in the world which we live and the president can vacation when all is calm, I don't think the guy is never getting out of the Oval Office. L.Z.?
L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I'm going to ignore Crystal's irrational statement. I'm just going to focus in on facts. And the fact of the matter is if you line up all the vacation days of the past, say, four or five presidents, you would find that President Obama has actually been in the White House, has been working for the American people more than Bush, W., way more than President Reagan, who had 400 vacation days. He even took vacation when the unemployment rate was the highest in the country since the Great Depression. He went on vacation.
So, my point is that on both sides of the aisle, they use vacations to needle the president. But in reality, presidents need to take vacations. If you line up what President Obama has taken compared to his counterparts, he has taken far less vacations than the men before him.
SMERCONISH: Crystal, I was just on vacation for this week. It was, you know, technology speaking, just me and a smartphone and my family. When he vacations, I mean, the office comes with him. The staff comes with him, no?
WRIGHT: True. True.
But I just spoke to a Democrat right before we went on the show. And you know what she told me? She said she thinks it's awful President Obama is taking vacation. She can understand a weekend, but Reagan didn't take vacation when he was fighting Russia.
I mean, this is ridiculous to say --
GRANDERSON: He actually was on vacation.
WRIGHT: This is a huge moment. You have terrorists that have been taking hold ISIS has been taking hold in Iraq for the last year. This looks incompetent at best.
GRANDERSON: Terrorists have been in the Middle East for centuries. WRIGHT: I mean, president has taken many vacations, and he avoids crisis. The crisis at the border, he was at diners having beer with Governor Hickenlooper and playing pool in Colorado. The optics are not good, L.Z. The optics are not good.
SMERCONISH: I have always said, Crystal, I may be wrong, but at least I'm consistent, whether it's Bush, whether it's Obama, I want them to be of sound mind. I know how I am if I don't get away. And, you know, for the job they have, I want them to vacation.
L.Z., you take the final word. We just have 20 seconds.
GRANDERSON: Absolutely. Thank you. I would say this, one thing, W. defended Obama taking vacations because he understood what it was like to do with that much pressure.
And number two, I will agree with the fact that the optics do not look good. But just because the optics don't look doesn't mean what's actually happening isn't good. And it is good for the person who's in control of the button to be on rest.
WRIGHT: Oh, he's going to do what he wants to do anyway. That's what Obama does. He's going to do whatever he wants to do.
SMERCONISH: Crystal Wright and L.Z. Granderson, thank you both. We'll continue this conversation in the future.
SMERCONISH: Three children dead in a house fire, complains of a shoddy investigation, and reliance on a jailhouse snitch. Might Cameron Todd Willingham soon be recognized as an innocent man who was put to death in Texas?
SMERCONISH: The next headline comes from "The Washington Post". Fresh doubts over a Texas execution.
You know, Justice Antonin Scalia once famously said, there's not a single case, not one, in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. Those who'd challenge that notion have new ammunition in a case they questioned for years.
Citing previously undisclosed letters, interviews and legal records, "The Washington Post" this week casts new doubt on the guilt of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas in 2004 for setting a house fire that killed his three young girls, Amber, Carmen and Cameron. The official finding of arson has been repeatedly challenged as a product of shoddy forensics.
With me now is David Grann, staff writer for "The New Yorker", whose reporting in 2009 exposed flaws in this case, and earned him and George Polk Award. What is in your mind the best piece of exculpatory evidence? You know, in a short conversation, you would say to somebody -- well, this is the reason why I don't think he did it?
DAVID GRANN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, the case was based -- it's pretty easy, because the case was on two pieces of evidence. One was the fire evidence and the second was a jailhouse snitch. In terms of the fire evidence, every top forensic fire or arson expert who has now looked at this case said it was based on junk science, that the evidence was unreliable. That there was no evidence the fire was intentionally set.
So, that was the bulk of the case. You could now remove that. Based on that evidence, he would not have been indicted, let alone convicted.
So, what was left? That's what the new evidence comes into play and that was about this jailhouse informant. Jailhouse informant during the case claimed that Willingham somehow passed by his cell, and even though Willingham had professed his innocence until his dying last breath, said that Willingham somehow confessed to him. So, that was the last piece of evidence that remain.
SMERCONISH: And why would he confess to the jailhouse snitch if he'd confessed to law enforcement, it would have spared his life, right?
SMERCONISH: He was offered a deal?
