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2009-09-08

White House Environmental Adviser Van Jones Resigns Citing "Vicious Smear Campaign Against Me"

Guests

James Rucker, co-founder and executive director of ColorOfChange.org.

Malkia Cyril, founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice in Oakland, CA.

Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP.

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The Obama administration’s special adviser for environmental jobs, Van Jones, has resigned citing what he described as a "vicious smear campaign" against him. For the past month, Fox News has run a series of reports on Jones’s alleged association with communists and his decision to sign a petition calling for a congressional probe of the 9/11 attacks. Jones is the founding president of Green for All and author of the book The Green Collar Economy. We speak with James Rucker, who co-founded the group Color of Change with Van Jones, and with Malkia Cyril, founder of the Center for Media Justice. We also talk to Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration’s special adviser for environmental jobs, Van Jones, has resigned, citing what he described as a, quote, "vicious smear campaign" against him.

Jones was a longtime community organizer in the Bay Area. He is the founding president of Green for All, the co-founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the co-founder of the group Color of Change. His book The Green Collar Economy was a national bestseller. Time Magazine recently named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In March, President Obama tapped Jones to be a special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. But for the past month Fox News has run a series of reports on Jones’s alleged association with communists and for signing a petition calling for a congressional probe into the actions of the Bush administration around the 9/11 attacks. Jones issued a statement last week, saying, quote, "I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever." Jones also drew fire for calling Republicans "BLANK-holes" during a speech in February. Even though Jones apologized, the controversy gained steam Friday when conservative legislators, like Missouri Senator Kit Bond, called for an inquiry into his comments.

The campaign against Van Jones began back in July, when conservative Fox News host Glenn Beck began criticizing him, calling him a "communist-anarchist radical." Beck also called President Obama a racist in an interview on Fox & Friends.

    GLENN BECK: This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don’t know what it is, but you can’t sit in a pew with Jeremiah Wright for twenty years and not hear some of that stuff and not have it wash over.

    BRIAN KILMEADE: But listen, you can’t say he doesn’t like white people. David Axelrod’s white. Rahm Emanuel’s his chief of staff, a white. I think 70 percent of the people that we see every day are white. Robert Gibbs is white.

    GLENN BECK: I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people. I’m saying he has a problem. He has a — this guy is, I believe, a racist. Look at the way — look at the things that he has been surrounded by. His —- some of his -—

    BRIAN KILMEADE: Give us an example, aside from this.

    GLENN BECK: Let’s give — let’s give his new — his new green jobs czar. The guy is, again, black liberation theology, a black nationalist, who is also an avowed communist. He comes in, and he puts that guy in. Well, wait a minute. How many people with this kind of philosophy do you need to have in your life before we start to say, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your feet — your future.”

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Glenn Beck on Fox in the morning. Those comments calling President Obama a racist prompted Color of Change, the group Van Jones helped to found four years ago, to call on advertisers to stop sponsoring Beck’s TV program. Over fifty-five companies, including Wal-Mart and Sprint, responded by pulling their ads. Nevertheless, Beck continued his attacks on Van Jones, and the conservative voices against his White House appointment reached a crescendo this weekend.

Jones submitted his resignation letter to the White House just after midnight on Saturday. He wrote, quote, “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.” Jones said he had received numerous calls and notes from supporters urging him to stay and fight. But he wrote, quote, “I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for our future.”

The White House, which had done little to defend Van Jones, accepted his resignation. On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, anchor David Gregory asked President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod about Van Jones’s resignation.

    DAVID GREGORY: Van Jones, who’s been an adviser to the White House on environmental policy, resigned overnight because of some inflammatory comments he’s made over time, including a petition he signed that blamed the government for the 9/11 attacks. Was this an issue that got to the President? Did he personally order that he be fired?

