Episode 51: Does the United States have a responsibility to act against ISIS?

On this week's DecodeDC podcast, host Andrea Seabrook talks to three experts about a deceptively simple question: What responsibility does the U.S. have, if any, to respond to ISIS?

Many Americans have been surprised in recent weeks by the brutal takeover of large regions of Iraq and Syria by the fundamentalist regime as it threatens men, women and children who don’t comply with its violent form of strict Sharia law with the most atrocious consequences -- massacres, beheadings and crucifixions.  

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama outlined his plan for military action against the group and announced the country would be working with a coalition of partners to degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIS.

The experts we spoke with -- Bruce Hoffman, the director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies; Justin Logan, the head of Foreign Policy Studies at the libertarian think tank The Cato Institute; and Jim Wallis, a public theologian and activist -- disagree on what action the U.S. should take against ISIS. 

But they do not differ on these two facts: Americans are exhausted and war-weary. And they are desperate to return to a world where terrible threats don’t interrupt their lives with violent images.

By all accounts, this brutal form of Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorists who propagate it are not fading. The question is what could -- or should -- the United States do about it.

Episode 50: The Political Ad That Changed Everything

It aired only once. A one-minute spot during “The NBC Monday Night Movie.” But it changed every political ad that came after -- as well as the entire field of advertising.

The Daisy ad aired during the height of Lyndon B. Johnson’s re-election campaign, on the night of Sept. 7, 1964.

Republican Barry Goldwater, LBJ’s challenger, had said in speeches and interviews that he would be willing to use nuclear weapons to better America’s position in the Vietnam war.

The ad was the Johnson campaign’s attempt at exploiting Goldwater’s aggressive military stance. And it worked.

Johnson would go on to win re-election by a landslide.

The ad itself has a long-lasting legacy as well. Its mastermind was a man named Tony Schwartz, a young writer at a new kind of ad agency (one that would later be the inspiration for the AMC hit TV show, "Mad Men").

Rather than focusing on a candidate’s policy statements or plans for the future, as almost every political ad before it had done, Schwartz honed in on the viewers and their emotions. His aim was to create ads that evoked feelings the audience might already have, to “strike the responsive chord”, as he called it.

On this week’s podcast, host Andrea Seabrook talks to Joe Slade White, now one of the most sought after political consultants in American politics, and David Schwartz, chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

Their conversations range from the history and importance of the Daisy ad to the psychology that underlies it. It is critical background for the educated voter, especially in these times of political ads saturating the airwaves.

You can view political ads through U.S .history at The Museum of the Moving Image’s archive of political ads, The Living Room Candidate.


Episode 49: Why more Americans are carrying guns in more places than ever before

Americans can carry more guns in more places than ever before. Across the country, grassroots movements in states and on college campuses are demanding that gun regulations be relaxed -- and lawmakers are meeting those demands.

This is one, major trend reported by News21, an eight-month project in investigative reporting that brought together top journalism students to study one issue: Guns in America.

Here at DecodeDC we’re featuring many of the News21 stories, from the prevalence of women carrying guns to the refusal by some local authorities to enforce gun control laws. And last week’s DecodeDC podcast focused on the evolution of the political debate surrounding guns, and a smaller microcosm of that debate: Colorado.

This week, host Andrea Seabrook talks to News21 reporters Kate Murphy and Wade Millward about the sweeping trend they found through their reporting: Americans are reacting to continuing gun violence in a new way. Whereas a few decades ago, a shooting might cause citizens to demand tighter gun control, today they demand more leeway to defend themselves.

Episode 48: The Changing Front Lines in the Battle Over Guns

It has been twenty years since Congress passed federal gun control legislation. That’s two decades in which America has seen some of the most horrific massacres in our nation’s history.

But despite DC's gridlock on the issue, America’s debate over gun rights and gun regulations has gained energy. Just not in Washington.

That’s just one conclusion of an in-depth, eight-month reporting project by this year’s News21 team. Student journalists tackled the issue of guns in America, turning out dozens of stories from the new, changing front lines of the debate.

We here at DecodeDC have featured several of their stories, from funding of gun rights groups to the problems with our national background check system and state efforts to nullify federal gun laws.

Today, we’re featuring them on the podcast. Host Andrea Seabrook talks to  News21 reporters Justine McDaniel Jacy Marmaduke, getting a broad overview of the current state of the gun debate in America, and then looking at a single state that is both a microcosm of the national debate, and a crucible for activists’ tactics.

Episode 47: Meet the Marketer of Ideas, Arthur Brooks

This week’s podcast is a conversation with Arthur Brooks, who runs the American Enterprise Institute, a big conservative think tank in Washington and our chief Washington correspondent Dick meyer. It didn’t turn out to be the podcast we expected.

Brooks is a very smart, very passionate, very articulate guy. He always has a take on things that is fresh so we wanted to hear his thoughts on the world of Washington think tanks. We in the news business use the phrase “think tank” all the time but we rarely look inside them as Washington players worthy of examination. We call their experts for quotes, wisdom on deadline and TV bookings.

But now a couple of the big think tanks – notably the Heritage Foundation on the right and the Center for American Progress on the left – have set-up separate organizations to do lobbying, electioneering and advocacy.

Think tanks, under the tax laws, are research and scholarly organizations that don’t get involved explicitly in elections and lobbying so this new development that has drawn a lot of criticism. Generally, many believe the policy parlors have gotten just as polarized as the rest of political Washington.

We asked Brooks if he thought the world of think tanks and policy analysis has gotten more partisan and politicized in recent years, less authoritative and independent. His answer surprised us.

Sure, Brooks agreed, some of the players have become pretty hard-core politically. So what? Brooks’ take is that more is better -- more loud, intense, passionate political voices are good. It’s okay if the tenor of Washington is a little more obnoxious or fractious. We’re not so fragile that we can’t take it.

In a nutshell, his argument is similar to those who think the Internet is going to facilitate real, positive change in the world – eventually.

Yes, it might appear that the web has created a lot of trivia, time wasting, irritating social media and obnoxious behavior. It has also undermined the business models of important areas of the economy – like news, music and books.

But it has also connected virtually all the information in the world; it gives people access to the public domain without a printing press or TV station. Confusing, revolutionary, unpredictable: the Web Utopians think it will lead to great things.

Brooks doesn’t deny that politics has become more polarized, partisan and boorish. But he seems to view it as a stage – and a small price to pay for a burgeoning of active and ornery citizenship and engagement.