Thursday, October 13, 2005

Lawrence O'Donnell on CNN's Lou Dobbs

Lawrence O'Donnell, "West Wing" producer and writer of last week's episode, was a guest of CNN's Lou Dobbs. There is a transcript of his appearance. To read a transcript of the segment, click below or on the datestamp of this post.

DOBBs:The executive producer of "The West Wing," Lawrence O'Donnell is our guest here to talk about the issues his show has the courage to take on.
The hit NBC show "The West Wing" is raising issues on the show this season that are familiar to those of you watching this broadcast.
In the most recent "West Wing" episode, presidential candidate Arnold Vinick, played by Alan Alda, of course, meets with the Minutemen on the U.S./Mexican border to help energize his campaign and he talks about the need to secure our broken borders with Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, are you saying the Minutemen should get tough (INAUDIBLE) illegals? ALAN ALDA, ACTOR: We've got a 2,000-mile border here and most of it is unprotected most of the time. We can't have real homeland security if we can't secure our borders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, the Border Patrol has asked the Minutemen to stop operations. Why do you support the Minutemen?

ALDA: I understand why the Minutemen are here. I understand their frustration and I share their goals. But I agree with the Border Patrol: We should leave law enforcement to the professionals.

DOBBS: Also discussed on the program so far this season, CAFTA, the debate over free trade and the politics of judicial nominations.
Joining me now, the executive producer of "The West Wing," Lawrence O'Donnell.
Good to have you here.


DOBBS: As you might expect, listening to Senator Vinick take on issues that so many of our elected officials stay away from, can you somehow export, if you will, that courage to Washington, D.C.?

O'DONNELL: Well, Lou, I've got to give you credit.It's really the way you've treated the subject on your show that made me go in this direction, meaning what interests me about it is the way politicians avoid it and the way they want both sides of it. I mean, you saw the senator in that scene talk about let's be really tough on the border and he goes to do a photo-op with the Minutemen, but then when he gets asked the question from another angle, he'll start referring to them as vigilantes, the way President Bush did.It's a subject that sends politicians scurrying in all sorts of directions, and what interests me about the way you've done it on your show is here is this kind of lone voice in a way that just keeps going after this, and I noticed that. And I think, well, now this is a really -- you know, Lou Dobbs is a popular show, there's a lot of interest out there in this subject, and yet it's not being dealt with at the elected official level the way Lou deals with it.
And that's why I tried to kind of bring those two things together in this episode.

DOBBS: Lawrence, we, on this broadcast, certainly -- we envy deeply, profoundly, the ability for you to craft the outcome to your concerns about issues. We wish occasionally that we had that ability. Congressman Santos, a Hispanic who's going to have to deal with these issues after getting blindsided, if you will, by Senator Vinick -- is he going to respond with equal dimension and passion?

O'DONNELL: Yes, he is. He's gong to come back in episode seven, which will be a live debate episode on Sunday November 6th, our new time slot this season, 8:00 p.m. on NBC. And he's going to be very passionate about this subject. I mean, he's going to talk about his own family roots going back south of the border and he will talk about the effectiveness of border control. He's from a border state also like the other fictional senator is. He's from Texas, and he's going to have a practical approach to it, he's going to have different approaches to it. He's going to be arguing with the other guy of, why are you just paying attention to this now, and is it in effect because you're trying to exploit the fact you're running against the Latino candidate? You know, neither side here is going to have the winning hand on this issue, because I think this issue is too complex actually for a politician to simply play a winning hand on, that works both on policy terms and politically.

DOBBS: The complexities certainly have all -- if anything is documented in all of this, it is the complexity. Lawrence, you've taken on subjects that most entertainment producers would just run from. For crying out loud, free trade, unfair trade policies, CAFTA, illegal immigration -- with the depth that you're going into it.
And you're rewarded by your audience for that, aren't you?

O'DONNELL: Yes. Listen, Lou, the business pages are where I get my best material for the policy discussions in the show. I did one last season about China trade and about us being overwhelmed by Chinese bras, which we are.


O'DONNELL: Which is just kind of funny...

DOBBS: And a few other products.

O'DONNELL: Yes. When you play it on our show, you get sort of humor out of it and you get some interesting instructional material, but it's all -- for me, it's all to set up conflict. I mean, and the way that last year it was to set up conflict with the labor's side of the Democratic Party, and here it's to set up personal conflict between these two candidates. And I think the truer you stay to the way the issues are actually played, the better it is. I didn't invent a single thing in this dialogue. President Bush called the Minutemen vigilantes, not me as a writer. The guest worker program that they talk about in the show, that's the kind of thing that's been advanced by President Bush and by John McCain and Ted Kennedy.
I don't even think of myself as a creative writer in these terms. I think of myself as taking the actual dynamics that are being played in the real political world and fitting them into our dramas and providing the tension with our characters.

DOBBS: Lawrence, as we say often at the end of our broadcast, my producers, writers, our staff and I when we do discuss it, you just can't make this stuff up.

O'DONNELL: That's right.

DOBBS: Lawrence O'Donnell, we thank you very much and wish you all the continued success with "The West Wing."

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Lou.

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