CHRIS WALLACE If you were not moved by the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch today, you don't have a pulse. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE The impeachment hearings mesmerize at times. From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone
BOB GARFIELD And I’m Bob Garfield. Before you start thinking that a shift in public opinion might shake Republicans faith, remember
NICOLE HEMMER Donald Trump has set down loyalty test after loyalty test, and Republicans again and again have proven their loyalty. And in many ways, impeachment is the final exam.
BROOKE GLADFIELD And a lot of billionaires seem to have an opinion on this election cycle. Why should we listen?
These monopolies are autocrats who accumulate large amounts of power and money and then use that to enforce a social vision on society. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD It's all coming up after this.
From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Well, it's happening. And though a few of the early reviews were disappointing since it lacked these partisan stunts and high jinks of other televised proceedings, it still drew a crowd.
MARIE YOVANOVITCH We are people who repeatedly uproot our lives, who risk and sometimes give our lives for this country. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE That was former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanivitch describing the role of American diplomats in her opening statement on Friday: Day two of the impeachment hearings.
MARIE YOVANOVITCH We are the dozens of Americans stationed at our embassy in Cuba and consulates in China who mysteriously and dangerously were injured in attacks from unknown sources. And we are Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Patrick Smith, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty. People rightly called heroes for their ultimate sacrifice to this nation's foreign policy interests in Libya. They represent each one of you here and every American. These courageous individuals were attacked because they symbolized America. [END CLIP]
CHRIS WALLACE I think that if you are not moved by the testimony of Marie Yovanovitch today, you don't have a pulse. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE That assessment offered by Chris Wallace of Fox News. The president also weighed in on Twitter during her testimony. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff read her the tweet.
ADAM SCHIFF Everywhere, Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia. How did that go? [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Schiff asked her to respond. Did things turn bad everywhere she went?
MARIE YOVANOVITCH I mean, I don't think I have such powers. Not in Mogadishu,Somalia, not in other places. I actually think that where I've served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the US as well as for the countries that I've served in. [CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE When asked, he said the tweets felt very intimidating.
BRET BAER Now, that enabled Chef to then characterize that tweet as intimidating the witness or tampering with a witness, which is a crime. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Fox News's Bret Baer
BRET BAER adding essentially an article of impeachment real time as this hearing is going on. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE That was Friday. Up until our deadline. But before that, there was Wednesday.
WILLIAM B TAYLOR I'm not here to decide about impeachment. That is not what either of us are here to do. This is this is your job. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD That was William B. Taylor, who, along with fellow diplomat George Kent, testified on Wednesday at the opening of the impeachment hearings in the House. But actually, Taylor's audience on the committee mostly already knew where they stood on the central question at hand.
CONGRESSMAN DEVIN NUNES It seems you agreed, witting or unwittingly, to participate in a drama. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Take, for instance, the hostility from ranking Republican member Devin Nunes
CONGRESSMAN DEVIN NUNES But the main performance, the Russia hoax has ended and you've been cast in the low rent Ukrainian sequel. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD So no. The proceedings are not really for the committee members. They're for the audience beyond the Hill. For the 13.1 million viewers who at any given moment on Wednesday were tuned in and who knows how many on Friday to any of the news channels carrying the testimony. Surely some minds among those millions might be open to persuasion?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Throughout the fall, many in the cohort of the American majority who disapprove of Trump have placed hope in the impeachment process for the salvation that the Muller report failed to deliver, specifically hope that the public, especially the Republican public, confronted with irrefutable evidence of presidential malfeasance, would turn against Trump in such numbers that their elected representatives would have to act, would have to.
NEWS REPORT There was a fair bit of concern about the Washington Post poll yesterday, just the magnitude of shift in numbers that is concerning some Republicans close to the White House and leadership. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT The trend lines really important. The independents are really important. And the fact that this process isn't over. We don't know what these open hearings are going to do to public opinion. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT House Democrats clearly hope these public hearings will make it harder for Republican senators to stand by Trump. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE On this point, some pundits and journalists invoke the Nixon era when a fractured country tuned in to televised hearings and came to agree about the seriousness of the Watergate scandal.
BOB GARFIELD Back in 1973, public opinion had not yet turned against President Richard Nixon.
SENATOR HOWARD BAKER What did the president know? And when did he know it? [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD televising the Senate Watergate hearings tipped the balance in part by exposing the existence of secret Oval Office tapes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE More than a year passed between those hearings and Nixon's premature departure from office. But by the end, a clear majority of Americans supported exactly that. And so the hope goes, if a divided country could, albeit slowly reach a consensus, then why not now? Because, says Nicole Hemmer, author of Messenger of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics, that hope springs from a false premise. She penned an op ed to that effect in last weekend's New York Times.
