TONY COX, host:
From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Tony Cox. Crime and punishment. Rogue investor Bernard Madoff is in jail awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of billions of dollars. The Iraqi man who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush gets a three-year sentence for his act of protest. And questions remain whether Sudan's indicted president will ever see the inside of a jail. That's on today's Reporters' Roundtable. With us are Kevin Merida, the assistant managing editor for national news for the Washington Post and Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Gentlemen, welcome.
Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Hi, Tony.
Mr. KEVIN MERIDA (Assistant Managing Editor for National News, Washington Post): Hey, thank you, Tony.
COX: Let's start with this. Disgraced investor Bernard Madoff, pleading guilty to 11 counts of fraud, money laundering, perjury and theft, wiping out $65 billion in savings from countless unsuspecting investors, set to be sentenced now on June 16th, facing a maximum jail sentence of 150 years. Kevin, at his age, 70, a long sentence would be the same as a life sentence. Does that matter? Should that matter?
Mr. MERIDA: Well, I think it probably - it matters sometimes to judges but often not. And, you know, I think this has been such a huge - there's been such a huge public outcry. It kind of represents the greed ethos of Wall Street and the financial marketplace that really has gotten people upset in this country in the last decade and a half. I mean, you think bank to Enron and there was a great hue and cry for the people who were in charge of the company to get jail time. And I think that there will be a lot of pressure. I know the judges don't always, you know, necessarily look at public pressure. But I do think that there's a certain sentiment in the country that he should be punished, and I suspect him to get, you know, some considerable jail time.
COX: Well, you know, Clarence, the question now is, who else may have been involved in this scheme? Is it reasonable to believe, do you think, that Madoff pulled this off all by himself?
Mr. PAGE: No, it's not reasonable to believe that. I think - well, obviously, the investigations are continuing. There may be other people brought in and charged. That's important. What's really important with this case is, why did it happen? How can Ponzi schemes like this - and that's what this was. And Madoff himself said so in court, it was a Ponzi scheme, the kind of two-bit hustle that (laughing) I covered as a young reporter in Chicago. And now, we're discovering that a brilliant man, one of the most prestigious people on Wall Street like Bernie Madoff, was engaging in a Ponzi scheme, that he himself says got out of his own control, that he thought he'd just do it for a little while and he just couldn't stop, you know. This is a strange kind of madness here. But I think the people, you know, in that courtroom, the victims were relieved that the man was convicted. How long does he serve? I don't think - and who else is brought in? That doesn't matter to them as much now as the fact - the possibility they might get some money back. Can they? Will they? How much of it? How much of his estate can they claim? That sort of thing, it seems to be, what the big question is now.
COX: All right, speaking of jail sentences, guys, let's talk about how two different international cases were dealt with in very different courts of law. Last December, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at then President Bush during a press conference, which was a criminal act, by the way, that also made him a hero in the minds of the Iraqi journalists, has been sentenced to three years even though his lawyers vowed they could appeal, he could get up to. He could have gotten as much as 15 years. But my question Kevin is this. Is this Iraqi justice or American justice being exerted in an Iraqi court?
Mr. MERIDA: Well, it's certainly going to play that way and is playing that way in Iraq. It becomes kind of a metaphor for the occupation of Iraq in the eyes of Iraqis, and that's a war that has not been popular anywhere really. And so, this kind of compounds the unpopularity of it. You know, the Iraqi journalist was - you know, there were people outside the court room weeping and, you know, people supporting him. I mean, three years would seem like a lot for throwing a shoe, but it became kind of a symbolic - as you put it, you know, a symbolic (unintelligible) to punish something for an act against the American president.
COX: In the horn of Africa, Clarence, another stab at international justice is taking place with so far unclear results. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is thumbing his nose at an arrest warrant for war crimes passed down from the International Criminal Court. Some observers are suggesting that the man accused to perpetrating atrocities in Darfur may never see the inside of a jail. Is that likely, do you think?
Mr. PAGE: Well, what he's done is to put the ball back in the courts of the United States and other members of the world community. Will people go after him? Will other African countries go after him? Countries led by leaders who are concerned - some of them - if they too might be brought upon war crime trials later on, brought up on war crime charges. The United States has had a working relationship with Sudan. They've been cooperative with us in Bush's War on Terror. Sudan was a former haven for Osama Bin Laden. And it is also an oil power, not a big one, but enough that China is an important ally of theirs. This is an interesting case that is much bigger than Bashir himself because the ability of the international community to bring forth war criminals, to hold them up to account, has tremendous implications for the future of Africa and the rest of the planet.
