Unaccountable: Janine Wedel on how Elite Power Brokers have Corrupted the U.S. System

Jan 7, 2015

Anthropologist Janine Wedel exposes America's "new corruption"--the unprecedented ways that many politicians, retired generals, academics, bankers, and physicians exploit their prestige and insider knowledge.


ANDREW NAGORSKI: Hello and welcome to Ethics Matter at the Carnegie Council. My name is Andrew Nagorski, and our guest today is Janine Wedel. Professor Wedel teaches at George Mason University. She is an anthropologist.

Her most recent book is called Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt Our Finances, Freedom, and Security. As that title implies, it's a pretty sweeping indictment of many practices today, practices that are taking place not in some foreign country, but right here in the United States.

Welcome, Janine.

JANINE WEDEL: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here.


ANDREW NAGORSKI: As you say in your book, as an anthropologist, many of your colleagues choose to go to places like Borneo—very exotic locales—while you have spent your time in places like Warsaw and Washington. Tell us a little bit about your background and why those kinds of locales have led to the kind of writing that you have engaged in.

JANINE WEDEL: As you know, I started off my serious anthropological endeavors in Warsaw many years ago under a Fulbright fellowship. This was during martial law—in other words, still during the communist era in the 1980s. What I was studying at that time was how things really worked as opposed to how the system said they worked or how they were actually supposed to work. What I wrote my dissertation about was this informal system of give-and-take that people needed in order to survive, to get that cut of meat, to get that roll of toilet paper, sometimes in extreme circumstances, and sometimes to get even a passport to travel abroad.

So it was this whole under-the-radar/under-the-table life that was the way really almost everybody functioned, because if you didn't, you would have a rather marginal life.

What does that have to do with how my work has developed? Well, I was always looking at how things actually worked. A social anthropologist focusing on charting the networks that people use, charting the practices that people engage in, that has been my work.

Fast-forward many years later, I have been working on how power and influence actually operate. One of the things that I have noticed, with some consternation, and have actually written about in Unaccountable is the discrepancy between how the system purports to work in the United States—the ideology about it, what it says it does—and some of the actual practices by top power brokers that have developed in the past 20 years. Just in the past several decades, there is a new way of doing things among some of the top power brokers that I have been charting.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: I want to get to that in a moment, but I do want to talk about as you say, the way things actually worked in communist societies. Another name for that, of course, was "corruption." That was the loose label. So you observed that in communist countries and in post-communist countries after 1989.

Before we jump over to closer to home, what were the lessons you drew from that, in terms of not just the institutions and the corruption of those institutions which they imposed on the system, but what this did to the psychology of the people working and living in these countries and these societies?

JANINE WEDEL: That's a fascinating and hugely important question. Polish sociologists at the time talked about something called "dirty togetherness." That was really all about the networks, the family and close friends, the trust relationships that people needed, very often in order to have just a slightly better life. We're not talking about any luxuries here. We had people who were married, who had families, who were living in one room of their parents' apartments for years on end.

This is what analysts have called "need corruption." This was not big-time corruption, what has been called greed corruption. I didn't call it corruption at the time. I think that's quite an ambiguous label when applied to those sorts of activities. It wasn't usually a simple quid pro quo. It was usually about networks and family and friends helping each other.

Then, after the Wall fell and after the market economy came into play and the task was to develop free-market democracies, what I learned about institutions is that we need institutions, we need legal systems, and we need enforcement, because what one saw after the fall of communism, especially when the schemes of privatization and the programs of privatization came into play, was that the people who were best positioned to take advantage of the huge resources of these newly post-communist states were those who often took advantage of the situation—

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And who were good at greed corruption in the old days, right?

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Because that also existed.

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely. And so in the post-communist period, that's where we really saw this greed corruption en masse. The Russians called it "grabitization" for the quick privatizers who basically acquired many resources of the state virtually overnight. That's how we got the oligarchs. That's when one saw greed corruption in that part of the world in a very, very big way.

What does one learn from that? We certainly need viable institutions. Solving problems through private solutions is wonderful, and we should do that as much as possible, but we also need state institutions. No modern society can thrive without them.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And arguably the combination of greed and need corruption in the communist system created a system of ethics which was, at the very least, let's say, highly personalized, to put it charitably, and, in many cases, simply would not apply ethical standards that most of us would see as ethical standards. So it made it very easy to transition into the new kind of corruption.