NICOLE HEMMER I hate to be the downer in this moment, but, you know, I understand why people think that the Watergate analogy is so strong when we think about impeachment, that if we just follow the exact same steps that Democrats followed in 1973 and 1974, we'll have the exact same conclusion. I mean, back in the days of Watergate, you had a public that watched four news networks, all of which were devoted to some form of objective reporting. You had a Republican Party that certainly included conservatives, but didn't have the kind of conservative base that we had today. And you certainly didn't have anything like Fox News or conservative talk radio to protect an embattled president.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Have you watched any of the coverage on Fox News?
NICOLE HEMMER I was actually watching it on Wednesday on Fox News because I was curious, you know, Fox, just like the other networks were carrying these hearings live. And that seemed to be a tricky proposition for the network because there would be all of this evidence being amassed that showed potential corruption by the president.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And Lindsey Graham told Trump supporters that it was tantamount to disloyalty to watch the hearings.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM It is a threat to the presidency. I don't want to legitimize it. It's un-American. It denies the basics of due process. [END CLIP]
NICOLE HEMMER And yet I think the folks at Fox News knew that people were going to be tuning in. And if the people who normally watch your network are going to tune in, you want to have some control over what they see. And in fact, even though Fox News did carry the hearings live, what they did was they would pull out little pieces of information up on the screen just to make sure that their viewers understood the correct way to understand what they were hearing. And so a really good example of this is that Fox News put up three different “facts” about William Taylor. One was that the president had called him a “Never Trumper”, one was that the White House had accused him of triple hearsay, that he hadn't been anywhere close to the information. And one was that the Republican Party had said something like he wasn't trustworthy. And so this is how they're introducing this Vietnam War vet, Bronze Star winner, lifetime public servant, just so people know who are watching how to position him.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And so the fractured media is going to protect the public from unwanted facts.
NICOLE HEMMER Part of the public, because we've seen significant movement among Democrats and independents toward supporting both impeachment and removal. We haven't seen that same movement among Republicans. And that's really important because that's who those Republican lawmakers are listening to. Fox News plays an important role in making sure that everyone's on the same page, not just during the life hearings, but in all of the commentary that surrounds impeachment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But Republicans are, what, less than a third of the electorate? You wouldn't know it, of course, thanks to the Electoral College and precision gerrymandering that the GOP was better timed to take advantage of than the Democrats were. But that said, once Republicans were the majority party. So there was a time when it could be moved by public sentiment.
NICOLE HEMMER Oh, absolutely. But the Republican Party has wholesale abandoned popular politics. I mean, in the days of the 1980s, in the early 1990s, Ronald Reagan was winning landslide elections. George H.W. Bush had the highest approval ratings of any president on record. The Republicans in Congress sweep the 1994 elections with the popular vote. Popular politics worked for conservatives in the Republican Party during those 15 years. Then they start to abandon them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So how did they go from a party that revered popular politics to one that rejected them?
NICOLE HEMMER They learned that they wouldn't necessarily pay a big price for rejecting popular politics. And there's two ways that we see this in the mid 1990s. You have Newt Gingrich, who is in charge of Republicans in the House and Bill Clinton, the Democratic president, and Newt Gingrich is trying out some different obstructionist policies, he shuts down the federal government twice.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Didn't the Republicans pay a price for that?
NICOLE HEMMER They sort of paid a price for it. I mean, Bill Clinton is reelected. It's hard to say that that's a result of the government shutdown, but the public blamed Republicans for shutting down the federal government. And then a couple of years later, they move forward on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. At no time did the American public ever support the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That was clear not only by public polling, but in 1998 before impeachment hearings had started, but after the Starr report and all this stuff had been going on around impeachment, voters who would normally be voting for Republicans in a midterm election just based on kind of the historical patterns, actually vote for Democrats instead as a pretty stern rebuke of Republicans moving forward on impeachment. What do they do? Then after the election, they move forward with impeachment. That sort of insularity to public will should have cost them something. So what happens in 2000? They win the presidency and keep control of both houses of Congress.
BROOKE GLADSTONE George W. Bush obtained the presidency?
