Week In Review With Daniel Schorr

This week, a disastrous explosion aboard an oil rig left 11 workers missing and presumed dead and caused a catastrophic oil spill. Congress started debating financial regulation, and the Justice Department issued a subpoena against Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen. Host Scott Simon reviews the week in the news with NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time now for a look back at some of the big stories this week with NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr.

Hello, Dan.

DAN SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And let's begin, Dan, with this disastrous explosion aboard an oil rig that left 11 workers missing and presumed dead.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: And it's caused a catastrophic oil spill. We've got millions of gallons of oil spreading throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Some have already landed on the Gulf Coast. This is not long, of course, after President Obama announced the authorization of offshore drilling.

SCHORR: That's right, which I have a feeling is being put on hold now and may be on hold for some time.

SIMON: Well, tell us how you think this might affect national policy.

SCHORR: They certainly think that's not a very good idea to go in for oil drilling right now, and probably the president is regretful that he ever did it in the first place. In the second place, the most important thing is to not do Katrina again.

Which is to say that everybody remembers that the administration was criticized on Katrina for reacting too slowly. They didn't react slowly this time. And there are several different government departments involved, all working together very fast and so on.

Unfortunately, however, in spite of the fact that they do seem to be working with great alacrity, the fact of the matter is there is only a limited amount that you can do in the face of such a catastrophic, as you described it, overwhelming of the marshes and the swamps and so on - amazing amount of oil. And so there we are again. It's a humbling experience for all of us. But for the government it is: let nobody ever say that we didn't react speedily.

SIMON: Congress has started debating financial regulation.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: A lot of Republicans in Congress had hoped not to have that debate now. What happened?

SCHORR: Well, what happened is that the administration won one against the Republicans. Republicans had done very well combating on the health care issue. And the president is still going around the country trying to explain about the health care issue.

And here they go. They might have another one on this business of regulation. And so they try to stop it by filibusters. And then something happened. They suddenly realized that the public cared about Wall Street and that Wall Street was not the same as health care.

And after it had gone on for a few days, they thought they'd better retire as gracefully as they could, because this country wants something done about Wall Street and regulation.

SIMON: Let me ask you about something that came up that in a sense you have a personal interest in - you personally, but all news organizations perhaps. Justice Department issued a subpoena this week against James Risen.

SCHORR: Oh yes.

SIMON: Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter who refused to testify about confidential sources he used in a 2006 book that included descriptions of covert CIA operations. It's a case that began at the end of the Bush administration.

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: There are freedom of speech and freedom of the press advocates who complain that President Obama - despite protestations to the contrary - is simply ratifying the Bush policy by going into court.

SCHORR: Well, that is true. All of us who are involved with journalism would have hoped they would not repeat the idea as happened, for example, with Judith Miller of the New York Times, who went to jail for 85 days for refusing to reveal a source that they wanted.

Now what they wanted from Jim Risen was a source that had given him this information. And he's pleading First Amendment, said I can't do that. And now they've subpoenaed him. And it's going to be marching him down that very unhappy lane where they say that if you do not tell us what we want to know, then you will be in contempt and then we will perhaps send you to jail.

I recall this very vividly, because back in 1975 I was asked for a source on a report on the CIA which I had, couldn't give it, and was called before the House Ethics Committee, which demanded to know my source. And I was not able to give my source, citing the First Amendment. And they threatened me with a couple of years in jail and maybe a $10,000 fine. But in the end they went in and deliberated and decided by a vote of six to five only not to send me to jail. So when you talk about trying to protect sources, I'm very, very up on that.

SIMON: And why is it important to the Obama administration?

SCHORR: I think that all bureaucrats want to protect information. And they get very angry when something slips out which they didn't want to slip out. And so you'll find that the Justice Department and Congress (unintelligible) they agree on one thing, that when reporters have something which is embarrassing and they report it and then they don't give us a source, by god, we've got to try to stop that.

That's the eternal struggle between the bureaucrat and the journalist.

SIMON: Finally this. Ukraine this week - members of parliament ratified an agreement to renew Russia's lease of a Ukrainian port for another 25 years. But next time you think that Republicans and Democrats can't get along in our Congress, I want you to recall the scene this week in the Ukrainian parliament.

SCHORR: Well, the scene was that the parliament was meeting in order to ratify an agreement that would allow the Russians to keep their Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, which is in the Ukraine, in return for which the Russians would renew the agreement giving a lot of natural gas to Ukraine.

And in the end the Ukrainian government felt, because they needed the energy so badly, that they would do that. The nationalists of Ukraine didn't like it very much, with the result that there was a scene in the Ukraine in parliament as they were debating this thing, in which the speaker of the parliament had to hold an umbrella in front of him in order to dodge the eggs that were being thrown at him.

But the result of that was that Ukraine gets Russian gas, and I guess maybe an umbrella is worth it.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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