    DAVID AXELROD: Absolutely not. This was an — this was Van Jones’s own decision. You know, he is internationally known as an advocate for green jobs. And that’s the basis on which he was hired. He said in his statement that he didn’t want his comments to become a distraction from the issue, which is so important to the future of our economy and communities around the country. And I commend him for making that decision.

    DAVID GREGORY: Was he the victim of a smear campaign, as he alleges?

    DAVID AXELROD: Well, look, this is a — you know, the political environment is rough, and so, you know, these things get magnified. But the bottom line is that he’s showed his commitment to the cause of creating green jobs in this country by removing himself as a — as an issue, and I think that took — that took a great deal of commitment on his part.

AMY GOODMAN: Senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod.

For more, we go to San Francisco, and we’re joined by James Rucker, the executive director of ColorOfChange.org, which he helped found with Van Jones four years ago. And we’re joined on the telephone from Oakland — she couldn’t make it over the bridge into the San Francisco studio, because it’s closed — by Malkia Cyril. She is the founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice in Oakland.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! James Rucker, explain exactly what you understand has happened. What led to the resignation of Van Jones?

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Glenn Beck has used the last month or so to wage this war against not only Van Jones but the Obama administration. We, of course, started moving on Beck when he called the President a racist and asserted that he had a deep-seated hatred for white people. When we started our campaign, and our members and others became enraged by what they saw as a narrative that painted Obama, that painted the administration, that painted black people as this subversive force that was really going to be the undoing of this country, we started our campaign — at that point, Glenn Beck went from having mentioned Van Jones to Van becoming essentially public enemy number one in his mind, and he absolutely went about a smear campaign, pulling out, cherry-picking things that Van had said, affiliations that he had had, you know, ten, fifteen years ago, and building the case that Van was this boogeyman, essentially.

It’s very disappointing that the administration has basically allowed Van to leave, whether he was pushed out or not. And the reason is, Van is simply — and Beck has said this — Van is simply the first, and if the administration is not able to stand up and fight, when you have someone who’s using a news platform to lie about your personnel, to undermine the agenda that you have, it’s going to be a problem for the administration, it’s going to be a problem for the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, James Rucker, let’s talk about what your organization, that Van Jones co-founded, Color of Change, did around Glenn Beck, which made him so irate.

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, absolutely. What we did was we let our members know, here’s, first, what Beck had said about the President. Then we said, look at this overall narrative that he’s been spinning. He has talked about Obama-style reparations, that in fact the climate change policy that Obama’s been championing, healthcare reform that he’s been championing, is really about reallocation of resources to black people and that others are going to suffer and fail. He’s talked about the government being remade in the image of ACORN and that it won’t resemble anything that our founding fathers had in mind when they created this country. It’s a bunch of rhetoric that is poisonous to public debate. And we essentially let our members see what it was.

And then we went to advertisers. And as our members signed a petition calling on advertisers to pull back, advertisers started to do that. And as of last week, fifty-seven — basically all national advertisers have abandoned his show.

Glenn Beck hasn’t mentioned Color of Change by name. He hasn’t mentioned the association with Van Jones by name. But what he’s done is basically try to make an example not only of Van Jones, but I think really, you know, send a chill down the spine of not only activists, people who are now in the administration, but the administration officials themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, companies like Wal-Mart, how did you get them to stop running ads during Glenn Beck’s show?

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, absolutely. You know, our message to them was pretty straightforward. It’s, does Wal-Mart want to be associated with and want to be seen as supporting the kind of hate that Beck is spouting? So we — Media Matters was very helpful. They had produced videos of what Glenn Beck had been doing. We showed them those videos. We entered in one-on-one conversations with staff at Wal-Mart and other places and said, “This is why our members are upset. This is not — it’s not about left-right. It’s not about some alternative view. It’s about using a new platform to push as fact things that are known to be false, and that he had done that repeatedly.” And I think, for the advertisers, it was pretty straightforward. It’s, no, we don’t want our brands associated with this. This is not good for — the public is not good for policy.