NICOLE HEMMER There was no political price paid in the 2000 election for all of the unpopular policies the government shut down, the impeachment of Bill Clinton. And yes, you can always put an asterisk next to the 2000 election, just like you can to the 2016 election. But that asterisk is part of the point. You don't actually need to win the popular vote in order to control the presidency. And actually, we're seeing a growing gap between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote in ways that undermine people's faith in a broader sense of democracy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So let's talk about some of the ways in recent years that public sentiment has had no impact on the Republican Party. The one that comes to my mind is the gun control measure after the Sandy Hook massacre. The Senate voted it down.
NICOLE HEMMER Look at the polls, both after Sandy Hook and after any of the numerous mass shootings that the United States has experienced. The American people, including Republicans by overwhelming majorities, 80, 90 percent, support different types of gun control. And you cannot get it through the Republican Party. You cannot get Republican support for it. And that's only one of these issues like banning abortion is not something that the public supports, overturning the Affordable Care Act, not something that the public supports, restrictions on immigration, not something that the public supports. And then there are all of these political tactics like the debt ceiling crises and sequestration, all of these government shutdowns and things that were happening during the Obama years, really unpopular policies, really unpopular politics. And what happens in 2016? Republicans control both the White House and both houses of Congress.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So you don't see a circumstance in which the Senate might be persuaded to consider removing the president.
NICOLE HEMMER You know, the president said during the campaign that he could shoot a person on Fifth Avenue and not pay a price. And people saw that as a piece of overblown rhetoric. It was actually a governing philosophy. And it is one that the Republican Party has signed on to. Using what we know about the past three to four years, there is not an imaginable scenario in which Donald Trump violates the Constitution and is held responsible by Republicans in Congress. That's not to say it can't happen, but time and time again, that line has been tested. We have watched as Donald Trump has set down loyalty test after loyalty test. And Republicans again and again have proven their loyalty. And in many ways, impeachment is the final exam. The way of getting all of that loyalty onboard in order to protect the Trump presidency.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Nicole, thank you so much.
NICOLE HEMMER Thank you for having me. Sorry to be depressing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I don't forgive you. Nicole Hemmer is a researcher at Columbia University and the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.
BOB GARFIELD Coming up, the Watergate hearings were not exactly as history paints them. Just ask John Dean.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media.
BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. So, proceedings of monumental importance have kicked off for just the fourth time in American history. But wait, wait, wait.
Is it a good show?
From a television perspective, Democrats have to come out strong in that first episode, known for the same reason that when we watch the bit on Netflix or listen to a new podcast, we only choose to keep listening if we're interested in episode one. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE On Fox News this week, Ken Starr, best known for heading an investigation into the Clinton administration, poo-pooed the impeachment proceedings.
KEN STARR There is no John Dean. This is what the president told me. This is what the president did. We are far removed from Nixon and Watergate at this stage. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Certainly former White House Counsel John Dean's famous 1973 Senate testimony about his firsthand knowledge of Nixon's cover up was striking, succinct and memorably metaphorical.
JOHN DEAN I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency, and if the cancer was not removed, the president himself would be killed by it. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE And on Wednesday, Dean himself was on CNN with his own assessment of the proceedings.
JOHN DEAN What struck me today in listening to these two witnesses is they already have more than they had against Richard Nixon to impeach him. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE John Dean, welcome to the show.
JOHN DEAN Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So, expand on what you said, that there's already more at this stage than there was against Nixon?
JOHN DEAN We're at a very advanced stage in this proceeding. We've been at it almost since the outset of the Trump presidency. If you go back to the Mueller investigation, where he stacked up 10 potential instances of obstruction of justice, that did Nixon. And that evidence is just sitting there on the shelf. That was one of the thoughts in my head. The other thought was that we know pretty much where these witnesses are going from, the little bit that has leaked out from their executive session. And it's pretty compelling evidence, they’re very strong witnesses.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But when you were listening to the two witnesses on Wednesday, was there a big moment that you felt was particularly revealing?
JOHN DEAN Ambassador Sondland's telephone call in a restaurant with a Taylor aide that was heretofore unknown.
DAVID HOLMES A member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Mr. Sondland told President Trump that Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Mr. Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE I think the Republicans would call that triple hearsay.
JOHN DEAN Well, you know, that's another thing that I find fascinating. There are more cases throughout the country and federal courts where the federal rules of evidence apply that are determined based on hearsay because of all the exceptions to the hearsay rule.
BROOKE GLADSTONE There's a rule that says that hearsay is inadmissible, but there are so many exceptions to it.
JOHN DEAN You can drive a truck through them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE It still is a determining factor in many, many cases in federal court.
JOHN DEAN Absolutely. In countless cases, the Republicans don't seem to realize what they're talking about, which surprises me. There are a few lawyers there. It is really not a very good argument. The argument also is a little fallacious, since the Republicans are the ones who don't want the primary sources to come up and testify.