JANINE WEDEL: Right. What you saw in the communist era was a different ethical standard for people that you knew and for the state. For example, if we worked in a factory together—and, of course, this would be a state-owned factory—and I had set aside materials for me to take home and use in my private business to earn some extra money on the side—some materials that I could make, say, cement out of, some lumber, and I had set them aside—and if you would come by and take those, knowing that I had set them aside, that would be seen as stealing. However, what I did was merely lifting.

It was a different standard that developed for family as opposed to the state. This becomes a real challenge when you transition to another system.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: As I understand it, what you are really saying in the book is that some of the same double standards have been creeping into American life. There has obviously always been corruption in any society, including the United States, but you are making the case that there is a new form of corruption taking over, where any notion of ethics is, let us say, hazy at most.

What is your argument here?

JANINE WEDEL: With regard to ethics, it seems to me that the same argument might apply, that when it comes to my little circle of people that I know and trust, we all get advantages. We are all insiders. But everyone out there is not. Everyone else is an outsider.

When Goldman Sachs, for instance—and this is just one of many, many, many examples—bets some of its clients against other clients, those clients that are at a disadvantage, which included in the Abacus deal pensioners and many people who needed the money—those were the outsiders and it didn't need to be concerned with for them, whereas our insiders got the advantages.

I think that is a real dynamic in American society today, and not only in the United States, of course. It runs the gamut. We see this dynamic, I'm afraid, in arenas from health care to homeland security to finance to foreign policy. We see it in some of the top power brokers, who are elites.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: You name several of those top power brokers in various fields, but particularly in politics. You are relentlessly bipartisan. You get both Democrats and Republicans. Names that crop up in your book are Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Tom Daschle, Christine Todd Whitman, Michael Chertoff, Bill Clinton.

Let me put this bluntly: Are you saying these people are corrupt?

JANINE WEDEL: What I'm saying is that their activities are—let me just say a few things about what I call the new corruption, which is a violation of public trust, which is more what we might call greed corruption as opposed to the need corruption that we started off talking about.

Are they corrupt? Part of the issue is that there is an information problem. We can't know what the full range of their activities is and how to sort them out. For example, Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security chief, appeared on television soon after the Christmas Day bomber a few years ago and touted as an all-purpose solution to airport security these full-body scanners.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Which we all are now familiar with, yes.

JANINE WEDEL: Which we are all now all too familiar with, right.

At the time, he was represented as former Homeland Security chief, as a neutral, impartial expert. The reading and listening public did not know at the time that his company had a license, the only license at the time, to manufacture these scanners.

So it's an information problem. We the public can't know and we don't know the full range of activities, and therefore we don't know how to sort out their true agendas.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: This is different than the classic corruption: I put something in an envelope, leave it on your desk. I think this is what you are saying, that the old measurements of corruption that, for instance, Transparency International and the World Bank use, no longer really measure the new phenomenon.

JANINE WEDEL: That's right, because this kind of corruption is much more elusive, it's much more difficult to detect. It's not a quid pro quo. It's not a simple bribe under the table. It's also difficult to sort out where the branding ends—people who want to stay in the game and be power brokers obviously are going to be on television and so on, but that can also help them in their business the next time they need a government contract or whatever. It helps their calls be returned and so on.

So these things are very difficult to sort out. But if there is a violation of public trust, I would submit, that is the new corruption. That is very ethically challenged, if not unethical, behavior.

You mentioned Tom Daschle. What was he doing? He was consulting for health-care companies on certain issues at the same time that he was providing supposedly impartial advice to the president and to people on Capitol Hill in the run-up to the health-care reform bill.

There is no quid pro quo. This is far more elusive activity. But is that not a violation of public trust? Is there not an information problem here for us, the public?

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Defining the violations gets tough. Let's go down the areas that you cover in Unaccountable. We can start with, obviously, government and the public-private transition, the military. Let's start there, but then I would like to go into some of the other areas you cover, which are maybe not as well known and discussed as much as you have in the book.

First of all, the exchange of favors in and out of government has always existed.


ANDREW NAGORSKI: But I think a lot of people have the feeling that something has shifted here, the scale, and how seamlessly they seem to move in and how seamlessly they seem to acquire a lot of money very fast.