COX: Let's switch topics again. This is a news story that keeps coming back and back and back and back, kind of like a weed in a sense. The GOP is still trying to pick up the pieces from November's election, but at the moment, Republican National Committee head Michael Steele continues to raise the hackles of many in the party. A new interview published in GQ magazine said that Steele believes abortion is a choice. Homosexuality is not. These are his words, not ours. The statements run counter, of course, to the views of many social conservative. Now, Steele keeps talking, and in your paper, Kevin Merida, the Washington Post, you've run stories even today, about whether or not this will cost him. One of the columnists on your staff seems to suggest that this would not force him out.
Mr. MERIDA: Well, I think it's going to be something to continue to watch. I mean, this is kind of the worst kind of case for the Republican Party. I mean, they elected the first African-American chairman, and in part he was elected because they thought he would present a new face for the party, someone who they thought was good on television and could really articulate the direction - a new direction for the party. And he seems to have had a number of kind of - as one Republican put it - foot-in-mouth problems. And you know, it's very different - Clarence will appreciate this - it's one thing to be on television and to talk about the issues of the day, and it's another one to do - to represent your party when you have a broad range of interests in the party and particularly those on the right. And this is what got him in trouble. I mean, he's trying to simultaneously make the Republican Party a majority party again in the country, and to win major elections. And at the same time, you know, you've seen that there are many moderates moving away from the party. If you look at the elections, there are not many moderates left in the Congress. And you see a lot of rumblings out in the states about the party's direction and it being kind of captive to its Southern wing. And so he has a lot of difficulty, whether he remains as party chairman in the long run is a question that he may even pivot on whether or not he can raise money. Because at the end of the day, that's probably one of the biggest roles of a party chairman.
COX: Well, Kevin raises an interesting point, Clarence, because there was another voice emerging in the Republican Party that could be considered moderate and seems - this person seems not to be backing down at all. I'm talking about Senator John McCain's daughter, Meghan, who blogs in pretty bold statements that criticize the popularity of Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit. She wrote, quote, "I straight up don't understand this woman or her popularity. I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time. But no matter how much you or I disagree with her, the cult that follows Coulter cannot be denied." What about Meghan McCain? Is she a rising voice for them?
Mr. PAGE: Gee, Tony, I was hoping you'll let me have a crack at that Michael Steele story.
Mr. PAGE: But Meghan McCain is indeed a part of that same story. As Kevin said, the party is divided between its own very conservative base - and especially the social conservatives there, who provide those troops that get out there and knock on doors, and the moderates that it needs. Mitch - Senator Mitch McConnell recently talked about how it's become a regional party. And I said, I didn't sign up for a regional party. I want a national party. And Michael Steele's strength this that he can reach out to moderates. And I think, you know, Meghan McCain is an example of the kind of young Republican that the party needs. They need young people like that. She's a former Democrat herself, a Democratic voter. And she and her father are both moderates in man ways. You know, the conservative base turned against her dad in 2000. They turned against him this past year when - until Sarah Palin came in on the ticket that they got excited about the McCain-Palin ticket. And she is - has gone up against Ann Coulter now, who is not an elected official, not accountable. She is the female Rush Limbaugh. She's a show person. Rush Limbaugh has about 25 percent approval rating according to a recent poll I saw. And that's not enough to win elections. It's great for a radio ratings though, right?
COX: Well, that's - yeah, you're right.
Mr. PAGE: And same thing with Ann Coulter. She sells a lot of books, but they're really hurting the party that they supposedly stand with.
COX: Well, this is interesting. I wish we have more time to talk about both of them. But the Republican Party is managing to stay in the headlines even if it's not for things that they'd necessarily want. Clarence and Kevin, thank you both.
Mr. PAGE: Thank you, Tony.
Mr. MERIDA: Thank you, Tony.
COX: Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, joining us from the NPR headquarters in Washington, and Kevin Merida, the assistant managing editor for national news for the Washington Post, joining us from the studios there.
This is NPR News.
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