BROOKE GLADSTONE That’s true.
JOHN DEAN The White House is withholding them and they certainly aren’t putting them on their witness list.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Like you were, you were a direct source.
JOHN DEAN I really didn't want to be a witness and contrary to the Republicans saying that everything happened in transparent, open environment during Nixon. I actually testified before the House in executive session, as in all the other witnesses against Nixon. Yes, his lawyer was there. In fact, his lawyer is one of the reasons that his case caved when the so-called smoking gun tape was released as a result of the Supreme Court saying that the president had to turn over all of his tapes to the grand jury, his counsel, James St. Clair, realized that the president had lied to him and he had lied for the president. So he went to the president and said, Mr. President, you've made me a liar. You've made me obstruct justice. It's my ethical obligation to go to the House Judiciary Committee and tell them I misled them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Do you think that today's Supreme Court would have made that decision to release the tapes?
JOHN DEAN The only person I've ever heard claim that us versus Nixon was not properly decided is Justice Kavanaugh on this bizarre radical conservative theory of the unitary executive who has all power. And this is what we're seeing somewhat play out right now, where they're claiming witnesses don't even have to show up in court for hearings because these super powers of our unitary executive. Well, the founders wrote those provisions in Article 2, and these conservative scholars seem to forget we were breaking from a monarchy when we wrote that constitution and they want to bring the monarchy back because they see the future not being very good for conservatives.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You know, we had Tim Naftali on the show a few weeks ago. He's a historian, former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. He noted one big difference between 1973 and today.
TIM NAFTALI Nixon was capable of shame and he also had a sense of presidential norms. He covertly did these abuse of power, but wanted to maintain the appearance of cooperation while in fact, he was engaged in very heavy stonewalling. President Trump doesn't seem to care and doesn't think that his supporters care. [END CLIP]
JOHN DEAN If you compare the situation where Nixon was forced to reveal and turn over his tapes knowing that was the end of his presidency, the same parallel situation today, I don't think that Donald Trump would do as Nixon did and turn over the tapes. He'd say, listen, I've got the army. You send your marshall down here and I'll shoot him. And one of the reasons is that Donald Trump appears to have no shame. Nixon could be embarrassed. I'd never seen Donald Trump embarrassed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik wrote this week that the media coverage of Watergate, “gave us much of today's concussive ballistic jargon of scandal. There were bombshells, there were smoking guns. Ever since, we've measured controversies as if on a decibel meter, judging them by their fireworks and explosive drama.” But actually, he says, for a modern day viewer, the 1973 Senate hearings looked rather quiet.
NEWS REPORT The documents that you've just given me are Xerox copies, of a log, which I maintain myself. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE “There were no yammering newsroom panels, no countdown clocks, no hashtags. There's just testimony in a hushed hearing room and too soft spoken anchors at humdrum desks trying to figure out what the president knew, when he knew it and whether democracy still worked.”
JOHN DEAN You know, one of the things I never understood after my testimony was people coming up to me and say they enjoyed my show. What in the world you're talking about? It is not high theater. It is not high drama. But those who are comparing it to past proceedings forget while 80 million people may have watched my testimony. It wasn't high drama.
RICHARD NIXON It was a very general job type interview. Mitchell realized that he was not familiar with the election laws and asked if I would assist him in any way I could in getting himself familiar with those laws. I agreed. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE We were talking about shame. One element of this scandal and all the others that we've had in the Trump presidency is that the Trump camp acts as though if you do something in public, it isn't a crime. And sometimes the media act that way, too. Just last month, even as the Ukraine whistleblower news was coming out, the president publicly said this.
PRESIDENT TRUMP China just started an investigation into the violence because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with with Ukraine. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE What do you make of that? Does that strike you as a new effective kind of defense?
JOHN DEAN Apparently, he picked this up from Roy Cohn, doesn't do it openly, do it blatantly. And people will just think you're a tough guy and not a criminal. So, you know, maybe that's his thought. I never found Roy Cohn to be much of a role model.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But maybe he's right?
JOHN DEAN It does actually take some elements essential to criminal charges away. Conspiracies rely on secrecy. That's the interesting part about Ukraine. He really did do this in secrecy until the whistleblower brought it to light. He wasn't calling on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens on the South Lawn. That happened after he got caught.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Senator Howard Baker had a succinct and still famous question in the Watergate hearings.