JANINE WEDEL: Right. We have the phenomenon of former secretaries of treasury or high officials or high staff people from Congress going to very well-paid jobs in Wall Street. They go to the public relations [PR] department very often. So they are obviously the ones responsible for liaison with government. Peter Orszag—again it's ambiguous. We can't point to particular instances of a violation perhaps, but is there not a problem potentially with that activity?

One of the problems with understanding the way things are right now is that things have changed so very quickly, and the language hasn't kept up. We have the category of the revolving door. We understand the revolving door. But picture a revolving door that has not just one exit, but that has four or five different exits and the players can come back in, too. That is more what we are dealing with. When people leave high cabinet-level positions or they leave positions in Congress or staff people in Congress, they don't just go to industry. They might go to PR firms now. Again, the government affairs department of these PR firms is a very common place to go. We have a lot of people whom I call shadow lobbyists who are not registered lobbyists. In fact, I would submit that the number of shadow lobbyists is seriously on the uptick.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And you actually point out in your book that the number of registered lobbyists has decreased radically—

JANINE WEDEL: Twenty-five percent since 2007.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Which is pretty stunning a statistic.

JANINE WEDEL: Since 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the number of registered lobbyists has declined by 25 percent. Do we actually think that there is less influencing going on in Washington? No. I think we understand that something else is going on.

I'm an anthropologist. My job is to chart what that new pattern is. How do the players operate? How do the organizations that they affiliate with operate? How do the networks that the players use—and also, of course, the players are very often bridging the organizations—how does that operate?

Of course, the revolving door, in a simple way, still exists, but there is also a much more complex pattern. Some of the players go to PR firms. Some go to media. They go to all sorts of different places. Some combine those roles.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And those players are political, financial, military.

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: They run across the whole gamut.

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely. What we also see is the merging of those worlds, so that when General Petraeus leaves formal office, where does he go? He goes to a private equity firm. Where do high players from Silicon Valley go? Sometimes to the NSA, the National Security Agency.

So we're seeing these mergers, which, in our history, or at least in recent memory, are unusual. That too signals a new pattern, a new model. That's why it's important to think about what language is appropriate to describe this new phenomenon.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And the newer aspects of this that are maybe less known—you throw in quite a bit about academic, think tanks, and the media. You have been in academia. You talk about the "insidious academics." So go right ahead. Explain what you mean by that.

JANINE WEDEL: I have been in academia and I have also been affiliated with think tanks.

As we just discussed, institutions are blending and blurring. Institutional missions have blended and blurred. What people can do within them is much broader.

In academia there is a lot of pressure now, especially on public universities, where the resources are perhaps scarcer, to find outside money. There is a lot of pressure. A lot of academics are becoming more entrepreneurial. That is not a bad thing in and of itself. It is a bad thing when there is an information problem and when there is a violation of public trust.

For instance, academic economists, unfortunately, illustrate this example sometimes. A few years ago, there was a University of Massachusetts-Amherst study that looked at 19 of the most high-profile economists in this country, high-status economists. It learned that in their public pronouncements before public bodies, like Congressional testimony, testimony before Congressional subcommittees, media appearances, and so on, they were touting what should be done to reform the economy. They were discussing what needed to be done, giving their prescriptions, without disclosing that in most of these cases they had a dog in the fight. That is, they were also working for a consulting firm or an industry. What they were saying, the advice that they were giving, actually would serve that industry. It wasn't an objective, neutral expertise.

Again, it's an information problem.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: You mentioned that about op-eds, too, and taglines. Editors will say, "We've got only limited space for a tagline. If you have seven different affiliations, we'll give you one; we'll choose."

JANINE WEDEL: Right, and that is perfectly understandable. But the problem comes in—here's the pattern. Most people will be recognized by their most prestigious affiliation. It will say "university professor" instead of "consultant for XYZ." It might be that "consultant for XYZ" is actually more relevant to what that person is going to say. People will be recognized for their most prestigious roles and, if they were former top officials, by those former roles.

That's where it becomes very misleading. I think editors and journalists need to ask about what other people's affiliations are. It would be good if that became more practiced in the industry. Of course, people need to disclose that themselves. This is an ethical issue.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: The same applies to think tanks?