AMY GOODMAN: This was clearly very threatening to Glenn Beck at Fox. Did Van Jones work with you? He co-founded the organization Color of Change four years ago. But did he work with you on the boycott now?

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, not at all. In fact, the irony was that when we launched the campaign, we had no idea that he had even attacked Van. It was the comments that he had made about Obama, and it was this narrative that we saw he was spinning. I’m not even sure if, before that point, he had mentioned Van by name. So that was really not a factor.

And Van, I didn’t talk to Van until after we had actually launched the campaign. And, you know, we had no coordination throughout it. I talked to Van after he lost his job, effectively, as a friend. And it’s definitely sad, and it’s unfortunate. It’s a loss for all of us. But yeah, no, Van had nothing — you know, he’s been pretty busy, both in the White House, with Green for All before that. He hasn’t been an operational part of Color of Change for over a year and a half.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you critical of the White House for not standing up for him or not accepting his resignation?

JAMES RUCKER: Yeah, I am. And the reason is, Beck himself has said, and Fox has made clear, that they will go on such witch hunts if they can keep doing it. And when you have — when you respond to what Beck has done by essentially trying to be silent, it doesn’t work. And when you respond by allowing your folks to leave, it’s basically not only rewarding bad behavior, it also sends a message that, hmmm, maybe something was wrong with Van Jones, which I know that the administration doesn’t think. I think everyone who knows Van who understands the situation doesn’t think that.

But it actually, I think, is problematic. There’s no way, if you look at what we’ve seen with the healthcare debates, and you have folks who are armed with misinformation — they show up as if they’re really participants in a discussion — is destructive. It scares politicians. It undermines the political process. And I think the only way you can deal with folks like Glenn Beck and what Fox is doing is by coming head on with it. And the administration, in this case, failed to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: James Rucker, I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder and executive director of ColorOfChange.org, that led a boycott, advertisers to boycott Glenn Beck’s show on Fox.

When we come back, Malkia Cyril will join us, the founder of Center for Media Justice in Oakland, California. We’ll hear the words of Van Jones himself, when he was on Democracy Now!

And then we’ll be joined by Ben Jealous, CEO and president of the NAACP. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: For more on Van Jones’s resignation and the campaign against him in the White House, we will go to Malkia Cyril, founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice in Oakland. Just to clarify, the campaign against him to leave the White House. Malkia, your response?

MALKIA CYRIL: Hi. Thank you for having me on, Amy.

What’s clear is that what happened was a witch hunt, pure and simple. It didn’t start with Van Jones. It’s not going to end with Van Jones. The issue is about more than Van Jones. We support Van. He’s an amazing leader. But this is about who can criticize and participate in democracy. We have to ask ourselves the question: why can Southern white politicians fly the Confederate flag, and yet a black policy adviser gets fired for signing a petition more than almost ten years ago?

This is about the future of our economy. This is about the future of our planet. This is about attacking the progressives that have risen into governance as policy advisers. If you watch the Glenn Beck show, you know that there are many others who have been targeted, as well, folks who are considered — who are being called the czars. Really, they’re policy advisers around serious policy issues, and it’s those policy issues that are really at stake: the environment, the future of our economy. This is what we have to focus on at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: And the response of the Obama administration to the attack on Van Jones and what he was representing, the whole issue of green jobs, in the White House. Malkia?

MALKIA CYRIL: We’re disappointed here in Oakland in the administration’s silence. We’ve learned over time that silence in the face of race baiting and this kind of fear mongering is disappointing, it’s unwise. It’s not an effective strategy, especially — especially — in the face of this kind of virulent race baiting. There’s a time when silence is betrayal. But right now, the greatest betrayal is the betrayal of Glenn Beck, Fox News and other — and the whole right-wing echo chamber, because their misinformation, their lies, that is the greatest betrayal of democracy that we’re facing right now.