SENATOR HOWARD BAKER What did the president know and when did he know it? [END CLIP]
JOHN DEAN Howard Baker was using that to pin me down on exactly what the president knew and when he knew it. Thinking I'll get Dean to perjure himself.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Why was he trying to set you up?
JOHN DEAN Oh, you know, everybody thinks Howard Baker was “Mr. I'm in the middle, I want to see justice done.” There are two Howard Bakers. There was a Howard Baker in the closed sessions where he voted to do everything he could to help Nixon. And he had a back channel to the White House. And then the public Howard Baker, who always came out, said we reached unanimous agreement and it was just all a fraud. If the only person who really knew this could record it for history was Sam Dash, the chief counsel, he just found Baker to be a remarkable hypocrite.
BROOKE GLADSTONE If this goes to the court, it'll be John Roberts who presides.
JOHN DEAN I think John Roberts would bring a lot of presence. He may not want to. The next ranking member is Clarence Thomas. That opens itself up for a circus in my mind. And so I certainly hope Roberts does it. When Rehnquist, who did the Clinton impeachment, later reported on it, he said he never played more Solitaire than he did during that time and he made very few rulings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So do you think that the American public needs to watch these hearings or not?
JOHN DEAN You know, first of all, a lot of people have day jobs, so they're not tailored at this point for most people, it'll be streamed, it'll be on YouTube, it'll be somewhere. And I think people should watch that to put a face on these issues and who these people are and how their demeanor is and let them judge for themselves. Democracy is tough because people want to be entertained today. Many people find Trump an entertaining showman as president, and they don't realize what the show is. They don't know where this story is going. And they feed off the scandal to scandal to scandal that doesn't seem to bother him at all, but it's certainly taking its toll on our system. I'm not sure we can take four more years of this and still have any kind of viable federal government.
BROOKE GLADSTONE John Dean, thank you very much.
JOHN DEAN My pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE John Dean served as White House counsel for Richard Nixon from July 1970 to April ‘73.
BOB GARFIELD Coming up, the bleating of bilious billionaires.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I’m Bob Garfield. Well, look who's having a moment.
NEWS REPORT Mark Cuban is here. He has been a capitalist his whole life. And he actually started with nothing and became a billionaire because of hard work and just smarts. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT All right. Jeff Bezos, the space company Blue Origin is teaming up with other aerospace giants for a successful trip to the moon. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT It's another step toward Elon Musk's vision for a worldwide network of space based Internet. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Billionaires, you can’t avoid them these days. It seems that three of them, if you can count Donald Trump, are running for president.
NEWS REPORT One of Democratic presidential candidate Tom Sires’ aides in Iowa has reportedly made contribution offers to local politicians in the hopes of securing endorsements for Steiner's presidential bid. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Michael Bloomberg, according to a top adviser, is preparing to enter the already crowded 2020 Democratic primary field. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Another billionaire reportedly giving him a little push or support. Recode is reporting that Amazon's Jeff Bezos called Bloomberg to personally urge him to run. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Meanwhile, two other candidates are making all billionaires the targets of their campaigns.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS So tonight we say to Michael Bloomberg and other billionaires, sorry, you ain’t gonna buy this election.Those days are gone. [END CLIP]
SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN Every budget, every policy that we talk about is about who's going to get. Opportunity isn't going to go to the billionaires or is it going to go to our kids? [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Celebrated or reviled, billionaires are dominating the national narrative in a way that seems so sudden and yet also eerily familiar.
ROBERT REICH In fact, this might be called the second Gilded Age when you have a huge wealth piled up at the very, very top, a lot of poverty, the middle class shrinking and a great deal government corruption.
BOB GARFIELD Huh, that's it. Deja Plutocrat, as Berkeley professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains.
ROBERT REICH It's a very close parallel, essentially, that the very rich, the super rich robber barons of the 1880s, 1890s, the turn of the 20th century. They were celebrated by the establishment of that day. They were thought of as the entrepreneurs and great philanthropists of the era. But at the same time, they were monopolists, they were cutthroat in terms of how they got their money.
BOB GARFIELD Likewise, Reich wrote this week, nowadays, to make a billion dollars does not signify mastery within a free market, it signifies unfair advantage in a highly rigged game.
ROBERT REICH We see again and again that, for example, anti-monopoly laws have not really been enforced. Antitrust is almost a dead letter. Insider trading has increased dramatically. We see that patents and trademarks and intellectual property rights have been expanded because a lot of people and a lot of big corporations have put a lot of money into politics to make sure that they've been expanded, according to economists Thomas Piketty and others who have researched this very carefully, about 60 percent is inherited. Now, that is the people who got it, didn't get it out of their own work. They got it because they are living off of the work of previous generations. That was never part of the American dream.