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely. One of the dynamics that we have seen in the past several years is that—think tanks have very often been able to be seen as right or left or center, as having an ideological bent. That is not new. But what is new seems to be the very quick turnaround in terms of the advocacy roles and emphasis on influencing the media. That seems to be really a growing trend.

Actually, The New York Times and The Washington Post have—I have a whole chapter in my book on think tanks—

ANDREW NAGORSKI: They have been writing about that, too.

JANINE WEDEL: They have actually writing about specific think tanks and how that has worked.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Specifically, though, what you are saying about their funding coming from sources who have very much a dog in a particular fight.

JANINE WEDEL: Right. The sources of the funding come from industry or from billionaires who have a dog in the fight. Then the influence gets laundered through the think tank. When they put out a media report or a press release—

ANDREW NAGORSKI: A study group.

JANINE WEDEL: A study. It will just say "done by XYZ think tank." It doesn't say that, in fact, this is really the agenda of a particular industry or a particular billionaire.

Again, the information problem and the potential violation of public trust.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: We can all see this sort of thing happening. The media is almost a separate category here. Given the whole existential crisis of the media, the economic crisis of the media, the old barriers that reporters like myself were brought up with—there is church and state, there is the business side, there is the editorial side—those have been crumbling in many cases. That makes the media, I assume, more receptive to, let's say, targeted messages, and at least some of the media more willing to accept things where maybe in the past they would have really said, "No, no, no. This violates some norm."

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely. This is one of the biggest parts of the story and of the potential for the violation of public trust and the potential for corruption. That is, what you suggested, what has been happening to the media in the digital age. So many journalists—investigative journalism, as you know, in particular has been largely gutted.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: But you don't have to have a conspiracy theory for that. You need economic resources to do good investigative journalism.

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely. And it's so much cheaper—somebody that I know who used to work for a major news organization, television, that I quote in the book says it's so much cheaper to just put on talking heads, because sending people out for investigation is, as you said, a huge expense. The mainline, the legacy media no longer have the resources.

You could look at the statistics, and Pew study after Pew study shows how journalists are being laid off and investigative journalism has been gutted. On television now we have very often shadow lobbyists, because the talking heads who come on do have a dog in the fight often. Otherwise, they may not necessarily want to be on TV or have that need. And it's undisclosed.

It is a real problem for our society. Those journalists have not been among the top earners in our society traditionally and now are facing even more demands on their time. Think about somebody who is trying to put kids through college, for instance. What is he or she going to do now? What options are out there when even a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist loses his or her job, which happens all too often?

ANDREW NAGORSKI: To be fair, there are some new organizations that are coming out in this era and hiring quite intensely, whether it's Bloomberg News or the various investigative projects. But usually it's a different model.

JANINE WEDEL: It is a different model. It is philanthropy-funded. Some of them do extraordinarily good work. I certainly have used the very good investigative reporting from places like ProPublica in the book. But as you said, it's a different model. It relies on the good will of philanthropists, who also can have agendas.


Listening to you, reading your book, you could say, if you were a person who was sort of prone to look at the bleak things, everybody has been corrupted in some way by this system. Therefore, we are really in bad shape. Taking it another step further, you can say—almost the Vladimir Putin view of the West—"You claim we're corrupt, but look, you have all these other forms that are just more sophisticated forms of corruption. What is really the difference between your ethical standards and my ethical standards?"


ANDREW NAGORSKI: I throw that out there. You can respond how you feel.

JANINE WEDEL: That is a hugely important question. We are not Russia and we are not China, thankfully. Just a couple of words about Putin's Russia.

Even under the late socialism, late communism, there was a sort of balance of power. You had the Communist Party, you had the military, and you had the security services. What we are left with today in Putin's Russia is one of those, the security state. That would be almost the quintessential security state. You cannot speak of a free media. That is a place where journalists are not only intimidated, but murdered. The press is controlled. I think there are some serious analysts of that country who talk about it in terms of trending towards fascism. We see some of their objectives in what they are doing in Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union, unfortunately.

We are not there yet. However, our elites, I think—and this is mostly, unfortunately, an elite problem in this country, and it is a problem of insiders and those who have the information and the connections versus outsiders. Again, it's not only happening in this country. When I give talks in Europe and so on, it is a much wider-spread phenomenon, with many of the things that I have been talking about, including, say, shadow lobbyists.