And it’s time for the progressive movement, it’s time for the Obama administration, to really see this as a wake-up call, that we need to pull together and take this madness head on. You can tell from the tweets, from the Facebook response, that folks are feeling it deeply and ready to take action. So, right now, silence is not the strategy. Speech and action is the strategy.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think people who supported him — actually, Van Jones said he got calls and emails and responses from people on the right and the left urging him not to leave. But what do you think people could have done, upon reflection? There was not a great deal of activity over these last few weeks as he was under attack.

MALKIA CYRIL: I mean, I have to ask myself, where was the progressive media echo chamber, especially — and where is it in general, especially when it comes to issues of race? How — I have to criticize myself and our folks about how we can let it go for ten days without a response. The question here, to me, is about where is our infrastructure at, what kind of strategies are we going to employ, because, as I said, Van was the first — he’s not the first, he’s not going to be the last. So we need to figure out how do we build upon the existing infrastructure to develop a strong, powerful and prepared progressive media echo chamber that has the capacity to respond effectively to these kinds of attack.

AMY GOODMAN: Malkia Cyril, you worked with Van Jones for years. What did you do with him in Oakland?

MALKIA CYRIL: We’ve worked on a lot of different issues. I mean, Van Jones is a proven leader. From the question of jobs in Oakland to youth voice in Oakland, stopping the violence in Oakland, Van has always stood up in front. He has always made sure that we were building youth leaders, leaders from the community. This is not a — this is not a leader who is concerned primarily with his own self-aggrandizement. He is concerned with the policy issues at hand. And we know that, given his leadership, given what he believes in, in terms of the relationship between good jobs and a healthy economy and a healthy planet, we understand over here in Oakland, and we’ve been talking about it quite a bit, that what’s at stake here are the policy issues that Van stands for. That’s always been what’s at stake. That’s always been how he’s led. That’s always been how we work together. And so, right now, what we are intending to focus on is refocus the conversation on the healthcare debate and making sure there’s a strong public option that actually allows people to stay healthy and not have to die because they can’t pay for their insurance.

AMY GOODMAN: Malkia Cyril, I want to thank you for being with us, founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice in Oakland, California, could not make it over the Oakland bridge, it remains closed.

As we turn now to Van Jones in his own words. He has been on Democracy Now! a number of times, most recently last October after the publication of his book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. This is some of what he had to say.

    VAN JONES: I think it’s really important to point out that we’re sort of at the end of an era of American capitalism, where we thought we could run the economy based on consumption rather than production, credit rather than creativity, borrowing rather than building, and also, most importantly, environmental destruction rather than environmental restoration.

    We’re trying to make the case in this book that that era is over. We now have to move in a very different direction. And key to that will be basing the US economy not on credit cards, but based on clean energy and the clean energy revolution that would put literally millions of people to work, putting up solar panels all across the United States, weatherizing buildings so they don’t leak so much energy and put up so much carbon, building wind farms and wave farms, manufacturing wind turbines. We argue you could put Detroit back to work not making SUVs to destroy the world, but making wind turbines, 8,000 finely machine parts in each one, twenty tons of steel in each wind tower, making wind turbines to help save the world.

    So we think that you can fight pollution and poverty at the same time. We think that you can actually power our way through this recession by putting people to work, but we’re going to have to start building things here and re-powering, retrofitting, retooling America, and that that’s the way forward both for the economy, for the earth and for everyday people.

    AMY GOODMAN: How exactly do you expect to get support for this? We’re talking about a global economic recession. True, there has been $850 billion found to deal with the bailout of the banks, but what’s your plan, Van Jones?

    VAN JONES: Well, you know, the good thing about it is that Senator Barack Obama has come out in the past week saying that this clean energy revolution is going to be his main priority. You’re going to see something very interesting happen in American politics. We’ll call it the rise of the green Keynesians, the idea that the government is going to have to play a role in the economy, we’re going to have even more deficit spending to kind of stimulate the economy, to move us through.