BOB GARFIELD And yet here we seem to be. 1890 redux, a society in which a handful of robber barons have captured our imaginations and also an ungodly percentage of the world's wealth. It's like the measles resurgence of a condition we'd thought we'd eradicated. After all, between 1900 and 1980, the structures of plutocracy were largely dismantled via legislation unionization, taxation, muckraking journalism, the Great Depression, and, of course, the New Deal. This was FDR in 1936, espousing economic populism through vilification of the super rich.
PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT And we know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Golly. That's familiar.
ELIZABETH WARREN So here's the deal. You've built a great fortune. Good for you. We're Americans. We want to make these investments. All we're saying is when you make it big pitch to cents. So everybody else gets a chance to make it. I'm Elizabeth Warren and I approve this message. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Oddly, the plutocracy did not approve that message.
LEON COOPERMAN I mean, I can't use an expletive, right? [END CLIP]
Hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman like Mark Cuban. J.P. Morgan Chase's Jamie Diamond and ex Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein squealed at the unfairness of it all.
LEON COOPERMAN It's complete bull. She’s screwing around with the wrong guy because I want to give it all away, not 50, 60 percent. I want to give it all away, but I want to control that decision. I don't need the government giving away my money. And the idea of vilifying wealthy people is so bogus, you know, they're appealing to the, to the masses. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Speaking of which, Fox and Friends.
NEWS REPORT Another finance billionaire, calling out Elizabeth Warren over her wealth tax proposal.
I was surprised at so many rich people were almost kind of quiet when they're attacked. Not this time.
Not this time. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Even the world's most famous philanthropist, Bill Gates, recently joined the billionaire cohort in resisting ambitious wealth tax plans from the Democratic left flank. Here he was speaking last week with Andrew Ross Sorkin in front of a live audience.
BILL GATES And I do think of you tax too much, you do risk the capital formation, innovation, U.S. as the desirable place to do innovative companies. I do think you risk that. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD It happens that economic history doesn't support that conclusion. But Gates position takes on an outsized influence, not necessarily because of special expertise, but because of another disproportionate effect of riches. What journalists Jamelle Bouie and Anand Giridharadas call “the billionaire Vito.” Robert Reich.
ROBERT REICH The billionaire class is powerful not just because they don't need a lot of money to political candidates and they do a lot of lobbying. They're also powerful because they have a huge amount of influence over public opinion and over the not, it’s a chilling effect on not for profits on universities, on an inquiry. So there is that kind of a veto.
BOB GARFIELD Gates, arguably more than anyone else on earth, has the capacity to influence human priorities. And with every philanthropic effort to further cement his reputation, not as a robber baron, but as a humanitarian.
NEWS REPORT Bill wondered what it would take to reimagine both toilets and sewage systems.
BILL GATES What if you can fund inventors that could come up with something that's a tenth the cost? You know, that's pretty magical. And you end up saving millions of lives. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Gates philanthropic work is the main subject of a new three-part Netflix documentary titled Inside Bill's Brain, directed by Davis Guggenheim of An Inconvenient Truth The film documents Gates journey from tech titan to prolific do-gooder. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has carefully invested Microsoft billions into lifesaving public health initiatives targeting polio, malaria and other preventable diseases. Oh, and also, he told Sorkin,
BILL GATES you know, I've paid over 10 billion in taxes. I've paid more than anyone in taxes. But I know I'm glad to have… [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD But were those billions ever rightfully his to begin with in the new book, Goliath: The 100 Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy. Matt Stoller chronicles the predatory tactics that both enriched Bill Gates and landed him in federal court. Matt, welcome back to the show.
MATT STOLLER Hey, thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD If you'll permit me to stipulate that Bill Gates can be both a monopolist bully and an astonishingly brilliant and hands on philanthropist, Can we please turn our attention to the bully part? Gates fortune was not solely the result of building a better mousetrap, eh?
MATT STOLLER So Bill Gates is obviously a very smart guy and he's a very good businessman. But the reason he made 100 billion dollars instead of 20 million dollars or 50 million dollars is purely because of public policy changes that enabled monopolistic behavior. Copyright changes in 1976 and 1980 allowed the copyrighting of software. There was also a significant set of antitrust suits in the 1970s, one of which was against IBM. And one of the suppliers that it used for the new personal computer was Microsoft. And they allowed Microsoft to sell that operating system to other personal computer makers. It's very unlike how IBM operated. But they did it because the DOJ scared them. And then the DOJ dropped the suit in 1982 and essentially stopped enforcing antitrust law. So Bill Gates used a host of anti-competitive tactics that created the last generation of robber barons in the late 19th century, early 20th century to monopolize the key onramp to the most important and fastest growing industry in human history up to that point, which was personal computers and that new software industry.