I think that we still can take action. I think we still can protest. I think there are protests that can make a difference, even when we are using some of the tactics that worked quite well under late socialism and that we saw under late socialism. One of them is parody.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: What do you mean by that?

JANINE WEDEL: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are examples of that. One of the parallels that we see between—and again, I'm not talking about Putin's Russia, which is a far worse model, but late socialism, when things were beginning to reform and open up—was that there was a formulaic media messaging that went on. Jon Stewart conveys this when he goes from one television program to another or one commentator to another, and they are using pretty much the same lines to describe the same phenomena. There is this formulaic media messaging even here today when there are so many media options that we have. Even in this vast information universe, the mainstream media still have this formulaic quality to them.

What is the response to that? A response is that people look to parody, because parody seems to be able to tell the truth in a way that the mainstream media don't. So that is a parallel. And parody actually works as protest. We have seen this, not just Stephen Colbert and others starting their own super PACs [political action committee] to highlight the whole issue—

ANDREW NAGORSKI: The fact that you can basically ridicule anybody you want is still a big difference.

JANINE WEDEL: Right. It's a huge difference, the fact that we can protest, the fact that it is still possible to get into the media, it is still possible to elect Congresspeople, even though there are so many pressures on them. I think it is still possible—I do believe we are a can-do society, and I think we can really come up with creative ideas and some creative solutions to these problems.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: You mention a lot of pitfalls of social media, for instance, and the new technologies, which obviously can cut both ways. But does that also offer more avenues for outsiders to protest against the people you call the insiders?

JANINE WEDEL: Of course, it offers many great avenues. The problem is, to what extent does that really matter? To what extent does that just amount to people venting and feeling better, but not actual change? When you like something, like it on Facebook, or retweet it, that doesn't quite amount to influence.

That is where I think we have to be more savvy and considered. The first thing we need to do is to really come to grips with this new world we are in. The world has changed so fast and so furiously in the past 10, 20 years, with the digital age, with the end of the Cold War, with privatization at all levels, that it's really hard to come to grips with the fact that we really are in a different place.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: We listen to all of these things, and we say, "Okay, what we need to do is set up any system of new ethical standards to deal with these new forms of corruption." What does the individual have to do to find a way to somehow contribute to a new ethics? Just like in the communist system you could say that everyone was implicated as an individual, even if they often felt powerless. Many people in our society are frustrated and also often feel powerless.

JANINE WEDEL: And feel like outsiders.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And feel like outsiders. What are your prescriptions here?

JANINE WEDEL: First of all, before we get to the nitty-gritty prescriptions, I think we need to really study how the system actually works in all these different arenas, whether it's retired military generals and admirals or—and I can just say there that 20 years ago—there is a database that I have that The Boston Globe compiled that shows that 20 years ago, when these people retired, they actually predominantly retired from service.

Today, of course, people are living longer and people want to continue to be relevant. I understand that. Predominantly they continue to serve in the military, working for defense companies and so on. They can continue their access to privileged information while sitting on a government advisory board, while at the same time they are working for a defense company. Again, the information problem comes up.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Is that unethical or is that simply a question of not disclosing it?

JANINE WEDEL: That could very well be a violation of trust, because when they are serving on a government—they may be using privileged information or they may be playing both sides. Again there is an information problem. We can't know. They are asking us, as most of these players do, whether they are in finance or foreign policy or military or physicians or key opinion leaders who are perked by pharmaceutical companies, perked or paid by them—they are all saying that they can self-police and they can self-regulate. I think that is an issue. I think that's where, both for the sake of elite insiders and the sake of the people who are genuinely outsiders, outsiders need to be brought in.

I myself play multiple professional roles. Most of us do. How do they overlap? Is there information that I'm using in one for the benefit of just my own group that is not being disclosed for everyone? Are there benefits that I have? How would the postman see this, or the schoolteacher?

ANDREW NAGORSKI: But is the answer more regulation, which, of course, sets off all sorts of alarm bells? Aren't we an overregulated, over—

JANINE WEDEL: We have to look at regulation very carefully. First of all, two points I would make about regulation. One is, we can't just forget about it once the president signs a bill. Look at Dodd-Frank, the financial bill that was put into place, the legislation to hopefully prevent future financial crises. So much lobbying and perhaps shadow lobbying has been done in order to gut it of its power. So we have to pay attention throughout the whole process.