    And when you look at, you know, what should you spend that money on, last time we had a stimulus, we gave out a bunch of checks to people who ran out to Wal-Mart and bought flat-screen TVs, so we stimulated the economy — it was just the Chinese economy, not this one. The smart way to do a stimulus is to invest in infrastructure. And the smart infrastructure that we need right now is infrastructure that gets the price of energy down, that gets us more energy independent. All roads point toward a major investment in clean energy, probably funded in part by deficit spending on the part of the government.

    But let’s be clear. The real solution to this whole thing is to put a price on carbon. The biggest economic stimulus I can imagine would be a carbon tax or a cap and trade, cap and dividend, cap and cash back, some sort of cap on carbon, so that suddenly there is a market signal for private capital to start moving aggressively in a clean energy, low carbon direction.

    Once you do that, you unleash innovation, you unleash technology, you unleash entrepreneurship. Much more importantly, solar panels don’t put themselves up. Wind turbines don’t manufacture themselves. Everything that is good for the earth, that’s good for clean energy, gives a job and an economic opportunity. What we’ve got to do is capture that for people here who are going to be out of work, who are struggling, and use that as a springboard. You can’t build the economy on credit cards. You can build an economy based on clean energy, based on solar panels, based on wind, based on geothermal, smarter, non-food-based biofuels. There are literally — there’s literally, I think, a $100 billion play out there in clean energy for the United States, but not a whole lot of $100 billion plays in the economy right now. This is one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Van Jones, last October on Democracy Now! on his book The Green Collar Economy.

We’re joined right now from San Francisco by Ben Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP, here on Democracy Now!

We welcome you, Ben. In a minute, we’ll talk about a number of issues, like Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent announcement that efforts are being made to reshape the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, as well as the hundredth anniversary of the NAACP. But your response to, do you think it’s fair to say, Van Jones being driven out of the White House?

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Van made a tough choice. And I talked to Van each day — Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, yesterday. He made a tough choice, because he, you know, thinks that the White House really can get something done here, and he saw that Fox was intent on ensuring that he remain a distraction. You know, Van — and I’ve known him for fifteen years, since I was a college activist and he was a law school activist — I think it’s safe to say, made the toughest choice of his life, and he did it because he has deeply held hope that we can go to a better place, and soon, if we can focus on policy and not on people.

AMY GOODMAN: The whole attack by Glenn Beck that drove this? In your response from the NAACP to Van Jones, it says, “The only thing more outrageous than Mr. Beck’s attack on Van Jones is the fact that there are sponsors that continue to pay him to provide this type of offensive commentary.” Do you support the continued boycott of companies like Wal-Mart of Beck’s show on Fox?

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: We certainly support them choosing with their dollars who they’re going to support. I mean, it’s — Glenn Beck is somebody who’s told a seven-year-old girl, a seven-year-old black girl, that he would buy her a ticket back to Africa, that she needed to go back to Africa. And then he comes out, and he says that healthcare is the beginning of reparations. I mean, this guy plays the race card on a weekly basis. He does it very aggressive — you know, in a very hateful way.

And so, I think that, you know, my friend James, who you had on here just before, has done the country a favor by pointing this out and getting, you know, the folks who support Beck’s show a choice about what side do you want to stand on.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben, since you’ve been talking to Van Jones, what are his plans now?

BENJAMIN JEALOUS: I think it’s safe to say that, you know, he started the weekend intent on coming to work today. And so, he needs some time to figure out what his plans are. But, you know, those of us who know Van, people who have watched him, he’s an extremely resilient, powerful person, just on a spiritual level, a very powerful person. And we all have great hopes that he will continue to do what he does best, which is to really push for change from the outside, you know, to build up support across this country. Van really has been a transformative, transcendental leader of people of all races in this country, really, and frankly, on this globe. I mean, you know, he was named to Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people before he went to the White House. He was a bestselling author before he went to the White House. And we expect that, now that he’s decided to leave the White House, he will do great things.

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