Jonathan Alter On The Days After 9/11 Compared To The Days After The Boston Marathon Bombings.
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HH: Pleased to welcome back Jonathan Alter, MSNBC contributor, columnist for Bloomberg View, and I believe now the executive producer of a new TV series. Am I right about that, Jonathan?
JA: That is true, an executive producer, yeah, not the, but an.
HH: Well, tell, what is that about before I turn to the…
JA: There’s John Goodman, and we’ve got Stephen Colbert and Bill Murray doing cameos, and it’s written by Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury.
HH: And what’s it about?
JA: It’s about four Republican senators who live in a man cave on Capitol Hill like those Democrats, Schumer and Durbin and a couple of others do. You know, they need a place to stay during the week, and so it’s kind of a buddy movie about Republican senators, not a movie, buddy TV show about Republicans senators. And the cool thing about it, Hugh, is it’s being crowd sourced. You can watch it for free on Amazon right now, Amazon Studios. They’re the backers. And instead of having studio suits and executives decide which pilot they’re going to pick up, they gave us and other people enough money to make classy pilots, and they shot eight of them. And the people are going to decide which ones that go to series. So if people like Alpha House, as it’s called, then we’ll make 11 more episodes over the course of this year.
HH: Well then, I encourage people to go and watch. I will, and I’ll tell you what I think about it. I haven’t, yet. Are you fair to the Republicans? I hope they’re funny, charming, witty, handsome and well-educated.
JA: Well, at least one of them, played by Marc Consuelos, is very handsome. He has sex in the cloak room of the Senate.
JA: You know, it’s a comedy. Generally, I think, you know, some people say well, why aren’t they making fun of the Democrats? And Gary Trudeau’s answer is well, he’s made plenty of fun of Democrats over the years, but they’re kind of boring right now. And Republicans are in a much more interesting place as a party, and these guys are facing Tea Party challenges, and dealing with a lot of issues. And any time you have John Goodman as a star, even if he has a temper, as he does in this production, over the course of it, he’s going to be sympathetic, because he’s just so charming and lovable as a character. So I think the overall effect of it is to humanize these Republican senators even as it takes jabs at them.
HH: Yeah, John Goodman is one of my favorite actors, and it goes back to the role he played in the George Clooney movie about the escaped convicts in the 30s, where he is the absolutely piratical person. But good luck. That’s great. That’s terrific.
JA: Oh, the Coen Brothers movie, yeah.
HH: Yeah, I can’t remember the name of it.
JA: It’s called Alpha House. We’ll see. The cool thing about it is it’s cutting edge, because online TV is the future. So that’s one of the fun parts of it, is just being involved in the founding…
HH: That’s cool. I’ll look at it. It’s O Brother, Where Art Thou, Big Dan Teague, he plays, and I love that character.
HH: All right, let’s get very serious. Since President Obama has assumed office, Jonathan, we have had four successful Islamist penetrations of American security – Major Hasan, the New York Times Square bomber, the underwear bomber, and now the Boston Marathon bombers. Two of those have been fatal because Hasan and the Boston Marathon bombers’ killing was successful. Two of them, they got to their targets, but their bombs failed. So you tell me. Are you satisfied with the way Homeland Security is doing its job under President Obama?
JA: Well, I think to be satisfied after a situation like this would be foolish, so of course not. But you know, do I think that we’ve let our guard down, and if only Mitt Romney were president, you know, we would not be vulnerable and this wouldn’t have happened if Mitt Romney were president? No, I don’t think that’s the case. So we obviously need to do what we can to plug the holes. There’s some real issues that are raised by the fact that the FBI investigated and talked to this guy, and didn’t follow up enough. By definition, just after 9/11, we didn’t do enough, by definition. So yes, more needs to be done. I don’t think there’s some kind of a silver bullet. Now I think the idea of killing immigration reform or delaying it as a result of this is just beyond stupid. And the immigration bill actually strengthens immigration laws, and modernizes the immigration system. So people who want to connect the two should be for passage of this bipartisan immigration bill.
HH: Well, not this bill. I am for passage of a bill.
JA: But in answer of your basic question, I think Obama’s plenty committed to preventing terrorist acts, and has killed more terrorists than Americans died on 9/11, more than 4,000 over the last four years.
HH: Do you think we need a commission, as we had after 9/11, to look into the intelligence failures surrounding not just the Boston attack, but the previous ones? Specifically, I haven’t yet heard anyone ask why the Bureau fumbled the ball here, and whether or not these brothers were the target of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court surveillance operation, which I assume they were, but no one’s asked the question of the Bureau, so I can’t know for sure. Do we need a special commission, Jonathan Alter?
JA: Well, that’s a very interesting question that you’ve raised, and I would like to know the answer to whether there’s a FISA Court involvement here. Not necessarily. It could be that it was just that the Russians, you know, passed on, because they monitor the Chechens very closely, passed on that these were Chechens, and there’s only a thousand of them in the United States. So the Russians can pretty much monitor all of them. That sounds more likely to me than that there was a FISA involvement, but we don’t know. I’m not sure that we need a special commission for that, but we clearly could use some Congressional hearings and more questions answered. And you know, I’m not, look, I mean, as President Bush said, you can’t guarantee 100% safety. There are going to be these situations. There have been may foiled plots that we haven’t talked about, of course, one today in Canada. But in the last 12 years, almost 12 years since 9/11, there have been many, many more foiled plots than successful ones, and I think we need to give the authorities credit for that, and not politicize this. I mean, the Democrats after 9/11 were generally pretty good about not politicizing it, and they later, the Iraq War and other things became an issue, but you didn’t see the Democrats pointing their fingers at Bush in the months after 9/11.
HH: Boy, we have different recollections, Jonathan.
JA: And I think that Republicans would do well to do the same now.
HH: We have very different recollections of the politicization of the aftermath of 9/11.
JA: Who pointed their finger?
HH: Look at the 9/11 Commission…
JA: He had bipartisan support in the months after 9/11.
HH: No, in particular…
JA: It wasn’t until the 2002 election, Hugh.
HH: Richard Ben-Veniste on the 9/11 Commission was the most partisan hack guy I have ever seen on a national security matter.
JA: Well, the 9/11 Commission, which was much later, you know, by that time, you had had the 2002 elections, which, the midterms, which were heavily politicized, and they ran a picture of Max Cleland next to Osama bin Laden in those Republican attack ads, trying to knock him off, which they did. And you know, there was a lot of debate about the creation of the TSA, and that got political. But what I’m saying is it did not happen, and I was covering it very closely, and was at Ground Zero in the days following it. I went with President Bush, and I lived in the New York area, and was very, very involved in following these issues. What did not happen is you did not see Democratic politicians saying George Bush, it’s his fault that this happened, and you’re not protecting us. That didn’t happen.
JA: Well, boy, we remember differently, Jonathan. We’re out of time. Come back when the series comes out.
End of interview.