The other point I would make is that regulation often has unintended consequences. We have to be real anthropologists about this. We have to look and anticipate what might be the consequences of regulation.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: It's not so much volume of regulation, but smart versus—

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely, smart regulation.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: —versus self-destructive regulation.

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely. For instance, the 2007 lobbying act may have pushed some otherwise registered or would-be registered lobbyists underground into shadow lobbying.

So regulation we need to be much smarter about. More is not necessarily better.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And individuals? Here, since you spent time in Central Europe, you are undoubtedly familiar with Václav Havel's, the Czech dissident, then president, "The Power of the Powerless," his seminal essay. Do we need something like this here, saying you may feel powerless now, but in any system the individual can make a difference?

JANINE WEDEL: Yes, I do think we need that, but I also think that we need leaders in these elite communities to recognize that this system of just a few insiders in these different arenas that cross over and lots of outsiders is probably not sustainable forever. I hate to use the "R" word, "revolution," but is this sustainable? Smart people on the inside, I think, for their own self-preservation—

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Need to reform it?

JANINE WEDEL: They need to have discussions in their communities.

When I was a sometime consultant on corruption for the World Bank in the late 1990s in Eastern Europe, one of the things that we were talking about—there was a real problem with physicians, many of whom were taking what I would call need bribes. These were physicians as well-educated and well-trained as physicians here—

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And who were not then being paid anything.

JANINE WEDEL: Who were being paid maybe $200 a month. This was need corruption.

But there was an issue: Can you start discussion in the community about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate activity? What are the consequences of this? If we are not getting paid enough, then are there other measures that we can take, and so on?

I think that leaders within these different communities need to begin discussion about, how are we seen from the outside? What is appropriate? What is not appropriate?

ANDREW NAGORSKI: You also talk about the need for shame, for reintroducing the concept of shame.

JANINE WEDEL: Absolutely, and the need for shame. What's interesting about our age is that some people can be shamed. If you and I were involved in inappropriate activity, we could be, I think, much more easily shamed than some of today's top power brokers—

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Who seem to glide through these—

JANINE WEDEL: —who seem to not be "shameable." I think that is a real social problem.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Getting back to the individual action, aside from restoring that sense of ethics in personal lives and in institutional lives, I was struck by one little incident you described in your book about singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Could you recount exactly what happened there?

JANINE WEDEL: [singing] "Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light . . ."

So what happened was that I was at the front of an airport security, of a TSA [Transportation Security Administration] line. For various reasons, I only go through the metal detectors. I don't go through the other machines, which means that I opt to be scanned by a female assist. That usually takes longer. That, of course, is also a way that TSA, I believe, tries to deter people from choosing that option. You have to wait for this female assist.

Once, I was waiting and waiting and waiting, and I was very concerned I was going to miss my flight. I kept asking politely, every five minutes, "Could you please get me somebody to do the pat-down?" It wasn't working and it wasn't working. Finally, on the spot, I just burst out in full voice singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

ANDREW NAGORSKI: And you got the assist.

JANINE WEDEL: It took maybe 30 seconds.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: I'm glad it was you, not me, because if I did it, I would probably be arrested. You've got a great voice.

JANINE WEDEL: But I thought it would be awkward to arrest somebody for singing—can you imagine a headline that says "Woman Arrested for Singing National Anthem"? I was smiling and trying to be as polite as I could.

But the reason I tell that story in the book is because again it is an example—it's almost a parody situation. The rules for countering corruption no longer—the old rules no longer apply as well as they once did or in the way that they once did. Similarly, if I had screamed and yelled and said, "I need to get through. I'm going to miss my plane," of course TSA would have had a playbook for that. But because I did something that demanded a human response—I guess that, on the individual level: Do something that demands a human response.

ANDREW NAGORSKI: Thank you. It has been a pleasure. Good luck with the book. Thank you for coming to the Carnegie Council.

JANINE WEDEL: Thank you so much. It's such a pleasure to have this opportunity and to meet you.

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APR 9, 2013 Article

Why Dictators Don't Like Jokes

Pro-democracy activists around the world are discovering that humor is one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against authoritarianism.

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