BOB GARFIELD So behind the floppy bangs and the oversized glasses, Gates just went all “robber baron” on the world in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. There were the likes of Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and John D Rockefeller to run roughshod on the marketplace. You think Bill Gates was a sort of reincarnation of John D Rockefeller?
MATT STOLLER Yeah, that's right. John D Rockefeller was an oil refiner. And so he essentially made a pact with other oil refiners and he basically accumulated a lot of shipping power. So he went to the railroads and he said, if a competitor actually ships on your railroad, then you have to give me a rebate for every barrel of oil that they ship. And he had so much buying power that the railroads had to say yes. And then he would go to his competitors and he would say, you can't succeed here, so sell out to me. And then he was able to essentially monopolize all oil refining. But it wasn't because he was a better oil refiner, it's because he used market power to demand better pricing terms from railroads who became dependent on him. And he was able to control the entire industry. And that's very much what Bill Gates did with operating systems.
So Bill Gates said to computer makers, I'll give you a certain licensing fee if you put Microsoft operating systems DOS and then Windows. But then I'm gonna change that fee, if you build computers with other operating systems. So effectively, you have to give me a rebate if you use any of my competitor's products. And you just can't compete with that. So then he just rolled up the whole operating system market.
BOB GARFIELD That's a silver or lead proposition.
MATT STOLLER Yeah, that's right. It's like the drug dealer, you know, who says you can get bribed or you can get a bullet. Right. I mean, it's not that violent. He was then able to effectively dislodge Lotus 1-2-3, which controlled spreadsheets. And then I believe it was WordPerfect, that controlled word processing and replaced them with what became Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. What you always see with monopolists who control an important platform, they use their control of that platform to take control of markets that have to live on that platform.
BOB GARFIELD But at this stage, the revolution of personal computing is about to lead into a second revolution of the Internet. What did Gates do?
MATT STOLLER So the most dangerous time for a monopolist is when they have a monopoly over an existing marketplace. And then there's some technological inflection point that changes the marketplace. For example, Google had desktop search control and then there was a shift to mobile. And that was the moment when there was an opportunity for new entrants. All of a sudden people were going to use this new thing called the Internet. This new technology called the browser, which is controlled by a company called Netscape, could effectively replace or commoditize the operating system. So Bill Gates saw this and he said that's a really dangerous thing. We need to control this new onramp to this marketplace that could be even bigger than the personal computer, which is the Internet. So he built his own browser, which was Internet Explorer, and started bundling it with Windows and started making deals, making it harder and harder for Netscape to get onto computers and easier and easier for Internet Explorer to get onto computers. Towards the late 1990s and this is in a book by Gary Reback, who is a lawyer that opposed Microsoft, Microsoft called together a whole bunch of venture capitalists. And they said, look, there's this new incredible thing called the Internet. Here are the places that we're going to invest and here are the places that you're going to be allowed to invest. It was a little bit more subtle than that, but that was sort of the gist of it.
BOB GARFIELD All right. But in the film, speaking to Guggenheim, Gates just shrugs that off.
DAVIS GUGGENHEIM A reasonable person might think you had a monopoly?
BILL GATES If monopoly means extremely high market share with short term market power. The answer is yes. If it means that we had a unchallengeable position where new and better technology didn't have a chance to replace, the answer is no. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Well, that's an answer. Antitrust regulators had a slightly different definition of monopoly, more along the lines of strong arming. And in that case, Gates sense of impunity served him poorly. In the antitrust trial, prosecutors cherry picked some video from Gates's deposition and played it at trial to make him look like an arrogant smartass.
BILL GATES I have no idea what you're talking about when you say ass?
Do you want me to define proprietary API or not?
No, I don't want you to define proprietary API.
Do you believe that the publication of that statement affected Netscape?
BILL GATES Like hurt their feelings? Somebody cried or? [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD In the movie, Gates claims that the video game bit was unfair and prejudicial.
BILL GATES A certain sense of arrogance came through that that hurt us quite a bit it shouldn't hurt us because that's not what was on trial. It turned out, though, it was part of what was on trial.
DAVIS GUGGENHEIM And were you arrogant?
BILL GATES In a certain sense, people who make billions of dollars in their 20s and manage, you know, thousands of people and decide which products they're going to do and not do. Yes, that can appear to be quite arrogant. [END CLIP].