GRANN: He was offered a deal and he refused to take it.
Look, there was always -- the jailhouse informant on its face was always fairly ludicrous. This was a man who started taking drugs when he was 9 years old. He was highly unreliable. He somehow said that Willingham somehow just passed his cell. They didn't really know each other before.
And, in fact, some of the things he said that Willingham told him didn't conform with the forensic evidence.
SMERCONISH: And, David, Rick Perry was the governor. Still is the governor, but it was on his watch. He had the opportunity to commute that death sentence and did not.
GRANN: He did not. He denied a stay.
And why the jailhouse and the new evidence with the informant is important is that when this went to the governor, the new forensic science was brought to the governor asking for a stay showing that the science was unreliable. But the prosecutors in this case that will Willingham confess? It was this jailhouse informant.
Well, that jailhouse informant has now admitted that Willingham told him nothing. That he lied. Not only did he lie, that he received benefits for giving his testimony. SMERCONISH: And what I learned from that extraordinary piece you
wrote in 2009, many think that, well, all of this has just now come to light. You made clear there was plenty of reasonable doubt while the process was ongoing, that something should have been done differently.
Thanks so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
GRANN: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: You remember that original headlines, the one from "The Washington Post" that read, fresh doubts over a Texas execution? What I would have written, Perry in 2016 could be dogged by a dead man.
We're switching gears in a big way in a moment. I'd be looking at the concerts you rock at, the bands you roll with, and whether they truly are who they say they are.
SMERCONISH: One last thing.
With summer in full swing, the concert season is upon us. And for an aging classic rocker like me, that means going to shows that featuring headliners like Peter Frampton, which is exactly what I was doing at the legendary Tower Theater several weeks ago with a buddy of mind. The Doobie Brothers were on the same bill that night, and when in the midst of their encore, they hit the opening chords of this --
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SMERCONISH: The classic "China Grove". I asked may friend Paul, how many members of the original lineup are right now onstage? Two, he said. Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons.
Well, during the intermission, we spied flyers advertising this summer's return of Yes, performing albums "Fragile" and "Close to the Edge," and a triple header with Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder, noted to be formerly of the Eagles.
Of course, this incarnation of Yes lacks legendary front man Jon Anderson and while a band is touring as Styx, Dennis DeYoung is also on the road performs the music of Styx. Meanwhile, Foreigner lacks its original front man Lou Graham who left the band in 2004.
So, over a couple of younglings, we 50-ish aging rockers proceeded to debate the propriety of 60-plus aging rock musicians continuing to use their original band name when there are so few original members in the touring lineup.
Now, I arbitrarily proposed a 2/5 rule. But Paul waved me off. He said it doesn't lend itself to a simple mathematical analysis. By a one-half rule, you could say that Paul and Ringo can constitute a reunited Beatles.
My response was to suggest, a 3/5 compromise. But he told me that would be unworkable. He said, by that count, current iteration of Creedence Clearwater Revival would be the genuine article, notwithstanding the conspicuous absence of John Fogerty, arguably, the voice, the sound and the spirit of the group. And he's got a point.
For instance --
SMERCONISH: Math would never carry the day for the band currently billing itself as Chicago. While they've got the horn section, they lack the soul of the original band, guitarist Terry Kath. And Peter Cetera, the voice behind most of the group's biggest hits, he hasn't been with the band since Bush 41.
There's nothing new about disputes when the curtains should finally close on bands touring a particular name. At one point in the 1990s, three bands were billing themselves as the Platters including one band that had no connection at all to the original group. On the other hand, '60s perennials the Turtles are still happy together with just Turtles in the group. Even '90s grunge kings Stone Temple Pilots who recently toured without front man Scott Weiland have faced this issue.
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SMERCONISH: STP without Scott Weiland is like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, without Tom Petty.
Queen is another band touring with a new lead singer, notwithstanding its likely spectacle, the Adam Lambert fronted Queen is simply not Queen.
Now, the good news, this summer is also featuring Aerosmith on the road, sporting the original Bostonians Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and those three other guys.
The Eagles are doing a chronology tour while sporting 4/5 of theirs classic lineup and Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, and Paul McCartney will all be playing themselves at an arena near you.
You know, at 71, Sir Paul may be only 80 percent of the rocker he once was. But 4/5's Paul McCartney still constitutes 20 percent of the Beatles, and that's all right.
That does it for me. Enjoy your weekend. Have a great weekend. I'll see you back here next Saturday.