BOB GARFIELD That is quite an answer Matt. You know, one could perhaps argue self indicting.
MATT STOLLER These monopolies are autocrats. Bill Gates is mentored Mark Zuckerberg. Mark Zuckerberg is an autocrat. One of the reasons that we have to encourage and force competition in markets and not allow anti-competitive behavior is because when you do, then you get these people who are autocrats who accumulate large amounts of power and money and then use that to enforce a social vision on society. And that's what we see with Bill Gates. But it's also what we see now increasingly everywhere, corrupting our politics, corrupting global politics. The arrogance that was on display at that trial, it was real arrogance, but it was also a function of the fact that our public policy framework in the 1980s allowed Bill Gates to be extraordinarily greedy and thuggish.
BOB GARFIELD All right. So a year later came the verdict.
NEWS REPORT A federal judge found that Microsoft was a monopoly that uses its power to stifle competition at the expense of consumers. [END CLIP]
MATT STOLLER The district court judge, the remedy that he chose was to split up the company. We're going to split you up into operating system and then everything else. That remedy was overturned by an appeals court.
NEWS REPORT Microsoft was vindicated on all these counts. And then I just started crying. [END CLIP]
MATT STOLLER When Bill Gates says we were vindicated, they're lying. The original decision that Microsoft was a monopolist that had abused its monopoly power was not overturned. They just changed the remedy. To me, when I look at this, I just think it's all so crazy is that the remedy of just splitting up the company was so insanely mild. The Sherman Act is a criminal statute. It also says that if you monopolize, you get fined three times the amount that you got from monopolization, because monopolization is a crime of theft. You're taking other people's property when you use anti-competitive behavior. So it should have been split up and I think it would have been a better company. But he shouldn't have a fortune. You know, they should have put a hundred and fifty billion dollar fine because the property that he got, he stole it from other people using anti-competitive tactics. And he held back the development of technology by forcing everyone to use windows, which was not as good as it could have been if there had actually been competition.
BOB GARFIELD So no gigantic confiscatory fines. But then
MATT STOLLER There was one really positive impact of the case. You know, it oxygenated the market. Charles Duhigg at The New York Times did a story talking to former Microsoft executives who said we were thinking of killing this young company called Google through our control of the browser, but we didn't do that because we were afraid of antitrust actions. It got Microsoft to stop acting like a bully and allowed a flowering of innovation in the early to mid 2000s that allowed for a lot of great companies to form. And Microsoft did not end up capturing social media, didn't end up capturing email or search or shopping or a whole bunch of things that I think it probably would have been able to capture if it hadn't been restrained, just like IBM was not able to capture the personal computer market because it was restrained by antitrust law.
BOB GARFIELD So in the year 2000, this chastened Bill Gates with his wife Melinda started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars undertaking philanthropic works, mostly in public health, mostly in Africa. But you believe that decisions on how to spend those dollars, which had they been paid in taxes and slashed under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, would have been in the hands of governments, not a private foundation. And you think this kind of redistribution of wealth by one titan is inherently anti-democratic?
MATT STOLLER Yeah,so if somebody and I'm not saying this is Gates, but I'm just giving an analogy, right, it's like if somebody robbed a lot of banks and then gave some money to charity, it's not a substitute for government. It's competition with government. You know, the idea of building a new toilet to help Senegalese children is a good thing. But I'll give you an alternative example of how we used to do this kind of thing. So one of the things that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and our democratic government did in the 1930s is just build a lot of toilets. A lot of places in this country that did not have indoor plumbing. We had very bad sanitation systems and the government improved people's lives dramatically through aggressive sanitation measures. Public systems do this extraordinarily well. If they're well-run, when I look at the Gates Foundation, I see I see a failure of public health infrastructure, of a kind of libertarian philosophy which says just place power in the hands of private actors and then they can solve our social problems because they clearly can't. FDR in 1938 said weak democracies produce dictatorship. If you have a weak democracy, which we've had at least since the late 1970s, a democracy where our officials defer to private concentrations of power, then you're going to be governed by someone like Bill Gates and people are going to look up to people like Bill Gates because they've lost the confidence that we, the people can do these things because we the people have not done them for a while.
BOB GARFIELD Matt, thank you very much.
MATT STOLLER Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD Matt Stoller is the author of Goliath: The 100 Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.
That's it for this week's show On the Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, and Jon Hanrahan, and Asthaa Chaturvedi. We had more help from Charlotte Gartenberg and our show was edited by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Sam Bair and Josh Hahn.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield.